Friday, February 20, 2009

Slow Birth Breech

"Can we stop on the way and pick up a Big Mac?" asked the woman.

"Sure," said the man, as he turned into the drive-thru...

I was standing at the hospital entrance, wondering what was taking them so long. M was my very first client, and she was in labour. Her baby was frank breech (that's bum first). It was 1988.

M's family doctor was driving her to the hospital because they couldn't reach her husband at work. (Remember, this was life before cell phones and voicemail.) Charles, the doctor, worked out of a little home office in a small beach community, only minutes from her home. They were friends. She told me that he used to be a specialist in rural BC, hence his ability to roll with whatever came his way.

So, back to the scene. The doctor's car pulled up to the Emergency entrance, and out tumbled my client with a half-eaten hamburger in her hand. He parked the car and followed us into admitting.

(Okay...wait just there! Do you think this scene would EVER happen today? It was laughable then, but not completely absurd.)

We arrived at the maternity ward, and settled in. We could see the beach and the sparkling ocean from the window. There was a rocking chair in the corner, beside a full-length antique mirror. There were no monitors or equipment in the room. The nurses would set up in the hallway and only roll in the carts just before the baby was born. There was no disturbance.

"These contractions are nowhere NEAR as bad as our rowing sets!" M had been on the Canadian national women's rowing team. "Our training sessions were brutal!" (Perception is everything in birth.) I stroked her and she moved her baby down.

Now, I don't remember how long it was before her baby was born, but I do know that I was still breastfeeding my one-year-old son, and I didn't miss a feed!

There was no fear in the room, no increased anxiety because her baby was breech. The birth was allowed to happen in its own time. It was graceful and slow. The doctor just lifted up the baby's body as it was born, and out popped the head.





Now, you have to remember that the family doctor used to be a medical jack-of-all -trades in Northern B.C. He knew what to do at a breech birth. He knew that he had to trust the woman's need for food in labour - it would give her strength. He trusted birth.

Think about it!  That was the very first birth that I attended as a doula.  It was the first of so many Slow Birth lessons.

Over the next decade or so, I attended many breech births without worry. I knew I could trust the caregivers to be skilled at any and all maneuvers required. Dr. Woolley told me that he loved breech births. "At least you have something to grab on to!" Dr. Bagdan told me that breech births are often much less painful - "It's a soft bum, you know," and I remember seeing him catch two breech babies gloveless, just because they'd always come so fast (those two mums were breech themselves!) I also remember Dr. Thomas sitting on his hands and saying, "Jacquie, the key to breech births is to watch the flow of the labour. If the labour continues to progress without a hitch, then it will be fine. But, if the mother senses a block, then we'll do a cesarean when she gives the word." I saw him catch so many breech babies, and only one woman had a cesarean after she said, "It's not going to come." This was Slow Birth. It honoured the rhythm and messages of the body.

I don't know when that breech wisdom died, but after we lost Drs. Woolley and Pendleton, and Dr. Thomas retired, and the breech trial stopped vaginal breech births in their tracks, that was the end of it.

Sure, there were a couple of brave doctors (Go, Henry!) who would agree to attempt a vaginal breech birth, but that would be only if they were on-call on the day that a woman went into labour. Timing was everything - if the "breech" doctor was away, the baby would be born by cesarean.

A few years ago, my daughter asked what her options would be, if she was pregnant and her baby was breech..."Well, I'd have to drive you to Ina May Gaskin's "Farm" in Tennessee, or fly you up to Yellowknife to see Dr. Kotaska." (Recently, I told a doctor that, and she laughed, and said, "Yes, I'd do the same!")

So, you can imagine that I was thrilled to discover that BC Women's is hoping to start a Breech Clinic, which would ensure continuity of message, informed choice, and 24/7 vaginal breech capabilities. What a wonderful way to reduce cesarean rates! I hope the clinic opens soon.

I only wish that some of the new doctors could see how it used to be done - slowly, simply, and with such infinite trust in the body. Breech birth - the Slow Birth way.

Here's hoping that we can reclaim the old wisdom.

(Update April 3/09: Any woman in the BC Lower Mainland whose baby is breech, and wishes to explore the option of a vaginal birth, and whose current physician does not offer vaginal breech births, can now be admitted to BC Women's for care by a "participating" obstetrician. Thanks to all those involved for this fantastic policy change!)

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We are not our bodies

We are not our bodies.

As one who lives with birth,
I am at peace sitting at the doorway between life and death,
sitting beside each woman as she discovers the infinite.

At each birth, I must acknowledge that the doorway is open.
I honour it, thinking,
"This may be the day,"
and I am at peace.

I still remember being
in the last few lightning flash moments of labour
with my son,
thinking, with clarity,
"Death is a viable option here.
Perhaps the midwives will consider that."
But they didn't hear my thoughts, and my son
was born
onto my leg, and peed
all over me.
Our laughter seemed to make his wet skin shimmer.

I have been in a room, filled with Sufi women
mourning the loss of a baby
reciting the chapter of Mary
and hearing their chanting
knowing that the root of the word "rahim" means womb
being lifted up by their sounds
that rise and fall like the ocean
that recreate the sound of the beginning of time
the divine feminine
the womb

I wanted that day to last forever.

To our western minds,
how can a day of mourning be so breathtakingly

To our western minds,
how can we accept the knife-edge of pain and ecstacy
that exists in birth?

We are not our bodies.

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Slow Biking on Valentine's Day

I know this may seem off-topic, but I wanted to write about yesterday's outing (no births!). The sun was shining, it was Valentine's Day, and I'd just gone with my husband to buy presents for each other at MEC (no, not chocolates or flowers). We found a new red windjammer for me, just like the one I had when I was little, and black leg warmers (woohoo!) for my husband. Then, we headed out on our first long ride of the new year.

We talked about Slow Birth ideas, chapter topics, debriefed from recent births, and had a long ride around False Creek, through Gastown, around Stanley Park, then back to Granville Island for lunch at the best seafood shack ever, Go Fish! (for a counter-balancing calorie intake), then rode back up the hill to our loft.

What struck us were the number of people enjoying a slow day out in the sunshine (remember, it's February and freezing cold). The memories that stand out are:
  • Dragon Boats in False Creek filled with men and women wearing multi-coloured puffy down coats, focused on the perfect unison stroke,
  • a man on rollerblades near the 2010 Olympic Village, pushing his son in a stroller, with a tricycle balanced on top, followed by mum on a bike,
  • an old man riding his unicycle down a hill, holding a coffee cup in his hands, for warmth,
  • three homeless men, in three different parts of the city, on bikes loaded with recyclable bottles, all wearing bike helmets,
  • a group paddling their outriggers near Science World, shouting and laughing,
  • a man wearing a baseball glove, pitching his ball into a brick wall in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, watching to make sure he doesn't get in our way as we ride,
  • a family on tandem bikes, with flowers in a pannier,
  • 5 groups of oddly-dressed people, running fast, carrying compasses (must be orienteering for team-building),
  • serious rowers gliding through the water at Coal Harbour,
  • a teenage goth carrying flowers down a back lane,
  • a woman quietly, happily, digging in the soil, creating a garden beside her solitary old house in the centre of town, amid the noise and cars,
  • four colourful pseudo-pelotons spotted around the city, dominating the bike lanes at a "slow" 40km/h,
  • the look on a new mum's face, just after her baby threw up all over her after a feed,
  • a mum carrying her newborn in a hug-a-bub, walking up the ramp after buying fish from a boat,
  • people working on their guerrilla community gardens, wiping dirt off their foreheads as they chat,
  • families, pregnant couples, babies, walking, riding, talking English, Spanish, Farsi, French, German, Japanese, laughing.
But the most amazing thing is that we connected with each one of these people on our bike ride. Our eyes connected, we smiled as we passed, we called "Hello!", we waved...

The connections are what count as we travel through our lives, and I think we're all doing a pretty good job of it in our little corner of the world...

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet

Friday, February 13, 2009

"I'd like to order one epidural in the parking lot, please"

During our initial phone call, many first-time mums nervously laugh, then ask me if I can just order them a fast birth "and one epidural in the parking lot, please." It sounds like a drive-through order.

"Why?" I ask myself. Really fast births don't allow the body to churn out all those wonderful pain-relieving endorphins (boy, do you want them!) Fast births don't allow any time for the brain to keep up with what the body is doing. Actually, my least satisfied client had a 45-minute labour and birth. She said, "I waited 40 years to give birth, and THAT'S IT??? It was so fast, I missed it!"

Fast births may increase your level of fear, or result in a greater likelihood of heavy bleeding. If your body naturally gives you a fast birth, that's just fine.  But, I wouldn't willingly force a normal labour to move faster than it should.  And, for those wanting to order "one epidural, please" in the parking lot...with a fast birth, there's just no time.

So, what to do? Wouldn't you rather have a birth that's just right for you? Not too long, not too short, just right. Kind of like the chair, or the bed, or the porridge in The Three Bears. Just right.

Isn't a lovingly prepared meal that's simmered on the stove much better than fast food? It's harder work, there's some prep time needed, it takes more time to cook, but it's SO worth it.

We're given nine months to prepare for birth - a good long prep time. But so many people just fill that time with classes and shopping and renovations and new cars and new homes, and paint (always paint.) All this, for one tiny being who just wants a warm body to hold him, and a couple of breasts!

Women often forget to take long slow walks on the beach, doing the inner work of pregnancy. Old fears, habits, and family dynamics bubble up as each week progresses, and need to be addressed. After twenty-one years of attending births, I see that unresolved issues can often stop a labour in its tracks.

One woman made it easily to the pushing stage, then everything stopped. No matter what she did, there was no urge to push, nothing, for two hours. After a while, the doctor said, "We'll just leave. You might be worrying about something, or have something to work through. Why don't we leave you alone with your partner for a while? Just come get us when the baby's coming."

We were called back half an hour later. She had been holding onto a secret since the age of 15. Once she released the secret to her partner, the baby came in just a few pushes.

The hormones at play during late pregnancy and labour have taken millions of years to develop to perfection. Hormones soften the body, making the joints feel like they are attached only by elastic bands. The uterus becomes more responsive, letting each woman know if she's done too much that day, or not had enough water to drink. Women start to wake up more frequently in the middle of the night, in preparation for those moonlit nights with the baby.

The baby is an active partner in the birth, burrowing and stretching. One woman the other day said that she kept imagining a cartoon mole, pressing and wiggling deeper. Other women have said it feels like a pearl diver, pushing off the side of a rock, diving deeper.

Each labour takes as long as the body needs. Time is needed to allow the hormones to work, in concert, undisturbed. If there's a slow beginning to labour, the body has its own reason, or the mind is keeping a lid on things.

Yesterday's birth was another amazing story of trust and slowness and, ultimately, surrender. (Months earlier, she had been interested in that epidural in the parking lot, but she had educated herself, and now she wanted a slow birth.) She started to feel things a few days before the baby finally came. With the help of long phone calls to me, pep talks, warm baths, lots of distraction, and good food, she made it through the days.

"This is not labour yet," I kept reminding her. "Think of these infrequent cramps as your new normal." She used her hypnobirthing techniques of relaxation and fear-release to accept the pace of her body and baby. We talked about the logic of the body, what to expect, how endorphins work, how all the hormones work in concert to move her through to the birth. She leaned on her loving partner to lift her spirits. When he needed a boost, he called me. "Jacquie, what do I do next?"

Then, in the afternoon of the second day of prelabour, she called again. "I'm getting discouraged." She was finding it hard to surrender to the process. I encouraged her to move, to crank up the salsa music and dance, swirl her hips in the shower, to let go. I encouraged her to trust her body, to release any tension, and let the baby come.

An hour later, I called back, because I had the feeling that something new was happening. She said, "Something's happening!" (Yay ESP!) So, I drove over quickly. She was really in labour now.

I found her at home, smiling and calm. "I'm at peace." Her dancing and swirling had moved her into active labour. She was finally able to accept, and surrender to, the "surges" that were coming every three minutes. Within an hour and a half, we were at the hospital. She was already 8-9cm, and ready for a lovely soothing bath.

"Gotta get one of these tubs," she said, as she laboured in the water. "I feel confident. I feel safe. I feel secure," spoke the hypnobirthing tape from the corner of the room.

Four hours later, the baby was born. Quietly. Slowly. Gently. A lovely pink bundle of a baby girl.

Slow birth works, just like slow food. Plain and simple. Just a glorious mix of natural ingredients, without any additives -and so very, very good.

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet

Slow Birth > Mt Kilimanjaro

"Jacquie!" says the voice in the night. "I'm in pain."

It was 1:38am and I had a feeling this wasn't going to be her time. "How often do you feel what you're feeling?" I asked. "About every 10 or 20 minutes. But it really hurts!"

These night-time prelabour calls come often and, just like a baby needs to be calmed before going back to sleep, I just need to offer calming words to each woman, then sleep will come to her soon (after a good long bath). I remind her that the process of having a baby takes weeks, and this is just part of the body's way of preparing. The hormones work even better if she's soft and warm and into a bath, then back to bed. Sleep.

Days later, the real labour call came at 11:27pm at night - from her husband. "She was having a bath again, like the other night. But this time, she leapt out of the bath and started crying out!" Ah! It's her first baby, but when I hear a man's voice, I know I have to fly over. It's time.

Midnight - Contractions are 3 minutes apart and strong. She's moving, standing, sitting, breathing, swaying. She feels hot and cold. She loves when I shake her hips and the power slides down to the ground through her feet. "Jacquie! These aren't contractions! They're expansions!"

"I need to walk!" and she climbs the stairs as each expansion comes, marching back and forth through the house, hands on hips. She's amazing. "Hoo Hoo Hoo..." She runs.

In a Slow Birth, we trust the labour to tell us what to do. We're not looking at the clock (I don't even own a watch), we sense the increasing rhythm of the labour. The signs are always there - the blood (that's good), the clothes being stripped off (oh, so good), the nausea (it will go as soon as the stomach empties - quickly!), the shine on the tummy, the glowing face, the knees, and then...

"Pressure in my bum!"

We arrive at the hospital at 2am, after a safe drive through the empty streets, cool air fresh on her face. Almost 8cm, melting to 10cm. She's ready to push within half an hour.

Birth is sacred, and this birth is fresh and new, so the rest of the birth story belongs to this couple, crazy and hard and slow...and proud.

"Bonjour, bonjour!" I leave them three hours after the birth, curled around each other, the baby at the breast. "That was harder than Mt Kilimanjaro!"

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Slow Birth is born

Maybe I'm just a little slow...but I've finally decided that I have to act on my decision (2004) to start focus-writing on Slow Birth (think slow dancing, slow cooking, slow kisses, slow lane, take it slow, baby...)  Don't you just take a big breath and sigh when you read those words?

I loved reading "In Praise of Slow" by Carl Honore, and discovering the Slow Food and Slow Travel movements as they emerged.  We had always raised our children according to the "slow" philosophy.  We talked, we listened to music, we read books together, and my husband and I kept our lives in pace with our children's development - we kept things slow, and the family flourished. When the slow movement began, it was nice to see that other people were discovering this way of living.

Every week, I still make my slow-cooked soup, just like my mother. I treasure my red Staub Cocotte and joyfully watch my family eat my lemon-braised chicken (then love to hear my brother talk on the phone about trying to replicate the tastes in his own home in Oregon). We eat local produce (carrying our bags to Granville Island market or riding to outdoor summer markets) and try to do our best to honour the 100-mile diet (though, we're gentle with ourselves when we fail). 

Now that our children are all grown up, we live in the centre of it all, live small (in a loft), ride our bikes, and walk every day (I love walking to client visits, or walking through leafy Shaughnessy on my way home from a birth). When we're on holiday, we don't try to "bag the sights". We take our holidays slow. This summer, we'll be hiking the Scottish hills, riding our bikes across the Provencal countryside, and sleeping in stone-built cottages for a week at a time - exploring new places at a snail's pace. We'll carry our reusable bags from shop to shop in Montmartre (thanks to Clotilde for telling us where to go) and take our baguettes and veggies home to our flat, then bike ride through Paris using Velib.

So, it's only natural that I would try to help my clients ('re seeing my bias here) to have a Slow Birth.  Slow Birth honours each woman's hormonal rhythm, allowing for the ebb and flow of labour.  If there's a plateau in labour, Slow Birth means listening to the wisdom of the body, and letting the body take its own time.  In Slow Birth, the clocks are all turned around. If we rush the body, we often do it harm. Slow Birth is like just doesn't like to be rushed...and interference can stop it completely. 

Slow Birth doesn't mean that the birth has to take a long time.  Birth should stand outside of time.  It may be fast.  It may be slow.  But birth should be allowed to take the time it needs.

Slow Birth - reclaiming the natural rhythm of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Watch for the launch of soon...but slowly...

And in the meantime, take some time to check out my debut blog on SlowPlanet

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula...and SlowBirth...and SlowPlanet

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"It's a GIRL!!!"

That exclamation is becoming more and more rare. I miss hearing it at every birth, now that so many docs have in-office ultrasounds and clients bring their families to pay-per-view 3-D and 4-D ultrasound "Discover the Sex" parties. These days, the baby's birth is often pretty exclamations of "It's a BOY! or It's a GIRL!" any more.

For me, waiting until the baby is born to discover the baby's sex is one surprise that I truly enjoy. It's the best surprise in the world - more people should try it!

At the most recent birth - what a rush - we were ALL convinced that it would be a boy. But the parents hadn't wanted to find out the sex in advance. After two boys, I don't think mum, dad, doc, or doula couldn't even entertain the thought of this baby being a girl. There would have been too much expectation. They just believed they were having another boy, and that was that...

So, when baby came flying into the world after a whirlwind labour (yes, mum was chattering with us about boy names only half an hour earlier, and we were only in the birthing room for, what? nine, ten minutes? before the birth). I really did a double-take when I checked between baby's legs. "No penis...where's the penis?" said my mind. Dad had already seen that it was a girl, and whispered it into mum's ear.

"I can't believe it!" she cried. She laughed. "I'm in shock!"

No longer can she see herself as the "mother of boys". No longer can she call, "Boys!!!" when dinner's ready. Her own perception of herself changed with the realization that she had carried a girl for 9 months. In a moment, this new member of the family had changed the future.

We all looked in awe at this pink, bonnie girl, who tipped the scale at over 8.5lbs...and has a bottom lip that is already familiar with a pout that you can ride a bike on!

Yes, for sure..."It's a girl!" What a wonderful surprise!

(2/12/09 -  Tee! Hee!  She bought a PINK hug-a-bub for her baby girl, Paloma. So cool!)

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula