Friday, March 9, 2007

What We Do in Pregnancy and Birth Matters

What I see is just the covering
The most important is invisible....
From the Little Prince by
A. de Saint-Exupéry

This question came in this morning and I decided to make it a separate topic.

"implying that children, and adults, are different than they would have been had their mothers had different "experiences." This seems an extraordinary claim. Have you any proof of this?"

Yes, there are ever increasing volumes of proof scientifically, both retrospective and prospective, as well as observational, that lead scientists, researchers, behavioral psychologists, cellular biologists and neurologists to the same conclusion. WHAT WE DO IN PREGNANCY AND BIRTH MATTERS.......AND affects the way we live life.

I will post a comprehensive bibliography on my website in a few days that will give you the actual scientific references. The research in this area has been going on for almost fifty years.

The mind of the child - what are the influences? What are the memories? Do we make decisions at birth and before that effect our relationship with the world?

Memory before 3 years old is intrinsic - always there, present, taking everything in and storing the memory in the brain for future reference. It is on a cellular level, flavoring and coloring all our responses.

Bruce Lipton, PhD, a medical school professor and author, states in his book,
"The Biology of Belief" that humans are not, as was previously believed, victims of our genes, but that the environment and things that go on in our environment, including pregnancy and birth, has a direct effect on our DNA.
He goes on to explain that the activity of cells reacts to the environment, but more specifically, our perception of the environment directly controls the activity of our genes.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, an expert in neuro-biology stated in a recent interview, "There is scientific proof that the mind state of a pregnant mother affects the growth of her baby's brain. Dr. Dispenza elaborated, "A mother who is relaxed and in an environment in which she is able to cope adequately - rather than one that causes her chronic stress - is going to encourage the development of the fetus's forebrain, the area that allows us to reach logical conclusions, control our impulses, and successfully navigate our emotions." Inadequate development of the forebrain has been suggested as a possible explanation for aggressive and anti-social behavior in children, potentially leading to violent behavior, criminal offenses, and higher rates of drug abuse later in life.

Researchers conclude that the mother who is relaxed and free from stress during birth gives birth much more easily, sometimes painlessly and with a totally different attitude. And the baby who is placed on her chest immediately and left there skin to skin for many hours receives a message of love, attention, completeness, welcome and perceives infinite possibilities. Not true for the baby whose mother gives birth in pain, stress, with drugs that the baby also receives, and is immediately separated. A painful or traumatic birth can be overcome with remedial work and an acute awareness of what the baby is trying to communicate after birth.

A stressful, painful birth is not a prescription for psychiatric problems for the rest of ones life, nor is a gentle birth a guarantee that a child will have an easy peaceful life, but.....there is a connection. This connection is virtually ignored by the medical community and is only now being addressed publicly in films, books, and in the press. I'll write more on this topic in future posts. A very good film to watch is, "What Babies Want: A Exploration of the Consciousness of Infants.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, famed neurologist featured in the film, What the Bleep Do We Know,
will lead a presentation that addresses the biology of the infant mind at the first Gentle Birth World Congress and Whole Baby Expo, September 27 – 30, 2007, at the Portland, Oregon Convention Center.

ACOG Conference in San Diego

Thank you, everyone, for your comments about the physician that has been present and lurking ready to pounce on everyone and everything about the "natural childbirth movement." There have been multiple suggestions that we bring this person to our Gentle Birth World Congress, but I am not interested in creating that kind of energy. We are, after all, discussing how and why to make birth a more gentle experience for both mother and baby. I really don't think our esteemed guest speakers, most of whom are physicians, want someone defaming them.

I am excited this year to be attending the American College of Obstetricians conference in San Diego, where I will be discussing waterbirth with doctors who actually see the benefits to baby and mother.

I attended last year and felt that our presence had a very big impact on physicians, especially medical students. Out of the 1000+ booths in the exhibit hall, we were one of the very few that were actually discussing birth and birth outcomes...AND we were the ONLY booth showing films of birth. There were doctors that teared up watching waterbirth videos. I signed up for this year's show before the end of last years.

One of the most surprising revelations were the results of an impromptu survey that I took at the booth. One out of three physicians was leaving OB practice for one reason or another - the most prominent reason being huge increases in malpractice premiums. What obstetricians were saying was, "it is just too difficult to rationalize the long hours, low reimbursement - especially medicaid - with such high malpractice insurance premiums." The quote that I heard most was, "I really enjoy sleeping at night."

The sleep that obstetricians are enjoying is from no threats of malpractice as well as being off call.

I was glad I went to ACOG last year - a bit intimidated at all the drug money that puts on this show. Some companies spend as much as $250,000 just for the space rental, not to mention the cost of their display and personnel to run it. I have been exhibiting at birth conferences for twenty years and it all pales in comparison to the vast fortunes that run the show at ACOG and other hospital association shows.

If you are in San Diego the first week of May, come to the Convention Center and look for our little 10X10 booth promoting the Gentle Birth World Congress and showing waterbirth films.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Waterbirth In Iran

This doctor from Tehran, Iran, Ali Akhlaghi, has been promoting waterbirth in his country. A very difficult task in a country that has seen the cesarean section rate rise to over 80% in the past five years.
Have a look at his website even if you don't read Arabic.
In this photo we are in a meeting at a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. He cannot get into the US and I cannot get into Iran, so Istanbul is a great place to meet and discuss birth. He has even designed his own birth pool that was used in a randomized controlled trial. His scientific paper is waiting to be published.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tacit or Terse: Gaining Hospital Approval of Birth Pools

A woman in Murphy, North Carolina, called today and asked me to help her convince the local hospital to allow her to labor in water. Not an easy task considering the hospital administrative supervisor has already misrepresented the midwife and physician and flat out told the pregnant mother to "take her business elsewhere!" That manager was terse, but it is not advisable to respond with that same energy. What you want is the tacit (silent, but acknowledging) approval of your birth nurses and managers.

I did discuss whether is was feasible for this family to hire a midwife and stay at home, with a realistic look at what options would be available to her. No home birth midwives within a 3 hour radius. The hospital is clearly being discriminatory. The mother is on Medicaid and could never afford a home birth, even if she wanted one and there was a midwife available. So, we took a different tack and discussed the power of numbers.

"Go to the local grocery store on Saturday morning and talk about your desires for a water assisted labor with every single woman you know and even those you don't," I advised her. Find out what women think in her area and if there are more than a few women who would want this option, ask them to sign a petition. The hospital will find it much harder to turn down 10 or 20 women. The other advice was to find out where the nurse manager attends church and start a petition in that church after the service. Ask women what they think of water assisted labor and if they would consider going to a hospital close to their home if that hospital offered this service and the other one didn't. Talk to mothers about the value of keeping labor drug-free and how water assists them the most of all pain management modalities. And work with the local hospital midwives and family practice doctors to get their support.

I hope to get a report back from our experienced pregnant mother in a few weeks after circulating through her small town and speaking to women about birth. This is an example of "being BOLD" and speaking up for what you want and know will be good for you in your labor and birth experience.


A Message from Barbara Harper about the Oregonian Article on Sunday February 11th!

A Message from Barbara Harper about the Oregonian Article on Sunday February 11th

Dear Friends,

Most women desire to have an empowering birth experience which is gentle and loving, as well as safe for their baby. Many women today are aware that the experience of birth affects not only their own lives, but more importantly, the lives of their babies. Women who seek ways to avoid unnecessary trauma or violence at the time of birth are not doing so to "bear the pain of natural birth" nor are they out to make anyone "feel pressured" into choosing what they feel is the best for their babies. Women in Oregon, who choose to birth naturally, are strong, vibrant and full of determination to avoid medical interventions, if at all possible. These women want to avoid the routine use of powerful drugs, chemicals, artificial hormones and surgical instruments whenever possible because they feel it is best for their babies and their own health and well being. We have the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to help a woman experience an undisturbed and powerful birth.

The Portland community offers all the options to any woman who wants to strive toward a gentle loving birth experience. Portland, and many areas around the state, offer waterbirth at home, in freestanding birth centers, and even in the hospitals with nurse midwives. We have naturopathic family medicine, including labor, birth and pediatric support; labor and post partum doulas; health spas; pregnancy yoga; breastfeeding and lactation counseling; birth pool rentals; prenatal swimming; therapy to resolve traumatic birth issues; rebirthing and conscious living. Portland is a very green city when it comes to supporting a woman through a natural birth experience.

We know how to assist her to experience her birth as pleasurable, even orgasmic, as opposed to painful. That is one reason women all over the world are exploring the use of warm water immersion during labor and birth. They absolutely know, deep in their hearts, that there has to be a better, gentler way to give birth and welcome their babies into the world.
The baby pictured above was born in a pool of warm water on Thanksgiving Day. This first time mother experienced a four hour labor and didn't even push one time. She simply breathed her baby out. She breastfed almost immediately, waited until the placenta was born before cutting the cord and walked out of the hospital with her baby still naked on her chest, wrapped in her robe, after only a five hour stay. Once home she kept baby on her chest skin to skin for the next 72 hours. Hers was a gentle birth.

Waterbirth International has chosen Portland, Oregon as the back drop for the Gentle Birth World Congress and Whole Baby Expo because of the diverse opportunities for families to enjoy birth "alternatives." The Congress will bring together experts in obstetrics, midwifery, neonatology, waterbirth, gentle birth, undisturbed birth, Kangaroo mother care, infant brain development, effects of medications on the neurological system of babies, breastfeeding, bonding, pediatric cranial work, and many more topics, while the Whole Baby Expo will provide an up close and personal look at all the birth options that the Pacific Northwest has to offer families.

There has never been a more critical time for parents and professionals to examine everything about maternal/child health, the world over. My hope is that the Congress and the Expo will serve as the middle ground for people with differing opinions to come together and share points of view and work out solutions. Because, quite frankly, our goals are exactly the same - happy mothers and healthy babies.

I do feel badly that any woman would feel guilty or depressed about her birth, but when it happens we use these feeling as an opportunity to explore and heal her inner child. We also determine if she wants to make changes in her life and the way she would give birth, if there is a next time. Many women are completely satisfied with their medicated births and that is great. But, when you have been counseling women as long as I have, you hear story after story of disappointment, pain, tears and heartache. Many women feel robbed of something primal and important. When women hear that there is a connection between insecure attachment at birth and emotional distance as an adult, they often report feelings of guilt. This is okay, if we help them process. Mothers are not to blame. The medical system that prevented the bonding and attachment by separating mother and baby at the time of birth and not giving her adequate assistance with breastfeeding and the society that discouraged her from co-sleeping, baby wearing or breastfeeding in public all had a part to play. But, the medical establishment has done the best it could with the information that it had. We now have much more scientific evidence and have decades of observations of undisturbed birth, so that we can offer birthing families an entirely new picture of gentle birth.

The good news is that babies are resilient and mothers and fathers are resourceful. Women suffer from emotional and physical fatigue even under the best of circumstances after a baby is born. Our primary goal is to assist every woman to have a gentle birth with or without medication, provide every mother with the resources to equip her to be good parent and hope for the best.

I just got off the phone with a woman from Portland, pregnant with her first baby, not too well informed, but knowing that she wants a better experience than her girlfriends' births. She feels very strongly that not having medication is best for baby. After a brief conversation about her needs, I introduced her to the concept of a hospital birth with midwives. She had no idea that you could have midwives in the hospital. She didn't feel safe about staying home or going to one of our excellent freestanding birth centers. I enjoyed assisting her to find a birth care provider that would listen to her and empower her to make good choices. Now, multiply that times 20,000 more other women, whom I have counseled over close to three decades, and you will see what I truly love to do - inform, empower and educate - not to make women feel guilty. We as women have too many things that put us down and make us feel that way without the stress of mothering, pregnancy and birth.

I am passionate about birth and babies and have sat at the bedside (or tubside) with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women, holding their hands, wiping their brows, breathing with them and being there when they gaze into their awake, aware babies eyes for the first time. It has been, and will always be, an honor and a privilege for me to hold a space for women to be empowered, passionate and orgasmic about having babies.
Thank you for taking another look at my comments in a new light.
Many Blessings,
Barbara Harper
Founder/Director Waterbirth International