I have been a student of childbirth since 1967, beginning this study as a twenty-four-year-old expectant mother. I wanted to experience a natural and conscious labor and birth, and wanted to have a safe, loving, and conscious passage for my baby. My birth was at Stanford Hospital, and I did have a natural labor and a vaginal delivery. However, what happened to me during this passage was much more than I imagined, and when I was released from the package of obstetrical care at the six-week check up, I realized that there was something deeply wrong.
Confusion reigned, and as a new mother, I found myself wanting to talk and talk and talk about the experience, hoping somehow that the answers would help me to put the missing pieces of the puzzle together. The memory of labor and its depths, and of the powerful force of nature that birth is, plus the reality of a new being in my care were all clouded in mystery. I needed guidance, and I needed to speak or work with somebody who could either answer some of my questions or help me to understand the meaning of these profound changes. The intensity of that rite of passage, which nothing in life had prepared me for, led me on a journey that was life altering. I wanted to understand birth on every level I possibly could.
Nine months later, by a magical connection that put me in the right place at the right time, I witnessed my first human birth. It was with a first time mother who birthed in her own bed with essentially no skilled person in attendance. I remembered going to my six week post partum check-up at Stanford with a list of questions, not one of which the doctor could answer, and nine months later I left that unattended home birth with crystal clear answers. To be an observer and witness from the outside what I had felt from the inside was tremendous. What took place for me in the hospital was very different than what took place in the privacy and control of this woman’s home. My learning curve that day was exponential.
What was most difficult for me after I had those answers was realizing how a medical birth in a medical setting took so much away from everyone involved. The potential of what seemed possible in birth was endless, and I wanted others behind me to know of the possibilities and to reach for them. The community I lived in was a university town with many young people, yet there was not one single class in the preparation for childbirth. Within a month or so after witnessing that birth, I became a childbirth educator. The childbirth classes introduced me to six to eight pregnant women every six or seven weeks, and within the next year a few of those women led me to their birth bed, where I learned more and more.
During my first few years of teaching, I bought and bred goats, thinking that because they were a similar size to humans and do well in birthing (kidding as it’s called in the goat world), that if I observed them in the phases of labor, delivery and early mothering, I would better learn what happens in nature. So I surrounded myself with the pulse of birth in as many ways as I could. Some of the early lessons in obstetrics came from goat husbandry books, which I read while raising and breeding these animals. For instance, the idea of the pelvic tilt that is used today for turning a breech baby is exactly what goats do by themselves when they carry their offspring in the breech position.
During these years, I studied how both animals and women dealt with the pain of labor. In animals I’d call it the study of surrendering to nature; in humans I called it courage and surrender. As time marched on, I observed un-medicated women and babies come to know each other in the extra-uterine world, where nature was the prevailing force driving both of them, and contrasted that study with medicated births where the re-union of mother and baby often resulted in great confusion during very critical hours. Over time, I began to fill the archetypal role of midwife, because I seemed to know more about the subject of natural birth than others around me. As a result of this role, I continually increased my basic physiological knowledge, beginning with learning first aid measures related to labor, delivery, and immediate post-partum.
Nine years after my first child was born, I sat down and calculated how many hours I had observed labor and birth and was astounded to see that it represented ten thousand hours. This included natural births, medicated births, surgeries, and eventually technology. One of the most prevailing perceptions of the birth experience was that, in the hospital, the privacy and depth of nature that a woman can visit in labor and delivery took a back seat to the practice of medicine, the empowerment of a woman’s accomplishment was often absent in the face of technology, and the lack of immediate bonding with the newborn, which I had come to feel was so necessary in the act of mothering, was often interfered with.
It is important to note that when women birthed at home in the 1970s and early 1980s in the two places where I lived (California and British Columbia), they were medically unattended. This was because in both these places, not unlike many other states and provinces, there was no licensing for midwifery, and most doctors just didn’t do birth at home. This meant that the women who gave birth in their homes had to dive into their inner selves for the strength, courage, endurance, and faith needed to see childbirth through in a positive way. When I look back at that time now, I find it amazing that they did it so easily and that the outcomes were so positive. It was a blessed time.
The women were young for the most part, and born and raised in the western world where there was always adequate food, shelter, family relationships, and education. Approximately eighty percent of the women I observed in the first decade of my formal studies were women expecting their first babies, with all their stores of nutrition, strong muscles, breath, and agility at their peak. Next I would see women expecting their second babies. Rarely did I see woman who had more than three babies. By the time I was thirty-three years old I had observed several hundred of these young healthy women birth. This led me to became a “connoisseur” of birth, knowing the ins and outs of the surrender journey, the strengths and weaknesses of the human body for both the baby and the mother, the psychological realms of the human mind and spirit, the joys and victories of the birth experience, the normal and pathological parameters of labor and delivery, and the overwhelming miracle of the new baby and of mothering.
In the first five years of this work I had connected with other “midwives” like myself, who had sprung up in their respective communities just like I had sprung up in mine. With them I learned more because we shared our stories, experience, tools, and knowledge. An important commonality is that we were not afraid. Instead, we had a faith that carried us through.
The women’s movement was quite alive during those years, taking giant steps forward, with more and more women attaining places of power and responsibility. What was beginning to exist for women when I was in my thirties was different from what had been available to them in my childhood. In my early twenties, therapeutic abortion was not readily or easily available and the choices women had for abortion were not only illegal but dangerous or even life-threatening. However, within that decade, the law changed and therapeutic abortions became available and legal. The newly collected knowledge of reproductive health and the availability of it gave women choices. Women’s Health Collectives began sprouting up throughout North America and so did Birth Centers. Many of these collectives had few if any medically trained persons connected to them, yet the care was always superior statistically to the care that was received in hospitals and medical private practices.
In 1981 I attended a lecture about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and in January 1982 I was enrolled in a Traditional Chinese Medical University. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a system of medicine, unlike the system of medicine I grew up with, that is thousands of years old and that has proven to be an effective way of dealing with health maintenance and disease. While I attended school, I was still actively midwifing, and it was during that time that I began to see how this system of medicine worked in the realms of pregnancy, birth, post-partum, and newborn concerns. During my schooling I had a three-year apprenticeship with Dr. Miriam Lee, an amazing and powerful doctor of Chinese medicine, who had been a nurse-midwife in China for twenty years before her TCM studies. From her I learned how to treat pregnant women and how to approach the problems of pregnancy from a TCM perspective.
This book is a collection of all that I know and feel about birth. I began the study from inside my body, and cultivated this study as a lifetime of work has passed. I use my knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine extensively when it comes to the study of any disharmony seen in pregnancy, although my approach is not limited to TCM. When and where I can, I include knowledge and herbs indigenous to this continent, as well as those from Asia. Some day there maybe strife between the two continents, or there may be an embargo on the importing of foodstuffs from Asia, and we will need to know the functions, indications, and applications of herbs as well as the harvesting or farming of them from this beautiful land we call North America.
The study of reproduction will continue and over time more knowledge will be gained. Women will need to contain the gathered knowledge, log it in some form as I am doing my best to do here, and pass it on.
Technology has raised its head, which today stands very tall in the world of birthing, and this has taken place in a very short period of time. In the 70’s we had one ultrasound machine available to the city of Santa Cruz and we used it when the mysteries of pregnancy or labor were beyond our understanding and we needed more information. Today nearly every doctor has at least one of those machines in a private office setting, and nearly every woman gets an ultrasound before they are through their first trimester, even when there are no questions to be answered by it. As a result of not having had those machines, all the physicians and midwives from the 70’s and 80’s became expert in the art and skill of abdominal palpation. Obstetricians knew how to deliver many of the breech babies vaginally, or to correct a difficult cephalic attitude that seemed to be impeding the progress of labor. But technology has changed this. The use of ultrasound, for instance, has rendered the skills of palpation and manipulation weak and insecure. Even certified nurse midwives who once practiced home delivery but have been working in hospitals for and with physicians for the last fifteen years have begun to rely on technology rather than keep up their skills such as abdominal palpation. In less than forty years we women worked to gather an amazing amount of information pertinent to birth, and in the last ten years modern medicine and the drive that women have to choose it, has done much to let those skills slide out from under us. This insidious trend speaks of a great loss.
This book is a study on the subject of childbirth. It is designed so that women can rely on nature and natural products rather than reaching toward technology when technological intervention is not needed. The technological aspect of our present day culture is looking more and more like a god, giving the answers as the last say to any questions. Technology even appears in the practice of birthing as if it is infinitely correct and not subject to human error. This is a false assumption.
Even the present culture of today is interesting. Lack of faith in nature has risen along with a basic distrust of our fellow human beings. The desire for women to experience un-medicated newborns and the natural journey of labor and delivery diminishes daily in the name of wanting to feel little or no pain. Far too many women end up thinking that they needed medical assistance in order to safely deliver their children. They don’t see that because of the first interference with what is natural, a cascading result followed, and as a result they see that technology is “the savior” of what would have been a disastrous situation. Women don‘t realize that when they sign up for labors and deliveries where there are interferences from the beginning such as inductions, that thirty-three percent of them will come out on the other side having had abdominal surgery, and that is no picnic to recover from. Nor is it an easy way to begin the experience of mothering.
Women must stand up and hold on tightly to the medical knowledge that is available in a book such as this. Practitioners of birth need to hold on to the knowledge and skills of the past lest they disappear once again into oblivion.
Let this book be a working book. Let the suggestions and techniques, along with the womanly art of sensitivity and caring be of equal importance as you read it. Let the subject of ceremony be as equal to you in your thought forms as the subject of miscarriage, anemia of pregnancy, hypertension, pre-term labor, or any other subject. I will do my very best to present the complex art and science that is childbirth so that you will be able to understand what takes place during this time in a woman’s life and not end up with the unanswered questions that I did nearly 40 years ago.
Thank you for this opportunity,