Guest Post by Michelle: Grieving Mothers Deserve Better, Stillbirthday.

2 02 2012

Michelle (a loss mother) had something to say about the targeting Stillbirthday (an organization that claims to care about the healing process of loss mothers) has aimed her way. They publicly rebuke her and made false accusations, but refused to publish this comment of hers, even though we allowed them to respond on this blog in their own defense. Apparently our asking questions was tantamount to harassment and hate, and they’ve chosen to return the favor rather than provide the information we were seeking. The reason?: they didn’t want to get involved in anything “unproductive”. Listen to Michelle’s words and decide if you think they are capable of appropriately handling conflicts or giving qualified care to grief-stricken parents of infant loss.

Truth be told this entire blog piece which was in reference to ME was completely condescending.

I don’t care WHAT you say there is absolutely NO excuse for another grieving mother to tell me that I didn’t love my son and that I am the reason he died. None. Not a single excuse can be made for her. I did nothing to provoke her “anger”, since this seems to be the excuse you make for her every time. The only thing I did was disagree with her position on certified professional midwives. Negligence occurs ALL THE TIME in HOSPITALS too.

When a loss occurs, you need someone who will stand by you without prejudice or judgment. You can't trust just anybody to help you through your grief. Who can you trust?

This is not something that is strictly occurring during home births attended by [people] other than CNMs. I refuse to change my OWN position in this fight against midwifery because of the way someone else feels. And bullying me about how I deal with my OWN loss is not going to change my position. And that is what she and all of her friends did and continue to do anytime my blog is posted somewhere. She has no reason to be angry at anyone who is standing up for themselves and what THEY believe in. Even despite all the nasty things she said about me I would never ever DREAM of insinuating that she didn’t love her baby. That’s what people who really do have compassion for others do. She has clearly stated she has no sympathy for people like me regarding my loss because I am not blaming the world the way she is. THIS IS NOT THE PROPER MENTALITY FOR A PERSON TO HAVE AS A MENTOR FOR GRIEVING MOTHERS.

I am sure you probably won’t even approve of this post so no one but you will even see it. Please stop posting your condescending blog posts about me and my loss. I am not the one in need of help here. I have peace about my loss thanks.

We’ll see it, Michelle. We’ll see it. You haven’t done anything wrong. All you’ve ever done was tell people that peace was attainable after stillbirth, and that sometimes deaths have no one to blame. We applaud you.

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: Interview With a Stillbirth Mother

14 01 2012

Joining me is Michelle, a pregnant mother of 4 who has experience with natural birth, home birth, and loss. She brings a unique perspective to the concept of what is “qualified” care.

You can read more about Michelle and her story over at My Journey to Healing Birth.  But now, here was our exchange.

Elizabeth: What role do you feel your faith or philosophies, religious or otherwise, played in the grieving and acceptance of your loss?

Michelle:  For me my religion played a huge role in my grieving process as well as accepting it. I am a Muslim convert (meaning that I was not brought up as a Muslim). Prior to getting pregnant that time I ran across a story of the Prophet Muhammad that says:

“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, truly the miscarried child will certainly drag its mother with its umbilical cord to Paradise, provided one expects recompense [for sabr (patience)].”

One of the fundamentals of faith in my religion is acceptance of the decree of the Creator. This means accepting the good and the bad because He is the one who controls what happens to us all. If I were to take the route of being angry at what happened it would equate to me being angry that my Lord allowed it to happen.

I also recently ran across a different story of the Prophet which states:

The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “When a person’s child dies, Allah the Most High asks His angels, ‘Have you taken out the life of the child of My slave?’* They reply in the affirmative. He then asks, ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’ They reply in the affirmative. Thereupon he asks, ‘What has My slave said?’ They say: ‘He has praised You and said: Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (We belong to Allah and to Him we shall be returned).’ Allah says: ‘Build a house for My slave in Jannah (Paradise) and name it Bait-ul-Hamd (the House of Praise).’”

 So yes my religion and my faith play a huge role in my acceptance and my ability to move forward from my loss. I see it as a blessing and as a mercy not as something worthy of anger.

And faith, in my opinion, is not knowing everything will always be good. It is knowing that no matter what happens everything will be ok.

Elizabeth:  How do you feel this differs from others who have lashed out at you in relation to your own loss?

Michelle:   I think that if you have reached a level of peace within yourself you will not find it necessary to tear down those that are at peace. I think in some ways they are still in pain over what happened to them. It could be their perspectives are different from mine. It could be that those around them have encouraged anger rather than forgiveness. I know from my own experience many in my family wanted me to be mad and if I was easily influenced by them I could have easily gone down that road instead.

Elizabeth:  Do you feel these individuals are fit to help counsel others?

Michelle:  I think it is always comforting to have people that can relate to you in terms of what it is like to lose your baby. So on one hand I think it is necessary. On the other hand there has to be a balance in that not every individual will grieve the same way. We are all different. If you take a person under your wing and try to push your own pain onto theirs as a means of making yourself feel better this isn’t healthy for either individual. Special care must be taken into account when you are dealing with emotions like grief. Especially when it is new.

Elizabeth:  What impact do you feel an individual who has not fully healed themselves would have in connecting with and mentoring those just fresh in their grief?

Michelle:  As I stated above I think this is something that has the potential to do more harm than good. Everyone is at different levels in grief, however one must try to be empathetic to others experiences and realize that theirs is their own and no two situations are equal. I think it’s good to have those who just say I understand and leave it at that. Spreading venom though based on their own loss is not healthy for anyone. I just ran across a quote today that pretty much sums it up: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” — St. Augustine.  Being mad about something you have no control over will not harm those you are mad at it will harm you the angry one.

Elizabeth:  Discuss a little about what happened in your birth when you experienced your loss, and tell us why you do not feel the midwives were at fault.

Michelle:   First I want to state that I had a strong instinct that this baby would never make it out of my womb alive. I had this feeling long before I decided to homebirth. It was that feeling actually that drove my decision. I needed to have a peaceful pregnancy if that was all I was going to get. I also was threatened with a tubal ligation by the OBs and I knew if this baby didn’t make it I would be devastated if I would never be able to have any more kids.

As for what happened in my birth, my labor was perfect and beautiful. I progressed nicely and there was no stall of labor at all. Every time heart-tones were checked he sounded perfect. I began to feel pressure and the need to push and I was checked only to find there was still a lip of cervix left. Heart rate was checked again and he was fine. My midwife broke my water to see if that would help get rid of my cervix. There was no indication at that time that the baby had any trouble. It wasn’t long before I really needed to push. I am unsure of how long I pushed before things went wrong. I know it wasn’t a long time though (it wasn’t even an hour). I had pushed the baby down to where he was essentially crowning and at that time heart-tones were checked and not found. When I heard that I immediately pushed with all of my might to birth him. His head was born and then my contractions stopped and I could not get the rest of him out. 911 was also called before the head was born. Once they arrived I had another contraction and was able to birth the body and he was born lifeless.

I did not ever feel that my midwife was negligent. The minute there was a sign of trouble she called 911 and did everything she could to get the baby out. I want to mention that I am not convinced that shoulder dystocia was what caused his death. I truly feel that it was the other way around. There is an excerpt in the book Spiritual Midwifery that touches on how hard it was to birth a stillborn baby because the mom couldn’t feel any energy from her baby. Babies must be active participants in the birth process meaning once the head is born the baby must rotate its body for the shoulders to be born. In my case my baby had a loss of heart-tones prior to delivery of the head so once his head was born he was no longer participating.

Elizabeth:  Do you feel you had quality care? How qualified were your midwives, and what made them qualified? What were their credentials?

Michelle:  Without a doubt I had quality care. In fact the care I received from her was a million times better than the care I have received from OBs. She had been a midwife for well over 30 years. She had personal connections with Jeannine Parvati Baker, Gloria Lemay, and many other highly regarded midwives. In all honesty though I chose her because of faith. I had trusted in the Almighty to give me a sign that this was the right path for me. I knew when I contacted her she had retired. What sealed the deal for me was finding out her home she purchased to retire in was literally 2 streets away from me. She was put on my doorstep. How could I ignore that sign? She was exactly what I needed in my life at that time and exactly what I needed for that birth. I have never had a single regret about choosing her and I am still very close to her. In fact every time I see people trash a midwife that attended a birth with a negative outcome it makes me think of her. Because they are still people and whether or not people believe it or not the loss affects them too.

I have used all three types of midwifery care. My first midwife was a lay midwife, my second was a CPM, and my third was a CNM (she is still my midwife this time also). All planned homebirths. The care I have received from all three of them have been equal in terms of quality so “titles” to me mean nothing. 🙂

Elizabeth:  Do you believe that any time a baby passes away, it is due to insufficient care?

Michelle:  Not at all and this goes for whatever place of birth you choose. Are there negligent providers (both midwives and OBs)? Absolutely. Does that mean every single one of them are negligent? No it doesn’t. In fact I would even venture to say that at times it could be as simple as making the wrong choice and not necessarily negligence. I think it is important to remember that doctors and midwives are people and therefore are not perfect. They do make mistakes. Most try their best to give the care you want while keeping everyone safe. Sometimes things do happen so fast there is nothing you can do. Other times they are totally negligent. But one must have the ability to separate the two.

Elizabeth:  What brought you to natural birth in the first place ? Were you “indoctrinated” by any “cult”, and do you subscribe to any NCB “dogma”?

Michelle:   I have actually always been “natural” minded. I had planned a natural childbirth with my first baby long before I was ever on the internet or knew anything about the world of the web. It unfortunately ended in a bullied unnecessary c-section.

Elizabeth:  Exactly. That’s just like me– I didn’t need any indoctrination, it was just something I was pulled toward without regard for how anyone else felt about it. I wasn’t even aware there was a club, nevermind cult. I didn’t get an unnecessary C-section, though… I wound up getting induced and taking the epidural. How did all that affect you?

Michelle:  This only furthered my desire for natural childbirth because I had seen what the opposite was and for me it was ugly.
Elizabeth:  Same here.

Michelle:  I tried again for a natural childbirth the second time only to end up with a c-section again. My loss was my first and only un-medicated birth and it was amazing. I loved every second of my labor. My 4th and 5th baby were also planned homebirths that ended up hospital births with epidurals and I really disliked them both. It was the one thing that I was disappointed over because I missed out on what I had the first natural birth. Hopefully I will finally have that “perfect birth” this time around 🙂.

I was never coerced into natural childbirth. I was drawn to it. I don’t know that I subscribe to any NCB dogma however I will suggest and encourage natural childbirth over non natural childbirth. Only because it is better for mother and baby overall to avoid unnatural chemicals into the body. I do however respect what other people choose. Like I said I have only had one natural un-medicated birth. I know sometimes the benefit of getting pain meds may outweigh the harm.

Elizabeth:  I’ve said before how grateful I was for the epidural, but I’m like you– having been through both versions, I do not recommend the medical way.

When getting care from a doctor or midwife, mentor or counselor, how important is it to research the individual and feel like you truly know them very well beforehand? Or can we ever really know everything about our providers?

Michelle:  I think it is important to for sure ask questions not only about them to others but ask them point blank to their face. I think that the relationship between a midwife and her client may differ from an OB and client simply because of the amount of time spent together prior to the birth.  I don’t think we can know everything and I am not sure we really have the right to know every single thing about them. What I really feel about this is that we should all trust our instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I think as a society we have been somewhat trained to ignore our instincts and just do what other people tell us.

Elizabeth:  To anyone out there grieving hard, enraged, and blaming natural childbirth in general for their loss, what would you like to say to them, or what would you want them to know?

Michelle:  Honestly when I see people so full of anger over their loss I feel really sad for them. I wish they could let go of the anger and embrace what they have. I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. But being rage-filled only makes you feel worse not better. It hurts you not the one you are mad at. As I said earlier “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” — St. Augustine. I think society has made us feel like we have to blame someone/something for death rather than acknowledging that death is part of the cycle of life. There isn’t always an explanation or a reason.