MAYD to Birth: At Your Doorstep

Promoting gentle, empowering mother journies…

Motivational Monday

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2013 NHBS BABIES!

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Every year, as New Years Eve grows close, I enjoy taking time to ponder the previous years events – especially the babies whose births I have been privileged to witness. Every baby that’s allowed me to be present as they opened their eyes in this world for the first time, taken their first breath, enjoyed their first taste of mother’s milk…..
The births that my presence has been as mere witness….and the births that I fought for life…
…and even the births where that fight was lost. Every single birth holds a place in my heart, and I would like to (again) take an opportunity to reflect and share what they meant to me.

For anonymity, I will reference the baby’s name ONLY – no birth dates or last names or parents names. If, however, you recognize your baby’s listing and would like your baby’s photograph to be included in this post, PLEASE just comments to this post directly saying that you’d like your baby’s picture added….and I would love to add your baby’s picture at that time!!

2013 births in review:

Anela - You started the year off right!! Watching your mother’s journey from unsure of herself…to excited….to this incredible strength that screamed, “I DID IT!” Such a peaceful birth despite your dad coming into the dark room with a miner’s light on his head that he turned on to see as your mom started pushing you out! (your mom made him shut it off immediately! We all laughed. Okay, your mom wasn’t laughing at the time…but I think later she saw the humor in it) Such a sweet little girl – hard to believe you’re about to turn a year old!

Montgomery - Another of my water babies, your mama made that look way too easy!! (for the record, let me tell you – it is NOT easy!) VERY soon after grandma left with your big sibling, you came swimming into your parents’ hands – surprise!! For such a gentle soul as your mother is, she sure is a powerful birthing mother!

Charlotte – Oh my sweet Charlotte….what a crazy ride that was! Me showing up at your home to UNEXPECTANTLY find your mother in labor (I will never forget asking, “are you in labor?” and your mother saying, “I don’t know, but I think so…”), your mother working so hard and long, going to the hospital, seeing you come out and immediately into your mother’s arms…not what she’s hoped or expected, but joyous and definitely worth it!

LeahF

Kairos

Kairos – For days your mother worked in early labor….yet never gave up. She wanted you to pick your birthday and your own time and she fought hard to give that to you – and she did. With your brother playing in the other room, you slipped out QUICKLY (at the end) and perfectly. The moment of your birth was positively perfect…..

Grey – You are meant to be a family of boys! You have some awesome footsteps to follow and a super wonderful mother and father as well. A perfect birth for a perfect family….and who knew you’d be as big as you were! Your mom was a rockstar, though….amazing!

KariH

Finley

Finley – Your mother, still suffering the effects of Bell’s Palsy that she suffered at the end of your pregnancy, smiled through the facial numbness – her eyes sparkling as she lifted you up out of the birthing pool and into her waiting arms. The room was filled with peace….at times it erupted into laughter…and still other times there was an intimacy she shared with your dad as they welcomed you into this world. Beautiful space for a beautiful birth…to start what I hope to be a beautiful life for you.

Avalynn – Your mother is a little southern spitfire, isn’t she!! A powerhouse packed into an itty bitty body, you swam into her arms surrounded by family and doulas and most of all love and joy! Her hair was braided into a crown around her head…very fitting for the birthing royalty that she is. Excited siblings bouncing around as your mother sat in the rocking chair moments after your birth to nurse you…..exactly how birth should be.

Brielle - My little miracle baby!! From breech to head-down at the last moment…only to have mother’s blood pressure sky high when she was in labor with you….one blessing from daddy (along with your uncle) and her blood pressure dropped down…down….down…until it was totally normal! And here you came, quickly for a first baby, in a rush while everything was still perfect, rushing to swim out of mommy’s body and into this incredible family! It was one of the most spiritual God-attended birth I’ve ever been lucky enough to bear witness to.

CarissaP2

Carter

 

Carter – I may not have been there when you entered this world, but I will always consider you one of “my babies”. Born sooner than we hoped so it was in the hospital, yet still a waterbirth! WOW! You are the cutest little itty bitty sweetheart…who exploded into a great big squishy ball of cuteness!!!

 

Mason – I was there when your big sibling was born….and was so excited to be invited back again to be at your birth! It was a wonderful night to be born not long after the sun went down and the house was quiet. Peaceful, beautiful, triumphant…..really an extra joy to watch you enter our world.

Piper – Your mother worked SO HARD for your big siblings that she EARNED an easier birth with you!! Thank you, Piper…thank you for making it easier and gentler than your brother did. A waterbaby, your birth was remarkable only in it’s perfection and beauty….(and I came away not only with a wonderful memory, but with some yummy gifts from your parents’ garden as well!)

Sage – Every time I eat a belVita cracker, I smile and think about your birth. What a fun family you joined! I had so much fun swapping game meat with them, and knitting your hat while your mother labored…not all births are “fun”, but I thought yours sure was! I hope you have a “fun” life as well, sweet Sage!

Kendra

Liam

Liam – For a first baby, I wasn’t sure you were going to wait for me to get there!! Born at your aunt’s house, that hypnobabies must have worked well! (or maybe it was the water she labored in) I barely made it there before she was pushing you out into the world and your daddy was catching you! You chose some of the COOLEST parents I have ever met….fun, totally ridiculously in love, so generous and tender…..the type of people that merely thinking about them makes me smile. You are one lucky baby! (I wonder if they even realize how much I adore them and how much I appreciate all they have given to me…)

Silas – I never would have guessed that you would be born EXACTLY the same way as your brother – in all of the good and NOT good ways! You, too, chose to be a waterbaby…and that was a fine choice! But to choose to put your hand up there, and to take so long to get your shoulders out (just like your brother)…now THAT we could have done without! Luckily it was just enough to get our attention and not enough to get you really mad at us – you were happy once you were born. Me, on the other hand…..wanted to spank you! (and I don’t hit babies)

McKay – I tear up before I have said anything about your birth. I get choked up thinking about it….about the past your mother had to overcome with faith in order to make the decisions she made, about the beauty and ease of your birth….but especially the moment of your birth as your mother reached down and lifted you off the ground, the moment she realized that you were born and in her arms and perfect….and the moment she called out through sobs, “I did it and he’s perfect!” I bawled like a baby….it was such a gift that I was allowed to be there for that moment. So many people live a lifetime and are never part of a moment like that….I am so lucky….

HeatherN2

Emma-Jean

Emma-Jean – A happy dog bouncing around causing mischief, an excited big brother looking into the birthing pool, a vortex of sudden swirling wind whizzing past the window….there was too much power for the universe to contain in the moments that were your birthing time. When you were released from your mother’s body, the universe calmed, happy to welcome you earthside, finally at peace once more. You know when you are a part of something incredible that you can try and describe but you know that others won’t truly ‘get it’ because they weren’t there? That is little Emma-Jean’s birth….

Elyot – Walking – no, marching – stomping up and down the hall as if each step brought you closer to birth….your mother stomped…marched…up and down the hall…up and down….until she finally dropped to her knees in the space you were to be born. Slowly you emerged, all 10 pounds 12 ounces of you! Such a tiny mother producing such a sweet (and adorably chubby) baby! Such an intimate birth, just the couple of us in the space….it was exactly what you and your mother needed.

Henry – or should I call you Yrneh? After all, you are the one that likes to do things BACKWARDS!! (although finding out you were a little boy before anyone else in the room as your boy bits were born with your booty before anything else was kinda cool) Your mother is powerful and did everything right in order to have you born in a healthy and spiritual way guided by God. But if you have any future siblings, if you could please tell them to wait until I get to your mother’s house to be born, and if they could choose to come head-first….I’d really appreciate it!

Gracin – Third time I’ve been invited by your parents to be there during their birthing time….I was at both of your big sisters’ births as well! A gentle waterbirth welcoming you the same way she welcomed your sisters…my only contribution was some chocolate chip cookies!!! Your mother and father did everything else! Your family will always be very very special to me….thank you for welcoming me into your home three times over for all of your girls and for keeping in touch with me. (and if you ever want more biscuits and gravy, just say so!)

Brynlee – Your big sister’s birth was the FASTEST first baby I’d ever attended, so I was ready for your birth to be speedy! That’s why I RACED out of the movie theater when I got your mother’s text that she was in labor with you! I jogged across the parking lot, drove like crazy to your house…..and got there just in time to set my things up and welcome you to our world the same way we welcomed your sister not all that long ago. There’s so much more I’d like to say about your mother and how much she means to me….but I’m just going to say that she means more to me than she realizes…

JenniferL

Seth

Seth – Another one where ‘three times a charm’….third time I’ve seen your mother give birth, second waterbirth…but this time she was SURROUNDED by her women, keeping her space, supporting her, witnessing her awesomeness….welcoming you with awe and wonderment. Your big brothers went CRAZY over you, always wanting to hold and love you (sometimes too much!). I remember them sitting on the floor eating their cookies right after you were born….but that was just to give mom some space to feed him his milk (they got the cookies, you got the milk). It was a long journey….but so worth it!

Oakley – For her first birth, your mother rolled with the experience….in and out of the birthing pool…using her doula for strength….finally choosing the floor next to her bed to complete her transformation from woman to full mother (although mothering your big siblings since their biological mother could no longer do it). I was blown away by her strength…and truth be told, I got the impression she was pretty blown away as well.

MelanieP2

Rome

Rome – After being at your sister’s birth…I was so excited to be there for yours! A rough pregnancy….and easy birth. From folding clothes in the bedroom, to hopping into the tub and giving birth an hour later….WILD! And then to see that you (crazy kid) swam around and gave your umbilical cord a true knot!  Your mama had such a challenging time overcoming the icky parts of the pregnancy, that I’m so glad your birth was so joyous and made all of those challenges worth overcoming!  It was such an honor to be in that space when you swam into our world and I will always hold special in my heart the memories of your first moments earthside.

Hunter - I know you were born 10 pounds 12 ounces, but did you have to make it so rough on your mama? (she did it, though!) Not so much the birth, but the breastfeed….challenge after challenge. Did you know that I’ve been there for EVERY ONE of your mother’s birth?? Awesome, right? I thought so! I met her and she and your father were expecting their first…and now look at them, parenting THREE children! I am so lucky to have witnessed their entire journey…so lucky.

Jace – A birthing space that was so blessed and set up with love by your daddy, a movie playing in the background nobody was watching, your mother working so hard in and out of the pool, her family gathering around her with love and support and she transformed herself…..she entered that space a woman and left a mother. Daddy caught you with complete awe and amazement….you have such a good role model for how to be a good man and fantastic father when you grow up.

Sarah – Another to join the 10+ pounder club…and another to join the ‘third timers’ club as well! Smooth as silk, blessed by God, and another of my waterbabies….your pregnancy was the longest I’ve ever had to wait for a baby to join us in this world. But join us you did…and it was so worth the wait!

Seth - Perfect pregnancy, but we were unsure for quite a while as to whether your daddy would be able to attend your birth as he got a job that required that they move! But they prayed, they believe, and YOU DID IT! You came exactly when Daddy was in town and could be there! Such a BEAUTIFUL birth! (although no amount of prayer was going to make that birthing pool that kept deflating last much longer…so I’m super glad you came when you did or I’m not sure you would have been a waterbaby!) I love your family and was so incredibly heartbroken to see you guys move away so soon after the birth….but it was what was best for you. I hope some day you come back for a visit.

kate3

Kate

Kate – Most would probably expect me to focus on the fact that you were born still – that we never heard your cry, and all that was lost to us that day. Instead, I’d like to say thank you…thank you for all that you did give me. You let me feel your kick under my fingertips. You let me talk to you and watch your grow inside your mother’s belly. You even waited to come out until I was there and were born into my hands. You let me cradle you in my arms and kiss your head. You let me touch your sweet toes. You had to leave us, and I wish things were different – but thank you for sharing your too-short life with me. I know I am one of the very few people in the world you gave those gifts to, and I am humbled and honored. Thank you, Kate…..thank you.

Tanner – Another of my waterbabies, I thoroughly enjoyed your birth!! So simple and beautiful, in the middle of the night so your siblings could sleep….it was quite peaceful! Not the first time I’ve seen your mother give birth, but I think that the fact that this wasn’t her first homebirth made this time more peaceful with less anxieties. She knew what this whole thing was about and she did it with style and grace.

susanneR

Reese

Reese - Another of my 10+ pounder club! I only wish you’d been faster for your poor mama who worked all day and into the night for you!! I think your daddy was pretty blown away by your mothers tenacity and strength! (and everyone was amazed at her patience in waiting for you to choose your birth day!) A beautiful woman, inside and out…and also a bit of a prankster in her! (did your dad really believe I was going to put HIS footprints on my chart next to yours? REALLY? But that was your mother’s idea to tell him that…)

 

Charlotte – Princess Bride on the television…..a warm August day, too warm to have the air conditioning not working! Your mother smiled through labor, let out two roars, and you were in her arms! WOW! Crazy fast! A waterbaby you swam into mom and dad’s hands like you were in a hurry (even though a week and a half past when your mother expected you’d be born). I loved being there for your birth….I truly did!

Brett – Oh you stubborn stubborn boy…not only did you decide to wait for all of your 5 sisters to be born first – you then decided to get crooked inside and make labor last extra long for your mother! And who would have thought that you’d be born ON your due date! (Okay, that fact is kinda cool) A waterbaby caught by your parents, your dad couldn’t WAIT to finally announce the arrival of his BOY!! And anyone who is worried that you will be surrounded by too much pink and lace having 5 big sisters – they don’t know what kind of family you joined!! All the macho boy things are going to be tossed your way, I think, for the rest of your life!

JoyAnn - We knew you grew a funky placenta….and we hoped it wouldn’t cause a problem, but it sure did. Beautiful waterbirth….if only it weren’t for that funky placenta it would have been perfect! But rushing your mother to the hospital and all that she endured after your birth was something I wish she had never had to experience. You are worth it, of course….but I wish that they didn’t have to go through all of that.

Felipe – Slipping out of your mother into the water and swimming into her arms was a beautiful moment that early morning! You got our attention when you took your time to start breathing for us, but you did wake up with a little help and join your birthday party and the rest of the day was perfect for you and your entire family.

mallorieS

Ivy

Ivy – The opposite of everything your brother’s birth was! Yours was fast, peaceful, butter-birth, waterbirth….but your mother EARNED that after what your stinker brother put her through! I couldn’t wait for your birth, looking forward to the redemption I knew you’d offer your mother in that not only could she have a vaginal birth…not only could she have a homebirth….but she could do it quickly and in the water as she’d always dreamed. YOU, Ivy, are her dream come true.

 

Danee

Torynn

Torynn - WHOOSH! I think that’s the sound of you being born…so fast that your mother couldn’t make it off the toilet. WHOOSH you slipped out so quickly! From chatting to holding you in her arms, your mother was shocked! Such a sweet birth (and I have to say that yours was the BEST home visit with the BEST food served from the BEST chef….I don’t know that it can be topped!)

 

Jason – my Jason….MY sweet Jason….it’s special to watch a baby enter the world, extra special to see a family member enter! Not nearly as petite as your sister, you still had to do SOMETHING special to get our attention! I was honored to be there….I’ve spoken with your parents enough that I hope you know (and they know) how much I love you (and them) and how grateful I was to be there…

Louise – Waterbaby….mom-and-dad caught….surrounded by family….encased in love and faith….A beautiful girl joins an incredible family. The photographs from your birth are STUNNING! I love all that your family is and all that they do….thank you for sharing your birth day with me – and thank you to your mother for sharing those incredibly moving and inspirational pictures of your birth!!! I LOVE being around your home, it is filled with warmth and joy!

Eviana – Okay…you win the “stinker of the year” award. You are the baby that has scared me the most. I love your mama and have been there for ALL of her baby’s birth…but good grief, you gave me such a fright! I’m glad that I was there…and that I can hold the special place in your life to have been the one to help you through those challenges – grateful for the outcome and to see you grow into the beautiful young lady I know you will become.

Thena – Not the waterbirth that she envisioned…but I don’t know that your mother knew you were as close to being born as you were when she got up to go to the bathroom! It was a year of changes for your family, and I’m glad that you presented them with a smooth and simple birth. Watching your big brother meet you and love on you was so awesome – being present for his birth and then watching him meet you! I’m glad that my relationship with your mother extends beyond her birthing journeys….

Zachary – She did it! She got her homebirth….she got her waterbirth…she got absolutely everything she wanted!!! Rockstar birthing Goddess is who your mother is! It was a fun day – I loved the cheeseballs and crackers (made it feel like the PARTY that it was!), I loved watching your sister meet you….but I think what I loved most is everyone tucked into their own bed together just relaxing after the birth as if this was a normal day. Because it was. A normal every day miracle had just happened!

Isaac - Sweet little Ike who would push your mother to the limits! While everything went without a hitch, I think your birth really challenged your mother emotionally. Another of my “third time’s a charm” babies….I wished that I could make it easier on your mother (she makes it LOOK easy…although inside I know she struggles), and I’m so glad that you joined a family that knows how to look after you in your special way to keep your health – your sister taught them how. Live a long and blessed life, you lucky boy!

Rylee – I wasn’t sure if you were going to be a water baby or not, since you ALMOST came while your mother was out of the pool…but she hopped in just in time to push you earthside! I loved feeling your mother’s energy as she rolled through her labor, following her lead as she instinctively moved, doing everything right to birth you in your way….then watching your brother’s excitement made me giggle. Thank you for letting me be there!

Rebekah – chatting, joking, having fun….pushing out an 11 lb 7 oz baby like she does it every single day of her life! Born well before your due date, everyone was amazed not only at how many chunky rolls you had, but how totally COATED in vernix (baby lotion) you were at birth!  Enough we had to take a washcloth and gently wipe a clean spot on your face to make sure your color was good and you were doing well!  Your lotion coated everything – your mother, your father, floating in the pool….it was awesome!! Loving your mother at every step of her journey through pregnancy and her birth was an honor I will forever be appreciative for….

Latoya2

Kaden

Kaden – Waterbaby just like your sister….born under God’s watch and protection…..your birth was the lesson for your mother to trust, have faith in God and His will for our lives, and that we aren’t always in control. Joining two girls, your daddy couldn’t be prouder of having his first BOY in the family! Your family will always hold a very special spot in my heart and will always inspire me in spiritual ways…

 

Olive – I didn’t have long to get to know your parents since they came to me so late in the pregnancy, but it was really a blessing to watch her (quickly!) have her first homebirth – and a waterbirth! You were born at your grandmother’s house surrounded by love, caught by your daddy while grandmother supported your mother. It was a really beautiful night to be born..

Elijah – Your big sister scared your parents and me so badly that we prayed you’d be easier.  Weeks of worry, prayer, strength, faith, more prayers….finally, on the next to the last day of the year, you decided to leave the snug world you’ve been living inside your mother.  Your petite mother is a powerhouse packed inside a small package!  With Christmas lights glowing in the family room, your mother surrendered to the experience and was rewarded with you swimming into the world!  A waterbaby just like your big sister, your mother lifted you out of the water and you let out the most beautiful little cry that made the entire room erupt in joy and tears!  Your sisters were so sweet as they were watching you being born – none of us guessed that you would end up being almost 10 1/2 pounds!!  Now THAT is the way to end a year!!!!  Happy birthday darling boy….

 

Shari

Adam

Adam – MY CABOOSE!  My New Years Eve baby!  Both of your dads waited so long for you to arrive, and when you did it was amazing!  There’s a reason there will always be fireworks on your birthday!  Papa caught you while Daddy watched, stunned, as you were lifted out of the water.  Your surrogate mother gave you not only the gift of life, but the gift of a beautiful, gentle birth along with the gift of her own milk.   You are a very loved and very hoped for baby – go and do great things in your life!  Be the firecracker I know you are, little one!!  (although not-so-little when it comes to newborns!  Yes…another in my 10-pounder club!!)

 

And please know that I haven’t forgotten the 11 babies were gone before they started. Miscarriage is such a difficult thing, but something that is easily overlooked. They are not overlooked by me, nor will they ever be forgotten.

Merry Christmas and 9 months for Ivy!

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A cold, snowy day in Minnesota made a lovely Christmas.

Ivy turned 9 months old today. Her biggest milestone this month is eating solid foods. She began with little tastes a few weeks ago, and now she’s an enthusiastic eater. We do solid foods the lazy way and feed babies little bits of whatever we’re eating. No mushing or pureeing, no nasty flavorless prepared baby foods. It’s easy and exposes young children to a large range of flavors right away.

Here’s a peek at what she ate today:

Breakfast: homemade waffles, strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, blackberries, grapes
Lunch: vegetable chowder, homemade bread, clementine, lebkuchen (German spice cookie)
Dinner: bell pepper, cracker, pomegranate seeds (I popped them inside her mouth to get the juice out), homemade macaroni & cheese, roast beef, sparkly grape juice (because it’s Christmas!), more fresh fruit

She loves having cousins and grandparents around. She’s super mobile and cruises the furniture very quickly. We don’t have smartphones or tablets at home, so she’s enthralled with all the electronic devices her relatives have. Touchscreen technology is amazing and so intuitive. Maybe some day we will get a tablet or a fancy phone…maybe…

What Does Christmas and Breastfeeding Have in Common

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I love the Pope. And now I love him more. During a recent interview that you have probably read about:

“At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child…”

Why am I bringing this up now? As we prepare for Christmas, I would like you to consider who you may see at Christmas service, Christmas Mass, or what other services your faith celebrates. Specifically, I am talking to my Christian readers – as ‘we’ seem to be the ones with the  bigger hang ups regarding sexuality, the body, and the breast. 
And why (and where) did we get our misconstrued views of the breast? I tell, you, it’s not Biblical! 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” – Isaiah 49:15 

“…because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.” [Genesis 49:25, NIV]

“Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her, That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom. For thus says the LORD, “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; And you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.” – Isaiah 66:10-12

And for those who argue that it’s fine to nurse, just not in public, I would challenge you to consider that artwork throughout the ages has shown Christian artists and depictions in churches across the world modeling Mary and churchgoing women nursing their babies in public. 
Even the most conservative religions, and factions of Christianity, nurse in public without issue. So.. 
As a Christian woman, and a prior breastfeeding mama, I encourage women, this Christmas, nurse your little ones. Nurse them in public, nurse them to remind those around you of the reason for the season: LOVE. Love to one another, love for mankind, love of a Father who sent His Son to the world. 
Pastors, clerics, priests… encourage your congregants to accept breastfeeding in service. Help Western culture to remember the Father’s love for mankind by normalizing something that God saw fit, and nonsexual, to share between His people, and mother’s and their children.

And Merry Christmas!

Cooperative Infant Care and Human Evolution

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No mother does it alone. Well, no human mother.   
An important difference between humans and other apes is that women simply can not raise their young without help.  As infants, we have to grow bigger brains and yet our mothers wean us at younger ages.  Fossils of early human ancestors show that relative brain size was beginning to get larger by about 1.8 million years ago, suggesting that the at this point mothers likely needed help. Who was helping?

“Mother and Child” by John Henry Twatchman, 1893
In the 1960s, many scholars proposed “Man the Hunter.”  Males, by providing nutrient rich meat to their mates, were the obvious critical factor in shaping human evolution (Lee and DeVore 1969). The assumed importance of the human male-female bond for infant rearing and lifetime reproductive success inspired decades of social and evolutionary psychology research on human mating behavior. Picking mates, attracting mates, and guarding mates was of paramount importance for humans because our very fitness depended on the quality of the mate, the co-parent. 

(also does anyone know who did this artwork?)
But are monogamously pair-bonded hominin parents sufficient?
Probably not. Across human cultures, infant and child care is due to cooperation among many individuals playing a diversity of care-taking roles (Hrdy 2009, Kramer and Ellison 2010). These wider social networks of grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, friends, and others contribute to feeding, protecting and teaching young humans. That’s today, but what happened in our evolutionary history? Such cooperation may have emerged from monogamous pair-bonds, male cooperative networks, or possibly female cooperative networks.
Unfortunately, behavior doesn’t exactly fossilize.  As such theoretical models of evolutionary dynamics can shed light on what possibly happened nearly two million years ago. My colleagues, evolutionary theorists Adrian Bell of the University of Utah and Lesley Newson of UC Davis, and I developed a mathematical model to explore how cooperation may have been favored and specifically who was cooperating (Bell et al. 2013).  We know that natural selection would favor the set of behaviors– or “strategy”– that was likely to have left the most descendants. Of course, which strategy is best depends on the individuals that are interacting and the habitat in which these interactions occur. We estimated the likely benefits and risks of different strategies based on empirical data in the literature from humans and non-human primates.
Mathematical models can combine the costs, risks, and benefits of each strategy to determine whether males (aka Man the Hunter) or some other source of help allowed females to support the faster birth rate of larger-brained babies. Many key concerns were built into the math: benefits of group vs. solo hunting among males, whether or not the male was actually the father or a cuckold, female cheaters that took help but didn’t give back, and whether there was relatedness among males or among females.

Wikimedia Commons, by Wallpopper

Sidebar: There are millions of potential REAL WORLD individuals from whom we could collect actual data. Why the heck do we need mathematical models? Why do we even have entire journals dedicated to theoretical modeling of evolutionary processes? Because  living, breathing, behaviorally acting individuals out walking around have adaptations that have already gone through selective bottlenecks- so mutant and novel phenotypes are exceedingly rare. In the course of typical behavioral data collection, such rare variants are necessarily under-represented in datasets. 

For example when I was doing my dissertation research, there was one monkey mom that habitually tandem nursed her newborn and yearling. Her body weight dropped considerably, even though she was the alpha female of the social group. Her adult daughters stopped affiliating with one another and increased fighting with each other, possibly because the alpha in her relatively depleted state was less motivated to intervene. And then the beta matriline cooperatively kicked the alpha matriline’s collective booty and became the new alpha matriline. Although this story is epic cocktail party fodder, I can’t make any arguments about tandem nursing in monkeys because N=1.  Theoretical modeling allows you to explore the entire landscape of behavioral phenotypes, shuffled loose the empirical coil of vast numbers of typical variants with the occasional rare extreme “winner” and extreme “loser” variants. End Sidebar
Our analyses triangulated on the scope for male helping vs. female helping, in effect asking how much does it take for mother-mother cooperation to be favored by natural selection. The answer is: not much. Given the assumptions about reproductive physiology, the scope for cooperative caregiving among mothers is favored to a much greater extent than is monogamous pair-bonds between a mother and “Man the Hunter.” Mothers do not even have to be related for cooperation among females to be favored (although kinship can favor the evolution of cooperation faster, as expected). In the long run the benefits to cooperative mothering far out-weigh the costs associated with “cheating mothers” or extra difficulties of short-term care-taking of another mother’s infant at the same time as caring for one’s own. While we are by no means alone in considering the role of women’s social networks in human evolution, this is the first theoretical model of the evolutionary dynamics that may have been operating.

First author Adrian provides some further key points: “To be clear, we are not claiming that help from males made no contribution to our evolution, but we think it almost certainly did not happen with males and females being pair-bonded and the male concentrating on helping “his” mate and her children. Our early ancestors were more likely engaged in broad cooperative networks between females and also males.” Lesley further points out “in all human groups living today, people coordinate their work and pool their resources.  Humans love, marry, and bond, but keep in mind, in many traditional societies the creating the “match” for marriage involved the couple and their families. In part, these social mechanisms ensure that mothers have broad support now and into the future.”
Adrian Bell and kiddo.

For those who have recently or will soon gather with friends and family over shared food and festivities- after all numerous religions celebrate holidays in November and December- arguably nothing more emphatically demonstrates being human than our incredible capacity for cooperation. Happy holidays to all.


______________________


Citations:

Bell AV, Hinde K, Newson L (2013) Who Was Helping? The Scope for Female Cooperative Breeding inEarly Homo. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83667.
Hrdy, S. B. (2009). Mothers and others. Belknap Press.
Kramer, K. L., & Ellison, P. T. (2010). Pooled energy budgets: Resituating human energyallocation tradeoffs. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 19(4), 136-147.
Lee, R. B., & DeVore, I. (Eds.). (1969). Man the hunter. Transaction Publishers.

Motivational Monday

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Looking for people who attend outdoor births

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I’ve been corresponding with a documentary producer who would like to feature outdoor births. They’re looking for people with some experience attending or facilitating birth outdoors–midwives, doctors, birth centers, etc. More information below:

~~~~~

I work in project development Matador, a television production company in Los Angeles whose founders have produced series such as NBC’s The Biggest Loser, Discovery’s Storm Chasers and Dual Survival. We are primarily focused on creating documentaries and unscripted television series for a wide variety of cable channels and media outlets, and have funded series and projects with A&E, Discovery Channel, Lifetime, CNN, and NBC, amongst other networks.

We’re currently developing a documentary series with a female-skewing cable channel about DIY birth practices- most notably, outdoor births in unique locations. We’re currently looking for experts in this field to potentially consult on the project, or help offer guidance on production. Be it midwives, physicians, doctors, birthing centers, etc, anyone who has some experience with outdoor births, we would love to speak with them. We’re still formatting the arc of the documentary series, but the basic idea is to follow the journey of one mother/father team as the prepare to have a child in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Wanting to get away from the confines and experience of giving birth in a hospital, we would document their experience of taking on this process themselves, and eventually having the child outdoors. Documenting this in a “fly on the wall” approach, we would be very hands off, and attempt to simply follow and respectfully document these expecting parents as they take on this incredible journey in unique settings that much of America hasn’t experienced before.

In order to take this project to the next level, we need to identify some experts in this field and speak with them about how to go about this. If there is ANYONE who has experience with this practice, and would be willing to chat briefly, I would LOVE the opportunity to connect. My contact information is below.

Happy Holidays!

Sam Brown | Director, Development| Matador

—————————————————————————————

1041 N. Formosa Ave., Writers Bldg. Suite 11

West Hollywood, CA | 90046 | 818-261-5689 OR 323-850-3100

sam@matadorcontent.com | www.matadorcontent.com

12 Days of Christmas – Midwife Style

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Lyrics:

On the first day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, a bag of red raspberry leaf tea
On the second day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 2 doula choices
On the third day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 3 birthing videos
On the fourth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 4 supplements
On the fifth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 5 gold ring slings
On the sixth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 6 hours of hip squeeze
On the seventh day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 7 ways to breastfeed
On the eighth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 8 lbs of baby
On the ninth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 9 months of care
On the tenth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 10 centimeters
On the eleventh day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 11 ways to push
On the twelfth day of Christmas my midwife gave to me, 12 herbal baths

The Dad and the Doula

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The following is a guest post from one of the fathers I had the honor of working with. When we first met, he was worried that a doula would try to take his place, fill his role, and that his would become a passive role in the birth room. How different things really were! I hope you enjoy reading his journey as much as I do.

Let me start by saying I am a wonderfully supportive husband and father. Seriously, I rock! I really do! But, part of the reason I can pat myself on the back is that I’m also not too cool to admit my limitations and get assistance when I need it. I also want to warn that this version of our birth story is going to sound really me-centered. I’m not egotistical – but this is one side of our very multi-dimensional story.  

Let’s back up a number of months, before Aen was born. One Wednesday evening in the middle of a thunderstorm, much like the one that is occurring as I write this, we met Cole in the vastly caffeinated realms of the Land of Starbucks. As the bittersweet smells of cafe latte swirled about our heads, and students and businessmen rubbed elbows at neighboring booths, Cole expounded on the merits of a doula for Emily and her upcoming birth. I had come armed with skepticism and my pocketbook on lock and key. I thought to myself, “there’s no way in hell that I am letting this hippie stranger in her pumps and tattoos take my place in the birth”. 

She had been gesturing and smiling and talking to Emily like old friends do. I could tell Emily really liked her… which made me like her even less. There was no way I was getting pushed aside. I was going to be her doula, or so I had argued to myself already. 

But then Cole turned her attention to me. “Ok Daddy, what questions do you have? This is your chance!” 

I think I opened and closed my mouth about 3 times, guppy-like, before finally blurting, “but what about me?” Yup, I whined like a little 5 year old being left out of t-ball. Here it comes, I thought, she’s going to tell me how this is a woman’s work, yada yada yada…. 

She smiled, I assumed, like all doulas do, and immediately I felt my assumptions start to waver. 

“This is as much your birthing journey as Emily’s, and a good doula will recognize that, at the end of the day, it’s not about how great I made your experience, but how great a team you, the family unit, are. Think of me like glue – making sure all the bits stick to the best of their ability. Think of me like a pocket guide, reminding you of everything you learn in childbirth class. Think of me like a personal trainer, putting your hands right in that place to make her sigh in contentment or whisper to you the words you can say to make her go the extra mile. But please don’t think of me as a replacement. 

“I could never replace you. You bring something to the birth I can’t, no matter how hard I might try, which I would never do in a million years.” 

Yup, those wavering assumptions started to topple and, after another 20 minutes of chit chat, we left the coffee shop, our minds, hearts, and pocketbook a little lighter. 

During pregnancy, she came to our house and talked to us about our fears and concerns, expectations and plans for labor, birth, and parenting. She challenged my ideals about circumcision and vaccinations, and I confided in her how my father failed me miserably and I was afraid I’d do the same, and how I was afraid I would pass out; and she recommended resources and exercises to help me forgive, learn, resolve, and fortify. 

And then, it happened. During another thunderstorm, we were eating dinner by candlelight when Emily paused mid-bite. She had the most curious look on her face as she stared off into a land I didn’t yet see. A few beats later and she was eating and chatting with me again. 

A number of minutes passed before she did it again. And then again. I asked if everything was ok, and she said, ‘fine’. So, I snuck off to a bedroom and called Cole. I explained what was happening and I could hear that smile in her voice as she recommended I go finish our romantic dinner and then continue to be romantic and sensual with Emily until Emily was ready to share what was going on her body and heart. 

I did as she suggested and, as I sat knee to knee with Emily, kissing her bare shoulders by candlelight, cradling her belly in my hands, I felt her belly tighten, and Emily went away for awhile. Her eyes glazed and she became heavy lidded. When she returned to me, she smiled and asked if I felt it. I said yes. 

It was time. 

I checked in with Cole intermittently, and whenever I sounded shaky on how to support Emily, she gave suggestions. They were spot on – and Emily received all of the suggestions through me. I never felt I couldn’t help her, I never felt I was not a part of the process. 

Soon, her travels began taking her further and further away from our room, away from my presence, and although Emily was doing extremely well with the techniques I was able to use to help her in her journey, I needed help to go there with her. So I asked Cole to come join us.
When Cole showed up, she set her things by the door and just squatted in the corner. I kept glancing at her, thinking to myself, ‘ok super-doula, now’s your time to shine. Why are you just sitting there.’. It took me awhile to figure out that she was feeling the space – how we interacted and how Emily was acting. I put on my best game face and tried to do everything that I had been doing before. But, like I said, she was travelling so far away from me and I didn’t know how to get where she was going. 

Cole moved behind Emily and pressed on her lower back, lower than I had been, and in a certain way that I didn’t intuitively know to do. She sighed and collapsed against the birth ball she was hugging. Cole gestured with her head to see what she was doing and whispered a few words into my ear. I smiled and took her place when Emily came back from that wave.
Cole went and filled a cup with our pre-mixed labor smoothie, another with ice water, and made a plate of cheese, fruit, and crackers. Between contractions, she made sure Emily was eating what she could, drinking much more, and that I ate as quick as I could, so I could be ready for the next contraction. 

After we had eaten our fill, Emily mentioned she needed to use the restroom, something that, up this point, I had let her do alone. Cole, on the other hand, went ahead and lit a candle in the bathroom, came back and, holding her hands, led Emily to the toilet. I stood at the door, but Cole beckoned to me, as we passed (she on her way out of the bathroom), she reminded me quietly to help Emily intone and get ‘back to that place’ we were in in the bedroom. 

She then closed the door to just a crack and was gone. I had a moment of panic. I had never been in the bathroom while Emily was doing her business and. I pushed that thought aside though and, although I won’t share the details of that bathroom time, I can tell you that, when we emerged 40 minutes later,  Emily and her labor had definitely changed, the waves more intense and pulling her more deeply into that foreign land – but I had changed too. I was able to follow her, move with her, read her body better, listen to her sounds and help her better. And when Cole joined us in the living room, she only needed to look me in the eye for me to understand it was time to go. For the most part, words were no longer needed, and when they were, it was a brief, few-word exchange. 

We drove to the hospital carefully and, when we pulled up to the front, Cole opened the door and helped Emily from the car. I grabbed our stuff, Cole threw a bag over her shoulder, and we made our way slowly into the hospital. In a short time, we were through triage and into our room. I knew what we had to do this time to get recentered and reconnected, so Emily and I went into the bathroom once again. In the mean time, Cole put away our bags, took out our music and hooked it up, set up her candles, and fanned some good smelling stuff into the air, all while conveying to our nurse our wishes and asking her to wait ‘just a few more minutes’ before hooking Emily back onto the monitor.  

When we came out from the bathroom, I walked Emily the way I had seen Cole do it, and when she had a wave, I would brace her by placing her head against my chest. Cole pressed into her back (much lower than when we had left the house). We slowly made it to the bed. Emily was hooked up to the monitors and the nurse asked to check her cervix. Emily buried her head in my arm and Cole motioned to breath out, like blowing a candle – I asked Emily to blow out a candle when she was checked. The nurse checked quickly and then removed her hand, holding up 8 fingers. 8cm. Right afterward and before another wave could start, Cole helped Emily up and she supported her while I pressed on her back.  

We alternated like this a short while longer, and Emily started making some different noises and bleeding quite a bit. I looked at Cole over the top of Emily’s head in shock. Cole just gave me a thumbs up and mouthed “pushing”.  

The very next wave and Emily’s eyes shot up, meeting mine, “I’m pushing” she said, emphatically. “I know” I responded, with a smile. No panic, no need to rush things, just a matter of fact. She had a few more contractions like this before Emily asked if we should call in the nurse. We had been at the hospital for an hour and a half at this point. Cole had told us that, when mom asks if we ‘should’ do something it’s a good indication it’s a good time to do something – so I said sure.  

Rather than use the call button, Cole slipped out into the hall and was back in less than a minute with the nurse. As the lights were flipped up and people started bustling in, we slowly walked Emily back to the bed. She wound up on all-fours on the bed, and I was near her head, holding her hands and encouraging her to listen to her body. Cole draped her rebozo over our heads to keep out the light and bustling, and I felt her hand on my hand, which was bracing Emily’s back at that time. Her reassurance told me that we were doing everything right.  

Soon, Emily was asked to turn around to birth her baby. What this meant was, they wanted her on her back, When we came out from under the rebozo, all of the lights except the spotlight had been turned off, and the spotlight was aimed near Emily’s feet, not at her bottom. Emily started to turn over, and Cole encouraged me to hop up behind her. The end result was Emily leaning back against me, and me acting like an armchair and support for her.  

Cole magically appeared with cool washcloths and she changed them out for Emily while Emily pushed, and brought us both cool water (holding a fully pregnant, laboring woman up in position was working up a sweat). She also fanned us both and helped me shrug out of my hoodie.  

As our baby began to crown, I asked for a mirror so we could see our babies head. Emily reached down and felt for the head and the bag of water burst. Within seconds, our baby was born, right into Emily and our doctor’s hands. It had happened so fast Emily didn’t have time to move her hands! 

She brought our baby up toward her chest and, as she lifted the baby, we were both able to see that we had a baby boy! I cried, I did! In fact, all three of us were crying. And when I looked over at Cole, she was beaming from ear to ear with a proud thumbs up.  

Within an hour Emily was cleaned up and tucked in, our boy was rooting around for the breast, and Cole had snacks laid out on a tray for Emily and I. The three of us worked to get baby attached, Cole giving some tips, me taking notes and trying to help with pillows and holding a baby hand, and Emily trying to position him. After a short time, Cole took a little more active role, and she moved between giving Emily instructions and me instructions on how to help ensure a good latch. After he got latched well once, she showed Emily how to take him off the breast and let Emily and I help him reattach. We had done it! 

I looked at my family, the three of us, and felt such gratitude. I was proud of myself, my bride, my son, and my doula. Yes, she was my doula. She was also Emily’s and Aen’s – but she was my doula in so many ways that I don’t think Emily realized at the time we were going through it.
A doula helps to fill the gap in the birthing team, helping to make sure that both of the parent’s expectations are met. She helps a male birth partner to feel honored and helpful, as involved as he wants to be, and without the burden of the care being left on his shoulders. This is freeing, liberating, and encouraging! 

As a result, the mother feels free, supported, encouraged, safe, and able. She can meet the challenge and overcome! She feels no doubt, worry, or fear from her partner because her partner is supported and feels safe and encouraged. This cycle of care is complete and unbroken.  

A man is then able to give himself over to loving her, without worry or concern. This birthing journey becomes his journey as well – from being a lover to being a father. I felt confident in both my and Emily’s roles – we were parents able to meet any challenge as a team.  

As Cole tucked the three of us into bed, finished packing our things onto the cart to go to postpartum, and hugged us all tight, I remembered the modified quote that Cole told us on that fateful night in Starbucks… 

“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making parents–strong, competent, capable parents who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” – Barbara Katz Rothman

Recovering from varicose vein surgery

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My right leg 5 days post-op:

This leg had EVLT on the top half (see the line of bruises going towards the groin) and ambulatory phlebectomy on the bottom half.

My left leg doesn’t look as bad. I had some sclerotherapy behind the knee, which is much less traumatic than pulling out the veins with a hook or zapping them with a laser.

I’ve learned that ibuprofen is my friend. I’ve been more tired than usual and have to avoid jarring/jumping/vigorous walking.