The Importance of Questions

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Feb 20, 2012 | 1 Comment

As part of my ongoing professional development and as way to stay connected to other birth workers from my home office of one, I read a lot of birth blogs. The topics range from product reviews to birth stories, from analytical reviews of current research to heartfelt sharing of stories from the field.

One recent post by Dr. Aviva Romm discussed an awareness she had during her month-long working trip in the OB clinic at a hospital in Haiti. In the post, she discusses the routine use of episiotomy in the hospital. Rather than drop her U.S. perspective with a big dose of judgement about a procedure that is no longer considered routinely necessary and is often damaging, she asked questions. She wondered why the nurses (who primarily catch the babies in this clinic) did the procedure and came to understand that their knowledge of stitching up a natural tear was limited, so they preemptively cut the women so that the stitching was one they could manage safely after the birth. Mother and baby death rates are so high in Haiti, and resources are so limited, one could appreciate the nurses’ reasoning.

Then, rather than just deciding that she was single handedly going to teach them all how to stitch up a natural tear or prevent tears from occurring during pushing, she wondered if the clinic could sustain changes to their practice. When her month in Haiti was over and she was back in Boston, would the nurses and staff who always work at this hospital have the resources to implement a change in how they managed pushing and tears during labor? Ultimately she decided she could demonstrate through the patients she worked with how to support a mom during pushing without the use of episiotomy, talk with one of the doctors in charge about the practice, and always be aware of the importance of balancing her privileged access to deeper research and resources with her visitor status.

This was a wonderful example to me of the power of questioning. When we approach situations from a position of open curiosity, we leave room to learn from the other and adjust our own views. We create a space between in which understanding can be achieved without judgment. We start from the place of assuming the best of intentions from the other and ask questions that foster understanding.

I feel the need for this space often as I move through the world of birth work. There is some damaging and polarizing language that creates sides  Рthose who labor with minimal medical interventions and those who choose multiple interventions, those who breastfeed and those who formula feed, those who use cloth diapers and those who use disposable, those who babywear and those who employ stroller use, etc., etc. Without taking the time to ask questions when we hear a woman discuss her birth plan, birth story or parenting choices, we run the risk of making assumptions about her, judging her, and creating an unnecessary divide that isolates women from each other. Worst of all, we add to the damage women can experience around birth and parenthood Рsomething everyone can agree is not the desired outcome.

How powerful it could be if we truly listened to each other, asking questions that encourage continued dialogue. We may not leave these conversations with a different understanding of optimal pregnancy, labor, birth, and parenting but we will have maintained the opportunity to continue to engage with another woman about her experience. Rather than isolating another woman and stepping into a rigid role, we will increase our understanding of the diversity of experiences women bring to the process and we will have honored our original intent of decreasing the damage women can experience around their pregnancies, births, and parenting choices. We serve no-one when a woman leaves a conversation with us feeling judged as a bad mother for her choices.

Another benefit of asking questions is to create shared language. I see this especially when women engage with their care providers. So often we are tempted to hand our power over to that care provider as the expert, ignoring that, while we may not be medical professionals, we have lived with our bodies for a long time and bring valuable information to the exchange.

By asking questions, we ensure that we are using the same meaning for terms related to our care. When we ask our provider if epidural use will be harmful to our baby, it’s important to follow-up the answer with a clarification of terms. Likely the answer will be that it is not harmful, but is the same definition of the term being used? Does the provider think that it’s harmful that epidural exposed babies tend to arrive sleepier and may have deeper challenges breastfeeding or does that person’s definition of harmful stop at permanent damage or death of the baby?

By asking questions both as patients and as people involved in the birth community, we create shared terminology and opportunities to strengthen that community. We encourage openness to different experiences and understandings and further the dialogue of how to create the optimal space for bringing babies into the world and raising them well. Most importantly, we adhere to our shared value of not adding to the damage women can experience through pregnancy, labor, birth, and parenthood.

What do you think? Do you sometimes wish you had asked more questions in a conversation? Do you sometimes wish the other person had asked for clarification through questions? Do you feel this divide in the birth community?

One Way to Make a Baby, One Thousand Ways to Make a Family

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 18, 2012 | No Comments

As near as I can tell, there is currently one way to make a baby. You need a viable egg, a viable sperm, an ability for the egg and sperm to combine, and a viable uterus housed in a viable body in which to grow the combined egg and sperm. Without any of those ingredients, you will not end up with a baby.

That’s pretty simple, really. Where we tend to get into trouble is in the assumptions we make about the egg, sperm, and uterus when we encounter the finished product out in the world. Despite our best of intentions, we can find ourselves making up stories we decide are fact about the baby and the adult(s) seen nurturing that finished product. If we see the baby with a woman, we decide it was her egg and uterus and that she is in relationship with the owner of the sperm. We tell her what a beautiful baby it is, how it looks just like her, and how proud the baby’s daddy must be. If we see the baby with a man, we decide that his sperm was part of the recipe and tell him what a good daddy he is, how the baby looks just like him, and how proud mommy must be.

We do this same thing if we encounter a baby with a man and a woman together. We decide it was their egg, sperm, and uterus that created the baby in front of us in the express line and tell them how the baby looks just like both of them and how proud they must be.

Sometimes we’re right in our story-making. The adult we see caring for that child did, in fact, provide some of the necessary ingredients and they are, indeed, partnered with the person who provided the rest of the ingredients. The baby really does look like one or both of them and they have themselves a lovely family.

That is, though, but one way to make a family. I can think of one thousand other ways, each no less wonderful than the others. Here are just a few:
– a partnered man and woman can use the egg of another woman, the sperm of the man, and the uterus of the woman to make a baby
– a partnered man and woman can use the egg and uterus of the woman, and the sperm of another man to make a baby
– a partnered man and woman can use their own sperm and egg and the uterus of another woman to make a baby
– that same partnered man and woman can use any of the above combinations to make a baby
– a single(-by-choice) woman can use her egg and uterus and the sperm from a known/annonymous/accidental hook-up/intentional hook-up donor to make a baby, with varying levels of parenting involvement from the sperm donor
– a single(-by-choice) man can use his sperm and the egg and uterus of a known woman to make a baby, with varying levels of parenting involvement from the egg/uterus donor
– two partnered women can use one of their eggs and one of their uteri (not necessarily the same) and the same sperm choices as the single(-by-choice) woman to make a baby, with the same varying levels of parenting involvement from the sperm donor
– two partnered men can use one of their sperm and the egg and uterus of a woman (but not necessarily the same woman) to make a baby, with the same varying levels of parenting involvement from the egg/uterus donor
– a partnered man and woman can adopt, love, and raise the baby made from the egg, sperm, and uterus of their family member/strangers they never meet/the woman/man in the open adoption who provided the egg, sperm and uterus but is unable to raise the baby
– women in partnership, men in partnership, women single(-by-choice), and men single(-by-choice) can also do the exact same thing
– any of the above partnered pairs can raise and love as their own a baby that one or the other brought into the relationship, with varying levels of involvement in the making of said baby and varying levels of continued involvement by previous partners, regardless of their involvement in the making of the baby

Can you think of others ways to make a family?

Each of these are viable ways to make a family, yet we somehow seem to continue to get stuck on ideas that a family must involve the biological connection of a man and woman who are in partnership to raise the baby. That was not entirely true a hundred years ago and it is even less true now.

Really, all that is needed to make a family is a minimum of one adult committed to feeding, sheltering, and raising the baby to the best of his/her ability. Ideally that adult comes from a place of love, but we all know of families (or were raised in families) in which the adult(s) were challenged in their skills around love but each member clearly defined the other as “family”. Biology plays no part in that and biology is certainly no determinant in the creation of a loving, nurturing family.

And yet, we’re so stuck on who owned the egg, sperm, and uterus involved in the making of the baby we pretend to see things that aren’t there. Adoptive and other non-biological parents can tell you story after story about the stranger in public who gushed over and over about how much their non-biological baby looks just like them. Happily for that gushing stranger, these parents are often accustomed to finding the best of intentions and take these encounters in stride.

By contrast, parents who may have provided some of the necessarily ingredients and have a different racial make-up than the person(s) who provided the rest of the ingredients (regardless of their relationship with the other person(s)) can be negated in their connection and relationship to the baby, depending on how well his or her racial make-up “matches” that of the baby – or it is assumed the baby was adopted when that is not necessarily the case.

By making these assumptions, we negate, minimize, and unnecessarily make more boring the story of the family we see in front of us. We dole out the title of “mom” and “dad” as if we know, as if it is our business and our right to determine who will hold that role in the life of that baby. It is not our business and it is not our right.

Catch yourself the next time you find yourself making assumptions about the family you see before you. Ask yourself if you know for a fact how that family came to be and, more importantly, ask yourself if it matters – because it doesn’t. Set your assumptions down and take the time to get to know the family. They may let you know, when and if they choose, how many moms or dads (if any) make up their family and the story of how their family came to be. I can promise you it will be a far more interesting story than any based on outdated assumptions.

Love is one of the best ways to make a family.

Love Along the Lines

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Sep 27, 2011 | No Comments

Hello – :)

I had the honor of doing some distance Reiki last week and was reminded of what a wonderful healing tool it is for folks who aren’t able to make it to the practitioner’s office. I also realized how it might seem strange or not make sense to people who haven’t experienced it, so thought I’d take a moment and explain how distance Reiki happens.

In an in-person Reiki session, the person seeking treatment arranges for a time to come to the practitioner’s office, meets with the practitioner, discusses what they’d like the focus or intention of the session to be, and then rests fully clothed and face-up on the table while the practitioner scans the body for any energy blocks. Through different hand positions, the practitioner channels healing energy to help relieve those blocks and restore a sense of balance. Sometimes the patient also flips to a face-down position so that spots on the back can be accessed more easily. At the end, the patient is usually quite relaxed, may even be napping, and leaves the session feeling centered.

In a distance Reiki session, the experience is much the same. The person seeking treatments coordinates a time to connect with the practitioner. At that agreed-upon time, the person rests in a comfortable position at home for the duration of the session, while the practitioner utilizes different techniques to deliver the Reiki energy to the person from the practitioner’s office. These techniques can involve using a stand-in (I have a much loved Curious George doll that I’ve had since I was two that I use) or using a photograph of the person. The practitioner does the same energy scanning and hand positions, only they are done with the mind’s eye while visualizing the person seeking treatment and on the stand-in object. The person seeking the treatment can usually feel when the session has started and ended. Once the session is over, the person seeking the treatment calls the practitioner to discuss anything that was observed or felt on either side.

I know. I sounds a bit odd. Using a doll? Feeling the session start and end from a distance? How’s that work?

Pretty simply, actually. It works the same way as when you think of someone you love and can feel them with you even when they aren’t. Humor me for a moment – close your eyes and focus your attention on someone you love (living or passed). Let your whole being fill with your sense of that person – their voice, their smell, their presence. Just sit and breath and be with that person for as long as you want.

Okay – now come back to here, sitting at your computer, reading this blog. That person isn’t in the room with you – may not even be on the planet with you anymore – but you can feel their energy like they were sitting right next to you. It’s such a real feeling, such a deep knowing – it’s the same experience that can bring us comfort when a loved one has moved on. Our energy is much bigger than our simple, fleshy selves and can be felt much further and much longer than physical touch.

During a distance Reiki session, the practitioner simply connects with your energy using her energy and sends the healing love along the wires. It doesn’t have to make sense – the vast majority of us don’t really understand how the internet works, yet we know that it does work (most of the time) and utilize it as the tool that it is. Same with distance Reiki.

Distance Reiki can bring wonderful peace and comfort to folks too sick or tired to leave their bed. As long as they can consent to the treatment, they can benefit from being sent healing Reiki love. What better treatment than to spend an hour plugged in to the gentle but powerful universal love?

The power of touch in Reiki is exponential and can bring such comfort and relief to a person wrapped in stress and illness. When that physical touch can’t happen, though, healing can still be experienced through distance Reiki. Universal love is, happily, bigger than any of the limitations we continuously bump into and need not be confined to one particular expression.

What Does the Soft Animal of Your Body Love?

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Sep 10, 2011 | No Comments

Afternoon –

Today’s post was inspired by two events this morning. As I sat on the couch working on waking, my partner (who wakes much faster than I) was sharing bits of news and updates from the online world. “Oh, it’s Mary Oliver‘s birthday*” she shared. Some couples have songs, we have poems – all of them by Mary Oliver. Mary Oliver was the poet I was reading when I fell in love with my partner five years ago. Mary Oliver was the reason we found ourselves building a beautiful trip through Seattle and the San Juans two Mays ago. Mary is who we quote in cards to each other and Mary is who we are driving down to northern California to hear read in mid-October. Mary is an integral thread in the weaving of our lives.

(* This is by far the best online bio of Mary. Skip past the poem by the other author in the daily posting and read about Mary Oliver.)

The other event that inspired this post was hearing the first Canada geese of the season fly over our house during breakfast. Having grown up in Colorado, I developed early love for the migration of the geese, full of its earnest honking and beautifully organized group flight. As an adult, they came to remind me of Boris, my dearest, wisest cat who passed a year ago May. He had similar energy to the geese – quiet, sturdy, wise.

And what do either of these occurrences have to do with health and healing? Read on.

One of my favorite poems of Mary’s is “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

Beautiful. I remind myself of this poem often as I work on my own health, as I wander down my own healing path. Perhaps some leftover guilt from my Catholic upbringing, I can very quickly decide that I need to struggle and suffer in order to heal. I decide that this work must be heavy and dark and require much beating of my breast and muttering of “mea culpa”, taking on issues and responsibilities that do not belong to me. I have walked many miles on my knees through the desert and remember clearly the blinking and soft “oh” I uttered when I first read these words. Oh. I can sink into what I love. I can share my heart with another, who shares her heart with me, and know that we both belong. We do not have to earn our spot at the table. We belong. I belong. Also, despite how huge my despair feels to me – no matter how much it has completely blocked out my calendar for the day –¬† the world goes on in her beauty and is there for me to see whenever I am ready.

I experienced similar blinking and uttering of quiet “oh’s” when I first encountered Reiki. It was so easy and so gentle and so powerful. It did not involve years of learning at specific institutions that decided who belonged within their walls of learning and who did not. How could something so gentle and simple create such deep healing? The answer is best expressed with a soft shrug of the shoulders – it doesn’t matter how. It just does. Reiki is not something that needs over thinking. Know that everything is made of energy, know that the baseline in the universe is love, and you have everything you need to understand.

The beautiful thing about Reiki is that even if you don’t accept that everything is made of energy and even if you don’t believe that the baseline in the universe is love, you will still find yourself relaxed and at peace following a Reiki session. It is not a healing only accessible to those who know or believe. If you can just let the soft animal of your body love what it loves enough to step into a session, you’ll feel better.

Regardless of where you are with Reiki, I invite you to consider your place in the family of things. What does the soft animal of your body love? Is there someone with whom you can share despairs?

Know that when you’ve chosen (as we all do sometimes) to lock yourself up in the dungeon and feel quite dark and heavy and alone, that the world is going on in her beauty just on the other side of the door. Turn your ears to the sky and listen for the geese, reminding you that you belong and inviting you out to share in the wonder.

Welcome to the Nourishing Roots Blog

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Sep 6, 2011 | No Comments

Happy Evening to You.

As the first blog posting, I thought it would be good to give a small sense of what you can expect to occur in this space.

This will be a space where you can find my thoughts and opportunities for discussions on a variety of health and healing related topics. Some will be around a bit from the news that caught my eye and caused me to pause for a moment and some will be questions I’ve been wrangling with in my own head for some time. I’ll also share my own experiences with health and healing from time to time, relevance permitting.

Because it’s good to have goals, I’m going to intend to update this blog on a weekly basis. Because flexibility is key to making it through this world with a smile, I’m going to remind us of the value of grace if that doesn’t always happen. Like most things, it’s a process and we’ll see together how we do here.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas and look forward to facilitating discussions here on the blog.

Until then, here’s to a peaceful night,