In March, I had the honor of attending a day long seminar at the University of Toronto given by Ina May Gaskin. Ina May is a world renowned midwife, called the “midwife of modern midwifery”. She has practiced midwifery for almost 40 years at the Farm Midwifery Centre in Tennessee. She is the author of some of my personal favorite books about birth and breastfeeding, including Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding and her newest book, Birth Matters.
I first came across Ina May after my first son, Dylan, was born. A few months after his birth, I was browsing the aisles of a local bookstore, and stumbled upon Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I picked it up and flipped through the pages, and could not put it down! I had never read a book about natural childbirth before, and found it so fascinating. So many of the principles Ina May speaks about in the book rang true to me and helped shed light on my birth experience with Dylan. The book inspired me to do things differently for my next birth – I knew after reading it that I wanted a midwife, rather than an OB, as my health care provider and I wanted to try and have a natural, drug free birth. As mentioned in an earlier post, my second birth experience was fantastic, and I definitely owe a lot of that to Ina May!!
So when I heard that Ina May would be speaking in Toronto, I had to go! Benjamin and I headed down to UofT very early that Saturday morning. The seminar was all day – from 8:30-4:30 pm, which is a long time to be out with a 3 month old. But I was determined to go. I’m so glad that I did – Ina May is a wonderful speaker and is truly an inspiration!
Ina May spoke on a number of different topics – breastfeeding, labour, birth and the post partum period. She spoke so frankly, and so openly, sprinkled with humour and personal stories. The day focused on many ideas from her new book Birth Matters.
I love the opening of Birth Matters. On page 1, Ina May tells us why we should care about birth:
Birth Matters. It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside of our sources, our mothers’ bodies. It’s the means through which we enter and feel our first impressions of the wider word. For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to her innermost core. Women’s perceptions about their bodies and their babies’ capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care their receive around the time of their birth.
Ina May shared many positive birth stories. So often, moms-to-be hear horror stories about pain or about something that went wrong, and not often enough do we share the positive stories! Ina May says:
I have found it helpful, even necessary, to tell positive birth stories. This is one of the best ways for women to learn the kids of things that may help or hinder labor and birth. Stories teach in memorable ways. In that sense, they are much more valuable than rote learning and memorization.
I agree! I was really moved by the natural birth stories I had read in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Before reading that book, every birth story I heard involved an OB, a hospital and an epidural. I was fascinated by all of the “regular” women in Ina May’s book who gave birth naturally. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?
In addition to birth stories, Ina May spoke about the importance of birth images and watching videos and seeing pictures of birth. Interestingly, Ina May showed a You Tube video – The Dramatic Struggle For Life. It is a video of an elephant giving birth in an animal park in Bali. (Just warning you that you have to sign in to prove you are over 18 – but it is well worth the effort!) Ina May suggests that pregnant women view this video, along with other videos of large mammals giving birth. It’s fascinating to see how birth happens naturally in nature. Ina May points out how the elephant shifts her weight from foot to foot as she labours. The elephant also opens her mouth when her baby begins to emerge from her body. These are two things that humans can do to assist the birth process! Being in a standing position and shifting weight from side to side helps the baby descend and be in the optimal position. (I definitely remember doing this during Benjamin’s birth. It wasn’t something that my midwives or doulas suggested, I just did it instinctually!) Opening your mouth helps to relax your body and open up the cervix. It’s amazing how similar we mammals are when it comes to birth. The video also demonstrates how the mother figures out how to stimulate her baby to breathe – something she accomplishes without having taken a course in neonatal resuscitation. Unbelievable really! We have a lot to learn from this elephant.
I have more to say about Ina May and what I learned at her talk, but if I try to capture everything, I will never publish this blog post. So consider this to be Part I…Part II (and possibly Part III and IV) to follow at a later date!