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.
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 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 →
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.
On November 4th, 2010, I met my third child in what I can only describe as the most ecstatic of ways. After an unexpectedly long first stage and a shockingly speedy second stage, I birthed my baby on my bed in the all fours position. As my midwife guided my baby down below me, I was thrilled to finish a labor that had seemed to last an eternity. But it is the next moments that are forever seared in my memory. As I saw my daughter below me… as I touched her meaty little arms and legs, took in her strawberry hair, watched her first breaths, felt her cord pulsing with the life force we had shared for so long, and finally – when I had really SEEN her- picked her up, the experience was nothing less than euphoric. I knew from watching others that not hurrying a baby onto its mother’s chest left the moment open to be what it needed to be. But I had no idea that being upright for this precious first meeting … with my daughter below me… no one hurrying her or me … would feel so powerful. I don’t think I have ever looked so hard at another human. I feel that I now understand in a visceral way what we mean when we talk about the imprinting that takes place at birth. It was an extraordinary gift to be able to truly see and take in this brand new person in the moments in which she arrived.