Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lotus Birth in the Movies

The new movie Wanderlust with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd (among others) features a lotus birth!

Actress Lauren Ambrose, upper right, has a lotus birth in the film. 

Of course it was in the context of an outrageously stereotypical hippie commune where a woman delivers her own child, Paul Rudd passes out, and the next day she is seen carrying her baby attached by the umbilical cord to a placenta that her partner holds in a bowl.

What was interesting for me, though, was that this was shown in a mainstream movie. Does that mean that lotus birth has become popular enough to be on movie writers radar? Or perhaps just one writer needs to know about it for it to get put into the movie.

Of course American society is not quite ready for some aspects of the natural birth/crunchy mom community, such as carrying around an organ in a bowl, and the whole theatre went "EWWWW!!" And reviews of the movie include quotes like this one from NPR's review of the movie: "the community's decision to leave a newborn's umbilical cord and placenta attached until they fall off naturally is a gag-inducing gag that goes too far." 

Baby steps, lotus birth enthusiasts! :)

What is your reaction to Lotus Birth? Or, if you have seen Wanderlust, what was your reaction to it in the film? 

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, below is more information on Lotus Birth --
(from my own blog post of almost 2 years ago)

As mentioned before, there are benefits to delayed clamping and severance of the umbilical cord for the baby. There have been few recent arguments that delayed clamping is dangerous. Here is another, more "extreme" practice related to the umbilical cord.

A Lotus Birth is one during which the umbilical is not cut.


The placenta and baby are left attached until the umbilical cord naturally detaches. 

Herbs, essential oils and salts are applied to assist in the drying process and keeps odor at bay. The umbilical cord usually comes off on its own 3 - 10 days postpartum. The placenta is kept in a little pouch and goes around with the newborn. 

It is considered a gentler, non-violent form of birth. 

I have found several articles online that claim that,

"Lotus birthed babes appear more calm and healthy than their counterparts whose cords are immediately cut. They receive quite a bit of extra blood, rich in nutrients and oxygen, that boosts their immune system. The placenta helps their liver by filtering toxins from the baby's blood as long as the pumping continues. Their navals heal faster, and they can have their first bath sooner. The experience is gentler on the child and very special for all involved."

Lotus Birth, aka Umbilical Nonseverance, is generally practiced only at home or birth center births. This seems pretty clear, I'd say, since hospital attendants generally clamp the cord immediately. 

Wikipedia has this to say about the historical development of Lotus Birth:

In Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, the term "lotus birth" is used to describe spiritual teachers such as Gautama Buddha andPadmasambhava (Lien-hua Sen), emphasizing their entrance into the world as intact, holy children. References to lotus births are also found in Hinduism, for example in the story of the birth of Vishnu. 
Although recently arisen as an alternative birth phenomenon in the West, delayed umbilical severance and umbilical nonseverance have been recorded in a number of cultures including that of the Balinese and of some aboriginal peoples such as the African !Kung.
Early American pioneers, in written diaries and letters, reported practicing nonseverance of the umbilicus as a preventative measure to protect the infant from an open wound infection.
Sarah J Buckley, a popular proponent for Lotus Birth, writes about her experiences with Lotus Birth. She says that Lotus Birth was named in 1974 when
Clair Lotus Day, pregnant and living in California, began to question the routine cutting of the cord. Her searching led her to an obstetrician who was sympathetic to her wishes and her son Trimurti was born in hospital and taken home with his cord uncut. Lotus birth was named by, and seeded through, Clair to Jeannine Parvati Baker in the US and Shivam Rachana in Australia, who have both been strong advocates for this gentle practice.
The practice then gained notoriety in the yoga community when Jeannine Parvati Baker wrote a book called Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth. She saw it as the practical application of the yogic value of ahimsa.

Lotus Birth has also been observed in non-humans. 

Primatologist Jane Goodall, who was the first person to conduct any long-term studies of chimpanzees in the wild, reported that they did not chew or cut their offspring’s cords, instead leaving the umbilicus intact. Because humans share 99% genetic material with chimpanzees, some lotus birth practitioners refer to chimpanzee practice as a natural practice for humans as well. (Since many cases of chimpanzee cord separation have also been documented, further studies are required.)


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Female Bodies and the Issue of Choice: Part Two

Click here for Part One

When it comes to Birth, I am Pro-Choice.

I believe in a woman's right to choose every single aspect of her health care during her pregnancy and during her labor and delivery. She has the right to choose what kind of care provider she wants. She has the right to choose her location of birth (and I don't mean which hospital, I mean home birth or birth center as well). She has the right to refuse glucose rests, HIV tests, amniocentesis, and any other prenatal examination she desires. She has the right to have an unmedicated childbirth or a medicated one. It is HER CHOICE. Despite what biomedicine says, or the authoritative knowledge of care professionals, or a book says, or her mother says, or what a politician says: A woman has the right to CHOOSE what happens to HER body. She has the right to make an informed decision that is right for her.

Erin Rockwell from RH Reality Check writes:

The right to choose how a woman gives birth is not confined to just whether she’ll have a cesarean or a vaginal delivery, or whether she’ll have an epidural or go natural. In many states, the right to choose the very place where a woman gives birth is a contentious subject. While maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States continue to rise, legislatures continue to refuse to grant licenses to Certified Professional Midwives, the most common type of midwife who attends home births. And even in states where home birth is legal, hospital policies can prevent a woman from being accompanied by her midwife should she need to be transferred during or after the birth. Women are ostensibly free to make the choice---in most states it is only midwife-attended home birth that is illegal---but the choice often comes down to going to a hospital and risking losing their autonomy or planning a home birth and losing their advocate (and the person with the medical knowledge) if something goes wrong.

And Miriam Perez writes:

There are many negative effects of the medicalization of birth, but let’s keep it simple. Childbirth is more medicalized now than ever, with more interventions, more drugs, and more surgeries. Our Caesarean section rate is up to around 30 percent, despite World Health Organization recommendations of 15 percent. Are women and babies healthier? Safer? Happier? The answer is no. The United States continues to rank near the bottom of developed countries in relation to infant mortality, coming in second to last in 2006. Experts disagree on why. Some cite sub par health care for low-income pregnant women, while others point to increasingly complicated neonatal surgical interventions for otherwise unviable pregnancies. The simple fact is that Americans have one of the most costly health care systems in the world, but in many respects our health outcomes are nothing to brag about among our developed-world peers. Beyond all of this, what the birthing rights movement addresses is the narrowing scope of women’s choices about how they give birth. Hospitals and doctors have increasingly specific requirements and regulations about childbirth, many times based on standardized ideas of how a “normal” birth progresses. When women fail to meet these standards, interventions are employed, many of which are costly and cause a landslide of further intervention. Let’s not forget the emotional and psychological component. Many women give birth in environments where they feel unsupported, a fact exacerbated by hospital staffers who are overworked and face increasing productivity demands. They instead rely on family to give emotional support, but not all women have the familial support they need or want.

And this is why I am a Birth Activist.

I think it makes sense that this pro-choice sentiment rolls over to generally being pro-choice when it comes to all issues related to an individual's body. Most people would agree that this right belongs to male bodies, but unfortunately do not always extend this right to female bodies. And the issue lies mainly with aspects of reproduction.

And so I define myself also as Pro-Choice when it comes to choosing NOT to be pregnant, give birth, or parent (and yes, I'm talking about Abortion now).
Arwyn at Raising my Boychick is a fellow birth activist and pro-choicer who describes why she is pro-choice in her post "I'm pro-choice because..." and here is part of it:

    I’m pro-choice because I can’t but see a difference between a blastocyst and a baby.
    I’m pro-choice because the personhood of a embryo/fetus is irrelevant: no person has the right to impose themselves on another’s body.
    I’m pro-choice because without the right and ability to say no, we lack the ability to say yes.
    I’m pro-choice because every child should have the right to be a chosen child, whether or not their conception was intended.
    I’m pro-choice because parenthood is way too damned hard for anyone to be forced into it.
    I’m pro-choice because people with uteruses are, y’know, people, and capable of making their own decisions.
    I’m pro-choice because there’s no way to ban abortion without upping the death rate of women.
    I’m pro-choice because intended or not (and I’d argue it mostly is), the outcomes of abortion bans are misogynist and reify patriarchy.
    I’m pro-choice because my opinion on anyone else’s choice is irrelevant — and your opinion is irrelevant to mine.
    I’m pro-choice because it’s about so much more than abortion: not just whether but when and where and with whom to birth.
    I’m pro-choice because it’s about so much more than pregnancy: whether and when and how to transition, whether and when and with whom to have sex.
    I’m pro-choice because birth is far safer than we think it is — and abortion, when legal, is even safer still.
    I’m pro-choice because a forced “choice” — whether to birth or to abort — isn’t a choice at all.
    I’m pro-choice because I refuse to tell you what to do with your body, and I wish the same right extended to me.
    I’m pro-choice because in a pro-choice society, one can be against abortion for themselves, but in an anti-abortion society, one is disallowed choice at all.

Unfortunately, not all Birth Activists are with me. Despite the fact that birth activists agree with a woman's choice in birth, they do not always agree on a woman's choice to not be a mother.

And the Pro-Choice movement tends to ignore the fact that though some women want the choice to not be pregnant and give birth, some women DO want that choice.

As Erin Rockwell writes:

I am a woman “of childbearing age.” I know Planned Parenthood, NOW, Choice USA, et al, will defend my right to choose abortion if I were to get pregnant and needed that option. I know they would provide me with subsidized birth control and pap smears if I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay full price, or they would at least direct me where to go. And I know they will fight hard to ensure that legislators cannot stomp out my right to choose, or my access to subsidized birth control and yearly exams. Yet, when it comes to where I choose to give birth, they are silent. It would appear, in their eyes, that ensuring “choices” essentially ends with the decision to have a baby--more specifically of where and with what kind of attendant to give birth. How is that possible? The birth of her child is for many women one of, if not the, most transformative moment in her life. And the circumstances surrounding it can be just as empowering or disempowering as those surrounding a woman accessing her right to an abortion.

 I really like how Miriam Perez puts it here:
When a woman is giving birth in an American hospital, the doctors, nurses, and extended medical team are almost wholly focused on the status of the fetus inside of her—constantly employing technologies to monitor it and drugs to regulate it, allowing fetal well-being to be their dominant concern. When we think of a woman with an unintended pregnancy (and this could be the same woman, in a different phase of her life), a similar logic applies. Anti-choice activists don’t trust women to make responsible decisions about their lives and ability to parent; they instead focus on the potential life inside a woman, and place all emphasis on the future of the fetus rather than on the future of the woman. Anti-choice activism and overly-medicalized birthing practices are both based on a lack of trust in women. Consider the many restrictions imposed on birthing women: rules regulating out-of-hospital midwives, mandatory waiting periods for abortions, forced C-sections, and biased pre-abortion counseling are all examples of how people do not trust women (or their support networks) to make responsible decisions about family well-being.

I realize that not all readers who enjoy my blog will agree with my opinions, and that's OK! But please note that I will not host an abortion debate in the comments of this post.

Additional Reading: Why Birth is a Feminist Issue

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weekend Movie: Breastfeeding PSA's aimed at African Americans

What do you think of these Public Service Announcements for breastfeeding, made by the city of Louisville, KY?

Do you think that they will help promote breastfeeding in the African American community?
Or the influential role of dads and grandmothers in breastfeeding?

Is the talking baby just too weird?!?

Some may have an issue with the talk about "covering up" while nursing in public, or the emphasis on bottle-feeding in the shots of the mother and grandmother (aka "big momma"). But perhaps this reflects the reality of most breastfeeding families' situations, and will actually help promote breastfeeding in the African American community.

via Blacktating

Friday, February 3, 2012

Female Bodies and the Issue of Choice: Part One

Part One: On the idea that all women can be mothers, should be mothers, or want to be mothers.

A blog post was recently shared with me in which a woman writes about a surgery she had to have on her reproductive tract that would make her unable to have biological children. She told her male surgeons that she was ready to have the surgery because she didn't want children anyway. But the male surgeons couldn't accept this, and, exerted their patriarchal attitudes and power...
"The director of the surgical team advised tactics to delay the operation as long as possible, so that I could “try to complete my family”. That my family could already be complete was not, apparently, something they considered. 
Because the male surgeons advised that she wait to at least try to become pregnant before having the surgery, her surgery was delayed. She finally had to go to a different surgeon, a female, who "told me, with refreshing frankness: 'A pregnancy would be completely disastrous for your body. It will be a very good thing if we end your fertility.'" It turns out that waiting, which the woman did not want to do, led to the need for a more dangerous surgical procedure.

This gets at an essential point that I, and many birth activists, try to make: that women should be able to make choices about their bodies. 

This argument is made in discussing that women should be able to be fully informed and accept or refuse any procedure during pregnancy, any procedure during birth, and any procedure done to them at all. It is a woman's right (and a patient's right, and any person's right) to be able to choose what happens to her body, whether or not it is the choice that another person might make. While the choice to not be resuscitated when dying is not the choice that everyone might make, many people make the choice to put DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate, on documentation (or tattoo it on their bodies).

Furthermore, it gets to the idea that our society has: that all women should be mothers, or want to be mothers. The assumption is made that women want to have children, even despite any harm to themselves. Research shows that women weigh these odds all the time - their survival vs. the survival of offspring (I encourage you to read Mother Nature by S. B. Hrdy for more on this).

Women are more than their ability to be mothers. And moreover, biological motherhood is not the only way a woman can be a mother.

Society's assumption that all women might one day be mothers is also an important consideration in public health. What I'm thinking about specifically is Preconception Care. You may have heard of preconception care before; It is growing in popularity in the public health arena. You can read more about it on the CDC page here. I hadn't seen the issue here until my public health academic adviser brought it to my attention when she said something along the lines of:
"I have a problem with the assumptions of preconception care... It assumes that all women are going to get pregnant or want to get pregnant."
I have been left thinking about this for months, because she is right. Preconception care assumes that all women should receive the same screenings, nutrition, etc, and that all of these are done with the goal of safe, healthy pregnancies, birth outcomes and infants. But should we treat all women as if they are potential baby makers? My feminist adviser would say definitely not. And this is something I struggle with, because I think that preconception care is a good idea.

Perhaps the solution is that all doctors truly practice patient-centered care - Listen to their patients needs and wants, and don't treat everyone the same. And, of course, never assume!

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this!

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