Sunday, September 27, 2009

Giving Birth at Home- an interview with Nicolle Littrell

The Lessons of our Labors- Part 2- Giving Birth at Home

The wonder of homebirth is alive and well in local filmmaker Nicolle Littrell. She beams as she recounts her homebirth in Montville 5 years ago.

“My son’s birth was magical. It was just after Christmas so the lights from the tree shone down on us. There was a full moon and candlelight, fresh snow was falling outside and I was warm inside the birthing tub. The moment I will never forget is looking down at my son for the first time. His head and shoulders were born. His father held his head while the midwife and I each held one of his hands. He looked up at all of us through the water. There was a sense of deep connection even before he was fully born.”

This magical moment was pivotal for Littrell who has become an advocate for choice in birth. “I was amazed that I could do such a thing…that my body was so incredible and powerful. I learned that I could take care of myself and be very strong. I knew that I had everything that I needed to give birth within me. Women are amazing.”

Nicolle credits Donna of Morningstar Midwifery for giving her exactly the kind of hands off support that she needed to be able to give birth. “Support of women is really important in the birth experience. They left me alone in a safe and respectful way. They were sensitive to my needs and that I wanted to do it myself. For me, birth was a metaphor for all the things that women can do. When my contractions got really strong I completely understood why women ask for pain meds. But I talked myself through it. I learned about my strength, my capacity and all that I could hold.”

The lessons of her labor have held Nicolle through many transitions in her life. Now a single mother balancing her mothering with a full time schedule as a graduate student at the University of Maine, she often recalls her birthing experience when faced with a sleepless night. “I remember what I went through, how I handled myself and my strength and I know that I can face anything. Of course I want to be supported in what I am going through but if those supports are not there then I know that I can handle a lot of discomfort in my life on my own. It is about being ok in the difficult places that both motherhood and life put you in.”

As with any birth, Nicolle’s birthing was full of uncomfortable moments. A 7 hour labor required that she open fast. She says that the familiarity of her surroundings was an advantage in her birthing process. “I did not have to go anywhere. Being in my own home gave me the freedom to labor in the way that felt comfortable for me. That meant being naked, moving into different positions, going into different rooms and making all the noise that I wanted to. As a result of this, I was able to really connect to my body and my power in birth. I remember feeling like a goddess, that my body was so powerful and beautiful and that this experience was sacred, even holy.”

Leo’s birth redirected Nicolle’s life and her film work which now focuses on raising awareness about choices in birth. She says, “I want to spread more information and narratives about homebirth. Giving birth radicalized my consciousness. It flipped a switch in me. The world was a totally different place after I had my son. I saw a system that was broken and that was not serving women and that the issues went beyond birth. I saw how key support of women was in birth and of women and mothers in general.”

Littrell is concerned about the number of women who give birth by cesarean section. “I mean, we are at an over 30% cesarean section rate nationally. Something is very wrong here. Women need more evidence-based information about their choices in birth and more support in their choices. There is no way around it, women are the ones who bring the human race into this world. We need to do more in our culture to honor and support women.”

Nicolle credits her birth with teaching her to take full responsibility for her child and her choices. She is a strong advocate for educating oneself about reproductive choices. Her best advice for pregnant mothers? “Educate yourself. Read, read, read. Talk to people about their experiences. Watch films about birth-avoid the crisis “reality” shows. Start building a community of support and resources for yourself. If you are not clear about what you want, meet with different birth practitioners, consider and compare different birth locations. Most important, know and trust yourself. After gathering all of your information, base your choice on what feels best for you and your baby. The birth experience matters not only for your baby, but for you. After all, it is not just a baby being born, but a mother.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Top Ten Tips on Supporting the Mother of a Premature Baby

People often ask me how they can best support the mother of a premature baby. Here are my top ten tips.

1) Recognize that the family has been through a traumatic life threatening experience. They are stressed and confused and proud and worried and on an incredible rollercoaster of emotions. Be understanding.

2) Be encouraging. Tell the parents what a great job they are doing in managing a journey they never expected to be on.

3) Don’t expect them to keep everyone update on moment by moment changes in their baby’s health. They are just keeping their heads above water. Do suggest that you could set up an account on that they could update or that you could update as a point of contact for the rest of the family.

4) Offer to drive parents to the hospital to see their baby if they are away from the hospital.

5) Offer to collect their mail, feed their animals, or take care of an older child if there is one.

6) Bring them food. Don’t ask them to make a grocery list, it will be too much to think about. Make the food magically appear and it will be gratefully accepted.

7) Honor their wishes in your visits. We really wanted to show our little guy off even when he was in an isolette but more than a couple visits a day with all the testing and decisions we were making was overwhelming.

8) See if you can email the parents a message through the hospital. It meant so much to us to hear that people were holding us in their prayers. Keep messages simple. “Congratulations! We are sending you all our love.” Don’t be sorry about their circumstances or their child’s illness. Parents are protective and they need your support not your pity.

9) Never call parents overprotective or tease them about holding the baby all the time after they get out of the hospital. When a baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit parents can not hold them whenever they want to. My arms ached to hold my baby. Once we were home I would not put my son down and I was nervous about letting others hold him. Once the crisis is over remember to keep in touch with new mothers and listen. Post partum depression or the “baby blues” are an increased possibility in this population and mothers may go through a time of unexpected emotional exhaustion after their baby has stabilized.

10) If you are sick, even with the sniffles, stay home. Parents of premature babies must be hypervigilant about keeping their child away from illness. The first few weeks home they may not even be able to go out to run errands with their baby due to potential exposure. Then it would be a great time to offer to make some trips for them around town.

There are many helpful sites on the web for parents of preemies and for extended families. A few of the links I recommend are: – a free site where you can make a page for your family and update them on the progress of your baby’s health. - a wealth of information for parents and extended families of preemies a wonderful organization and wonderful information.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lessons of Our Labors Part I

I wrote a series of articles this summer about what mothers had learned from becoming a mother. I am republishing them here on my blog so that they can be shared with you. I would love to hear your comments. Blessings~ Amy

We dreamed of a natural birth. My husband and I took natural childbirth classes. I read shelves full of wonderful books about natural childbirth. Ina May Gaskin was my hero. We hired a doula, we took Hypnobirthing classes, we thought we were prepared. My son was born six weeks early in an emergency room. We were not prepared.

Before entering the emergency room, I believed that I was the woman of lore who could work in the fields until the moment of birth, strap my newborn to my back and go on with my day. I learned that I was the woman who, in that earlier time, would have died.

While it was not the birth experience I had expected, it was the perfect birth for me. The lessons of my labor were profound. Where I had expected to feel empowered as an individual, I learned the power of surrender. Where I had planned to be in control, I learned that I was not. Where I had thought that books and discussions could prepare me for birth, I learned that very little about motherhood is neatly written about or passed on.

I had accepted the idea that the kind of birth I had said something about me as a person. I had accepted the idea that I could somehow “fail” at birth if all did not go according to my plan. I had accepted that there was a “right” kind of birth to have, and that if I did everything “right” then all would be well. I learned that birth was not about me and my plans. It was about becoming a mother and doing what was right for my son. No matter the circumstances, I was blessed.

I was blessed by the quick thinking nurses at Waldo County General Hospital and a superb doctor at the top of his field who knew exactly what was happening and exactly what to do. I was blessed by the loving presence of my own mother who stroked my hair and whispered encouragement in my ear as I was opened for our birth. I felt the presence of angels in the timeless peace that surrounds moments of crisis and I was held by the love of God as I lay on that operating room table. The tiny bleat of my baby boy was the sweetest music I have ever heard.

While my son recovered in the NICU, a well meaning social worker suggested that I would need to “mourn the birth [I] did not have.” The unintended implication was that a natural birth was a better way to give birth and that our birth had been something less, perhaps even a failure. A natural birth, although longed for and prepared for, was never promised. How could I mourn an experience that I had never had except in fantasy? Our birth had been surrounded by angels and filled with miracles. Lying within our birth were the very lessons that I needed to be a great mother.

I learned that I was capable in a crisis.
I learned that I could face even my darkest fears with courage and conviction.
I learned that there is tremendous strength in letting go.
I learned that sometimes the only thing a mother can do is to breathe deeply and pray.

When hearing mothers talk about natural birth now, I still love their stories. But for me, the shadow woman I glimpsed in the emergency room is never far away. She whispers, “Remember, death is natural, too. There but for the grace of God you passed.” It is a different reality than mothers who have had a natural birth experience, yet my gratitude is no less profound.

Becoming a mother is for each of us a unique and sacred rite of passage. It is a leap into mystery where the only thing we know for sure is that our experience will be surprising and transformational.

Becoming a mother brought me into a closer relationship with God which has transformed my life. Becoming a mother has redirected my life, my writing, my music and every aspect of my work in the world. Our birth was blessed. It taught me what all mothers learn eventually. Things will not always go as planned. Look for the miracles, appreciate the wonders, learn what you can from all that comes your way and move forward with love and an open heart.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baby Talk

I had such a great time talking with Cathy Jacobs today! Cathy is the host of Baby Talk on WERU and she interviewed me about Transformational Mothering and The Divine Hours of Motherhood.

It was wonderful to talk to callers and to hear what they had to say on the topic. Motherhood is a slippery thing to talk about because it is both blissfull and exhausting.

It is easy to speak to the joy that we find in our mothering but how can we create a space where we can acknowledge the efforts that we put into mothering and the associated challenges?

How do we talk with new and expecting mothers about motherhood so that they are not scared, but so that they are prepared? How can music and prayer assist our transformational process?

All this and more are covered in the interview! Listen here. What did we forget that we should talk about next time?