Birth Photography: The Elephant in the Room

5 09 2016

elephantI’m about to liken birth photography to pornography.

Now if you haven’t already accepted certain basic principles of birth physiology, you’re probably not going to appreciate this post. More details on what those are can be found here, and here.

If you’re still with me, you may be one of those who this is best geared for:  a very specific kind of freebirther, the fringe of the fringe, the most primitive. Hello sister.

I know it seems like I’m once again here to rain on your parades, but as we acknowledge that birth is part of the sexual continuum, and that birth has been hijacked by people who pretend to be helpers who don’t belong there and endanger us, it would behoove us to acknowledge that we are not fully unindoctrinated while we are still allowing outsiders into that sacred, private space out of a fear that we would miss out on something desirable as influenced by current social norms. What we end up really missing out on is a whole lot more.

After all, many people still birth in hospitals partly out of a fear of missing out on some things, certain things they have come to expect. Certain indignations normalized.

A small example:  I remember one of the things I believed I would “miss” was feeling like I was on vacation. Staying in a bed in a room, having food brought to me, being expected to rest, taking a break from the normal routines… That gets easier to break up with when you face that this kind of “vacation” is really a recovery from trauma the likes of which you won’t experience if you stay home and do it yourself. Most of us don’t chop off our arms to get a vacation, either. Well, not if we’re healthy of mind, anyway. Not to mention the fact that you can rest and be waited on at home, too; even though it doesn’t feel like “going away”, your baby belongs at home and your nest is the most appropriate place to nestle.

We’re so used to expecting certain things and having certain norms that we hesitate to part with them or we want to incorporate them into experience, like a tradition. But how many traditions are actually fads? This era holds that birth pictures and video are not to be missed out on, like wedding video and pictures. Only the photographer usually doesn’t stay to capture the wedding night, which birth is honestly much more like. And that’s the (big) difference.

When I say birth is part of the sexual continuum, I’m pointing out something that most natural birthers already acknowledge. That is that the life cycle starts with sex, ideally preceded by two people with excellent chemistry falling in love and having lots of trust (maximum oxytocin overload, pleasurable life, healthy setup for the future). And that is an act that is carried on by two people and two people only. For the act of creation and furthering of the species, this example takes a man and a woman. For them to feel fully secure and give in to the moment and all the beautiful chemical reactions awaiting them, they need to feel privacy.

(Voyeurism is not a part of this chain; it is a socially developed kink. I’m trying to get back to our roots, not away from.)

The people– but I’m going to focus specifically on the woman– need to feel that their guard can be completely let down in order to fully give in to feeling the way they are feeling with each other. That is the only way they can really be free. Part of this primal act being so guarded could be partly due to our instinct to be aware of predators. We would be especially vulnerable to an outside attack in these sensitive moments. It also may have to do with bonding, as anything that would interfere with or leech off of man-to-woman bonding in intercourse threatens the future of the family. The oxytocin in that moment is the seed, spark, foundation of deep trust and sense of love, that promises a strong attachment and furthers the survival and protection of any offspring yet to come. The more solidified and respected that bond, the higher the chances of success for our species on the whole.

(On a spiritual and romantic level, I also feel the privacy is extremely validated, but I will return to focus on the physical to be basic, fundamental, and not digress. I don’t have time to explain my philosophy to you right now, nor do I think everyone might care.)

What naturally follows, if impregnated, is birth. The emergence of the new life from the same portal through which the possibility of life had to enter. And the state of mind of the woman laboring or birthing is similar in that the thinking mind is shut off, giving way to the primitive mind and instinct and body taking over, and that any outsiders to this event are viewed as intruders– which will either hinder her response, endanger it/her, or temporarily stop the process altogether. Birth involves an altered state of consciousness, when allowed to proceed naturally. Birth is perhaps the most vulnerable naturally occurring moment to a human life and we are wired to be aware of the presence of those who do not belong in order to protect ourselves and our young. The same people at the sexual union are the people who are good candidates to be present at the birth. No more, and maybe less. To violate that puts the woman in fight-or-flight mode. There are plenty of references in literature to just how this is harmful to labor and you can read more about it and the Fear Tension Pain Cycle in books like Childbirth Without Fear, and Unassisted Childbirth.

As an aside, Michel Odent has given some great notes on how a man should behave *if* he is invited into the birth space, even if a woman trusts and loves him. Read any of his works and especially Birth and Breastfeeding for more information.

When the primitive, physiological self is allowed to take over for the thinking mind, without fear, in the absence of any intrusion, in sex and in childbirth, the result is ease, satisfaction, proper release of oxytocin for bonding and love and pleasure with whomever the deserving and receiving partner or life mate is, if around. This works for woman to man in intercourse, and man and woman and baby in childbirth, as the culmination of their act of love and the solidifying of the family unit. This was nature’s plan for human longevity, and it’s the brilliance of its design. It is built into us. A strong unit is formed, and strong tribes may form.

A woman needs to be able to tap into that deep place within herself that without societally-based fears and expectations, the likes of which are imposed on all of us regarding birth from a very young age. And she can’t do that as long as you are selling her products. She can’t do that when you’re telling her there is still something modern she will need, something extra and more than what she is that she should want, something she will regret not adding in because other mothers have it and it’s so important, and keep her further and further away from her original design and function. You’re keeping her from her purest and truest self and essence, and if you succeed, she will never know it in this life. Her body is an astounding work of creation, moreso than any camera ever could be. And we hinder that. Because we are delighted by the modern marvel more than the organic miracle. We keep reaching for shiny distractions and no longer respect when it is time to put those away.

In some parallel universe somewhere, there is orgasm/conception photography, for the same reasons as we do birth photographs now.

I look at birth video and photography much in the same way I would look at the concept of artistic orgasm photography. I appreciate the interest in capturing a moment. I appreciate the reverence for the look on the woman’s face, the awe in her rawness. And if I were watching someone have actual sex on video, even if “tastefully done”, I would have to admit it is really pushing it in terms of being a form of pornography.

Because… I’m not supposed to be there. This is private. I may be interested, I may be intrigued, but this is not for me to watch. Those are not my moments, those are not my chemicals. I’m an intruder, and this belongs to someone else. This is sacred.

And you can photograph sex and birth all you like, but you will never truly capture the reality of what the moment would look like if you were not there at all.

Imagine if the things people say about birth photography were said about intercourse photography?

“They’re a real pro, you won’t even know they’re there.”

“They silently stay out of the way and blend in with the background.”

“We have a mutual acquaintance that can really vouch for them, so I trust them.”

“The photographer is my sister.”

“You will be so lost in the moment, you will have no awareness that they’re even in the room. And you’ll be so ‘busy’ you won’t even care at that point.”

What about this is not creepy?

I know birth and sex are not perfectly synonymous, but that’s not the point. The point is that the woman is tapped into the same states of being with her body producing some of the same hormones, functions and effects, having the same physiological needs to make the effort a success. You can spoil one just as easily as you can spoil the other, with these wrong attitudes towards the acts.

And if you honestly believe when looking at any birth photos or vids (or ones of sex….) that what you are viewing would be exactly the same without the extra people and the cameras, you’re lying to yourself. Men who watch porn also think they are watching reality. Granted, pornography is often consciously a performance, while being taped in birth becomes more of subconsciously performing. You are not seeing an unhindered woman. The camera will always add the element of observation or performance, however subtle or inconspicuous it seems to the observer/observed. You are not getting the fullest, unbridled, wild, natural person who is free from being studied, judged, or captured. (Even just think about the language… she is “captured” on film. She is subdued, watched, controlled.) The woman will always be aware somewhere in her consciousness of your presence, because her primitive mind is keen and sharp to detect this as a rule, as a defense mechanism innate to her, and it *will* have an impact on her. And that impact is restraint and tension.

Here is the part where someone chimes in, “You don’t know me. Not all women are the same. Everyone has different needs.” Wrong. All women *are* the same. Let’s look at the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

I imagine the resulting photograph keepsakes contribute to the tier entitled “Esteem”.



First we acknowledge that birth is a physiological, physical event. You don’t birth with your personality or your brain, you birth with your body. You are an animal. Then let’s address that the primal body is the one tasked with giving birth as it does instinctively, when not held back or restrained. Then let’s observe that stimulation of the thinking mind, or neocortex, keeps one from dropping deep into primal brain activity, and that the neocortex is stimulated by having company. In this we must admit that the presence of others serves functionally to restrain the primal woman, keeping her in the worst state of consciousness for an easy birth.

Now tell me you deny this and that you’re built differently from other women.

“But humans are social animals! I am a very social person!”

Your baby whom you are giving birth to is a person. This is an interaction between you and they. And sometimes, your partner, if invited to the birth space. These are all people.

What more in the way of social do you require?

You may be a social butterfly, but please note this is a psychological trait and not a primal one. Your primal self is the one giving birth, the one you need to honor, the one for whom all obstacles must get out of the way. If you glance again at the hierarchy of needs, you will note that physiology and safety are first, they are the foundation, and they are of utmost importance. Love and belonging to which I’ll assume the psychological wish to be surrounded by people owes itself, is secondary to those things. (Ironically, if you honor the physiological foundation first, you will find a deepening and intensifying of love due to all the oxytocin shared in earnest between you.)

Our physiology as women is the same. Our needs for safety as laboring mammals are the same: quiet, darkness, solitude, warmth. You can’t claim a psychological preference supersedes these. It is akin to saying, “But I really like the water!” to explain that you can be submerged and don’t need to breathe. You are not superhuman, your body is not made differently. We have basic needs. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to not be obstructed or injured. Once those basic needs are covered, then we are able to move up to other less pressing wants, frequently formed by the thinking mind and not the primal one, such as being social.

If a woman’s psychological urges are so strong that she must obey those first, due to trauma, conditioning, or lack of awareness of the severity of these issues on our bodies, she will choose to be surrounded at birth. This is why I advise anyone trying to freebirth to conquer your psychological issues before birth, and ideally, before pregnancy.

I excuse these the same way I excuse elective Cesareans. Our trauma and where we are at in dealing with it will determine which choices we feel ready to make. For that I have sympathy, but with strong preference to trying to get women helped before their inclinations lead to more physical harm. In short, we all work with what we’ve got.

Your rational mind wants to be in control and will always find a way, always find fear and excuses. You cannot bargain with instinct, though. Instinct will be there whether you like it or not and you will not be able to rationalize with it. I recommend getting out of its way.

And not denying it.

To me birth vids and photography are like the big, voyeuristic, creepy, pervy, obstructing, restraining, intrusive elephant in the room. And elephants are apparently midwives, so that’s fitting.

When most natural birthers are looking at birth photos and vids and picking on things like,

“Oh, that baby is wearing a hat! Poor thing!”

“Look, they cut the cord right away.”

“OMG, how many hands are on that mama? And take off those gloves!”

Or even positive things like,

“Oh look, daddy caught!”

“What a fierce, strong mama in that birth pool.”

“I love your faces! You did it!”

“This is what birth is supposed to look like.”

No it’s not. You weren’t supposed to be there. You are getting a happy, joyous, or victorious fragment of her at best. You are viewing a fraction of her depth and what she would normally be capable of. And yes, even that fraction is beautiful to us, but our pleasure through her is ill-gained and of no importance. What she really deserved matters more. So I wince, like some of you wince and feel triggered when you see unnecessary Cesarean photos.

What repeats in my mind while even agreeing with their comments is, “have you noticed yet there was a camera/photographer there?” How much better might it have been for the mother and her baby if they weren’t some kind of show on display for us? As nice as it may be to have keepsake photos your baby’s delivery, might you be cheating yourselves when it comes to feeling something much more pure and unfiltered? Something potentially pain-free, non-injurious, untraumatized, and even ecstatic? Do you want to be one of those women who says immediately after, “I want to do it again”?

Another way birth is like sex.

The continuum of life, of sex, wants us to be rewarded. Our brains are supposed to feel good about these activities because this supports continuation of the species. Birth, like sex, is not “supposed” to be painful and we should stop promoting that it inherently is. Our pain is frequently connected to fear and control. We and our process and how we perceive it has been controlled and ideas fed to us and we are ruled and overcome by fear. I can only assume that, removing all this, our births would be mostly pleasurable. We will never know because even modern empowered women do not live in a vacuum. All of us are overcoming hostile influences. I want us to keep breaking away from these conventions so that one day our daughters might know this answer.

“And what about you, Elizabeth? Are you so perfect? You didn’t want photos and videos of your births?”

No, I fucked up, too. That’s why I’m here. My whole story is one of fucking it up, then getting it right, and then getting it a little bit more right, some more. If I can keep you from doing what I did and having to learn the hard way, that’s my dream.

My first birth in the hospital I videotaped and there were pictures. All kinds of people were in the room, strange men saw my ass, I vomited on people and cried. Bright lights and hooked up to machines, opiates and vaginal trauma… and I’m sure the recordings were negligible in influence after all that. But I’ve got it on record.

Birth 2 was too traumatic to have any recording devices out. I spent part of it in an ambulance, hoping to lose consciousness. Strange men saw my ass again.

My third birth when I was way more awakened, I went solo. I attempted to record video because I didn’t yet know any better, and the device failed to record, but it still acted as an “observing eye”. I was photographed in early labor which I suppose isn’t that bad while contractions are light. (In the sex analogy, this might be being photographed in a kiss.) I wanted to be alone through most of labor and only allowed pictures after the baby emerged in the pool. (Yes, I do think after-birth pictures in limitation are okay, and in the sex analogy, may be akin to an after-orgasm photo. Risque, a peek into something private, but still discrete. The body has done the hardest work after the moment of birth but you still want to be mindful not to disturb the mother in the third stage because she is still affected by needless interference and chatter.) This was an amazing birth and I do not doubt it could have been even more amazing without mechanical watching eyes. But the picture of me lifting my son out of the water of the birth pool and having achieved this triumph myself is one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen and may be my favorite picture of all time. You can see it on the back of my book, In Search of the Perfect Birth.

Birth 4 I knew better and we attempted no recording device and saved pictures for after baby was born. I cherish these because for the first time ever, the reveal of the sex was a complete shock and surprise (literally the opposite of what I thought I knew), and this moment and reaction was caught in a photo. Up until the pushing, this was also my absolute easiest and most manageable birth yet. Dark, solitude, warmth, relative quiet… it was downright blissful during most of it.

I wish you all the same successes and even beyond. We’re all waking up from the trappings of this machine.





Intactivism Needs Feminism to Survive.

4 01 2016
Intactivist.jpg

Yelling at women precedes all of these and hasn’t stopped one of them. Blaming women has preceded all of these and hasn’t ended one of them.

 

I once had a nasty run-in with Men’s Rights Activists in the intactivist movement. On this one conversation I was alarmed to hear that the men present believed in “female privilege”, because baby girls’ genitals allegedly are left entirely unmolested from life’s onset. Based on the history of circumcision I mentioned circ was patriarchal and women, mothers who defy the system, would be the reason intact boys become the norm.

One man absolutely lost his shit and blubbered misogynist insults at me until he blocked me out of rage. Another brought me to tears by saying something that happened to *me*, to my body, never did happen and that I was lying (it was extremely personal to say and nothing I had ever told another living soul besides my husband, so the level of violation was deeply felt– I obviously should never have trusted that kind of personal experience to anyone like this person but I was trying to correct their assumptions about female experience and privilege), after he spent some time condescending to me and my friends (who, up until that time, thought we were a vital part of intactivism– our boys are whole). <— That man now has a major role of power within Brother K’s Bloodstained Men movement– a movement I previously thought deserved my respect.

Now notice I didn’t say ending routine infant circumcision was a cause I left behind…! (And, neither have the feminists who’ve been speaking out against this behavior. We all still believe in stopping RIC.)

He then deleted all his nasty comments, kept mine which were full of justified anger and now out of context (looks crazy, hysterical, of course), and messaged me to *privately* apologize and told me that he’s actually a really *nice guy*. No, he’s not a publicly make it right kind of guy, he’s a scream at you for effect and then hide the evidence kind of guy.

You know, a coward.  A blowhard. A bully.

These men I referenced from that convo are all childless, by the way. But they had fun telling *me* about birth because “their girlfriend did it natural in the hospital”. (Mansplaining galore…)

This was the turning point for which several of my natural parenting friends and I realized that the intactivist community didn’t value us. We didn’t belong. Even though we were the mothers, because we were females and we had disagreed with the sexist attitudes we suddenly encountered, they may as well have hung a “no girls allowed” sign– what could *we* possibly know? We were just mothers who’d saved our sons and the sons of friends through information, support, and love.

Now this was a shock to me because my observations of Brother K and his movement up to that point were positive. He seemed like a cool hippie dude. What were all these awful woman-haters doing in this group? Had I missed it and they’d been there all along?

Why I Am No Longer An Intactivist – Whole Woman

We are the ones having the gentlest births, the gentlest parenting, the most mother-led-instinct in the home, and yet you would alienate us? We are the reason it is working. We are your truest hope, beyond all other tactics you’ve tried. We are the most educated and passionate, well-rounded on all these societal interlocking topics, and we are on the front lines. We are the feminist natural mothers.

Since then, the rise to power of that one abusive and self-pitying rageaholic has been noticed. We left groups and put certain people on block but still, these things came up. Avoidance of this brand of male aggression was futile.

I’ve seen more and more anti-woman, anti-feminist dealings, more talk about female privilege from the boys club and their handmaidens, and the new frontier– confronting birth and pro-woman pages, of all places, to ask their stance on circumcision. And not just as their own post, or as a message, but as a derailment of the original post on other important topics. I’ve seen this in at least two places on Facebook that I can recall– on The Girl God and Birth Anarchy. The first responded graciously as is her gentle nature. (Because, you know, it’s really important when discussing that all our gods were men and that girls matter too, that we check to see if we’re properly caring for male genitals.) The latter did not. And I was pleased with both responses; no one owes the sexists in intactivist circles anything. The intactivist questions were a tangent out of place both times. It was awkward and disrespectful to observe. It was like being accosted by religious fundamentalists as you were minding your own business.

Screenshot 2016-01-04 at 5.17.08 PM.png

This tactic is cowardly– for two reasons. One, they are hitting up sites that are very much anti-circumcision in the first place. You’re preaching to the converted. Two, they are hitting people when they are down. This was clear on the Birth Anarchy page, in which the post they attempted to make about themselves was about a woman seeking justice after a forced episiotomy.

Birth Anarchy: The Sexist Shit Show of Intactivism

Only cowards make an enemy out of a gentler friend and don’t target the real enemy. Because it’s strong. It’s daunting. You would rather this mission never be accomplished and the movement eat itself than to tackle the real enemies. It’s then about getting out your own power and feeling like you can dominate someone. It’s easier to follow the disgusting pig narrative that we have “pussy privilege” — a true embittered cry of the resentful MRAs — than to band together with like minded souls for the common good. That makes you an enemy to intactivism.

Because your intactivism only works if you act like the ultimate victim. That means you have to first tear women down.

I watched an intactivist woman tell me women “allowed” circumcision to happen. Allowed! We didn’t invent it, we didn’t enforce it, it wasn’t our idea, our husbands still hold more control and power than us in society and in our homes,  and it certainly doesn’t benefit us sexually or otherwise– but yet, through all this, the onus was on us… we had allowed it. These are the women in the intactivist movement and why they get along so well with the MRA type men.

Make no mistake, I’m not asking you to be nice, intactivists. Just not to be pigs and assholes to innocent women. I’m not asking you to not be pissed about circumcision. Get mad! It’s terrible. I’m telling you how ineffective it is to shit on women who are recovering from traumas and act like that is justice. I’m warning you that you are barking up the wrong trees and it looks impotent-bully as fuck. Laying the blame at mothers’ feet and targeting 18 year old new parents right after delivery is hardly taking on the big dogs. It’s just cowardly aggression, like a Rottweiler going after a chihuahua. Sure, it’s easy to go after smaller, weaker targets.

I want to say I still love what you do but you are alienating THE most important people for the progression and longevity of your movement. They are the lifeblood. Your short-sightedness and blatant disregard for the strong women of what would be this movement is lacking in both compassion and smarts.

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More mentions of mothers than daddies, and doctors. Doctors do the cutting, doctors invented it, doctors profit off it. Daddies insist it be done for bullshit macho male reasons and beat their wives into submission. But okay, moms, this one’s on you.

And for all their bodily integrity nonsense, and not trusting doctors, and supporting the natural flow of goodness and letting nature be and do it’s job, I’ve watched them have no problem with women in their movement getting cut up in Cesarean sections with the same familiar retort: “I’ve done my research”.  Oh, intactivists, where have we all heard that before!?

This is not best for babies, though. And it is not best for women. It’s meant for emergencies and that’s for good cause. But cheer that on all you like if you don’t mind being hypocrites. Or maybe it’s only baby boys who are sacred, and fuck what happens to their mothers? However, mothers who’ve been traumatized by birth are far more likely to submit to cutting their sons out of defeat or depression, or sometimes lack of consciousness. Mothers disrupted from their natural oxytocin are more likely to feel a disconnect from their child, have a harder time bonding, PTSD, PPD, difficulty breastfeeding… and I know some MRAs think that is good for boys ultimately. I do not. They think it will teach boys not to love women too much, which attachment to a doting mother would inspire. Yes, an injured woman will continue the MRA cycle of violence well.

Now, it would be brave if you were going to places you suspected were pro circumcision. It would be brave if you were going after the people who were doing the cutting, and the people who unapologetically profited from this system. Those things would be confronting the problem. I have to wonder what limp-dicked mission you hope to accomplish by badgering vulnerable women who already very likely agree with you. Attacking gentle and wounded women is the easy way out. It’s for people who are deeply insecure about their dicks, which MRAs are.

One of MRAs pet causes is routine infant male circumcision, which is quite unfortunately and unconnectedly a shared cause of modern gentle parents, especially feminists who believe in mothering on instinct and leaving warlike male domination behaviors in the past. Circumcision is indeed a relic of male aggression in a thriving patriarchy, even though MRAs try very hard to continue blaming women for this. But I’m not here to convince you of that history, just to make you aware of the infiltration of one of the only true things a men’s rights activist has to bitch about (circumcision), and how this cause will continue to remain limp in their hands. Again, many of these men are childless.

And why does that matter? The future is with mothers and their children. It is the in tune Earth Mothers who are procreating, procreating a LOT, and doing it with ultimate gentleness and love. Whole mothers make whole babies. Keep babies whole and women have a better chance of staying whole and then they in turn keep their babies whole… etc. The future does not lie with angry men shouting into the wind about their dicks. The future is not with the street signs, blood theatrics, and the streetside hostility. You will reach people and get attention and change some minds, but no, the primary change does not occur there for the future generations. I’ll tell you exactly where the change is happening. It is on the front lines. It’s with the mothers who instinctively know they want to keep their sons safe, and believe in it. They are trying. I was anti-circumcision instinctively before I heard any of the statistics. I would have been anti-circ with or without these guys. And I was lucky that I had the personal empowerment such that I would have fought any male partner who tried to contest me. Not all women have these things. Beating them up will not gain them these things. Beating them up even when they are being good will not gain anything.

The MRAs have large amounts of single men, deadbeat fathers, involuntary celibates, and many of them will never be fathers. Those who are, are very controlling in the household. I actually know one who insisted his wife circumcise their son(s). Male control is obviously a dead end street. Male control is the reason for circ in the first place.

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Ha, not a chance! ^

Women, softness and compassion of an Earth Mother, are the future. Feminists are the future. Your movement will never survive without feminism. Without feminism, decisions and power will always revert back to warlike males (see: Heather Hironimus) having turf wars and dick waving contests. Your movement is only succeeding because young mothers talk amongst themselves in private groups and share knowledge and stories and support. You said you don’t need us but it is we who do not need you. If you think this is war, and a war against the women mentioned in this post, know that all you do is perpetuate male violence.

Rape of all types is a manmade invention.
Sexual rape, birth rape, and surgical rape.
Control and aggression aimed at women and children destroys the world.

The world will be saved by a Western woman. -The Dalai Lama, 2009

Restoring peace means restoring power to women. 

Men,

You invented war. You can either keep waging wars or you can listen to women. 

Respecting life starts at the source– the womb, and the Earth. Without this, you are emptiness.

Male violence is the worst problem in the world. Name the problem.





Getting Qualified Care: Attempted Interview with Stillbirthday

19 01 2012

Michelle and I had noted concerns about Stillbirthday, a fledgling organization set up to mentor grieving parents of infant loss which is headed by very active members in an angry anti natural birth movement– so rather than asking rhetorical questions that could be mostly agreed upon by objective readers, I decided it was only fair to allow the founder (self-described Christian doula Adalheid “Heidi” Faith) to speak for herself in defense of her organization.

She declined to comment.

Then this happened at the blog of a would-be mentor for Stillbirthday. In it she stated:

The bolded bottom text is my commentary.

So, as stated in my above bold text, I felt it would be necessary to share the entire exchange of e-mails between Heidi and myself, and was prepared to do so, and I informed Heidi. I wanted to prove my innocence and hopefully discredit the libel and defamation occurring. Heidi, however, asked me not to, claiming it would breach a sense of confidentiality (although I started off everything by informing her this was “on the record”). I had false information being spread about me and people were now visiting my page and accusing me of threatening Stillbirthday, so someone was going to have to clean up the mess. I informed Heidi that I still intended to publish a post discussing Stillbirthday, but that I would reconsider showing our e-mail exchange if she could manage to stop the lies.

While no further response from Heidi has yet been received, the blog which accused me has been removed. True to my word, I will not post the e-mail exchange between Heidi and myself.

As an aside, I have been sharing this video clip for about a year now. Each time I did and shared the advice given within it, I was criticized by this group for being dangerous and giving dangerous advice. Oddly enough, Stillbirthday uses the same clip, and approves...


I will, however, share the questions below that I intended to ask her, which she did not feel comfortable answering on the record. She felt my questions should be addressed privately, and that I had too much of a slant to my interview.  I still wait to see if she will answer my questions privately, off the record.

Hi Heidi. This is on the record. I wanted to ask you a few questions, if I could, about Stillbirthday, and I do plan to use it on an upcoming post where I address receiving qualified care. If you are okay with that, would you please respond to these? First of all, I had Michelle send this for me as a favor. She is helping me compose this and she may also add some of her own questions in here to mine. Okay, now– Could you discuss a little about what exactly a Mentor’s role is at Stillbirthday?

Stillbirthday describes their mentor requirements.

What do you think qualifies these women to be in that role? I understand these are women and mothers who have experience with loss themselves. Do they have a backgrounds, training, or degrees in psychology? Do you give psychological evaluations to any of your Mentors before they assist a grieving mother? Do you feel that these individuals are emotionally and psychologically sound enough to be in such a lofty and sensitive position?

More on what they require of their mentors.

Do you feel there are any potential dangers to someone who is still unresolved in their own issues of grief being placed in a position of trust and mentorship over someone new to grief?

I know that several of you sincerely dislike natural birth, or what you feel are tenets of a NCB community, to an extent of being quite angry or even voicing feelings of ridicule. Do you feel this would be a potential obstacle in offering good counsel or compassion to someone grieving (particularly someone who has utilized natural or home birth as a method, and whom does not feel this was to blame for their loss, and would do it again that way for future children)?

Do you feel that healing from loss is possible, and how do you support others in their quest to get there (if so)?

Do you think it’s offensive to suggest that healing can happen after this level of pain? Do you encourage or discourage joining any particular *groups* after someone has suffered a loss? I’m remembering Margarita in this and how quickly your group took

A ray of hope: Margarita “likes” the comment that says licensing does not promise positive outcomes, after being taken under the wings of the anti NCB crowd swiftly after she announced the death of her son.

her under their wings when she announced the passing of her son. I can’t help but wonder if that didn’t have an effect on the way viewed her loss.

How do you see yourself handling women who are grieving but not in agreement with any of you in the birth department? What do you anticipate being the response of one of your mentors to one of their former clients, were they to “meet” again in the online birthing communities which often butt heads?

Given the “secret groups”, the rage we’ve seen, the label of “trolls” given– how do you plan on ensuring that women who innocently enter your program looking for help can be and feel safe with their mentors?

If there is anything else about the groups you are a part of, and their relation to Stillbirthday, or anything at all else to share with readers, what would that be?

Thanks so much for your time, Heidi.

An example of Bambi's online presence. Her anti natural childbirth group, she claims, is not out to get anyone and she doesn't want people to be paranoid, but their activities include screencapping people to mock amongst themselves; she admits she even does this to family.

This is the reaction of a loss mother to Bambi's online methods of expressing her grief. As you can see, Michelle has had a strong reaction to Bambi's declarations against natural birth and Michelle's loss that Michelle felt compelled to be blunt towards Bambi re: regularly blaming and accusing others. Since Michelle is a calm person, I can't help but wonder what other reactions mentor Bambi would get.

Their group doing the usual. Also worth noting-- I'm pretty sure that Carlos Mencia reference is regarding retardation.

Sammy, aka. The Skeptical Mother, battling "trolls". She is referring to something Lisa had done, seen below.

Lisa's blog makes fun of natural birth using an alter-ego, describing it as "parody". This time, she has chosen the photo of a mother and newborn to make fun of. You'll recognize the title consists of lyrics from the song "Zombie" by The Cranberries.

A reader was disturbed, and this was Lisa's response.

Lisa doing more parody, this time about natural miscarriage.

Lisa feeling comfortable with different belief systems (yes, even Buddhists).

This wasn’t done in any way to force any one mentor out of a program, nor to be a threat to anyone. No demands have been made on my part. I just want people to know who it is they are going to for care, before they give themselves over. That’s all. I’ve advocated this from the start– seeking to understand just what kind of person you are receiving treatment from, and even hardcore independence where possible. Just as you’d want to know your midwife or OB’s record before taking their care, and you’d want to know if you could really like and trust them, finding a qualified grief mentor who is stable, compassionate, and sympathetic (and perhaps even specially trained) only benefits you. In the end, though, just as in birth, I feel the choice should be yours. If you wanted to birth or be counseled by someone unlicensed, alternatively trained, or even inappropriate by mainstream standards, I support your decision. I strongly urge your educated and intuitive choice, however.

Places which may be a good resource if you are grieving & want to have healing & hope:
Elizabeth suggests: Mason’s Cause; Michelle adds: ICANhas a loss and recovery email list which deals with infant loss during a VBAC, c-section, or after birth. They also deal with loss of uterus as some have had uterine ruptures; a private group on Facebook (must contact Michelle for more info); for mental and emotional health though I would recommend a therapist who can help address some of the psychological effects of loss on not just the mother but the couple as a whole.

This concludes our current series on Getting Qualified Care. While we may do more in the future, we hope to (for the time being) return to somewhat more lighthearted, celebratory, less controversial posts for a while! Stay tuned for reviews, giveaways, and happier pieces. I love you.




Getting Qualified Care: After A Loss

18 01 2012

First, let’s consider what makes a person healthy or unhealthy in the grieving process.

If you suffered a loss, what kind of care would you seek? Does suffering a loss alone make one qualified to mentor another who has suffered a loss, too?

Mental health and emotional health are serious. If you are suffering a loss, it is very important to get help on a professional level, particularly if your grief is intense. At the minimum, you do want to make sure that the person you have helping you is in a healthy mental state. Even with the loosest interpretations of what makes one “qualified” to provide appropriate care, most of us can agree on this basic starting point. Please be careful whenever you are selecting any form of help or care.

Joining me again is Michelle, a pregnant mother of 4 who has experience with natural birth, home birth, and loss. I have watched Michelle come under fire by other loss moms in the anti natural birth groups for not automatically placing blame on her caregivers when her loss occurred.

Deb O'Connell is a CNM with Carrboro Midwifery in the area of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The same camp has taken offense to some of my writings about healing and trauma as well. The philosophy seems to be that nothing can heal you from the loss of a child.

I am reminded of one attacker in particular who told Michelle that she did not love her child not only because she had come to terms with it in peace, but mainly because she did not blame her midwives for her child’s stillbirth. In fact, what had begun as a peaceful conversation took a swift turn for the worse when the woman started in with obscenities and accusations, all a reaction to Michelle’s take on loss and the sharing of her own experiences.

Doulas ARE very natural childbirth-minded... most people don't find a need for doulas outside of that practice, because it would be too "woo". Most people giving birth in the mainstream don't feel so much of a need to have a doula; they have their doctors, nurses, significant others, and family members as their support.

This same woman wants to be a doula for women expecting a loss, and also has signed up to mentor loss parents through a program called Stillbirthday (featuring and run by people who are part of the anti natural birth movement). Are people with these philosophies in a good position to be offering qualified care to the bereaved?

Let’s start with a simple question:

How do you counsel the bereaved? What is best for them? What kind of guidance do they require?

Michelle says: Having been to a REAL therapist to deal with things like my loss, my childhood, and my abusive ex-husband, I have a somewhat good idea of what they do and why they do it that way. My therapist never projected anything on me. She listened to me and what I had to say and then ask questions which made me look at myself not anyone else. I think it is good for loss mothers to have a place to say how they feel and express some of the normal stages of grief ( and anger can be one of them). However, if what they are looking for is healing then I would recommend a professional who can deal with the psychological aspects of loss and its effects on people.

I do believe we are all entitled to enlist the help of those who we feel are best to serve us. To me, this goes beyond training and credentials and is a personal choice. I’ve made that quite clear. When it comes to birth, anti-NCBers cannot be more opposed to this philosophy, but do they extend the same strictness to mental health?

The importance and seriousness of good care does not end for the mother and child once the baby is born.

Most healthcare professionals could probably tell you that people become consumed by, addicted to, their grief. It’s a hard process and takes years of therapy for some to cope well. Surely nothing can be as devastating as the loss of a child, so it would be totally understandable to think that this could mentally and emotionally damage someone more than possibly anything. When a person is in pain, they are capable of inflicting pain on others, sometimes as a way of projecting their self-loathing. If a person is so deeply affected in a negative way by a crushing loss, are they in a position to help others in a truly healthy way to cope themselves?

To make a comparison, would we expect someone suffering from severe alcoholism– who admitted they saw no hope in sight for finding peace– to be an ideal mentor (or even “buddy”) to someone just entering Alcoholic Anonymous? When do two people suffering from the same disease no longer serve as a support system, and instead become the blind leading the blind?

Putting oneself in a position of sensitivity and responsibility to those in need when your own psychological needs are not being met and, in fact, one believes they cannot be met, may not be the quality of care the grieving deserve. However well meaning, if you were to fail at your responsibility, you are affecting lives and have the potential to do more harm than good. This would be like if a good midwife who means well were still not qualified enough to do her job. The results could be disastrous.

This is what I want to examine, and you’ll see that before I’ve even had a chance to get an answer to my questions, I am causing great offense for looking into this subject matter. But, in all earnestness, what could be more important than a mother’s mental well-being? You could have a dozen successful births of healthy children, but if the mother is unable to receive right care, everyone loses.

This is one of the anti natural birth pages, and the bottom comment is from the would-be doula and mentor for grieving mothers. She is seen here participating in the manner normal for her within these groups.

While we believe that you should be able to choose whomever you like for any form of your own care, regardless of title or degree, we do always urge that you exercise caution and common sense. Anti natural birth groups insist that certain classifications of midwife are unfit to practice, but they seem to feel that any laypeople in various stages of intense grief make good mentors to those who are just beginning their path. They do not seem to require any special qualifications– no degrees, no higher education, and not even psychological evaluations to conclude that said individuals are sound enough to be assisting the grieving.

In Search of the Perfect Birth and Michelle both ask,

Why the double standard?

To be continued…





Getting Qualified Care: Titles and Education

13 01 2012

This is part of a series called Getting Qualified Care, where we examine the anti natural birther movement of storming the internet to dispel what participants within feel are lies and misinformation about birth. We are discussing just what constitutes quality care from qualified providers, the subtext being “who gets to decide this” — mainly, would you allow other individuals from a movement with their own set of biases choose for you what your standard of care should be?

What makes one “qualified”? Is it a prestigious educational background?


 Maybe it’s a rank or a title, like “Doctor”.

Amy is Harvard educated AND a doctor. Impressive.

Amy informs someone that college and medical background means you cannot disagree with them and possibly know what you're talking about. Interesting. Only a fool would disagree with a doctor!

Here is Amy telling us a Doctor is wrong.

Here is Amy telling us a Doctor is wrong.

Here is Amy telling us a Doctor is wrong.

Here is Amy beginning to tell us that yet another Doctor is wrong.

Don't want to ruin it for you, but, another wrong Doctor, according to Amy.

I could go on, but I think you get the point– Dr. Amy, 5, Other Doctors, 0.

It can’t be the Doctor credential and the years of medical training and background that is making people credible or qualified. Then again, I guess any glance at My OB Said What?! could have shown us that:

Just one example of real-life anecdotes submitted to popular website My OB Said What.

All doctors come to the table and present their “evidence”. How do you know who is telling the truth, especially in a world where we’ve considered that doctors are capable of being flawed?

Maybe it’s in the licensing of that title, to validate it.

Most of the “Fed Uppers” are on a(n in)quest to end midwifery that does not belong to the CNM (certified nurse midwife) category. They believe that all other forms of midwife (usually designated as CPM, or certified professional midwife) are a joke and disservice to women. It needs to be noted here that a lot of this stems from personal bias and bad experiences or trauma the women have faced with natural birth. Differing regions (particularly in the States) have varied regulation in terms of education and practice standards, but in general, much training and years of education are required for one to become a licensed midwife of any title. Yet, one of the main purposes this group claims to promote is eradication of what they deem less qualified midwifery in favor solely of the CNM model. Unfortunately, CNM’s largely practice in birthing centers and in hospitals. What I see as the real goal in mind is the eradication of home birth.

Is a midwife more qualified just for having gone to nursing school beforehand? Is a midwife more qualified for taking a more medical approach to birth? If no other midwife licensing is allowed or considered “qualified”, will that ensure everyone has more qualified care, or will it eliminate options and force women to choose between clinical birth and freebirth? Who gets to decide what kind of care a woman must receive, if not the woman herself? Who gets to mandate which one and only kind of education is valid and acceptable? What if midwifery as we know it became illegal?

Maybe it’s in the current state of practice.

Some argue that a midwife who refuses to renew her license recently is no longer a midwife and shouldn’t be allowed to practice. It doesn’t matter that her skills are still fresh in her memory, and that her choice to not renew is believed to be a political statement against mandating with whom and where women may give birth. To add controversy, suppose this midwife was unafraid of taking cases labeled “high risk” in order to give women more options for their labor, understanding the high risk cases could potentially result in a loss whether or not she presided over the care? If you knew a tragedy could be inevitable regardless, would you choose to stand by your patient, or would you CYA?

Others would argue that an out-of-practice OB/GYN who’s been retired for almost 20 years now, although still given the title “Dr.”, is no longer up to date enough to be giving accurate medical advice, opinions, nor to be weighing in on birth today and facts presented by others who are more current and active in the field. Indeed, birth has changed a lot since the 1990’s. For better or for worse, the skills, policies, drugs, and technology would be greatly different. A doctor who stopped practicing back then, in this fast-paced profession, would undoubtedly be considered old school or maybe obsolete to the hospital crowd.

Being fair, we could say that neither one has “lost” their skill set. Are either of them any less of a doctor or a midwife? Only in technicality. In our own minds, it’s up to our own judgment to ascertain this wisely. Who would you rather have– the latter, or the former– look after you? What would seem more “qualified” to you?

I think education is nice, licenses, degrees, and titles are all very nice… but at the end of the day, it isn’t any one thing that promises to provide you with “qualified care”. Everyone is equally capable of incompetence. Truly understanding this leads to resigned acceptance of freedom to choose the care you think is best, without harsh judgment or scorn.