By Mary Esther Malloy after a lecture by Dr. Nils Bergman at New York University in February, 2016 (she apologizes to Dr. Bergman if she’s mottled his words. She was writing as fast as she could)
Neuroscience on the screen.
A packed room of maternity care professionals.
Our brains trying to understand our brains.
Once upon a time not so very long ago, Dr. Nils Bergman launched a mother-baby skin to skin revolution.
I get it, I think. But I am about to be radicalized.
Dr. Nils Bergman speaks:
Skin to skin unlocks the neuroscience.
Think of the layered, interconnecting jungle where everything functions in relation to everything else. The brain is a jungle, not a computer.
There are more synapses at birth than stars in the universe.
He tell us
It matters how we are born…Early experiences fire and wire the brain…Pathways are connected…Networks make lights go on…Development is ordered…Foundations are laid upon which higher circuits can be built…Critical periods come and go in which aspects of our genetic inheritance are activated.
What is activated depends on the baby’s environment.
The environment tells our DNA: The world is safe. Eat. Rest. Grow. Connect. Oxytocin flows through the circuitry.
Open Letter to Dr. Nils Bergman By Mary Esther Malloy
Your research has shown the world
a baby belongs on its mother, skin to skin.
You argue persuasively
a baby on its mother, it is where we lay the foundation for healthy people and healthy societies.
Skin to skin must start at birth, Skin to skin must be continuous.
Kangaroo Mother Care is not yet the bedrock of maternity care you’d have it be, but the world is listening. We are reconsidering one of the 20th Century’s grand experiments: the practice of separating mothers and babies at birth.
Now, when it is deemed possible, a baby is delivered to its mother’s chest.
Immediate skin to skin.
But, what if we were to trust birth and women even further? What if, instead of delivering a baby immediately to her mother’s chest at the moment of birth, what if the midwife or doctor simply guides the baby down where she is born? …what if everyone pauses… and leaves the mother to initiate the skin to skin, on her time frame?
There are many things that help our children to be as healthy as possible during their first minutes, hours, days, months and years. If the findings of some new research are correct, then ensuring that our babies get their full volume of blood as they are born might be one of the more important steps we can take for the well-being of our children.
Here is the problem: while studies are showing us that there appears to be no good justification for the routine clamping and cutting of a baby’s umbilical cord seconds after the baby is born, survey after survey shows most obstetricians and many midwives still clamping and cutting cords very soon after delivery, with some rates as high as 95% (Downey and Bewley 2012; van Rheenen, 2011). Dr. Jose Tolosa and colleagues write, “Although without clear benefit and no rationale to support it, early cord clamping remains the most common practice among obstetricians and midwives in the western hemisphere” (Tolosa et al., 2010).
What can we do about the disparity between evidence that strongly supports delayed cord clamping and widespread habits of practice that we know are not benefiting our children? We can educate ourselves. We can share research with our doctors and midwives. We can advocate for a change in business as usual. I’ve written this article to share an emerging perspective (that many have long held) and to make some of the research easily available to expectant parents. At the close of the piece I’ve included an except from a recent editorial in the American College of Obstetricians and Gyncologist’s journal that you might share with your doctor.
My daughter turns three today and this was her question that started our day. Then, as we walked to nursery school, she asked, “When Halloween goes, where does it go?” I’m still working on an explanation for the spiraling movement of time and the effort is helping me understand why my daughter talks so often about what she will do when she is a baby again. If Halloween will return next year, why not her babyhood?
When I think back to her babyhood, what returns for me is the sweet pleasure of first meeting my little girl on the outside. The moment was poignantly unhurried. I had the space to see and the time to discover my just-born child; it was a slow meeting, slow enough for me to be present for the arrival of this brand new person. What was different from my other children’s births was that my midwife, Valeriana Pasqua-Masback, did not hand me my baby, as the midwives had done at the births of my sons. Instead, she simply guided my daughter onto the bed below me. Valeriana left the moment of meeting to my daughter and me. The experience was joyful beyond what I had imagined. The labor that got me to that point, however, was not so joyful.
My boys’ labors had been exquisite. Raw and intense, the boys’ labors had blasted from beginning to end, and surrender was every bit as spiritual as it was physical. Sarah Buckley, in her book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, reports on her yoga teacher’s belief that giving birth is equivalent to seven years of meditation. The idea had the ring of truth for me. With each of my son’s labors, I felt I had traveled to the fiery core of life itself and returned with a strong, centered part of myself I hadn’t known was missing. I still feel it in my bones to this day. My daughter’s labor, however, was more “seven years” than “meditation.”
BIRTHING VIOLET by Ella Wilson
My mother had died six months earlier as I lay on my bed in Brooklyn and began to time my contractions.
I had never needed her more than during my labor. I wanted living proof that this was possible. I didn’t believe I held enough power or knowledge, enough female strength to do this alone. But she had gone, so I had hired a mother, a doula, to be my guide.
My doula, Mary-Esther Malloy, arrived at three in the morning while I was in the shower. I had taken natural birth classes with her, determined to recreate my late mother’s labor. Continue reading →
For Silas Wendell – Born at home on November 18th, 9 lbs, 10 oz
The four days following your due date were long days. I wanted you to come, to be birthed into my arms. I was anxious to see you and hold you. I wondered, as the days wore on, if there was something holding me back from your birth. Kristen, our midwife, asked directly if I was afraid of labor or if there was something that was inhibiting me from going into labor. We talked through what might be in the way. On Saturday, the day before you were born, I was anxious to clear a space for you. I decided that I wasn’t going to work the following week. Your dad, brother and I went to Central Park to try to “walk you out.” We walked fast and hard and nothing happened. I was discouraged.
I first observed this pause at a home birth in the Bronx, where I helped Laura and Neil work through a rather zippy labor. Neil’s eight brothers and sisters had all been born at home in Ireland, and home birth had made immediate sense to Laura when I raised it as a possibility months earlier as she mapped out elaborate plans to arrive at the hospital as late as humanly possible.
Lark Alexander Villinski was born at home on his great grandfather’s (92nd) birthday, November 14, 2011.
It is almost impossible to describe the moment Lark was born and the three of us became a family. The moment I met my son, my sense of time and place disappeared and he and I were the only two people in the universe. Little Lark was finally here in the loft — he had been placed on the floor beneath me by Valeriana, our midwife. The intensity of the pushing and the calm, but determined, laboring I had done for ten hours was wiped from my memory and I spent what felt like a very long time looking at him. After holding him while he lay on the floor and visually absorbing him I was finally ready to bring him to my chest. Paul and I held him tight. The feeling of love I had for this little being and our new family was something I had never felt before. Continue reading →
Intuition and Initiation- the arrival of Milena Grace Ketchum-Evans, August 7th 2010, 9 lbs 4 oz
Katie laboring with her doula, using a rebozo
I have always had the intuition that giving birth was an initiatory experience, and as such, needed to be held in a sacred way. Long before getting pregnant, I knew that I could only do this at home. Luckily, my husband Jonah was on board and when we discovered that I was pregnant, all that remained was to find a midwife. We did our research, found Valeriana and were soon into the routine of our monthly visit.
It was wonderful to get to know her so well; to build a level of trust that I now know is essential to the type of birth I was looking for. I never once doubted our ability as a team to go through with our plan.
August 7th arrived with a bang- contractions woke me at 6.30am. They were already pretty hard and fast… a moment of panic- could I do this for potentially more than 24 hours? My husband made us a big hearty breakfast of eggs while I labored. Continue reading →
A lot of people have asked Rich and I why we chose to birth our son at home. To be honest, I never quite know what to say. It was the obvious choice for us. The decision to bring our baby into the world in the comfort of our own home just felt right.
When we first met Valeriana, she embraced us with the biggest, warmest hugs. We knew from this moment on that she was going to be our midwife, the woman who would help us birth our child. Over the next several months, we met in her cozy cottage and really got to know each other. The cottage was a warm place, overlooking her beautiful garden. During these times, we’d discuss the physical aspects of pregnancy, such as nutrition and my changing body; as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects. These meetings were great preparation and I always looked forward to them. Continue reading →