The April 8th opener for Saturday Night Live, “Donald Trump Goes to Kentucky,” is the latest example of what many Appalachian academics, activists, and advocates feel is outsiders taking liberties with extreme representations of our people and culture. In the skit, four Kentuckians from Boone County (not in Appalachia or the coalfields) express concerns to President Trump who is there to relish in undying support. They express their concerns. Trump replies in his vague and ridiculous manner. Each of them sit down a little shell shocked, but still wanting to believe the president they elected has their best interest at heart. Almost immediately after the skit aired, my Facebook newsfeed was ablaze with offended eastern Kentuckians admonishing the writers of the skit for stereotyping and making us out as idiots. A little later, came more blogging about liberal elitism and how the Democrats are to blame for our communities’ Trump votes.
I have felt the need to add the qualifier, I am a coal miner's daughter, to add credence to my writing or a thought I was hoping to express since the "Trump Digs Coal" slogan and his election, I've done it countless times. As far as I have been able to gather, my family ended up in this far armpit of eastern Kentucky to mine coal on all sides. We've been pioneers of the Appalachian mountains since we came over the big water, and my Cherokee family, well... this land is theirs.
The top picture is my great great grandparents on the Hansel side and where my name is descended from - Zachariah Taylor Hansel and Elizabeth Evans Hansel. The little dark headed fellow standing next to his dad is my great grandfather John Thomas Hansel Sr. The Hansels moved to Harlan from the Mount Sterling area of Kentucky to mine coal and that is where the very direct experience I have with coal miners begins.
The bottom picture is William Stephens and Amanda Sue Clay Stephens from Olive Hill, Kentucky in Carter County. They moved to Letcher County during the building of Jenkins, Kentucky which was built by Consolidation Coal Company beginning with the purchase of the land in 1911. My great grandmother who was my babysitter all of my young years was their daughter - Golda Ruth Stephens Johnson. She was born in 1912 as the first of eight children. It seems the family came around 1914 to Letcher County for coal mining. My Mamaw Johnson always told me her daddy was a Blackfoot Indian which seems kind of strange to me considering he or his family would have had to travel a long way in order get to Olive Hill, Kentucky from Montana or Canada even. Who knows though? He's definitely from somewhere.
Golda Ruth (Goldie) married Luther Johnson. Papaw Johnson was my best friend when I was small and the way we spent our days together was directly influenced by his time as a coal miner. Luther is the tall man in the second row with the pipe hanging from his lips. He was a union miner as most were in those days. Yet, he realized really fast that being in the mines wasn't going to pay him off in the long run and could potentially take him from his family and this old world. Papaw Johnson had the wit, grit, and wherewithal to find a way to get himself out of the mines and into the business of being his own boss. Weekends at the Isom Stock Sale turned into the Cowshed Trading Post, and there I "helped" him keep shop nearly every day of my childhood. The Cowshed was a kid paradise.
That brings us back to the Hansel men. Pictured below is John Thomas Hansel Sr. and Junior, both coal miners. Great Papaw Hansel lost his larynx to throat cancer, and as a kid I used to be fascinated that the piece of gauze that flapped over the open hole in his neck was the only thing that kept the outside world from seeping in to his body where it could not be rightfully contained. I will never forget the hushed sucking and choke sound that he used to create his voice with family. He didn't like the mechanical voice box to use all the time. Inconvenience, I suppose.
Papaw Hansel became an electrician in the mines and eventually took that skill and became a teacher at the vocational school in Letcher County. So, he too found a way out of the mines, but not the economy dependent upon it. When I was 8, he moved his family to South Carolina where he applied his mining skills working on machinery and such things at a fabric printing plant. He passed away of bone cancer in South Carolina just a few years ago.
So, here I am. This proud coal miner's daughter working for a place that has the commonly associated tag of "anti-coal" by some in the community. My dad supports my work and always will because he's confident in how he raised me. Here's the thing... Appalshop is not "anti-coal", we are an arts, culture, and media organization who documents and preserves life and tradition in Central Appalachia. However, you will find some related people who in their personal lives and opinions are not believers that coal mining is good for the region and especially strip mining. Yet, as with any organization, company, or workplace you will find a wide range of beliefs none of which in and of themselves represent the principles of the organization.
My dad experienced some of this directly when he worked for Enterprise Coal which was located in the building next to Appalshop at one point in time. A member of a visiting group called Mountain Justice Summer who were in Whitesburg to organize and demonstrate against mountaintop removal coal mining vandalized my dad's work truck by urinating in the truck bed and marking the paint. They were caught in the act and when my dad tried to confront them, he was spat upon. Now, someone not understanding that various organizations sometimes have to interact would leave that situation with a very strong opinion about "liberal" minded people who protest mining and because they were visiting Appalshop, direct that opinion onto Appalshop.
Fortunately, my dad knew better. He knew that many of the founding members of Appalshop were his neighbors and classmates in school. He played basketball for Whitesburg High School with one and lived down the street from another for awhile. He knew a large number of Appalshop employees were locals. Of course, he held some really strong feelings about the association and the kind of education or encouragement that would lead young people to violate the respect of their elders and personal property. I think he has mostly let that go these days. I haven't, and I won't. It's been said about us "hillbillies" that we have tribal loyalty to a fault. Maybe we do, but I plan to set this action right for the good of my community as best as I can. I want to redeem the dignity of my dad and the men and women who stay, work, and worship here.
The recent election has brought new attention of the coalfields and it seems we've become the poster children for "Trump Country" as before we were and always seem to be the poster children for American poverty. It's really laughable, but at the same time I've seen a lot of troubling behavior stem from this renewed attention. Every week, I produce a 5 minute radio news roundup of the coal industry and its place in the bigger picture of the energy profile of the United States. It's unbelievable how many ways the same thing can be rehashed with different words and published to lock in the attention of new readers. I doubt there was ever a planned "War on Coal" fueled by legislation aimed to cripple the industry. I do believe some of the legislation did not help an already failing industry.
James Higdon wrote the best article concisely explaining what I believe to actually be happening for Politico and it was published last week - The Obama Idea to Save Coal Country. He begins with the "War on Coal" and takes us through Kentucky Republican Representative Hal Rogers's RECLAIM Act which was shot down by Republican law men from the western coalfields states which is the most recent government effort to provide assistance to the barely breathing economy of the Appalachian coalfields.
I think of the information in Higdon's piece, my dad's experience with social justice activists, the media coverage of my home during the election, and the disgusting opinions of people wishing death upon Trump supporters and coal miners reflected in the Facebook comments of a radio story my colleague Benny Becker produced with Howard Berkes when it was shared by National Public Radio (NPR), and I'm embarrassed to be thought of in terms of political leanings or someone who could sit by and do nothing in response to the comments of the very people who claim to have a heart for the poor and troubled. Here are some examples from that comment thread.
"One candidate ran on improving job training and education opportunities as the means for navigating the 21st Century job market. The other candidate promised to bring back coal mining jobs. Millions of Appalachians considered those proposals and said, "I want black lung disease, too!" ~Jeff Fulmer
"West Virgina, PA, and Ohio...all solid Trump territory. They loved that the fool actually said he would bring coal back, and that he would dismantle ACA (Obamacare). For many years, people like me (considered the coastal liberal elite) fought to bring politicians into power to bring jobs and health care to these regions---services that we personally don't need in regions that we don't live in--because it was the right thing to do. But apparently, a bigoted, misogynist snake oil salesmen promising them a version of the US that looks like Berlin in 1939 was more appealing. So, this liberal American is done with the Rust and Bible Belts, and focusing on California and California only." ~Michelle Whiting
There's so much wrong with these comments and the disgusting political divide that they represent that I would have to write my own book, or create a collection of the articles already written in counter to such opinions. It boils down to the fact that a mono economy was purposefully created in the coalfields by the coal companies that wished to take the money to the bank. They wanted to make this money on the backs of people they considered as little more than property. This labor created the "coastal liberal elite" cities that Ms. Whiting referenced through the industrialization of America. When these men died under needlessly dangerous conditions and did not receive fair wages, sometimes being paid in script instead of money which could only be used in company owned stores, they fought battles against their employers and the United States government to earn Americans the fair labor laws we have today. Because coal mining was seen as a service to the nation and a vital support of the entire American economy, these men and women found their worth in mining coal and providing an honest living for their families. Americans have demanded coal to power this country for the last 100 years and now the region of America that was populated for the sole purpose of mining coal has been forgotten and looked upon with nothing less than disgusted disregard by people who would claim to be interested in the pursuit of social justice and opportunity for all. The people making these comments have no idea what our families fought for and that now, coal mining done right and well is not without risk, but fairly safe and pays really well in the $70,000 a year range with no college debt for those that go in right out of high school. Add to that, full benefits, and aside from the fact that coal has been in steady decline and these jobs have become fewer and fewer, who wouldn't mine coal? It isn't coal mining in and of itself that has caused the problems we see in coal mining. It is however, crooked politics and money that has.
Then, there was this article by the founder of Daily Kos, the left leaning group blog for those involved with "netroots activism" to further the socially progressive policies and candidates in politics - Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance. They're getting exactly what they voted for.
That article solidified my questioning of being involved at all in journalism or anything that can be labeled left or right. I've never desired to be a career social activist, and I don't now. I mostly see it as hot air blowing. I'm more interested in the tangibles. My community is more interested in the tangibles. As my ancestors chose to make a life here, and stayed here to do a job they were told was important for the well being of the nation, we work in the hard rock of reality. We always have.
Last week, Daily Kos tried to redeem itself with An Open Letter to America's Coal Miners and America by former coal miner and company man, Mark Sumner. I wish Sumner had taken his letter to another outlet, or maybe he wrote the appeal as a prompting from Daily Kos as a redemptive action. However, the letter is quite good. As Higdon's article summarizes the realities of the down-turned coal industry well, Sumner encapsulates the feelings of a miner and his family in a pill that's hard to swallow. Voting for Trump was a hail Mary for the coalfields. No one representing the power in this country or the liberal or conservative elite has fought hard enough for the future of a people that in no small part helped build this country.
Some would argue that with the same vote for Trump that we expect to save some jobs, we screwed ourselves out of the best healthcare access we've ever had. Increased access to healthcare only does so much. Yes, it provides more healthcare industry jobs. Yes, it brings federal dollars into our economy. Yes, it brings some people who desperately need doctors into the clinics to receive care. What we know well is that as always, federal programs are subject to change and political whim whereas a good job is a Godsend. One statistic someone might share with me is how many of the people who are insured for free under the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid actually made it to the polls to vote. And, because our access to news is somewhat limited by poverty and lack of wide availability of broadband internet, a jaded media brought confusion by renaming the Affordable Care Act to the point of essentially doing away with the original title - ObamaCare. And then, memes like this were created.
You know what's real hillbilly of me. I wanna fist fight you people. What I want to do is scream at you and make your nose bleed. It would be wonderfully gratifying. In your social activist and liberal and segregated city bubbles, you are part of the system that have always seen my ancestors as collateral and expendable. You want people to believe that we are all lower class white people, which in my layout of my family history was disproved. If this is widely believed, you feel you have permission to publicly belittle us and make fun of us and still call yourselves politically correct. I wouldn't care if we all were the color of hospital bed sheets bleached to stiffened, you still have no right. We are human beings, and you in doing so are a hypocrite and I don't trust you to have my well being in mind or anyone else's that you see as against your social values.
When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination and then said, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." the Democratic party lost coal country. I understand that taken in context Mrs. Clinton's comment can be understood in a totality that adjusts the impact slightly, but not enough. Our region's economy is hurting so bad that such an insensitive comment could not be redeemed. Many of us became willing that very moment to see in tunnel vision as many working poor must, to where our next meal will come from and if our kids will have equal or more opportunity than we do, and take a gamble on the nutcase of a Republican candidate and businessman - Donald Trump. In case you want to know what those of us in the eastern Kentucky coalfields think about opportunities for our children, in the Spotlight on Eastern Kentucky the 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 65% of us said the next generation will be worse off than the current generation of working adults. To not expect us to fight for anything we can to fill those gaps, would be akin to us consuming our own children.
It was a two party and polarized political system that failed us by creating an environment where such a thing could occur. Both parties see the coalfields Appalachians as expendable or little more than pawns in a game of dollars. See as proof of this an article from the Heritage Foundation explaining away a government bailout for UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) backed pensions. The same government that created a situation where homeless veterans beg for money and food in Washington D.C. and 20 veterans commit suicide every day after they sacrificed themselves in service to the country is well on its way to allowing former, elderly coal miners to lose the healthcare and benefits they earned by retiring coal miners. This same government allowed an industry to push out the unions without requiring that they do anything in good faith to the miners who made their money. Here's one fine example of how coal miners are being thrown out with the sludge and coal ash in order to give company executives big bonuses in hopes they'll stick around even though their job won't last even with the down sizing of debt and assets. Alpha Natural Resources is just one of many. Corporate greed and government complacency.
I could go on and on and on trying to explain to you why so many of the people I know, respect and love voted for Donald Trump, but I think so many of you would continue to think of us as merely ignorant or stupid and will label us with your social justice buzz words like - misogynistic, anti-Islamic, homophobic, and white supremacists. That's an easy way for you not to claim your responsibility in the creation of this situation we're finding ourselves in, and your democracy's willingness to overlook a group of people hidden away in the mountains of Central Appalachia as a means to keep progress moving forward without facing the issues that progress was making.
I won't fight your ugly words with more ugly words. I won't hunt down the brainwashed kid who thought he was protesting "corporate greed-heads" by spitting on my dad and kick his teeth in. I won't even laugh out loud as I see those who identify with us either celebrating or debating the very simplistic and unthought provoking memoir of J.D. Vance just one more time. I mean dag gone ya'll, give it a rest. Instead, I'm going to listen to you when you speak. I'm going to take your concerns deep within, and I'm going to ask the hard questions of my community that need to be asked. I'm going to try to encourage people who are working with the concrete things that can offer some relief in our dying coal towns every day. Those who are offering things we can touch. Things we can eat. Words that give hope instead of tear apart. I'm going to keep talking about opioid addiction for the very fact that it's damn unpleasant and it is another way the people here have been exploited for the sake of a dollar. I'm going to give prescription drug misuse a human story because I've lost a stepmother and numerous friends to it. I don't care what anyone thinks about focusing on solutions rather than problems. Our problems haven't been faced in any real way yet, and until we do that, we won't see solutions, we'll see bandages.
I am going to love on people as best as I can with the gifts I have. I will share the story of my people with those in these city bubbles who do give a hoot and want to listen because I know there are more reasonable folks than there are hypocrites. The thing that keeps me going in radio journalism is the thought that someone is listening who cares or who is willing to change their mind when presented new facts. The God's honest truth is that I don't know that journalism is where I can best serve my community. I'm giving it everything in me I have to give, but I question the tangibles. I am going to share yoga with my community to help heal the deep generational trauma we have experienced. I'm going to share spiritual insights that have helped me. I am going to try my best to be a mediator between you folks and my community. I'm going to try to heal broken relationships related to this ugly rhetoric. Relationships that on both sides we should have fought harder to maintain. I'm going to write ranting blogs like this one, fiction, and poetry. I'm going to love people instead of ideas. I'm going to consciously choose the middle road.
The following are two long Facebook posts I have made this week leading into the Trump inauguaration.
January 19, 2017
"Mama, you're pretty crazy," Gwennie says to me this morning while I'm getting her dressed. "Yeah Buddy, I am," I say. I had just been thinking about how these small eastern Kentucky towns are so insular. Thinking about how they aren't big enough to hold all the passionate, smart, and rightly heart convicted people in them and keep us all kind toward one another, not jealous, and without drama.
In two days, Donald Trump will be inaugarated. So many are scared. I remember when some I know were scared that Obama was the AntiChrist and made ready for an oncoming revolution - stockpiling guns/ammo, canned food, and water. I'm not scared of Donald Trump. No. I fear the hurt we might cause one another when our hate has light shed upon it. Hatred of ourselves and fear of the unknown. Unconscious beings giving birth to unconscious actions.
Appalachia has been deemed Trump Country by the press. Most of the people I know did in fact vote for Donald Trump, if they actually voted. People I love and respect voted Trump. The answer as to why someone could vote for a racist, misogynistic, and sexually deviant (I don't judge what he likes to do in his bedroom. I don't agree with that kind of judgment as long as it is between fully consenting partners. I'm judging the fact that he wants to shut women up by "grabbing them by the pussy".) individual is very complicated. I do not judge anyone for voting for Trump. I don't bash or treat anyone who voted for him like an idiot. I can understand how they came to that decision. We meet each other where we are.
The fact is, we have a national narrative to change and some healing of ourselves to do. No, we are not racist, sexist, or religiously radical people. No. We were all born naked of a womb and shaped by genetic predisposition and how the world around us shapes how we think we fit into it.
I overheard a conversation in the grocery store a few days ago. "___ wants me to get whole wheat bread. I hate that stuff," said Man 1. "Well, Preacher Bill says it's us who is supposed to do what you all say," said Woman. "That's right and it just ain't that way anymore now is it?" said Man 1. "I don't know what's gotten into this world. Everything is so out of order. We'd all be better off if we could just get in line," said Man 2. "That's the Truth. And, I trust Preacher Bill," said Woman.
I know Preacher Bill. He's a friend of my stepdad and the preacher of my stepdad, mom, and brother's church. He's coming on 80 if not already. He's a kind country man and he loves people so much. He came to visit Deladis in the hospital here in Whitesburg when a stomach virus put her in for 4 days. He slipped me a $20. Beautiful man. Loves us dearly. You and me. Is he right here? Absolutely not, but I know where this teaching comes from. I know Preacher Bill's heart and the life experiences that has shaped his train of thought.
Yesterday was a very difficult day. Out of the gate I had to drive an hour and fifteen minutes away to the doctor way too early. I got pulled over, cited, and received a court date. (Please someone tell me how to erase leadfoot out of my DNA.) And, had some hard conversations. But, later on I had to be in Hazard for a story I am working on. I sat down with some people and heard their tale of struggle, but ultimately of hope. I got to tickle some baby toes. On the way there, I passed by a trailer park. It was one of the ones that have trailers packed into a space like sardines in a can. But, one woman had a side yard. And this picture is of her January garden. Everything in it was created by what many would consider trash. She was out hoeing. A just beyond middle aged woman. Two doors down, her neighbor flew a Confederate flag. As they say, Appalachia isn't a diverse place. All foreigners are Middle Eastern, Indian, or Asian and they are doctors who won't stay. While there is truth in every stereotype, and in many ways one can draw that conclusion. This woman was a dark skinned Asian with beautiful black hair. Living in a trailer park. Hoeing a lovely January garden with frost cover made from trash.
I love my place. I also hate my place. It's a balance. But, if I have the power, I am going to try to paint in the mind of America a truer story of my place. A bigger picture. A call for empathy. A call to hear the voices of the voiceless. A calling out of hate directed toward those you see as inferior to you.
January 20, 2017
We are probably all aware that rural America has been dubbed - Trump Country. Many liberal minded folks have taken to degrading rural Americans - and especially coalfields Appalachians in multiple ways and across a variety of platforms.
I've been trying to read Anthony Flaccavento's latest article in Yes! Magazine for 2 days. The next few months are going to be busy for me at WMMT. I'm working on some big things. So, sometimes, I can't keep up with all the reading I should be doing. However, I've been to Anthony's farm and we featured one of his talks on Mtn. Talk Monday. He's a smart man. In this article, he tries to address what liberals/progressives are questioning - how did we lose the rural and working class? Many of that camp of political beliefs feel they are the champions of the poor. What I have found to be true is they misunderstand us a great deal.
We are not stupid - we are common-sensical, practical, and connected to our surroundings in a myriad of ways. I heard more wisdom from a 23 year old mother of 3 when I interviewed her than I have heard in a long time. You can get the same thing at a DQ if you sit at a table across from where the old men meet every day and drink their coffee. Sure, you can hear a lot of bs that way too, but isn't it what we choose to pull out that frames the meaning of what we hear?
This young mother who I won't name right now because I'm working on making a few things with her story and would like you to listen to her, has said it best. This isn't a direct quote, but what she said was something like this - They think we like Trump so much. It isn't that we like Trump, it's that we hate the government. Well, not that we hate the government, but that we really distrust them. That is what got Trump elected. She's right. This has been a fact for a VERY long time.
Now, he is our president and we are about to see what that means. I think Flaccavento's #3 on his list is really good. Those of us working and hoping to diversify our mountain economy need to start producing tangibles. Start using practical language. Tell folks what it will mean to them, not later, but right now. And, if it doesn't make a difference right now, question whether it is the best use of an opportunity to work for good. Where are your efforts here best utilized? Where is the grant money you received best spent?
I sat in a meeting yesterday with a group of healthcare providers and administrators being asked to believe that story circles and art projects can help them figure out how better to help the community. One administrator said, I'm sorry... I have no clue what you are talking about. We work with numbers. We are practically minded. Another said, Yes - I thought it sounded like we were going to sit around and draw and figure out how to help someone with diabetes. LOL On the surface level, it does sound like a laughable proposal. But, when we think of qualitative and quantitative data and how one can inform the other, the idea changes. Thinking of how in one conversation we can pull out multiple ways to help our community by addressing hardships, it changes the picture a little. We talked about that, and they understood it very well. We listened to one another and addressed our individual concerns.
Trump has already threatened to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which could devastate them. Nothing new. People have been suggesting it for years. Remember the Save Sesame Street campaign? He also wants to defund The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I have a job in LARGE part because of these organizations. I have health insurance through my employer because of them. I share the news of our community to a national audience in part because of them. I don't make a lot of money doing the work I do, and not one person I work with does. We do this work because we care. Who knows what will happen if they take these organizations away.
In February 2015, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin on his visit to Hazard said that we needed coal companies because they are the patrons of the arts. Let's see if Frankie Justice wants to fund my radio position. I'm not anti-coal. Have not bashed it. Will not bash it. I hope miners go back to work. My dad is one. My grandfathers were miners. But, is one person's job more important than another's. Where politics are concerned, it seems so.
Who knows what the next 4 years will bring? I didn't watch the Obama inauguration and I did not watch Trump's today. As the mama said, I don't trust the government to give any hoot about me, my family, my community, or my country.
At this point, I am angry. I want to feel like a 36 year old who exercises seven days a week, eats a clean, whole foods diet, eats no refined sugar, doesn't smoke or abuse substances, and generally tries to keep a good attitude. Why? That's who I am, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I don't want to wake up anymore. The pain from headaches, procedures on my foot that won't heal, a bum shoulder, a stomach that doesn't want to digest food, is wearing me out. Not to mention, I was told Monday that my insurance won't cover the procedure that would help my foot heal quickly. Nope, I have to a make three hours one way trip to the doctor every month and renewed pain with the treatment I receive until this is healed. Emotionally, while I try to hide it as best I can, I'm up and down. Anxiety and depression takes its toll as well. It's hard to admit you have either of those conditions when to the outside world you appear to be functioning fine. Some days, all I want is to be held by strong arms, smell damp earth, and feel the wind against my face. All day. I'm coping well though. Better than I was, and yoga is the reason. Fatigue is another big obstacle, but at the moment, I'm caffeinating strongly and taking iron to overcome my anemia as my body isn't absorbing nutrients from my food as it should.
I'm seeing three specialists (neurology, dermatology, and orthopedics) with 1-3 months between visits. I see my primary care physician at least once every 3 months for bloodwork, further testing based on prior test results, and medication updates. I have also started seeing my chiropractor regularly in hopes to spread out the visits to the orthopedic doctor. Honestly, it feels really stupid. Stupid. How did I end up here? Genetics is the simple answer. When I asked the girls pediatrician at their recent well visit if there was any way I could keep them from ending up here as well, she said, "Not really. The best we can do is watch for symptoms and catch it early."
Hover the cursor over photos for descriptions.
Because western medicine sees no cure for Hashimoto's and other autoimmune thyroid conditions, the approach is typically to manage a patient's symptoms as best as they can. For many patients, the management is not enough to allow them to live the life of a normal healthy individual. Unfortunately, as in other areas of medical breakthrough and dissemination of knowledge, most primary care physicians are not up to date on the latest information surrounding autoimmune diseases of the thyroid and a very many are not even aware of how to properly test for or diagnose them. Unless they specialize, doctors receive a basic understanding in medical school and not many take up further study in this area. Many people spend years with their disease worsening before they can even get a diagnosis. All the while, they are accused of being a hypochondriac or diagnosed with an array of issues that are not separate at all, but are related to the decline of their thyroid function. It is extremely frustrating for the patients and those close to them who know something more is wrong.
I didn't want to be in this place again. I am now overwhelmed while being in a familiar area. It reminds me of all the researching, writing, advocacy, and healthcare searching I did when trying to uncover why I had experienced unnecessary cesarean surgery and how I could go on to have a vaginal birth after cesarean. So, much of the information women need to make good decisions in pregnancy and birth is not transparent or shared among care providers and the women they serve. I had to become more involved in determining the kind of treatments and healthcare I would receive than those who were providing me that care. I had to take it upon myself to research, learn the science, and take the steps that I could to heal my body. All the while, I was sharing my journey with other mothers and becoming an advocate for the health of women and babies. When I stepped away from the career side of this advocacy, I thought that my focus would no longer have to be split between my passions and my healing. Yet, here I am again. Same thing, another issue. I'm tired.
Eventually, as I am choosing to do this one step at a time, I will be giving up many of my favorite foods and all things that I currently consider a treat - chocolate, dairy, all grain, corn, coffee, tomatoes and nightshades, nuts/seeds, soy, possibly eggs, all preservatives, and alcohol (which I have always had an aversion to). Eating out will be very difficult as will eating when friends and family cook meals. I have to be strict about the changes or it won't work. After 3 months to 2 years, depending on how my body responds, I will be able to reintroduce foods to see if I react poorly. If I don't react, I can continue to eat them if properly prepared for optimal nutritional absorption.
Another piece to this puzzle is medication and supplements. This is part of why I HAVE to adopt the diet and lifestyle pieces. I don't want to grow this mix. I want to reduce it. I will probably write more about that as I know what is helping me and what isn't. I really want to share this journey because Hashimoto's affects about 14 million Americans (along with the other health issues it causes) and no one seems to be having open discussions about it. It's another one of these dark areas where information is clouded and you can feel crazy and very alone.
I also have to make sure that I sleep at least seven hours a night, preferably 8-10+. It is recommended that Hashimoto's patients sleep until they naturally wake up and sleep until 8 or 9am as regularly as they can. This will be hard for me as I get a second wind in the night or I sleep restlessly, having wild dreams. My daughters get up at the first hint of daylight. The bodies of Hashimoto's patients need time to rebuild and to rest from the overburden.
Light exercise is also a must. It isn't recommended that we go for very intense exercise as that will cause further stress to our already taxed adrenals. I'm grateful I already have that under control with my yoga practice. I, now, practice 7 days a week and my favorite teachers have DVDs geared toward my health and fitness goals. Below are a few I'm using. I'm so thankful for my yoga!
The biggest thing I'm dealing with right now is needing to vent and not feeling like anyone wants to listen. I don't want to whine or seem as if I am whining. I'm a very proactive person and I'm not asking for pity or help. I want to be frustrated and have someone hear it, tell me I'm strong, tell me I'm a beautiful person, or simply feed me some positive about myself. Encouragement. I want pep talks. Or maybe I want my basketball coach back. The one that would make me mad in order to have me be fired up to play my hardest. Right now, I'm so worn out I don't want to fight. I just want to move on, whatever that means. It seems though that those with Hashimoto's have a hard time finding support and will often lose the support of friends and family. So, I'm going to blog for that reason too. Maybe I won't overburden those I love if I can let some of it out here.
In the meantime, I'm going to relentlessly pursue my dreams. I'm applying for jobs, seeing the girls into their new school, teaching yoga, cooking good food, and reading and writing a lot. Hopefully, spending times with friends and family will be added in there. I'm going to do my best, because I can.
That's the anger, overwhelm, and the plan.
By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
The winter holidays have been my least favorite time of the year for as long as I can remember. As a child from a divorced home, the pressure of deciding where I'd spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was crushing. Either my mother and her family or my dad and his family would be disappointed, or so I felt. Even the seemingly easy task of telling the adults what I wanted for Christmas was enough to make me feel burdened with responsibility beyond my years. It was no one's fault. It was the nature of the way we have chosen to celebrate these holidays coupled with the way the cards fell for my parents. I guess it really couldn't be helped.
There was one Christmas though that I have a small but poignant memory that has kept me believing that Christmas can be more than intense stress, dealing with massive overspending and how it comes into my home, and sadness. I was maybe five years old. My parents were still married, but as all memories of this time when they were both occupying our little trailer, it was more as if they were shadows than real people and I was nearly alone to be as I would be. Our Christmas tree was up and lit. I still believed in Santa Claus and, this Christmas, I'd see him. I grabbed my pillow and a quilt off of my bed, my dad tucked me in, and I resolved to stay awake, camped under our tree all night. I remember how the tree smelled of warm plastic and how the colored lights shot tiny beams like stars when I got sleepy. I laid there thinking of how Santa must love me, and to meet him would be magic. Just magic. I didn't care what I got for Christmas. I've never been someone who wanted much in the way of stuff. My wishlist is pretty simple. I just cared that I saw this man, this grandpa, and felt his magic.
I woke up the next morning with the gray of a winter's light seeping in through the little window in our trailer's back door. I hadn't met Santa. Sleep was too precious a thing. There all around where I had slept were our Santa presents. He had been there working all around me as I slept, being careful that I didn't hear and stir.
It's that achingly sentimental memory that motivated what I wanted Christmas to be for my children when I became a mother. The focus on the material that made me so nervous that my stomach would be sick, the rush to be everywhere and buy the best present would be secondary to acknowledging the magic of the time and what variety of beauty that can be celebrated as Christmas. Traditions are hard to amend though. American Christmas has become barely more than a frenzy of excess and disappointment as it never quite plays out the way you had it pictured and resembles little of the Christian and Yuletide traditions that inspired the holiday at all.
As much as I wanted something different for my girls, it has too often been much of the same. Phone calls and endless conversations about what my girls want for Christmas. Me feeling like that little overwhelmed child who just wants people to smile and not feel slighted or out done. The girls get so much from family that my husband and I can't even begin to compete with quantity nor do we want to try, so I focus on quality and substance. Our little family trying to fit in visits over a period of a few days. Returning home with a car load of gifts and no place to put many of them. Experiences and conversations a blur. Exhaustion. Irritability, and weeks of recovery.
Christmases prior I tried to make change. I asked that certain toys not be bought. We've worked out a schedule of visits and stuck to it every year. We don't celebrate our own Christmas until we can be relaxed at home, even if that means that Santa visits us and the grandparents. At our home celebration we rest in the spiritual reasons for Christmas and Yule and read the stories. I've learned that I still would love to be home and have grandparents come and see us sometimes, but I know that isn't the season of our lives. I now know that it doesn't matter if you have preferences for gifts, children will get what the giver wants them to have. And, Christmas often equals hard feelings and stress as much as we try to stave it off.
This year, while I know I can't take it all away, I can make a conscious effort at affecting what I can. There are several things I'm doing this year to make the season one that brings a little more rest for me than discomfort.
1. I'm giving up scrolling my newsfeed in Facebook or making posts about my day for the entire length of Advent. I know giving up something is associated with Lent, but I'm striving to live an authentic life these days. I'm not making myself unseen and unheard in my Truth any longer. I'm living boldly in order to fully express the me that God made. What does that have to do with a Facebook newsfeed? In my feed on any given day, I am faced with racism, ugly politics, hate, bigotry, violence, and horror stories about suffering inflicted upon women and families by institutions and scared people. I'm triggered emotionally by what I see and it affects my well being and my ability to process the news on my own terms. It creates for me the sensation of fight or flight without anything to direct it toward. I see these posts from those I know or have known, and to be honest, it is heartbreaking. Being in that space can make it so easy to be paranoid and lose hope. I can refrain, clear my head, and return when ready. This season is for celebrating and acknowledging Truth, and I will accept nothing short of it.
2. I'm being honest about what happens to toys and excess material goods in our home. We donate them. All of us do it. We just took two boxes of toys to Goodwill in order to clear out what isn't used. Our cabin is teeny and I want it to be as beautiful and comfortable as possible. Lots of things clog up the energy. It is a work in progress. My girls have very honed interests. While something might be appealing to them for awhile in newness, they fully recognize what they truly hold as valuable. "For you may palm upon us new for old: All, as they say, that glitters, is not gold." -John Dryden
3. I'm volunteering to take on some cooking. I've always wanted to, and I love to cook. I love to watch people eat my food. So, my mother in law has asked that I help and I am so happy to!
4. I'm taking time for mindfulness and being right here - right now. My spiritual walk takes precedence over all extraneous things during this season of kindling the light within. It's not just a metaphor. It's action to take. I have goals.
5. I'm continuing the traditions that we've made as a nuclear family that bring home the purpose of this holiday for me and my family. For us, it is a time to celebrate a man who came to light the path and share with us the tools of salvation. Jesus was a spiritual hero - The Redeemer. All the pieces of Christmas are supporting roles to this beautiful piece of the spiritual puzzle... this includes Ole St. Nick.
As an adult, we can control what we do with our experiences in order to adjust the impact we feel from them. The question is always, how can we use what we know to express Truth, experience Truth tangibly, share Truth, and light the path of Truth for others? This question if taken on in a meaningful way can make massive difference in even the most difficult of times or challenges. There is always something there for us to claim or reclaim in Truth. Christmas is a season of warmth, love, reflection and togetherness. Any appearance that does not reflect that does not have to remain.
By now, most people who have been acquainted with me either in person or on social media know that I have personally experienced a traumatic childbirth. I'm sure many of them wish I'd just shut up about it already. It was my first personal birth experience. In a very large part due to that experience, for the last six years, I've been a birth professional. I've pursued and achieved credentials from various organizations, professionals, and institutions. I've walked the walk and talked the talk of empowering women with education. Helping women in this glorious time of their life has been some of the most enjoyable moments of my life. Yet, it is time for me to step away from the model of childbirth educator and doula that I have been following.
Over the years, I have gone through many stages of healing my own trauma and coming to a place where I can use what I experienced in a productive and positive way. It has taken a lot of hard work, and will take more. Upon taking the work of a birth professional, I have made it a point to read op-ed pieces, studies, and news reports pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. I've kept up with advocacy organizations and their various approaches to making the birth climate in the US more friendly to women and mothers. Honestly, it has been utterly exhausting on the emotional and physical levels.
From all of this reading, interacting, seeking, and doing, I have learned quite a bit about how women communicate with one another. In the most general sense, I have discovered some really troubling trends, especially related to how we discuss the topic of childbirth and share our stories and information. I can no longer surround myself with the qualifying, judgment, and blame that I see coming from women on every side of the discussion of childbirth and empowered women. I'm seeing too many women hurt by mindless comments, too much hypocrisy, and too many speaking from a place of hurt either knowingly or unknowingly without the access to resources that they need to process this hurt. I know that in order to make real change in regards to how we become mothers, there must be change in how we are initiated into and experience womanhood. A woman who has not tasted empowered womanhood will not suddenly become an empowered mother upon becoming pregnant. This issue goes so much deeper than the choices we make or do not make during the pregnancy and birth experience. It is woven into our lives as women.
Advocates for access to childbirth options are making grave mistakes in how they are communicating with the women they are hoping to reach. Some are so zealous with their beliefs on how women should birth, that their whole campaign is based on assumptions about women and mothers - assumptions that equate their personal beliefs with the "right" way to birth. Under this guise they speak of empowerment, yet many mothers cannot be heard or acknowledged for fear or attempted avoidance of being judged for their choices or the way they gave birth or chose to give birth qualified against this "ideal" in one way or another. Women are hiding. The truth is every childbirth option is a valid one. Each and every woman is faced with unique circumstances and history as she prepares to birth. Every birthing option has the potential to carry great beauty and satisfaction to a mother. The key is empowered decision making and unconditional, respectful support.
Two pieces written over the last two weeks hit it home with me, that even the movement that hopes to change this less than optimal environment for mothers and babies is broken. The first was an article written for Time by Mehera Bonner titled "Why Having an Epidural Should Count as Having a Natural Birth". Bonner states, "By classifying Cesarean and medicated vaginal births as unnatural, mothers who prioritize natural delivery are potentially put in a position of feeling inferior if their birth plan is unexpectedly thrown out the window. An unplanned emergency C-section is stressful enough without worrying that your birth experience was somehow less legitimate and authentic than you’d hoped." In various birth circles on Facebook, I read comment after comment from birth professionals pointing out a few minor flaws in the piece that really doesn't retract from the overall point. What is the threat of this mother asking for validation and acknowledgement for what she was able to accomplish and the work that she did to get herself there?
Next, came "An Unnatural Birth: In Praise of the Cesarean Section" written for Jezebel by Laura June. This piece hit me in the gut as I hear and read it so much in mothering circles. June writes, "It took me months to come up with a better, more accurate, and more honest response to the, "I'm sorry to hear about your C-section" comment, but I've got it down now, and I need to, because I hear this fairly often. It is always, always, delivered with genuine caring and disappointment on behalf of my subpar birthing story. Like my well-worn "My face just looks like this" response to "You look like you're having a bad day!" or "Why aren't you smiling?" comments, my response to the C-section question can come off cutting, even rude—even though I don't intend it that way, not really.
"Actually, it was fantastic," I say now. "I slept well the night before, checked into the hospital, she was born healthy in about fifteen minutes, and I healed up in a few days."
It's all true: it was a wonderful experience. But it's not what a lot of people expect (or maybe want) to hear about a C-section birth." Why offer condolences for someone who isn't asking for them? Who am I or anyone else to feel pity for a mother who simply states that she gave birth via cesarean. A cesarean is not an automatic bummer. Trauma is created either by the circumstances leading to the cesarean, how one is treated by those who should be guarding their safety, deep fear, or tragedy. I've seen several cesareans that were wonderfully satisfying and family oriented. There are "natural" births that are also extremely traumatizing. Do we qualify these mothers by saying that somehow their birthing choice was less than? Can you imagine having to withhold plans, not connect with other mothers around birth, or not sharing your birth story because of this qualification and judgment?
I can. I will share my story far and wide, but how it is received or if it is heard is always a hit or miss. In fact, I think I make many uncomfortable when I share it. Laura June writes many statements in her piece that qualify my birthing experience as well. That, if I open myself to it, though I have a feeling it wasn't at all her intention, can make me feel judged, unheard, and ashamed. For example, "Every birthing experience where the end result is a healthy mother and healthy baby is equally awesome." The end result of my birth experience was considered a healthy mother and healthy baby. There was no part of that trauma that was awesome. The only awesome things about it was the miracle of life, hearing my daughter cry the first time, and seeing her gorgeous face. Blanket statements like that negates the feelings of many mothers who have experienced birth as trauma and can result in feelings of guilt and wrongdoing. June says, "If, like me, you don't get to decide, don't feel bad. It really doesn't matter, you will likely remember the day as one of the best of your life, and your baby will be amazing." Some of us could only wish that our having no say in the matter of how we birth could have left us feeling amazing. Tit for tat.
I cannot any longer participate in advocacy for mothers in the same ways I have been doing. For my sake and the sake of my family, I must change things up. The bitterness, pain, backbiting, and unthinking from woman to woman cannot be allowed to go on. I'm calling it out right now, and dare to say we have all been guilty. Empowered womanhood does not project these insecurities. It honors women for educated decision making, provides opportunities for growth and exploration, and supports women right where they are. From now on, that is my path. For my three daughters who may or may not ever be mothers, I recognize that womanhood is not a competition of degrees. It is Divine.
Originally written 12/13/12 by Kelli B. Haywood MAT, LCCE, CSBC
Yesterday, I read a brilliant article in Pathways for Family Wellness magazine by Charles Eisenstein called "Don't Should on Us". Eisenstein writes on the reasons he feels the environmentalist movement is falling short and why, if they don't change their approach, will continue to do so. His writing made me think of all the work so many of us are doing to promote evidence based childbirth, and some of the things that I hear again and again are frustrating birth professionals of all types.
It is very often on Facebook groups, mothering circles, and in private conversations with those who share information with women and those who call themselves birth advocates/activists that I read or hear that they just do not understand why a particular woman isn't open to receiving information or why is she going ahead with that choice when she knows what a risk that is to her birth plan. I read and hear how they wish that women would accept responsibility for their births and understand that they can take direct action to affect the health and safety of their birth despite what their care provider or others might be suggesting they do. The question on so many lips is - "Why would she just blindly accept that?"
I personally know how sad it can make you feel when someone experiences the direct negative impact of non-evidence based practices, and especially so when you are their friend, family member, or a hired birth professional. Particularly when you have talked with them about what they want in birth and what the evidence about birth actually tells us. It is frustrating and can make some advocates feel like they work so hard and yet seem to fall short too often. I know since experiencing unnecessary c-section I feel so very protective of mothers in regards to avoiding the interventions that could lead to surgical birth.
As Stephanie Dawn, the Sacred Birth Founder/Mentor, has described it, we are ushering in a New Paradigm of birth and driving out a deeply patriarchal and established Old Paradigm. That process is not going to be easy and it will be long. But, what we can find comfort in is that what we are espousing is the true nature of birth and in modern times combined with our greater understanding of birth and modern medical possibilities is safer for more women than ever before. We can find comfort that this is the Truth despite ridiculously high cesarean, induction, and preterm birth rates that we are experiencing in our external reality. Why? Because as Eisenstein shares in his article, it is our human nature (our spiritual nature) to gravitate toward what can be accomplished with simplicity in ways that utilize our true inner abundance of resources.
When we approach people with the energy of wanting what is truly in their best and highest interest, they will instinctively trust us. Sometimes, to be sure, a person must experience something in order to realize that isn't what they actually wanted. But the message will stay with them until the time comes for it to sprout. When we act from the knowledge that a person's "selfish" interest is actually toward simplicity, closeness to nature, and closeness to community, then our urgings lose any judgementality and assume the force of a trusted friend's support. - Charles Eisenstein, "Don't Should on Us", Pathways to Family Wellness, Issue 35/Fall 2012This must become our approach. Let's look at this from the inner want of most every mentally healthy mother and many of those with compromised mental health - a healthy baby and a healthy birth, in that order. Our instinctive nature as mothers is to protect both our child and ourselves. Whatever gets us to a healthy baby will ultimately be okay. That is why a healthy birth will come secondly. Very few women would say that they would sacrifice that baby's life to experience a natural childbirth if it came down to it. The choices women make are instinctive whether one chooses to birth in the hospital via elective surgery or whether one chooses tofreebirth. I truly do believe that both of those choices at the opposite ends of the birthing spectrum come from the same root instinctive source - protection of the birthing environment and the assurance of a healthy baby. It is the pressures that they feel from society that directs how and where they feel giving birth is appropriate.
Eisenstein directs us that our "selfish" interest (or our instinct to self preserve and thrive - K.B.H) lends itself to choices that are simple, close to nature, and close to community. In thinking of these three tendencies in the face of our current situation with mainstream birthing practices, it reveals how our scope of work as evidence-based birthing advocates much be much broader to amend and appeal to the women we encounter through our work.
This one is simple. As the female of the species our instinctive nature is going to ask us to prepare for the simplest means to getting our babes earthside. In terms of what is simple, preparing for a nonintervention vaginal birth in a location that is comfortable and safe would be optimal. Evidence tells us that avoiding intervention unless medically necessary is the safest way to give birth. So, as we should expect evidence supports our best and highest interest. However, from childhood humans presenting as females are taught by mainstream culture to not trust their body. We might get too fat. Our hair might be too frizzy. We need cosmetics. We must be ashamed of our menstruation. We must be careful how we express our sexuality and with whom. You need multiple diagnostic tests to confirm you are healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy without intervention and the baby has no anomalies. What if labor doesn't happen by your due date? What if you don't dilate? What if your baby gets stuck? Are your breasts too small to breastfeed? It is easy to see how this mistrust could turn into the thought that it might be easier to have a medically managed birth.
Closeness to Nature
Again evidence supports our self preservation toward a closeness to nature or what is natural. In mainstream American culture, it can appear that we have lost this desire. It is, however, basic to who we are as a living being. What we can accomplish with the greatest simplicity is that which can be done with our natural ability. Evidence supports less intervention in birth. Pain medication as a routine is intervention that can be a source of complication in an otherwise healthy birth. We must see that as truth. However, I personally have accepted pain medication in labor and I as a doula have seen it help along a complicated labor. I know it has its place. What I also know personally and as a doula, is that when we are experiencing a variation of normal birth, unmedicated (which we are all capable of doing), and are supported fully by those around us - never suffering (this is the key), we will heal faster and our children will initiate their first instinctual functions and bonding sooner and with greater ease. My HBA2C was my easiest birth yet, despite it being a 34 hour active labor + pushing with a week of prodromal labor prior. It is what is normal, natural, and physiological. However, in our mainstream culture the vast majority of images of women giving birth in film and on television show a woman not coping and unsupported. Pregnant women are bombarded with horror stories complicated deliveries that when examined were often high intervention or a woman being neglected rather than supported. The meds are there, why wouldn't you take them? So, it is easy to see how our mainstream system sets women up for dis-empowerment.
.Closeness to Community
We are built to live in community. We are a social being. Our instinct is also to protect our place in whatever social group we belong to. The pictures and sculptures are many of the births of old. Women surrounded by women, in birthing ritual ( See Wisdom of the Elders - On Becoming a Mother by Liz Cheney). Birth was a sacred dance. Experienced women counseled expecting mothers on what to expect of birth. What has changed in our culture is that birth is expected to be manipulated. It is no less so that experienced women counsel expecting mothers. However, beginning with our grandmothers fewer women have experienced birth as a rite of passage. In fact, many of our grandmothers do not remember giving birth at all because they did so in twilight sleep. At some point in time, we (women) thought that in order to gain equality in our society women should be less aware of what they experience in childbirth. What resulted was actually the severe abuse of birthing women. As twilight sleep fell out of vogue, medicine sought to replace it with more palatable alternatives. Birth was looked at more like an injury to be avoided despite the physical capability of women to give birth without permanent injury when support in the right environment. Our back story has changed, and to dare to step back in time to retrieve some of the positive past related to birth is a scary venture. Not only are you stepping outside of societal norms, but you may have to disagree with medical professionals who in our culture are held in regard as those with authority over our decisions. Who are we to question how it has been done for our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and for some of us great grandmothers? Those of us thinking of unmedicated birth are warned against it repeatedly. If the result of us stepping outside of these norms is anything less than perfect who is going to be blamed? Even when the results are normal, there is risk. We hear of mothers having their children taken from them for refusing c-sections. It is not only the birthing women, but those who help them by giving them options who suffer in our society. The most recent one to hit the natural birth community hard was the undercover investigation and arrest of Brenda Capps in California. A "lay" midwife who offered to support women in making their own choices as described here. Even within the movement itself, communities are turning against their midwives and mothers who go beyond what the community is or have been told to be comfortable with to make their own choices. No, it is very easy to see how the risk of fighting through what should be a glorious life event - the birth of your child - could seem unappealing. It is easy to see how the risk to our place among our community places too much fear behind the choices that actually help us birth in evidence based ways.
Our charge as advocates is bigger than sharing information, and being midwives, OBs, and doulas. What we are doing is changing a paradigm. Releasing old ways that do not serve us anymore. We must work in a larger realm than sharing evidence based practices and then supporting those who find the capacity to choose those options.
The shortcomings of many childbirth education programs and well meaning information sharing is that we give information, offer support, but then we leave out how to go against our instinctual nature to protect ourselves in the world that is presenting itself to us to actually make the choice to act of this new information. We teach coping strategies, but we neglect to share how to actually release fears. We tell women that homebirth is safe, but we do not offer tools to help them protect their choice from their well-meaning community who have yet to understand it. We tell women that their "body is not a lemon", yet we don't share with them ways to learn to once again love and trust their female body.
To simply share evidence based options is not enough. Sharing facts is not enough. For some all they hear is as Eisenstein writes - "You should do better... On the most obvious level, this approach backfires simply because people can always sense judgementality, and they naturally respond to it with hostility... Alternatively, some people are temperamentally inclined to buy into guilt and shame. The message works on such people, but it cannot spread beyond them." How are we going to actually change this old paradigm into one that gives the space for us to act on the Truth of who we are as women? How will our efforts help to bring balance to our society? Going back to Eisenstein's comment on how it is sometimes necessary for us to experience something to know that it isn't what we want, we can see that this is going to take time. Some women, such as myself, will have to have one birthing experience in this old paradigm to even realize it is wrong and cannot serve them in their goals. As advocates we need to fill our bags with tools to help mothers heal and find the empowered position they need to make the choices that protect birth and regain our society's reverence for it. But, most of all in this work we must find our patience.
If you haven't already, and would like to know more about tools you can share with women to do just this, I highly suggest you check into the work of Stephanie Dawn. You may also find her on Facebook. Her work has totally changed my perspective on how best to support women as we usher in the paradigm of Birth Heaven.
Earlier this year, the factions within the world of childbirth advocacy were up in arms once again spurred by the release of a study through the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project which concluded that planned midwife-led homebirths for low-risk women lessened the use of intervention and increased the incidence of physiological birth while not increasing adverse outcomes. Immediately, there were rebuttals from the anti-homebirth movement calling the data flawed and citing research conducted from within their own camp where they concluded that babies born at home with midwives were four times more likely to die than babies born in hospitals. Both groups question the other’s methods. Both groups say that their way is potentially “safer”.
These arguments of risk are not limited to homebirth vs. hospital birth. Take VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) for instance. If you Google “is vbac safe”, all of the top choices will tell you that for most women it is. Some of the sources even say it is safe for up to 90% of women who would seek VBAC birth. Despite this body of evidence that shows VBAC is a reasonable option for many mothers with a prior cesarean surgery, only around 8% of women in the United States VBAC. Women seeking VBAC are given numbers and claims about its safety that don’t add up in order to be dissuaded. Yet, even with clear evidence in support of VBAC being a safe option, those who consider themselves advocates of VBAC are also giving women unrelated risk scenarios in order to make a comparison, potentially clouding a person’s perception of the risk. As you can read in Jen Kamel’s (www.vbacfacts.com) blog post “Lightening Strikes, Shark Bites, & Uterine Rupture,” comparing two dissimilar events can be problematic when trying to convey risk to someone.
Whose responsibility is it to convey the risks of pregnancy and birth to women? Is it possible to explain your understanding of the risks of a choice in unbiased terms or by simply adding your understanding of the risks in question are you imposing your choice onto another? Assessing or sharing the risks and benefits of choice is not an easy spot to be in as a mother, a birth professional, or a care provider. It is inevitable that we will feel that we or someone we know could have made a better choice. There may even be times when we feel so strongly about the choice of another that we feel we must save them from it without asking ourselves whose choice it is to make and whose responsibility are the consequences of choice in the childbearing year?
Do numerous studies and the varying opinions of “professionals” help make clearer the inherent risks of our choices in maternity care? Regardless of fact, the discernment of risk is largely individual and is impacted by the personal values, beliefs, and experiences of a person. There is no one way in which a person understands and assesses risk, and some of the ways in which we process risk can compete with one another. It is apparent that when discussing risk, it is near to impossible not to impress personal assessments onto your explanation.
What is right for one mother may not be right for another. Accepting or avoiding risks of options in childbirth is not the responsibility of anyone but the person faced with the choice. Let us take VBAC as an example. One mother may have experienced her prior cesarean surgery as traumatic. Maybe she suffered PTSD as a result of the experience. She felt belittled by her care provider and felt like the surgery she experienced was unnecessary. Faced with the choice of VBAC or repeat cesarean, this mother could feel that choosing a setting where she is fully supported in a TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) will give her the best chances at VBAC therefore allowing her to remain in control of her birth and give herself and her baby the safest possible start. This mother may also after researching her local options decide that the location best suited for her birth would be home. In making these choices on her own terms and being supported in preparing herself for this birth, this mother is eliminating fear. The risk 0.5-1% risk of uterine rupture seems so very small compared to the potential loss of control, feelings of disrespect, and feelings of harm she had experience while undergoing cesarean before.
Another mother experienced a cord prolapse after her waters released during her first birth. She had been laboring naturally and moving as she wanted throughout her labor until that point. Fortunately, she was at the hospital with competent care providers who assessed the situation quickly and her baby was delivered via cesarean with no lasting complications. When asked if she would like to VBAC for her next delivery, she asks for a repeat cesarean. The thought of potential uterine rupture or another cord prolapsed overwhelms her and she feels safer if she can plan her birth. She wants to be in control of the situation and allowing the doctor to perform another cesarean, while she is awake and everyone is healthy does so much to reduce the fears she has of complications. The increase risk of problems in future pregnancies seems low to her compared with the potential for complications in birth that she has already experienced.
The “right” choice for a person is subject to time, place, and experience. The “right” choice is not unchangeable. It is as fluid as the human condition. It is an individual choice. Our current climate of debate about the safety of our various options in childbirth and the active pursuit to limit or eliminate options from women is to put the whole of humanity in danger. It is to decry the personal and to take away the right of an individual to accept the responsibility for the choices they make for themselves and the choices we make as a parent. Neither of the women described above are making a “selfish” choice as critics on both sides have accused women. They made the choice that gave them the space to transition into the mothering of this new person in safety and peace.
It does us no good to spend countless hours debating these studies never one to satisfy the other. It does nothing to improve the standards of maternity care in this country or the world. All it does is breed confusion and misinformation, and results in skewed judgment and blame. We can cry out for the right to choose. We can cry out for protection. We can cry out for mothers to take responsibility for their births. The crying will be for naught if we cannot accept that assessment of risk is individual and in order for pregnancy, birth, and yes, even parenting to be healthy there must be room left for personal decision making. If you are called to be with women in birth, you must regard them as individual and their experience as their own. Facts will be facts. Birth will be birth. While I appreciate and very much respect the studies and research being done in the name of evidence based care in childbirth, the torch we should be carrying during this time is the sanctity of the mother in birth, the rightness of personal experience, and the space for empowered decision making, for how can we accept responsibility for a decision we feel we did not make.
Kelli B. Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, and avid yogini. Haywood is the Public Affairs Director for WMMT-Real People Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Connect with her on Facebook @ Confluence Mama.
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