A Letter to My Pro-life Friends Following the Women’s March

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My Crew at the Louisville Rally on 1.21.17

Yesterday, one day following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I participated in one of the most powerful social justice actions I’ve been a part of to date—a march for women that spread around the U.S. And the entire world—nearly 3 million strong by some estimates I saw last night (and one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in U.S History). Incredible images flooded my newsfeed of people standing up in solidarity to protect the rights of women—including the right to safe, legal abortion care–and many other issues close to the lives of women. (You can read the full platform here.)

But as I wept, cheered and felt the groundswell of uprising against forces that would strip women of their power and autonomy, I also saw something else stirring among many of my friends who call themselves pro-life and I feel the need to speak to all of you now.

First of all, what I want to say is: I see you. I hear you. I see you all struggling with what this march means for you and your daughters. You, too, want equal rights for women when it comes to access to education, good jobs and income equality. You want them to be safe from violence and sexual assault. You may even feel strong support for those in the LGBTQ community and wish to stand up for racial and environmental justice. Yet you are struggling—you heard rumors and rumblings about how the march organizers received flack because New Wave Feminists, a pro-life/anti-choice group, were expected to attend and were not welcomed by all. So, you are wrestling with how you fit (and indeed whether you fit at all) with a movement that also takes at its core, a woman’s right to choose abortion. And because of that, you feel walled off from this moment. A fence stands between you and your kin.

I see you. I hear you. And I want you to know that we need you for this moment. We need everyone to stand together because there is so much at stake for all of us.

But as much as I wish it were, it’s not enough to have a kumbaya moment because we can all stand together peacefully with our dissenting opinions on abortion because the picture is far more complicated than you simply wish people just wouldn’t have abortions and I think it’s okay if they do. Where it gets complicated is because so many people who call themselves “pro-life” are working tooth and nail to ensure that no woman can ever have access to a safe, legal abortion at all. So, if that’s your version of pro-life, then I am sorry to say that that fence might be too tall for us to come together… However, if your pro-life has some room to breathe, we might have more in common than you think.

You see, at one time I was one of you. As a young girl and adolescent, growing up in a white, Christian middle-class household, there was a time I felt unsure about abortion. I believed (and still do) that human lives are sacred gifts. I felt grief when I thought of a baby’s life cut short before it could truly begin. Surely people could just choose adoption instead, right? Over time, however, I came to understand that women’s reproductive choices are incredibly complex and the way we navigate it must possess the nuance to meet those complexities. And the best navigators of that complexity are women themselves, not largely men in barred chambers legislating those choices away.

Women rarely choose abortion for the simple reason that they just don’t feel like having a baby. (Though, if they do, I support their choice too.) Most people who seek abortion do so because they are living in the cross-section of competing issues: the prospect of single-parenthood, economic uncertainty, threat of job loss, poor access to maternity care, the feeling of inability to care for or financially support another child (60% of abortion seekers are already mothers), the decision not to be a mother at all, someones disability, experiences of rape or incest, substance abuse or mental health disorders, medical conditions that place a mother’s health and life at risk, medical conditions in the fetus that are incompatible with life, racial inequities, unsafe housing or neighborhoods, loss of public schools–there are many many reasons not to continue a pregnancy especially when these issues overlap in a tight lattice work of lived realities that lead people to the only choice they feel is right for them in the situation.

And no, more adoption is not always the answer. I say this as someone who knows amazing foster and adoptive parents, whose love and selflessness knows no bounds and would open their hearts to as many children as they could. I say this as someone who has worked professionally with people who have grown up in foster care and with parents who have lost custody of their children. I also say this as a mother, a doula, and a reproductive health care advocate.

Adoption is not the antithesis of abortion—they are not equal, either/or options. Pregnancy, itself, is a dramatic undertaking for a person’s life and body whether they plan to parent that child or not. It comes with economic peril because of our lack of workplace protections for people who are pregnant, which means they often experience job loss or employment discrimination. It also comes with significant health risks especially for women of color or others with chronic health conditions who are at higher risk for pre-term birth, maternal and/or fetal death, and other complications. Pregnant women are also at far higher risk for death from intimate partner violence. I believe with all of these (and other) risk factors in play the only person who should get to make decisions about the risks to their own body and life is the person who owns that life.

Even if a person chooses to continue a pregnancy, adoption itself is not always the beautiful solution that many pro-life folks wish is was. Open adoptions do not always stay open. People who are adopted, even into wonderful loving homes may suffer from emotional (and even physical) scars from their previous life, or experience grief about the loss of their first/biological parents. These aren’t necessarily reasons to say that people shouldn’t adopt–it should be one of multiple options available, but simply that adoption also comes with complicated risks to that child. And as a person with economic privilege, or skin privilege, or gender privilege, it often feels easy to say you could offer a child a chance at a really wonderful life through adoption without also taking responsibility for the complex issues that led a person to choose adoption in the first place.

And that’s assuming there is still a choice. Right now, we are inching ever closer to banning abortion in this country. Are you prepared to accept what that will mean? First of all, people will still have abortions whether they are legal or not, but it will mean they are not safe. Pregnant people AND their babies will die, or if the parent survives they will likely go to prison. Moreover, according the the Guttmacher Institute currently close to one million abortions are performed in the U.S each year. Do you think that our adoption system can handle that annual increase considering that there are already approximately 400,000 children in foster care waiting for their forever families or hoping to be reunited with their family? How many children are you willing to adopt every year? But there’s still a problem. Forcing people to experience a pregnancy only to give up their children for adoption because abortion is banned is not an ethical choice.

So back to the Women’s March. To my self-identified “feminist” pro-life friends who want to be part of this moment, there is so much work we must do together to tear down the fence that stands between us in order to improve the lives of women and children.

If you believe that abortion should be safe and legal (even if it is rare and even if you are still struggling with what that means for you), then join us.

If you believe women should be in charge of their reproductive health decisions including choices for and access to contraception as well as when (or if) they will choose motherhood, then join us.

If you are ready to tackle the economic injustices that women face that impact reproductive choices, then join us.

If you will stand up with your LGBTQ neighbors to support their families and call out transmisogyny when you see it, then join us.

If you recognize the harms of white supremacy (and your role in it, even unintended) and racial injustice that impacts reproductive choices and you are ready to do everything you can make sure that all people of every creed and color have equal access to health care, quality education, safe housing, affordable child care and a living wage to support their wanted children, then join us.

You see, this moment is not an arrival point for women, it’s a departure for an arduous long-term battle. We cannot let others make these decisions for us. We must stand together to fight for for a social contract that truly values life at all levels of society and centers the concerns of women and families. To me, there’s nothing more pro-life than that and I hope that I can count you as my sister along the way.

New Birth Planning Toolkit: Downloadable Birth Plans and More

It’s here!  It’s here!

This is the project I’ve wanted to do for months and I’ve finally got it done!  And it’s all for you:  parents-to-be, doulas, child birth educators, and care providers.

Check out the Birth Planning Toolkit on Birth Walk for links to the forms.

birth plan screen shot

You will find forms for:

  • Pregnancy Wellness and Goals
  • Birth Plans (including for Cesareans and inductions)
  • Newborn Care
  • Postpartum Care

Please share these far and wide.  I’ve already had great feedback from clients and hospital providers that these are really user-friendly forms.

Thanks, Friends!

New Class With The Birth Walk Doula: Bringing Baby Home

I’m excited to announce a new class beginning in March, 2013!

Bringing Baby Home: Creating Your Postpartum Care Plan will give expectant parents a chance to explore what life might look like after baby arrives.  It will help parents answer questions like: how will I plan my meals, take care of older siblings, breastfeed and return to work? How do I “get back to normal” when so much has changed, including my own sense of identity?

This is the class I wish I’d had before having children.  We tend to be so focused on preparing for birth that what comes after becomes an after-thought. Talking about it before baby arrives will help families set reasonable expectations for themselves as well as give them resources and tools for life with baby.

Here’s a printable PDF Flyer!

Check out the buzz on the Facebook Event page too!

Extending Hands: 2013 Is Going To Be A Big Year

Boy, oh, Boy!  What a year this has been!

I recently wrote a little about getting Birth Walk launched this year and some new directions I am going to take and while so much has happened already, I feel like I am just scratching the service of everything that is to come.  You should see my wall–covered in lists and diagrams trying to keep straight all of the pieces I am trying to put together, trying to extend my hands to reach more women who are becoming mothers.

Oh, Wait,  Here you go:2013 Lists

At the heart of my vision for the next year is my belief in the power of community to nurture, mentor and support. There are two pieces to this, really:

First, right now most women who have a doula present for their birth are blessed with some degree of affluence.  They are mostly educated, professional-types with the means to hire additional support.  Yet, many of the women who would benefit the most from a doula wouldn’t know a doula from a dingbat.  These are women who are at risk for having unplanned or disappointing outcomes because they don’t even realize they have choices or the impacts of those choices on their future wellbeing.  I want to expand doula access and education to as many women as I can (and I can’t do it it alone)!

Second, a year in to my doula journey, I have learned a lot and have pushed myself hard to learn things as quickly as possible. One thing that would have helped me and will hopefully help other emerging doulas is a kick-ass mentor program.  Mentoring works.  It can help someone truly find their gifts through a nurturing professional relationship and can give a newbie a real boost when it comes to creating lasting connections in a professional community.  We can learn so much from one another if we’re willing to share what we know.

So, without further ado, here’s a sneak preview of some of the projects and collaborations I am working on for 2013!

Goals:

  • Complete doula certification and start certification process as a Childbirth Educator
  • More Clients!  (Maternity leave is OVER!)
  • Add Postpartum Care
  • More blogging, including guest posts and a very important series coming up–about choices for birth.
  • Creating a community for women to share their journeys
  • And the one I’m super excited about:  a Birth Planning Took Kit on birthwalk.com

Projects & Partnerships:

Do you think I can manage to do all of this in one year???  I can’t wait to find out!

When the Pediatrician Says to Supplement Your Breastfed Baby: What to Do–on birth walk blog

What goes in the bottle?

So you have a brand new baby in your arms that you just birthed days ago.  You stare adoringly into her little face as you breastfeed her.  You take her for her first pediatrician appointment and are informed that she’s not gaining weight as quickly as they’d like to see.  And then you hear the dreaded words, “we’d like you to supplement”.

First of all, don’t panic, it’s time to do some investigation.

Before supplementing with ANYTHING, see a lactation professional such as and IBCLC.  Many hospitals have IBCLCs on staff and provide free help to mothers that birthed at their hospital.  Some hospitals have free programs for anyone, regardless of where they birthed.

When we don’t see optimal weight gain, there can be many minor things that can be contributing to the issue, such as:

  • A latch that needs adjustment to help baby get more milk at the breast.
  • breastfeeding management–are you following baby’s hunger cues and feeding immediately or are you scheduling feedings too far apart?  A newborn baby has a tiny tummy and needs to eat very frequently, as many as 10-12 times a day (around the clock).
  • Anatomical issues that need attention such as a tongue tie or lip tie.
  • Delayed milk production.  For some women, it takes longer than “average” for their mature milk to come in fully.

Most of the time, correcting any breastfeeding issue such as those above, will correct the weight issues.

If it is determined that supplementation will be necessary for the health of your baby, you HAVE CHOICES.  Many people in the health care field are not trained in lactation.  This means that even pediatricians and nurses may mistakenly recommend formula automatically when a baby needs additional nutrition.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following “hierarchy” for supplementation of infants:

  1. Your own expressed breast milk
  2. Donated human breast milk
  3. formula

In other  words, your own expressed breast milk is by far the best option, if you are able to provide it!

If you decide that formula is the best choice for your situation, it is not the end of the world! Overall, human breast milk is the optimal food for human babies.  It is more calorically dense than formula, meaning that breastfed babies need less of it than they would formula.   Ultimately, I think what’s most important is that you get to know your options and make your own choice.

Birth Walk Doula to Add Postpartum Services

Big News!  In 2013, I will begin taking postpartum doula clients!

Baby Simon

Why hire a postpartum doula?

Once upon a time, women were surrounded by family and friends to support them in the days and weeks following giving birth.  In some cultures, women are EXPECTED to observe a 40 day “babymoon”, where the mother is excused from housework and care of other children; so that she can recover from the birth and get to know her newborn.  Today families are scattered and it’s common for new families to lack support for the major transition of bringing a new baby into their life.

Moreover, the postpartum period can be very difficult emotionally as new mothers process their birth experience and emerging identity as a mother.  Having someone present to nurture the new mother can make a huge difference for her wellness as she undergoes this transition. A postpartum doula can help fill these roles.

What do postpartum doulas do?

  • breastfeeding support
  • light housework
  • help with newborn care and logistics
  • provide information, referrals and advocacy
  • take care of a mother’s needs

What training do postpartum doulas have?

Most postpartum doulas have read extensively, attended some kind of comprehensive training workshop (similar to training for labor support) that prepares the doula to work with the specific needs of a postpartum mother, and have experience in caring for  babies and/or families.

Click here to learn more about my postpartum services.

Re-framing Childbirth Choices: Review of Freedom For Birth

On September 20th I joined many in the “birthy” community for an international screening of the new film, “Freedom for Birth”.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked in the door.  As a doula, it’s hard not to get stereotyped into the long skirt and dreadlock camp (I have neither), or the birth-should-always-be-natural-at-home-I-hate-doctors camp.  While I live with my own idealized visions of childbirth, when it comes down to it, I am a pragmatist and I tend to walk into just about every situation with my eyebrow raised, especially when I know I’m attending an event where there are bound to be people of strong opinions.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to view a moving and thought-provoking film, which takes the present childbirth debate of dichotomies (hospital vs. home; midwife vs. doctor), and re-frames it as an issue of human rights.

The film opens with the story of Hungarian midwife, Agnes Gereb, who has been imprisoned for practicing midwifery (something that is all too common for midwives around the world).  Her case garnered international attention when a mother, whose first child was delivered by Gereb, made the case in the European Court of Human Rights that dictating that a woman must give birth in a hospital with an obstetrician (as opposed to at home with a midwife) is a human rights violation because it takes away reasonable choices for her own body and self-care.  As, filmmaker Toni Harman says, “the court ruling means that every birthing mother in Europe has the legal right to decide where and how she gives birth.”

What is interesting about this film is that it is not just about making a case for home birth.  It also explores the experiences of other mothers who have be forced or coerced (via threats of prosecution or having other children taken away) into giving consent to cesarean sections or other medical interventions.  The film makes a convincing case that for many women, their right to choose the best way to give birth for themselves or their baby has been co-opted by hospital, insurance companies and even government interests.  More importantly, the film challenges these institutions to change their internal culture to allow women to make informed and empowered choices on their own behalf–Her body, her baby, her choice.

Here in Louisville, the screening was sponsored by the Kentucky Homebirth Coalition, who is working on legislation to license Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), thereby legalizing midwifery in the state of Kentucky.  Many women and families are are currently working on similar measures in other states.  What they need are informed health care consumers who would like to see more options for birthing women.  They need people who are willing to write letters and call representatives.  They also need financial support to help pass legislation.  It’s a David and Goliath issue, really:  there is big money for lobbyists from the ACOG folks, for example, who oppose home birth midwifery. This makes it all the more important for consumers to demand changes from the bottom-up.

As a doula and a mother, I look forward to living within an integrated system that, regardless of birth location, respects a woman’s wisdom of her own birth process and values the different, but complementary skill sets of both midwives and obstetricians.  When everyone gets to play the game, we all win.

To learn more, check out the Freedom for Birth website.  I understand that starting in November there will be a short, web version of the film available.  Until then, check out the video from the original indie go-go campaign:

Making Empowered Medical Decisions: Tips for Assessing Risk of Hospital Procedures for Pregnancy

We’ve probably all heard someone say, “My doctor says I should (fill in the blank).”  In an age when science and technology is the norm it can be easy to accept the advice of those that we see as professionals or authorities on a subject.  This is especially true when we perceive our own health or wellbeing is at stake.  There is a problem with this.

We forget that health care is an industry–a multi-billion dollar industry.  This means that we are “consumers” of health care just as we are consumers of the automobile industry, the appliance industry, or the tourism industry.  Many people spend more time making a decision about the color of their next car than the health care decisions they make because we trust so implicitly that our doctors only want to do what’s best for us.

I do not wish to demonize doctors or medicine.  There’s no doubt that the knowledge and training of doctors and the invention of medications or medical technologies has improved and saved the lives of millions.  However, as consumers of health care products, it is important to recognize that that when health care providers make suggestions for treatment such as a medication or a surgery, etc., they are suggesting that you buy-in to a medical industry product or idea.  Often those suggestions may be influenced by pharmaceutical company marketing, ability to make money from a procedure, trends or competition with other health care providers or a doctor’s own bias for or against certain approaches to treatment.

Hospital Procedures for Pregnancy

Maternity care is one of the biggest costs you will ever encounter.  From the medical industry point of view then, hospitals make big money on maternity care.  Hospitals can and do provide valuable services to pregnant women, but they are also big business.  This means they are selling you products that can have major consequences for you and your baby’s wellbeing.

I read a recent Consumer Reports article detailing many common hospital procedures for women giving birth and the associated risks and/or benefits from accepting those procedures.  In summary, the article provides recent, evidence-based research reminding us that despite our astronomical spending on maternal and fetal health care, the United States has one of the highest mortality rates for mothers and babies of all industrialized countries.

Studies suggest that one of the main culprits contributing to this higher than desirable mortality rate is an astoundingly high cesarean rate.  Cesareans, when used appropriately, can save the lives of moms and babies, but it is a major surgery and comes with all of the risks of a surgery such as infection, bleeding, complications from future births or cesareans, etc.  What many women don’t realize is that MOST cesareans are preventable by avoiding other types of labor interventions.  (The article does a good job discussing these other interventions as well.)

Overall, the Consumer Reports article is an eye opening look at the maternity health care picture in this country and I strongly encourage every pregnant woman to read it.  While the tone of the article’s title may sound somewhat alarmist (Top 10 Pregnancy Procedures to Reject), it is important to remember that hospital safety is a consumer and public health concern that is worth our attention.  For women who DO choose some of the procedures outlined in the article, we should not demonize them for their choices.  However, I think it’s important that women have all the information about a procedure or intervention before making her own choice without feeling pressure from health care providers.

Tips for Assessing Hospital Procedure Risks:  Use your BRAINS

Whenever your health care provider suggests a procedure, you have the right to make a fully informed decision prior to consenting or declining that approach.  For instance, if you are 40 weeks pregnant and your doctor suggests an elective induction (which has been linked to high cesarean rates especially for first time mothers), it can be hard to stop and think through the decision.  Naturally, you want to meet your sweet baby as soon as possible and you are so ready to be done with pregnancy!–but I strongly urge you to remember this little acronym:  BRAINS.

B:  Benefits

First of all, find out the benefits of a procedure.  Is my health or my baby’s health in danger if I don’t do this?  Will it improve the outcome?

R: Risks

Could choosing this procedure cause harm or could it have consequences down the road that might not be apparent at first?  Could the medications or procedures affect my baby?  Could it impact bonding or breastfeeding?

A: Alternatives

Are there any alternative approaches to this particular procedure.  Can we try something else first?

I: Intuition

What does your gut tell you after reviewing the benefits and/or risks?  Careful–try to separate your emotions/feelings from what your brain or intuition is telling you.

N: Not Now, or Do Nothing

Do you have to make this decision now, or can it wait?  Can you choose to do nothing instead?

S: Second Opinion

You may love your doctor to pieces, but if she or he suggests an approach that just does not sit right with you, remember that you are a health care consumer and have the right to ask for other professional opinions.  (Many of us ask our girlfriends for a second opinion about switching to a different product, so why wouldn’t you ask another doctor for a second opinion about a medical procedure?)

It’s great to have a collaborative relationship with your health care provider, but know that you are in charge of your own health care decisions.  Use your BRAINS to help you make empowered and hopefully safer decisions for you and your baby.

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