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A Day With Ina May Gaskin

by Amelia on April 9, 2009
category: Labor and Delivery,Practical Tips,Pregnancy

3408709456_c5672b505c_m I got to spend a whole day with Ina May Gaskin, well known midwife and author of books Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery.  She came to Pittsburgh to speak to a group of doulas, childbirth educators, midwives, labor nurses, and anyone interested in the power of birth.  She gave several talks: Hands: Our Treasured Tools, Sphincter Law, Forgotten Powers of the Vagina, Demand Cesareans, and Post-Date Inductions.  

I was very interested in her talk on post-date inductions because this issue is one that is so common and one that many women have to face, either by doctors who are pushing inductions for various reasons (many unnecessary), or by women who do go past their due dates.  I rather enjoyed her talk on Sphincter Law.  Not only was it entertaining, but she highlighted the idea that bringing humor into the labor room can be freeing for the woman in labor and can also help her labor to chug along and be less painful.

A word about induction:  Did you know that first time moms who get induced are twice as likely to end up with a cesarean than mothers who go into spontaneous labor?  Did you know that there are many natural things you can try to get labor going instead of opting for pitocin first?  Did you know that many practices like to induce women with a drug called Cytotec (misoprostal) that has not been proven to be safe for pregnant mothers?  It is a great drug to use for post-partum hemorhage but when used to induce labor, there can be many complications.  Cytotec is a drug that cannot be counteracted, it can’t be turned off like pitocin can.  It can’t be removed from the body. One of the complications of the drug is that it can cause hyperstimulation of the uterus which can then distress the baby.  Using a drug that can’t be counteracted and can have harmful effect on both the mother and the baby is not wise.  Many women are not shared the possible risks when given this drug.  Ina May is very passionate about women knowing their options when it comes to birth.

In her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she goes over the theory of Sphincter Law thoroughly.  It was fun to hear her talk about it in person.  The basic premise behind Sphincter Law is that the cervix also functions like a sphincter.  Like our other well known sphincters (think toilet humor), the cervix doesn’t respond well to commands, pressure, or fear.  How many of you have had “stage fright” when it comes to pooping or peeing in front of someone or sitting next to someone in the next stall?  Our emotional state of relaxation can have a powerful effect on the cervix.  Fear and shame can keep the cervix closed.  Ina May talked extensively about how bringing in a sense of humor into the place of birth can help the body release endorphins that overrule the adrenaline that gets released when afraid.  Sometimes not understanding what is going on with your body while it is laboring can cause fear too.  Her suggestions for keeping that cervix open and able to open is to bring in humor and allowing your mouth and jaw to relax. Making low groaning sounds or making your lips vibrate like a horse can keep that jaw relaxed.  (Relaxing your jaw also helps  you to poop when it feels difficult to do so :) .) She recommends that kissing your husband while laboring can also help keep that jaw relaxed.  Of course, if you are laboring in the hospital, you might want to ask for some privacy ;) .

3407874325_94070d4265_m Ina May also talked about her project, The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project.  She started this project several years ago to try and waken the government to the need to decrease the maternal mortality rate here in the US.  Did you know that the maternal mortality rate has not decreased since 1982?  It is increasing, in fact. It is also thought to be grossly underestimated.  We are ranked behind 40 other countried for maternal mortality.  You would think that with all of our technology that the rate would be decreasing but that is not the case.  As the rate of Cesareans has risen, so has the maternal mortality rate.  



Some of the deaths that happen every year of unpreventable, but many are not.  Ina May started making a quilt in honor of the mothers that have died from complications of birth. An interesting phenomenon is the increase of death from amniotic fluid embolism.  Some speculate that the increase of inductions is also increasing the number of deaths from amniotic fluid embolism.  There needs to be more studies done so to show why there is such an increase.

I cannot tell you how important it is to spread the word for women to know their options when it comes to birth.  I advocate giving birth where you feel the most comfortable.  For some women, that is at home.  For others, it is at a birth center or hospital.  It is so important to know the procedures that are done and what the risks and benefits are.  For example, when a woman show up in labor at the hospital, the staff will break her water, insert an internal fetal monitor, and even start her on a pitocin drip to speed up the labor.  A mom may not know that as long as her and the baby are okay, breaking the bag of waters and inserting an internal fetal monitor is going overboard.  Using pitocin when it is not needed is simply unnecssary and introduces risks to the mother and baby.  She may not know that it is okay to refuse those things.   

There are many resources available to help women make informed choices about childbirth.  Some of my favorite books are:

6 Responses to A Day With Ina May Gaskin

  • Comment by Amanda
    April 9, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    This is a great post, Amelia! How awesome that you got to meet Ina May. I think most people like going to a hospital for delivery, but it is still super helpful to know about your options and be informed before you give birth. I have found that it is not enough to rely on the expertise of the doctor or nurses.

    Also, having someone there that is versed and is informed with you the whole time can also help you make decisions.

    The sphincter law is interesting! I totally got “stage fright” when we told people I was in labor. Funny. And the low sounds work!!

  • Gravatar April 9, 2009 @ 9:42 am

    The quilt is an amazing thing to behold! Thanks for sharing your day with us.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amanda Anderson
    April 9, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    The quilt is beautiful and represents something so beautiful….motherhood.


  • Gravatar
    Comment by Vanessa
    April 10, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Anyone seen “The Business of Being Born”? Tons of interesting info in there!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by amelia
    April 10, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

    I love the BOBB, Vanessa! It is fabulous! I have been thinking of doing a review about it for a while. Thanks for mentioning it!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by jennydecki
    June 21, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

    Wow. I can’t tell you how utterly jealous I am you got to spend a day with Ina May! I was so tempted to have my baby at The Farm, but it’s pretty far from my home :)

    Thanks for the great post!

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