Illinois’ First Birth Center…Finally!?

Check out this excellent Crain’s Chicago Business article about the hoped-for opening of Illinios’ first free-standing birth center.  It offers some interesting inside information on what it took to get the birth center bill passed. It turns out an assistant to the Illinois Senate President is married to a certified nurse-midwife! The story goes, once the president gave the bill his support, it finally took off. But it still took another 5 or 6 years after that to get everything in place for a potential opening – potential because the license has yet to be granted. Just goes to show how incredibly difficult it is to pass any state-wide legislation that the Illinois State Medical Society, a major campaign contributor, opposes.

A New Advocate for Birth Justice at Chicago Volunteer Doulas

I am delighted to share that today Chicago Volunteer Doulas (CVD) announced that Jeanine Valrie, MPH will take over the position of Program Director for the agency. I am both a Volunteer Doula as well as a board member for CVD and an email sent from the agency this morning to volunteers states:

Jeanine brings a strong background in maternal-child health and program coordination with her. She graduated from The George Washington University with a Masters in Public Health in Global Health Policy and has studied midwifery for the out-of-hospital setting. Jeanine has led programs with community groups in both Chicago and Washington, D.C. Jeanine is active in areas of social justice and very committed to CVD’s expansion to serve more women. She has experience presenting at conferences, including just this past weekend at the ICTC Conference in Florida! And to top it off, Jeanine is a doula and lactation consultant, happy to support you all in your endeavors as birth workers. (hyperlink added)

She joins Executive Director, Michele Shade, phD, as one of the agency’s two paid staff members. Jeanine begins shadowing outgoing Program Director, Jinnie Hoggarth, CD(DONA), today and will fully transition into the position in the next two weeks.

This is also a notable occasion for the agency not just because Jeanine will make a great addition, but also because it’s a sign CVD is growing up! It marks the first full-fledged, paid staff change since the agency incorporated as a non-profit after years of being coordinated by its foremother, Sue Gottschall, CD(DONA) and a host of other dedicated volunteers.

Chicago Volunteer Doulas also includes over 80 Volunteer Doulas who provide on-call labor support at four Chicago hospitals; traditional one-on-one doula support at hospitals across the Chicagoland area; birth preparation classes and new mother groups.

Find out more, and consider giving the agency your support as well!

Bones Has a Baby and Mainstream Media Gets it Right (mostly)


SPOILER ALERT! If you watch Bones on Fox and either Tivo or get a season’s pass online,     DO NOT READ BELOW unless you want to know all about the birth.

Yes the birth. Bones fans (my family included) finally got what they’ve been waiting for all season. After two of the main characters had a natural birth with no pain medication last season, Bones writers broke with tradition and wrote in another birth into the current season. Usually two births, two seasons in a row would be a no-no, but the setup was too perfect – actress Emily Deschanel actually was pregnant. Her baby was born last autumn. Her character’s baby was born last night.

For those who don’t know, the Bones character, Dr. Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist. Despite being a crime-fighter, she would doubtless have studied numerous cultures and their birthing customs. Home birth fans and activists will be thrilled to know that the show was packed with arguments about the advantages of home birth, including concerns about bodily fluids in the hallways of L&D units and concerns about needing to feel safe in one’s environment while giving birth – all the stuff natural birth advocates have been saying for years. In addition, one of the characters even plans to become a doula to help with the birth.

After giving birth outside the hospital (I won’t say where so as to not spoil everything) Bones arrives home with her new baby in arms, clearly able to walk and behave normally. Those who haven’t been at a home birth may think this is ridiculous, but I remember being in my kitchen making a bowl of soup with my 3-hour-old newborn in my arms. It was probably not the best idea, but it was not at all impossible. That is what normal birth looks like. Finally, mainstream TV got it right.

Mostly. One more spoiler for you – there is no birth attendant other than the baby’s father, Booth. While there is a movement toward unassisted birth in our country, generally speaking, home birth is safer with a skilled attendant present – someone who has neonatal resuscitation skills and carries anti-hemorrhage medications. Nurse-midwives and professional midwives both meet this criteria, however                       Certified Professional Midwives are the only ones whose certification process requires a designated amount of out-of-hospital training.

Lack of midwives aside, this birth was, by far, the best I’ve seen on TV since more than a decades ago when characters on Northern Exposure had a beautiful home birth. Maybe the recent significant increase in home births will encourage more networks to get real.

Congratulations Fox and Bones! You birthed a nice baby.

Rest in Peace, Adrienne Rich, Hero of Mine

One of the very first books that ever really affected my outlook on life was Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich. Looking back from where I stand now, as a doula, birth mentor and advocate for those who have survived gender based violence, it had a much bigger impact than I realized at the time…20 some years ago.

The book took me on a tour of the history and place of birth in our culture that, before reading it, I had only understood in a very narrow way. As her poems would later in my life, her words went right to my gut, my heart and my mind. Here is just one small bit that planted a seed with me long before I became pregnant with my first child; and stays with me even now as I parent my third newborn:

“A woman preparing to swim the English Channel or to climb in high altitudes, is aware her system will undergo stress, her courage will be tested, and her life may even be in danger; but despite the demands to be expected on her heart, her lungs, her muscular coordination, her nerves, during such an effort, she thinks of it primarily in terms not of pain, but of challenge. The majority of women…come to childbirth as a charged, discreet happening: mysterious, sometimes polluted, often magical, as torture rack or as ‘peak experience.’ Rarely has it been viewed as one way of knowing and coming to terms with our bodies, of discovering our physical and psychic resources.”

Adrienne Rich died this week at the age of 82. Her passing comes as I emerge from the fog of the last year of pregnancy, birth and parenting a newborn. And the coverage has reminded me: of how much I/we owe to our ancestors and foremothers; of how truly privileged I am; and of how important it is to write, to speak and to take power and foster social change whenever and wherever possible as I continue this balancing act that is being a mother.

Thank you so very much, Adrienne. Rest in peace, hero of mine.


Six Months Later

Long, long ago, Amy promised for me that I would post a follow up to her post about the fire that took my family’s home. Today is the six month anniversary of that fire and it’s high time I followed through on the promise. So here we go.

Just now, six months later, we finally had the house demolished. It happened last week. It went down in a day. It felt good to be done with it.

Just now, six months later, I finally got to order my midwifery textbook replacements. I plan to spend the summer studying these books for my autumn CPM (Certified Professional Midwife) exam.

Just now, six months later, we are working through some of the PTSD that still lingers for some members of the family.

Just now, six months later, we are beginning to feel ready for another kitty to join our family.

Just now, six months later, I look back and am grateful for our lives and for the love and support we received from the childbirth and parenting community.

Just now, six months later, I look back and I laugh as I remember how, on the day of the fire , as I sat in the car, a block down the street with two pets and five girls in their pajamas, I pulled out my doula bag and found food, clothing, clogs, toiletries, emergency cash, rescue remedy and lavender – in short, plenty to cover immediate needs and calm us down. To a doula, its nothing – just regular birth bag ingredients, but to a doula whose house was burning down it was desperately needed, not only for the items but for the bit of humor it injected into the situation. As one of my daughters said, “only mom would have stuff like this in her car.” Given that their usual complaint is how I’m weird and not like other mothers, this was a compliment.

Just now, six months months later, my doula bag is packed and ready for the next birth or for any crisis that may come.

Just now six months later, we are still working through a few things, but basically we are doing just fine.

Thanks for reading

Safe Transports Save Lives

With the defeat (46-71) of the Home Birth Safety Act at the very end of the last legislative session, the Illinois legislature decided that Certified Professional Midwives in Illinois shall remain unlicensed. The Coalition for Illinois Midwifery (CFIM) is re-introducing the bill in the new session and it has a new number, HB2940. In the meantime, however, Illinois home birth families have again been left without legal, licensed providers throughout most of the state.

To help alleviate the danger in which this places home birth mothers and newborns in need of emergency transports, together with this bill, the CFIM is also introducing the Home Birth Integration Act, HB1665. This is a new approach designed to save lives in the event of a hospital transport. This bill would help eliminate the fear of repercussions for transporting to the hospital from a planned home birth with an unlicensed midwife. It is already being compared to infant Safe Haven laws which allow parents in crisis to anonymously bring newborn infants to hospitals, police or fire stations and be shielded from any subsequent arrest or prosecution. The bill has been assigned to a committee and needs to pass through this step before it can be voted on by the full House of Representatives.

Please call or email your reps to voice your support and ask them to sponsor HB1665. Roxann MtJoy at wrote this article about the bill and the site has also begun a petition you can sign today to ask your Illinois state representative for support.