by Robyn

Anarcha, the Mother of Gynecology

November 21, 2011 in Gratitude, Robyn, Uncategorized by Robyn

“Knowing that whatsoever good thing any [wo]man doeth, the same shall [s]he receive of the Lord, whether [s]he be bond or free.” – Ephesians 6:8

All I can say is, I had no idea!  Let me explain what I mean by that.  I attended a women’s health fair at our local university last spring at which the keynote speaker was Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D.  After listening to her lecture I purchased a copy of her book, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

Get Me Out - Randi Hutter Epstein (Paperback JAN 17)

Being the birth junkie that I am I immediately buried my nose in my signed copy.  I enjoyed the author’s comprehensive and witty approach to the topic.  Being a childbirth educator I soaked up the information, but I halted at chapter two, “Slave Women’s Contribution to Gynecology.”  I am not surprised that slave women were experimented on in the name of furthering gynecology but I admit that it had not yet crossed my mind.

What I did not know is that we owe much to our African sisters who took part in furthering the health of women of all races. So where does this story start?  It starts with J. Marion Sims.  The J. Marion Sims foundation is quoted as saying that he “was one of the most famous physicians of his time, renowned as a surgical genius and as one of the founders of operative gynecology.”  He boasts an impressive resume including servicing royalty and even President James A Garfield after he was shot in 1881. He also “served as president of the American Medical Association in 1876, as president of the International Medical Congress in 1877, and as president of the American Gynecological Society in 1880.”  There are monuments built in his honor along with a hospital named after him.

There are a few important details left out of this description.  And that is that he owes his fame to ten African slaves, three of whom we have names for, Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy.  Some of the slaves actually died as a result of his surgical experiments.  Wendy Brinker has been quoted as saying,“The success of J. Marion Sims .  . . rested solely on the personal sacrifices of the enslaved African women he experimented on from 1845 to 1849.” [1]

Anarcha was the first slave woman brought to Sims by her owner because she suffered with a condition called vesicovaginal fistulas.  VVF is an abnormal fistulous tract, extending between the bladder and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault [2].  This condition rendered a slave “useless” to her owner.  She was no longer able to work or give birth to more slaves.  She was often ostracized as a result of the foul smell.  VVF is not just a problem of the past. It is still found in many developing countries (usually caused by prolonged labor) and is often underreported. [3] In industrialized nations VVF is frequently “a result of iatrogenic [doctor caused] injury at the time of gynecological surgery in particular hysterectomy.” [4]

In the time of Dr. Sims, African slave women were inflicted with VVF for a few different reasons. Many slaves were malnourished and had rickets which caused their pelvis to be deformed which in turn caused prolonged labor necessitating the need for forceps or other extreme measures to extract the baby.  In addition, many African slave women were victims of violent rape or conceived babies at a very young age before their bodies were mature enough to fit a baby through the pelvis.

Many white women also suffered from this condition but Dr. Sims refused to work on them until he had perfected his surgery on African slave women.  It was commonly believed at his time that slaves had a high tolerance of pain and that white women did not.  When he finally did operate on white women, he offered them anesthesia which he never offered the slave women.  He did allow observers to watch these surgeries/experiments.  We will never know, but it is doubtful that these women were given the option of consent.

“These experiments set the stage for modern vaginal surgery. Sims devised instruments including the Sims’ speculum to gain proper exposure. A rectal examination position where a patient is on the left side with the right knee flexed against the abdomen and the left knee slightly flexed is also named after him as Sim’s position. He insisted on cleanliness. His technique using silver-wire sutures led to successful repair of a fistula, and this was reported in 1852.” [5] 

the Sims speculum

Sadly, many of the women who suffer today from this condition are modern sisters to Anarcha (in the African regions) and do not have access to the care needed to correct this condition.

Being a woman who has had a few stitches “down there,” I can’t help but feel intense gratitude for these women.  While I have never suffered from VVF, Dr. Sims and his patients are responsible for furthering the integrity of stitching materials.  I decided to post this in the month of November being that it is a month of giving thanks.  I feel a quiet reverence for these women.  I don’t think they have been thanked or honored enough.  There is a website dedicated to honor Anarcha as the mother of gynecology that tells her story in more detail, Anarcha: The Mother of GynecologyPlease take a moment to read her story as a way of offering her and her sisters the honor and reverence they deserve.

As I read this scripture from Ephesians, I thought of the courage of Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy, and their slave sisters:

“Knowing that whatsoever good thing any [wo]man doeth, the same shall [s]he receive of the Lord, whether [s]he be bond or free.” – Ephesians 6:8

So to these women, I want to offer my heartfelt gratitude:

Thank you Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy and sisters. 

I have no idea what it was like to live your life or walk your path but I will never forget your contribution.

For more information on this topic you can visit the following websites:




by Lani

Giveaway Winner!

November 15, 2011 in Giveaways by Lani

We apologize for the delay in announcing the winner of our recent giveaway.  A huge thank you to all those who entered for your priceless help in spreading the word about The Gift of Giving Life. Please keep spreading the word!

And now… without further ado, congratulations to…

Cat of Your Fire, Your Soul!

Please email us your mailing address (thegiftofgivinglife AT gmail DOT com) so we know where to send your free copy once it’s hot off the presses!


Cover of The Gift of Giving Life

Inquiry on Maternity Care- 4 Questions and a Turnaround

November 9, 2011 in Archive, Felice by Progressive Prophetess

This one is from the archives. We will also link this in our resources section. Please feel free to comment or ask questions or share your experiences with Inquiry.

In my work with pregnant moms, I often hear them express frustration about maternity care in America. I have expressed the same frustration at different times. Recently, I have been doing Inquiry, (also called “The Work” of Byron Katie) If you have never heard of The Work of Byron Katie, I highly recommend you check out the book Loving What Is or visit It is very simple, yet profound. It involves 4 questions and a turnaround. I often use it with clients, students, or on myself.

I thought it would be very enlightening if I shared a sample transcript of an inquiry on maternal care with you. This is a combination of several conversations I have had with different women, all of whom have given me permission to share while keeping their names confidential.

Pregnant Woman: Maternity care in America is horrible. I should get better customer service. What happened to service? They should take better care of me. They should care about my needs.

Me: Let’s take the first statement. Maternity care in America is horrible. Is it true?

PW: Yes.

Me: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

PW: Well that is my experience and statistically it is worse than anywhere else in the world.

Me: Can you absolutely know that that’s true?

PW: No I can’t know about the whole world. But I know my experience.

Me: Okay. Let’s take your experience. Is maternity care horrible? If you had to live with that answer for the rest of your life, is it true?

PW: Well. It’s not always.

Me: Okay. Can you think of a time when it wasn’t?

PW: Yes. (normally I would have her give examples. We’ll skip that.)

Me: How does it feel, what do you do when you think that thought– that maternity care is horrible?

PW: I get scared. I feel tense in my body. I want to cry. I’m on guard with the nurses and can’t speak articulately to my doctor.

Me: Who would you be without that thought? And I’m not asking you to drop the thought.

PW: I wouldn’t be me…

Me: Can you think of one stress-free reason to keep the thought?

PW: No.

Me: Who would you be without it?

PW: I’d be less tense. I’d be more open and trusting with my caregivers. I’d be more peaceful.

Me: Let’s try turning that statement around to the opposite.

PW. Maternity care in America is not horrible…..

Me: Is that as true or more true?

PW: Hmmm. I see. At least as true. It’s probably worse some places. And some people have good experiences…

Me: Let’s try your next statement. “They should take better care of me. They should care about my needs.” Is it true?

PW: Yes. They are in a service business…

Me: Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Should they?

PW: What is the right answer?

Me: Well. What is the reality? Are they?

PW: No. They are not.

Me: So, if they are not, then that’s the reality. When we argue with reality, we lose, but as Katie says, only 100% of the time.

PW: So they shouldn’t take care of me?

Me: No, they shouldn’t, because they are not. That’s the reality. I’m not saying it won’t change tomorrow. But they shouldn’t until they do.

PW: okay.

Me: How do you feel when you think that thought that they should take better care of you and your needs?

PW: Angry.

Me: What do you say, think, feel in your body?

PW: I want to claw something. I feel really powerless. It’s not a good feeling.

Me: Who would you be without that thought? And I’m not asking you to drop the thought.

PW: I’d be peaceful and enjoy my pregnancy more.

Me: Let’s turn it around a few different ways.

PW: I should take better care of me…

Me: Is that as true or more true? When you are thinking about what they should be doing and it is causing you all that anger and tension–you are not being very nice to yourself are you?

PW: You’re right. I’m causing all the pain myself by believing the thought. But…

Me: Turn it around another way.

PW: I should care about their needs?

Me: Is that as true or more true?

PW: No… Well, I guess if I birth the way they want me to birth and do what is convenient for them, then they would be nicer to me… But I don’t want to birth their way. I want to do what feels right for me and my baby.

Me: Right. So if you left their office and found another care provider, could that be a way of caring for your doctor’s needs… It sounds like you aren’t his ideal patient…

PW: Oohhhh. I see. Interesting.

Me: One more turnaround.

PW: They should not take better care of me and meet my needs…. Right. Because they are not.?

Me: Right. And what happens when you argue with reality?

PW: I lose. 100% of the time. I get it…. I think you are right. I think I need to be more open with my doctor or switch doctors if I am going to get what I need. I need to take care of myself. I’m the only one who can control that.

The magic of this line of questioning is in doing it in order. You can’t go directly for the turnaround or it is too harsh. First, you have to see what having the thought does do you. The fact is, we can’t always control our thoughts. There is a part of our brain that generates distorted and untrue thoughts all day long–it is an old wiring for survival. (I can write more on that later). When we argue or try to drop the thoughts, they dig in deeper, but when we meet these thoughts with kindness and inquiry, the thought lets go of it’s grip on us. Then we can think and see more clearly and almost always have more peace. That’s inquiry in a nutshell. To learn more or watch Katie in action or work with a facilitator for free, visit

I tried to find a video to post but there are too many to choose from. Click here to check some out.

Felice’s Birth Story

November 7, 2011 in Birth Stories, Fear, Felice, Holy Ghost, home birth, hospital birth, meditation by Progressive Prophetess

This is my first time posting on the new blog. It’s weird to have a month off. But also nice. You may notice that my user name has changed. I’m still the same old Mother Earth, but I started a new blog and that’s why I changed my user. For the birth story of this week, I am posting my own pregnancy and birth story. Enjoy!

I found out I was pregnant a week before my 28th birthday. It was a planned pregnancy, but I was still surprised. I honestly thought I wouldn’t ever get pregnant. I had pretty awful morning sickness, and I was just struggling to survive when my husband started acting weird and unstable. I won’t go into all the details but at 10 weeks pregnant, he filed for divorce.

He had mental health issues before, but his sudden need for attention was putting me through an emotional roller coaster. When it came to the morning sickness, I remember mostly feeling angry. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t eaten anything bad, and yet, I was sick and there was nothing I could do about it. On top of that, my spouse’s behavior was all over the place. He filed for divorce one day, then wanted to stay together forever, then asked me if I was going to get an abortion. When he finally moved his stuff out two weeks after filing for divorce, I had an overwhelming feeling of peace and calm wash over me and fill my whole house.

That’s when I knew it was the right thing. Of course, it took another two months or so before I stopped hurting on some other emotional levels (like accepting the idea of being a single mother), but for the most part, I felt really good almost immediately—and my nausea went away at right about that same time. Could they be related? I don’t know.

I  couldn’t use the word divorce or divorced for a really long time, because I didn’t like the stereotype I had of the bitter divorcee. I knew I didn’t want to be like that. I realized then that I had a choice, to become bitter or become better. This was such a huge revelation to me.

I realized that I had been living with an abuser, and that it was a life full of fear. I decided that I wanted to conquer some of my fears. I had all of this sudden confidence. I started reading a book on public speaking and the next month I got up and spoke in testimony meeting (after 10 years fearing it).

People started to notice that I seemed happier and more confident. They did not know yet that I was pregnant or had been abandoned. That was sort of shock to them. Once people found out, I was surprised by the outpouring of love and support that came from all sides. I didn’t have many close friends in my ward because I kept aloof from many people. My husband always told me that people didn’t like me (I realize now that he made up these stories) and so I became withdrawn and unapproachable. Once I came out of that withdrawn state, I realized that people actually loved me and gravitated toward me. So, much of my early pregnancy was spent growing into the fact that I was lovely and loved. I also stared to fall in love with the person inside me. I knew she was a girl and I also knew her name, because she told it to me, years before, in the temple.

When a woman I knew at church found out about my situation, she took me into her confidence. She had had her second baby during the midst of some serious marital turmoil and kept telling me how satisfying it was to have a natural birth. To do something to powerful. A victory.

I still remember sitting across from her at a coffee shop and listening to her whole story and thinking, I don’t want to think about this. I had been too afraid to think about how I would birth. Honestly, I was thinking of getting an elective c-section. I didn’t really know much about my choices.

But she and I became close, and I started frequenting their house around dinner time. They’d feed me, then we’d chat for a few hours and I’d go home and take some sort of homeopathic sleep aid to drug myself to sleep.

She raved about water birth and she also told me about doulas. I thought the idea sounded insane—till I met the one who would became my doula.I had been seeing the same OBGYN for years. I liked her, but once I got pregnant, I wasn’t getting much time with the doctor and I had a lot of needs. I needed someone to talk to me about my fears. She seemed uncomfortable talking on that level, and she just didn’t have the time.

I wished my mother were around (she died when I was 11). But after talking to my aunt and some other older motherly type women, I realized that they weren’t much help. They either didn’t remember giving birth, or didn’t have much information or advice on it.

I felt unprepared and blind. I am a reader, so of course I bought books, but the 5+ I bought were not much help. When I met my doula at an introductory childbirth ed class I was drawn to her light and calm energy.  She agreed to be my doula and I started attending her yoga class. I can’t tell you how transformative this yoga was for me. It was a lovely group of women in a beautiful, healing space. We began each class by introducing ourselves and telling a little about what was going on with us. One woman, who was nearing delivery when I first started coming, said that she was planning to birth at home. I was shocked. “What will you do if you have a problem?” I asked her.

“I’ll just transfer to the hospital,” she said.

I was sort of in awe of this. She came back to the class to visit after she had her baby and said it went well. I guess you could say, I pondered all of these things in my heart.

I kept going to yoga and for the first time in my life I learned to meditate in a way that was really effective for me and I began receiving lots of personal revelation. I also started to have a very real and interactive communication with my unborn baby.

As my pregnancy progressed, I realized that my baby was telling me that she wanted to be born at home. It was funny how far I had come and how much less fear I had by then.  I loved the idea of water birth, so I thought, why not?

So at 32 weeks I told my doctor that I wanted a home water birth. I was surprised by her reaction. She didn’t take it well. Now I know why. She has a totally different world view and home birth was not in it. She is the doctor who is occasionally on television stating her belief that the c-section rate should be 50%. Yikes.

I left her office crying. The midwife I had engaged was a wonderful, spiritual woman. She told me not to worry. She told me to meet her back up doctor so that I would know that not all doctors were that way. Indeed, her back up was a nice. And sort of cute. I could tell my baby had a crush on him. I told her not to get any ideas.

He said, “I know that as a home birth patient, this meeting is really just a formality, just in case.” He admitted that home births are safe and he had no stigma about it. I asked if he wanted a copy of my birth plan, just in case, and he said that I could give it to him, but that he already knew what I wanted–a natural vaginal birth, as gently as possible.

Through the whole pregnancy, I missed my mother intensely. I did find great peace in meditating on her and my other female ancestors, and often felt her presence.  Out of the blue, several of the widows in the ward let me know that they were aware of the fact that I didn’t have a mother and that they were all (seven of them) going to volunteer to be my daughter’s surrogate grandmas and my helpers. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. Some of them ended up being very key in my transition to motherhood and my daughter still calls one of them Grandma today.

I should mention how big a part the Atonement played throughout my whole pregnancy. I had used the Atonement before in my life for forgiveness, but I had never understood how to use it to take away my pain and sorrow. I learned how. It’s not something I can explain, but I did read every scripture about Jesus I could find and I meditated on him. I also read D&C 121:7 over and over. “Thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.”

At first, getting a divorce after 4 years of marriage seemed horrible—how would I ever I ever be able to be normal after so much abuse? How would I ever even be able to talk about it? But the Atonement is miraculous. I can only describe it like this: I can remember things that happened in my marriage, but they pain me no more. It is truly amazing.

* * * *

As her birth neared, the situation with my ex became full of tension. As an attorney, he was trying to us the law to bully me. He tried to oppose the home birth. He also egged my car, had people crank call me, and he even tried to force me to allow him at the birth.

Some people weighed in and thought I really should let him be there. I think they thought it would make him snap out of whatever it was and get us back together, but they didn’t understand that this man had physically and emotionally abused me. (I was still too ashamed of staying with him for so long and still wasn’t public about that yet.) And if I had learned anything, it was that emotional stuff is what causes most of the complications in labor, so my attorney told him where he could go.  Things remained tense.

I tried to stay calm and focused. I didn’t want anything to interfere with my peaceful birth.

On the day before my guess date, I felt a warm menstrual crampy feeling. I thought nothing of it. Then I realized that the tightening in my belly could possibly be surges. So I called my friend and she came over and we timed my surges. They were one minute long, 4 minutes apart for an hour. In the childbirth education classes I had taken, everyone always said that when that happened (4-1-1), it was time to go to the hospital. So we called my midwife and I called my friend Bethanie and told her to come, too. I was so sure I was going to have my baby in an hour with no pain at all. I called my doula, but she didn’t seem to be worried. She said, “Oh you’ve got hours. Check in with me in the morning.”

I put on some comfy lingerie thingy and was lying on the bed, watching the movie and chatting with my friend.

When Davi, my midwife, came at 11 p.m., she checked me and I wasn’t even effaced. She asked how I felt. I was using my Hypnosis relaxation techniques and the surges didn’t feel painful at all, so I said I was fine, but my back was a little achy. She said I should try to sleep through them and she would come back at 6 a.m.

We filled the birth tub. Bethanie got there soon after. By then, there was no sleeping through anything. The surges were coming strong and I was feeling them in my back—not where I planned to feel them. I tried to breath.

Beth put a hot wash cloth on my back and applied counter pressure. But the washcloth got cold so fast, I got annoyed and said I was getting in the shower to let the water run down my back. I got in the shower and leaned on the 5-gallon emergency water bottles I store in there (it’s a big shower). And let the water run down my back and tried to deeply relax through the surges. After what I thought was maybe 30 minutes in the shower (I was so lucky to have a never ending supply of hot water—miracle?) I decided I had to have made quite a lot of progress and told Beth I wanted to call Davi again.

“Well, she’ll be here in a just a little while,” she said. “It’s already 4:30.”

“What? You mean I have been in the shower for a couple of hours?”

She nodded.

I was amazed. I had heard that time warps in labor, but that was amazing. When Davi came she checked me and said that I was fully effaced but not at all dilated. I was annoyed. I had been working so hard. She said she’d be back in an hour or so with her assistant and that she wanted me to walk. Bethanie took me outside and walked with me, arm in arm.

At 7:30 or 8 my old bishop came over to give me a blessing. I told Davi we were going to go in another room and she said, “Oh, good, Prayer is good.” She was very supportive of the whole thing. Davi is a Sikh and very spiritual.

I don’t remember the blessing at all, but Beth told me later that he specifically blessed that the midwife would know what to do and that everything would go well. (He did not say according to my plan.)

I labored in the tub a bit, which felt nice on my back. I kept trying to visualize my vagina opening as wide as the Grand Canyon. I kept thinking, “She has to be here soon.” I have been doing this forever.

 laboring in tub

I puked again and Davi told me to stop fighting the surges. She was right, when I fought them, I puked. So I just let go and tried to breath. Her assistant kept checking the heart tones–it seemed like every 5 minutes, but I guess was every 30. She kept checking my blood pressure too. I guess they were worried about it. Which is weird because I have always had low blood pressure. I didn’t think much of it, but Davi would occasionally tell me to open up and she’d throw some homeopathic pellets in my mouth to keep my blood pressure down.

At 10 a.m. my friend Lisa showed up from the airport. She didn’t know if I would have a baby yet, but she told me a few days before that she was praying that she could be there at the most useful time, whatever that was.

They put her to work right away on hydration. They were giving me Pedia-lite because of all the puking. My doula, finally showed up around 1:00 p.m. and they made me walk again. This time Davi and Khefri were both supporting me. I remember a neighbor walked by us with her dog and saw me and asked. “Do you need a ride to the hospital or something?” She said.

Davi just smiled and said in her cheerful way, “Oh, everything is fine. She’s just in labor.”

“Uh. Exactly,” said the woman.

We just kept walking. I couldn’t talk through the surges. My back was killing me. Finally, I whispered, sort of ashamed of myself even as I said it, “isn’t there anything you can give me for the pain in my back?”

“Well, there are the sterile water papules,” said Davi.

“Oh, yes! Women swear by them in London,” said Khefri.

“What are those?”

“It’s just sterile water injected into the muscles around your spine and it temporarily paralyzes the muscles so you don’t feel anything.”

“What? How come I never hear of them? Do doctors know about these? Why don’t they give these in hospitals?” I asked.

“Because they are free.”

Even in labor, I was so annoyed. That needs to change, I thought.

We went back to the house and Davi warned me that it would sting really bad for about 3 seconds and then be fine. I bit on a pillow and it did sting, but it was brief.

The injections did help. I was still sort of whiney and weepy, but for the most part just trying to breathe deeply. I sat on the birth ball and leaned over the bed and Khefri massaged my back. Different people were handling the camcorder and whoever it was did a pretty good job. I liked how they occasional swung over to the clock to show what time it was. That was about 1:30.

Then she said she wanted to break the water for whatever reason and I said okay. She warned me that if there was more than 1+ meconeum we had to go to the hospital. It was trace. However, later, when I stood up, we saw more meconeum on the chux pad and she said it was between trace and 1+ and we had to watch it very carefully because the baby was stressed.

She had me try pushing once, but I didn’t feel pushy. I didn’t know exactly what to do. She checked me and said that I had a little lip of cervix that hadn’t effaced and it was blocking the head from coming down. She tried to reduce it with some tool. That hurt. I screamed out in pain, but it seemed to reduce it. I tried pushing again in different positions, but my baby didn’t seem to like any of them. Her heart rate was down to 90 or something. I pushed a few more times and her heart rate recovered, but not quickly.

Finally, Davi said, “Felice that is three strikes: the muconium, the cervical lip and her heart rate in distress.” She said, “Your baby is not going to be born at home. It’s time to go to the hospital. This is not an emergency; we just need to go now.”

I was disappointed but I was so deep in laborland that I just went with the flow. I trusted Davi, and I was just trying to breathe through the surges. We all piled into several cars. I didn’t even bother with the seatbelt. I was wearing a robe, naked underneath except for a bra. Davi’s assistant was in the back seat with me taking the heartbeat every 2 seconds (it seemed). Her heart rate was fine.

They kept telling me, “don’t push,” and I kept thinking, What are you talking about? I’m not doing anything.

“How do I not push?” I asked.

“Just blow.”

So I filled up my cheeks and blew. I guess I was pretty spaced out, looking out the window and not really responding to them. Davi snapped her fingers and said if I didn’t perk up they were going to try to give me a section. I instantly snapped out of it and acted very perky. “Hi, how are you? I’m good.” I said. They all laughed.

When we got there, we parked and took the secret back entrance. I thought I might get a wheelchair or something, but she said, “We don’t have time for that. Run.” So they pulled me, half running behind them with my robe flying open. When we go to the floor, Davi asked the first person she saw where our room was. “I called ahead. Dr. C is meeting us here.”

“Oh,” said, one of the nurses, barely looking up. “It’s the failed home birth.”

Davi didn’t hear her. She saw the room number up on a board and just started pulling me in that direction.

I don’t even remember what the nurse looked like, but her words totally crushed me and did for a long time afterward. If I had been less vulnerable I might have been able to say, I am not a failure. I am here because my midwife brought me here and that is what a good homebirth midwife is supposed to know when to do.

Dr. C showed up and Davi explained what was going on and her reasons for transferring. I was on my back and Dr. Chin asked me if I wanted to try switching positions to all fours or something else. I thought this was very nice of him to ask that, but I couldn’t move. I was crying about feeling like a failure and once on my back, it felt very painful to move. So I didn’t. I pushed a few times, with people holding my legs back.

Pushing didn’t make sense to me. Maybe it would have if I had been in a different position, but even at home, I hadn’t really gotten it.

Looking back on it, I see how the mind-body connection was at work. Though I was anxious to meet my baby and get her out, I also didn’t want her out. I knew that once she was out in the world I could no longer protect her. I knew that once she was born, I would have to deal with my ex again, who had already started to use her as a pawn. So I wasn’t really giving pushing any real effort. I was whining, crying and sort of hoping someone else would make a decision for me. I gave a few okay pushes and then Dr. C told me that my baby was having more trouble recovering after each one and that he’d give me the chance to do it myself, but if I didn’t do it soon, he’d have to use the vacuum. I didn’t do it on my own, so he used the vacuum on the next push and she was out.

It was amazing. The only way I can describe the release of pressure on my belly is like a zit popping. I never really felt the ring of fire, or much physical pain at all during pushing. (I’m not sure if this was effective hypnosis or a miracle or endorphins or all three.)

They put my baby girl on my belly and I grabbed her arms and pulled her up to my chest. The connection was instant. This was what all this work was for. They took her a way for a few minutes to check her over, but all of my birth companions were watching them like mama hawks and making sure she was okay and talking to her. Then they brought her back and Bethanie and Davi helped me latch her on so she could nurse. She was a little tired, but she nursed right away.

Right after the birth I was giddy with endorphins. Dr. Chin took about an hour to sew me up, so I was just laying there with my baby and enjoying being with my birth companions.

I remember feeling like my teeth were gross and said I wished I could brush them. Bethanie whipped out my toothbrush from my emergency bag and brushed my teeth for me while I held my baby and then gave me a cup to spit and water to drink.

I have never had anyone brush my teeth—at least not that I remember—but I will always remember it as one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I couldn’t get up or do it myself and having clean teeth felt so nice. I still cry when I think about it. It was such a gesture of pure love.

My birth companions shielded me from a lot of the hospital nonsense that was going on around me. I didn’t find out till later that the nurse was having a hissy fit in the corner because I had refused the eye drops and the vitamin K shot.

We forgot to look at the clock for the exact time of her birth but it was about 3:19 p.m. (only about 30 minutes after we got there) on her guess date (June 16, 2006). Incidentally, I was also born on my guess date. I guess we are punctual people.

Dr. C told me I could go home 6 hours after I was admitted or 24 hours or 48 hours. By the time he told me this that would have meant we would leave in 3 hours. I didn’t think I would be ready to walk in 3 hours, so I opted to stay overnight.

Lisa, who had flown in from New York and was planning to stay at my house, stayed at the hospital with me. All the others went home after lots of pictures.

 felice and phoebe

I got lucky and had some wonderful recovery nurses. Despite not being able to walk yet, I was full of giddy energy and talking about the birth with Lisa.

Finally, Lisa, who had also been up all night on a red-eye from New York, said, “You should get some sleep while that baby is sleeping,” so I decided to settle in and try. A nurse came to check my vitals and I agreed to let her if she promised to tell the other nurses and the next shift not to bother me. I didn’t need my vitals checked every 4 hours. I was fine.

She said she’d take care of it.

I finally fell asleep and about an hour later another nurse–the next shift–came in to check my vitals. I told her that I was going to check her vitals if she didn’t get out of there. She looked pretty shocked. I don’t think anyone had ever done that to her before. I felt bad, but not really. I was so tired after finally falling asleep and being woken up.

Phoebe slept the whole time. By 9 am I was ready to get the heck out of the hospital but they made us hang around a few more hours. I thought about just leaving, but they actually have an ankle bracelet they put on babies—so none get stolen—so if we tried to leave with her, we would have set off an alarm. Hmm. No worries about stolen babies at a homebirth.

When we left we took everything that wasn’t nailed down. I figured if I had to give birth in the hospital, I was going to get my money’s worth. Blankets, diapers, gloves, Advil, nail scrubber, underwear, pads, and pacifiers. I also asked them for my free gift, which I knew they usually gave out, but they did not offer me. Humph. It was a diaper bag filled with formula, which I threw out, but the bag came in handy.

Buckling her in to the car seat was not something I had wanted to do for 40 days, but we both survived it and we drove home. The house was cleaned and everything was put away and laundry was done. The ladies had been busy.

I fell into my wonderful soft bed and just enjoyed being home. Davi came and checked on me and we talked. I told her about what the nurse had said and she said if she heard it she would have decked her. “You didn’t fail. You were a successful home birth transfer. And you had a lovely birth. There was a lady down the hall who was screaming her head off.” Davi told me that every one of the staff was in awe of me, and that I was very graceful.

I didn’t remember being graceful. I thought I had lost it. Later, when watching my birth video I realized that I was indeed graceful. (Another good reason to film your birth—you don’t remember it accurately).

I wondered afterward, if we really needed to go to the hospital—If I could have done it at home, but in the birth video, I saw that when she came out, Dr. C unwound the cord from her neck, and she was a little blue when she first came out. So, while I could have done it at home, I know that my indecision about getting her out or keeping her in would have likely dragged things out and hurt her.

Looking back on the whole saga, I realize that what I was feeling must be how Heavenly Father feels. He knows we need a body, but once we come here, we are exposed to all the temptations and weaknesses of the flesh. He can’t protect us anymore–well, he can, but only as much as we let him.

Becoming a parent has brought me so much closer to understanding Heavenly Father and how much he loves us. I’m so grateful my little girl chose to come to me and I am so grateful that my body did everything it needed to do. It is truly divine. I am truly divine.

Felice and Phoebe

by Lani

Born again

November 4, 2011 in Baptism, Holy Ghost, Lani, Savior by Lani

By Lani Axman

Lately I’ve been pondering a lot on all of the things I need to teach my children before they grow up and leave the house (how to cook, how to sew, etc.). So, as I approached my scripture reading yesterday, I had the teaching of children in the forefront of my mind. Then my scriptures opened up to 1 Nephi, chapter 1. In that verse we know so well, I was reminded of how Nephi’s goodly parents taught him “in all the learning of [his] father.” A footnote then sent me to Enos 1:1 where I was reminded that Enos’s father also taught him, and Enos, grateful for those teachings, said, “blessed be the name of my God for it.” I sighed and thought  with hope about how my children will praise God for my efforts some day. (A girl can dream, right?)

Eventually, the footnotes led me to Moses. And that’s where I had an epiphany. Moses 6:58 says: “Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: . . .”  And that really got my attention because this is God commanding Adam and Eve (and all of us) to teach something specific to His precious children. OK, I thought, I’m listening! And then I read the following verse:

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory.

As soon as I started reading those words, the Holy Spirit flooded my mind and a handful of puzzle pieces fell into place beautifully. In that moment I understood, with delight, that God wasn’t just telling us to teach our children about the importance of the Atonement and baptism. God was also commanding us to teach our children that they were born in an incredibly symbolic way. God wants them and us to know that childbirth isn’t just an uncomfortable physical necessity standing between pregnancy and parenthood (as the world might have us believe). When we give birth to our children, we are allowing them to burst forth from their premortal state, bathed in pure water, life-giving blood, and the Spirit. These words and symbols are part of both childbirth and baptism for a reason. God wants us to teach our children those reasons!

When our babies emerge from our bodies, many might describe them as “messy.” But the reality is that in those moments immediately after birth most babies are as pure and clean and fresh as they will ever be in this life. Amniotic fluid and vernix actually have antimicrobial properties (see here). The water our babies are immersed in as they come forth into life is a cleansing, purifying protection for their bodies and their mothers whose hands and breasts and body become purified through their first embrace. The vernix’s antimicrobial properties linger, particularly if rubbed into baby’s skin rather than being wiped or washed away. What a beautiful testament to our Creator’s divine design and loving interest in the details.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the great gift of witnessing the baptism of my firstborn. After she emerged from those purifying waters, I had the privilege of being the first to ask her, “How do you feel?” She was positively radiant, smiling with all of her face, eyes, and soul. She said, “Really, really good!” I will never forget the feeling we shared in that moment. I don’t even have words for it.

How fitting it was that I, her mother, wrapped her in a towel and put my arms around her, rubbing her warm, my own hands and body becoming wet from the pure water dripping from her hair and body. Here was my first baby, born again, in my arms, fresh and new and clean.


by Lani

Jam to Lamb

November 2, 2011 in Archive, Book, Fear, Felice, Lani by Lani

Two years ago tomorrow, I got a life-changing email from a lovely woman named Felice Austin. It started like this…

Dear Lani,

I got your name and email from Martha. She said that you are a fellow birth loving mamma. My name is Felice Austin and I am writing a spiritual birth book titled The Gift of Giving Life…

Needless to say, it only took a few nanoseconds for me to know I most definitely wanted to be a part of this project. And two years later I can say with every bit of my heart and soul that I know God brought Felice Austin and me (and all of my TGOGL sisters) together.

The day after I came into contact with Felice, she wrote a blogpost I will never forget. To this day it is still one of my all-time favorite blogposts. I hope you will enjoy this re-post from her archive as much as I did two years ago. -Lani

This is a friend’s daughter, Danika, leaning in to touch the orphan lambs. I made this image in Montana in 2005 on my second trip to Pachy’s ranch. I have this image up in my private workspace and every time I look at it, it makes me want to cuddle with the lambs.To be clear, I’m a city girl, and I was never an animal lover. I dislike shed hair of any kind, and my keen sense of smell has ruined many a trip to the state fair or zoo. But something powerful drew me to this all-female sheep ranch during lambing season.

Pachy Burns has an outfit of about 800 sheep in western Montana. When her daughters were maybe 8 or 9, Pachy left a corporate job and moved to Montana to become a sheep rancher. She had no experience, and she was a single mother. No men around to speak of. She and her daughters figured out how to do everything and somehow did it. But when the girls grew up and on, she needed help during the lambing season. (Lambing season is the month when all the pregnant lambs give birth. It happens 5 months after the introduction of several genetically well endowed bucks.) So she invited several of her female friends from around the country to come see what she was doing and also help her with the work during that crazy month long birth bonanza. That was 15 or more years ago. Since then, word spread and now women from all over come and participate and some even pay her (not much) for the privilege. She has dubbed it “Jam to Lamb.”

I first heard about it through a friend that is a documentary photographer. We had been wanting to collaborate on something and this spoke to both of us, so we went. If you asked me then why I was going, I would have told you that I wanted to interview and learn the stories of the individual women and what drew each of them, but in truth, I wanted to see if their reason was the same as mine: I was terrified and obsessed with birth.

I had no children yet and wasn’t close to ready–and the primary reason was that I was afraid of giving birth. I had never witnessed a birth, just heard horror stories and had the media version of birth firmly entrenched in my imagination.

But something about lambing and this sheep ranch drew me. Perhaps because it was all women. I will analyze myself later…

It ended up being a pivotal moment in my journey to motherhood. I could write tomes about the sheep and this experience, but the most important thing I learned was that birth is a normal process that happens hundreds of times every day. Very few of the sheep were screaming out in pain. Maybe 4 in 800 had a problem. I remember looking deep into the eyes of a laboring sheep and what I saw there is what I now recognize as “the zone.” She was going deep within and working hard.

Sheep give birth standing up (on all fours I guess you could say). The lambs come out front hoofs first, swan diving from the womb. It is beautiful to watch. When her baby hits the ground the mother licks its eyes and face clean.

I remember worrying about the smell of 800 sheep, but miraculously, there was no smell. It was strange. Pachy explained that it could be mother nature’s way of protecting the lambs from cayotes and other animals during lambing season. This is amazing to me.

One of the days I was there, I helped pull a lamb from a sheep who was having a difficult time (someone else was massaging the parinium). I was up to my elbows in amniotic fluid when it was finally born, healthy. I remember standing there thinking, I should wash my hands. But before I reached the bathroom they were dry, and felt oddly clean. I smelled them. They smelled good. They smelled cleaner than anything on that whole ranch. I washed them anyway, but like Mary, I kept all these things in my heart.

I took another year before I had the courage to try it, but I learned so much from these sheep. I hope someday to take my daughter to play with the lambs.

by Lani

Family (birthing) history

October 31, 2011 in Birth Stories, Family History, Lani by Lani

By Lani Axman

I was pondering my ancestors recently and got wondering about their birthing experiences.  How cool would it be to go back in a time machine and watch our ancestral mothers giving birth?!  The closest I could get, however, was to look through some of the histories I have in my family history file.  Most of them are sparse on birthing details, but it was still fascinating to imagine-in what the stories lacked.  Much of what I found was heartache and loss, but I also found so much courage and strength as well.  Here are a few snip-its…

My great-great-great grandmother, Inger, came to America aboard a ship with her husband and her three (living) children from Denmark in 1866.  At the time, Inger, was pregnant with her fifth child. Here is the account of that child’s birth:

On board the ship coming to America a baby boy was born, 26 May 1866 to Inger and Andrew. He was given the name John B. after the captain of the ship. The baby died the following day and was buried at sea. . . . They had left one little grave in Denmark and now to lose their baby and not even be able to give it the burial they wanted to was very hard to bear. Conditions on the ship were not at all good. They came as steerage passengers, it was cheaper but more unsanitary and the trip took from 8-12 weeks

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by Robyn

Giving Light

October 28, 2011 in Holy Ghost, Robyn, Savior by Robyn

As Halloween approaches, instead of haunted houses and spooky forests, my thoughts are turned to the Holy Ghost.  I like to teach my children a little family home evening lesson centered around the Comforter as this time of year approaches.  With that in mind I thought I would share some of my thoughts about the Holy Ghost and birth.

In the Spanish language when a woman gives birth it is said she will “dar la luz,” which literally translated means, “to give light.”  I love this beautiful analogy!  A newborn baby comes from a dark womb into the “light” of this world.  But I also think there is a little more to this idea of giving light.

In John 9:5, Christ proclaims “I am the light of the world.” In Doctrine and Covenants 11:28, he expands on this idea, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  I am the life and light of the world.”  Life and light.  As a baby is conceived, carried, and born they are granted life and light.

John 1:9 states that Christ is the “true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”  Every person that is born into this world is granted the light of Christ. This is separate from the gift of the Holy Ghost which every person must consciously accept after baptism. The light of Christ is given to every man born into this world and is “related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong. . . it’s influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost” (Bible Dictionary 725).  It is the light of Christ that can lead us to eventually accept the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Now, I do not propose to know exactly when the light of Christ is given to a person. Is it before birth or at birth?  It seems from the scriptures that coming into this world is required and that women are the instrument through which Christ administers this light. We know that after baptism Christ administers the power of the Holy Ghost through his Priesthood bearers.


The Bible Dictionary describes the light of Christ as, “enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ.” How wonderful it is to be a vehicle for the such a beautiful gift.

I believe that a person can develop a stronger or weaker sense of the light of Christ as they live in this world and make choices. However, to allow ourselves to benefit from the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost and other spiritual gifts we are to accept the gift of the Holy Ghost through making the covenants of baptism.  The Holy Ghost offers further light and knowledge on our pathway Home.

In this way, men and women both equally take part in giving light to their children.  They each have different roles that give light and life that comes only from Christ.

*Just as a disclaimer, this is not official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  This is my own interpretation of certain doctrines as I have pondered them.  Also, this idea is probably not unique to me.  It seems familiar as if I have read it somewhere before.

Favors From the Spirit World by Felice

October 26, 2011 in Uncategorized by enjoybirth

This is from The Gift of Giving Life archives originally posted in March 2010.  It is one of my favorites because it reminds me of how close the Spirit World really is.  I hope when you read it you will remember how you and your ancestors benefit one another from both sides of the veil. Enjoy!   -Robyn

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Robyn – Birth Story

October 24, 2011 in Birth Stories, Robyn, Uncategorized, VBAC by enjoybirth

Megan’s Birth Story

The spirit itself beareth witness that we are children of God

–Roman’s 8:16

I do love “birth” days. As a childbirth educator and doula I often get to be a part of someone else’s “birth”day. It is magical, it is life-affirming, it is sacred. I will never forget the day my little Megan came. From the first contraction to the last it was 3 hours and 12 minutes. We were blessed to have our spicy little “Nutmeg” enter this world in our home surrounded by loving family and midwives. My previous birth had been an unplanned unassisted VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).  It was a beautiful Christmas surprise to have my son appear so unexpectedly but we were excited to plan for extra helping hands to be there this time.

I was getting ready for church (9:48 am) when I felt the first contraction.  It was a good one but I was still able to move through it.  I tried to keep going about my business fixing my older daughter’s hair for the Primary Program but found I had to stop and lean on the bathroom counter for each contraction.  At first my husband and I thought maybe we could make it to Sacrament for the Primary Program but it soon became apparent that the contractions were strong enough that I would have to miss hearing my daughter repeat her part, “Romans 8:16, the spirit itself beareth witness that we are children of God.”  I just couldn’t imagine sitting on the hard chairs in the back and trying to relax through a contraction.

My husband arranged for a neighbor to take the kids to Church and I relaxed a little more knowing I would have him with me.  Jeff then had to try to find someone to teach Relief Society for me since I was supposed to teach that day.  After he made few calls he found out that one of the other teachers had mistakenly prepared to teach that day too.  So it was just meant to be.  I relaxed a little more.

I didn’t feel like putting on my clothes so I put on my bata (grandma jammies) to labor in.  Before leaving, my daughter walked in and stroked my arm telling me, “just relax, mommy.”  Jeff called my parents and midwife while I spent time laboring at the end of the bed.  My midwife said she would take a quick shower and then come check things out since my last labor had gone so quickly.

Jeff brought me the birth ball and I spent some time sitting or leaning on it.  I especially liked it when Jeff could stroke my back and guide me through a relaxation exercise like my special place or progressive relaxation.  After my midwife arrived, she took my blood pressure, temperature, and listened to the baby.  Everything was good so she went downstairs to contact a second midwife to come assist at the birth.

Jeff got the bed ready while I continued to labor at the end of the bed.  I felt more and more lower back pressure and asked Jeff for a hot rice pack.  The rice pack really did help but it cooled off too quickly.  After the second midwife arrived I knew it was time to let my labor progress.  I got up and walked around and then got in the shower.  My contractions quickly intensified.  The warm shower helped but I still found myself repeating to myself that I could do this and that God was with me.  I even vocalized a little bit but found better control through concentrating on keeping my breathing low and relaxed.  My midwife listened to the baby again telling me everything was fine.

When my daughter came home after Sacrament Meeting she said to me, “Mom, you can have the baby now.”  I was getting tired of the shower and decided to get out.  I only took a few steps after drying off and felt the contractions take over.  I leaned my head on the bathroom counter while Jeff tried to apply some counter pressure for the growing lower back pressure I felt.  I immediately snapped, “Okay, don’t do that!  Just talk to me.”  He began stroking my back while encouraging me.

After a few contractions in this position I started to feel an urge to push at the peak and grunted with it.  My midwife asked me if the push was wishful or if I couldn’t help it.  I answered that I wasn’t sure.  But with the next contraction I couldn’t help it and pushed but still held back.  I remember my midwife wiping my brow, looking me in my eyes and asking how I was doing. I looked at her and said, “Transition is tough, I’m glad that part’s over.”  My midwife asked me if I wanted to move and I said no because the idea of moving sounded so uncomfortable.  I felt immobilized by the baby’s downward movement and I also think I felt safe there in the bathroom, just a few feet from where my last baby was born.  So my daughter stood in the bathtub while Jeff sat on the edge of the bathtub behind me.  The midwives threw down some chux pads under me to catch the blood and fluids.

My midwife looked to check for the baby’s descent and quickly moved her head before the bag of water burst all over.  She barely missed getting drenched but Jeff’s legs were soaked.  Soon after that the head began to appear.  I felt the ring of fire before she even started to crown.  The midwife helped Jeff catch Megan as her head quickly emerged with the cord wrapped around her neck.  Her shoulders followed the head in the same push since she really was a little girl weighing just 6 lb. 6 oz.  This quick movement facilitated the midwife rapidly somersaulting Megan to unloop the cord from her neck.  Pushing only took 12 minutes and she was born at exactly 1:00pm.  I had Megan in my arms immediately.

We just enjoyed the excitement and joy of the moment for a while before she latched on 15 minutes later.  I immediately felt the urge to push the placenta out after she had nursed a little bit.  Jeff cut the cord after the placenta was delivered.  My daughter thought the whole experience was cool but was happy to go watch a video until her Grandma arrived.

Megan was a powerful nurser from the first latch on.  She nursed for 1 ½ hours after she first latched on!  Needless to say I was a little sore.  It was nice that Megan did not leave my arms for the first 2 hours after her birth.  Not all of my births have been this “easy.”  At least now looking back I think of it as easy (time has a way of erasing some of the hard parts).  What I do know is that I have never forgotten how “the spirit beareth witness that we are children of God,” as each of my 5 children have entered this world.

I recorded in my journal that day: We feel greatly blessed by this beautiful birth.  It was a sacred experience to be in our home and feel the Lord’s spirit there as Megan entered this world.  Megan is a beautiful baby.  She is so tiny, so precious, so real and so very much ours.  We love her.  Isn’t childbirth a beautiful gift from God?  We feel it is.  I feel my love for God enriched as I reflect on the whole experience.  He is present in many little things, like little Megan, our newest little miracle!