Medical Literature — Chapter 3

IMG_1683Access to the medical research journals at the university was a blessing that I will be forever thankful for. As any new parents can attest to, once you become pregnant your focus shifts to things pregnancy and baby related.

My first concern was with weight gain. I was gaining weight way faster than any of the baby books thought reasonable. I went into the library to research aspartame. It seemed reasonable to see if there were any problems with it. I felt that if I was gaining weight too fast one way to deal with this was to replace real sugar with no calorie sugar. I looked up the two peptides or the ‘dipeptide’ that is used to make aspartame and found a study.

It is well known that some people have sensitivity to one of the components of aspartame. Blood taken from babies when they are born is routinely checked for this sensitivity so that the diet can be adjusted accordingly. So, I found a study that was designed to take a group of “normal” subjects and expose them to aspartame in order to establish a control group. Then subjects that were known to be sensitive would be exposed to the same amount of aspartame and compared to the control group.

In any scientific experiment it is necessary to develop a control group. The control group essentially balances all of the things that the experimenters cannot account for. Biological systems are so complex that it is difficult to draw any conclusions unless you have a group that has been exposed to exactly the same “experiment” without whatever it is you are testing.

So the idea of this experiment was to bring in the control group and have them do basic comprehension and math tests. Then, after exposure to the aspartame, they were to repeat the tests. The test group, the ones that were sensitive to a component of aspartame, would go through the same process and the results from the two separate experiments could be compared to see if there were any differences in how the test subjects responded.

In this particular scientific paper the authors explained that when the “control” group came back in to do the comprehension and math tests for a second time the study was discontinued on ethical grounds. Simply put, their ability to do the tests was diminished so significantly that the experimenters could no longer ask anyone to participate because they knew that exposure was doing them harm. Enough said. No way I was going near aspartame while pregnant.

The second thing that I started to research was the interventions that occur during birth. When you go into the hospital you will find that each hospital has a protocol of what needs to be done to a woman in labour. The range of these procedures is great and varies with the hospital. At the time, things like fetal monitoring were quite popular. It has been sixteen years since I had a baby and I have no way of knowing if they still do fetal monitoring or if the same equipment is being used. But although most hospitals used fetal monitoring, it was already established that it was not related to healthier babies but it was related to more intervention in the birth including a higher cesarean section rate and a higher rate of induction. Scary stuff.

The literature was full of controversy. If you go to any doctor or hospital and ask what their policy is, you will always get an explanation of why they do what they do. These are “truisms” that are believed by the staff. My favourite is that you should get an episiotomy before the baby is born. For those of you that have not been intimately involved in a birth, this is a cut that is made to open the woman wider so that the baby can come out.

The “truism” is that it is “better to have a clean cut than it is to have a ragged tear”. Nice visual imagery, I must admit, but it is completely false. The reason that women need an episiotomy is because when you are in the hospital you are forced to give birth on your back with your legs in the air. This is not true of all hospitals, but it was certainly true in the 1980’s. This is very unnatural. Just try having a poo in this position and see how things turn out. It is essentially the same process.

Fear overwhelmed me. My friend told me that she was looking into having a midwife. I remembered seeing a television program about them and being impressed so I looked into it. Fortunately for me, there was a Mennonite Settlement not far from where I lived and they still had births attended by midwives and so I found myself a midwife.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Keep Reading: Midwives

www.wendypowell.ca

Baby Number Two — Chapter 4

IMG_0219Our new home had what could only be described as a professionally decorated nursery. The room had a soft pale beige, almost white, carpet with an oversized under padding. It had this luxurious feel when you walked across it and the added benefit of concealing any squeaky boards or any sound whatsoever.

There were two windows that both had metal horizontal pale blue blinds. This meant that you could essentially make the room completely dark by closing them. There were also decorative valences over the windows that were a peach colour. These colours were all found on the wallpaper, which was mainly white but was a high quality; think easily cleaned, paper that had a baby motif. This paper was accented by a border that was hung stylishly a foot or so down from the ceiling. The baseboards and all of the trim had been painted in a glossy white paint that just pulled the whole room together.

I already owned a white crib and a change table that had been leant to me by a professor that I did research for. The change table had been a laboratory bench at the University of Toronto and when they took out the old equipment, this man’s mother had acquired one of the benches. The bench had been fitted with a piece of foam and a plastic covering and was sturdy and ideal for a change table. There was a spot where the chair would have gone, where the diaper pail sat and a drawer and a cabinet on the other side. It had been painted white and looked like it was meant to match the room.

The room had obviously been decorated before the sex of the baby had been determined. It was fantastic to have such a nice room all ready for my baby. The only thing now that I needed was the baby!

Labour began while I was in a Dancefit class on a Friday morning. I remember having the feeling of joy wash over me. My due date had been for that weekend, so from my point of view, I was right on time. Early contractions do not demand much of your attention so it was easy to smile as I felt a contraction and then keep dancing. I felt like dancing anyhow.

The labour was strong and regular so I called the midwife to let her know. As an experienced mother I could tell her that her presence was not needed right away so she told me that she would come over in the morning, unless I needed her that night. This was fine by me.

Then a funny thing happened. I laid down to go to bed and the contractions stopped completely. This is a devastating feeling, but I let it go. I checked-in on the baby and all was well. When the midwife arrived the next day she confirmed that I was indeed in labour and had started to progress. In simple terms, you open up and then push the baby out. I was in the process of opening up. The contractions had begun again in the morning, so I was still progressing. I told her about them stopping and she did not seem too concerned about it.

After she left, they stopped again. Bob and I had read all of the ways that you are supposed to help to bring on labour, which I’m certain has nothing to do with actually starting labour, it is just that enough people try these things at the end of their pregnancies and so even though the nine months of pregnancy should get credit for the beginning of labour, many other things do.

With this in mind, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood, which was, quite frankly, exhausting and uncomfortable. My labour started up again but not in earnest. I was having good, strong contractions but they were several minutes apart and simply not getting closer and closer together as I had expected. Then it stopped again.

In tears, I called the primary midwife that I had for my first birth. I had more of a connection with this woman and my current midwife had done nothing to allay my fears about this starting and stopping. She told me that I had a very large baby. She said that the body knows that it is going to have to do extra work to get the baby out so it takes a rest. The reason that I was unfamiliar with this fact was that in modern medicine, if your labour does not progress, they induce you.

So, I was instructed to get a lot of rest, eat well and be patient. Speaking with this woman helped a lot but I had no idea that it would take another two days! My second daughter was born on the Tuesday morning after four days of off and on labour and yes she was large—an even 10 pounds.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Rainbows and Sunrises

www.wendypowell.ca

Early Labour — Chapter 4

IMG_1035A totally new experience for first time moms is Braxton Hicks contractions. Named after John Braxton Hicks who first described them in 1872, these non-painful contractions are the body’s way of training to prepare for the big day. My entire abdomen would tense up and get really hard to the touch and then relax. Sometimes it would do this, at regular intervals, for hours.

Every night, at the end of my first pregnancy, I would lie down in bed and they would start to occur. Since I had been told a full two weeks before my due date that I could, “go any time”, and I was now after my due date, I paid a lot of attention to them. Bob got tired of hearing about it. Early on, I found myself timing them and they were as regular as “real” labour. How was I supposed to know the difference?

The midwives had told us that when we thought that labour had begun, I was to have a small glass of wine. It is an amount that will not hurt the baby and will be completely metabolized before the baby is born. This is important because a baby’s liver cannot metabolize alcohol and that is why when babies are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy it can have such a devastating effect on their development.

The wine served two purposes. First, Braxton Hicks labour will stop when you have a glass of wine, so it made it possible to distinguish warm up contractions from the real thing. Second, wine will relax the mother. After having no alcohol for an entire nine months a small glass hits you like a wall, but it does have a calming effect.

There is a difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real ones and it is not what you think. When real labour starts your body knows the difference and begins preparing. Unlike having Braxton Hicks that made me feel like I was grasping and needy, almost as though I was trying to will labour into happening, real contractions have more of a peaceful feel. The body begins to produce endorphins, the natural painkillers, at the same time as real labour begins.

This means that the pain of labour is somewhat mediated by the endorphins but it also means that you get the ‘high’ that morphine users must experience. When my actual labour started the world was rosy and there were endless possibilities for goodness. I did not feel like I was trying to urge labour to begin. I felt like the world was in technicolor. This was a marked difference and it occurred at the beginning of true labour, each time.

So, I was well past my due date for my second pregnancy. This upset my doctor considerably and he had begun the induction threats as he had with my first pregnancy. I was not worried. Midwives take a different stance on this. They have been trained to help you to “check-in” on the baby. Essentially, you can feel the baby moving and the baby should be moving regularly. I forget how often and that sort of details but it is not just random. The baby needs to be behaving normally.

There is a large black bird just hanging out in my front yard as I edit this. It has been walking around in the rain, going back and forth across the yard and up and down the driveway. I thought that I should add this into my story. These birds are my consistent totem animals and my guess is that it just wanted to be mentioned.

As a veterinarian, I had learned how long the pregnancy should be for cows. It was recognized that different types of cows had different pregnancy lengths. In general, smaller breeds of cows had shorter pregnancies. Why was it that human doctors thought that all women should have the same length of pregnancy regardless of ethnicity and size? It did not ring true for me.

As a scientist, I had known exactly what day I had ovulated on. This is not actually the start of pregnancy, per se, but it does determine the timing. The egg moves into the uterus and may or may not become an embryo along the way. It is more exact to know when the egg was released than any other measurement. So, dating my pregnancy was not a question. I knew how many days my first pregnancy had been from ovulation to birth and so I had a pretty good idea how long my second pregnancy should be.

I was unable to get the same primary midwife for this second pregnancy because of the political climate. Midwifery had become a contentious issue. The medical doctors could see a large amount of their practice going to what they considered to be an “unregulated” profession and they had started to fight back legally. In some parts of the United States, parents were being arrested for child abuse or neglect by choosing to have their babies at home. I was not aware of anything so outrageous in Canada, but the medical profession is quite powerful and well funded.

It looked like midwives were going to have to be licensed, so my first midwife had decided to go back to university to become a nurse so that she could continue practicing in Ontario. The Mennonite women did not care about the law regarding births outside of their community so it did not have the same impact on them. I was able to get two midwives. The primary midwife was different but the secondary one was the same as for my first birth.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Baby Number Two

www.wendypowell.ca

Baby Number Two — Chapter 4

IMG_0219Our new home had what could only be described as a professionally decorated nursery. The room had a soft pale beige, almost white, carpet with an oversized under padding. It had this luxurious feel when you walked across it and the added benefit of concealing any squeaky boards or any sound whatsoever.

There were two windows that both had metal horizontal pale blue blinds. This meant that you could essentially make the room completely dark by closing them. There were also decorative valences over the windows that were a peach colour. These colours were all found on the wallpaper, which was mainly white but was a high quality; think easily cleaned, paper that had a baby motif. This paper was accented by a border that was hung stylishly a foot or so down from the ceiling. The baseboards and all of the trim had been painted in a glossy white paint that just pulled the whole room together.

I already owned a white crib and a change table that had been leant to me by a professor that I did research for. The change table had been a laboratory bench at the University of Toronto and when they took out the old equipment, this man’s mother had acquired one of the benches. The bench had been fitted with a piece of foam and a plastic covering and was sturdy and ideal for a change table. There was a spot where the chair would have gone, where the diaper pail sat and a drawer and a cabinet on the other side. It had been painted white and looked like it was meant to match the room.

The room had obviously been decorated before the sex of the baby had been determined. It was fantastic to have such a nice room all ready for my baby. The only thing now that I needed was the baby!

Labour began while I was in a Dancefit class on a Friday morning. I remember having the feeling of joy wash over me. My due date had been for that weekend, so from my point of view, I was right on time. Early contractions do not demand much of your attention so it was easy to smile as I felt a contraction and then keep dancing. I felt like dancing anyhow.

The labour was strong and regular so I called the midwife to let her know. As an experienced mother I could tell her that her presence was not needed right away so she told me that she would come over in the morning, unless I needed her that night. This was fine by me.

Then a funny thing happened. I laid down to go to bed and the contractions stopped completely. This is a devastating feeling, but I let it go. I checked-in on the baby and all was well. When the midwife arrived the next day she confirmed that I was indeed in labour and had started to progress. In simple terms, you open up and then push the baby out. I was in the process of opening up. The contractions had begun again in the morning, so I was still progressing. I told her about them stopping and she did not seem too concerned about it.

After she left, they stopped again. Bob and I had read all of the ways that you are supposed to help to bring on labour, which I’m certain has nothing to do with actually starting labour, it is just that enough people try these things at the end of their pregnancies and so even though the nine months of pregnancy should get credit for the beginning of labour, many other things do.

With this in mind, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood, which was, quite frankly, exhausting and uncomfortable. My labour started up again but not in earnest. I was having good, strong contractions but they were several minutes apart and simply not getting closer and closer together as I had expected. Then it stopped again.

In tears, I called the primary midwife that I had for my first birth. I had more of a connection with this woman and my current midwife had done nothing to allay my fears about this starting and stopping. She told me that I had a very large baby. She said that the body knows that it is going to have to do extra work to get the baby out so it takes a rest. The reason that I was unfamiliar with this fact was that in modern medicine, if your labour does not progress, they induce you.

So, I was instructed to get a lot of rest, eat well and be patient. Speaking with this woman helped a lot but I had no idea that it would take another two days! My second daughter was born on the Tuesday morning after four days of off and on labour and yes she was large—an even 10 pounds.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Rainbows and Sunrises

www.wendypowell.ca

Early Labour — Chapter 4

IMG_1035A totally new experience for first time moms is Braxton Hicks contractions. Named after John Braxton Hicks who first described them in 1872, these non-painful contractions are the body’s way of training to prepare for the big day. My entire abdomen would tense up and get really hard to the touch and then relax. Sometimes it would do this, at regular intervals, for hours.

Every night, at the end of my first pregnancy, I would lie down in bed and they would start to occur. Since I had been told a full two weeks before my due date that I could, “go any time”, and I was now after my due date, I paid a lot of attention to them. Bob got tired of hearing about it. Early on, I found myself timing them and they were as regular as “real” labour. How was I supposed to know the difference?

The midwives had told us that when we thought that labour had begun, I was to have a small glass of wine. It is an amount that will not hurt the baby and will be completely metabolized before the baby is born. This is important because a baby’s liver cannot metabolize alcohol and that is why when babies are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy it can have such a devastating effect on their development.

The wine served two purposes. First, Braxton Hicks labour will stop when you have a glass of wine, so it made it possible to distinguish warm up contractions from the real thing. Second, wine will relax the mother. After having no alcohol for an entire nine months a small glass hits you like a wall, but it does have a calming effect.

There is a difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real ones and it is not what you think. When real labour starts your body knows the difference and begins preparing. Unlike having Braxton Hicks that made me feel like I was grasping and needy, almost as though I was trying to will labour into happening, real contractions have more of a peaceful feel. The body begins to produce endorphins, the natural painkillers, at the same time as real labour begins.

This means that the pain of labour is somewhat mediated by the endorphins but it also means that you get the ‘high’ that morphine users must experience. When my actual labour started the world was rosy and there were endless possibilities for goodness. I did not feel like I was trying to urge labour to begin. I felt like the world was in technicolor. This was a marked difference and it occurred at the beginning of true labour, each time.

So, I was well past my due date for my second pregnancy. This upset my doctor considerably and he had begun the induction threats as he had with my first pregnancy. I was not worried. Midwives take a different stance on this. They have been trained to help you to “check-in” on the baby. Essentially, you can feel the baby moving and the baby should be moving regularly. I forget how often and that sort of details but it is not just random. The baby needs to be behaving normally.

There is a large black bird just hanging out in my front yard as I edit this. It has been walking around in the rain, going back and forth across the yard and up and down the driveway. I thought that I should add this into my story. These birds are my consistent totem animals and my guess is that it just wanted to be mentioned.

As a veterinarian, I had learned how long the pregnancy should be for cows. It was recognized that different types of cows had different pregnancy lengths. In general, smaller breeds of cows had shorter pregnancies. Why was it that human doctors thought that all women should have the same length of pregnancy regardless of ethnicity and size? It did not ring true for me.

As a scientist, I had known exactly what day I had ovulated on. This is not actually the start of pregnancy, per se, but it does determine the timing. The egg moves into the uterus and may or may not become an embryo along the way. It is more exact to know when the egg was released than any other measurement. So, dating my pregnancy was not a question. I knew how many days my first pregnancy had been from ovulation to birth and so I had a pretty good idea how long my second pregnancy should be.

I was unable to get the same primary midwife for this second pregnancy because of the political climate. Midwifery had become a contentious issue. The medical doctors could see a large amount of their practice going to what they considered to be an “unregulated” profession and they had started to fight back legally. In some parts of the United States, parents were being arrested for child abuse or neglect by choosing to have their babies at home. I was not aware of anything so outrageous in Canada, but the medical profession is quite powerful and well funded.

It looked like midwives were going to have to be licensed, so my first midwife had decided to go back to university to become a nurse so that she could continue practicing in Ontario. The Mennonite women did not care about the law regarding births outside of their community so it did not have the same impact on them. I was able to get two midwives. The primary midwife was different but the secondary one was the same as for my first birth.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Baby Number Two

www.wendypowell.ca

Midwives — Chapter 3

Midwifery was in that legal grey area back when I was making my decision. The medical community was arguing that it put women in danger because all of the advantages of being in the hospital were not available. The literature, all written by scientists that identified more with doctors than with midwives, was filled with studies that didn’t even bother to separate the babies that were born outside of the hospital on purpose from those that were born en route to the hospital or those that came on unexpectedly and caught the mother off guard. Needless to say, these studies showed how dangerous it was to not be in the hospital when your baby is born.

Bob loved the idea because it was decidedly against the grain. We were doing something that others were not. This made him special and unique. He was fully in support of this decision.

The midwife was a lovely woman that had attended hundreds of births. She was not a Mennonite herself but had teamed up with the Mennonite midwives because they provided the same service. At each birth it is ideal to have two midwives. If the mother and the baby are both in trouble there is one midwife to attend to each person.

It was with full knowledge that there was a hospital within driving distance that I decided to have a home birth. If I found that the pain was truly unbearable and I wanted to have an epidural, I could always go into the hospital. If my pregnancy did not progress as it should and I needed a cesarean section, I could go into the hospital. The only other possibility was that there was a life and death situation that came on suddenly.

This could be something like the baby had the cord wrapped around its neck and could not be delivered and it was literally being strangled to death and an emergency cesarean was required. This is awfully gruesome, but this is the thought process that we went through. In this case, we would call ahead and the hospital would be ready for us when we arrived.

It was understood that a certain amount of time is required to ready a surgery before surgery can begin. At the very least, the doctors and nurses need to scrub up, gown and glove and assemble the appropriate equipment. The hospital was about 10 minutes away so it would not be much longer to get there.

So, on my next prenatal appointment I said to my doctor, “I’m thinking of going with a midwife.” He said that he knew that it could be a good experience and that he thought that it was a reasonable thing to consider.

On the prenatal appointment after that, I said to my doctor, “I have decided to have my baby with a midwife.” He unceremoniously told me that he would no longer do my prenatal care. This is the same guy that told my husband, not me, that I was pregnant. Good riddance.

In general, most people still feel this way about midwives. We have been so sold on the expertise of the medical profession, that no one even considers how many babies are born in this world without medical care. Would we have such large impoverished populations in many areas of the world if childbirth was as dangerous as we have been led to believe in North America? The death of many babies and mothers has more to do with hygiene and malnutrition than it does with the process of birth, but I digress.

We did decide to not tell Bob’s mother. She was the only family that was really involved with us at the time and we both knew that this would cause her undue stress. I knew that she would worry and I was also concerned that she would pressure Bob to try to change my mind so we both agreed to not tell her until after the fact.

The midwife was wonderful. She came to the house for the prenatal exams, which is a big deal when you are pregnant and you don’t have a car of your own to get to the doctor’s. She arranged an appointment with another doctor that supported midwifery and drove me to visit him.

She was really big on how to eat and what to eat and how to prepare for the birth, the first couple of days after the birth and breastfeeding. None of this instruction had come from the doctor. I had told him that I was concerned about how much weight I was gaining and he had put my name on a list to speak to a nutritionist. She still had not called.

There was a real intimacy with this woman. The three of us would sit together in our living room and we could ask anything. I always got the feeling that she had as much time as we needed. At this time, we had to pay cash for the midwife. She worked on a sliding scale which meant that the amount that she charged was based on how much the couple made. I thought that this was brilliant, because it did not exclude people that could not pay as much, but it still allowed her to charge people with higher incomes more money so that she could make a decent living. I don’t remember how much the midwife was paid, but it certainly was not a serious part of whether or not we were going to have a midwife.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Keep Reading: Pregnancy Support

www.wendypowell.ca

Medical Literature — Chapter 3

IMG_1683Access to the medical research journals at the university was a blessing that I will be forever thankful for. As any new parents can attest to, once you become pregnant your focus shifts to things pregnancy and baby related.

My first concern was with weight gain. I was gaining weight way faster than any of the baby books thought reasonable. I went into the library to research aspartame. It seemed reasonable to see if there were any problems with it. I felt that if I was gaining weight too fast one way to deal with this was to replace real sugar with no calorie sugar. I looked up the two peptides or the ‘dipeptide’ that is used to make aspartame and found a study.

It is well known that some people have sensitivity to one of the components of aspartame. Blood taken from babies when they are born is routinely checked for this sensitivity so that the diet can be adjusted accordingly. So, I found a study that was designed to take a group of “normal” subjects and expose them to aspartame in order to establish a control group. Then subjects that were known to be sensitive would be exposed to the same amount of aspartame and compared to the control group.

In any scientific experiment it is necessary to develop a control group. The control group essentially balances all of the things that the experimenters cannot account for. Biological systems are so complex that it is difficult to draw any conclusions unless you have a group that has been exposed to exactly the same “experiment” without whatever it is you are testing.

So the idea of this experiment was to bring in the control group and have them do basic comprehension and math tests. Then, after exposure to the aspartame, they were to repeat the tests. The test group, the ones that were sensitive to a component of aspartame, would go through the same process and the results from the two separate experiments could be compared to see if there were any differences in how the test subjects responded.

In this particular scientific paper the authors explained that when the “control” group came back in to do the comprehension and math tests for a second time the study was discontinued on ethical grounds. Simply put, their ability to do the tests was diminished so significantly that the experimenters could no longer ask anyone to participate because they knew that exposure was doing them harm. Enough said. No way I was going near aspartame while pregnant.

The second thing that I started to research was the interventions that occur during birth. When you go into the hospital you will find that each hospital has a protocol of what needs to be done to a woman in labour. The range of these procedures is great and varies with the hospital. At the time, things like fetal monitoring were quite popular. It has been sixteen years since I had a baby and I have no way of knowing if they still do fetal monitoring or if the same equipment is being used. But although most hospitals used fetal monitoring, it was already established that it was not related to healthier babies but it was related to more intervention in the birth including a higher cesarean section rate and a higher rate of induction. Scary stuff.

The literature was full of controversy. If you go to any doctor or hospital and ask what their policy is, you will always get an explanation of why they do what they do. These are “truisms” that are believed by the staff. My favourite is that you should get an episiotomy before the baby is born. For those of you that have not been intimately involved in a birth, this is a cut that is made to open the woman wider so that the baby can come out.

The “truism” is that it is “better to have a clean cut than it is to have a ragged tear”. Nice visual imagery, I must admit, but it is completely false. The reason that women need an episiotomy is because when you are in the hospital you are forced to give birth on your back with your legs in the air. This is not true of all hospitals, but it was certainly true in the 1980’s. This is very unnatural. Just try having a poo in this position and see how things turn out. It is essentially the same process.

Fear overwhelmed me. My friend told me that she was looking into having a midwife. I remembered seeing a television program about them and being impressed so I looked into it. Fortunately for me, there was a Mennonite Settlement not far from where I lived and they still had births attended by midwives and so I found myself a midwife.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Keep Reading: Midwives

www.wendypowell.ca