10 Things I Learned From Ina May Gaskin

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The “mother of modern midwifery,” Ina May Gaskin, dropped some knowledge on a posse of nurses, educators, and doulas in New York City, and I was lucky enough to be there. The local NYC birthing community doesn’t get together enough — it’s hard when you’re attending all-nighter births — so it was a real treat to mingle with these ladies. They give off some strong — dare I say, empowering? — vibes.

Ina May talked for a little bit and fielded lots of great questions.

Here are the highlights:

  1. Inducing a woman before she’s ready is like trying to harvest apples in July. “The fruit won’t be as sweet.”
  2. She’s obsessed with the awesome video (see after the jump) of a Bali elephant birthing and resuscitating its baby all on its own. “She didn’t take an infant elephant resuscitation class,” Ina May noted.
  3. Gestational diabetes and hypertension are scarce when women are exposed to less stress and have access to real (not processed) food. “Cut out the white stuff, the sugar, and the starch,” she said. “And if you do eat carbs, don’t go lie down afterward. Get up and do something. Use that energy.”
  4. She shared a terrible story about a woman in Cape Fear, NC, who was examined by seven obstetricians, induced, and then given a C-section, only to learn that she was NOT even pregnant. None of the doctors had thought to palpate her stomach to feel for the baby. I’m not even sure I totally understand this story enough to relay it — this was an hysterical pregnancy — but the point was that a midwife would have figured this out just by touching the woman. True that.
  5. There’s one doctor in New York City who will deliver a breech baby vaginally. I don’t know the doctor’s name. But Ina May was adamant that we not let the skills for delivering breech die out.
  6. Lots of nurses are not getting the training they deserve and require. Some nurses in the group pointed out that the schooling isn’t so bad, but the reality of teaching hospitals and nurse/doctor dynamics makes it very hard for them to do much at all in terms of supporting non-medicated births.
  7. She praised doulas, noting that their work requires a lot of patience and an ability to not get attached. Yup.
  8. She fell for a Japanese obstetrician who has started a pregnancy program in Japan that emphasizes a lot of physical activity in pregnancy, especially old-school activities like squatting, crawling, and basically scrubbing the floor. She talked about how sitting back in a semi-recline position is lousy for baby positioning — even during pregnancy. The Japanese doctor has amazing success with his program.
  9. She thinks America can only be saved by universal healthcare and that we need way more midwives assisting births as they do in most Western European countries (where there are better stats for maternal and fetal health).
  10. She showed us how to use a Rebozo, which is basically a long scarf that you place under a laboring woman’s hips when she’s lying down and then use to pull her hips UP and from side to side. This can jiggle a baby out of a funky position to help labor progress. She also told us the famous story of the Gaskin Maneuver, a very simple and now proven technique for resolving shoulder dystocia in second-stage labor. Mom gets onto all fours and the shoulders dislodge. (There was much enthusiasm for pushing in positions other than on the back.)

That’s it for now. I will be back with more Ina May as soon as I buy her new book, Birth Matters. There’s always more to learn from this living legend. It’s a manifesta!

Article Posted 7 years Ago

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