Monday, November 26, 2007

October 2, 1940

Maurice was born
during the Battle of Britain
gave birth to him in a basement
nurses helping
having walked to work
after going to the pictures

falling on the engineering works around the hospital

the babies were put in boxes
pushed into the cabinets in the wall
of the morgue

the new mothers sat together
in their nighties on the floor
incendiary bombs falling

dad took us
to the bottom of the road
‘that’s where your mother is’
as we watched the flames
all red
rise in the dark sky
across Manchester

the next day
we walked
to see the new baby
walked the road
five miles past the burning
past the rubble
past the children running in pyjamas

say welcome to the new baby
in the hospital
all by itself
in the city

I think that’s why Maurice has always been

This is just one of the many family stories of birth that I have collected over the years. My own mum told this story about her brother's birth during one of the heaviest bombing raids on Manchester during the Battle of Britain. As a child, I loved hearing this story because it told me that the people in our family are strong, resilient.

I used to love hearing that my grandfather kept his family together - wouldn't let the children be evacuated. "If we go, we all go together." I like to think that our family is stronger as a result - that my own children are stronger because of this.

But it also told me that we are profoundly impacted by the stories of our births - that we believe certain personality traits are borne out of our experience of that day. Is Maurice nervous because he was born in a bombing raid? Or is he nervous because it has been an expectation of the story that has been told over and over again?
What are your family stories of birth? What stories will you be telling your daughters and sons? Are they stories of resilience and empowerment? Are they stories of loss or victimization?

I hope that we carefully frame the stories that we tell, so the listeners will find strength in our words. We need to especially watch the particular words that we use when we talk to our daughters about birth, remembering that these epic stories will weave themselves into her thoughts as she is giving birth. I know that I saw visions of the bombs falling around the hospital as I gave birth to my own children. It didn't make me fearful, it made me strong. "Gran did it...I can do it... Gran did it...I can do it..."

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula

Thursday, November 15, 2007

From the desk of Jacquie's daughter...

Two years ago I decided to make a drastic lifestyle change. I had spent the past six years depending on a common prescription drug. I began taking it daily at 16, not realizing the global impact it would have on my health. There were months where I felt numb, as though my hormones were sealed off. It made me feel disconnected from my body, my rhythms, and normal emotions. Every girl I knew in university depended on the same drug. Fifty years ago, we would have been revolutionary feminists, taking control of our bodies and reproductive choices. But I felt like my body was out of control – a sensory-deprivation chamber.

The pill is an odd thing. It comes in packaging of different shapes and sizes, but mine were in round packets with pills in three colours. Popping one out each night at 10 pm felt like a grotesque simulation of a Christmas ritual – opening the door to an advent calendar and eating the chocolate within. The only complaint I ever heard from other girls was how annoying it was having to remember to take the pill every day. Some spoke of how they wanted to switch to the patch or take a shot, or even have their periods disappear completely.

While dating in university, I remembered my mum telling me as a kid that the pill can inhibit and alter one’s normal sex hormones, suppressing sexual interest and responses. I wondered if my pheromone responses were messed up and if I’d ever been attracted to the right guys.

Then, I had a moment of reckoning. After Christmas, two years ago, finished with both the advent calendar and my packet of pills, I asked my doctor if there were any reliable alternatives for contraception that wouldn’t impact my hormones. When I she told me about copper IUD’s, my first thoughts were of medieval torture gadgets and pelvic inflammatory disorder. My doctor assured me that this wasn’t the 70’s anymore, all the women in her office used them, and she had used IUD’s herself for over 20 years.

“So, what’s the catch?” I asked.

“There is none.”

This seemed ridiculous. I felt completely betrayed. None of my previous doctors had mentioned IUD’s before – why weren’t they throwing these things at women like party favours?

“They’re just not a hot consumer item because prescription drug companies don’t make any money off of them compared to the pill.”

Then I looked at the statistics: Less than 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15-45 use IUD’s. The failure rate is very low - between 0.09 and 0.25 % - even less than the pill. It's slim, tiny, and undetectable. I paid only $90 for mine, which I think was partially covered by my extended medical plan, and it stays in for 5 years. There are no hormone imbalances, no alarms going off every night at 10 pm, no increased risks of cancer, etc., although it's best not to use an IUD unless in a monogamous relationship - it makes it riskier to catch STD's. Most care providers don't have up-to-date information on IUD's or know how to insert them - another reason why they are so uncommon. There isn't just a huge consumer influence on the public to use the pill, care providers are pushed in that direction as well.

Yes, it in hurt like hell for a minute when the doctor put it in – but that was it, one minute – and yes, I had strong period cramps for a few months. But knowing that I was drug-free, I was myself, and that my body was normal again, was amazing. Plus, I was sticking it to the pharmaceutical companies! My period is like clockwork and when we one day decide to get pregnant, out it comes at the doctor’s office and we can start trying right away.

It's sad to realize that I never really knew myself, my body, during those 6 years. But now I know that when I explode into tears, or want to curl up in a nest, it's just because I'll have my period in two days, and not because of the side effects of the pill. I feel like I'll be more in tune with the changes of pregnancy, when I'm there one day. - Sarah Munro

(photo: "Flying IUD" sculpture, University of California, Santa Cruz)

(Note from Jacquie: I asked Sarah to write a post on IUDs because, in all my years as a doula, I can only remember one client who had used an IUD prior to a first baby. Most women aren't told the real story about IUDs - that they are a safe choice for many women to consider, that they can be fitted prior to childbearing, that they can be used safely while breastfeeding, that the copper IUDs keep your body clean of BCP hormones...
that they are about living autonomously. Check out more info online, including contraindications.)

"Meet your new brother..."

I just melted when I saw this photo of a client with her two sons. It brings back memories of her youngest son's birth, at home, in the heat of a summer night, the fan blowing hot air around the room, the cool sound of the water in the tub, the midwife fanning herself, the speed with which this little one came... I believe the birth was everything that they could have hoped for. Complete joy.

But, what this photo also brings to mind are the many phone calls and emails I receive from clients who have just had their second baby...whose births were so beautiful, but are now reeling from how busy life has become, how challenging it is to manage two children, how guilty they feel at giving less than 100% to their firstborn child, how it tears at their hearts when their firstborn just wants grandma or daddy, "NOT mummy!"

They ask me if they're the only one who is feeling torn between the love for their firstborn, and the awe that they have for their new baby. They are missing their partners, who invariably have to go to work. They are wondering how they can cope when grandma leaves. They can't remember what seemed so engaging about newborns. This new baby doesn't seem as entertaining as his older sister, who, at age four, is dramatic and articulate (certainly VERY articulate about "how life would be much better without that baby") and fun...and so very confused about this new life.

These clients ask when life will return "to normal." It won't. A "new normal" will gradually emerge. Grafting a new limb onto a strong and vigorous tree takes time. It will happen, but slowly, and definitely with some challenges. And at some later date, after the postpartum fog has cleared, clients call me and say: "Before, we were a couple with a, we are a family."

Just know this...when you're in the fog of postpartum and you see another mum out on a walk, laughing while carrying her two babies - you're just looking at a moment of her day. What you don't see are her tears when the door closes behind her, or her midnight fears, or that she got home from that walk and called me, and said, "I was carrying both girls in slings because Lola wouldn't sleep and Addie wanted to pretend she was a baby, and I just wanted to cry. Then, I saw a woman, pushing a sleeping baby in a stroller, with an older child holding on, and wished I was her. I laughed at how I must look to her - how she would admire my chutzpah at carrying the girls. She wasn't seeing the truth of it."

The transition from one child to two is different for every family. It depends on the age difference, the childrens' temperaments, family dynamics, and so many other things. Draw strength from other new mums with two babes during this time, and don't forget to call me. I'll connect you with someone close by who's sharing a similar journey.

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tandem "Sling Girls"

My clients are so creative! Here's a recent comment from a wonderful two-time client:

"I loved reading your most recent blog entry. I haven't used a stroller in months (actually a couple of times, but just to carry the shopping bags, so that doesn't count) and use slings instead. Hannah even naps in it when we are out. Happier baby, happier mummy. I think every new mother should be given a sling (or some other carrier) when she gives birth!"