November 25, 2009

New Website is Up!

While I will still use this blog for blogging purposes, if you are looking for more information about me and my doula or childbirth education services, please visit:


May 29, 2009

The Labor Progress Handbook, 2nd Edition

by Penny Simkin and Ruth Ancheta

Wow. This book is so useful, especially for someone like me whose mind works best in a linear, graphic way. Starting with definitions and moving from before labor through pre-labor, early labor, active labor, to second stage, the authors explore why and how labor can be dysfunctional and what to do to restore it to functionality. There are also sections with specific descriptions of maternal positions and movements, and comfort measures.

I do know, however, that in labor or when with a woman in labor, one doesn't necessarily use the information laid out here in such a linear A-B-C way. Intuition plays a big role, and communication, in deciding what to actually do in the moment when something is making a labor difficult and long. Oftentimes, though, I think birth attendants can feel just as "stuck" as the mom does when things are not going smoothly, and having the information in this book (or maybe even the book itself!) at hand to get some new ideas working could be a huge help at those times.

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

by Susun S. Weed

I loved this book. It really appealed to my emotional roots in the semi-counter-culture of the 80's, where I spent a lot of time as a child absorbing the cool differentness of my parents and their friends.

It's also actually a useful resource :-) It describes the properties and uses of a variety of herbs in a variety of forms for a variety of problems and/or needs during the time just before, during, and just after pregnancy. While I have read other books which include herbal remedies for childbearing, I felt this book gave me a better sense of herbs as medicine and how to use them as such in a way that respects their potency and potential for benefit . . . and harm. I also appreciated the detailed instructions on how to find, prepare, and store herbs for medicinal use.

One thing I did notice was that there is not a lot of explanation of why herbs work. That is a little off-putting to the scholar-huntress in me. I want to understand why and how things work, and I like it when people experiment and find empirical evidence for what they think and what they think works. That is not the place the author of this book is coming from. The herbalist tradition, at least as she presents it, is one of inherited wisdom which can be added to by an herbalist's personal experience, but which does not really need to be skeptically verified. I respect this perspective, but it's not one I choose for myself very often.

May 15, 2009

Pregnancy & Birth: The Best Evidence - Making Decisions that Are Right for You and Your Baby

by Joyce Barrett, MD, and Teresa Pitman

I think this would be a great book for libraries to have (mine didn't) and for me to have to share with parents I'm working with if they are the sort of parents who are very interested in research and making the "right" choice. Although since the book is almost 10 years old at this point, I might prefer to send people to a resource like The Cochrane Collaboration which is at least in theory updated regularly.

Many topics are unlikely to change over time, however - the risks and benefits of, say, episiotomy, aren't going to suddenly reverse in predominance. It's more the stuff that hadn't been researched 10 years ago that might be out of date.

May 14, 2009

The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth

By William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN

This book is, of course, a classic, and I've read it a couple of times before.

What I noticed reading through (most of) it this time was the spirit of it: it's a spirit of fighting for what you want/believe is right, and of seeking for the information you need. And the Searses believe that they know what you should want/believe is right/information you need. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I can see how it might feel judging to some people in some circumstances, which I'm not sure I've seen or understood before.

I was interested in the biochemical/mechanical explanation of why relaxation in labor is important to pain coping. It makes sense; and I still kind of wonder about the emphasis on relaxation. My personal experience tells me that no matter how relaxed I am, I'm still going to experience cervical stretching as painful, and that for me, more active pain coping practices will work better.

But I'm not the only kind of person in the world. And so I'm inspired to keep working to improve my ability to help women labor who need more active ways of laboring, and those who need my help or encouragement to relax.

May 9, 2009

The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth

I'm doing my doula reading . . .

The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth (4th Edition) by Sheila Kitzinger is beautifully written. It's innocent, poetic, and inspiring.

It also drove me kind of nuts.

Reading it reminded me of this scenario: imagine a parent teaching her teenage child to drive. She wants to be positive and encouraging, and so as her child is driving along she says something like this, "Oh, honey, I'm so excited that you're learning to drive! It's going to be so great for you to be able to get places on your own! You're getting so mature and WATCH OUT FOR THAT CURB!"

Much of the text is very problem focused. I like it better than, say, What to Expect When You're Expecting because the problems it's focused on are the problems I am personally biased to see as real, rather than those I see as iatrogenic. But I still feel more supported and nourished as a doula, mentor, and human being by authors who help me find solutions that work for me than by those who spend a lot of time pointing out all the things that can go wrong.

There is lots of good information in this book, though, and one particular section really surprised me by describing for the first time I've seen in print or on-line an exact scenario (involving 1st trimester bleeding) which I experienced in my first pregnancy but never really had explained or validated before.

March 28, 2009

Monsters and Magical Sticks

Monsters and Magical Sticks: Or There's No Such Thing As Hypnosis? was a really fun read. The author was clearly a smart alec and enjoyed himself being one! I also learned a lot about how we learn. I'd like to check out some of the specifics about brain science with my brother the brain scientist, but it was a fascinating book anyway.

Some of the techniques seemed like I'd have to do a LOT of practice to be able to use them effectively. Some seemed much more intuitive.

I feel much better prepared to deal with it if I am ever again asked if my Birthing From Within classes use hypnosis (which I was, once, by someone who clearly saw hypnosis as a tool of the devil.) The answer is clearly no, if you are thinking of hypnosis as something someone does to someone else that could make them behave in ways against their will or character. But another way to understand hypnosis is a kind of self-induced meditative state; and we do help people learn how this kind of lightly altered consciousness can help them cope with pain and enhance their ability to connect with their sources of spiritual strength.

Point Zero

The whole title of the book is Point Zero: Creativity Without Limits, by Michelle Cassou. While I am sure I have things to learn from this book (and I have high hopes that I will at the workshop) my gut reaction to it was highly negative. I think creativity needs some limits, most of the time in most contexts. One of the author's metaphors is that when painting, one should look out for three "dragons": of product, control, and meaning. Well, I can see that for a certain kind of meditative creativity, it's important to be able to let go of product, control, and meaning. However, for much of life and even for much art, there are reasons why we are and should be concerned with product, control, and meaning. You don't get the Sistine Chapel without limits of intending a certain product, control of technique, and without intending certain meanings. You don't get good results in cooking, or most music-making, or working with human beings without these limits, either.

Most disturbing to me was a story in which the author talks about taking a whole week to spend all day every day from sunrise to sunset painting by herself. She waxes euphoric about how wonderful the experience was. And then she says that at the end of each day she returned home to her baby too tired to even feed herself and curled up with him to sleep. For me, this creativity needs some limits of responsible relationship with other people, especially her baby!

Awakening the Heroes Within

Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol S. Pearson is fascinating to me. It's basically Jungian in that it posits twelve archetypes which people/communities/cultures move through in a spiral fashion throughout their lifespans. I love paradigms of this sort; they appeal to the way my mind works.

Apparently, for what it's worth, I am strongest in my Magician archetype, closely followed by Creator, Sage, Ruler and Lover. I could use some work on my Orphan and Destroyer archetypes.

We were only supposed to read about the first four (including Orphan) so I have yet to learn exactly what this means ;-P

Innana's Descent to the Underworld

A goddess goes on her sister's (?) behalf to the underworld to observe her brother-in-law's death rites (?) and tells her helper to go plead on her behalf to other gods if she doesn't come back in a timely fashion. On her way into the underworld, she is literally stripped and figuratively stripped of her powers, and then killed by the goddess who rules the underworld. So her helper goes and asks the gods for help, one of whom sends some creatures. They go into the underworld and help the goddess who rules there (who is in pain as if in childbirth) so she offers them whatever they want. They take the first goddess's corpse and bring it back to life; however, she is followed out of the underworld by some demons. The demons try to take her helper and then her sons, none of whom she will let them have. Finally, she gives the demons her husband, who appears to have been entirely unbothered by her disappearance, and they take him back to the underworld in her place.

It's quite confusing. It's also some of the required reading for my workshop next week, so I'll be fascinated to see how Birthing From Within interprets the tale. I can think of some interpretations, but it's the kind of text that is opaque enough to allow almost an infinite number of possibilities unless you know a LOT more than I do about the context it was created in (probably unless you know more about that context than anyone really does, considering that the story comes from roughly 5,000 - 6,000 years ago.)

March 16, 2009

Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions

I'm gearing up for my Level 2 Workshop through Birthing From Within - very exciting! To prepare, I'm supposed to read a bunch of books (all in the next two weeks - ack!)

Last night I plowed through Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions, by Insoo Kim Berg and Peter Szabo. There is a lot of great stuff in there, but I could wish there were a book with similar content focused on some form of human relationships other than business and the work world. For me, family dynamics are so much more powerful and compelling than the dynamics of the office!

Anyway, I think I have a better understanding now of what coaching is, compared to counseling or other forms of therapeutic talk interactions. And I can certainly see how the philosophy of this work applies to my work with families preparing to welcome babies! The assumptions are that the client knows what s/he needs, how to get it, and what strategies will work best - but may not know it. The coach's job is to elicit this knowing from the client, and encourage experiments with changing behavior. Totally exactly the approach I want to have with the families I work with!

My favorite quote, which I've read out loud to various family members:

"Having been a taxi driver during my student days, asking clients where they wanted to go was the most natural thing to do, since my task was to take clients where they wanted to go, not where I thought they should go. If a customer wanted me to take him to a bar, it never occurred to me to take him to his home and wife instead. The same rule applies to coaching."

February 11, 2009

Twelve Months to Your Ideal Private Practice: A Workbook

Twelve Months to Your Ideal Private Practice: A Workbook by Lynn Grodski was inspiring to me! I really want to dive in and start doing the exercises; unfortunately, I know deep inside that now is NOT the time to actually do that. I'm just coming out of my first trimester of pregnancy, and before I start ANYTHING new I need to reassemble my life to a state resembling functionality (you know, take my Christmas tree down - NO I AM NOT KIDDING!)

However, I do think I will use this book. It's practical (which appeals to me), has a lot of innovative ideas (at least to me, who knows very little about business), and offers some good metrics for how things should work in a small business (like percentages for expenses, time to work on "office" stuff, etc.) I think it will work for me. I wish I could convince some other small business people I know and love to work through it with me, but I know from past experience that you can't give away what others aren't looking for . . ..

A good read. (And if you are a small business person who would be interested in working through this book with me, let me know . . .)

February 10, 2009

Blue Truth

Blue Truth: A spiritual guide to life & death and love & sex by David Deida is very interesting. Reading it, I thought that the way I would probably get the most out of it would be as a recorded meditation guide. I could play a chapter a day as a relaxation/meditation focus. It's very stream-of-consciousness-ish, and so it's hard for me to sit and concentrate on more than a chapter at a time . . .

Here is my favorite quote:

"Freedom doesn't mean freedom from. As long as you are alive, you can never be free from pain, from loss, or from death. Things come and go, including your loved ones and your own body and mind. True freedom means freedom as. True freedom is to feel fully and be alive as love, feeling as this entire moment, opening just as this moment is." (p. 17)

There are also various passages which come close to describing something I have often done throughout my life. When I was 15 I was mugged, and lived with a lot of fear for a long time afterwards. Eventually, I learned to . . . take my fear with me. To go ahead, and walk down the street or into a dark room by myself, wearing my fear like a cloak. Yes, I am afraid, but I am going on anyway. I think David Deida is talking about something similar, only with many emotions and situations.

January 28, 2009

Pam England's LabOrinth Articles

Here's a link:

Pam England, author of Birthing From Within and founder of the Birthing From Within organization, wrote up her thoughts on LabOrinths - i.e., the symbolism of labyrinths and how it relates to labor. I particularly love the images of the Hindu Yantra (a visual labyrinth women can follow with their eyes during or between contractions) and the image of the threshold stone at New Grange.

Go check it out!

Art is a Way of Knowing

Art is a Way of Knowing by Pat B. Allen is a wonderful book. I read it in one sitting, which is saying something considering that reading exacerbates my nausea at the moment :-P

I want to copy some quotes that leapt out at me and which I want to remember for my work:

"Emotion is a physical experience. When we are physically unaware, we have limited access to our emotions. Paying attention to how our body feels and adjusting our movements to create the most enjoyable sensation helps to increase our access. We shut off access to our emotions because of experiences of fear in our lives. By gently listening to our bodily cues and responding to them with small adjustments, we create trust in ourselves." p. 29

"Images that are necessary to us come in all sorts of ways, for the soul never tires of trying to make itself known." p. 33

"Patient waiting is sometimes a big part of image making, just resting in not knowing and trusting that eventually, if I maintain my connection to a piece and don't abandon it, resolution will eventually come." p. 35

"We owe it to the world to be as alive as we can, to give what is unique in us to give. Art is a way of knowing our gift and learning how to give it." p. 50

"They weren't crazy, although Jung especially seemed to realize that there is risk in images. It's not a process of total control. He talked about the need for stable supports in a regular life to anchor himself when he lowered down in the unconscious." p. 66

"This seeing without recoiling is what undoes judgment, I think. If I look long enough, can I get to forgiveness? . . . He is an informed witness who knows something about dark and light and shadow. He knows and I come to know that everything is about dark and light and shadow. There is no use in denying one or the other." p. 108

"Considering pain as an image that comes through the boy allows us to consider different solutions besides simply taking painkilling medicine. Focusing directly on the pain, having the experience rather than running from it, is often a more successful solution to pain relief." p. 125

"Change, like any other dying, is harder than it looks." p. 169

January 17, 2009

Birthing From Within

This is the book that shares the roots of what we are doing as Birthing From Within Mentors, Doulas, and parents. Pam England co-wrote it with her husband, Rob Horowitz, and it is a wonderful guide, starting place, and reference for pregnant and new parents and those who work with them.

I taught my first childbirth education series of classes based primarily on what I had gleaned from this book about art and awakening to the possibilities of birth. My awakening was definitely furthered by the Birthing From Within training I took; but everything is there in kernel or root in the book. I have also shared it with friends who found different parts of it very helpful as they prepared for their births.

The warming attitude that comes across to me from this book is expressed in this slogan: "Labor is hard work; it hurts; and you can do it."

Go read it if you haven't!

January 1, 2009

Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During, and After Your Pregnancy

So for my certifcation process I am required to read "a book on prenatal nutrition." You wouldn't think this would be a difficult item to find . . . and it isn't. It's just hard to find one worth reading.

After reviewing the shelves & catalogue at my local library, the midwive's office where I teach my classes, and the local chain bookstore, I settled on Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During, and After Your Pregnancy by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.

I did very much like the research-based information Ms. Somer included. And the reason I chose this book is that it did present breastfeeding as a positive, normal postpartum baby feeding plan.

I was not, however, greatly impressed by her overall emphasis on low-fat foods, lack of emphasis on the importance of organic foods, or repetativeness. To put it mildly.

Ah, well. I'll keep the book because I really do like the current research based info. But if anyone has a FABULOUS recommendation for a book on prenatal nutrition that was published in the last 5 years or so, let me know!