Saturday, May 14, 2011

Meeting midwife Ina May Gaskin & a giveaway of a signed copy of Birth Matters

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 talk

In 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.

Monday night class slide in Ina May Gaskin lecture at Town Hall in Seattle
Ina May shows a photo of Stephen Gaskin's famous Monday Night Class, which attracted all sorts of spiritual-minded young people, many of whom ended up in The Farm community.

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 signing

book signing of Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall SeattleAfter 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:

person stepping in front of me as I take a picture of Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall Seattle
This picture is copyrighted. Don't even be thinking of trying to steal its fineness.

Amy and her partner to the rescue!

Lauren of Hobo Mama with Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall Seattle

The paparazzi

We took other photos at the midwifery conference and elsewhere, so I'll share them here.

Amy of Anktangle and Lauren of Hobo Mama in West Seattle — Ina May Gaskin
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.)

Surprise! Mikko crashes Amy of Anktangle and Lauren of Hobo Mama in West Seattle — Ina May Gaskin
Someone crashed our photo op.

Amy of Anktangle and Lauren of Hobo Mama with Mikko in West Seattle — Ina May Gaskin

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.

Stefanie of very very fine and Lauren of Hobo Mama with Penny Simkin at Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall Seattle

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:
Amy of Anktangle and Lauren of Hobo Mama with Penny Simkin at Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall Seattle

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.

Amy of Anktangle with Daniel and Lauren of Hobo Mama at Ina May Gaskin in Town Hall Seattle
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 giveaway

Birth MattersI 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.


cates said...

Ina May changed my LIFE. I was excited to become a doula but after I read "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" I became ecstatic about becoming a doula. It is a dream of mine to attend a midwifery workshop at the Farm!

Hippie Housewife said...

It sounds like an amazing experience!! I love her Guide to Childbirth book. I too could "hear" her voice throughout my (very short) labour and delivery of my second child. I wish I'd read it during my first pregnancy!

paisley4420 said...

reading, *liking*, and sharing on my wall with misty eyes :) what a priceless Mothers Day gift! Thanks for sharing <3

Lacey Jane said...

I'm reading this book right now and it is fabulous!! I keep stopping and reading parts out loud to my (very understanding) husband. I love it. What a wonderful story! I am so happy you got to meet such influential women.

Jennifer said...

Jealous indeed that you were able to meet such an influential member of the natural child birthing community! I just love your blog, Lauren!

stefanie @ very very fine said...

Lauren, the key to getting a quality Ina May photo is willingness to be a creep. My favorite part about the interaction was that after I asked if we could have our picture taken with her ("um, hi, sorry, we really love you and um would you take a picture with us please? sorry, sorry"), Ina May was totally like, "err...uh, okay." Thankfully, she looks more pleased in the photo than she was in actuality.
So nice to have met you there and glad we all got such a rad Mothers' Day treat.

Rooted Mama Health said...

How amazing that you got to hear her speak!! I never knew that childbirth could be treated in such a natural, beautiful way until I read Spiritual Midwifery. She is truly one of a kind and a real blessing to women across the world!!

erin said...

I too read Ina's guide to childbirth and flipped thru spiritual midwifery when i was preggers. She has SUCH a wonderful view on pregnancy and birth. makes so much sense. I'd love to read her new book.
grreat blog!

Adina Altschuler Kopinsky said...

Oh how lucky you are! I adore Ina May, especially her Breastfeeding book :-)

allana said...

What wonderful timing that you were able to hear Ina May speak in the final stage of your pregnancy! I have both of Ina May's previous books, and read them thoroughly before (and even after!) our son was born in 2009 (yes, it was a home birth. :)


earthlytreasures said...

Awesome! Must have been amazing to hear her speak in the flesh, so to speak...

IMG and her books are what really gave my husband and I the impetus, and the confidence to birth naturally and at home. She is one wonderful lady!


Anonymous said...

I love her breastfeeding book, haven't read any of her birth books... yet!

I'm a full-time mummy said...

What a breathtaking and moving video of the elephant giving birth! Thank you so much for sharing this post and I would really like to win that copy of the book!

~ Jenny
My email is: imafulltimemummy at gmail dot com
My blog URL is: ( )

SusanAlexander said...

I got to go to this (and just days after I found out I was expecting my third!). I had to hurry out of there before the book signing and would've loved a signed copy of her book! I have dreams someday of becoming a midwife.

Cynthia said...

I wish I could say that I love Ina, but to be honest, this is the first I hear of her. I am very new to the whole notion of home birthing, Ive been going through a back to the roots sort of process, and Ive been avidly reading what I can find on this subject and have been met with mostly negative responses, as in I would be crazy to put myself and my child at risk through the silly notion of at home birth, I will definetly look her up!

Joy@WDDCH said...

Lucky, lucky, lucky lady! I'm reading her second book right now, her guide to childbirth. You are so generous to give up your copy to someone! I'm going to go enter!

Miriam said...

So amazing! Ina May's Guide to Childbirth was the one book that convinced me to have a home birth. I would love to met her!

Christina said...

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth had such a tremendous influence on how my labor went. My doula recommended reading it when I started feeling anxious about my natural birthing plans and I read it twice. It was possibly the most empowering book I've ever read, helping me to trust my body and see the beauty in my natural ability to birth my child. I haven't read anything else by her yet, but I'm a huge fan!

paganista said...

I read Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my first, it really helped me through my 28 hours of hard labour!

FreeIndeed said...

wish I could see her in person too, and I wish there were more youtube videos of her speeches:(

Jessica said...

SO very jealous. I love Ina May and I'm getting ready to have my 2nd homebirth (any day now) I've read her other books so many times and each time I pick up something new.

Whomping Willow said...

I so wish I would have been there, I don't know what I was thinking but I didn't realize it would sell out :(
Entering the giveaway at though so fingers crossed :)

Stacie R

Corey said...

i love ina may! wow what an experience!

Isil Simsek said...

I love midwives because they have got magical hands and believe in the power of women!

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