I’m excited to announce my new online class: Expecting Success! A Positive Approach to Pregnancy and Birth. The 4 week (1 hour a week) class begins Sept. 4th at 1pm Pacific (4pm Eastern). For more information or to register for the class click here - http://www.entheos.com/academy/courses/Expecting-Success. This will be a fun and interesting class. Anyone with an interest in birth is encouraged to attend. Please spread the word!
I’ve just received a copy of Randi Hutter Epstein’s new book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. I’ve been so busy I’ve only had a chance to skim the book briefly but it looks fascinating. I’m pleased to say that Randi devoted an entire chapter to unassisted childbirth! I can’t say that the chapter is entirely complimentary but she does have some good things to say about UC, and I’m thrilled that a mainstream writer has at least acknowledged that the concept exists! Randi has been a friend of mine since she first interviewed me for the 2002 article she wrote about unassisted childbirth for the New York Times. In 2007, Randi flew to Boulder (with bagels in hand) to interview me for the book. I wish her all the best with it! Below is a review of the book written by The Green Doula. To purchase of copy of the book visit RandiHutterEpstein.com.
Every once in a while I come across one of those books that I can absolutely not put down. To be quite frank, in the past, those books have been in the likes of historical fiction or Harry Potter (my literary guilty pleasure). Though I have come across several books about birth which I have found very informative, I had never felt the extreme urge to carry such a book with me everywhere I went till I finished its 300 pages in one weekend. That changed this weekend.
Author Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. has unknowingly recruited me as her new enthusiastic fan. In her new book, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, Epstein weaves together a collection of well researched historical facts, fads, and tales into a very eye opening chronological history of Western birthing and women’s health care. I am often asked, “If the Midwifery Model is the ideal model, why are hospital births so popular? Didn’t obstetricians help make birthing easier at the turn of the century?”. This book answers those such questions and more in a shear way that neither left, right or middle wing can deny. This is not a book that dives into the history of midwifery. It is a definite eye opener bound to captivate its reader on the history of obstetrics and the unfortunate altered perception of “mainstream” birth today. I even believe that the male audience will find this book just as enjoyable/shocking as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. There are a lot of interesting parallels between the two books (I coincidentally started reading Guns, Germs, and Steel first till I saw this book in B&N on Thursday night). It will be clear after reading this we must fight harder for better birth choices ones based on respect and time based models such as midwifery. The case is undeniable. Why continue to let the legacy of characters like the J.P. Morgan and James Marion Sims reign (read their back stories in this book) over the ancient wisdom and traditions of woman’s past when it comes to our most cherish power and gift as women? Why continue with the sabotage?
This is definitely not a how to book or what to expect book, it is a full on historical book. But unlike our society, Epstein does not leave the important facts out (no matter how hard they are to swallow). She puts them front and center. I do feel that this book should be read by women and men alike to fully understand the foundation in which women’s health care (under the Western Model) was constructed under. This book will empower you to ask questions that you may have never even thought to ask and answer some questions that have been lingering for generations.
Epstein, a medical journalist for the New York Times, Washington Post, and more, has a refreshing talent for conveying weighty facts in a humorous digestible manner. She will also leave you with your jaw on the floor as a side effect of disbelief. Next time you walk by the Who Knew Section at Barnes and Nobles or are browsing on Amazon.com, pick up this compelling, powerful thought provoking must read.
The unassisted childbirth documentary originally titled "Outlaw Births" and now renamed "Freebirthing" will be airing on the Discovery Health Channel on Oct. 21st. As far as I know, the only things that have changed are the title and perhaps the narration. I enjoyed the British version, but as expected, there were numerous unsubstantiated comments from medical professionals about the supposed safety of hospital birth and the dangers of homebirth (specifically unassisted homebirth). In my interview with the producers last summer I addressed many of their concerns but most of my comments ended up on the cutting room floor.
It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes will be made to the US version. A producer from Discovery Health contacted me a few weeks ago to see if some of the "facts" presented in the program were indeed facts. I wrote him a long letter telling him more than he probably wanted to know! I've included some of my comments below. I'd actually be suprised if any changes were made to the program, but we'll find out soon!
I’m glad to hear it will be airing in the US. Overall I thought it was good, although I felt they were wrong to say that 50,000 UK women hemorrhage each year, without adding that much of this is due to medical intervention – epidurals, pitocin, aggressive management of the third stage of labor, c-sections, etc. Without bringing in this fact, it makes it appear that large numbers of women will naturally hemorrhage if a birth isn’t medically assisted.
Nine pregnant women were actually interviewed for the documentary (although most weren’t featured), and all nine went on to successfully give birth unassisted. None of the women hemorrhaged, and only two sought medical care after the birth – Heather, for a placenta that was slow to come out (but came out without assistance in the hospital), and another woman who tore and decided to get stitches. Heather is now sorry she went into the hospital, as many women that give birth at home deliver the placenta hours (and occasionally, days) after the birth with no problems. There really was no reason for concern. And so I would dispute the narration that accompanied this segment, as they implied (if not outright stated) that Heather was in serious danger.
Regarding the statement that “80% of women say that childbirth is more painful than they ever imagined," I googled “childbirth more painful than imagined” and found several references to a UK study from 2002. However, the article states that of the women in the study, “Almost a quarter had had a Caesarean and 96 per cent gave birth in hospital with a variety of technical assistance including forceps, suction and epidurals. Only 6 per cent reported having a 'completely natural birth.'”
As far as the accuracy of the comment in the end of the program that "For Laura Shanley the responsibility rests on the medical community to offer a different kind of support to women," this actually bothered me, as I would never make a statement like this. I believe the responsibility rests on women. If women truly want to have a better birth experience, they need to educate themselves as to why birth can sometimes be problematic. From the research I have done, I believe it can be traced to three main causes: poverty, unnecessary medical intervention, and fear (which triggers the fight/flight response and shuts down labor). We cannot depend on the medical profession to “save” us from birth, as we really don’t need to be saved – and their idea of saving (inductions, c-sections, etc.) brings with it a new set of problems that are actually causing an increase in both maternal and infant mortality. And so I encourage women to overcome their fears, believe in their own abilities and allow their bodies to work the way they were designed.
The producers of the documentary did ask me what doctors, midwives and doulas can do, and I told them they can help women to believe in themselves (and this is the clip they showed after making that statement). But I would never put the responsibility on the medical community, as I do not believe birth is a medical event. Contrary to what many reporters are saying, the unassisted childbirth (UC) movement isn’t simply a reaction to over-medicalized birth (although that’s certainly a factor). I think interest in UC is growing because women are wanting to take responsibility for themselves in all aspects of their lives. They no longer feel comfortable turning themselves over to the “authorities.” The idea that “doctor knows best” doesn’t sit right with many people anymore. Yes, doctors are necessary and sometimes their services are needed. But when it comes to birth these days, I believe they are creating more problems than they’re fixing.
Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do. Dare I say, there were several other statements made in the documentary that I didn’t agree with – and actually addressed in the hours of interviews I did with the UK crew. Unfortunately, most of that ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, I’m thankful that I was able to say as much as I did (I did a 4-hour interview with the Seoul Broadcasting System a few years ago, and when the documentary aired a year later my part was 15 seconds long). I also felt the British did a nice job presenting the women’s stories. I don’t object to them including negative comments from doctors, but many of the comments made simply weren’t true.
The unassisted childbirth documentary “Outlaw Births” aired in the UK on Wed. night and by all accounts was an interesting program! As usual, there were numerous negative comments throughout from medical professionals but that’s to be expected. There was also too much emphasis (by most accounts) on the problems one American woman, Heather, had on delivering her placenta. The placenta was slow in coming so Heather went to the hospital. While this actually wasn’t an emergency, it was presented as such in the program. Still, in most people’s minds this didn’t overshadow the beauty of Heather’s homebirth.
Two clips have been posted on YouTube. The clips feature UK UCer Clair and her partner Yasmin, but in the beginning of the first clip you’ll see 2-second shots of 2 other UC’s – Josephine’s and Monique’s. There is also a shot of my friend Cassie looking euphoric as she holds her baby just after the birth, and a few shots of Heather and another UK UCer, Clio in labor. Click here and here.
I’ve already received numerous letters from people around the world who would like to watch the program. Unfortunately at this point it isn’t for sale, although I’ve been told that eventually it will be shown in other (as of now unknown) countries. Those who live in the UK can view the program free here.
I’m enclosing two reviews below, one from my UK friend Cassie, and another by a writer for the Guardian newspaper. Unfortunately the production company has yet to send me a copy so I can’t add my own comments.
Channel 5 is one of 5 channels available to everyone within the United Kingdom with a TV set. I was extremely pleased and impressed by the program overall. Three births were shown. Clair, our very own Heather and also Clio of Evolution Expands Consciousness.
It started out badly edited really, chopping between Clair (ex nurse in London planning a UC) and three medics - one head midwife from Colorado, a male consultant here in London and a female consultant also based in London. The three medics were obviously saying how dangerous it was, how women die, how "interventions make birth safe" and that the tools they have prevent mothers and babies from dying in childbirth. They also said about 50,000 people each year suffer from PPH (post-partum hemorrhage) in the UK. Didn't mention the fact this was probably due to them yanking out placentas and cutting women up with episiotomies whilst they were strapped to their backs and immobile through epidurals....
The program hinted for a good part of the hour long documentary...that the practice may not be legal in the UK. They even avoided having their own film crew at Clio's birth...just in case the film crew was prosecuted. This continued right up until Clair went to see Beverly Beech, Chair of AIMS (Association for Improvements in Maternity Services). At that point Beverly said quite clearly that anyone telling a pregnant woman that UC was illegal was either 'ignorant or lying.' The program misquoted the wrong piece of legislation associated with possible prosecution...saying it was 1997...when in actual fact it's 2001.
Clair I felt was featured most centrally. She is an ex nurse and also a lesbian. They didn't make as big of an issue out of this as I had expected them to, which was nice. She put herself across on the documentary quite well, being very honest in her fears and her hopes. She went for a class with the British Red Cross...and the man who gave her lessons on how to resuscitate a baby did not at all seem phased when she pointed out there would be no midwife at her birth. He just made sure she understood what he had taught her and seemed quite confident he had equipped her with the knowledge to save her child, should the occurrence arise. She birthed at home with her partner alone. Bit of screaming when the head crowned, but she was ecstatic and far happier it seems with this birth than her previous two experiences.
Clio - was AMAZING. Quiet, serene, peaceful. Positively empowered and never uttering once about negativities.
Heather - beautiful! Was filmed with our dear Laura at a gathering that was held at Laura’s home with other women. The birth was beautiful. Unfortunately out of all of them, this is where the negative spin came when Heather still hadn't birthed the placenta. The ominous narration of 'this is the most dangerous time and Heather is seriously at risk from PPH and infection of her and her baby.' It was the only time I yelled at the TV. Of course everything was fine but it almost gave the impression of 'thank god...see how lucky she is.' It also showed Heather, checking her blood pressure in Wal-Mart lol, and her meeting with a midwife to learn how to resuscitate a baby if needed. The midwife was quite negative when interviewed afterwards and said she needed more support. I wanted to slap her a bit lol.
Laura was interviewed. The website shown and apparently...Laura...you have a 'cult' following. There was footage shown of Laura’s birth back in 1978. The interview bits that were shown of you were not as choppy as some of the others done with 'experts.' You probably got as much if not more coverage as the female UK medic. A basic view of UC came across very nicely from you, as well as your additions on what you hoped Dr's, midwives and doulas should learn about supporting women. ALSO the UK female medic acknowledged the fact that women were turning to UC because the standard of care they received in NHS hospitals was poor and that needed to change!
So it wasn't a parade of freaks as some of these documentaries tend to do. It portrayed 3, educated, empowered and confident women giving birth to their babies without assistance. It showed their fears, concerns, hopes and dreams through their plans and births. It also addressed the legal and medical concerns surrounding UC. Overall...as I said....a very good piece on unassisted childbirth.
It also has the net in a spin. I have been dropping hints about the programs on a number of mainstream boards. They are buzzing about it. Even though many of them wouldn't personally choose to go UC themselves, they admire the births, do not condemn women for choosing to go UC. I can count on probably 1 hand the negative comments I have seen made after the airing of the show (so far) and all of them can generally be put down to that individual’s own personal horrific hospital experience. Well done and congratulations to everyone who was involved in the making of the program!
From Anne Pickard of the Guardian newspaper:
The women in Outlaw Births weren't criminals. They just delivered their babies their own way
Thursday July 10, 2008
Anyone wondering if childbirth really is as painful as everyone says would have found their answer in Extraordinary People: Outlaw Births (Five). In at least two out of three cases, yes, it really did look that painful. And messy. And not for the squeamish. But it was at least a real and unflinching portrait of natural childbirth - as well as a reminder of how unusual it is to see uncensored images of women giving birth and breastfeeding on primetime TV.
Of course, to get it into the schedules, it had to be given a stupid name. Outlaw Births? The programme highlighted the fact that unassisted births in the UK exist in a legally grey area - but "outlaw"? I half-expected to see mothers popping out little black-hatted baddies with sawn-off shotguns shouting: "Put 'em up, this is a robbery!"
Clair MacVean, a quietly passionate ex-nurse, was sad that her friends thought her mad and that her grandmother would worry. But she wasn't to be shaken out of her opinions. "Births are overmanaged, over-medicalised and midwives seem to have lost their empathy," she said. When her NHS trust refused her a home-birthing kit after she refused their midwife, she took herself off to a medical-supplies shop to buy sterile scissors for cutting the umbilical cord. "And who's going to do it?" said the nice lady in the medical-supplies shop. "Me, probably!" Clair replied, cheerfully. "Oh!" said the nice lady, lost for words.
Two other women shared their experiences and, even though you sensed that nothing bad was going to happen, you knew that it could. And you knew they knew, too. Clio Howie gave birth in the company of her husband and children in a remote cottage in Wales, half an hour from the nearest doctor. In almost complete silence, her baby slipped into the birthing pool and emerged the right way up, the right colour and softly crying as he was laid on her breast.
Clair and the third freebirthing mother, Heather, fared less well. They spent hours screaming and contorted, but both ended up with a tiny, perfect person. Every now and again, an obstetrician or a high-ranking midwife appeared and said: "Our problem with this is that it could be dangerous and someone could die and we don't want mothers to put themselves and their babies in situations of unacceptable risk."
Their unsupportive attitude became shockingly clear when Heather, worried that the placenta had not followed the baby out, took herself off to a hospital. There she was treated with disdain. "Well, what do you expect us to do now?" her doctor said. Still, whether you believe these women are taking unacceptable risks or not, their calm dedication made for an absorbing film. "I've had several cups of tea, he's had several little breastfeeds; it's been a lovely morning - wake up, have a baby, and ... " said Clair, waving her hands, "this is the way it should be. Birth is part of life."
The British documentary “Outlaw Births” will be airing in the UK tomorrow (July 9th) on Channel 5 at 9pm. The film deals with unassisted childbirth (also known as "UC," "unassisted homebirth," and "freebirth"). I was interviewed along with nine pregnant women who were all planning on giving birth at home, unassisted. I'm pleased to say that all nine succeeded! The film focuses primarily on three women, Clio, Clair and Heather. Footage from all of their births will be shown.
An article about the documentary was published today in the British newspaper The Independent. The article features lovely photos from Clio's recent UC! In the months to come, the documentary may be shown in other countries. I'll be sure to post information on this as soon as I get more details.
Concerning the title, the term “outlaw” refers to the fact that women who choose this route often feel ostracized by friends, family and society. While the UK laws are vague, technically it is not illegal for a woman there to have an unassisted birth.