Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Custom-tailored Support System

The majority of us no longer have a whole village to help us raise our children. Many westernized countries recognize the need to take good care of their mothers and provide numerous services to make sure that happens. In Europe many employers not only grant months-long maternity leave but also provide fathers or partners with maternity leave, too. Countries like Holland further supply every mother often up to a year with daily mothers’ helpers who come into the home and do the laundry, cook, watch the baby or entertain siblings so that mom can rest. In Vietnam a mother is strictly required to stay in bed for 40 days, being waited on by her sisters, aunts, grandmothers and mother in order that she has time to recover and build up a good milk supply.

The Amish have a similar requirement that enables new mothers plenty of support and rest. In Hutterite colonies new mothers have been served in bed with the same chicken soup and homemade sweet rusk bread for centuries! Hmong mothers are required to avoid anything cold, including water and must start the prescribed broth and chicken and herb diet even weeks before their baby is born. Sometimes her grandmother will move in to do the cooking before the baby arrives. It is only in the last several decades with our mobile lifestyle that many families end up settling miles or even countries or continents away from what would have been a built-in support system.
History evolves, and so do our definitions and perceptions of the helping professions. Extended families in the past assumed the roles of helpers throughout the life of any given family from birth until
ultimately, death. Outsiders were brought into the family as society dictated the need for more ‘educated’ or ‘skilled helpers.’ Nurses and midwives learned from each other, from books of the period, or from physicians, though they were often less knowledgeable and frequently assumed the roles surrounding birth and death anyway. As families became more mobile and the parameters of the New World expanded, families often found themselves without the grandmother, aunt or mother who had helped before with all the ordinary and also extraordinary events in the family’s life. Doctors, midwives, undertakers, maids, cooks, dressmakers, and teachers -- all of these assumed roles for needs once met within the family structure.

Our 21st Century finds us bereft of even close neighbors, friends, or church members willing or able to help each other in times of need. But our needs have not vanished or evolved with time. We will always need others to help us in ways where we cannot cope alone. With the advent of the feminist movement, around the 1960s and ‘70s, most women assumed they could become Super Mom, managing alone to care for themselves, their families and their households without outside help. Some succeeded, though I can assure you they were exhausted far more than need be in the process. Others did not fare so well and viewed themselves as failures. The fact is we were not meant to have to cope alone. And we don’t have to prove to the world that we are Super Moms either. As the feminist movement simmered on the back burner toward the end of the 1980s, men began to come forward. No longer would they refuse to diaper baby or run the bath, but they even volunteered as stay-home dads.
In the 21st Century many people have at last found a middle-of- the-road, more sane approach. We don’t always have the extended family we would wish for, but we do have more options than ever to tap into and get the level of help we need, without feeling ashamed or appearing pampered. Doulas are one of these options. No longer solely unique to the elite class, they fill a much-needed gap in the care of ordinary families. In other countries, where there is socialized medicine, governments actually pay for doulas so that all mothers, regardless of income, will have the help they need before, during and after the birth of a baby. It is in the governments’ best interest to take good care of their mothers. Seven studies done in the U.S. since 1988, among many others, overwhelmingly prove that labor support versus usual care significantly reduces the use of epidurals, narcotics, instruments, and Cesarean rates alone, while at the same time increasing the Apgar rates of newborns (“The Birth Doula’s Contribution to Modern Maternity Care,” DONA Int’l).

There are many unforeseen turns in our lives, in our health, and in our families. The unexpected birth of twins in my own family is a perfect example. Though my husband worked for a large parish, no one offered to help when we came home, not with one but two babies, plus a toddler. I put an ad in our church bulletin seeking a part-time helper with no results. A doula would have been an answer to prayer. I was so run down by 5 weeks postpartum that I contracted pneumonia.
But now, close to thirty years later we are blessed with Doulas. Recently a couple hired me as a pre-partum doula when their midwife suggested support for a stalled labor. She was a first-time mom who had labored for more than 30 hours already and was overtired. Her body needed rest and she needed encouragement. So I agreed to meet them at their home. That night she slept soundly and ate well (I made her stacks of whole grain pancakes with yogurt and maple syrup). She was totally revitalized by the next day and began experiencing regular contractions again. Just having someone tell her that this was all very normal reassured her. Without this care, she might well have become completely discouraged and opted for unnecessary interventions which carry with them their own innumerable complications and risks. We returned to the birth center once labor was well established and she delivered a 10 lb. 10 oz. boy with good Apgar scores a few hours later.  
Back to my own twin birth. We found ourselves on The Farm in Tennessee with Ina May Gaskin (below) a few weeks before my due date (See: "Twin Birth on The Farm" at the toolbar at right) Despite the fact that they
were both head down, each over 5 lbs., that my blood pressure was perfect, and this birth wasn’t my first, I could not find a midwife or hospital (there weren’t any birth centers yet in Minnesota or Wisconsin in 1982) that would let me have them naturally i.e., vaginally, outside of an operating room. At The Farm I had 13 midwives/doulas at our birth which took all of 58 minutes. The Farm also has a midwifery school. I felt so supported and trusted the circle of women around me. I was able to have an incredible birth which could have been a Cesarean back in Minnesota and help during the first days and weeks besides. (See: Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin, 2nd ed. pg. 130, also their DVD “Twin Vertex Birth”)
As a doula, it is an honor for me to be able to ‘mother’ mothers. 
We all need other women to help us throughout our lives and the role of the doula is not simply a New Age invention. It is an Old World practice reincarnated to serve mothers today. ~sss

        Most doulas charge for their services though many will adjust their fees on a sliding scale based on your
income. You can also suggest bartering. One family recently overhauled all of our bikes at their bike shop for us as payment. Another family of artists offered to make an Oriental dressing screen for our apartment in exchange for doula services. One family I know told their relatives when asked what their twins would be needing suggested a Doula Fund that paid for real hands-on help for weeks after the babies arrived.

Our doula group recently organized a supper drop off for one of our doulas who had just had her first baby. We could even sign up for a night on the website and then deliver supper to the door. Any dietary restrictions were listed on the site. In this way she had meals delivered for at least 3 weeks after her baby arrived. Church groups have also organized meals for new mothers but might just need an organizer to get something going again.
When our babies were small and I felt like I was running a daycare in my home and only saw one adult during most weeks – my husband – I came up with another novel idea. I printed a sweet card that invited other stay-at-home moms in our neighborhood, though I didn’t know most of them, for a weekly pot luck tea party, but they were required to BYOB (bring your own baby). I simply stuck them in all the mailboxes on our street. It worked really well. Once we all knew who was also stranded out in suburbia, we didn’t feel so isolated. Some of us are still friends all these years later. Many libraries now host mothers’ groups also. Start one if yours doesn't.
     I have also found over the years a great resource in the grandmothers I’ve known. There was one woman in particular who was really a brick when I needed one. Jesse had 9 children, all older than ours. They ran a dairy farm out in the country. About once a month I would ask David to watch the children so I could visit Jesse. I would take my nursling along, of course but Jesse always knew exactly what I needed. Once her husband asked her why I would ever pick their chaotic house for my ‘white space’ moments. She completely understood and replied, “Because no one else will not ask her, ‘so why did you have so many kids if you are feeling so overwhelmed?’” I loved my big family. I just needed a break every so often.
     Another scheme I came up with was my ‘truck stop breakfast’ once a week that I choreographed with David and was able to pull off for a few years. I would nurse the twins around 5 a.m. and tuck them back into our bed on Saturday mornings. David and all of the other kids would be sleeping in. I could then sneak out and drive or walk the 1 mile to the local truck stop by the freeway. I would buy the weekend paper, order breakfast and a pot of coffee and ensconce myself in a booth at the back of the place. I didn’t have to jump up once during the meal and the coffee was actually hot! It was heavenly! I would read Irma Bombeck's column first and laugh out loud. I am sure the truckers and the waitresses thought I had lost a few marbles, but I look back now very fondly to my Saturday mornings at the truck stop.
     After my 4th baby, I had some problems with prolapse and ended up having to stay in bed – really stay there – for a couple of weeks. After the first few days of my husband’s cooking I was desperate. So were the kids. All he knew how to make was canned soup and scrambled eggs. I thought about what might improve this picture and came up with another creative fix. I called the little café in town and asked to speak to the owner. I knew she was a middle aged woman and rumors in town were circulating that she was quite unwell. I suggested to Pat that when I was better I could bake her pies and flip pancakes and hamburgers during the upcoming hunting season (this was a BIG deal in rural Wisconsin at the time) and until then, if she could fix us a box supper for 6 people – I left the menus up to her -- that David could pick up on his way home from work, she could keep a running bill and I would reciprocate the favor as soon as I was up again. She jumped at the arrangement and that night David ceremoniously placed the big box on the table in the kitchen. When the children were all seated, he lifted out a casserole of fried chicken, bowls of coleslaw and potato salad and a cherry pie! The next night was hamburgers and malts. The day after that was a Caesar salad and homemade bread. Supper had never tasted so good! After 3 weeks of this, we were up to making our own suppers again.

Six weeks later I was ready. I set the clock for 4 a.m., fed baby Hannah and snuck out. The cafe was already surrounded with pickup trucks toting gun racks parked all over the place when I arrived. I flipped platter-sized pancakes till 8 a.m. and then washed dishes for the next hour. I came in every Saturday and Sunday as long as hunting season lasted. After that I came in twice more and painted the pantry for her. Then she announced that I had paid up. I brought the kids down there for ice cream every so often just to visit her after that. It had been rather fun.
    The important thing to remember is that you do not have to be Super Mom and it is OK to ask for help. Don’t wait until you feel dangerously out of control. You aren’t the first mom to feel this way.

STAY TUNED... This and other stories will be appearing in one of the books, Call The Doula! a diary© or Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century© both pending by Stephanie Sorensen

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The State Fair and Mummy’s Nummies UPDATE; or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About The Fair But Were Afraid to Ask!

    A phenomenon such as the Minnesota State Fair actually boggles the mind. The official tally for yesterday’s (Friday) attendance was 121,941 fair goers. Here is some trivia about our Minnesota State Fair:
    How many acres of corn were sold at the Corn Roast booth in 2009? (25 acres) 
    How much butter is used to sculpt the likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way? (85-90 lbs.)
    What attraction, created in Pine Island, Minn., was the Dairy Building’s feature at the 1911 State Fair? (A 6,000 pound block of cheese)
    At the 1906 State Fair, the St. Paul Growers Association built a model of the new State Capitol out of what vegetable? (onions)
  • In 1939 all children who attended the fair on “Children’s Day” received what beverage? (a carton of milk)
  • How long would it take the average cow to produce all the milk served during the fair’s 12-day run at the All-You-Can-Drink milk booth? (3-4 years)
  • What new food did fair guests devour 30,000 servings of at the 2006 State Fair? (Hot Dish On-A-Stick at Ole and Lena’s)
  • How many food concessions are located throughout the fairgrounds? (About 300 food concessions dish up more than 450 different delectable delights.)
  • How many church dining halls are on the fairgrounds? (four: Church of the Epiphany; Hamline United Methodist; Robbinsdale OES and Salem Lutheran Church)
  • When was the Pronto Pup introduced at the State Fair? (1947)
  • During a typical year, how many gallons of milk are served at the American Dairy Association’s All-You-Can-Drink Milk concession? (about 25,000 gallons)
  • On average, what’s the total number of corndogs typically consumed by fair guests each year? (500,000)
  • What is the most popular flavor of pies entered in the Creative Activities baked goods category? (apple)
  • On average, how many individual cheese curds are battered, deep-fried and gobbled up by fair guests? (over 2.6 million)
  • About how many calories are in an order of deep-fried cheese curds? (475)
  • How many dozens of mini donuts are eaten each year? (nearly 338,000)
  • Which fair food contains the most calories? (deep-fried candy bars)
  • Fresh French Fries made their debut at the fair in what year? (1972)
  • How many calories does one corndog have? (310)  
I checked out the lactation station which I found a bit strange. It is supposedly promoting breastfeeding in public, but what I saw were cubicles with doors sporting huge numbers and a waiting area where moms and their babies had to wait to nurse, even though only moms and babies were there. So each mom has a private place to feed her baby. Not terribly public. Rather private I would say. No different from the fitting rooms at the mall. I would much rather see a large room with a circle of (at least 20) rocking chairs where moms could just come and go and maybe even visit with other mothers. It was neither public nor promoting much of anything. Maybe I can look into helping out with this before the 2014 fair.

I had signed up and volunteered for the evening shift at Children's Hospital Safety tent which was very fun. I was a "greeter" first, standing by the sidewalk inviting families in to try to guess the right answers at the 4 safety stations and win a prize. After an hour of greeting people, I was transferred to the water safety station. It was fun asking each family questions about water safety. I had a cue card with easy questions for little people and harder ones for grown ups and teenagers. Do you know what percentage of all drownings could be avoided by installing fencing around home swimming pools? Or how to tell if a life jacket is the appropriate one for your child? Do most childhood drownings happen at lakes and beaches? Answers: 50 - 90% of all drownings could be avoided by fencing home swimming pools. And, you need to read the label and size the life vests by the weight of the child. Most childhood drownings happen in home swimming pools.   Back to trivia:
More than 100,000 pounds of fried cheese curds (left) are consumed at the MN State Fair every year.
Sarah Laskow, journalist, has done her homework. Here is her list of the best worst new foods in 2013 at the fair of 47 new foods the fair is featuring this year, and all we can do is take our hats off to the evil geniuses that the fair clearly employs as food innovators. Their twisted imaginations are beyond our most bilious indigestion nightmares.

At one point I visited the Miracle of Birth barn and watched cows in early labor and sheep looking very perplexed, wondering why so many people were looking at them. There were narrow stalls where some pigs were laying down looking very hot and bored. One huge mama pig was nursing 8 very cute babies and there were several pens with little rabbits, and quite a few sets of twin goat kids. I watched one mama-to-be sow and didn't detect any sign that she might have her babies today. I asked the vet who was standing by her pen if he thought it would be today. He said yes. I asked if you would normally see bloody show or amniotic fluid first like we see with human mothers. He said yes, usually. I said she didn't appear to be contracting and asked if it is pretty clear when she is bearing down and he said, yes, they get into it at that point. Then I mentioned that I was a midwife and would love to help a mama pig have babies someday (it was this pig's first litter) and he laughed and said, "Well, then, get on in here!" I asked if he was serious and he answered, "Absolutely!" But I said I had to work at the Children's Hospital booth in an hour and I couldn't get my uniform dirty. Otherwise I would, although I really doubt that they need any help from us. Back to Fair trivia:
You’ve got your basic bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp on a stick, funnel cake sundaes, cocoa cheese bites, mini donut batter crunch ice cream, fried pickles to be dipped in chocolate, deep-fried bread pudding, deep-fried pumpkin pie, deep-fried Monte Cristo, and deep-fried meatloaf. But it gets better. Forthwith, our favorite absolutely-disgusting-but-damn-we-want-that item:
Caramel corn made with liquid nitrogen“This icy-cold popcorn is crispy, crunchy, sweet, & salty and leaves a trail of comet dust when exhaled out of the nose and mouth, creating a tingly, bubbly feeling.” Fuuuuun.
Candied bacon cannoli Leave the gun. TAKE THIS CANNOLI. (It’ll kill you just as reliably, anyway.)
“Bacon-wrapped hot dog dipped in corn dog battered blended with real bacon bits then deep fried.” If that’s too much for you, there’s always the healthier sweet corn version.
Craft beer battered onion rings Made with Indeed Daytripper, a local craft beer, these must be healthy and good for the planet, as they are made with local ingredients.
Philly fries You don’t even want to know. (OK, it’s basically a Philly cheesesteak, but with fries, instead of a bun.)
English Toffee Fudge Puppy The description doesn’t even do this one justice. “Chocolate-covered bits of English toffee baked in the middle of a fudge puppy (Belgian waffle on a stick) then dipped in chocolate and layered with whipped cream, a toffee sauce and more bits of chocolate-covered English toffee.”
What food on a stick can you find at the Minnesota State Fair in 2013? Here's the list of food on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair, arranged by the vendor's name.
Apple Lil's: Chocolate covered cheesecake-on-a-stick. 
Bayou Bob's: Cajun seasoned alligator sausage on-a-stick. 
Big Fat Bacon: one-third pound slice of bacon grilled with maple syrup, served on-a-stick with dipping sauces. 
Boulevard Grill: pancake battered maple sausage on-a-stick. 
Candy Factory: hand-dipped caramel apples on-a-stick with gourmet toppings including nuts, candies and marshmallows. 
Caramel Apples, Cotton Candy, Sno Kones: caramel apples on-a-stick. 
Carousel BBQ: grilled pork chops on-a-stick. 
Chan's Chicken on a Stick: Teriyaki chicken on-a-stick. 
Cheese on a Stick: Cheese on-a-stick (surprise!) 
Chinatown Minnesota: Teriyaki ostrich on-a-stick, pork and cabbage egg roll on-a-stick. 
Colonial Nut Roll Company: nut rolls dipped in chocolate and served on-a-stick. 
Corndogs/Lemonade: fresh dipped (6", 12", 1/3 lb. 12" Dogzilla) corn dog on-a-stick. 
Cotton Candy: cotton candy on-a-stick. 
Deep Fried Candy Bars: batter dipped, deep fried candy bars on-a-stick - Snickers, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Nut Goodie. 
Dino's Gyros: Greek meatballs on-a-stick. 
Farmers Union Coffee Shop: cookies and biscotti on-a-stick. 
Fish & Chips: salmon-on-a-stick, grilled shrimp-on-a-stick, lobster-on-a-stick, scallops-on-a-stick. 
Flavored Corn Dogs: double bacon corn dog, sweet corn corndog, jalapeno cheese corndog 
French Fried Mushrooms: baby potatoes on-a-stick 
Fried Fruit: batter-dipped deep-fried fruit on-a-stick: 
Giggles' Campfire Grill: Northwoods salad on-a-stick (mozzarella cheese, grape tomatoes and dressing served over chilled wild rice. And, salmon on-a-stick, porcupine meatballs on-a-stick (actually wild rice and ground pork). 
Granny's Cheesecake & More: cheesecake on-a-stick, frozen bananas on-a-stick dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts; strawberries on-a-stick dipped in chocolate; combination of strawberries and bananas on-a-stick dipped in chocolate; and sliced ice cream on-a-stick dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts. 
Granny's Kitchen Fudge Puppies: Fudge Puppies (a Belgium waffle on-a-stick dipped in Swiss chocolate) topped with choices of whipped topping or crunch coating. 
Green Mill: Foot long pizza on-a-stick, pizza kabob on-a-stick. 
Grilled Shrimp: grilled shrimp on-a-stick with butter garlic seasonings or Cajun seasonings 
Holy Land Deli: lamb or beef kabobs on-a-stick, shrimp on-a-stick, gyro on-a-stick, stuffed grape leaves on-a-stick. WHAT? No Camel-on-a-stick this yr?
Isabel Burkes Olde Tyme Taffy: Taffy pop on-a-stick. 
Key Lime Pie Bar: Frozen key lime pie dipped in chocolate on-a-stick. 
Lamb Shoppe: Lamb chop on-a-stick. Also, marinated and grilled leg of lamb on-a-stick. 
Luigi Fries: hot dago on-a-stick. 
Midtown Global Market: mango on-a-stick. 
Midway Grill: Corndogs. 
Mike's Hamburgers: deep fried hot dog wraps on-a-stick. 
Mini Melts/Wonder Bars: Cookies and cream wonder bars, hand sliced, dipped in chocolate, on-a-stick. 
Minnesota Wine Country: Beef or vegetable kabobs. 
Netterfield Food Court: Cheese on-a-stick, chicken and pork shish kebabs. 
Ole and Lena's: Tater tot hot dish on-a-stick with cream of mushroom dipping sauce. 
Oodles of Noodles: spaghetti and meatballs on-a-stick, deep fried s’mores on-a-stick. 
Peters Hot Dogs: porketta on-a-stick. 
Pickle Dog: whole dill pickle on-a-stick. 
Poncho Dog: Poncho Dog on-a-stick (6" corn meal battered, deep fried hot dog). 
Pork Chops & Chicken: pork chops on-a-stick, chicken breast on-a-stick. 
Potato Man and Sweetie: New for 2012: Sweetie's Delight - mashed sweet potatoes on-a-stick. Also, cheddar mashed potatoes on-a-stick. 
Preferred Pickle: pickles on-a-stick. 
Pretzel Haus: pretzel dog on-a-stick. 
Pronto Pups: Pronto Pup on-a-stick (6" flour battered, deep fried hot dog), Papa Pup on-a-stick (10" flour battered, deep fried hot dog). 
Ragin’ Cajun: blackened Cajun steak or chicken on-a-stick. 
Root Beer Hut: caramel apples on-a-stick. 
Sausage Sisters and Me: Twisted Sister on-a-stick (Italian sausage wrapped in bread stick dough), Puff Daddy on-a-stick (Thai sausage wrapped in puff pastry). 
Scotch Eggs: Scotch Eggs on-a-stick (hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried), Scotch Meatball on-a-stick. 
Shanghaied Henry's: Bacon wrapped turkey tenderloin on-a-stick. 
Snacks: pickles on-a-stick. 
Sonny’s Spiral Spuds: Deep fried chocolate chip cookie dough on-a-stick, Tornado Potato (a potato spiral-cut on-a-stick, optionally dipped in chocolate. 
Spaghetti Eddie's: Italian-style chicken on-a-stick, Italian meatball on-a-stick. 
St Martin's Olives: olives on-a-stick. 
Super Dogs: Batter dipped deep fried hot dogs on-a-stick (6", 12", or 18"). 
Tejas Express: chicken nachos on-a-stick. 
Texas Steak Out: Texas Steak Dinner on-a-stick (cubed steak, potatoes, onion, peppers and a dinner roll, also available with chicken), Texas tater or sweet potato twister (spiral cut potato on-a-stick), sausage on-a-stick. 
The Shrimp Shack: Shrimp on-a-stick, grilled with garlic butter seasonings. 
Tino's Pizza on a Stick: pizza on-a-stick. 
Tysk Concessions: caramel apples on-a-stick. 
Ultimate Confections: chocolate covered cheesecake on-a-stick, chocolate covered marshmallows on-a-stick, s'mores on-a-stick. 
Veggie Pie: frozen grapes on-a-stick, pineapple, oranges, cherries on-a-stick. 
Vescio's: ice cream on-a-stick. 
Walleye On A Stick: walleye on-a-stick, catfish on-a-stick. 
West Indies Soul Food: jerk pork chop on-a-stick.
The Food Finder at the Minnesota State Fair's website will direct you to all of these glorious foods on sticks.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Minnesota State Fair and Mummy’s Nummies

The Minnesota State fair is one of the biggest in the country. Last year over 1,788,512 – that’s one million, seven hundred eighty-eight THOUSAND, five hundred and twelve people attending PER DAY! at the week-long event.  

Last year as I waded through the crowds I wondered what it would be like to be part of the medical response team at such an event. I had a paramedic friend who had volunteered at Woodstock II in New York in 1999 and came home actually traumatized by the event.

There is not going to be an appreciable amount of drugs and overdoses at the State Fair, so I am not worried about having to be de-briefed after my stint. Yes – I was accepted yesterday! I have 3 shifts during the coming week. I sent in an email with my credentials querying what their needs were and if they had enough volunteers already and got an immediate response with several shifts I could sign up for. They were delighted to have a midwife on staff. I secretly hope I get to deliver a baby. Maybe a baby horse? Or goat? This fair has a building called, “The Miracle of Birth” and it is packed in the beginning of the week with dozens of pregnant pigs, goats, cows, chickens and rabbits. The have monitors above each pen so you can watch everything that is going on. They have barriers set up so people aren’t right on top of the animals and they have some semblance of privacy. I imagine the main complaints at the fair will be heat stroke or blisters but I don’t know. I wonder if you can Google and find out what medical events took place last year at the State Fair. Actually yes you can and here is what I found:

Regions Hospital Emergency Medical Services will provide emergency medical care and nursing services at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair. Last year, Regions medical staff treated 2,933 people at the fair. Most had minor injuries, but 26 people were transported to metro hospitals, including Regions.

"Blisters, cuts, headaches, nausea and vomiting, and dehydration were the top five causes for visits to aid stations," said R.J. Frascone, M.D., medical director of Regions Hospital EMS. "Drinking plenty of fluids and wearing supportive shoes are the two best ways to prevent getting sick or injured at the fair."

Today I got another email from one of the organizers named Joshua. He needs my T-shirt size and address for my ‘uniform’ and to send my volunteer information packet. This is getting exciting. My father wrote a rather droll email yesterday saying that he hopes it is an uneventful week at our
fair and not like the Linden Fair near his home in Bellingham, Washington where they had a shooting spree one year. Thanks, Dad! I imagine perhaps a kid or two who gets sick eating too many fried Snickers-on-a-sick (my grandson Avi’s personal favorite) or alligator-on-a-stick. Yes, they really have that! And you can also find camel-on-a-stick and even kosher-pickle-on-a-stick! What I wonder about is how do they ever get an ambulance through the hordes of people if they need to? The streets at the fair are packed shoulder to shoulder! I will be interested to find out how they have managed all the logistics for an event like this one. The security alone must be a logistics nightmare. I cannot imagine.
The weather is supposed to cool off slightly by my first day, Friday. It will be in the 90s today. There are free buses all over the city that go to the Fair, so I will figure that out ahead of time.

The T-shirt came today along with my free passes to the Fair. This is getting exciting. I found out there is even a breastfeeding station at the fair for nursing mothers! Pretty cool. See:

This site explains:
Name of location: Minnesota State Fair
Address: 1265 Snelling Ave.
City: St. Paul
State/Province: MN
ZIP/Postal Code: 55108

One mom posted the following:
“There are nursing rooms at the Care and Assistance building which is by the Skyride and the pickle stand near the big midway. Just go to the information booth and ask! Awesome facilities and very comfortable.”

Another parent commented, “I was thrilled when I came across the “Lactation Station” this past summer. It was great to have a place to sit down and be sheltered from the sun (and rain as it were at that point in the day). It was also nice to have diapers and wipes provided for changing. I wish more booths at the fair had a Lactation Station. What a wonderful amenity/service for nursing mothers. THANK YOU THANK YOU!”

Mama Gena writes: “The Minnesota State Fair has a ‘Lactation Station’ tent at MyTalk FM107.1 which I found to be a wonderful oasis. It’s there every year. It’s spacious, with lots of rocking chairs, and two well stocked diaper changing stations. So that takes care of 12 days per year.”

I will have to check that out. The instruction sheet that came with my shirt says I will be ‘manning’ Children’s Hospital “Simply Safe” tent/booth along with other volunteer and instruct parents how to properly use car seats, correctly fit and size bike helmets and guidelines for ATVs and children. Not what I expected but still interesting.

§  To support breastfeeding moms and families by helping them feel more comfortable and confident when nursing in public.
§  To collect and share specific locations where moms breastfeed in public.
§  To educate moms and others about a woman’s legal right
to breastfeed in public.
§  To contribute to the normalization of breastfeeding in public.

From the website:
“You Can Breastfeed Here” was created by a mom.

"While out with my six-week old infant, I wished that another mom, store employee—anyone, really!—might see him begin to fuss, and offer, “Oh, you can breastfeed right here.”  I could then sit on whatever bench or chair was nearby, feed my child, and continue with my day.

"This imagined interaction never happened.  Instead, I would stop whatever I was doing, and return to my car to nurse my son, scrunched awkwardly between his car seat and the door.  Or, especially in those early days when he needed to eat almost every hour, I would simply not leave home.

"I searched the internet to see how other moms managed.  I found discussion threads about anxiety related to breastfeeding in public, lists of places women had breastfed in public (none local to me), and discussions and articles about the law’s protection of breastfeeding mothers and children. Some of these resources are excellent–and links to them are included on this site–but none of them encompassed all of what I was looking for.
"I created “You Can Breastfeed Here” to bring together these three things: information about a mother’s legal right to breastfeed in public; a searchable collection of where mothers were breastfeeding in public; and a place where moms could share their experiences of breastfeeding in public.
More than anything, I want this site to let moms know: You can breastfeed here.  We have, and so can you."

I am frequently asked, “Why didn’t you just pump, and bring a bottle?”  Well, pumping requires at least two things:  Extra milk, and extra time. I had neither.  My son was an ever-hungry, high-maintenance little guy in those first months. On those rare days that I found myself with fifteen minutes of free time to pump, I didn’t: I knew my son would need to nurse soon after, and, since my body wasn’t used to producing enough milk for both him, and an extra bottle, he would be very unhappy to find I’d “stolen” all his milk!

Stay Tuned for updates on this story!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Anthropologist Within

By pondering what I have seen within different refugee and immigrant populations over the past 4 decades I have come up with numerous observations. You compare, weigh, grapple with and wonder. One tries to catalogue or list similar groupings of facts. Is there indeed any order here at all? What might be a consistent thread? What can we learn from this? What might I have missed? Do I need to revisit a certain point in time to clarify something … anything? The questions never end. I doubt they ever will.

To listen and learn, to be immersed and become a simple observer of a unique situation among a unique people takes great patience. To go into research with absolutely no proposed hypotheses or even possible conclusions frees one to see what otherwise might not be noticed. By scrolling through all the constructs learned in numerous studies and attempt to apply this particular observation to its assigned ‘box’ misses the point completely. Exactly what should we know/have before delving into the unknown? I believe nothing; curiosity perhaps, but nothing else.
This is why Jane Goodall was able to make the discoveries that she did, and exactly why Dr. Leaky wanted her and not a trained scientist. Jean Liedloff too, was unencumbered with facts and stores of knowledge by which to assess her findings. I am sure someone somewhere has studied how we learn and what we learn if we have already learned too much previously. Does that alone limit our openness to something new? Can the mind only store so much or is it capable of retaining infinite or unlimited amounts of information? These and other answers elude me. All I know is what I continue to see and ponder.

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”  ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

At a lecture that I heard in 2011 we were labeled as an ‘unreasonable people’ -- the gathered alumni of a grant program “who would not take NO! for an answer” but would pursue our individual quests to the end. There’s no money to finish this research? No problem, we will find a way. So it has been with this project on bonding. There is something very wrong here. That has been clear for a very long time. But what is it? Is it getting better or worse? Who exactly does it impact? When did it start? Is it still going on? Will it end? Can we do anything about it? Does it even need fixing? Is it better left untouched? How would we go about that? What other options might be out there? What are others doing about it? Will any of these ‘fixes’ actually work? Will they work for everyone? Or only some people? If it is successful, then how did it work? For whom did it work? And finally, in the end, what would I propose for the future?
So began what has woven together a lifetime of extraordinary experiences. I am grateful for each one. I would not have any taken away, as hard as some lessons have been. Perhaps I will spend my old age with more questions than I can answer in one lifetime. Maybe I will need to request further lifetimes to understand it all, or perhaps I will be allowed to access the Source of All Knowledge and ask to be granted my answers in one nanosecond of Eternity.
Ethnology (from the Greek is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationship between them. Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct contact with the culture, ethnology takes the research that ethnographers have compiled and then compares and contrasts different cultures.
The term ethnologia (ethnology) is credited to Adam Franz Kollár (1718-1783) who used and defined it in his Historiae ivrisqve pvblici Regni Vngariae amoenitates published in Vienna in 1783 as: “the science of nations and peoples, or, that study of learned men in which they inquire into the origins, languages, customs, and institutions of various nations, and finally into the fatherland and ancient seats, in order to be able better to judge the nations and peoples in their own times.”
One thing I have often wondered about is where exactly did my dear Hmong friends originally come from? There is some speculation that somewhere in Upper Mongolia over 500 years ago some of their clans separated, some moving southward and away from their Hun enemies and others crossing over the then-frozen Bearing Straight and south into the Northwest Territories where the now-called Inuit peoples are. Their features couldn’t look more identical. Their languages though, bear few resemblances however hard I have tried to compare them. What is very surprising however is that the custom of the family bed and even the exact order of persons in bed is identical in the two cultures, even to this day. I wrote about my own experience in the
story/chapter called “Primitive Bonding” at this blog under the June listings. Then recently while reading an account* written in 1914 by an ethnologist on the Stefansson expedition, 1913 – 1916, to the Coronation Gulf region on the Arctic coast to study the then-called ‘Eskimos’ he diagramed the same family bed when he was expected to sleep in their igloo upon his first night with them. Perhaps other cultures have similarly evolved to the same arrangement for convenience’s sake, but these little discoveries only confirm some of my own theories.

     Again my curiosity was piqued upon the arrival of Somali refugees in the U.S. over the past several years, the majority settling in Minnesota; so completely different in so very many ways from my Hmong friends that I had gotten to know intimately, even fostering 2 Hmong teens over the years along with our own 5 children. Of course I began observing the Somali families and comparing them to the Hmong and their own early assimilation and problems 30 years ago, my only context in which to ‘box’ what I was seeing. Many things were the same.
The old people in both cultures have very little need to learn to read, write or speak English well. They appear to be useful only for babysitting when the rest of the population goes to work and school, or when their married children are too busy to shop and cook. The elders hold court daily in the parks and myriad coffee shops dotting Minneapolis, gathering from sun-up to sun-down to solve the world’s problems. English school is another chance to gather (and is free) and often turns into a social event where learning English is shelved along with any other agendas that us “Whites” as we are referred to, may have worked hours to prepare. Most gatherings are quite jolly, though I happened upon a very sober group one night on my way home in my neighborhood from the train station recently. I stopped and asked what was happening. Sadly, the news that was travelling through the Somali telegraph system (word of mouth) was that a 10 month old baby fell from one of the windows in the 28-floor housing project buildings. The place doesn’t have air conditioning and the ‘cages’ as the tenants refer to them, had become stifling
in the 90+ degree heat. One family had moved their beds by the one window and the kids had been bouncing on the beds when the baby bounced against the screen and fell out. There are also shootings and drunken stabbings almost weekly in the area. One local pastor raised a peace pole in the neighborhood last year after one such murder, inviting the entire African community to come together, meet one another and have an ethnic meal together.

I often wonder what good, if any is gained by befriending and living in close proximity to marginalized people. Much, I have concluded. It often takes me back to 1971 when I lived with Mother Teresa in New York City when she founded the first U.S. house of the Missionaries of Charity of Calcutta. A quote that she hung in one of her children’s homes in India reads,

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.  ~ Kent M. Keith

Another one of her pithy bits of wisdom:
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” 
~ Mother Teresa

So I live here. I work here and visit ‘the cages’ regularly. I shop at the little family groceries. I grab an iced coffee at the Afrik Market next to Have a Happy Day Jewelry store while I wait at the bus stop. I practice my Korean on any poor elderly passerby with straight jet black hair. There is a senior daycare center for Koreans in this neighborhood, too. I recently decided to begin frequenting the local food shelf to ask about picking up some staples for a friend expecting her 6th baby – a complicated situation. The morning at the food shelf is an adventure in itself. I figure that I will go early to procure the necessary number when they open at 9 a.m. There are 300 people ahead of me and it isn’t 9:00 yet! We sit on chairs placed around the perimeter of a gymnasium. I look around me, marveling at all the colors – of the people as well as the array of clothing. There are the Somali women in the solid color hijab head covering which flows down to the elbows in a cape fashion. Underneath that is a colorful caftan, often cotton African batik fabric. Under that is a slip with at least 4 inches of lace at the hem. Some of the older women wear a black caftan with long sleeves covering the wrists. Some of the very most observant also attach a veil right below the eyes, pinned in place above the ears on the hood of the hijab. I commented to a Somali friend last year that in our 90-plus degree weather that must feel absolutely sweltering. His comment was simply, “Well, hell is hotter.”  I stopped, aghast at the suggestion. “So, is she somehow doing penance to avoid judgment?” He said he thought it was something like that.

Then there are the Ethiopian women in their even more colorful caftans with clashing patterned scarves and shawls, sometimes covered with sequins and glitter. Sandals studded with plastic jewels add to the sparkle of their outfits. There are men, too, some that I know have invalid wives at home. The Africans make up over 90% of the people in the gym this morning. I count perhaps 4 people I would guess are American; two Black women in shorts fanning themselves with newspapers, a man I recognize from the local bar where I pick up surplus organic veggies on Saturdays, and me. The remaining 9 % of the crowd today are Asian. I ask a woman near me if she is Korean. No, dear, we are all Vietnamese she says as she gestures to the circle of people around her chair. More people come in and sit on the empty chairs on my right. One by one people are waved into an office to register for the give-away food box today and leave with a number printed on a blue card. The doors will again open later today for all the lucky card holders.

Every few minutes, as 6 or more chairs become free as people leave, the rest of us get up as if in a giant game of musical chairs without the music and move to the left and again sit down and fill the chairs in line for waiting. I turn to the Asian woman who has now filled the chair to my left and say hello in Korean. I have been studying on my own for over 12 years now, trying to master yet another language while hopefully staving off our family’s possible propensity for early onset Alzheimer’s. She responds with a laugh, and answers, An-yah-ha say-yo! Hello to you! I continue: “I am so glad to meet you! My name is Stephanie: mahn-na-sah pung-kap SOOM-nee-dah! Suh-TEF-ah-nee ir-rah-go hay-yo.”

So, again today I sit patiently with over 300 other folks, watching, looking, wondering. Wondering what I might learn today. Perhaps I will be granted another piece of the puzzle. Perhaps I will fall asleep tonight with more questions than when I first awoke.

*The People of the Twilight by Diamond Jenness, 1928, The Macmillian Company, Chicago.

 “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

STAY TUNED... This and other stories will be appearing the book, Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century© pending by Stephanie Sorensen

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The interesting thing about doulas…

The interesting thing about doulas is that many of us have been in birth work of some kind or other for a while. Not all, but many. And of those who have, I think many are part of what I would call a Tiger Mama club: for some, their first birth wasn’t what they expected or they lost the control that they imagined they would have over the situation. Then they really went to town, doing their homework, joining the childbirth community, etc., and became experts and grew a whole lot until that next baby and they really did know how to birth. They ‘got it’ this time around. For still others, they have immersed themselves in the culture of natural birth from day one. I am not one of those, but my journey has taken me from hospital birth, to homebirth, to ON THE FARM mama (as in Tennessee, see: ‘Twin Birth on The Farm’ at this blog on the right tool bar. Scroll to April listings,) to five beautiful babies, then a midwifery license, grandbabies and finally, a couple of decades after that to a birth and postpartum doula – my dream job! Perhaps a round-about way of doing things, but that is the story of my life.

So I puzzle about this powerful, strong, Tiger Mama society of women now doing their doula things. And where I find myself, at least, the majority of the moms I work with are not there yet or even considering it. As one of my mom-clients recently put it: “I want an epidural at 8 months!” meaning no pain and I know this means no involvement in what could be the most mind-blowing experience of her entire life. When I worked at a freestanding birth clinic, where we didn’t even have drugs if we or our moms wanted them, every single woman who chose to birth there had done her homework, had read every book on the market, viewed every YouTube video out there on birth, had interviewed every midwife within a 200-mile radius, and was ready for just about anything. The problem was not convincing
them to birth naturally or be willing to go through a 24 or 36 hour first stage of labor, there the problem was convincing them that when we see meconium it is time to consider transferring to the hospital.
But now, I need to convince my mothers that I will be there foremost as their personal advocate for what their wishes are. I need to convince them that I will honor those wishes and not try to put them in a full-Nelson at the first mention of epidurals. I have to promise I will not make any decisions for them but will be there should they have to change course and make those decisions. I can no longer give them a blow-by-blow account of each of my home births and tell them that I am confident they too can do it. It would
make them feel terrible if they tried and failed to live up to the rosy picture I have painted and they might perceive as the model or goal we are after here. Rather I need to listen this time. Listen and understand who is this woman before me is. What are her wishes? How far does her understanding go? What does she want to try? What is she saying just to please me and what does she really want? I must be an imposing act to follow if I have even hinted at where I am at today in this land of birth. What are her fears?

I am being called upon to be perceptive, discerning, compassionate, intuitive, maternal and empathetic. Perhaps a doula is truly a teacher, a guide, a sister, mother and friend all at once. The bag of tools means nothing if I haven’t made her feel respected and trusted. I don’t need to earn her respect or trust here. I need to make her feel safe so that she can access her own wisdom and power within to the best of her ability at this juncture in her own path. I need to make her feel that she was a smashing success after this birth, that she did her very best and succeeded. I want her to say “We did it!” and not, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” And then I must find the right words to help her connect with her new baby if she doesn’t automatically fall in love with him. Not everyone does. It takes time. I will tell her, “Your nipples are perfect for nursing your baby!” “See how smart he is… he is already licking you!” and “What a strong baby! He is lifting up his head already! Did you see that?” or, “I think he knows his daddy’s voice – look how he is looking around for you!”
And this takes experience. Newbie doulas will learn from each and every birth they attend. Their moms will teach them, one by one. You will take away some pearl of wisdom from each encounter with this miracle you are honored to attend. I believe we become more humbled in the face of such power and grace, not more knowledgeable or self-assured as time moves on. I feel like I know less now about the vast mysteries of birth and how Nature and Creation works than when I began this journey. Blessings, sister doulas!

STAY TUNED... This and other stories will be appearing the book, Call the Doula! a diary© pending by Stephanie Sorensen