Tuesday, December 22, 2009

BIRTH STORY: Solstice, Bluegrass and Moonlight

(by Laura Gilkey, about the birth of Benjamin Wilson, born 12.22.07)

(December 22, 2007) It is 3:30 am, and I believe this solstice day may be your birthday! What a time for rebirth!

I was in Banyan’s room singing him to sleep when I felt a lot of wetness between my legs. I went to the bathroom and found I had lost my mucous plug, and since then I’ve had more show and some trickling water. I nested for a moment, emptying the dishwasher and folding laundry, then laid down with Papa and tried to rest. I’m awake now timing your squeezes…not quite time to let Harmony know yet. I’ll go back to bed and try to get as much sleep as possible. Who will you be? My eyes will know you!

It’s 9:30 am and my contractions have slowed to about once every 20 minutes, but super intense and short at each interval. Sweet Harmony is at a birth right now and will come and check things out on her way home. Banyan just woke up and gave me a big hug and whispered “happy birthday” to my belly. I LOVE YOU!

(December 26, 27 & 28, 2007) While it is still fresh in my madly-in-love mind, let me tell you the rest of the story of your birthday.

After speaking to Harmony Saturday morning, I decided to go ahead and make the kimbly, or ‘groaning cake,’ that I had read about in midwifery books. The story is that if a woman bakes this cake during labor, her pains will be short, and prosperity will come to the family. The scent of the cake baking throughout the home brings strength to the mother. The cake was beautiful and smelled of winter spices.

I stayed in a creating sort of space, brewing tea and preparing food for the day. We relaxed and played together throughout the morning. I wasn’t sure whether I was really in the thick of labor or not, because the contractions had slowed so much; so Papa and Banyan watched a mid-day movie and I took a glorious nap, waking only every half-hour or so for a contraction.

I was just waking up and planning to go in the kitchen and bake a blackberry crisp when Harmony arrived at our house, around 2:30 pm. We chatted, she told us about the birth she attended that morning, it was all very relaxed and casual. She decided to give me an impromptu prenatal checkup to see how we should proceed, expecting to go home and have us call her when things really progressed. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on her face when she said, “I want to be sure what I’m feeling here before I say anything….um, Laura? YOU ARE 8cm DILATED!” I felt elated, giddy, silly, and proud. I felt like Wonder Woman and like a little kid at the same time. We decided we’d better call Aunt Sarah and Mimi, and hope they made it in time, and Harmony decided she’d better not go anywhere! I told Harmony I didn’t know what to do with myself! She said, “if you were going to bake a blackberry crisp, go bake a blackberry crisp!” So I did, and the laughing and the baking and the happy day continued, right into the evening.

Aunt Gana arrived, Aunt Sarah arrived, and then Mimi arrived, and right on cue, my contractions started getting closer together. I stuck the chicken I had brined in the oven so my labor team would have something to eat for dinner. I was in a place of ecstasy, so happy I couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone was! At one point we all were sitting on the floor in Banyan’s room taking turns reading him stories. I was sitting on the birthing ball through those contractions, just happy to be in the room with everyone and not feeling reclusive at all, the way I remember feeling in labor with Banyan. I’d just have a contraction, open up, and it would be over, and I don’t think I ever stopped smiling! Banyan looked so beautiful to me as I was preparing to bring you into the world. He was absorbing the happiness of everyone around him.

As the evening progressed and my contractions became stronger and closer together, we put on some bluegrass music and started to move. With each contraction I would lean against Papa and have him press his strong hands into my back. Mimi made a salad and Harmony colored a mandala at the dining room table. We were still laughing, telling stories, and just busily creating our birthing space. Harmony called Jodi, our birth assistant, who arrived around 7:00. She was just lovely. She felt right at home in our space and said so, making me feel proud of my cozy nest. She was the last piece in the perfect group of attendants, waiting for you.

We continued dancing right on through the contractions. Everyone ate dinner while Papa and I danced our labor dance. Things began to intensify yet again, and at around 8:30 we decided to take a moonlight walk. What a great idea that was. All of us went, even Banyan, the lightkeeper, who thought it was terrific fun. It was the most gorgeous winter solstice night, two away from a full moon, cool and crisp and clear. I looked at that moon and those bright stars and felt surrounded by the energy and wisdom of the universe. I felt like a miracle.When our walk was over, things changed in my body. My amazing birth team sensed that and even as I walked in the house, the bluegrass had been turned off, the lights turned down, and the mood much calmer. I needed all of those things to have happened and I didn’t even know it, much less voice it. I was only in the house a few minutes and a few contractions before I decided it was time to get into the birth pool. Harmony and Jodi filled the pool; Banyan helped, then went with Aunt Sarah to his room to read stories. I was a bit saddened by this. I really wanted him to see your birth, but I knew he was exhausted and would fall into the rhythm that was right for him. And of course, everything happens for a reason. I just missed him a little.

When the pool was full I took off my clothes and got in. The water felt amazing. The birth altar which had been set up since my Blessingway was alive with candlelight, and I chose an angle to labor that would allow me to look right at all of those symbols of support. Papa knelt right beside me, giving me that same strength that he had given me through Banyan’s birth, the strength that was the most important element of my birthing ability. I enjoyed very much the time we had alone together in that small space, while the rest of the birth team waited to come and watch your arrival. Kissing him felt so good, I didn’t want to stop doing it. I was still riding a wave of ecstasy I couldn’t believe.

I had several contractions in the pool before my water broke. I kept feeling an urge to push, and kept feeling to see if your head was within reach, even though I knew it wasn’t time yet. Now I know that feeling was because of the bag of waters bulging in front of you. Suddenly, with one strong contraction it was like a cannon shot out of my body, making everyone in the room jump. It burst forth in huge white ripples through the water. Harmony said in her sweet voice, “the next contraction is going to feel a little different.” I braced myself. I was given one contraction to prepare, one final moment of ecstasy.

Then came the next contraction, and I felt my body being tunneled down by a freight train, ripping through me faster than I felt ready for. I remember asking my body out loud to “slow down.” You crowned immediately and stayed that way for four or five minutes. I felt your sweet head and heard everyone say they could see your nose, your ear. With one more contraction your head was out. Papa was behind me and I knew he wanted to catch you, but he stayed by my side, because Harmony needed to work her magic. She spoke those unbelievable words I had never expected to hear again: “Laura, you need to get out of the tub now.”

I gathered the strength to stand up and held onto Papa with everything I had. That is when I felt a bit of fear. I knew it would be over soon and you would be in my arms; it was this singular thought that gave me comfort. This cannot possibly last more than a few moments. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. But I know on the outside I was screaming. What I didn’t know then was that you had shoulder dystocia, where your little shoulder was stuck behind my pelvic bone. It had caused the cord to be wrapped around your body like a harness, and Harmony couldn’t free your shoulder or the cord with me in the tub. So I stood, clinging to Papa, trying with all my might not to bite him as I pushed your body out with Harmony’s hands inside me, tumbling you over so the cord would free you. And there you were, my little bird, on the floor beneath me, with Harmony above you giving you oxygen. I felt helpless at that point because I couldn’t hold you, I couldn’t turn my body around without pulling on our cord and Harmony needed to be with you. She abandoned the oxygen mask and knelt down to you, giving you a breath of her life and speaking sweet welcoming words into your heart. I saw that you were a boy and announced it joyously, then said to you as closely as our still-joined bodies would allow, “we’re not going anywhere. This is our home.” And we didn’t. You breathed, you cried, we cried, and just like that, our family became a foursome.Harmony suggested we move into bed. I found it a difficult task, but you were in my arms at last and my liquid insides didn’t seem to matter much. Because of the crazy push through the birth canal and the extra oxygen you needed, Harmony really wanted you nursing well right away. It took you a while to get the hang of it. It finally happened after I delivered your placenta, which we left you attached to as long as possible; then Papa cut the cord and you were free, your own little bird. Everyone was at the foot of the bed checking out the placenta and making prints of it (that turned out beautifully) when you latched on perfectly and never looked back.

While I was pregnant with you, I was unsure of your gender. But when I was in labor, especially as you were traveling through me, I was picturing you: a boy, clear as day. And the second I saw your face, I knew your name. Benjamin. Once you were free of the placenta, Harmony measured and weighed you, and you took after your big brother and tipped the scale at ten pounds even, 22 and a half inches long. I wanted to get into a nice herbal bath (even though I didn’t tear, my bottom half was rather sore!) so Papa proudly carried you into the living room to announce your name, your weight and your length to Grammy and Papu under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

After getting dressed we snuggled down together in bed, nursing, smiling, and drifting into a blissful sleep. While everyone was still sleeping, Banyan woke up at about 5 am. He sleepily crawled into bed with us and said hello to you for the first time. It was beautiful to watch him look at your face for the first time, kiss your sweet blond hair, clutch your tiny fingers.

Welcome, little bird. Thank you for choosing me to give you the grand tour!*edited to add: Re-reading this story makes it even more clear to me why I have chosen to advocate for choices in childbirth so passionately. Because of the midwives' model of care, I was able to have the most supportive labor team and most comfortable setting imaginable. Thank you Michael, Harmony, Jodi, Mama, Sarah, Gana, Kathy and Mic for your unbelievable support.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Born in Sarasota Post in Midwifery Today

I was honored to receive the winter quarterly issue of
Midwifery Today and find a Born in Sarasota post in their Networking section! Managing Editor Teri Myers saw the post immediately following Florida's 2nd national ranking in c-section rates, and asked me to resubmit it for the magazine's audience. The article follows in its entirety.

Florida Ranks 2nd Nationally for C-Sections

A June 8, 2009 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reveals that the most recent Florida Agency for Health Care Administration data, from July 2007 through June 2008, shows Florida ranking second in cesarean section rates, just behind New Jersey. Florida rates are now 39%, far exceeding the national average of 31.8%. According to the researchers’ data from 2007, Sarasota County ranks 4th of all reporting counties in Florida, delivering over 41% of our babies surgically. The consumer data from the same year puts this number at an even higher 44%, almost tripling the World Health Organization’s recommended 15%.

In sharp contrast, the most recently available Licensed Midwives Annual Report, collected from 34 practicing Florida Licensed Midwives in 2006, reveals a C-section rate of just 6.3% (92 surgeries out of 1454 births).

Something isn't adding up.

The Sun-Sentinel article, like many other writings on the subject, cites "medical malpractice fears" as a big part of the problem. "Obstetricians and hospitals in litigious South Florida order C-sections for any irregularity before or during labor," doctors and researchers said. "Doctors contend they are under pressure to deliver surgically. If they don't and something goes wrong, they are sued." Yet based on my own research, I have yet to discover a single medical malpractice suit awarded to a client of a Florida Licensed Midwife.

So midwives aren't getting sued, yet they aren't performing the high volume of C-sections that many obstetricians credit as their saving grace from malpractice litigation. What is at the root of this anomaly?

I understand that the current C-section rates take into account those high-risk women and pregnancies that actually require them, and once again, I cannot extend enough gratitude to the obstetricians that skillfully and appropriately perform this surgery. Yet according to the World Health Organization, as well as recent research supporting its recommendation, the best outcomes for mothers and babies are congruent with cesarean section rates of 5% to 10%. High-risk hospitals (such as Sarasota Memorial, the only provider of obstetrical services and Level III neonatal intensive care in Sarasota County) have the best outcomes with C-section rates of 15% or less. The combined evidence I've seen over the last five years, including the most recent issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, indicates that cesarean rates above 15% are simply medically irresponsible, and are directly contributing to the high maternal mortality rates in our country (1 in 4800).

According to research from the Childbirth Connection, the following seven evidence-based factors are contributing to the rising C-section rates in America:

1. Low priority of enhancing women’s own abilities to give birth.
2. Side effects of common labor interventions
3. Refusal to offer the informed choice of vaginal birth.
4. Casual attitudes about surgery and C-sections in particular.
5. Limited awareness of harms that are more likely with C-sections.
6. Providers’ fears of malpractice claims and lawsuits.
7. Incentives to practice in a manner that is efficient for providers.

It seems to me that perhaps the root of the malpractice anomaly lies within the patient's basic rights to informed consent and refusal. An excerpt from The Florida Patient's Bill of Rights:

"A patient has the right to be given by his or her health care provider information concerning diagnosis, planned course of treatment, alternatives, risks, and prognosis, unless it is medically inadvisable or impossible to give this information to the patient, in which case the information must be given to the patient's guardian or a person designated as the patient's representative. A patient has the right to refuse this information.

"A patient has the right to refuse any treatment based on information required by this paragraph, except as otherwise provided by law."

Improving American birth culture and reducing egregious C-section rates absolutely must be the result of a combined effort among legislators, policy makers, public health officials, hospitals, maternity care providers, and us, the consumers, who have the right and responsibility to the best evidence and information about our maternity care choices.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Download Ina May Gaskin's Presentation to SMH

On Friday, October 30th, Ina May Gaskin presented a closed clinical conference to the medical staff of Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Her presentation was entitled "Combining the Best of Modern Obstetrics with Respect for Nature and Traditional Midwifery Approaches." Ms. Gaskin has been internationally credited with reintroducing legalized direct-entry midwifery in the United States. The presentation is available via podcast on the SMH Continuing Education website. View a PDF of the accompanying power point presentation, in both English and Spanish, here.

Her objectives were threefold: to explore the knowledge base and skills common to traditional midwifery; to understand the need for both modern obstetrics and (authentic) midwifery; and to build positive relationships between the two professions (especially with regard to home birth midwives). Present at the conference were SMH Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Dr. Washington Hill; Sarasota County Health Department OB/GYN Dr. John Abu; Licensed Midwives Christina Holmes and Alina Vogelhut; and several members of the hospital staff and the community, including childbirth educators, nurses and retired physicians.

In her introduction, Ms. Gaskin told attendees "I just want to show what someone who births at home teaches us," and proceeded to show still images of the dancing birth of her own grandchild. She then discussed everything from her world-famous Gaskin maneuver for delivering babies with shoulder dystocia, to the rapid decline in vaginal breech birth, to the benefits of allowing the baby to clear his or her own air waves. She talked about the 1-2% c-section rate at her renowned midwifery center, The Farm, in Summertown, Tennessee. "We did allow eating and drinking during labor; we never would have had such a low c-section rate had we not." When discussing positive, unmedicated, ecstatic birth experiences, Ms. Gaskin said, "We can only achieve that if we keep the labor room calm and sweet...because we find the mother's feelings really do matter a lot."

Ina May Gaskin then gave those present a brief history of American midwifery and its resurgence, and talked about her own tutelage from a family physician, and subsequent collaboration with several obstetricians. She asked the question, "How do we then lower a c-section rate when it is up so high?" She suggested alternative methods for labor induction, specifically discussing her concerns about the use of misoprostol for induction, a drug which has never been approved by the FDA for this purpose and has been directly linked to an increase in amniotic fluid embolism, a potentially fatal condition for both mother and baby. She also discussed alternatives to medical pain relief, different positioning and movement, and the need to reverse an overall "cultural unfamiliarity" with unmedicated birth.

In conclusion, Ina May Gaskin talked about the need for healthy relationships when transferring patients from midwifery care to the hospital. "Above all, what the women who come to us (midwives) want, if we have to take them to hospital, is that they don't want to be punished or judged for having made that choice. That's probably the number one thing that needs to be conveyed."
Dr. Washington Hill, Medical Director, Labor & Delivery, SMH with Ina May Gaskin

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MHC Panel Wrap-Up from Sonia Fuentes

It was an absolute joy to co-plan Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond with Sonia Pressman Fuentes, the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Here is the letter she is sending to the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about the event.

On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 1, Sarasotans had a unique opportunity to learn about maternal health care issues and available resources in Sarasota County, Florida, and the U.S.—and about 250 of them took advantage of that opportunity.

Starting at 3:00 p.m. and for two hours afterwards, Laura Gilkey, vice-president, Florida Friends of Midwives, and I presented a top-notch panel of experts on Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond in the ballroom of the Sarasota Hyatt Regency. Our panelists were: Ina May Gaskin, the most renowned midwife in the United States; Dr. Washington Hill, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Director, Sarasota Memorial Hospital; Jennifer Highland, executive director, Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County; and Representative Keith Fitzgerald, who represents Sarasota in the Florida House of Representatives. The panel was moderated by Kelly Kirschner, vice-mayor of Sarasota.

After the formal presentations, there was a question-and-answer period followed by refreshments. Available to all attendees was a 28-page Program and Resource Guide containing a glossary of terms, a listing of resources available in Sarasota, a list of people with expertise available at the program, and a list of recommended readings. Our program was sponsored by the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women), SCSW (Sarasota Commission on the Status of Women), and FFOM (Florida Friends of Midwives). All at no cost to the attendees. That was made possible by the generous donations in money and in-kind by Sarasota businesses, organizations, and individuals.

Laura and I made this educational program available because the U.S. ranks 35th in maternal mortality and 33rd in infant mortality in the world. The U.S. spends more money on mothers’ health than any other nation in the world, yet in America women are more likely to die during childbirth than they are in most other developed countries.

We learned a great deal from our panelists. We learned about the problems caused by women in poor health, and those who are smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts, becoming pregnant. We learned about the problems caused by induced labor and the performance of unnecessary Cesarean sections. We learned that statistics and other information on the incidence of induced labor, the rate of Cesareans, and maternal deaths in our community by obstetrician and hospital are not readily available. We learned about the success of special interest groups in preventing the passage of needed legislation in the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress. We learned about the system of postnatal care in The Netherlands where every new mother in the first eight to ten days after the birth of her baby is entitled to the services of an assistant, who will aid in the recovery of the mother and provide her with advice and assistance to care for her newborn. We learned that the maternal death rate in the US has not gone down since 1982 and the rate for African-American women has been three to four times higher than for whites since 1940.

As if to point up the timeliness of our program, two days later, on November 3, The New York Times published an article entitled “Premature Births Worsen US Infant Death Rate.” The article referred to the fact that about 1 in 8 U.S. births are premature and that early births are much less common in most of Europe. Among the reasons given for the high rate of prematurity in the U.S. were some of the very reasons discussed by our panelists, including the induction of labor and the overuse of C-sections.

Because of what we’ve learned, Laura and I now plan to build on this panel discussion and form an advocacy group to address these issues for Sarasota County, Florida, and the U.S. We welcome participation by anyone interested in working with us to achieve the goal of a healthy mother and a healthy baby in the case of every pregnancy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Safe Motherhood Quilt on SNN6

Ina May Gaskin presented three panels of The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project on Saturday at the Selby Public Library. About fifty people attended the leading midwife as she explained why it is so important for the United States to begin accurately counting and accounting for the rising maternal deaths in our country.

Please watch the video of Ina May's interview with Sarasota's own SNN News Channel 6.

If you would like to sew a quilt square for a mother who has died of pregnancy or childbirth related causes in America since 1982, please email me. Sadly, there are many women still to be honored.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Guest Column in Today's Herald Tribune

On Sunday, the Sarasota community has an opportunity to improve the health of our pregnant women. "Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond" is a free discussion featuring leaders in the fields of obstetrics, midwifery, public health and public policy. This balanced panel will create a forum for much-needed dialogue about the state of maternity care in Sarasota.

The distinguished panelists for Sunday's program are Dr. Washington Hill, M.D., FACOG, medical director of labor and delivery at Sarasota Memorial Hospital; Ina May Gaskin, CPM, founder and director of The Farm Midwifery Center; Jennifer Highland, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County; and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, District 69, Florida House of Representatives. The discussion will be moderated by Sarasota Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner.

Each speaker will offer his or her unique expertise with regard to the current condition of maternal health care and what we can do to improve it. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask the panelists questions immediately following the discussion. There will also be several guests in attendance with expertise in different areas of maternal health care, to whom questions can be directed as well.

The American obstetric model is being replicated worldwide, yet we are failing our pregnant women. According to a World Health Organization report released this July, America ranks 35th in maternal mortality and 33rd in infant mortality, two widely recognized barometers of public health.

We cannot improve America's maternal and child health status without making changes in our own community that ensure that prenatal care is available for all of our women and families, and that modern medicine and technology are being used appropriately.

While obstetric interventions like labor induction and cesarean section surgery are absolutely necessary and even lifesaving for some, they can be detrimental and life-threatening for others, and are extremely costly for taxpayers (Medicaid covers about half of all births).

It is our responsibility as maternity-care consumers to become educated about all options available to us. This education is a key objective for the planners of "Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond." Each attendee will leave the program with a resource guide outlining available prenatal and maternity-care services in Sarasota, a glossary of terms and explanations of different models of care.

One possible way to improve outcomes for mothers and babies is to increase access to, and education about, midwifery care for low-risk, healthy pregnant women, and to encourage a collaborative model of care, whereby midwives and obstetricians work together to give each woman the most appropriate care for her specific set of risk factors.

Pregnant women in our community are very fortunate to have options within both the obstetric and midwifery models of care. Sarasota is home to two free-standing birth centers, four licensed midwives, several certified nurse midwives, many obstetricians, perinatologists and a hospital with the only Level III intensive- care nursery in this four-county region. There are options for low-income and uninsured families to receive quality prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care, regardless of income.

Improving Sarasota's maternal health care will take a collaborative effort by individuals and organizations in many disciplines working together to provide affordable care based on the best evidence available.

However, no advances can be made without the effort and participation of concerned and informed consumers. By attending "Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond," Sarasota's women, families and maternity-care practitioners will be on their way to positive change in our community.

Laura Gilkey, vice president of Florida Friends of Midwives, is co-planning "Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond" with Sonia Pressman Fuentes, co-founder of the National Organization for Women.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sarasota Health News on MHC in 21st Century

Florida's high c-section rates, midwifery among topics of Sarasota conference seeking to improve community's maternal healthcare

by David Gulliver (Sarasota Health News)

When Jennifer Petroskey was planning for the birth of her third child, she hoped she would be able to have a natural delivery. Her twins, born four years earlier, had to be delivered by Cesarean section.

Her doctor, however, ruled out the natural birth, following a widely-held view among obstetricians: “Once a c-section, always a c-section.” Her doctor cited the potential for complications -- primarily, uterine rupture, resulting from pressure where her uterus had healed.

“I was basically told that this was how it was going to be,” the North Port mother said, “although I wanted the experience of a vaginal birth.”

Petroskey’s experience is the norm, and illustrates a significant trend in how babies are delivered. C-sections accounted for 38.2 percent of all births in Florida in 2008 -- up almost 50 percent from the rate in 2000 and the second-highest rate in the country.

It also highlights how rifts can develop between women, their doctors and other providers of maternal health care. In this case, obstetricians are following their profession’s guidelines for minimizing risk, while more women are embracing the trend of less invasive medical care.

Those are the issues behind a conference Sunday in Sarasota, titled “Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond.”


The conference was born out of a presentation by Laura Gilkey, who delivered her two children at her Sarasota home with the aid of midwives. She is vice president of the Florida Friends of Midwives.

In July, she spoke before the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board, laying out a slew of statistics in her six-minute talk -- such as Florida’s high c-section rate, studies showing higher neonatal ICU (or NICU) admissions and death rates for babies delivered by c-section, and that c-sections cost nearly twice as much as a vaginal birth.

In Florida, a c-section cost about $14,458, compared to about $7,533 for a vaginal birth, according to the most recent state figures. With more than 40 percent of c-sections being performed on Medicaid or charity cases, the trend also has implications for both the state’s Medicaid spending and Sarasota County’s hospital tax, Gilkey said.

She called on Sarasota Memorial to take steps to lower its c-section rate -- in 2008, it was 41.7 percent, ranking 22nd among the 115 Florida hospitals delivering babies, and about 10 points higher than the 2000 rate.

“Our medical model is not as great as everyone thinks it is,” Gilkey said in a later interview.

She summarized her points in a letter published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It caught the eye of Sonia Pressman Fuentes, a longtime women’s rights activist, who said she was amazed at the findings. Pressman Fuentes, a member of the local National Organization for Women chapter, pulled together support for the conference.

The conference’s purpose, Gilkey said, is to provide better education about childbirth risks and about the full spectrum of maternal healthcare.

“If we move toward a collaborative model, doctors and women working together based on risk levels, our VBAC would rise, there would be fewer pre-term babies, NICU admission would decline and our overall health barometer would rise,” she said.

Panelists include Jennifer Highland, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota; Ina May Gaskin, a national expert on midwifery; Florida Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, who serves on a House health care planning committee; and Dr. Washington Hill, medical director of labor and delivery and director of maternal-fetal medicine at Sarasota Memorial and a nationally-known expert in his field. Vice-Mayor Kelly Kirschner is the moderator.

At the July hospital board meeting, Hill said it was more important to look at the end result. “When I was a medical student in 1965, we all looked at c-section delivery rates,” he said. “I think now what we look at is the quality of that patient and the quality of that outcome.”

“There is no single c-section delivery rate that can be said to be ideal or correct for either the physician or the hospital or the county or the state,” he said.

But the rise of Cesarean section deliveries demonstrates what happens when some of the most powerful trends in medicine interact.


In 1990, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services set a national goal of reducing c-sections to 15 percent of births. After some initial gains, rates have steadily risen to a national average of about 32 percent. In some Florida hospitals, c-sections account for more than half of all births.

In his talk to the hospital board, Hill pointed to a number of reasons behind the trend.

There are more mothers over age 35, who tend to develop more complications. More mothers of all ages are obese, another complication. More women are concerned about preserving their pelvic floor. Some women elect c-sections for convenience and for a desire to have a “perfect” baby.

And hospitals are trying to respect patients’ decisions. “We’ve made a decision at this hospital that if a patient is well counseled and says she wants a primary elective cesarean delivery or induction, then she can have that done,” Hill said.

One of the most important factors, he said, is fear of a malpractice suit. “The physicians themselves say very clearly that malpractice litigation concerns and the risk of litigation is going to increase their decision to do a cesarean delivery,” Hill told the board.

C-sections are quicker and more predictable, less prone to sudden or unforeseen complications, obstetricians say.

And as more patients and doctors opt for the surgical deliveries, it starts a cycle. If a woman who delivered by c-section is having another baby, her doctor is likely to recommend another c-section. National studies show about 90 percent of women who deliver a baby after a c-section do so by another c-section.

Jennifer Petroskey’s four-year-old twins, Alex and Kailin, are happy, healthy kids now. But at birth, one was in breech position, the other transverse, indicating a c-section was the safest course.

Six-month old Jackson presented no such problems, but her obstetrician insisted on a c-section, saying the risk were too great. Petroskey likes and respects her doctor, so she agreed.

“I wasn’t really given a choice. I was told that was what was going to happen,” she said.

The doctor’s advice reflected the evolution of the field’s position on vaginal birth after Cesarean, or VBAC. The long-held dictum was challenged in the 1980s and doctors again began accepting the procedure, with it peaking in the late 1990s.

But the studies reaffirmed the initial position, and doctors again shied away from VBAC. In Sarasota, Dr. Michael Shroder is one of the small handful of obstetricians will perform the deliveries.

He understands his colleagues’ reluctance about the VBAC. "There is a real risk of complications,” said Shroder, who, like Hill, is a member of the First Physicians Group practice.

The potential problems include uterine rupture, hysterectomy, blood clots, infection, maternal mortality. Uterine rupture, tear in the wall of the organ, occurs in about 1 percent of VBACs, but of that 1 percent, few are catastrophic ruptures and can be treated easily.

He cited a Dec. 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which examined nearly 34,000 cases of mothers carrying a single baby and who had a previous c-section. About half had another c-section, while half had a traditional labor and delivery.

In the labor and delivery group, there were 124 uterine ruptures, about 0.7 percent, and 12 cases of where the infant suffered complications from a lack of oxygen during delivery. There was no difference in maternal death rate.
Overall, the researchers found a 1 in 2,000 chance of of an adverse complications for the infant. Echoing the authors, Shroder termed it a "a small but significantly higher risk."

But, he notes, in some cases there are “significant benefits." In addition to avoiding a longer hospital stay, the major advantage is avoiding another scar in the uterus, which could complicate a future pregnancy. Those complications include placenta previa (separating and bleeding), or placenta accreta (intruding into the muscle of the uterus.)

He bases his decisions on the patient’s history -- has the patient had more than one previous c-section, or if the c-section was other than a low transverse incision -- and on the presence of other conditions, like placenta previa, that would indicate a c-section.

And it depends largely on the patient’s plans. A c-section might be indicated for 40-year-old woman planning no future pregnancies. “A 20-year-old who plans two more children has a lot to gain from a VBAC," he said.

“It’s incumbent on me to look at the facts and risks and benefits and help the patient make a informed decision.”

In addition to potential complications and liability, he said, some obstetricians avoid VBAC because of hospital policies. Sarasota Memorial’s policy, which he said is common, requires the obstetrician to be present for entire labor, a major time commitment that can take them away from other patients.

That reluctance of doctors and hospitals may send women to midwives, generally more accepting of the mother’s wishes. But that raises some concerns for doctors.


“Having a baby at home is a risk. Having a baby at a birthing center is a risk,” Hill said. “If they have a decline of the fetal heart rate, by the time the baby gets here it could be a catastrophe.”

But he also sees the value of midwives in maternal health care, noting the non-profit Genesis Newtown Medical Group’s team approach to reducing fetal death rate, premature births and low birthweight babies. It employs community volunteers, midwives and an obstetrician to provide prenatal care for the low-income community.

Similar programs have a track record of success. In 2002, Florida Hospital Waterman, in Lake County, noted an alarming trend: More and more pregnant women were showing up in its emergency room, some about to deliver, with no prenatal care.

It meant complicated, often premature births, and longer hospital stays for both mother and child. It meant financial losses for the hospital, because most of the mothers were uninsured. Meanwhile, obstetricians were leaving the county, over the rising cost of malpractice insurance -- to some extent because of the more precarious deliveries.

The hospital met with Lake County officials and together they developed a strategy to hire four midwives and two OB/GYNS midwives to provide prenatal care. The midwives also care for the mothers in the early stages of labor.

The result: in 2007-08, the program handled some 700 deliveries and saved the hospital an estimated $1 million.

Lake County saw its Cesarean delivers drop from almost 51 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2008, a 14-point drop -- double the reduction of the next-best Florida hospital over that time, and only 11 hospitals reduces Cesarean deliveries by 2 percentage points or more.

County officials attributed the improvements to the work of the midwives. “If you didn’t have a team program that saw the uninsured in the community, what you would have is the patients reporting to the ER with no prenatal care,” said Donna Gregory, a Lake County Health Department administrator, in an interview this spring.

The Sarasota conference planners say they hope to foster similar partnerships and more unified maternal care with the best possible outcomes.

“There are many pieces needed to make this happen -- licensed midwives, hospitals, the community, government. Each piece has some work to do,” Hill said.

“The licensed midwives need to communicate better with the doctors. We need to communicate better with the licensed midwives. We all need to work together. If we don’t communicate with each other, the whole thing breaks down.”

“We should do whatever we can in the community to have a healthy mother and a healthy baby,” he said.


The conference is free and open to the public, and will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1., at the Hyatt Regency of Sarasota. Call 915-8115 for more information.

Ina May Gaskin Interviewed in Herald-Tribune

This morning's Sarasota Herald-Tribune featured an interview of Ina May Gaskin by Anna Scott, the newspaper's health reporter. Ms. Scott asks Ina May about today's Clinical Conference at the Hospital (Ina May's topic: Balancing the Best of Modern Obstetrics with Respect for Nature and Traditional Midwifery Approaches), her latest book, and The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project. Full text follows:

Midwife to discuss maternal health
By Anna Scott
Ina May Gaskin, left, shows Tamar Kalta, center, how to feel the position of Cayla Whitehead's baby during a class in midwifery at The Farm in Summertown, Tenn. Gaskin is a midwife who has helped to bring back home birth and lay midwifery.

SARASOTA - Ina May Gaskin, who has been called the mother of modern midwifery, will be in Sarasota this weekend for a panel discussion of maternal health issues. On Sunday she will appear alongside Dr. Washington Hill, the head of obstetrics at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and Head Start Director Jennifer Highland and State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota.

Gaskin grew up in Iowa and lives in rural Tennessee near the birthing center she founded more than 30 years ago. She has written several books on natural motherhood and is leading a movement for better tracking of causes of death in pregnant women. Gaskin is also the first midwife to have an obstetrical maneuver named after her: the “Gaskin Maneuver” dislodges an infant's shoulder during birth without using drugs or surgery.

Q:Your latest book is “Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding.” What do you think about the recent flare-ups over women breastfeeding in public?

A:In this country too often people are rude to a mom who is giving her baby the best food and medicine she can. And these super bibs people buy to cover it up – who would like to eat with a blanket on their head? It's just bizarre. Babies like to look at their mothers when they're eating. Unless we're going to force women to stay in their homes for the duration of breast-feeding we should look at it as a pretty sight and be glad the baby's not crying.

Q:What is biggest challenge facing the midwifery movement today?

A:Cesarean sections and unnecessary inductions. I think there's a huge fear of malpractice lawsuits. You never hear of someone getting sued because they did an unnecessary cesarian, but there are quite a few lawsuits where they say, you didn't do a c-section fast enough. As for mothers, some of them don't even think a cesarian will hurt. This generation isn't cautious enough about surgery. We're getting too far away from the laws of nature. I grew up around farm people and they believed anything can be born naturally. The body is not a lemon.

Q:What do you plan to say in your lecture today to Sarasota Memorial hospital staff?

A:I think because we don't have a part enough in educating the doctors or their medical students, they don't understand what we do. They only tend to come in when we have a problem so it's easy for them to develop the idea that all the births we do are problems. Those situations are just part of the mix. We midwives know we need doctors. We would never say there should be no such thing as a doctor. In an ideal maternity care system you would also have midwives and we would be part of the backbone of the system.

Q:The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project is your latest project, a traveling quilt made up of individually designed squares, each one devoted to a woman in the U.S. who has died of pregnancy-related causes since 1982.

A:The lowest pregnancy death rate in the U.S. was in 1982 and we can't get it back going down. The CDC said we could be missing as many as two-thirds of the deaths because we don't track them closely enough. That's an intolerable situation. I can't think of any way to end that than to require that every single death be counted, that the CDC be given the power and funding to that, and state laws are amended to be in sync with each other.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Local Media Coverage of MHC in 21st Century

Last night, Dr. Washington Hill, MD, FACOG, panelist for Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond, was the guest of WWSB ABC 7's Heidi Godman. They discussed the upcoming program and maternity care options in Sarasota. Watch the video:

And this evening at 6:00 pm, please tune into WSLR 96.5 LPFM's program Local Matters, with host Joe Hendricks. The show will feature an interview with the world's leading midwife Ina May Gaskin, as well as studio guests Harmony Miller, LM, CPM, (pictured) of Rosemary Birthing Home, and Maggie Davenport, local mother of two home-birthed babies. Tune in tonight or catch the podcast here, and come meet everyone you've heard on Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota at 3:00 pm for Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Safe Motherhood Quilt Project at Selby Library

Beginning today, three panels of The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project are on display at the Selby Public Library. The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project is a national effort developed to draw public attention to the current maternal death rates in the United States, as well as to the gross underreporting of maternal deaths, and to honor women who have died of pregnancy-related causes. The three panels currently on display in Sarasota represent 58 mothers who have died of pregnancy or childbirth related causes in the US since 1982. I was honored to be a quilter for one of these panels. There are several other panels throughout the country just like them.

Project founder and world's leading midwife Ina May Gaskin will be presenting these panels on Saturday, October 31st, at 11:00 am. Following her presentation she will sign copies of all three of her books (Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, and Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding), in benefit for Florida Friends of Midwives and The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

BIRTH STORY: Caleb and the D.G.C.

(by Steve Mersinger Jr., about the birth of Caleb, born 09.14.07)

"You can take the Mersingers out of Kentucky but you can't take the Kentucky out of the Mersingers." -ancient redneck wisdom

So most of you are wondering, who are these people again? It's been a while since we've communicated with the outside world, sorry! A lot has been going on and we'll fill you in with more details later on. For now, the best thing for me to do is hop right to the Story of Caleb and "the DGC" (Dodge Grand Caravan). It's a delightful tale in which no exaggerations need occur. I do have the gift of exaggeration but what you're about to hear requires none of my skill, and you'll see why!

Most of you know that nearly 21 months ago we popped Naomi out on a Lazy Boy in Kentucky. Little did we know that it would cause a deep curse to be placed upon our family.

Approximately 4pm on 9/13/2007 Shannon Mersinger started to receive increased contractional activity. So we went to Applebees. Dinner was good and stuff. Around 7pm those contractions got even crazier so I (Steve Mersinger Jr.) drove Naomi to my parents for them to watch her. By the time I returned Shannon's contractions were causing her to spurt profanity and throw stuff (slight exaggeration).

After 24 hours of labor with Naomi, we didn't want to rush off to the birthing center and end up having to turn around if she wasn't dilated enough. However, Shannon's mom, Kitty, with crazy wide eyes said "it's 45 minutes away, we should leave". I'm not one to ignore the advice of someone who has popped out nine kids, but Shannon wanted to wait until she was having minute long contractions (she likes to feel the burn!). The contractions were only lasting 40 seconds so she didn't want to leave quite yet.

However, they were starting to be only 2 minutes apart. So eventually, at midnight, we couldn't outlast Kitty's gaze of foreknowledge saying if you don't leave soon you're going to pop this baby out in the van on the way.

We packed Shannon up, I was already tired from pushing on her back and felt like I needed to rest for the long night ahead of us. So when she asked me to let her mom drive and hop in the back with her, I nobly (cowardly) deferred to her mom and said I needed to drive. We were about five minutes from the house (on a 45 minute trip) when Shannon cries "oh my God, my water broke."

I grinned and thought "of course her water broke, why wouldn't it."

I then beat the crap out of my weak stomach and told myself that placenta stuff smells like roses and continued driving. Kitty had me call the mid-wife and fill her in on what was going on. She remarked how calm I sounded, I replied that freaking out wouldn't help (besides, we had hours left in this thing). The phone call ended and was met by an abrupt cry by Shannon "I feel his head!"

Surely this was intense emotional overreaction.

Shannon's mom checked and I was right again! But Kitty said, you need to drive faster. So I cruised up to 55 in a 45. She said faster and I said I didn't want to get pulled over. Then three words shook my steel like confidence "yes you do!" I suddenly wondered about all of those roadside birth stories and got this grin on my face that I wish someone had recorded. I thought what a cool story it would be to have Caleb in a vehicle, but reality set in that this kind of thing doesn't really happen, or if it does certainly not to people like us (heavy foreshadowing, but you're doubting aren't you?).

I eventually found myself cruising up to 75mph in a 45 and running red lights. While my wife was in intense pain, I was experiencing my dream! I've always wanted to get chased by cops and outrun them in a piece of crap car, now my son was giving me the perfect excuse. 10 minutes down the interstate doing 20 over still hadn't drawn out any coppers. Shannon started saying something about pushing, I checked the vomit from my esophagus, and realized that I had a job to do. Faster and faster we sped, while pieces began to shake on the van threatening to fly off and solidify our roadside appointment with destiny. I saw flashing lights up ahead and decided to take matters into my own hands. As I stopped halfway in the third lane of traffic (in SW FL where everyone is in bed by 7), I jumped out of the van and ran for the state trooper who sat in his vehicle grinning like a hall monitor who's hopped up on impotent power and pop rocks. I said to him "sir, I don't know how important this issue HERE is but my wife is in labor and I was hoping you could give us an escort." I'm not sure that he knew what labor was or if he'd ever seen a woman naked, but he looked panicked and said I"ll call an ambulance. I told him that was unnecessary and we were fine, we were just hoping for an escort. He told me that he could call an ambulance but wasn't allowed to escort us. I think he was scared. I said no problem and ran back for the van. During my sprint I noticed two forms hanging into the passenger window from the outside. Two women from the "accident speeding violation whatever was going on there" were staring at my wife while she screamed and bled and pooped all over the interior of our van. They began screaming like crack addict banshees telling me to get her to the hospital. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't instantly sped away they would have climbed inside and rode with us screaming the whole way.

We found the trooper about 3 miles from our exit. As we got off I put my game face back on, dreamt of nice, pleasant smells, and determined to tear up Fruitville road. This is a long road filled with lights that like to get in your head and tell you how they own you. I wasn't having it; I came off the interstate and flew through the red light making a statement. Shannon was doing great but I started catching random phrases like "feeling the head" and "need to push" and "he's coming" and I felt a bit unnerved (slight underexaggeration). We were about 10 minutes from the birthing center and I heard a sound come from her that screamed "baby is being shoved out of me as I groan." I'm cutting into turn lanes and around traffic stopped at red lights flashing my brights and honking; varying between 75 and 90 mph depending on how close the next light was.

Kitty tells me that I have to call the midwife again and tell her that Shannon is starting to push. I reach to the passenger seat to find the number again and realize it's gone! I look everywhere and it finally smiles at me obnoxiously from up in the corner near the passenger door. Dodge Grand Caravans are larger than you might realize and the only way for me to get that number was to bust out some crazy Tony Hawk move while I'm flying down this road. So I look around and realize there are no cars which makes swerving an acceptable maneuver, I take the steering wheel in my left hand and get out of my seat, step across, and grab the paper with my right hand. We managed to stay between the three lanes of traffic during this. I get the number dialed in and as the phone is ringing I hear a sound like Jim Carrey coming out of the fake Rhino in Ace Ventura 2. The midwife picks up as I hear my son cry and all I can say is "it's a boy!"

My grin from earlier comes back as I realize that my freakin' awesome wife just popped a kid on the front bench seat of our Dodge Grand Caravan. Kitty, mother of 10, winner of 33 consecutive wife mother of the year awards (not to be confused with the mother/wife award) just delivered our kid while swerving across three lanes of traffic doing 75 mph down Fruitville road. All I can do is shout "Caleb, holy shit you are so freakin cool, you were just born in a van!" I love my family!

I told Harmony, our midwife, that I was still flying there and would get there as quick as possible but Caleb was crying, sounded fine, and Shannon seemed totally fine as well.

We pulled in to the birthing center, got Shannon and Caleb in and cleaned off. Homeboy is 7lbs 4oz and somewhere between 20 and 21 inches (he was squirmy). He was born near the intersection of Fruitville Rd. and Lockwood Ridge Rd. in Sarasota, FL at 12:32am 9/14/2007. He's super chill and looks a good bit like Shannon.

On our way home around 4:15am Shannon said "it's pretty crazy that we keep having our kids on things that our friends and family might have to sit on." Quote of the year!

Also notable: Aunt Jackie was coming for the birth, but missed out. She wouldn't have made it anyways, unless she jumped in our van as we sped down the road, but she stopped at 7-11 for flowers and mentos. Like 35-55 percent of you, she did not believe me when I said we popped Caleb in the van. Unlike 35-55 percent of you, she got to see Caleb and find out that I didn't even need to exaggerate this story (though a little spicing up never hurts). So for those of you that think this is as big of a ploy as last pregnancy's modeling of Rob Raborn in a diaper (can't ever get enough of that, personally I love saucy pics of Rob), you'll have to wait a day or two to call and get Shannon's confirmation, but she has read this and fully approves of the facts, details, and spicy anecdotes that lie within.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Postpartum Doula Training October 23-25

This Friday begins a DONA International approved Postpartum Doula Certification workshop at Birthways Family Birth Center. The workshop will be held from October 23-25, and will run from 8:00 am - 6:00 pm with breaks all three days. The instructor is Betsy Schwartz of Tenth Month Doula Services.

Betsy Schwartz has been a doula since 1991. She considers being a doula as her calling and her passion. She established Tenth Month in South Florida in 1994. Betsy holds a master’s degree in management of human services and is a DONA International certified postpartum doula. Betsy is a founding member and former Board member of the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services. She is a member of the Citrus County Breastfeeding Coalition.

What is a postpartum doula?

The postpartum Doula helps a mother tune into her baby’s needs. By taking care of the mother’s needs, the Doula allows the mother to focus on her baby. This, in turn, helps build the new mother’s confidence in her abilities.

What do I need to know?

There are prerequisites for participants of a DONA International Postpartum Doula Training Workshop. Participants are expected to have a working knowledge of the following:
  • Physical and emotional adjustment in the mother following birth
  • Newborn characteristics and care
  • Breastfeeding basics
  • Common breastfeeding difficulties and possible solutions
To be sure that participants are adequately prepared for their Postpartum Training Workshop,
the following are required BEFORE attending the training:

1. Required Reading: From the DONA International required reading list, the participant
must have completed reading one selection from each of the categories listed. Some of the books can be purchased on the DONA International website through the Doula Boutique.

2. Breastfeeding Preparation: The participant must have completed at least one of the options listed below before attending the postpartum doula training:
  • Certificate of attendance of Lactation Consultant / Breastfeeding counseling education
  • program or peer counseling training through LLL or local nursing mother’s group.
  • Completion of an on-line breastfeeding study program.
  • Proof of participation in a breastfeeding workshop (three hour minimum)
  • Investigative project series with essays. This project would need to be approved by the trainer and DONA International Postpartum Committee.
How can I sign up for the workshop?

Contact Betsy at (352) 527-3550, or pay via pay pal on www.tenthmonth.com. Fill in the dates and city and click the 'buy now' button. The fee is $325.

Fore more information, please contact Birthways Family Birth Center at (941) 366-BABY.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

BIRTH STORY: The Path to an Amazing Birth

(by Kitty Lakey, about the birth of David Dominick, born 05.27.07)

I'd been having contractions since my thirty-second week. A fun little stint with pre-term labor had already dilated me to two centimeters. Later in my pregnancy I dilated another two centimeters, bringing me to a grand total of four centimeters. I thought my labor may be a quick one but I didn't want to get my hopes up. I was thinking half the time of my labor with Jonathan, which would've been about six hours, and a pretty typical labor for a second child. Every time I took a trip to the bathroom I focused on the story in Ina May’s book about the flower opening up. My midwife was out of town, having left a week before for a midwifery conference in Costa Rica. She was due back in three days and I was overdue by five days. We even tried to induce via herbs before she left. Well needless to say, it didn't work. Apparently David Dominick just wasn't ready.

The day I went into labor I got very little sleep, which was just unusual. Normally I slept like a lioness during my pregnancy, nine hours at night and a nap every day. I was trying very hard to stay rested at the advice of the midwife, knowing that I could go into labor at any minute and I didn't want to be to tired to make it through. I'm a night owl so I went to bed at around one-ish, feeling fine but very tired. I was awoken an hour later by some serious contractions. No stop watch necessary, these did not need to be timed. Hoping, from lack of sleep, that this was a false start, I tried to go back to bed. No luck, lying down just seemed to intensify the contractions. About two-thirty I woke Dave up and told him to call the midwife and my aunt Vita. Dave dialed and handed me the phone, I paged Sarah and Vita wasn't answering. He began to pack, while I breathed through my contractions. I stopped him every few contractions for a leaning post and moral support. Sarah, the midwife that was filling in for Harmony, called back. I had had a couple visits with her and felt comfortable with her. By this time my bag of waters was leaking, it took me a few minutes to realize I hadn't peed myself. Sarah listened to me and told me to come on in! What a shocker, I thought she'd tell me to go back to bed, that is what had happened exactly one week before. I had really begun to think I was going to be pregnant forever and come to terms with it, I think that is why I finally when into labor.

Dave called his mom since we couldn't get a hold of Vita. Dave didn't tell his mom to come, but thankfully she came anyway! Dave continued to pack everything on the list while stopping occasionally to ask me questions. I remember being able to answer most of the questions. So Dinah (Dave's mom) shows up and we sat in the living room waiting for Dave to finish packing. I don't know how far apart the contractions were at this point I just remember thinking, wow this is really it!

On the ride to the birthing center I breathed through my contractions while Dave repeatedly apologized with each contraction. I told him not to apologize and please watch his driving because I couldn't do it this time. The roads were clear and the weather was cool. A beautiful time for little man to be born. The ride was relaxing and the contractions were steady and getting stronger. The pain had me questioning my ability to do this without pain medication. I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind and focus on my breathing and opening up.

On the walk up to the birth center I had several strong contractions to the point of stopping and leaning on Dave for support. Dave walked me in and went back out to get our bags. The birthing tub was ready. Sarah checked my dilation before I got in. I was six to seven centimeters dilated! At some point I had dilated three more centimeters, what great news! With each contraction I tried to keep in mind that was one step closer to having my baby. I got in the tub which felt pretty good, but I was only in for a few minutes. Sarah had to check his heart rate; normally they can check the heart rate in the water but she couldn't get it, most likely due to his positioning. So I clambered out of the tub. It felt very cold after being in the warm water, and got onto the bed. She got his heart rate right away and it was in the one-forties, perfect. So back in the tub I went. Dave started making jokes about my luxurious hot tub, so I joked back all I needed were the jets. Unbeknownst to me the tub actually had jets. So Sarah turned them on for me. As the contractions got even stronger yet I aimed my back at the jets of water. Dave held my hand, encouraged me and fed me Gatorade and water from the side of the tub. A flurry of activity was going on around me but I was too busy to notice. I was in transition, I only know I was in transition because momentarily I felt like I was going to toss my cookies. The midwives' assistants started bailing water out of the tub so Dave could get in with me.

That's when I began to lose control, yelling in pain. I'd say I could bear the pain ninety percent of the time and then I'd start to lose it. I tried to remember to relax, make low sounds and relax my muscles but the pain was really getting to me. I remember thinking this it, I'm not going anywhere now even if I wanted to. I thought those women who tried to run from this were nuts, I mean really where are you going to go. Sarah asked me why I was yelling. I told her because of the pain, then she asked where it hurt. I told her in the front of my abdomen and at my hips and pelvis. So she asked me to get on my hands and knees and had Dave press my hips together. I was more than willing to try anything that would relieve the pain. She told Dave where to push and said "push as hard as you can, you won't hurt her", he did, and mid-contraction I said "not that hard!" This relieved the pain in the front of my abdomen but also intensified the contractions and the feeling of pressure. I remember Sarah saying "Kitty, that's just your baby trying to get around your sacrum"as she poured water over my back. It was so intense at this point I was yelling out in pain with each contraction. She must have sensed I was feeling a little desperate and came around to the front of the tub and got in my face. To help me focus she got right in front of my face and said "try not to yell so much, it will scare the baby and make him poop." That really got my attention, I didn't want any meconium in my baby's system. So I tried to tone it down, the contractions were so strong at this point I just couldn't stop myself from yelling as hard as I tried, the pain was just too intense. I think at this point I said for the first and only time "I can't do this", but it didn't matter, my body was doing this, whether I liked it or not. So I tried to flow with it.

Shortly after that I began to realize that I was yelling all my energy up and out. I had read about this but didn't really believe it. I realized I needed to use that energy to push that baby out! So with the next contraction that's what I focused all my energy on doing. I don't remember telling Sarah that's what I was going to do, I just did it. Looking back, it is incredible that your body just knows how and when to do this but at the time you don't think about that. Even with the first push I could feel his head. She tried to check for his head but by then his head had retracted. With the next contraction she checked and could feel his head, I thought maybe that feeling of him being that far down was in my head, but no it was real! She asked me if I wanted to feel his head and I reached down and felt it. I just couldn't believe it!

The next contraction I began to feel the infamous ring of fire. It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. Sarah said "Okay Kitty, now just ease his head out slowly." Some how I controlled it, and did just that, and his head came out. The whole time I was thinking of the girl in our prenatal class that tore, Harmony told me the girl wished she'd waited and push her baby out slowly so she hadn't torn. The birth instructor used the expression spaghetti off a spoon, and that is just what it felt like. The next contraction he was completely out, he just slid out with no effort, like spaghetti off a spoon. Then Sarah guided him in the water underneath me into my arms. Someone handed me a receiving blanket to wrap him in. I wrapped him up and held him in the water with me. The first thing I said was I can't believe I did it, I was in shock. We sat and cuddled and bonded for a few minutes while we waited for the cord to stop pulsing.When the cord stopped pulsing Dave nervously cut it with a little resistance (on his part and the cords). Then I handed the baby to Dave and got out at the midwives urging. As I exited, clots came falling out, it felt like worms, which was pretty gross. Sarah wanted the placenta delivered. She asked me to squat on the bed to deliver it. In my mind that seemed impossible, but I had just accomplished the impossible so I gave it a try, with one push the placenta came out with a thud. I sat down on the bed, which seemed like the most comfortable bed ever and one of the midwife's assistant's brought in some of the snacks we brought with us. Apples, cheese and crackers and a protein smoothie, they encouraged me to eat.

Meanwhile Sarah checked my bleeding and they weighed and measured the baby and checked his reflexes. I couldn't believe it, a nine-pound baby with a fifteen-centimeter head and no tears. He was twenty-one inches of perfection. He had a perfect ten apgar score, I guess you could say he was a perfect ten!

His birth, although painful, was intensely empowering. I chose this mostly for the health of the baby, the idea that it would empower me seemed ridiculous. Now, having experienced it, I know first hand that this is true. I conquered my fears and came out on the other side!