Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Summer I Ate Clay because I am a Birth Junkie

I ATE CLAY. Literally.

Curse my Anthropological curiosity!

This summer has been a whirlwind for my graduate program. I completed my IRB and began my research for my master's thesis on breastfeeding. I am also interning for the community organization who provides women with breastfeeding assistance. Doing participant observation has been harder to arrange than I thought, and recruitment for interviews wasn't able to begin until much later than I had wanted. But I am in the full swing of things! I am learning a lot about women's breastfeeding experiences. More on this project down the line :)

So why did I ate clay? Well, here is the story:
I interviewed a woman who was from Africa, and she told me all about the postpartum practices of her country. She was explaining that after women give birth there is a huge celebration, people whistle, and the children make these things that they bring to the woman. I asked her if it was food and she said "No. it's... mud. Is that the right word? It's edible." I thought perhaps there was a language barrier... how could mud be edible? Then she pulled a bag out of her kitchen pantry and said, "Here I have some that someone brought for me after I had my baby." And asked me if I wanted to try it.

Now you would think that since she had described it as "mud," that perhaps I would hesitate. And perhaps a normal person would. But being obsessed with all things birth and culture-related, I was fascinated by this different postpartum practice. What was this food that the women of her culture eat postpartum? I had to experience it.

It looked like a dark colored ball with white powder. I asked her if it was sugary and she said No. Then she broke one into pieces, picked up a small piece, and put it in her mouth. So, I picked up a piece, put it in my mouth, and started chewing. And quickly realized I was eating CLAY. And she said, "oh! you're not supposed to chew it!" And I'm trying not to be all, "AHHH Get this out my mouth its dirt!" Thankfully she said, would you like a paper towel? And I spit out as much as I could, rinsed my mouth out at the sink, and was still given a toothpick and a bottle of water on my way out so that I could continue to pick the mud out of my teeth. BLECH!

It wasn't until later that I realized that someone probably brought it to her from her home country, meaning I most likely ate the dirt of another country. And am now probably going to get all sorts of diseases. But I feel fine so far! :) In case you're curious, this is called geophagy, which is a condition where people crave and eat non-food items like clay, chalk, etc. Pregnant and postpartum women are known to crave clay. It is tradition in Africa, maybe because of cravings caused by dietary deficiency (lack of nutrients). It also helps you feel full.
Really interesting radio story about this here.

There has been a lot going on since I last did a "personal doula update" of sorts!

In biggest news, this blog was reviewed in this summer's SQUAT magazine! So cool!
Sarah wrote, "Overall, I've found that Emily's sharp, thorough intellect and clear writing style makes each blog post a learning experience, which keeps me (this non-blogger) coming back again and again." Thanks, Sarah and SQUAT!

I am also taking a course this summer on global women's health. We have focused on a lot of the topics that were covered in my anthropology reproductive health class, with a few others thrown in that are not related to reproduction (chronic diseases, violence, and so forth). This is the first time this course is being taught, and I really like how interdisciplinary it is, and how we talk a lot about human rights (and even feminism!) As part of this course, we are traveling to Panama to explore these health issues in this particular country. I am very excited to visit a new country! And to reflect more on women's health issues from an international perspective.

I had a few doula clients have their babies. I mentioned in my last update that one doula client was going to attempt a red raspberry leaf tea chugging method to make her labor super short. Well, her labor was very fast and intense! Of course, we'll have no idea if that is because of the red raspberry leaf tea, or the chiropractor/acupuncture she tried when her water broke and contractions didn't start, or just if that's how her labor would have been anyway. Once her contractions actually started in earnest, she was dilated at super lightning speed. I honestly didn't even believe that it was possible for her to be ready to go to the hospital when I got the call that went, "actually, don't come to the house, just meet us at the hospital!" But when we checked in she was fully dilated. The urge to push took longer to come, and the actual pushing phase was also longer than my average, which is interesting. I'm not sure what that means, but it was interesting to note. Every birth is so different! This birth had a fabulous in-hospital midwife attending, and I was so incredibly pleased to see that.

I had another new experience with another doula birth this summer. Client had a beautiful and relaxing birth center birth, labor not too long, and pushed her baby out into the water. I even had a doula-in-training friend working with me for that birth, which was fun! Unfortunately, she had the toughest postpartum period I've ever seen. The baby was the most frustrated baby I have ever seen. Would not stop crying, even when she had the breast in her mouth. Baby was not latching, and mom's milk didn't come in for a week. And then the poor mama felt she couldn't take it easy, didn't have a lot of help at home, and she had a lot of trouble with her perineal stitches. Apparently in my state, midwives aren't supposed to touch you 48 hours after the birth, so she was simply told to "go to the emergency room." With a newborn! My heart really went out to her :( I don't have a lot of practice with the postpartum end of things; I was never trained as a postpartum doula, and my newborn knowledge is really centered around breastfeeding.

Also, it has been a while since I talked about the objects from my doula bag that I use, so here is what I have realized that I use most:

- A fan. I realized the battery-operated one was just too intense (and loud) for moms, so I carry an old fashioned hand-held one (that I actually bought in China). I use it at every birth. Most moms have temperature swings, and get very hot during pushing.
- Wet wash cloth. Either my own or the birth center/hospital ones. For the same reasons as above!
- Breath mints. I eat a lot of these during a labor. Long hours without teeth brushing, or I just ate and want to clear that food scent away, or because I'm doing a lot of breathing and my breath probably just stinks. I offer to dad, too. 
- iPod and speaker. You would not believe how many times mom and dad don't bring their own (forget it at home or don't think of it). All my clients have liked either the classical music or the guided visualization tracks. I have a ton of ocean and nature music sounds, too, but these end up sounding annoying and weird in a hospital room.
- Birth ball. For laboring at home. Most of the birth locations in my area have some of their own.

Things I use often, but not every time:
- Rice sock to heat up
- Straws for mom to drink with
- Peppermint oil on a cotton ball for nausea.
- Preggie pop or other lollipop to keep mom going (sugar, anti-nausea, something good tasting)
- Lanolin ointment for when mom's forget their lip balm
- Tennis ball for back massage

I'll update you on Panama and women's health later! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Doula Baby

Today is the 1 year birthday of one of my doula client's birthdays. This is clearly not my first doula baby birthday, but today I was feeling really happy about seeing pictures of a 1-year-old who has gotten so big that I saw born one year ago today!

I like e-mailing or calling my clients on their first birthdays. Not all of my clients have kept in touch, and I don't always hear back from them all, but I like to reach out. I put the date of their birth in my calendar and have it repeat one year later to remind me. And it makes me think about how time passes, how children grow so fast, and where I was exactly one year ago. It's also a reminder of the part I played in the lives of others, and how they have touched and shaped mine.

So, I am just taking this post to reflect on all of these things, and to say Happy Birthday to all my doula babies out there in the world!

Do you say happy birthday to your doula clients and their babies? How do you keep in touch?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Link Round-Up

I haven't done one of these in a while, but I feel like it might be time! Here is a roundup of recent links of interest.

I share a lot of articles and other blog posts on the Anthro Doula Facebook, but I try to keep it to a minimum so that no one's News Feed is overwhelmed. I like to share in other venues because it's quick, hits a lot of people at once, and I don't always have time to blog about it. I also share a lot of things on Twitter. Basically, Twitter gets a lot of things that Facebook doesn't  get, if I feel it's not as incredibly interesting (lower priority or range of potential interest), or if I feel like I've already shared enough on Facebook for the time being :) So the order of sharing birth/health/anthropology links, in order of increasing magnitude, is This Blog -> Facebook -> Twitter. If you are on Twitter and don't yet follow me, you can find me @AnthroDoula

So here they are, in no particular order, in case you missed any news in the past couple weeks...

Anthropologist Kate Clancy at Context and Variation blog writes about notions of menstruation as polluting the hunt in It's Camping Season, Don't Forget to Menstruate! Or, Man the Hunter and Woman the Menstruator

All 49 Massachusetts hospitals are now "bag free"  - formula bags, that is.

Science and Sensibility examines the research - Let Labor Begin on Its Own: A New Study from BJOG Seems To Say Otherwise for Twin Pregnancies

Jennifer Block on Slate with a great analysis "Did a Daily Beast story on the dangers of home birth rely too heavily on the views of one activist?"

As Birth Anthropologists have been saying for years! - A Washington Post article called "Fear may increase length of labor"

Good post from Banned from Baby Showers on "minding your own birth"

U.S. not best place to be a woman 

What Obamacare Means for Women - A really informative slide show! 

Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?  - A New Yorker article that examines parenting and kids across cultures, including some anthropological work

"Why Women Still Can't Have It All" - The Atlantic article, and some responses via Feministing blog

Study: Feminists more likely than Non-Feminists to support Attachment Parenting 

Amazing 25 second MRI video of a human birth - This has gone viral so I'm sure you've seen it, but just in case you haven't, check it out!

Mothers and Infants from an Evolutionary Perspective: an interview with Sarah Blaffer Hrdy on Scientific American's Primate Diaries blog and Part II: Sarah Blaffer Hrdy on the Evolutionary Lessons of Motherhood  

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Anthro Doula, CLC!

I passed my CLC exam and competencies! YAY!

Now that myself and my colleagues have all passed, we have been entrusted to start up breastfeeding peer-support groups in our community. We are thinking of starting one at my university since it doesn't have one, and the needs of student moms might be different than other populations. Plus, it will be convenient!

It took nearly 8 weeks for my results to get to me, which was frustrating. I already had a doula client say, when I suggested she call an IBCLC, "Well you took that training right? Aren't you certified?" And I had to explain 1. That I was trained, yes, but couldn't call myself certified yet... and 2. Not at all the same as an IBCLC! And she said, "What is that - an IBCLC?" Which just goes to show that the lay person has no idea that there are different certifications for lactation assistants out there. 

As I mentioned in my post about my training, even though I felt like I already knew most of what was taught at the training, it does feel nice to know that others will BELIEVE ME when I say I know it! :)

Now I get to celebrate!!

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