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When filmmaker Brigid Maher’s hopes for a natural delivery with her first child were crushed after she ended up having a C-section, she was left with a hangover of guilt, anger and confusion. Her second pregnancy, three years later, offered the opportunity to try again for a natural birth via a vaginal birth after Caesarean (VBAC). She sought out the care of a nurse midwife, and after successfully delivering her daughter (who weighed in at 9 lbs, 10 oz), naturally, she was inspired to make a documentary to shed light on the world of midwifery.

Maher’s film, The Mama Sherpas, follows four midwifery practices around the country and shares the story of the midwives’ passion for the care of mothers and babies, and of mothers seeking to experience childbirth naturally in a hospital setting. With executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein on board, the film is a standout in the canon of films about birth and babies that many mothers seek out when they set out on the journey of pregnancy.

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Susan Dejoy, a nurse midwife based in Springfield, Mass., is one of the practitioners featured in The Mama Sherpas. Her practice has delivered over 11,000 babies, and her passion for caring for women, during pregnancy as well as for routine wellness, is evident on screen. We were lucky enough to catch her between deliveries to chat about what midwifery is and why it should be a vital part of our country’s healthcare system instead of a left-of-center alternative.

Can you explain the technical difference between a midwife and an obstetrician?

A midwife is trained to handle normal, basically uncomplicated or minimally uncomplicated pregnancies, and focus on promoting normal physiology and birth experience. (Pregnancy) is an unusual area of healthcare in that our patients aren’t sick. We promote the natural process and the woman’s experience, education and her development as a new mom.

Physicians--god love them, we need them desperately! But they are focused on pathology and on treating disorders of pregnancy. And they do that very well—we need that in a well-rounded health system because not every pregnancy is normal. There’s an expression: when you’re a hammer, everything you see is a nail. Doctors tend to say that we midwives tend to not see the pathology, and we joke with our physician colleagues that they tend not to see the normal. The truth is we need a balance of both perspectives, working together. Midwives work in conjunction with physicians in most practices in the country, so that women can have seamless transitions of their care.

What is the greatest misconception about midwives?

I think the biggest misconception is that midwives don’t exist anymore. In other developed countries in the world, midwifery care is the model, it’s who you see if you’re healthy. Secondly, a big misconception is that midwives do home births only. That is a really, really small percentage of what happens in midwifery care. Only about 2% of those in nurse midwifery care are in practices that do home births.

What can you tell us about the difference between a midwife and a doctor during labor and delivery?

Midwives believe strongly in the normal physiologic labor and birth. We look at ourselves as guides to that process. It’s been described as ‘the art of doing nothing, well.' We watch and are vigilant, but we don’t intervene unless it’s necessary. We don’t routinely use IV’s, we support labor, as often as possible, without pain medication, and we try to support the normal processes as long as possible.

Midwives believe in the value of physical presence of the care provider in labor, and physicians tend to not be as present, they tend to pop in and out and let the nurses do the bedside care. They also tend to view some interventions as routine. For the birth itself, I think midwives tend to encourage a variety of positions and allow for pushing with the urge. Technique-wise, we tend to allow for birth to be slower, with less opportunity for tearing. Midwives cut less episiotomy, as a national statistic.

Culturally and medically, what do you see as the barriers to natural birth right now?

Right now we have a culture of intervention in childbirth. We feel that things need to be done to a woman for safety, and intervention has become normalized in our society.

The other cultural barrier is the opinion that pain is bad, and it is something to be avoided at all costs. In our country if you’re an athlete and you’re in pain, that’s considered a badge of honor—but for a woman in labor, it isn’t viewed that way. Women get afraid, and there’s this culture of fear around pregnancy, fear of pain, fear that they can’t do it. Hospital routines, from offering IV’s to the standard offer of epidural, get in the way. There’s not a lot of patience for things to unfold.

I don’t think we do enough to support the idea of birth as a normal, physiologic process. If I could wave my magic wand, I’d lower the lights in hospitals, and labor and delivery areas would be quieter. Staffing would be focused on minimal interactions with the woman in labor. I’d make sure that woman were educated and provided with information about normal labor prenatally, so they don’t come in cold. We’d ask about their preferences and respect them.

Why do practices across the country need to foster more collaboration between midwives and doctors, as they do in The Mama Sherpas?

The primary reason it’s important is for the woman herself. I would think it would be much more reassuring to be in a practice that could say, “No matter what develops during your pregnancy you can stay with us, and we have the right people who can see you no matter what comes up." It might mean you stay with a midwife for your whole pregnancy, or see a physician for a short time and then return to the midwives. It’s the right way to deliver care: to match the patient’s needs with the skillset of the person who can deliver it. It’s a waste of resources to have a doctor who has gone through four years of medical school, and completed their residency--who is essentially a surgeon--to manage normal, uncomplicated pregnancies.

Learn more about Susan and other midwives in The Mama Sherpas, now playing nationwide. You can also find it online here.

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So far 2020 has been a year of big changes for Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Earlier this month the royal couple announced their plans to step back as senior members of the royal family. Initially, the plan was for the couples to retain their royal tiles and raise their "son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also give themselves the space to work and live in North America. Sometimes young parents have to make tough choices to do what's best for their new family and that can mean making changes that impact your family of origin.

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On Sunday, during a speech at a charity event for Sentebale (an organization Prince Harry co-founded to get support children living with HIV in Southern Africa), the Duke of Sussex explained that stepping back from being a senior royal wasn't easy but had to be done.

"The UK is my home and a place that I love," he explained. "That will never change...The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly," he said. "It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven't always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option."

This follows the Queen's announcement earlier this weekend. She stated that her family has found a way for Harry and Meghan to move forward, and it means they're not only not senior royals anymore, they do not have HRH titles (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) anymore and "are no longer working members of the Royal Family."

The statement from the Queen reads, in part: "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

"I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.

"I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.

"It is my whole family's hope that today's agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life."

The Queen's statement explains that Harry and Meghan have "shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home."

Basically, they're serious about being financially independent and they're going to pay rent on the cottage.

Untangling family issues can be hard, and it is difficult for anyone to imagine what it must be like to live this out on the world's stage. In her statement, the Queen said she understands the role the intense press scrutiny has played in the couple's decision to forge a new path, and that they will always be her family.

Whether you're leaving the royal family to move to Canada, or just trying to explain to your parents that your own family needs to move to another state, the challenges are real.

Here's to a new chapter for Harry and Meghan and all the other new parents writing their own stories.

[This post was originally published January 18, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

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It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

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Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

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After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

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2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

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