Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Midwife's Apprentice

book cover of  The Midwife's Apprentice  by Karen Cushman

One thing I have managed to squeeze in over the past few weeks is some easy reading. The young adult novel, The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman, a 1996 Newberry Medal winner, tells the story of a homeless girl, Alyce, in an old English village, who is recruited by the local midwife to do the drudgery of birth work under the guise of an apprentice. She collects herbs, boils water, and is ordered to stay out of the room at the actual time of the birth, so as not to be divulged of the midwife's secrets! In the beginning the girl is grateful for a warm place to sleep and two square meals a day in exchange for her help, but eventually she succumbs to the magic of birth. Oddly enough, the first time she realizes that she has a knack for birth is at the delivery of twin calves. The mama cow is frightened and so Alyce starts to pet her and whisper to her, and soon the miracle of birth occurs. She is smitten.

"One morning as they sat under the old oak tree eating their breakfast bread, Alyce told the cat again about the birth of Tansy's twins. 'All shiny they were and sticky to touch. I did not even know them, but I loved them so much."

I'm sure most women who attend births experience this instantaneous affection for the baby as well. I often feel as if the baby's otherworldly secret lingers with me for days after the birth. Alyce thereafter was hooked. At the next birth (of a human this time) that she attends, the midwife gets called away to another (better paying) birth. She is left alone with a thrashing, miserable, laboring woman. Her success with calming the laboring cow resurface and so she:

"...took another deep breath and returned to Joan's side. She gave her mugwort in warm ale to drink and spoke soothingly, calling her Sweetheart and Good Old Girl. She warmed oil over the fire and rubbed her head and belly, as she had the cow's. She did not know the spells or the magic, so gave Joan all she had of care and courtesy and hard work."

And that is the essence of being with women in labor, coaxing babies through the darkened portal into light, bringing a woman 'round the bend to motherhood just takes a little courtesy, care, and hard work. It makes such a difference to have a hand to hold, a soft smile, and someone to laugh with when it's all said and done. These are the midwives, the ones who sit with women on the threshold of pain, and walk with them over it to joy, who bring them through this rite of passage again and again with dignity, wisdom and grace. I hope that there are midwife apprentices forever.

Give this book to the young women in your life that they might be inspired. And when you do, consider that there is a global Call to Action to strengthen midwifery around the world. Maybe like Alyce, more young women will look inside themselves and feel the call to serve women with that ancient, gentle midwife's touch. Far too many women in this world never know respect and compassion when they need it most, when bringing a new life into gravity's pull. We deserve better.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Frog Leg Position

Sling Baby by N.R.

Dear readers, I'm so sorry for my absence these days! I am in the midst of studying for a big exam, not to mention being mama to my new babe! I hope you are enjoying the hot summer. My exam is over at the end of the month, so in the meantime, a little tidbit on baby wearing. Enjoy!

Soon after my daughter was born I received this sling as a gift. Besides being a phenomenal (and pretty!) way to carry your baby, it comes with a slew of information on the benefits and justifications for baby wearing. One of the most fascinating arguments for why babies should be carried is simply physical. They title it, The Frog Leg Position. The idea is that babies physical bodies are a sign to us that they should be carried, rather than bumped around in their car seat all day. And, that their frog legs are developmentally geared towards being carried. Their rounded backs, frog legs, and palmar grasp reflex, are cues to us clueless parents, "Carry me!"

To quote from the Didymos booklet, "....infants are especially adapted to being carried on and against our body. Thus, it is possible to make a statement about the carrying position: with widespread flexed legs, slightly rounded back and oriented towards the carrying adult." This is a good proof to me that babies were created to be carried. Ever try stuffing a baby in their car seat, they don't fit so well. And they don't like it!

Recently, there have been a spate of sling recalls. Mothering magazine addressed the issue in an hour long podcast found here. Slings are becoming increasingly popular in America and with that popularity, there has been an increase in sling manufacturers. Most of the slings recalled are the slings newer to the baby wearing market, the slings that have not withstood the test of time.

There are so many benefits to wearing your baby. I recall being in Senegal, where women wear their babies on their backs constantly, starting from the day they leave the birthing clinic until they are about two, and not being able to hear a baby cry at all. In the middle of the rural Senegalese street, you couldn't hear a pin drop, much less a baby cry. I would attribute much of this to the ubiquitous baby wearing. Strollers and car seats would be greeted with riotous laughter there. Here are some more great benefits that result from baby wearing. This is a picture of my son as a babe, being carried by one of the midwives, Khadija, in Senegal. See how much he liked it!! I hope you and your babies enjoy lots of baby wearing, those days go so fast. Here's a good website with lots of different types of slings, and the pros and cons of each. I'll be back regularly in a couple of weeks. Thanks!!