Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reprinted from The Kansas City Star

Dawn, a loyal reader and responder wrote this essay that appeared in our local paper. I wanted to share it with the rest of you. Thank you Dawn.

Respect, not callousness, for at-risk babies
Special to The Star
“The name is Jillian Faith,” my husband said, letting me know we had a girl. I was handed my tiny baby as the nurse proclaimed, “She’s beautiful, perfect.”
Five months earlier I was not certain I’d hear “perfect.” My prenatal blood screen results showed a risk of Trisomy 18.
Fear sent me online where I learned an extra 18th chromosome would likely give her a malformed brain and failing organ systems. More than 90 percent of babies with Trisomy 18 die within one year.
After two ultrasounds, she looked healthy, but there were no guarantees. I wanted an amniocentesis test just in case. I’d plan a Cesarean section to see the baby alive or for care after birth.
The perinatologist said he would do amnio only to pressure me to avoid heroic measures for “that type of child.” I realized that if Trisomy 18 was verified, my baby’s life could be valued less by others. I chose not to undergo the test, but I still worried.
I found myself in a support group for families whose babies are affected by Trisomy 18. I learned that parents with a prenatal diagnosis could expect to be treated in one of two ways: with coldness or compassion. Many stories touched my heart, but two in particular show the difference a doctor can make.
Christian was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 by amnio. The parents were immediately encouraged to terminate after an initial ultrasound.
After the diagnosis they were denied any further tests. The family was told they were “choosing when not if” their baby would die and were informed that “doctors don’t help babies with Trisomy 18, because they are incompatible with life.”
Early on, Christian’s parents were instructed to call when the baby stopped moving in the womb. Week after week, Christian kept moving.
He was alive when measurements showed too much amniotic fluid. He was alive when the induction began and when he was in breech position. Christian’s parents wanted a C-section in hopes of seeing their seventh child born alive but were denied monitoring or a C-section during labor.
Christian was stillborn with a cord tightly wrapped around his neck. The death certificate lists Trisomy 18 as the cause. Christian’s mother carries grief from the loss of her child and anxiety from the medical care. She believes that her son may have been born alive if he had been monitored during childbirth and blames herself for not demanding a C-section.
A different case was Teodora’s. She was also diagnosed with Trisomy 18 at mid-pregnancy. She was her parents’ first child. They decided to carry her to term.
Teodora’s mother visited two doctors before finding Michael Berman, an obstetrician and Yale University professor. Teodora was monitored closely in pregnancy, and born at 39½ weeks by C-section. She lived for more than two hours.
The medical staff went a long way to help the parents honor their daughter in life and in death.
Here is an excerpt from a letter read by Berman at the memorial service for Teodora. His words speak about the respect for Teodora’s life despite her supposed “poor quality of life.”
“As physicians it is the greatest professional privilege to participate in the care of a pregnancy and the birth of a child. Yet the bar is raised when the child dies. As elation turns to grief, and joy to sorrow; when in a brief moment the expected becomes the unexpected, this privilege becomes sacred. For we are first to see and touch her, we inscribe her image indelibly in our minds, and her death, in paradox, does not sear our bonds of caring but rather seals them.”
I think Berman picked the better way. His actions showed his value of a child’s life, even in death.
Dawn Meisenheimer Lewis, a former teacher, lives in Gardner with her husband and six children. To reach Midwest Voices columnists, send e-mail to

Sage Femme Birth Center

Something wonderful has been going on right under my nose, and I missed it. Sage Femme Birthcenter, in Kansas City Kansas is an absolute jewel. The doula conference I recently spoke at took place at Sage Femme. Though I've known about the birthcenter since before it opened, I've never visited there before. What a fabulous place. I'm a longtime admirer of the CNM who runs it and listened to her speak of her dream, years before it manifested. As I toured the birthcenter over the conference lunch break, I had an almost out-of-body experience. It hit me that I should be promoting this place. My kinswomen should be birthing there. My friends (okay friends kids) should be birthing there. I think I've just changed where I get my well-woman care. We do have another local solution to hospital birth.
Sage Femme.

A New Epiphany

MANA, as always, has rejuvinated me. I also spoke two days ago at our annual Doula conference on the African-American experience of birth. That was awesome! I sat on a panel with others who spoke about Latina, Chinese, Somali, Indian (from India) and Deaf women's experience of birth. It was sooo informative. Conferences like this also bring out all the local activists whom I enjoy hobnobbing with. One local midwife, had a showing of Ricki Lake's film- even though I just saw it in Florida, I hated to miss this viewing (I had to teach a CPR class) because I wanted to hear women's reaction to it. I'm grateful to be surrounded by such an active and thriving community of birth activists, not everyone has that.

On to that epiphany...
It has finally settled into my soul, what this book is about and why I'm writing it. For the past year, I've struggled to write not knowing my direction. After the past two weeks, I'm sure. I now know who this book is for and what it is about. I've even come up with a finally suitable title. I've written my query letter to find an agent. I'm told I should send out about 100 querys to find 10-20 agents interested in reading my manuscript in hopes of getting 1-2 interested agents. Well, I'm ready. I've had worse odds than that before. However, should I not find an agent and publisher at the end of this process, I'm equally ready and willing to self-publish.

The 15 minute excerpt that the Brits sent me was excellent. Now I understand the difference between a home movie and a documentary. I can't wait to see what a one-two hour long version might look like. (watch out Ricki Lake) Thanks to Larry and Lucy for fed-exing it across the pond in time for MANA.

What's next? I'm scouting out my next speaking gig, but I'll be attending the Missouri LLL conference next weekend to see some stellar speakers like Dia Micheals. I'll use the time to pick up tips and ideas on my own speaking career. The following weekend, I'm heading to the Holy Land, the retreat center owned by my hermitess nun friend. I'm waaaayyyy overdue for some R&R. I'll hang out in her teepee and have some time of solitude and meditation. I need to reflect on all that has transpired this Fall and how my life is changing. I'll regroup and be ready for Spring engagements. I also hope to return to Mexico in January to do the San Miguel Walk. My goal for finishing my book is December, I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In The Belly of the Whale

I just had a chance to watch the second half of Ricki Lake's 'The Business of Being Born' My roomies and I were late getting back from the restaurant but I'm glad I snuck in to catch the last half anyway. Being here at MANA this weekend is really intensifying my desire to advocate for women. They need to know the truth. It's my job to tell them. But I'm just a modern-day Jonah running from the task I've been given to do. Finishing this book will not be easy, but it will be a labor of love. Things have just gone from bad to worse. I've got to do SOMETHING to stem the tide of runaway inductions, and cesareans, and epidurals, and pitocin, and cytotec, and on, and on, and on. This is not good for women. It is not good for babies. Something has got to give. Women are dying. NICUs are filled with babies made to be born too soon. Women need to know the risks associated with hospital and medicalized birth. Its time for me to head on over to Nineveh...

It Is Done

I have now completed my session at MANA. I thought it went very well. I built in lots of discussion and the midwives were eager to express what was on their minds and in their hearts.
I was even able to show my video excerpt. Lucy and Larry did a phenomenal job on editing. It was quite powerful to watch and I am inspired to really get the book finished. I will take courage and tell my story. I'm so grateful to be here, amongst these men and women. Everytime I come to MANA, it renews my faith. My three roomates are all young midwife students. I love my conversations with them. I've also met a Dear Reader who introduced herself to me. It has been such a blessing to be able to come, one I'm very grateful for. I'll write more later. Right now, I'm off to the Red Tent for some time of quiet reflection and afterwards its dinner at a local seafood restaurant-fresh seafood in the midwest is very expensive so I'm looking forward to having it while I'm here in Florida.

The Big Day

I'm here in Clearwater Florida, just across the bay from Tampa. Its lovely and warm and rainy here. A nice change from the much cooler Midwest. I love being at MANA. This conference always has such a lovely feel to it- the midwives give off good energy. I'm putting the finishing touches to my powerpoint and adding to my list of AV needs. I'm hoping to show the 17 minute video Lucy and Larry fed-exed from London. So far I've haven't seen it but I'm hoping to get some good help here to get it up and going. I've been praying and meditating to give my audience a worthwhile experience. I want it to be powerful and inspiring for them. I'm really looking forward to doing the presentation in about 3 hours. Thanks, Dear Readers for all your well-wishes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ready or Not...

Josiah turned one last week and it seems fitting that to mark the occasion, I'm headed to the MANA (Midwives Alliance of North America) conference in Clearwater Florida to speak about his birth experience. It is a privilege to do so, but I am nervous about how I will do. Keep me in your thoughts- I'll write later about the conference, which I'm sure will be wonderful.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Must Be Dreaming...

Been drop dead busy of late. I'm preparing my presentation for the Midwives Alliance of North American (MANA) conference- remember, if you'll be there, come say hi. This month is also Josiah's first birthday (can you believe it???) He's been such a fussy little spider monkey these days with teething and all. I'll post some pictures soon. I also have another presentation on birth a week after the MANA one on 'The African-American Experience of Birth" (I have no clue what to talk about for that one!) . I'm teaching my first NRP course tomorrow and don't feel prepared AT ALL. This month is also my wedding anniversary so I'll have to think of something special to do for my darling husband. In the mean time my business is busy, busy, busy. I need to sit, catch my breath, and think about birth and what messages I want to relay about it. I changed my website to focus on holistic birth and birth practices. I've been studying the websites of other speakers/presenters to get ideas. Bear with me Dear Readers. I've got lots to say, just no time to say it! On the other hand, I'm starting to live the life of my dreams...