Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Home Birth and Home Death


Babies sometimes just pop earthside but mostly birthing women want to have some company when they are going through this earth-shaking, phenomenally life-changing event.

I was born with a natural talent to accompany women through their birth journeys. I don't even know what I do most of the time but women tell me they feel better when I am present and quietly witnessing their changes. I tell them that everything is fine. I comfort. I nourish. It's just part of me, hey? I am not writing this because I am clapping my own hand.

When a person sees the woman they love looking like she's probably going to die, because her eyes have gone all weird and she's kind of fainting, they feel better when I tell them that this is normal, she is tripping in a special, life-giving way.

And it is truly magical if this event can take place at home. At home, a woman can run through her whole labor process in her own space. She can barf in her own garbage can. She can make love with her partner in her own living room. She can crawl backwards to the fridge to get apple juice.

She can give birth herself, surrounded by people who love her. She can cuddle with her new child in her own room, and she doesn't need a car seat.

I had a friend back in my hippie organic farming days: she had a c-section for her first child because she was breech, so she had her second on her own. She sent her husband and daughter off for a long walk (!), made sure she had enough methergine from the goat's birth kit, and birthed alone. She told me it was frightening. She would have wanted to have a midwife present, and so the third time around, she invited a midwife along for the ride.

Some women freebirth. These are women who birth on their own or with their partner and children. They trust the birth process implicitly and do not believe they need a midwife. Many women who wish to give birth at home do want a midwife, and midwives are generally respectful of the birth process and knowledgeable about serious challenges, even life-threatening ones, that very rarely unfold during birth.


Right now, in Canada, there is an ongoing discussion about end-of-life care. Many people are suggesting that death moves back home. This sounds all warm and fuzzy but let's look at the reality of this phenomenon.

First of all, I wonder why we are not talking more about bringing birth home? Is the dollar playing a part in this discussion? Possibly. It takes a couple of days, max, to have a baby. Midwifery is an economically viable option if you look at the bigger picture of health care in our country. The women giving birth in our country are, in the huge majority of cases, healthy and well-nourished. Group prenatal classes are popular and prenatal visits are easy to schedule.
Even when birthing women give birth in the hospital, where physicians can make their salaries and the women's hospital stay is almost always less than four days, birth costs less than death.

Dying takes a lot longer. Palliative care can be offloaded to families, private nurses, volunteer organizations and the occasional medical professional for the weeks or months before the final days.

Birth at home is a joy, a beginning, it is a moment that is too short to comprehend, passing in the blink of an eye.

Death at home can take weeks, even months. The family can implode, or explode. Money becomes scarce, life can enter a fog. When the final days come, they can be full of body fluids that no one wanted to deal with, disturbing images that no one can forget, emotional moments better left unspoken. I wonder why people think that birth is "too messy", and they romantically envision themselves dying peacefully surrounded by their loved ones? Have we so lost touch with reality that we think that dying in bed is like in a TV show, where the patient just slips away in the arms of her loyal husband? And the nurses stand around the bed with tears in their eyes?

Death can be just as messy as birth, and often is. I have attended many "clean" births, where the baby is born to a minimum of amniotic fluid, blood, poop, and vernix. But some births are bloody. Some births are full of waters. Some are so astoundingly shit-filled you wonder if it was intended divine humor. Some births have a little bit of everything: vomit, stool, meconium, urine, amniotic fluid, blood ...

People I have spoken to who felt that their relative's home death was a good experience were people who could afford to have a private care giver who was discreetly present for the family, or they were well acquainted with the body and its many processes. Others felt that the family was ill-equipped to deal with the physical death of their relative, as they were going through difficult emotional issues, perhaps complicated ones, and the physical realities were hard-hitting.

I thought I was well equipped to accompany my mother through her dying hours. I had nursed my father for the months he was bed-ridden, and I feel confident in my relationship with bodies.

I was wrong. The constant pain was so difficult for me to bear. I was voted as the family member best equipped to administer morphine. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do, even though I did it every two hours for a couple of days. I was the one who changed the pads. So much liquid! Who knew that the body basically dissolves at death. It wasn't urine. It wasn't amniotic fluid. It was vital fluid, leaking and leaking. Every time I changed the pad it was like torture, for me and for her. I was the one who tried everything to counter the pain of oral thrush. Did you know that this is a sign of the end of life? I have assisted many mothers through the intensity of vaginal, breast, and newborn thrush but this was above, beyond and off the charts pain for the woman who gave birth to me. She couldn't eat. She couldn't drink. All she wanted was a big tall glass of water. She was listening to the poetry in her head. She said that there were raucous voices shouting out her poetry. We put on her favourite music. She breathed very loudly. Even now I awake with a start, hearing that noise. Her body was in pain, the morphine didn't quite cut it.

In the end, the last words she said were: "Is it my birthday today?"

It was a good death, as death goes.

But, please, don't sugarcoat dying at home. Don't be led by the nose to doing something alone that should be an event where there are people present who know what is supposed to happen: Yes, this is normal. Yes, take a break for a little while. Yes, let's let her go. No, the morphine isn't killing her.

A sane culture is one where babies are born at home, where midwives are discreetly present for the woman, her newborn, and her family. A sane culture is one where people can die at home, where death midwives are present for the dying, for the living, and for the continuity of the family and the community.

Home Birth and Home Death


Babies sometimes just pop earthside but mostly birthing women want to have some company when they are going through this earth-shaking, phenomenally life-changing event.

I was born with a natural talent to accompany women through their birth journeys. I don't even know what I do most of the time but women tell me they feel better when I am present and quietly witnessing their changes. I tell them that everything is fine. I comfort. I nourish. It's just part of me, hey? I am not writing this because I am clapping my own hand.

When a person sees the woman they love looking like she's probably going to die, because her eyes have gone all weird and she's kind of fainting, they feel better when I tell them that this is normal, she is tripping in a special, life-giving way.

And it is truly magical if this event can take place at home. At home, a woman can run through her whole labor process in her own space. She can barf in her own garbage can. She can make love with her partner in her own living room. She can crawl backwards to the fridge to get apple juice.

She can give birth herself, surrounded by people who love her. She can cuddle with her new child in her own room, and she doesn't need a car seat.

I had a friend back in my hippie organic farming days: she had a c-section for her first child because she was breech, so she had her second on her own. She sent her husband and daughter off for a long walk (!), made sure she had enough methergine from the goat's birth kit, and birthed alone. She told me it was frightening. She would have wanted to have a midwife present, and so the third time around, she invited a midwife along for the ride.

Some women freebirth. These are women who birth on their own or with their partner and children. They trust the birth process implicitly and do not believe they need a midwife. Many women who wish to give birth at home do want a midwife, and midwives are generally respectful of the birth process and knowledgeable about serious challenges, even life-threatening ones, that very rarely unfold during birth.


Right now, in Canada, there is an ongoing discussion about end-of-life care. Many people are suggesting that death moves back home. This sounds all warm and fuzzy but let's look at the reality of this phenomenon.

First of all, I wonder why we are not talking more about bringing birth home? Is the dollar playing a part in this discussion? Possibly. It takes a couple of days, max, to have a baby. Midwifery is an economically viable option if you look at the bigger picture of health care in our country. The women giving birth in our country are, in the huge majority of cases, healthy and well-nourished. Group prenatal classes are popular and prenatal visits are easy to schedule.
Even when birthing women give birth in the hospital, where physicians can make their salaries and the women's hospital stay is almost always less than four days, birth costs less than death.

Dying takes a lot longer. Palliative care can be offloaded to families, private nurses, volunteer organizations and the occasional medical professional for the weeks or months before the final days.

Birth at home is a joy, a beginning, it is a moment that is too short to comprehend, passing in the blink of an eye.

Death at home can take weeks, even months. The family can implode, or explode. Money becomes scarce, life can enter a fog. When the final days come, they can be full of body fluids that no one wanted to deal with, disturbing images that no one can forget, emotional moments better left unspoken. I wonder why people think that birth is "too messy", and they romantically envision themselves dying peacefully surrounded by their loved ones? Have we so lost touch with reality that we think that dying in bed is like in a TV show, where the patient just slips away in the arms of her loyal husband? And the nurses stand around the bed with tears in their eyes?

Death can be just as messy as birth, and often is. I have attended many "clean" births, where the baby is born to a minimum of amniotic fluid, blood, poop, and vernix. But some births are bloody. Some births are full of waters. Some are so astoundingly shit-filled you wonder if it was intended divine humor. Some births have a little bit of everything: vomit, stool, meconium, urine, amniotic fluid, blood ...

People I have spoken to who felt that their relative's home death was a good experience were people who could afford to have a private care giver who was discreetly present for the family, or they were well acquainted with the body and its many processes. Others felt that the family was ill-equipped to deal with the physical death of their relative, as they were going through difficult emotional issues, perhaps complicated ones, and the physical realities were hard-hitting.

I thought I was well equipped to accompany my mother through her dying hours. I had nursed my father for the months he was bed-ridden, and I feel confident in my relationship with bodies.

I was wrong. The constant pain was so difficult for me to bear. I was voted as the family member best equipped to administer morphine. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do, even though I did it every two hours for a couple of days. I was the one who changed the pads. So much liquid! Who knew that the body basically dissolves at death. It wasn't urine. It wasn't amniotic fluid. It was vital fluid, leaking and leaking. Every time I changed the pad it was like torture, for me and for her. I was the one who tried everything to counter the pain of oral thrush. Did you know that this is a sign of the end of life? I have assisted many mothers through the intensity of vaginal, breast, and newborn thrush but this was above, beyond and off the charts pain for the woman who gave birth to me. She couldn't eat. She couldn't drink. All she wanted was a big tall glass of water. She was listening to the poetry in her head. She said that there were raucous voices shouting out her poetry. We put on her favourite music. She breathed very loudly. Even now I awake with a start, hearing that noise. Her body was in pain, the morphine didn't quite cut it.

In the end, the last words she said were: "Is it my birthday today?"

It was a good death, as death goes.

But, please, don't sugarcoat dying at home. Don't be led by the nose to doing something alone that should be an event where there are people present who know what is supposed to happen: Yes, this is normal. Yes, take a break for a little while. Yes, let's let her go. No, the morphine isn't killing her.

A sane culture is one where babies are born at home, where midwives are discreetly present for the woman, her newborn, and her family. A sane culture is one where people can die at home, where death midwives are present for the dying, for the living, and for the continuity of the family and the community.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Dream

Since I first started working with women here in Montreal I have been dreaming of opening a space where we could gather, with each other, with our babies, with our friends, spouses, partners, with our doulas ... or where a woman could come and just sit and read a book or stare into space.

Now I am finally at the point where this dream can become a reality. My last big project is done - I finally got my CPM certification last year. I have good contacts and solid friendships here so I feel like I may stick around for a while ... and it looks like with a lot of work and a good dose of luck, I might be able to see this dream become a reality.

I am hoping to raise a little money to help out for my first year. I have put up a campaign on Indiegogo - please have a look at it. If you could contribute ten dollars to this amazing vision, and share the campaign with all of your friends, I would be so happy! Please click on my dream to read more.



Postscript (November 2017) we did it! Caffe della Pace is thriving! Mamas, babies, lovers, friends, graphic designers, business people, dads, kids, grandfathers, cyclists ... everybody is welcome here, and they know it! 


It wasn't easy, and it's not over yet, but this cafe is a tribute to possibility, to working hard, to family, to friends, to love and peace!

My Dream

Since I first started working with women here in Montreal I have been dreaming of opening a space where we could gather, with each other, with our babies, with our friends, spouses, partners, with our doulas ... or where a woman could come and just sit and read a book or stare into space.

Now I am finally at the point where this dream can become a reality. My last big project is done - I finally got my CPM certification last year. I have good contacts and solid friendships here so I feel like I may stick around for a while ... and it looks like with a lot of work and a good dose of luck, I might be able to see this dream become a reality.

I am hoping to raise a little money to help out for my first year. I have put up a campaign on Indiegogo - please have a look at it. If you could contribute ten dollars to this amazing vision, and share the campaign with all of your friends, I would be so happy! Please click on my dream to read more.



Postscript (November 2017) we did it! Caffe della Pace is thriving! Mamas, babies, lovers, friends, graphic designers, business people, dads, kids, grandfathers, cyclists ... everybody is welcome here, and they know it! 


It wasn't easy, and it's not over yet, but this cafe is a tribute to possibility, to working hard, to family, to friends, to love and peace!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

#beenrapedneverreported

I am sure there are women all over Canada who have suddenly started to think about things that they perhaps hadn't thought about for years, or months at least.

I am thinking about this snarly little word: consensual.

Consensual, the word, has roots in Latin: con means "with" and sensual comes from "sentire" which means "to feel". So, you feel with another person.

Many women get raped and don't go to the police: they don't want to get dragged through court; they are ashamed (do you feel ashamed when your bicycle gets stolen?); they are too damn busy; and some of us don't report because we are hung up on this little consensual word. Because lots of rapes aren't like the masked stranger jumps out of the bushes at the unsuspecting Good Girl. Most rapes are, well, you're out drinking with the guys and the asshole who takes you home.... or, you're a young woman and don't yet know how to say "no" to a powerful relative.... or, you want to get ahead in your job so....

I didn't report, why would I?

Because we aren't taught that if you don't want it, it doesn't happen. We are taught that if you don't want it, there must be something wrong with you. If you don't want sex, or this kind of sex, or sex right now. If you don't want to put your baby in daycare, or you do want to, or you don't want to breastfeed, or you do want to, or you don't want to have an epidural or you do....

We're taught that if you report, you have a problem. If someone in power (your uncle, or your boss) wants to have sex with you, suck it up!

And not only that, we are taught that we have to be the best we can be, we have to have "my best birth" (hard if you were screwed by your uncle as a child), we have to "suck it up" (sucker!), look good, talk loud (don't be shy!), work hard, play hard AND clean the house...


So let's start treating ourselves with a little bit more respect. Let's say no when we mean no, and let's teach our children about the difference between yes and no. Yes means YES. No means NO. When I say YES, I am saying it because I mean it! Yes, I want to have sex. Yes, I want an epidural. No, I don't want to clean the bathroom right now. Yes, I want to breast feed. No, I do not want to make love right now. No, I do not want to cook supper tonight. No, I do not want an epidural or an induction. No, I want to go out on my own tonight. Yes, I would like to have an hour off. No, I am not going to keep quiet for forty years because I feel so ashamed. Yes, in fact, I AM going to clean the damn toilet right now because its filthy. Yes, I DO want a cesarean. Yes, I AM going to have an abortion. Yes, I AM going to have another child. I am going to go to law school. I am going to be a mom. I am. I am. I am.

#beenrapedneverreported

I am sure there are women all over Canada who have suddenly started to think about things that they perhaps hadn't thought about for years, or months at least.

I am thinking about this snarly little word: consensual.

Consensual, the word, has roots in Latin: con means "with" and sensual comes from "sentire" which means "to feel". So, you feel with another person.

Many women get raped and don't go to the police: they don't want to get dragged through court; they are ashamed (do you feel ashamed when your bicycle gets stolen?); they are too damn busy; and some of us don't report because we are hung up on this little consensual word. Because lots of rapes aren't like the masked stranger jumps out of the bushes at the unsuspecting Good Girl. Most rapes are, well, you're out drinking with the guys and the asshole who takes you home.... or, you're a young woman and don't yet know how to say "no" to a powerful relative.... or, you want to get ahead in your job so....

I didn't report, why would I?

Because we aren't taught that if you don't want it, it doesn't happen. We are taught that if you don't want it, there must be something wrong with you. If you don't want sex, or this kind of sex, or sex right now. If you don't want to put your baby in daycare, or you do want to, or you don't want to breastfeed, or you do want to, or you don't want to have an epidural or you do....

We're taught that if you report, you have a problem. If someone in power (your uncle, or your boss) wants to have sex with you, suck it up!

And not only that, we are taught that we have to be the best we can be, we have to have "my best birth" (hard if you were screwed by your uncle as a child), we have to "suck it up" (sucker!), look good, talk loud (don't be shy!), work hard, play hard AND clean the house...


So let's start treating ourselves with a little bit more respect. Let's say no when we mean no, and let's teach our children about the difference between yes and no. Yes means YES. No means NO. When I say YES, I am saying it because I mean it! Yes, I want to have sex. Yes, I want an epidural. No, I don't want to clean the bathroom right now. Yes, I want to breast feed. No, I do not want to make love right now. No, I do not want to cook supper tonight. No, I do not want an epidural or an induction. No, I want to go out on my own tonight. Yes, I would like to have an hour off. No, I am not going to keep quiet for forty years because I feel so ashamed. Yes, in fact, I AM going to clean the damn toilet right now because its filthy. Yes, I DO want a cesarean. Yes, I AM going to have an abortion. Yes, I AM going to have another child. I am going to go to law school. I am going to be a mom. I am. I am. I am.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dare to Care Workshop

I am looking forward to presenting my "Dare to Care" workshop in Saskatoon in November. I am going there anyway to speak at the Canadian Association of Midwives 2014 conference. I will be speaking about about the good sense of requiring midwifery applicants to have experience as volunteer doulas, in an organization such as Montreal Birth Companions.

When I decided I would indeed be going back to Saskatoon (I was there ... 40 years ago as a young hippie girl), I contacted my virtual friend Lisa Wass, a Birth Keeper who is director of Birth Rhythms. Birth Rhythms is the kind of place you would imagine finding in a large metropolitan city, but there it is in Saskatoon, changing women's, babies' and families' lives for the better every day (and every night - Lisa is also a doula who attends births).

I am very honored to be presenting my workshop there - it is a little bit of a transition time for Birth Rhythms and Lisa's community has banded together and shown their absolute support for this amazing organization.

"Dare to Care" is a workshop that focuses on the healing power of birth, and on self care and pleasure for the Birth Keeper. We will be exploring different approaches to healing, and we will be playing together with some body mapping techniques and storytelling.

For more information, head over to Birth Rhythms and look at their calendar here.


Dare to Care Workshop

I am looking forward to presenting my "Dare to Care" workshop in Saskatoon in November. I am going there anyway to speak at the Canadian Association of Midwives 2014 conference. I will be speaking about about the good sense of requiring midwifery applicants to have experience as volunteer doulas, in an organization such as Montreal Birth Companions.

When I decided I would indeed be going back to Saskatoon (I was there ... 40 years ago as a young hippie girl), I contacted my virtual friend Lisa Wass, a Birth Keeper who is director of Birth Rhythms. Birth Rhythms is the kind of place you would imagine finding in a large metropolitan city, but there it is in Saskatoon, changing women's, babies' and families' lives for the better every day (and every night - Lisa is also a doula who attends births).

I am very honored to be presenting my workshop there - it is a little bit of a transition time for Birth Rhythms and Lisa's community has banded together and shown their absolute support for this amazing organization.

"Dare to Care" is a workshop that focuses on the healing power of birth, and on self care and pleasure for the Birth Keeper. We will be exploring different approaches to healing, and we will be playing together with some body mapping techniques and storytelling.

For more information, head over to Birth Rhythms and look at their calendar here.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Birth Drugs


Just say no? Of course not!

Drugs save people's lives. Antibiotics, antiretrovirals, opiates, anesthetics, statins .... the list goes on and on. Every day, millions of people are kept alive by modern medicine and by appropriately prescribed medication.
In obstetrics, however, as in psychiatry, medications are overused and used inappropriately. The other day I heard a story about a woman who needed surgery like she needed a hole in the head. She is alone, poor, and anxious. She was going to have a difficult entry into motherhood without major surgery, dealing with the stress of a newborn along with the continued stresses of poverty and cultural isolation.
She was scheduled for an induction and her uterus reacted too strongly to a Cervidil insertion and started hyper-contracting. Baby went into distress and surgery was needed to save the baby. 
I would need a crystal ball and a full-on fortune telling kit to figure out if this particular mother-baby dyad would have needed surgery if left alone. But it is true that "Care providers need to consider that induction of women with an unfavourable cervix is associated with a higher failure rate in nulliparous patients and a higher Caesarean section rate in nulliparous and parous patients" (SOGC).

Why are we giving drugs to laboring women? I took a picture of this drug the other day. It is called synthetic oxytocin. It can save women's lives if they are experiencing a serious postpartum hemorrhage. But it is used much too often to speed up or stimulate labor in cases where a good dose of patience is all that is called for.


This is a high risk drug!

Another cocktail of drugs that is commonly administered is the epidural cocktail. The components vary from hospital to hospital. You can find detailed information on the most common ingredients here (page 20). Most epidurals do contain Fentanyl (see below), which is an opiate. I have never heard an anesthesiologist ask a laboring woman if she has a history of substance addiction, but most recovered addicts I know would not willing put an opiate into their bodies unless they really had to.

Which leads me to the next question, which is: when is it necessary to give pharmaceutical medication to women in labor? And I would like to suggest that the answer should be: when the pharmaceuticals are directly involved in saving the life of mother or baby or both. 

We simply do not know the long-term effects of epidural medication on the baby.  And no, I am not speaking from a pedestal of wonderful candle-lit home births here, either. I have experienced my fair share of birth trauma. And yes, I am fully aware that taking an epidural during labor is often very important for the woman's emotional and psychological well-being, and her sense of empowerment. But these drugs are becoming normalized and their effects minimized. I would like to see the brake put on this candy store mentality where we are offering dangerous drugs to women and newborns.

Here is a brief description of one of these candies:

Molecular structure of fentanyl
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opiate receptors, highly concentrated in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opiate drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Medications called opiate receptor antagonists act by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. Naloxone is one such antagonist. Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with an opiate antagonist.When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with recent overdoses was produced in clandestine laboratories and mixed with (or substituted for) heroin in a powder form. Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include: euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction. (National Institute of Drug Abuse (2012). Fentanyl Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl on September 23, 2014)

Birth Drugs


Just say no? Of course not!

Drugs save people's lives. Antibiotics, antiretrovirals, opiates, anesthetics, statins .... the list goes on and on. Every day, millions of people are kept alive by modern medicine and by appropriately prescribed medication.
In obstetrics, however, as in psychiatry, medications are overused and used inappropriately. The other day I heard a story about a woman who needed surgery like she needed a hole in the head. She is alone, poor, and anxious. She was going to have a difficult entry into motherhood without major surgery, dealing with the stress of a newborn along with the continued stresses of poverty and cultural isolation.
She was scheduled for an induction and her uterus reacted too strongly to a Cervidil insertion and started hyper-contracting. Baby went into distress and surgery was needed to save the baby. 
I would need a crystal ball and a full-on fortune telling kit to figure out if this particular mother-baby dyad would have needed surgery if left alone. But it is true that "Care providers need to consider that induction of women with an unfavourable cervix is associated with a higher failure rate in nulliparous patients and a higher Caesarean section rate in nulliparous and parous patients" (SOGC).

Why are we giving drugs to laboring women? I took a picture of this drug the other day. It is called synthetic oxytocin. It can save women's lives if they are experiencing a serious postpartum hemorrhage. But it is used much too often to speed up or stimulate labor in cases where a good dose of patience is all that is called for.


This is a high risk drug!

Another cocktail of drugs that is commonly administered is the epidural cocktail. The components vary from hospital to hospital. You can find detailed information on the most common ingredients here (page 20). Most epidurals do contain Fentanyl (see below), which is an opiate. I have never heard an anesthesiologist ask a laboring woman if she has a history of substance addiction, but most recovered addicts I know would not willing put an opiate into their bodies unless they really had to.

Which leads me to the next question, which is: when is it necessary to give pharmaceutical medication to women in labor? And I would like to suggest that the answer should be: when the pharmaceuticals are directly involved in saving the life of mother or baby or both. 

We simply do not know the long-term effects of epidural medication on the baby.  And no, I am not speaking from a pedestal of wonderful candle-lit home births here, either. I have experienced my fair share of birth trauma. And yes, I am fully aware that taking an epidural during labor is often very important for the woman's emotional and psychological well-being, and her sense of empowerment. But these drugs are becoming normalized and their effects minimized. I would like to see the brake put on this candy store mentality where we are offering dangerous drugs to women and newborns.

Here is a brief description of one of these candies:

Molecular structure of fentanyl
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opiate receptors, highly concentrated in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opiate drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Medications called opiate receptor antagonists act by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. Naloxone is one such antagonist. Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with an opiate antagonist.When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with recent overdoses was produced in clandestine laboratories and mixed with (or substituted for) heroin in a powder form. Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include: euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction. (National Institute of Drug Abuse (2012). Fentanyl Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl on September 23, 2014)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Midwifery and Doula Work

I just found out that another student graduate of the MBC Doula School has been accepted into Ryerson midwifery school. She will make a wonderful midwife and I truly believe that the experience she has had volunteering for Montreal Birth Companions has given her the groundwork that she needs to start her midwifery education with confidence and compassion. I hope she can be inspired by my friend Robin whose midwife life is documented in this wonderful film:





I have been involved in maternity care since I was thirteen, which as my youngest son likes to point out, was a very long time ago! For years, when my four older children were small and I was running an organic subsistence farm, I studied Clara Hartley's "Apprentice Academics" long-distance midwifery courses, and so I gained my theoretical background for woman-centered care. When I returned to Canada, I chose to attend births as a doula and I continued to learn from every woman I accompanied, and from every professional I met.

I have been part of programs that offer midwifery internships to students in parts of the world where midwives is scarce and hospitals are under-equipped and expensive. This phenomenon morphed into programs in the southern US that provide midwife-based maternity care to Mexican women, and it also became a popular way for student midwives from the US to "get their numbers" for the Certified Professional Midwife program administered by NARM. This practice has now been discontinued because of ethical considerations, which makes it even more difficult for midwifery students from North America to have contact with women from cultures outside of their own. 

Midwifery programs in Canada are not apprentice-based, and the university programs that teach Canadian midwives do not expect students to go to the community to gather their birth experience. Practical experience is combined with theoretical study to provide the students with a grounding in midwifery in Canada. 

The requirements for graduation vary slightly from province to province, but generally a graduate midwife must have attended "a minimum of 60 births, acting as primary caregiver for at least 40 births in home and hospital settings." (http://www.ryerson.ca/midwifery/overview.html)

A student midwife can learn a lot from participating in the births of 60 babies. As every birth is different, the student will see, hear and learn about many variations to the tune of giving birth. If she is primary caregiver for 40 births, hopefully she will attend ten home births, and possibly have to transfer one of those to the hospital.

But I propose that prospective midwifery students in Canada and around the world can greatly benefit from a foundation of learning and experience that they will find by volunteering as doulas for needy women.

Why? 

First, volunteering as a doula can teach a midwifery student about an important aspect of midwifery, an aspect that is not taught in class and can only be learned in practice - and even better in doula practice! This is the art of sitting on your hands: "Don't just do something - sit there!" is one of the golden rules of being a true Birth Keeper. Doulas working in hospitals alongside medically trained professionals need to be able to keep their opinions to themselves. They need to learn how to act diplomatically in all sorts of situations. They need to learn how to comfort, how to heal, how to facilitate natural birth with only the lowest technologies. They learn how to measure cervical dilation with their eyes and ears. They can distinguish between normal pain in labor and suffering. They are adept at hearing the little catch in the breath at the peak of a contraction that means that a woman is nearing the pushing phase. They can sense the difference between the "6 cm rectal pressure" (when a woman probably just needs to have a poo); and the fully dilated deep pushing urge.

Why are these skills important for a midwife? Because the art of midwifery rests on a foundation of physiological childbirth. And the more a midwife knows about how NOT to disturb the birthing process, the easier her task will be. Then when she starts her midwifery classes, which teach her the skills that doulas are not trained in, she will already have the very basics of birth attendance.

Secondly, as a volunteer doula with an organization such as MBC, the midwife-to-be will come into contact with women from many backgrounds. She will witness birth experiences that will be as different from each other as every woman's story. She will find herself listening to women's stories from around the world, and she will learn about herself as a woman and as a birth companion. She will learn about professional boundaries, and about the challenges that women face when they are marginalized.

As a Birth Keeper, I have witnessed many births and I have been part of many more, as coordinator of MBC, as shoulder to cry on, as mentor. I have learned from books and from my teachers (Basia, Ibu Robin, Heather, and others). I have learned what NOT to do from other teachers - and those I won't name - but I have witnessed midwives, nurses and physicians who have treated birthing women with disrespect and brutality. 

But the most I have learned has been from the birthing women I have served. And this is why I believe that volunteering with an organization such as Montreal Birth Companions should not be an aid to midwifery school acceptance, but a requirement.




    Midwifery and Doula Work

    I just found out that another student graduate of the MBC Doula School has been accepted into Ryerson midwifery school. She will make a wonderful midwife and I truly believe that the experience she has had volunteering for Montreal Birth Companions has given her the groundwork that she needs to start her midwifery education with confidence and compassion. I hope she can be inspired by my friend Robin whose midwife life is documented in this wonderful film:





    I have been involved in maternity care since I was thirteen, which as my youngest son likes to point out, was a very long time ago! For years, when my four older children were small and I was running an organic subsistence farm, I studied Clara Hartley's "Apprentice Academics" long-distance midwifery courses, and so I gained my theoretical background for woman-centered care. When I returned to Canada, I chose to attend births as a doula and I continued to learn from every woman I accompanied, and from every professional I met.

    I have been part of programs that offer midwifery internships to students in parts of the world where midwives is scarce and hospitals are under-equipped and expensive. This phenomenon morphed into programs in the southern US that provide midwife-based maternity care to Mexican women, and it also became a popular way for student midwives from the US to "get their numbers" for the Certified Professional Midwife program administered by NARM. This practice has now been discontinued because of ethical considerations, which makes it even more difficult for midwifery students from North America to have contact with women from cultures outside of their own. 

    Midwifery programs in Canada are not apprentice-based, and the university programs that teach Canadian midwives do not expect students to go to the community to gather their birth experience. Practical experience is combined with theoretical study to provide the students with a grounding in midwifery in Canada. 

    The requirements for graduation vary slightly from province to province, but generally a graduate midwife must have attended "a minimum of 60 births, acting as primary caregiver for at least 40 births in home and hospital settings." (http://www.ryerson.ca/midwifery/overview.html)

    A student midwife can learn a lot from participating in the births of 60 babies. As every birth is different, the student will see, hear and learn about many variations to the tune of giving birth. If she is primary caregiver for 40 births, hopefully she will attend ten home births, and possibly have to transfer one of those to the hospital.

    But I propose that prospective midwifery students in Canada and around the world can greatly benefit from a foundation of learning and experience that they will find by volunteering as doulas for needy women.

    Why? 

    First, volunteering as a doula can teach a midwifery student about an important aspect of midwifery, an aspect that is not taught in class and can only be learned in practice - and even better in doula practice! This is the art of sitting on your hands: "Don't just do something - sit there!" is one of the golden rules of being a true Birth Keeper. Doulas working in hospitals alongside medically trained professionals need to be able to keep their opinions to themselves. They need to learn how to act diplomatically in all sorts of situations. They need to learn how to comfort, how to heal, how to facilitate natural birth with only the lowest technologies. They learn how to measure cervical dilation with their eyes and ears. They can distinguish between normal pain in labor and suffering. They are adept at hearing the little catch in the breath at the peak of a contraction that means that a woman is nearing the pushing phase. They can sense the difference between the "6 cm rectal pressure" (when a woman probably just needs to have a poo); and the fully dilated deep pushing urge.

    Why are these skills important for a midwife? Because the art of midwifery rests on a foundation of physiological childbirth. And the more a midwife knows about how NOT to disturb the birthing process, the easier her task will be. Then when she starts her midwifery classes, which teach her the skills that doulas are not trained in, she will already have the very basics of birth attendance.

    Secondly, as a volunteer doula with an organization such as MBC, the midwife-to-be will come into contact with women from many backgrounds. She will witness birth experiences that will be as different from each other as every woman's story. She will find herself listening to women's stories from around the world, and she will learn about herself as a woman and as a birth companion. She will learn about professional boundaries, and about the challenges that women face when they are marginalized.

    As a Birth Keeper, I have witnessed many births and I have been part of many more, as coordinator of MBC, as shoulder to cry on, as mentor. I have learned from books and from my teachers (Basia, Ibu Robin, Heather, and others). I have learned what NOT to do from other teachers - and those I won't name - but I have witnessed midwives, nurses and physicians who have treated birthing women with disrespect and brutality. 

    But the most I have learned has been from the birthing women I have served. And this is why I believe that volunteering with an organization such as Montreal Birth Companions should not be an aid to midwifery school acceptance, but a requirement.




      Wednesday, July 30, 2014

      MBC Doula School


      I have been the director of Montreal Birth Companions for over ten years now. We are at a very exciting point in our life as an organization, and I compare it to that time in a child's life when he (I have only sons so forgive the gender specific pronoun) leaves home to find his way. Our organization is now becoming mature and I will have to relinquish some of my hold on it and let it become what it needs to become.
      So  now I have a new baby, and that is the MBC Doula School. I have been teaching doulas since 2003 and I want to expand my (and my students') horizons, and to that end I have created a school which is based partly on my basic courses (Levels One and Two), but also is based upon guest teachers who come to MBC Doula School to share their knowledge.
      I have been working hard to bring this program to reality and things are coming together nicely now. I have invited several wonderful guests to lead us on our learning path and I have had lots of enthusiastic feedback from prospective students. To those of you who are far away, I am working on a web-based program that will retain the friendliness and community of our in-house classes.
      Dedicated Birth Keeper taking notes @3am
      The cost of the program will be based on credit hours (details to come) and, as always, I am happy to offer scholarships and internships to those who cannot pay. Please do not let your calling to this field be hindered by your cash problems!  
      Remember, this program values self-directed study and practical work. I also believe that what we do teaches as much as what we say, so we at MBC Doula School are very respectful of the boundaries and limitations our students may have.
      Practical work is fully integrated into the program, as an observer, a volunteer doula, shadow, or as an apprentice or mentor.

      Doula Care Level One is starting on September 8, 2014. A Safe Passage will be taking place September 21 and 22, 2014. Singing Birth workshop will be coming to Montreal in March, 2015. For more information, please visit MBC Doula School
      Here are the courses:
      Doula Care Level I
      Anatomy and Physiology for the childbearing year
      Doula Care I.
      Breastfeeding I.
      Nutrition
      Practical Component   
      Doula Care Level II 
      Doula Care II.
      Reviewing Medical Interventions
      Diagnostics
      Practical Component                                                            
      Introduction to Healing During the Childbearing Year  (Level III)
      Challenges During the Childbearing Year: An Overview
      Overview of Healing Modalities                                                   
      Electives                                                                   
      1. A Safe Passage workshop                                                    
      2. Working with Families                                                            
      3. Language and Birth                                                             
      4. Informatics for Birth Workers                                               
      5. Singing Birth                                                                            
      6. Postpartum Intensive                                                              
      7. Healing during Pregnancy, Labor and Birth                          
      8. Healing during the Postpartum Period                                   
      9. Cranio-Sacral During Pregnancy and for newborns
      10. Yoga pre-and postpartum
      11. The Placenta  and Placental Encapsulation
      12. Herbalism
      13. Ribozo
      14. Homeopathy for doulas
      15. Massage: Prenatal, During Labor, Postpartum
      16. The Doula Business
      17. Birth Narrative
      18. Working with marginalized populations
      19. Childbirth Education Course (observe)  
      20. Winter Birth Retreat with Debra and Rivka                             

      MBC Doula School


      I have been the director of Montreal Birth Companions for over ten years now. We are at a very exciting point in our life as an organization, and I compare it to that time in a child's life when he (I have only sons so forgive the gender specific pronoun) leaves home to find his way. Our organization is now becoming mature and I will have to relinquish some of my hold on it and let it become what it needs to become.
      So  now I have a new baby, and that is the MBC Doula School. I have been teaching doulas since 2003 and I want to expand my (and my students') horizons, and to that end I have created a school which is based partly on my basic courses (Levels One and Two), but also is based upon guest teachers who come to MBC Doula School to share their knowledge.
      I have been working hard to bring this program to reality and things are coming together nicely now. I have invited several wonderful guests to lead us on our learning path and I have had lots of enthusiastic feedback from prospective students. To those of you who are far away, I am working on a web-based program that will retain the friendliness and community of our in-house classes.
      Dedicated Birth Keeper taking notes @3am
      The cost of the program will be based on credit hours (details to come) and, as always, I am happy to offer scholarships and internships to those who cannot pay. Please do not let your calling to this field be hindered by your cash problems!  
      Remember, this program values self-directed study and practical work. I also believe that what we do teaches as much as what we say, so we at MBC Doula School are very respectful of the boundaries and limitations our students may have.
      Practical work is fully integrated into the program, as an observer, a volunteer doula, shadow, or as an apprentice or mentor.

      Doula Care Level One is starting on September 8, 2014. A Safe Passage will be taking place September 21 and 22, 2014. Singing Birth workshop will be coming to Montreal in March, 2015. For more information, please visit MBC Doula School
      Here are the courses:
      Doula Care Level I
      Anatomy and Physiology for the childbearing year
      Doula Care I.
      Breastfeeding I.
      Nutrition
      Practical Component   
      Doula Care Level II 
      Doula Care II.
      Reviewing Medical Interventions
      Diagnostics
      Practical Component                                                            
      Introduction to Healing During the Childbearing Year  (Level III)
      Challenges During the Childbearing Year: An Overview
      Overview of Healing Modalities                                                   
      Electives                                                                   
      1. A Safe Passage workshop                                                    
      2. Working with Families                                                            
      3. Language and Birth                                                             
      4. Informatics for Birth Workers                                               
      5. Singing Birth                                                                            
      6. Postpartum Intensive                                                              
      7. Healing during Pregnancy, Labor and Birth                          
      8. Healing during the Postpartum Period                                   
      9. Cranio-Sacral During Pregnancy and for newborns
      10. Yoga pre-and postpartum
      11. The Placenta  and Placental Encapsulation
      12. Herbalism
      13. Ribozo
      14. Homeopathy for doulas
      15. Massage: Prenatal, During Labor, Postpartum
      16. The Doula Business
      17. Birth Narrative
      18. Working with marginalized populations
      19. Childbirth Education Course (observe)  
      20. Winter Birth Retreat with Debra and Rivka