Since I met up with the delightful Amy from Anktangle, we're both posting our experiences of Ina May Gaskin's visit. Check hers out at Anktangle.
World-renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin came to Seattle this past weekend to promote her new book, Birth Matters, at the conference for the Midwives' Association of Washington State, and I got to hear her speak — on Mother's Day, in fact! What an oxytocic treat for a super-pregnant lady.
If you don't know who Ina May Gaskin is, you'll enjoy finding out. She's a midwife who has inspired countless women to trust their own bodies and the birth process, through her hands-on work at The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee (check out their birth statistics) and her previous books: Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, and Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding. She's also the only midwife (only woman) to have an obstetric maneuver (for shoulder dystocia) named after her.
I read Ina May's Guide to Childbirth during my pregnancy and birth preparation with Mikko, and it meant so much to me to hear her wisdom and the stories of women who had birthed on The Farm. There is so much variety and beauty in birth, particularly in natural birth, and I was able to hear her encouraging voice in my head while I labored with Mikko for two long days, chanting internally for my cervix to open open open and waiting patiently for each wave to come to shore.
Ina May believes in Sphincter Law, which was influential in my choosing a home birth over a hospital or even birth center experience. The cervix is a sphincter that reacts to stress, fear, and shyness the way any sphincter does. Consider pooping in a crowd of strangers shining bright lights in your face, firing questions about the intensity, and dictating your pooping position, and you'll understand what she means.
So I was thrilled to hear Ina May Gaskin speak at Town Hall — and to meet some of my bloggy friends: Amy from Anktangle and Stefanie from very, very fine (who got a MUCH awesomer picture of her and her friend with Ina May than any of my absolutely horrific phone pics turned out!).
The talkIn a presentation named Birth Works: Why Don't We Know It? (a title which made me happier than I can express), Ina May took us through a personal history of her own birth and midwifery experiences: a dismal hospital birth as a first-time birthing mom in the 1960s, followed by a turn toward the hippie lifestyle with her husband, Stephen Gaskin, and a fascination with pregnancy and natural birth — since she was offered plenty of experience witnessing both in their communal life. After Ina May had already attended a couple births, she was fortunate to receive an offer of training, which she happily accepted.
From there, it was a matter of continuing her education in midwifery and increasing — greatly — her experience in natural birthing. She has techniques under her belt you'll never hear from an obstetrician: having someone jiggle the back of your thighs and buttocks during a contraction to loosen you up, encouraging open-mouthed kissing of a partner to send positive hormones coursing through and relax the cervix, and just in general opening and relaxing your mouth and jaw — one easy opening begets another.
She talked about how oxytocin doesn't come just in a vial (as synthetic Pitocin or similar) — that it is a natural chemical in our bodies, and there are ways we produce it to stimulate labor, and to help with postpartum complications like hemorrhage. She scoffed at the notion that every woman needs artificial assistance with birthing the placenta and stopping bleeding — as if the natural way of things would have been so careless.
She showed us this video of an unassisted elephant birth to illustrate some of her points. Before you watch it, let me warn you that it's a happy ending but was somewhat distressing to me as a pregnant woman to watch, since it takes awhile and a lot of instinctual effort from the mama elephant to persuade the baby to breathe.
Once the elephant does take his first breaths, I think the whole auditorium breathed a sigh of relief in unison. Ina May's points were some of the following:
- Elephants think nothing of giving birth to elephants. No one warned this mama her 250-pound baby had macrosomia.
- If you watch the mama during the pushing, you'll see she throws her trunk back and opens her mouth, which relaxes her sphincter.
- There is no yelling, screaming, or elephant swearing ("Tarzan!").
- Most of that huge gush of fluid and blood would have been absorbed by the natural landscape if the elephant weren't in captivity.
- The mother knows what to do to get her baby to breathe. It would have taken several people to make the same efforts she does, and they probably would have done it wrong.
She also spoke a lot of the sad state of maternity care in the United States and gave a rundown of how it came to this — how midwife-attended births are such a small percentage since fear has driven out our trust in midwifery and in birth itself, how the maternal mortality rate is unacceptable (due in part to the equally unacceptable C-section rate), the way racism intersects with prenatal opportunities and birth outcomes, and how so much commonsense training has been lost to so-called efficiency, over-reliance on technology, and malpractice concerns. She cited the recent case of a woman undergoing induction and a C-section who was not pregnant and pointed out that if the physicians in charge had ever laid hands on her abdomen to feel for an enlarged uterus, they would have known right away it was a false pregnancy. (I was thinking about that during my most recent midwife visit, as she palpated my uterus and took the baby's head and bum into her hands to estimate the size. My midwife is guessing it's going to be at least a 10-pounder. Watch out, Mikko — someone's trying to close in on your record! I could only imagine if I were having an OB-attended birth, there'd be no palpation guessing, only an ultrasound — and then I would be summarily induced and sectioned to avoid the horror of having a large baby vaginally…)
But my favorite part in the whole presentation had to have been at the very end as Ina May was wrapping up. She came to the slide in her PowerPoint that talked about how our fear and disgust of our bottoms and their functions is what makes us distrust and freeze up when it comes to birth. She exclaimed that she preaches "love for butts!" as she punched a fist in the air. I'm taking that to heart. The heart of my bottom.
The book signingAfter her lecture, Ina May sat at a table and quite efficiently signed a copy of whatever books you wanted to bring her. (Well, I assume she wouldn't have signed a book by another author, but she wasn't picky about which of her own books she signed.)
Since I'm a big library fan, I didn't have my own copies of any of her wonderful volumes, so I quickly snagged the latest at the Bastyr University book-sale table: Birth Matters.
Amy had brought her copy of Spiritual Midwifery (originally published in 1977 for the psychedelic crowd — peace, sisters!) and, perhaps more importantly, her actual camera.
Whereas I got mostly blurry pictures of people jumping into the path of my camera phone as it was trying to focus:
Amy and her partner to the rescue!
The paparazziWe took other photos at the midwifery conference and elsewhere, so I'll share them here.
It was such a joy to meet up with Amy and her delightful family. Baby Daniel is just as cute in person as on her blog, and she's not one of those bloggers where I can give you horror stories of how differently she acted in real life. Dang it. (Just kidding.)
Someone crashed our photo op.
I told Mikko ahead of time we were meeting Amy, Jaymz, and a little boy named Daniel. He digested this and his only comment was, "I hope he brings cookies." Despite the fact that Daniel did not, in fact, bring cookies, Mikko loved meeting them all and was disappointed when they left and he had to stop showing off for them. He's already asked to go visit them at their house.
I met Stefanie from very, very fine, when she kindly allowed me to cut into the will-call line with her and her partner. I had taken the bus and not realized what seemed like a short walk from the stop was all uphill. So I was grateful for the chance to cheat on the standing-in-line bit.
As we were waiting for our tickets, who should come up to us but Seattle resident Penny Simkin! If Ina May is the most famous midwife, Penny is likely the most famous doula and childbirth educator. I had just been reading over her book, The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions, the day before. I have it stashed in my birth kit in case Sam and I need it, and he read it through and took notes before Mikko's birth.
Penny was a sweetheart about agreeing to pose with us and said to put the pregnant woman in the middle (that would be me!). She asked me when I was due (May 24, if y'all must know) and said she had had a child due the same day — but he was born June 14. Ha! See, that would give me enough time.
Then I went in to the auditorium to meet Amy, and she was envious when I told her of my Penny Simkin encounter, since she's one of Amy's heroes as well. Who should come sit near us, in the reserved section, but the very woman we were discussing!
So guess who got another picture taken with her:
You could sort of see the look in Penny's eyes as she worried she'd acquired a stalker in the stripy pregnant lady.
I also met up with the midwife who attended Mikko's birth, which was a nice surprise. She was there with one of her daughters, and she gave a strong recommendation for my current midwife, so that was reassuring.
One last picture under the "Birth Works" sign and with baby Daniel in attendance. (Hey, Mikko crashed one photo — gotta give another cute kid a chance!)
The giveawayI would like to offer my Ina May Gaskin-signed copy of Birth Matters to one reader who wasn't lucky enough to have seen her in person! I would keep it for myself, but I've gotten in line for it at the library, and I've decided it's better for me to pass it on so you can experience some of the Ina May love.
The book is described here as "a spirited manifesta showing us how to trust women, value birth, nurture families, and reconcile modern life with a process as old as our species." I've resisted reading this copy so I don't ruin it for the winner. (I'm one of those rebel library users who doesn't always wash her hands before reading.) But in a brief flip-through, I'm already entranced.
Don't you adore the cover? That's Ina May herself with her newborn son Samuel.
To enter, simply pop over to Hobo Mama Reviews and leave a simple comment there. There are also several bonus entry methods to increase your chances of winning. Leaving a relevant comment on this post is one of them, by the by!
The book is worth $17 (plus the priceless autograph!), and I will gladly mail it anywhere in the world.
The contest ends June 6, because it's my anniversary and sounds pretty.
And, unless Penny Simkin's recollection was also prophetic, I will have a new baby in my arms by then. Just imagine!
Remember to visit Anktangle for Amy's take on the Ina May presentation, and head to Hobo Mama Reviews to enter the contest.