Monday, November 19, 2012

1000 Births

A baby called Wyn was born this week, and in that moment I reached 1000 births.

Wyn is connected to all those 1000 births through his mother, through me. Every birth, every woman, has left me with a lesson, a memory...something that has helped the next woman and baby. One touch of the hand connects us.

It's not a straight chain. It's a wonderful, tangled, messy linking of hands. But birth is wonderful and that's just about right.

Someone asked how I'm sure I've reached 1000 births. I've kept a record of every birth that I've attended, every family, and all their connections, right from the first birth I attended in 1987. At first, my notes were written in a coil binder. Blue cursive writing. Now, I have my complete database on my MacBook. It's organized, but not as much fun to read through as those early binders, stuffed with baby photos and years of Christmas cards showing taller and taller children.

But there's one part of the dry database that I love to study - the connections. Wyn's mother is connected to Evan's mother through me...and Kian's mother through work...on and on...interwoven connections, through three generations. I'm now a grandmother. My first clients' babies are grown up and are starting to have babies. I have attended the births of all the women in some families. I have learned so much from this community of 1000 women.

I love running into them on my rounds..."Hi Beth!" (on Granville Island, as I run to grab a car to head downtown to visit a week old baby and his mum)  "Hi Sarah!" (at Elysian Coffee while I meet someone new). Even after the babies are born, I try to keep those links strong. "Beth - I have another client who's interested in EC." or "Tara...I have a client who would dearly love to hear from you." then "Leigh...someone might be calling you." We are always making more connections.

After 1000 births (there's more than 1000 babies - think twins!), you'd think that the births would blur together. But, nope.  I have lightbulb memories of each and every woman who has given birth. It's never usually the moment of birth.  It's often the memory of a sound "shhhhhhh, ha ha ha, shhhhh"...or the memory of the smell of ylang ylang in the tub...or the glorious snapshot of how she threw a scarf around her neck as she grabbed the keys and ran out into the snow at 7 centimetres.  A thousand connected images stretching back 25 years. Each one, a lesson.

2012 was strange. The most challenging births started to coming one by one as summer (and birth 1000) approached. Everything seemed to slow right down.  I was forced to take notice, be aware. I couldn't write about any of it. I just had to live it. It was like the birth gods knew I could handle new and unusual scenarios now. So they came.

One. at. a. time.

The births were messy and tangled and, in the end, in the end, the drama ended. The stitches have healed. A boy called Finn has a new heart. The preemies are home. The babies have safely left the NICU. They are all at home, in their mum's arms. But the emotions are still swirling.

So, I will leave the story-telling of these births for another time. Right now, I'm weaving one memory from each of these births into the memories of all the other 1000 births. Making connections and giving thanks. And I'm hoping that birth 1001 will be smooth...

- Jacquie Munro, Slow Birth, Vancouver Doula

**With so many thanks to the 1000 mums...and dads and babies and families and friends...who have held my hands and taught me for 25 years.
**In memory of Dr. Kerry Telford Morrissey and Debra Karby, who are woven into our hearts.
** Thanks to Adam and Ever, for the photo of their hands...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The challenge of slow birth

I spent today delivering the new Slow Birth doula cards to different practitioners' offices. One supportive physician read the words "slow birth", and laughed - "Some of our doctors won't like that...they're always talking about births that are progressing too slowly!" 


These words might prove challenging for some people. 

I am an example of Slow Birth. I think maybe, just maybe, after over a quarter century as a doula, I'm starting to understand birth. It has been a slow gradual process. Each birth teaches me what I need to know for the next birth. Birth forces me to slow down, then stop, then really look at it. I feel like I'm just starting to fully appreciate the nuance of birth. 

It shakes me and demands my respect.

I have heard some people say that I know birth. I don't. None of us can truly know birth, because each birth is totally different.  But, I know this much - Birth takes its time. Birth is challenging in every way. Birth doesn't respond easily to control or what we want. Birth loves surprises.


So, think about it. Slow Birth is not about having a slow labour, or having a fast labour. Slow Birth is about honouring birth and surrendering to the rhythm of the body and the baby.

Slow Birth reminds me to take whatever time is needed to prepare each family for the early years of parenting. This takes time. Time on the phone. Time in person. Time texting back and forth. Time talking, laughing, crying. Every client requires a different approach. This is not a conveyor belt. It's not textbook. It is a creative process. It is bespoke. It is organic. It is slow.

As a Slow Birth doula, my job is to remain aware, to remain flexible, to read the body, to translate its messages, to listen to each woman and family, to remind each woman that she can trust her body, to help her draw on her life lessons, to help her build her own community. 

Slow Birth, as an extension of the slow movement, is my commitment to each doula client and her family to nurture stronger connections, and to discover each family's pace, each family's needs.  Slow Birth is about supporting the birth of each family with time and care. Ultimately, the aim is to help clients build their own connections within their community, slow down, and enjoy the first years of family life together. 

Whatever is long as it takes...that's what Slow Birth is about. 

- Jacquie Munro - Slow Birth, Vancouver Doula

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

On Surfing...and Facebook...

Googling during pregnancy can be a big bad scary activity.  For sanity's sake, I encourage clients to avoid general googling of pregnancy topics at this time.  I do, however, encourage clients to become informed about birth, breastfeeding and parenting. How can you filter all the information? My favourite books and research resources are linked on my site, so that's a great place to start.

But, another easy way to have a steady flow of current research and opinions and an overview of "best practice" is to "like" some of the great sites below on Facebook. And don't forget to bookmark the best birth and parenting websites that I have linked in the sidebar (for those burning questions at 4am!)

In no particular order, here are some recent articles/sites/videos that I recommend:

The Alpha Parent The Timeline of a Breastfed Baby
KellyMom (!!!) Sleeping Through the Night
Lakeshore Medical Breastfeeding Clinic (Dr Jen) Just One Bottle and Breastfed Newborn Weight Loss
TED Talks The Shocking Truth about your Health and What We Learn Before We're Born and The Linguistic Genius of Babies
NPR What's Behind A Temper Tantrum?
Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab Dr James McKenna
Infant Sleep as a Public Health Issue (10 parts) Dr Wendy Hall
Mothering Car Seats are for Cars

These are some great Facebook pages that you can "Like":
Power To Push (Best Birth Clinic)
Family Practice Maternity Service (BirthDocs)
Science & Sensibility

Enjoy the surf! More to come...

Monday, January 02, 2012

12 Times a Day...

I have a dilemma...after all these years as a doula, I'm still trying to discover the best way to help pregnant women have a successful start to breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding classes are great, La Leche League meetings are supportive, our talks over months of pregnancy provide continuity, the breastfeeding books are inspiring, and Dr. Jack Newman's videos are linked on my blog. But one client just nailed the problem on the head in a phone call tonight: "It feels like I'm putting the cart before the horse if I try to think about breastfeeding now! I'm trying to finish up at work! I feel like I'm not prepared to have the baby yet! I have to get the baby born! I can't think about breastfeeding now!" (Yes, I know, I'm paraphrasing, but the exclamation marks were certainly there.)

My clients say that everything flies out the window as soon as the baby is born.  In the first few days, despite my encouragement to each woman to feed her baby skin to skin, and to feed early and often (12 feeds per day gets you a gold star!), both sleep deprivation and the overwhelming nature of being a new parent can shatter prior learning and all self confidence. Add to that a stream of visitors, and you have a perfect storm. No wonder the breastfeeding relationship suffers or sputters to a halt.

So, what will work? Talk to each other. Find yourself a friend who will be your breastfeeding mentor. Put the cart before the horse. Start to build your breastfeeding community!

To start you on the right path, I've asked some of my clients to write down their words of wisdom after a year of breastfeeding. Many clients are ready and willing to offer their support and be your mentor. So, first up, let's hear from Abby!  

"When I gave birth to my daughter I, like every other new mom, was completely exhausted. I was (and still am) dedicated to breastfeeding my daughter so when the nurses in the hospital told me to breastfeed 8-12 times per day I made sure to feed her at least 8 times per day (sometimes 9) and I thought I was doing great! 3 weeks later she wasn't gaining enough weight and I was diagnosed with "low milk supply." I was devastated and I couldn't understand it -- I was doing everything right, wasn't I? 
After many visits with lactation consultants, many hours with my pump, and many breastfeeding articles later I had a realization: I should have been feeding my baby AT LEAST 12 TIMES A DAY, or even better every hour. You're going to be tired anyways, so buy a good breast feeding pillow, sit back, watch TV, snooze, avoid visitors, and feed your baby all day! You'll be surprised how relaxing it is. Your breasts need the stimulation from your baby and your baby's brain needs nutrition constantly. It took me months to learn all this so I hope that my experience can help other new moms learn this in minutes instead of months. My daughter is now 1, and I have met many women who were diagnosed with "low milk supply." Every time we went to a baby class there was at least 1 or 2 women who had the same problem as me. That just can't be right. We were made to feed our babies to it can't be possible that so many women "can't make enough milk." Many women may be able to make enough milk with minimal stimulation (i.e. 8 times a day), but a large minority of us cannot. So PLEASE FEED YOUR BABY AT LEAST 12 TIMES A DAY!" - Abby, mum to Ellie 
(One way to keep track of those 12 feeds per 24 hours, without relying on a clock, is to have two bowls by your breastfeeding "station".  One bowl is filled with 12 pennies.  Just move a penny over to the second bowl after a feed.  At the end of 12 hours, just look and see how many of the pennies have been moved to the second bowl. How are you doing? Will you be able to make 12 feeds in the day? No worries if you're a bit low on feeds. You can just pick it up. No need to write anything down. No need to look at the clock. No need to stress! It's just a great way to feel the rhythm of breastfeeding your baby in the first few weeks.)