Monday, April 4, 2011

Ina May Seminar: Birth Matters

I'm on a birth kick after attending a seminar with Ina May Gaskin last weekend, and we are coming up to Archer's 2nd birthday, so the memories of birth are reflective and fresh.  Ina is indeed a star and being in her presence renewed my subtle feminist ways and views.  She spoke the truth - that birth should be empowering, sacred, and that our perceptions of pregnancy, labour and birth, and its model of care needs to change.

"Birth matters.  It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside our source, our mother's bodies.  It's the means through which we enter and feel our first impressions of the wider world.  For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to the innermost core.  Women's perceptions about their bodies and their babies' capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care they receive around the time of birth"

This is the opening paragraph to Ina May Gaskin's new book, Birth Matters:  A Midwife's Manifesta.  It gives me chills every time I read it.  These words are common sense truth about birth for both the mother and baby.  I recall every detail of my 'birth' day as though it happened this morning!!  Cellular memory is powerful.

Birth brings up not only very personal issues but social ones as well.  No matter what society wants us to believe, pregnancy and birth produce very powerful changes in women's bodies, emotions and lives, no matter how that baby is born - natural or surgical.  It follows then that the way birth care is organized and carried out will have a powerful effect on human society.  Good beginnings make a positive difference in the world, so it is worth while to provide the best possible experience and care to mother and babies during this influential part of life.

Every birth is unique, and if left alone, every woman can experience that uniqueness.  Birth is also instinctive - a woman's body has an innate capacity to birth her baby just like it has the innate capacity to heal a cut, or mount an immune response against a virus.  Every woman will find her right way to give birth, if allowed the space, privacy and openness to do so.  This last statement is important because today there is a sense of RUSH for a baby to be born.  Time is a frequently unnamed and unacknowledged medical complication plaguing most births currently taking place in a medical setting.  I get frequent calls from woman wanting acupuncture to save them from a medical induction - an induction that is suggested by their doctor before their due date, or only shortly thereafter.  I guess it's to be expected given the fast paced nature of modern North American culture, however, in most cases when the mother and baby are not in danger, a darkened quiet room, a warm shower, some soft music, a simple position change, and just giving the labouring woman room to BREATHE, mom can work through her labour and deliver her baby with no intervention.  Modern medicine needs to respect the natural or personal pace of birth.  The best analogy applies sphincter law of nature to birth - the cervix behaves like a sphincter, just like the urethra and the anus,  and it will open when the body is relaxed and calm, and close under stress.  So, can you take a poop when a stranger is watching, or you are late for an appointment?  Likely the answer is no.  Apply this common sense to birth and you quickly understand why women stop having contractions when they get to the hospital, or cervical dilation slows down and/or regresses because the woman feels under pressure either from herself or medical staff to 'get the job done'!  Impatience and electronic monitoring does not emphasize human connection.

There are 5000 species of mammals on this planet, why are we the only one that needs technology to give birth?  Women who share the natural birth philosophy want the opportunity to labour in a way that emphasizes human connection rather than monitoring by a machine.  I completely understand that surgeons and medical technology are necessary, but they are not infallible.  Do you elephants need forceps to birth their calves?  What a bunch of warriors that would take! Did you know that breech babies exist in nature too?   Baby elephants are naturally a footling breech.  We saw pictures of a vaginal breech home birth - it was amazing!!  This birth story is documented in Birth Matters.

Check out this link of an elephant giving birth:

Ina May discussed some of the history of maternal and newborn care.  The same models still apply today:  there is a wellness patient-centred model and a disease centred model.  The wellness model is exemplified by midwives.  The medical model in those days was truly a male dominated profession, so the foundation of maternity care is embedded in a patriarchal system.  My 'aha' moment came on the drive home when I realized that this patriarchy continues to creep into our decisions in how we birth.  I have heard plenty of women say: "I would really love to experience a home birth.  I would feel safe and comfortable with this option, but my husband thinks we should go to the hospital".  Sometimes its not the husband, maybe a parent, or good friend, but it is a very subtle, quiet voice coming from a place of concern and love, but its still that voice of doubt, that birth should be medicalized because its safer to do so.  I also remember hearing this 'voice of reason' in frequent conversations with my husband, going back and forth between home or hospital birth.  As it turns out, divine intervention stepped in, and in the end I had a beautiful, albeit long, home birth, and Rick agrees that for us that was the best decision we ever made.  Those first postpartum moments snuggled with my fresh baby in my cozy bed, surrounded by our doula and midwives, was a once in a lifetime, priceless experience.

There is a passage in Birth Matters that speaks to this principle of natural birth:  "Humanized birth means putting the woman giving birth in the centre and in control so that she, not the doctors or anyone else, makes ALL the decisions about what will happen."

It is becoming increasingly rare to see a normal birth in hospital, normal meaning without intervention of any kind.  It is a difficult period of changing this.  Modern medicine needs thorough grounding in normal before they see pathology, and a return to nature to watch animals giving birth should be our experience of childbirth and provide the basis of prenatal and child birth 'classes'.

Let us start to apply common sense of how nature knows best and see where that will lead us.

Birth is a human rights issue.  To spark your own inner feminist, please watch the following documentary about a midwife in Hungary who takes on a male dominated medical profession in an effort to change approaches to childbirth.

Dr. Kate

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nourishing Ourselves

Can it be Spring?? We’ve passed the Spring Equinox, but will it ever really get here??  I wonder this as I type  and their is a new blanket of snow in my backyard.  I’ve been enjoying watching the daffodils poke up from moist soil and the fat robins building their nests.  I have even seen a few little buds starting to come out of hibernation.  All of these moments in nature are humbling and help one to appreciate the simplicity of life.  I guess they are on hold for the next few days.  
When we think of spring we think of growth, new life, awakening.  Its a time to shake out the rugs and breathe in the warm sun.  Nature  is nourishing.  It provides us with food to eat, an environment to protect, people around us, and our thoughts about it all.  Life seems to be held in a delicate balance. Managing children, meals, cleaning, exercise, taking care of your own needs, and fun can be difficult to balance sometimes and at other times not so much. It all flows best when we are nourished.
But what does it mean to be nourished?
Tasting and feeling satisfied by wonderful, nutritious food is certainly a large part of it. Being able to properly digest and absorb your food is by far one of the most important aspects of nourishment. The health of our bodies lies in the health of our guts. Creating a healthy gut is a first step.
We are also nourished by filling up our senses with beautiful things, such as noticing the way the evening sunshine dances on the leaves or the sound of the spring rains pounding on the roof. A garden full of young, tender herbs. Sunflower seeds sprouting before your eyes. Apple trees blooming, bees buzzing. Noticing and breathing in the magnificence in your own back yard is nourishment. In fact, simply breathing deeply is nourishment.
Taking care of your own needs and exercising is nourishment. Move your body everyday - it was designed to do this.  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Spring corresponds to the Wood element, which in turn is conceptually related to the liver and the gallbladder.  The liver is responsible for the smooth flowing of Qi (energy) throughout the body.  When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly.  For good health this spring, move your Qi!  Stretch every day: try yoga, tai chi or Qi Gong.  Eat green foods like fresh spinach, baby greens, sprouts and herbs, and sour foods like lemons in your water or fresh squeezed on your salad.  
New experiences nourish us. Taking a new trail on your hike is a simple, new experience. Reading a new book, learning a new skill, cultivating a new friendship, even spring cleaning, would all be considered nourishment. Children's brains develop and grow through new experiences. Ours can too. It's never too late.
What Nourishes You?  Take steps to ‘fill up your tank’ this spring.  Even though we got another blast of snow, its here.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Recommit To Your Health: Part 1

January isn't over yet, so I think it is still appropriate to talk 'resolutions'.  

I have noticed over the past few weeks in my day to day interaction with patients that there is a common theme post-holiday.  Common phrases are:  "I fell off the wagon", "I over ate", "I got off my routine and now I feel badly", "I'm frustrated with myself because I gained back all the weight that I lost", "I don't feel balanced".  What a way to start the year! 

While resolutions may help us to refocus our energy, often times they can make us feel guilty for what we have not been doing.  Instead of approaching this year's resolutions with the guilt of eating poorly over the holidays or the shoulds of what you think you ought to be doing more or less of, consider resolving to spend more time doing what you love and enriching your life in ways you genuinely look forward to.  What a fantastic way to think about resolutions! I invite you to think about the year ahead in a positive manner that will allow you to accomplish great things without the guilt. 
A Top 10 List on how to recommit to your health:
1. Focus on what you want, not what you don't want.  Do more of what you want.
2. Chart your successes, and visualize yourself achieving your goals.
3. Move your body every day, no matter what. 
4. Talk about what you want and ask for support in achieving it.
5. Be realistic about how your body, life, house, etc. “should” look – focus on health and not appearances.
6. Strive for more meaningful connection with friends, family, and colleagues. Define what this means for you.
7. Get the blood work, dental cleaning, or home repair you’ve been putting off. Don’t take up mental space with self-criticism for tasks that have not been completed.
8. Compare your progress in life to your own goals, not others. You are not them.  This life is your journey.  Live it well.
9. Smile and laugh as often as possible. Cry when needed.
10. Make a collage from magazine photos of everything you would like to draw to you this year. You’ll be amazed at this time next year how much of it actually happened.

Don't spend energy worrying about what you haven't done.  Lead a life that celebrates the fullest experience possible.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year, New Health

A New Year is always a good time to be inspired to create change.  Be inspired to make your commitment to REAL health this year.  REAL health is possible.  Hold a vision of your perfect health - what does that look like?  Make it real for yourself.

A good place to start is with what you eat.  This year make it your challenge to create some "Food Rules" for you and your family.  Food Rules, or what I like to call personal food policies,  are guidelines that help you to form ideas about what you should eat to feel your best.  The overall goal is to move closer and closer towards eating all REAL food while decreasing and eventually eliminating all the foods that don't provide you with nourishment and vitality.  

I have listed my top 5 food rules - the 'non-negotiables' for me and my family.  These are the guidelines that I stick to when I do my grocery shopping, meal planning, food preparation and lifestyle decisions.

1.  If you eat grain, always sprout, sour or soak it first. 
Grain is not an essential aspect of a wholesome, nourishing diet.  There is nothing you can find in a grain that you can't find in greater quantities elsewhere.  That said I do enjoy a hot grain cereal in the winter and raw granola in the summer.  Sometimes a nice treat is a crusty loaf of sourdough bread dipped in a steaming bowl of hot stew or soup.  All in all, grain should be kept to a minimum and choosing whole, unprocessed grain is essential.  Stick to whole oat groats, buckwheat groats, quinoa and millet.  If you choose to eat grain, this year make sure to prepare it properly in accordance with traditional, time-honoured methods.  Whole grain contains an anti-nutrient called phytic acid which binds up minerals preventing their full absorption.  This means all those whole grain cereals, crackers and cookies aren't doing you or your family a lick of good.  The effects of these anti-nutrients can be mitigated by souring, sprouting or soaking which combines whole grain with warmth and a slightly acidic solution.  This process activates phytase, a food enzyme, that effectively neutralizes phytic acid rendering the whole grain more digestible and its nutrients better absorbed.  Make the effort to sour, sprout or soak your grain.
To Do:  The next batch of break you make should be sourdough, and plan meals ahead so you have time to properly prepare your grain for optimal nutrition.  Give sprouting a try.  Soak your oatmeal overnight in water and lemon juice or a bit of yogurt.  

2.  Eat cultured or fermented foods daily.
Cultured and fermented foods play an enormous role in traditional diets.  First born of practicality, fermenting and actively culturing foods offer benefits beyond a way to preserve food without refrigeration.  Indeed, the natural process of fermentation often increases vitamin content while reducing sugar content; moreover, fermented foods are teeming with beneficial bacteria - those tiny probiotic bacterias in your gut that work to strengthen your immune system, making vitamins and warding off pathogens.  Make the effort to eat fermented and cultured foods at least daily.  In our home, we try to eat small amounts of yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or other fermented foods with nearly every meal. 
To Do:  Make your first batch of sauerkraut or homemade yogurt.

3.  Give up refined foods:  sugars, oils and flours.
The single most effective thing you can do for your health this New Year is simple:  remove all refined foods from your cupboards.  Give them up.  Just like that.  You may have paid good money for that bag of sugar, the gallon of vegetable oil or that bag of flour, but its money wasted.  Why spend money on 'food products' that won't give you vitality and good health?  Instead, put your effort and your money into REAL food.  You may think, "I only use flour (sugar or canola oil) occasionally."  But, occasionally is still too often.  Refined foods can leach micronutrients from your body, contribute to risk of autoimmune disease, cancers, metabolic and endocrine disorders and heart disease.
To Do:  Take a big garbage bag and throw out any vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated fats, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, white flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, enriched wheat flour, refined sea salt, iodized sea salt any boxed or packaged foods containing these ingredients.

4.  Enjoy more sunshine.
Most of the population, children and adults, are deficient in vitamin D.  Blame an indoor society coupled with a near-paralyzing fear of skin cancer that has kept people covered up and slathered in carcinogenic sunscreens.  Yes, many sunscreens contain carcinogenic compounds.  Kinda defeats the purpose!  Low levels of vitamin D are linked to cognitive dysfunction, depression, autoimmune disease, cancer and heart disease.  Instead, go outside without sunscreen!  If you are particularly concerned, use a touch of coconut oil or sesame oil on your skin both of which have protective effects.  Remember to cover up before you burn, so bring a wide brimmed hat or loose, long sleeved clothing to avoid the pain of a sunburn.
To Do:  Head outside today or tomorrow (or wait until summer) and don't cover up in sunscreen.  Let the sun warm your face and skin and play to your heart's content.....for those brisk winter days having a little bit of skin exposed for 10-20 min when daylight has peaked is the key to maintaining adequate vitamin D levels.

5.  Choose only grass-fed, pastured and wild animal foods.
Grass-fed, pasture raised and wild caught animal foods are deeply nourishing.  For thousands of years prior to the advent of industrial agriculture, these were the only animal foods we knew.  The manner in which an animal is raised does make a difference, not only to your health but to the health and vibrancy of your local economy and environment.  Grass fed beef and red meat is a richer source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene and retinol than the meal of conventionally raised animals.  Moreover, grass and pasture based farming provides environmental benefits as well - nurturing the local fields, improving the diversity and proliferation of native flora and fauna.
To Do: Ask yourself - where does my meat come from?  If you don't know, find out and investigate a source of grass fed local meat.  

So there you have it!  A short list of pretty simple changes you can make today to move forward towards a healthier and happier lifestyle.  Choose and create health for yourself.  

Please share your experiences and thoughts!