Herbs and Veggies and Books, Oh My! A Conversation with Lena DeGloma

lena_bio photoBy Beth Miranda Botshon

 

We’re happy to have Lena DeGloma teaching with CEAMNY for the next workshop, Optimal Nutrition for the Childbearing Cycle. Lena is an experienced doula, lactation counselor, childbirth educator, massage therapist and clinical herbalist. I had the chance to sit down with her recently to talk about her work.

 

 

How did you get into the field of childbirth? Did you always want to do this?

In most of my younger adult life, I didn’t think or know I would be doing work in the childbirth field. I had a background in psychology, women’s studies and community organizing. Interestingly enough, this work is a blend of a lot of psychology, understanding that as it relates to birth, and of course women’s studies and activism. I think women’s autonomy too often gets overridden when it comes to birth. Part of what motivates me to educate is to be sure that couples are going in informed and empowered to advocate for themselves even if the system isn’t set up to support physiological birth or conscious decision making….But I got into this in an organic way – first via my work as a massage therapist – some of my prenatal massage clients asked me to be there at their births, then I went on to become a certified birth doula, then a childbirth educator and lactation counselor…

You’re a clinical herbalist too? 

Yes, I hold an MS in Herbal Medicine and right now I’m finishing up my post graduate work in herbal medicine and nutrition -doing my clinical hours. But my first forays into natural health and wellness started when I was living in an herb farm in Costa Rica 8 years ago. I lived in a tent and started studying tropical herbal medicine there as well as nutrition, massage, permaculture and tropical organic gardening. It certainly informs the rest of my practice, understanding the body as a whole.

So what’s your favorite or most versatile herb?

I really like Shatavari. It’s Indian Wild Asparagus Root. It’s a nutritive and nourishing immuno-modulator. It’s often used as a women’s herb for fertility and as an aphrodisiac. It also soothes the digestive system. You can take it as a powder and it tastes really good.  I also love Tulsi. It’s Indian Holy Basil. It’s super tasty and good for everything!  I could drink it everyday and not get sick of it. It’s funny that the first two herbs that came to mind are traditional Ayurvedic herbs! I’m primarily trained as a traditional Western herbalist, although I do, of course, incorporate herbs from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine into my practice. One of my favorite Western herbs is probably Stinging Nettle – a long overnight infusion (tea steeped overnight) extracts tons of nutrients and minerals and it is also anti-inflammatory and a kidney tonic. It’s a great pregnancy herb to get in extra nutrients along with Red Raspberry leaf, another nutritive but also a traditional uterine tonic.

What’s your general go-to recipe?

Generally for this time of year and during pregnancy and postpartum, I think foods that are warming, nourishing, dense and easily digestible are really great. Long cooked stews, soups, nice curries – things we’d put in a slow cooker along with warming spices like cayenne, ginger, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and so on – I love the aromatic spices! Especially on these cold days are really great.

What advice would you give to ladies out there about optimal nutrition? 

It may sound trite and basic, but one of the nutritional issues that most US women deal with is just needing more basic veggies. So if I am advising someone on how to modify their diet to include more veggies – instead of saying “This that you’re eating is bad for you and you have to stop eating it”, I say, “Ok, how about adding in one extra serving of greens per day?”Then once people start adding the good things, they begin to stop craving the bad things. This way they don’t really feel like the bad stuff is being taken away, and it’s easier.  So you can add in veggies with yummy sauces, like a quick pesto with raw garlic, fresh herbs, good quality nuts and seeds and then quickly steam up some green beans or asparagus and toss them in that pesto. Or you could make a quick ginger tahini dressing with apple cider vinegar and garlic and toss that with steamed greens like mustards or kale. There’s so much calcium from the sesame seeds and the leafy greens and it’s such good quality fats! So you decide,”Ok, I’m hungry – I’ll eat this veggie dish first” and then it ends up crowding out the other not so healthy stuff like processed foods. What plagues US women really are the sugary things and simple carbs – which is one of the reasons gestational diabetes is on the rise, so we want to crowd out the simple sugars and processed foods with lots of veggies and often extra protein as well!

Sounds like you’re great in the kitchen! What else do you do for fun?

I like to play around making fun herbal concoctions, face creams and lotions and even herbal toothpastes and other products. I also really yearn to get back to playing my guitar and traveling when I have a little bit more free time!

What are you reading right now?

I recently finished a fiction book (!) called The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved it – it’s a historical fiction that spans over a century following the adventures of a family of botanists involved in the early international herbal medicine trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. I also recently read another great historical fiction called The Birth House about a young midwife in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century – the story took place in the part of Canada where my family is from and where I spent a significant amount of time growing up.As for my favorite author for birth books, I love and highly recommend anything by Aviva Romm, who writes about natural wellness and herbal medicine for pregnancy, postpartum, babies and kids.

Find out more about all of the wonderful services Lena offers at her website: www.redmoonwellness.com

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TCPerspective- Fall 2014

Each quarter, we feature a post from one of our Teacher Certification Program (TCP) students. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, life experience and specializations, CEA/MNY is proud to be educating these bright and enthusiastic women as future CCCEs.

I’ve been fascinated by birth for the last 20+ years, ever since I found myself riveted to “A Baby Story” marathons on TLC back in high school, but even then I suspected that what was shown on TV wasn’t quite the full story. Nowadays, as an editor and writer, I know the importance of doing one’s research, and as a first-time expectant parent back in 2007, doing my research meant seeking out the best possible childbirth education during pregnancy and emotional support during birth. My research led me to Bonu deCaires’ classroom at Realbirth and hiring Chantal Traub as my doula, both of who, I later learned, are members of CEA/MNY. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully realize the importance of researching my doctor and/or have the courage to change practitioners when I suspected I might not have the kind of hands-off birth I hoped for, and after a fairly typical hospital birth with an OB that first time around, including several interventions I had hoped to avoid, I knew I wanted a different, better-for-me experience giving birth the next time around. I switched to a midwife who delivered at the birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt at the start of my second pregnancy, but when she moved to a different hospital halfway through my pregnancy, I sought out a homebirth practice and was thankful to be welcomed by Martine Jean-Baptiste and Karen Jefferson of JJB Midwifery. My experiences with Martine and Karen both in that pregnancy and birth in 2009 as well as in my third pregnancy and birth in 2012 showed me how incredibly positive an experience birth can be when women are supported, listened to, and trusted. I worked with doulas during both of those pregnancies as well, and felt so strongly about the impact my doulas and midwives had on my achieving the kind of births I had hoped for and worked toward, that I trained as a doula with DONA just a few months after giving birth to my third child. While I would love to pursue midwifery training, life with three young children doesn’t feel very accommodating to that lifestyle—and neither, really, does doula work for me at the moment, given the challenges of on-call life. As an alternative, Martine sagely suggested that I check out CEA/MNY certification, as a means of staying involved in the birth community while allowing me sufficient time to be with my family.

A year into the program, I have taken all but one of the required courses, audited a handful of childbirth education series, and toured a couple of hospitals—but I’ve also just moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m still acclimating myself to the local birth culture. I’ll fly back this fall for the class I missed in the spring and continue working toward completing the rest of the requirements. Over the past year, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the changes in women’s bodies during pregnancy and the stages of fetal development, the role of the placenta, prenatal nutrition, the how’s and why’s of various obstetrical tests and procedures, coping strategies for the various stages of labor, and so much more, but when it comes down to it, at the heart of what I’ve learned is to meet women and their partners where they are in their pregnancies, help them to determine what their needs are, and help them gain the confidence they need to achieve the birth they hope for. While I feel confident in the choices I made for myself in each individual pregnancy through postpartum period, I know that each woman must make individual and personal decisions for herself and her baby—and that her choices might be very different from mine. In that regard, cooperative childbirth education isn’t about teaching the one “correct” method of going through a pregnancy or giving birth, but instead providing the most recent evidence-based information, and creating a safe space for discussion and support, so that women can make the best choices for themselves. I am looking forward to bringing the model of cooperative childbirth education to South Carolina within the next year—which reminds me, I’ve got to get back to my reading!

-Melanie Rosen, TCP student, freelance writer, mom of three

Melanie Rosen, CEA/MNY

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Announcing our 2014-2015 Scholarship Recipients

CEA/MNY is proud to announce the recipients of our first ever, Doris Haire Scholarship and Still I Rise Scholarship!

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming our 2014-2015 Scholarship Recipients!

Faith McFall-Smith- Winner of The Doris Haire Scholarship
Patricia Rangel– Winner of The Still I Rise Scholarship

We received many qualified applicants and have chosen to extend a partial scholarship to our 1st Runner-Ups!

Lodz Joseph- 1st Runner-Up of The Doris Haire Scholarship
Carla Nelson- 1st Runner-Up of The Still I Rise Scholarship

Learn more about our wonderful new TCPs below!

 

Faith McFall-Smith, Winner of The Doris Haire Scholarship

Faith McCall-Smith, CEA/MNY, Doris Haire Scholarship RecipientFaith McFall-Smith is from Yonkers, in Westchester County, NY. Faith is a working mother of two, a wife and an aspiring birth worker. After a disappointing first birth experience with her daughter which ended in an unnecessary cesarean delivery in 2009, Faith became a breastfeeding advocate encouraging family, friends and coworkers of the amazing process of breastfeeding. After becoming pregnant with her second child, she was urged to find a local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) group and started taking steps toward a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean.) With the help and encouragement of family, friends, her ICAN group, her midwives and a doula, she achieved a successful home birth after cesarean in 2011. The HBAC experience has changed her life, making her want to share the joys of the childbirth process with expectant parents. She will be volunteering her time with the Lower Hudson Valley Perinatal Network on the March of Dimes, “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” consumer campaign and co-coordinated the Westchester County chapter of the Improving Birth.org 2014 Labor Day Rally to Improve Birth Outcomes.

Patricia RangelWinner of The Still I Rise Scholarship

After having five natural births, Patricia Rangel became a licensed practical nurse working in the Labor and Delivery and Postpartum Units. Patricia has completed doula trainings with ALACE, DONA International and Ancient Song Doula Services. She is also an Infant Massage Instructor and aspiring childbirth educator. Patricia is the Founder and Coordinator of the Harlem Hospital Center Volunteer Doula Program. Patricia is excited to join the TCP program as she appreciates that CEA/MNY is family-centered and does not support one particular way to give birth. She believes  that the mind and body are connected in the birth process and views childbirth as a normal, natural physiological process. Patricia is a proud cancer survivor, having won the battle against breast cancer.

As someone who has previously met and interviewed Dr. Maya Angelou, she is honored to be the first recipient of The Still I Rise Scholarship and looks forward to joining the CEA/MNY community.

Lodz Joseph- 1st Runner-Up of The Doris Haire Scholarship 

Lodz Joseph, CEA/MNY, Doris Haire ScholarshipLodz Joseph has a Masters in Public Health and completed DONA International birth doula training with Debra Pascali-Bonaro. She discovered birth work while in Rwanda pursuing a medical career and managing an HIV/AIDS program. While working in the local hospital, she found herself drawn towards the laboring women and realized her passion was calling her in a different direction. When she returned to the states she started researching everything about birth and birth support and found the doula profession.

In her doula work she meets clients where they are with compassion, support, enthusiasm, and evidence-based information.  She is a grounding presence, providing non-judgmental doula care. Lodz has a deep confidence in women’s ability to manifest the birth that they desire. She provides a full spectrum of services to expectant families. She also makes her own oils and lotions which she brings to births and gives amazing massages.

Lodz is a native New Yorker born and raised in Queens, first generation American from Haiti. While not at births and studying childbirth, she loves being on the beach, cooking and coming up with new and delicious oils and lotions.

Carla Nelson- 1st Runner-Up of The Still I Rise Scholarship

Carla Nelson, CEA/MNY, Still I Rise ScholarshipCarla Nelson is a Registered Nurse and birth doula. After the birth of her second daughter along with spending several years in the maternity and obstetrics field, she decided to focus and specialize in her career as a birth coach. She completed her training with DONA International and Debra Pascali-Bonaro.

Carla is currently attending The Integrative School of Nutrition where she is completing her certification as a holistic health coach in order to continue providing her clients with a wealth of knowledge pertaining to their care. Fascinated by women’s health and learning, Carla understands that the care mothers and babies receive during and following birth greatly influences their well-being for years to come.  Her mission as a registered nurse and birth coach is to promote a balanced approach to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern obstetric and postpartum care. This is done through family support and education of different relaxation techniques and comfort measures.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering women and expectant parents. She understand that pregnancy and birth is the most transforming time in parent’s life and wants to continue to help capture and savor life’s most precious moments.

 

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Remembering Doris Haire and Sandy Jamrog

The CEA/MNY birth community lost two of its most passionate and innovative leaders this year: Doris Haire and Sandra Jamrog. These women, both founding members of CEA/MNY (Doris Haire founded CEA/MNY with Dorothea Lange, pictured below) made a tremendous impact the way we think about birth and childbirth education–their warmth, wisdom and tenacity will be deeply missed. We honor them now with a few memories from members who knew them well. If you’ve never heard of these women, please read about them and learn what they did. It is vital that we carry on their legacy in our own work as advocates and educators. – Ceridwen Morris

Sandy’s Impact
By Ellen Chuse, CCCE, Former Board President

Sandy Jamrog, CCCEI met Sandy Jamrog in 1974 at the Gardens Nursery School where her son Joshie was in the 2’s.  One of his teachers was Gara LaMarche, the man I would later marry. I was a teacher in the 3’s and long before we were thinking about having a family Gara and I became friends with Sandy and Joe.  In those days Sandy was a dancer. I was a sculptor. I built an abstract pelvis for a performance she gave while pregnant with her third child, her daughter Jenny. Those are my earliest memories of Sandy. I remember Joe’s story about Jenny’s birth – desperately trying to get their next door neighbor Carmen to come over to help since the baby was threatening to arrive before the midwife. I have memories of Sandy pregnant with her fourth child Jonathan. I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t know Sandy.

When I became pregnant for the first time in 1979 and eventually decided to have a home birth, Sandy was instrumental in helping me find a midwife – no small challenge in those days in NYC.  Gara and I took a relaxation and massage class series with Sandy and Susan Beach as part of our childbirth preparation and the rest is history.  I had a baby and fell in love with birth.

Sandy pulled me into CEA in 1982, served as my mentor and pushed me into teaching before I thought I was ready.  Sandy was president of CEA for so many years. I remember countless workshops and board meetings in her wonderful, sprawling apartment on the Upper West Side where the family and their sweet dog lived amid futons and pillows and a seeming level of chaos I couldn’t fathom.  There was always a sense of welcome, Sandy’s beaming face and her generosity in sharing her knowledge and support.  Over the years I saw Sandy less often as we were further apart geographically.  After a long hiatus we reconnected at Joan King’s memorial service a few years ago and I visited her soon after. We picked up where we left off as though we had never been apart.  Even at her most fragile Sandy radiated a glow of deep beauty.  Having Sandy join us at our 2013 Teacher and Trainee Tea was such a special moment. Sandy was the living history of CEA and I am so glad that many of our newer members were able to meet her at least once.  During my last conversation with Sandy she seemed upbeat and feeling well enough to begin teaching again.  I know she missed her students desperately.  How wonderful that she was able to feel so much better for a while before her disease took her life.  Sandy was a founding mother of CEA and the very heart of the organization for many years. She will be deeply missed.

Remembering Sandy Jamrog and Doris Haire
By Judith Halek, Birth Balance

When people die, their bodies may be taken from us, yet the memories live on forever.  A little piece of each person lives in us, through the imprint of the effect they had on us. Two icons in the birth community have recently passed:  Sandy Jamrog, 77 years and Doris Haire, 88 years, both vital influences in my 26 years involvement with birth.

Sandy Jamrog’s interests and studies were varied.  She was one of the co-founders of Childbirth Education Association of New York and President for 15 years, wife to Joe, mother of 4 beautiful children: Josh, Jonathan, Jenny, Jeff,  an expert equestrian and ‘horse whisperer.’  Sandy was my friend, childbirth mentor, surrogate mother,  faculty member of the School for Body-Mind Centering since its inception, worked with parenting, pregnancy and infants since 1975.  She co-created the infant Developmental Movement Education (IDME) program with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. Sandy studied the body and it’s functions as if she was in medical school.  Her love for childbirth modalities:  lactation, childbirth, nutrition, studies of the body extended over four decades.

The final moments of her life were spent in NY Presbyterian Hospital surrounded by family and friends.  Sandy lived and died on her terms, up to her final breath.  At the memorial in her home, the people’s testimonials reflected Sandy’s love for life, big heart and sense of humor.  When one remembers Sandy, we do so with a smile on our face and love in our hearts.

Some beautiful pages to preview about Sandy Jamrog and her work: Infant Developmental Movement: rolling and baby contact and Ms. Sandra Jamrog.

 

Memories of Sandy
By Kate Sharp, IBCLC

I first met Sandy when my daughter was a toddler.  She hosted a Fertility Awareness workshop; we observed our cervical mucus, I discovered my daughter’s nursing affected every nuance of my fertility (not facts readily available, then, except from one’s own body).

And that was Sandy’s world, the world of learning from your body, forming groups to share the learning, tapping the source of female knowledge, and power.

When I was pregnant with my son I took childbirth class from Sandy (she did classes for my homebirth midwife, Sandy Fields).  A refresher; but unforgettable for me as Sandy’s deep body knowledge communicated directly with my body and the message was, my pelvis would open.  Twenty four years later I still feel that moment.

That was the power of her teaching.

Some years after that childbirth class I was working through problems of baby’s movements to the breast, the heart of my breastfeeding work.  A conversation began with Sandy and I entered the astounding world of Body Mind Centering.

I’m not a bodyworker, a dancer, an artist: these, and others, were my companions in class.  I was the only childbirth person, aside from Sandy, most of the time.  The BMC work changed my life and my work, and forms very precious memories, rooted deeply in my body.

What a blessing.

Sandy’s role in Body Mind Centering was so precious.  Hers was the first in all of the certifications that people took.  Grounded in birth and developmental movement she helped people work through the roots of movement.

When I decided to add childbirth education to my breastfeeding work I was so lucky to co teach two sets of birth classes with Sandy.  She had a generous spirit, encouraging me to teach parts of classes, open with me about my many flaws, uncompromising but so willing to collaborate. And how do we let go of the outcomes, when the odds are stacked against normal birth?  Isn’t this our central question?  We have so many obstacles  as childbirth educators.

Sandy taught me with her body and soul that: every baby IS  a new beginning, every mother DESERVES the tools for a normal birth…and we CAN continue teaching, when, it seems, no one can use what we have to teach.

So many gifts to me from Sandy, personal and in work, one of my mothers, but close enough I sometimes felt like a peer, sisters in the work.

Sandy’s Legacy
By Tamara Wrenn, CCCE, Board President

Sandy was a founding member of CEA/MNY and spent years as an instructor in the program teaching Body Dynamics of Pregnancy, Labor, and Birth. Most recently Sandy attended the 2013 CEA Annual Tea, where she shared stories about birth, and the vision and work of CEA. When I think about Sandy I picture her gorgeous smile, brilliant and lively eyes, and the excitement that she showed for life.  For those of us who had the pleasure of learning under Sandy, the stories abound about how she used movement in her class in a way that no one else could. It definitely made you step out of your comfort zone.

With Sandy’s transitioning I can’t help but think how sad that we’ve lost another elder, another wise woman. Yet, even as she faced the end of this life she did it with grace and dignity. We can only hope to be so courageous, whatever difficulties we face each day.

As we mourn her passing, let us remember to celebrate her legacy. Sandy touched many lives in the birth and parenting community, and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Please feel free to share your memories about Sandy with the group, including images. You may share them in the comments or on our Facebook Page.

Remembering Doris Haire
By Judith Halek 

UnknownDoris Haire was an accomplished, innovative, ahead of her time, birth mover and shaker.  I remember filming Doris standing behind outdoor podiums in New York City rallys, engaging and firing up the audience through her fervor, passion, research, wisdom and strength regarding the latest studies on maternal and infant outcomes regarding interventions used in United States hospital environments. Doris was the President of the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health and world renowned authority on maternity care and its effects on infant outcome.  Her groundbreaking work in 1972, “The Cultural Warping of Childbirth,” was extremely influential in developing patient-friendly maternity care in the Untied States.  Doris Haire was an advocate of research on the effects of obstetrical drugs and procedures on maternal and infant outcome.  She spoke world wide at conferences, Congressional hearings and brought about the first General Accounting Office investigation into the FDA’s drug regulating practice.  To learn more about her work, go to her website:  www.aimsusa.org   the Alliance for Improvement of Maternity Services.

To read more information about her in this obituary and here’s the The Cultural Warping of Childbirth, Revisited.

 

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TCPerspective- Spring 2014

Each quarter, we feature a post from one of our Teacher Certification Program (TCP) students. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, life experience and specializations, CEA/MNY is proud to be educating these bright and enthusiastic women as future CCCEs. 

As a doula and midwife assistant, I came to understand the importance of the mind body connection in birth. Where there is fear, there is tightness and where there is trust and confidence, there is the ability to release.  This is true with birth as with any other of life’s transitions. It was the passion to explore how to decrease fear and increase self-knowledge and ownership of birth choices and psychophysiologic experiences that lead me to the CEA/MNY TCP program. Becoming a childbirth educator to me means learning not only the most recent evidence-based care and to be able to convey this effectively to a family anticipating birth, but also to understand the feelings, emotions, and weight of the birth experience for a woman and her partner and to find the best ways to support their path.

CEA/MNY’s cooperative childbirth education program bridges this gap in understanding by offering dynamic courses for both families and educators that meets people where they are, supports them in their birth preferences, while also opening the door to the discussion of pros and cons of various choices for birth. This program has taught me how to not only be an effective childbirth educator who is aware of the mind body connection and the ways to use this effectively in birth, but also how to be a better human – able to relate to women, partners, babies and one another in a scope of cooperation, trust, encouragement and acceptance.

– Hannah Haehn, MA, CD(DONA), TCP Student cea/mny, childbirth education association of metropolitan new york, hannah haehn

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TCPerspective- Winter 2014

Each quarter, we will be featuring a post from one of our Teacher Certification Program (TCP) students. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, life experience and specializations, CEA/MNY is proud to be educating these bright and enthusiastic women as future CCCEs. 

I learned about CEA/MNY through word of mouth as I was looking to become a childbirth educator.  I loved how the education component of the CEA/MNY program was live and in person, as I am not much of an online learner. I was a bit leery as it seemed to be a large financial investment for me overall. After taking the first workshop with Susanrachel Condon this past September, my worries melted away.

The vast amount of information and skills that I have gained from every workshop that I have taken has informed my practice as a doula and future childbirth educator and has made me more confident.  I loved how Susanrachel, in particular, as well as other instructors have been very open to answering questions and making sure that we understand the material being presented.  I also love how the program is all about supporting choices and workshop presenters are not bound to one particular philosophy. I am so glad that I decided to join CEA/MNY!  I look forward to future workshops and finishing the certification program!

– Anna Tran, TCP student, birth doula, mother of one

Anna Tran, CEA/MNY, childbirth education association of metropolitan new york, birth, pregnancy, doula, TCP

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What I Didn’t Know About My Pelvic Floor

Posted by Margot Hodes

How many of you can say you got to know your pelvis in a whole new way this weekend?  Well if you came to the CEA/MNY Pelvic Floor Workshop then you probably can.  Since the workshop description said there would be an “experiential approach”, I wondered, how experiential are we talking?  Do I need to shave?  I settled on just wearing comfortable leggings.  Lara Kohn Thompson, a certified yoga instructor and teacher trainer and expert in pelvic floor health, led this workshop for professionals who work with women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.  Here are some of the highlights of the workshop.  After Lara spent some time reviewing the anatomy and physiology of the pelvis, she described how the state of our pelvis has a symbiotic relationship with our core, posture, breathing and our overall health.  In particular how we carry our body – the position we stand, sit, and walk can either support or put strain on our pelvic floor muscles.

Since we were all interested in the impact that pregnancy and birth has on our pelvic floor, there was much discussion around these issues.  Lara conveyed that many women are concerned that after pregnancy and birth they will have a weak pelvic floor and consequently problems with sexual satisfaction and incontinence.  An important point she made was that our pelvic floor should neither be strong and tight or loose and relaxed – rather, it needs to be efficient like a trampoline.  It needs to be able to stretch and move when needed and respond to pressure.  I thought this was a very powerful concept to carry forward with us.  Women don’t need to strive for a tight pre-pubescent vagina because a tight vagina isn’t efficient.  An efficient vagina will accommodate whomever or whatever makes a woman and her partner feel good; an efficient pelvic floor will provide enough elasticity to make sex satisfying and pleasurable.

Because so often there is little to no attention paid to the health of a birthing woman’s pelvic floor, many women do experience damage to their pelvic floor muscles post-partum.  This post-partum period can however be an optimal time to re-map or re-build the pelvic floor and to work on our postural habits.  Lara had us practice some exercises that allowed us to feel the difference between the superficial and the inner layers of pelvic floor muscles.  These exercises are recommended for women who have strained, torn or damaged pelvic floor muscles.  The superficial layer is the layer we feel when we do a traditional Keegel exercise, in the same way we contract our muscles when we are trying to hold back from urinating, defecating or passing gas (or as my sons like to say #1, #2 and #3 – farts now have their own number).  The inner layer is a deeper layer within the superficial layer.  Picture a bowl (this is the superficial layer) and a triangle inside the bowl (this is the inner layer).  As we lay on our backs and took some deep breaths while we contracted our muscles, many of us could not feel our inner layer.   Then we partnered up and tightly bound a scarf each other’s pelvis (the scarf was tied parallel with our ilium and sacrum).  With our partner keeping our scarf tightly in place this time, we tried to contract our muscles while lying on our backs and most of us could feel a big difference.  Firstly, it felt really good to have our pelvis compressed.  Lara noted that women love the way this feels post-partum and that it really helps them to reconnect with the feeling in their pelvic floor.  This makes sense because having my pelvis squeezed in my not post-partum body, I could access sensation in my inner pelvic floor muscles that I ordinarily would not feel.  If it can help a body that’s not post-partum feel more connected I can only imagine the benefits of this technique on a mom who has just been through pregnancy and birth.

Finally, Lara demonstrated how certain positions that we might consider optimal for pushing can actually put enormous pressure on our pelvic floor muscles.  Picture a woman sitting upright curled forward with her legs spread open and up toward her chest.  Yes, she has gravity working for her, but the pressure on her pelvic floor is like a champagne cork popping.  In an emergency situation when it’s critical to get that baby out fast then this can work to mom and baby’s advantage, but in a normal, uncomplicated birth it’s actually beneficial to let the pushing stage unfold in a more gentle way.  Instead of the mom leaning forward, she can be on an incline and her feet and knees can be raised and propped up against a wall or someone’s body, but not tucked in toward her chest.  This provides an efficient descent of the baby but puts less intense pressure on the mom’s pelvic floor.  It was really eye opening to learn how subtle differences in posture and position can affect our pelvic floor health during labor and birth.  For those of you who would like to learn more about the role of the pelvis in pregnancy and birth as well as ways to help increase pelvic flexibility and coordination, Lara recommended reading, “The Female Pelvis – Anatomy and Exercises” by Blandine Calais-Geramain.

 

Margot Hodes teaches childbirth education and breastfeeding preparation for Tribeca Pediatrics.  She is finishing her certification as a childbirth educator with CEA/MNY and for the past several years has taught as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Teachers College, Columbia University, where she also received her Ed.D. in Health Education.  Margot is also a Certified Lactation Counselor and has a Master’s in Counseling from New York University.  She lives on the Lower East Side with her husband and two sons.
 
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