I, Barb Herrera, am finally coming out of my midwifery coma, 10+ years of ignoring everything birthy, and now I’m feeling very alone. Sure, it was of my own making, but I am aching for reconnection with several other OG birth bloggers that have to still be around somewhere.
Sage Femme – Pamela Hines-Powell
At Your Cervix
Emory Student Midwife/studentnursemidwife
If you read my old blog Navelgazing Midwife, please touch base if you are so inclined.
Not one person who has seen Fried Green Tomatoes will think of anything else but Idgie’s love for Ruth and how she wanted to impress her by getting a honeycomb directly from the hive.
“You’re just a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode.
That’s what you are, a bee charmer.”
Honey in Birth
Honey has a great supply of natural sugars and most midwives had honey of some sort on hand, whether in the Honey Bear…
…or Honey Sticks.
…or some Honey Lollipops.
If a woman’s energy was waning, a couple of spoonfuls of honey or 2 or 3 sticks, could perk her back up for awhile more… even if she was unable to eat or drink much else, honey was a great pick-me-up.
Honey has antimicrobial properties, it is a hydrogen peroxide thing, and there is a lot of research showing honey, Manuka Honey in particular, used on infections can help heal the wound quicker… and without the risk of medication interactions/allergies. Honey is often used on diabetic ulcers, it being more effective than many other treatments.
New Use for Honey (for me)
So, I kind of knew this, but when I was an intern midwife in San Diego, I got to see the range of what home birth midwives do with honey.
Mind you, by the time I was interning as a midwife in San Diego, I had been in birth for over 20 years and had gone to hundreds of births in hospitals, birth centers and at home. Over the years, I would see things done I had never heard of before, but could usually be shown the research about it.
Honey was often used in the way I mentioned above; for energy.
So when a woman’s perineum tore at birth and said she did not want to be sutured, I was pretty shocked (every woman who had ever torn in my experience was sutured, it wasn’t ever a consideration not to be). When the midwives acted as if this was a normal thing, choosing no stitches, I was baffled. When they pulled out the plastic Honey Bear and grabbed a spoon from the family utensil drawer, I blinked.
Honey was spread onto the back of the spoon, the woman’s legs opened a bit and the honey “painted” on the tear, all the while the “antibiotic” properties of honey explained. She was instructed to keep her legs together except to put more honey on it.
I’m not kidding.
I still cannot find medical research showing honey’s aid in normal healing of a perineal or vulvar tear; it remains a midwife’s tale that it does anything at all. (This is different than an infected wound, where the research is copious.) Many midwives, myself included, believe it was keeping the legs together that did much more to heal the tear than the honey.
I mean new parents know to never give their infants honey because they might have spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Wouldn’t that follow that it might not be the best thing for a perineum?
Here is a medical grade honey-gauze that might have been an okay thing for an open wound.
Or perhaps a tube only used only on your body and no one else’s?
I remember when my dad (whom I am missing so very much lately) would bring us miel (honey) in the comb from the Cuban store. I loved biting into the wax, feeling the honey ooze out of the tiny openings, then chewing the wax like gum. I wonder if my kids have ever had that experience.
Miel. One of the best Spanish words in existence.
A Recent Conversation
“I had some cereal and some honey.”
That’s what he said.
“You put honey in cereal? With milk? That’s pretty gross.”
“No, cereal without milk and honey separate.”
“You were spooning honey into your mouth?”
“No I was using a fork and dipping it into the honey and eating it.”
Now I was really on high alert.
“You are telling me that you put a fork into the honey, suck the honey off… then put the fork back into the honey and do it again?”
“Uh, yeah. Why?”
“You are telling me you double, triple and quadruple dip your fork into a communal honey jar?”
“I never thought of it that way before. It never occurred to me.”
Maybe, knowing what I do now about honey’s medicinal properties, it might not be the grossest thing after all.
When I was a student midwife, I went where the main midwife took me to assist her at births. So when we had to drive over an hour east of San Diego, a chaparralecoregion covered in small shrubs and lots of desert sand inbetween, I sat back and enjoyed the view, talking about babies, breastfeeding and all things birthy. Another assistant was with us, too, so the three of us chattered during the drive.
When we got to the house, it was… not quite a mobile home, but more like a home built out of scrap materials. Well-made, but small and quite worn, probably by the wind and sand.
The mom wanted to birth outside, so we set up the Fishy Pool for her.
We put more cold water in than hot because it was blazing outside. Flies and bees were everywhere, dive bombing us while we worked.
With Fishy Pools, unless someone had a washer and dryer hook-up, we had to carry pots, pans, coffee pots, etc. of hot water from the stove to add to the cold water going in from the brand new hose.
We set up the pool in the searing sun even though there was a Pepper Tree near. The tree housed a beehive, so a bit of a distance was good.
The labor was lovely; the birth, magical.
The mom would have contractions that had her howling like a desert wolf, then inbetween, complete silence from all of us around her. If she moved, we would hear tiny splashes, but none of us spoke above a whisper, and even then only when necessary.
But from the Pepper Tree, the bees were not silent. In fact, they seemed to be amplified as our sounds faded. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzzing from the Pepper Tree. It was mesmerizing.
In the short space between the end of labor and the beginning of pushing the baby into the world, some sort of surreal experience hit all of us at once. The Pepper Tree emitted a scent, intoxicating… the bees swirled around and buzzed… the flies vanished. I felt dizzy and wondered if my glucose was falling, but I saw the others were feeling something as well, our eyes gaping at each other, waggling eyebrows a bit to say a silent, “Yes! Me, too!”
It was as if time had paused for the mom to gather her strength and we were giving her ours as well.
Then the sensation vanished as quickly as it had begun, the world moving once again, moving with the baby who was born in the water soon after, sweetly and easily.
Once the placenta had been born, mom wanted to still sit outside for a bit and wanted under the buzzing Pepper Tree, so we laid out a couple of blankets with towels on them for her. She sat while we cleaned up quietly around her, not speaking unless in a whisper.
I took note the bees and flies kept their distance and respected the new life under their wings.
These moments, from right before the birth until we rose from under the tree were… I really have no other word for it… Holy.
Mom nursed the brand new baby as dad held her in his arms in front of him.
Eventually, the heat was oppressive and the baby was getting warm and needed a fan as much as the rest of us. (Babies are rarely fanned! Keeping them warm is much more the usual routine.)
Before we could move into the house, the housemates, who’d been out in the garden on the other side of the property during the birth, brought over some watermelons picked mere moments earlier.
Sitting on the small porch, we caught more of a breeze, so, comparatively, we cooled off.
The gardeners proudly held out the odd-looking watermelons (“they are organic!” I was scolded). I frowned that they were not cold, but was hungry so held out my hand for a big slice. The new family was settled on a cushioned (and covered) bench, already taking bites out of the red watermelon.
As I brought the watermelon to my mouth, I caught the scent and it was so powerful, I pulled it back and looked at it quizzically. When did watermelons smell like this? Never before in my lifetime. I then opened my mouth and bit into a hot chunk of melon. I am sure I swooned, newly in love with a food I thought I knew, but really was just meeting for the first time.
“Oh my GOD, this is GOOD!”
Someone smiled and said, “This is organic watermelon.”
I have tears in my eyes remembering the taste, the hot squishiness on my tongue, the juice oozing down my chin, hands, arms and elbows. I looked at the others, equally covered in red natural syrup and dreamily taking huge bites, consuming 2 watermelons in a half-hours’ time.
When we’d all finished, someone turned on the hose and we took turns splashing off the drippy stickiness with too-warm water.
Resting After Birth
I was given the hot and sweaty job of getting mom and baby into her bedroom, a small 8×8 room with a fan strung up high, blowing downward, the electric cord snaking from outside the room, through and back outside the window with holes in the screen. She and her partner, and now baby, had a mattress on the floor.
I got things laid out to protect the mattress, helped her to pee before getting down onto the mattress with the baby. I got her a big glass of water (no ice in the house) and plopped down with her.
But There Were Flies
I swear there were over 100 in that tiny room. Zizzing around, up, down, into the corner of the baby’s eyes, landing on anything they could find… our mouths, noses, heads, hands, arms, legs, feet… it was mercilessly hot and the flies were taking up space and air we needed.
I asked the new mom where the flyswatter was and she looked at me horrified.
“We do not kill things at this house! You can use a piece of newspaper to brush them out of the room and then outside.”
I looked to see if she was kidding.
She was not.
I went to find some newspaper, folded it in half and began shooshing the hordes of flies away from the new mother and baby and out of the room as best as I could.
It was a losing battle. (You knew that already, I know.)
Eventually, I just sat down, newspaper in hand, waving it gently around the nursing pair.
“This would be the most difficult part of my living out here… the flies.”
This newly postpartum woman began talking very softly and asked me to close the door.
“Are you sure?! It’s going to stop all the air flow!”
“Just for a minute.”
I crawled the couple of feet, leaned over and closed the door. The temperature climbed 15 degrees within seconds.
She called me to come closer. I could smell her musky sweaty newly postpartum scents. She crooked her finger to come closer, so I leaned my ear nearer her mouth.
Barely above a whisper, she confessed:
“When I am alone in the house, I use the vacuum cleaner hose to suck up the flies. I figure I am not directly killing them, right?”
Wanting to laugh really loud and hard, I swallowed my extreme amusement and soberly agreed that it was not directly killing them. I did not want her to feel one more second of guilt about getting rid of the nasty flies in her bedroom.
All These Years Later…
It’s been 20 years since this happened and I can still feel the heat, hear the bees, remember the Holy experience… and taste that amazing watermelon.
River isn’t an accurate description. It was mostly waist-high water, slick with oil and roiling with trash and human waste. In other places, it was gross puddles of muck that stuck to people’s legs as they crossed into the United States illegally.
My clients, my midwifery clients, would wade through the Rio Grande to come to their prenatal appointments, or to us at the birth center in the throes of labor. We would shower and scrub them of the horrific leavings before putting them in their clean private room to have their American babies.
It was during long autumn labors that I learned what the real meaning of Día de los Muertos was. It has nothing to do with fear, scariness or the ravages of death. Instead, the holiday is a beautiful time of remembrance of the loved ones in their family that have since passed on. I learned about the ofrenda, the altar of marigolds and candles, holding the photos of the family tree, always standing guard over the spiritual health of the house’s inhabitants.
My Spanish was still fairly new and primarily obstetric in nature, so the other, more fluent midwives, would translate the newer words for me. At that time, 99% of my days were in Spanish, it pervading even my dreams and sleep-talking. I love Spanish. I am thankful to be fluent finally. Except with engineering Spanish, that would be a challenge still.
Anyway, Día de los Muertos.
As an atheist, I gave up the idea of a heaven and hell long ago, but an Afterlife? Now that is something different entirely.
I believed (still believe) that, after someone is gone, if they are remembered by anyone alive, they are in “The Afterlife.” It was challenging to articulate that for a very long time, but when Día de los Muertos came into my life, it became clear that I had not invented such a belief, but an entire culture had done the thought a million times better!
And even though I am a Cuban American, not a cell of Mexican blood in me, I embrace the Day of the Dead holiday… belief… for my own. I have been told it is Cultural Appropriation, that I need to find the Cuban or Swedish holidays of my own DNA… but I sat at the feet of abuelas, the oldest women of the families, as they told me about their own families, the ofrendas of remembrance and I have been doused with Mexican blood, lots and lots of it, doesn’t that count for some alternative christening into the Mexican world?
It’s my own head game I know. I know darn well it is Cultural Appropriation, but this is one I am clinging to.
Here’s to everyone’s beautiful afterlife. ¡A linda vida futura!
“Be kind to the children, for they are close to the other side.” – unknown
When my father was given 3 months to live when he had the intestinal cancer, everyone had an idea of what he should do. Take this herb! Try chiropractic! I was in the “Call Hospice” camp. But my father had a different plan. Instead, he wanted to do chemotherapy. Those of us in the medical arena of his life, holding the labs in our hands, shook our heads at the futility of that… and it might/probably will make him feel much worse. We did what he wanted anyway.
My dad did 2 sessions of chemo and then said, “Call Hospice.”
His death 2.5 months later was peaceful and gentle. And he was so so loved.
When We Need to Listen
In my life right now are a couple of people who have family or friends with terminal diagnoses. Those around them are rushing to help with all sorts of remedies, diets and even insisting on the “power of positive thinking.”
Instead, perhaps this is a time to ask the dying person what they want, not foist on them what we want.
Being near those that are dying is an amazing honor and privilege. For one thing, it isn’t a sudden, unexpected moment where there are always regrets about things not said or done. When you are at the side of a dying person, you have the opportunity for completion and the giving of your heart in a way you might never have before.
It is not a time for airing grievances that will never be resolved. Not a time for your confessions of guilt (find a Priest for that). It isn’t even a time to just sit keening and crying your eyes out, the dying person trying to comfort you in their time of need.
Holding the Space is a concept I learned in midwifery, but had been doing a long time already with men dying of AIDS decades ago. Holding the Space is sitting quietly, perhaps praying silently, seeing golden light of love surrounding them or just Be-ing with the person heading to the other side (into parenthood/through death/in illness/etc.). Allowing the person to say what they want… rambling speech or exquisite poetry. I like to keep notes, but not at the expense of my complete attention.
One caveat: Take as many pictures as you can… with each person separately, everyone together… take pictures holding the person’s hand… get video of them if they are still talking. I have nothing with my dad’s voice on it and regret that terribly.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but if there was ever a time to be Mindful, it is when with someone in transition. Not worrying about getting to the store, checking your phone or even talking to others in the room about mundane life crap. BE with the person. Give your full attention to them. Watch them. Witness their transition completely.
If you get tired, you rest. No one can be expected to be Mindful or present 100% of the time. Do go for walks outside. Walk the dog. Eat a good meal. Be mindful of your needs, too.
There But for the Grace of God Go I
When I am with someone in this holy place (which does include childbirth, of course), I want to share with them how I hope to be treated during my own transition through death. Not that it is my prescribed way of dying, but simply respectful and kind attention.
My family knows how I want to go. At home. People happy, laughing, music blaring, telling fun stories, remembering all the wondrous things I have done in this life. I also want to be read to. Read to me when I am tired and need to close my eyes for a moment.
But that is me. Not everyone wants the levity part that I have requested.
Perhaps the person you are with wants to smoke again, drink until they are drunk every day, wants to go out to a forest and dig their toes in the dirt one more time. Take them! Even if you have to hire an ambulance service and need to push dirt through their toes while they are on a gurney. Be creative to give the dying their wishes. If they want to watch a favorite movie on a 24-hour loop and it makes you crazy…
…so what?!? Let them!
Talk to your loved one. Ask them what they want and need from you.
Then do it.
An added note: I understand that children dying slowly can be another aspect entirely. I have not lost a child to cancer or another illness or malformation, so cannot speak to it accurately. But, as with everything anyone in the world writes or says:
I wrote my Goodbye post for my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook followers and received something that I couldn’t have predicted: love.
I Am Loved
The kind words of thanks and appreciation for my writings over the last decade+ made my heart so full.
“A million times thank you. Without your influence I would never have become my own navel gazer.”
“Barb, I understand closing this door in your life and moving on but just know your words have had a great positive impact and you will be missed.”
“I have always been awed and so inspired by your ability to open up and share so boldly who you are.”
But the comments from women about their births… my heart melted with those.
“so sorry to see you go! i found you during my surrogacy pregnancy, and you were a huge factor in my choice to birth med. free.”
“While pregnant with my first son I couldn’t get enough of your blog – it is what ultimately allowed me to find my voice and speak up that I wasn’t liking the care I was receiving from my OBGYN. I chose to leave that practice and seek out a midwife. Best decision I’ve ever made.”
“I love you Barb. You patiently waited for me to find my strength to say what really caused my baby to die. You held my hand and my heart as it took me years to realize how my daughter really died. You didn’t shame or blame or deflect from the truth.” This mom went on to become an NICU nurse instead of home birth midwife after her baby died due to the negligence of a home birth midwife.
Caring for Women
And then there were the women who shared their personal paths from doula to nurse or certified nurse midwife. Stunning.
“I have followed you for so long, yours was the first blog I found and fell in love with when I realized that I NEEDED birth in my life! I’ve since gone to nursing school and become a l&d nurse, chairing our NCB Committee, and trying so hard to help women be respected and truly cared for during their experiences.”
“You have been such a wealth of knowledge for me as I completed my journey from doula to labor nurse to nurse midwife.”
“I was accepted back into nursing school today – 4 semesters stand between me and a BSN. L&D is the goal and upon graduation, my MSN to become a CNM. Thanks Barb, I owe a lot of my drive and self discovery to you.”
I am incredibly humbled by the comments I received on that Goodbye post. That I had an affect on so many is so amazing to me. As I write this, I am wiping tears of gratitude for all the blessings I’ve had as the Navelgazing Midwife. As is usual, the love and indebtedness people have for each other is symbiotic, flowing back and forth… a Möbius strip of love.
I began my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page in 2009 and will be closing the door on it Monday, March 13, 2017.
I became the Navelgazing Midwife right around 2003 or so. The first blog I had was on Blogger, but when they snatched pages from it and censored me because I had nude women (birthing and breastfeeding!), I moved to Squarespace after making sure they would not be censoring.
My first post on the Navelgazing Midwife Blog was July 3, 2004 and the last post I put there was July 31, 2016, directing folks to my new blog, the Navelgazing Writer. I’ve debated closing the Navelgazing Midwife blog, but know there are still wondrous birth stories there and some midwifery history we would be good to remember as time passes. (NOTE 4/17/19: The blog has been closed for several years now.)
My Navelgazing Midwife FB Page holds much history as well, including the moment-by-moment births of my grandbabies Gabriella and Preston… and included the postpartum hemorrhage that nearly killed Meghann 36 hours after Preston’s birth. The news of my angel grandbaby Eliott is also enclosed within these pages. My newest granddaughter Alexandra’s early cesarean birth was announced there a mere 3 months ago.
If you’re reading this on the Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page, you already know I have been weaning for a while. I left birth completely 2.5 years ago (except for my grandbabies), having left midwifery 5 years before that. News has gradually lessened; my commentary barely audible anymore.
I’ve turned to chronicling my life for my kids and their kids, sharing my knowledge of and inclusion in theearly LGBT communitiesin Orlando, Florida, Frankfurt, Germany & San Diego, California. I have barely begun to share the story of my 2+ decade-long relationship with Zack (previously known as Sarah) and the impact of his transitioning on our lives.
Interspersed will have to be birthy stories… I just wrote 2 about the immigrant populations I worked with in San Diego and El Paso, Texas. Birth has been an integral part of my life since January 1983… I could not write my autobiography without including it. I just have a different viewpoint now that I am above and far away from the stories that once affected every aspect of my spirit, emotions, relationships and friendships.
I was addicted to opiates for 8 years, it sliding through my sister’s dying of an accidental overdose on opiates, Fentanyl being the actual cause of her death. I am now 2.5 years clean and share that story in my new blog as well.
My body, at almost 56-years old, is tired, disabled and in a lot of pain; Mindfulness Meditationand 800 mg. ibuprofen are my pain relief. I struggle with a plethora of issues, most fat-related. It is crucial for me to write about my life as a fat woman, someone who’s tried a hundred times to not be fat anymore, but still fat after trying it all. My feet have arthritis and keep breaking just from walking. I have osteoporosis (from the gastric bypass). My diabetes, while okay at the moment with a HgbA1c of 5.9, that is with 2 insulinson board.
Since leaving birth, I’ve become asex worker. I’m not writing a lot about it at the moment, but it colors my life tremendously. Amazingly, all the years of birth work and therapy have armed me adequately for caring for the men, women and transfolks I work with every single day. There is not one day when my birth experiences do not figure prominently in the interactions with others.
Because of the state of the United States right now, I explored different topics about which to write, but quickly saw that, not only did some topics affect my mental state, but a zillion different ones joined the list every day. I needed to focus my attention and have chosenFreedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press as my main demonstration issues against 45.
It’s been an interesting shift in my thought process, from birth to politics. I’m observing my Self intently, monitoring my emotions, mental state, my body’s physical responses and lastly, what those around me have to say about what I’ve written. The Navelgazing Writer Blog is still really small, very few readers with each post, but it took about 2 years for the Navelgazing Midwife Blog to pick up steam, so I’m not sweating it. Also, I really am writing for myself, giving flight to my thoughts and experiences, and if others find what I write helpful or creates a visceral response, all the better.
There were only a couple of posts in the Navelgazing Midwife Blog that were written with the reader in mind and whenever I did that, I regretted it. Of all the posts, only one was removed and edited because of the backlash I got from my licensing organization. (I cannot tell you how freeing it is to be completely unrestrained now, writing writing writing without someone threatening my livelihood. There really are nasty, ugly parts to midwifery politics in the US.)
I know many of you reading have followed me for a long time. I cannot thank you enough for considering my views and listening to my thoughts, even when you disagreed with me. Thank you for challenging me, making me think… allowing me to shift and change and grow. I am not the same woman who created the nom de plume “Navelgazing Midwife,” but you are not the same either. Isn’t it amazing to witness our own growth and transformations?
Endless gratitude to all of you and may your lives and the lives of those around you be filled with boundless love and light. You will never be forgotten.
I was given 2 Sacagawea (Sah-cog-uh-wee-uh) dollars this morning, reminding me of the resilience of women.
On the coin, Sacagawea, a Shoshone Native American, is wearing her baby Pomp, who was 2 months old when the Lewis & Clark Expedition continued their journey with her as one of their guides (along with her husband).
I often gave this coin to my pregnant clients, especially those who were really nervous about childbirth and parenting, letting them know that if Sacagawea, at 14-years old, could toss her baby onto her back and traipse across the wilds of the pre-United States, leading a group of men and saving many lives along the way, they, too, had the inner strength to be a parent. I was told it comforted many of these women.
So how does this relate to today’s times when so many human rights are being destroyed within days of the new administration, so many more to be lost soon as well?
Sacagawea reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit. Stolen as a girl, married at 13-years old, birthing Pomp at 14 and onward with 33 men (with only one dying during the 2.5 year journey), assisting the Corps of Discovery as they ventured forth on their SCIENTIFIC Expedition. She helped them tremendously with the foods and medicinal plants, helping them chronicle everything for President Jefferson… much of the knowledge still relevant today.
These times are indeed dark, our most basic knowledge, love and understanding for others, many of whom unlike ourselves, are being vilified and negated. But, our country has had other difficult times (albeit not with the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons) and overcome them. I believe if we cling to each other and, with guidance and support as we traverse new territories, we will make it through.
I will make it through with your help. I need you all.