Chemicals, Kids and what we as parents butt-up against as we try to raise healthy children in a toxic world.
I did an interview for an article in GMag called The Chemical Child. The author of the article Aimee Wagenheim did a fabulous job given that I bombarded her with so much information about chemicals and their impact on the body. It’s well worth a read. And if you haven’t subscribed to G Mag (an excellent green magazine) I would I would recommend it. Grab a copy.
My dear friend Nadine is growing a baby and soon she will need to birth her baby. And what better way to celebrate this period in her life (our lives) is through a Mother Blessing. It was one of the most blessed days of my life when women gathered for me last year before birthing Jedda. I still remember in labour consciously drawing on the energies of the women that attended my blessingway, both those who were physically there, and those of the ethereal, when my resolve to birth peacefully and naturally was waning. I knew I had the backing of these women…..
But before I get ahead of myself, what is a Mother Blessing you ask?
A Mother Blessingway is a gathering of women (and often their babies). The focus of the ritual is less on the material and more on the spiritual, where women have gathered to honour birth as a rite of passage, often a transformative passage; share their positive energy and stories; bestow blessings, affirmations and gifts from the heart, and to empower her to feel strong, supported, connected and nourished as a woman and as a mother.
Although many people refer to the modern pre-birth ritual as a Blessingway this ceremony is called a Mother Blessing out of respect for the traditional and very sacred Blessingway rituals of the Native American Navajo culture.
Author, Yana Cortlund of Mother Rising says it best:
As women we receive a great deal by coming together in this way. We can raise energy and strength, or provide comfort and support. We can help one another let go of the past, live fully in the present, and embrace the mystery of the future. We learn to honor each other as well as ourselves, and we tap into the vibrant energy of the collective feminine spirit. By connecting on this level, we gain the power to deepen our friendships, build our communities, feed our spirits, and perhaps even to revitalize our culture’.
What do you do a blessing?
There are many ways to celebrate a Mother Blessing:
I read a poem to Nadine. It’s called ‘Willow Tree’ by an unknown author.
My love and strength go to Nadine….it is an honour to be past of her Mother blessing.
This is an article I wrote for The Scavenger, an online magazine which features alternative, progressive news, features and commentary.
Babies these days are born pre-polluted, having been exposed to waste by-products, heavy metals and toxic industrial chemicals among other things, writes Dr Sarah Lantz.
I work in research, and we slice and dice placentas and umbilical cords to examine the chemical compounds in them. In doing this, it tell us a great deal about what’s in our bodies – and what shouldn’t be there.
So what have we found in placentas and umbilical cords?
Lots of things: Waste by-products such as pollution from incinerators, dioxin, teflon, PCBs, formaldehyde, heavy metals including lead, methylmercury and cadmium. Consumer products: sulphates, parabens, phthalates, fragrances, artificial musks, brominated flame-retardants, preservatives, triclosan, bisphenol-A. And probably the most disturbing of all are the industrial chemicals banned over 30 years ago. Organophosphates (pesticides) make up a large proportion of these chemicals.
How do they get into our babies’ bodies?
Chemicals enter our children, both directly and indirectly, in three ways: via the skin (dermatologically); the digestive system (ingestion, orally – and via and our breastmilk); and the respiratory system (breathing, inhalation). They also enter our babies inutero via the placenta and the umbilical cord.
What are the health impacts of chemical exposures?
Exposures to environmental chemicals are directly related to the illnesses that our babies and children are now experiencing. These include immune diseases, asthma, allergies, and cancers. Exposure to toxic chemicals have also been linked with higher rates of learning and behavioural difficulties and intellectual impairment.
Research also reveals that toxic chemicals are associated with a host of reproductive problems: birth defects, altered to sexual maturation, low birth weight, delayed growth, developmental delay, decreased co-ordination, fetotoxicity (including miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth), Minamata disease, genitor-urinary malformations, skeletal malformations, neural tube defects, cardiac congenital defects, congenital malformations, pre-term delivery, reduced fertility—in both men and women – and infertility.
The most recent data from 1,139 children aged between eight and 15 found that children with higher residue levels of organophosphates were roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
This evidence is not really surprising when you think about it. Organophosphates are designed to kill agricultural pests by disrupting (and destroying) specific neurotransmitters in the brain. Why would we think that they would do no harm to the human body, particularly a very small one?
Who’s responsible for this contamination?
Essentially, we, as parents, are initially the ones responsible for how pre-polluted our babies arrive in this world and how toxic (or not) our children become. We are the ones to prepare the setting in which our babies eat, play and grow. We make the choices about what personal care products we use on their skin and hair, what fabric they sleep in, what drugs, if any, we dose them with, and where they spend most of their time.
This responsibility is enormous. I remember feeling overwhelmed as my partner and I drove our newborn home from the birthing centre, unbundled her from the car, and laid her in our bed. We then sat nervously on the lounge. “Now what do we do?” he turned and asked me, “When are the grown-ups coming to tell us what to do?”
It was then, I realised, that our children’s health and wellbeing is intimately connected to us, as parents (and grown-ups) and it is our openness and willingness to learn, change habits, become conscious consumers and demand protective policies that will make a difference to our children.
Their health is also critically connected to the environment. Toxic environment equals a toxic body (with babies and children being more susceptible than adults). It’s as simple as that.
So the responsibility also lies in how we protect (or not) our children from toxic exposures.
Who decides what’s safe for our children?
Most synthetic chemicals found in babies and children these days did not exist in the environment when my grandma, was born in 1913. In her lifetime, she has witnessed some of the most dramatic developments in the world of chemical production which has escalated during her lifetime from around one million tonnes a year in 1930 to some 400 million tonnes being produced annually today.
At the time of World War II, when she was just married to my grandpa, little did she know that the government subsidies that spurred the production of petroleum and its by-products for the war would eventually become the building blocks for the post-war material economy.
Miracle makeup products, scented to personal care and cleaning products, flexibility to plastics, wrinkle free and fire resistant clothing and furnishings, stain-proof carpets, plastic toys, preservatives in foods and medications have all become central to the modern world and have added a certain amount of convenience, practicality, ease, and disposability to our modern, frenetic lifestyles.
The paradox that emerges, however, is that when these billions of tons of synthetic chemicals were released in to the environment, there was little understanding of their impacts on the health of people and the environment.
They were produced for ease and practicality, not health and wellbeing. Chemists gave little consideration for the wellbeing of people when developing these products; and governments did not legislate for the biological and environmental.
Most chemicals produced and released onto the market these days have had no safety testing to determine their health impacts. Current regulations still do not require manufacturers of commercial chemicals to supply any toxicity data before selling their products.
Over half of the chemicals produced for human consumption have never been tested for toxicity of the human body (EWG, 2001)
At the heart of this legislation is the principle which allows for certain amount of acceptable risk. And with this knowledge, industry, including the personal care, cosmetic, and food industry, has always taken the position that there is no reason to hold up production of ‘useful’ products if no danger has been proven.
Consider however, that a chemical enters the body, the body responds in one of two ways. The first type of reaction is acute. This means the reaction is immediate, usually following a 24–72 hour exposure to a chemical.
The second type of reaction is a chronic reaction, meaning that an individual is exposed to low level of a toxic substance over a period of time before toxicity appears. Thus, determining the cause and effect of toxic exposure and the impacts on the body in the form of chronic effects is often difficult because of the latency period (or delay) in which the body does not immediately register any effects.
This means that a person cannot see or feel the effects immediately. This does not mean, however, that toxicity poisoning is not taking place – as we can see with the health impacts today.
Would you be using your current personal care products if you knew they contained harmful and hazardous chemicals?
With this knowledge, why is it that we, as parents, continue to use products on our children that include carcinogens, suspected carcinogens, hormone and endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, allergens and other harmful substances?
As consumers, we still hold a number of beliefs about the products we buy and use, including:
Why do we make these assumptions? Usually because we assume that companies consider health before wealth, and that those manufacturing, marketing and regulating the products we buy and consume would not approve products that compromise our health.
Parenthood is also deeply embedded in consumerism. We rely heavily on commodity consumption—food, nappies, wipes, clothing, toys—not just for survival, but for participation and inclusion in social and friendship groups. Advertisers also promise a better life for one’s children through wise consumption decisions. And we believe this.
But consider that when we use the most popular consumer products on the shelves – wipes, nappies, bubble bath, shampoo, cleansers, toothpaste – we create toxic babies, children and teenagers.
Consider also that every time you hold your child, they inhale the chemicals in your moisturiser, foundation and perfume.
Consider that when you kiss your child, they are potentially ingesting the phthalates in your lipstick.
Consider that many of these toxic chemicals in your cosmetics are passed on to your baby through your breast milk and via the placenta when your baby is growing inutero and at its most vulnerable (babies do not have a blood brain barrier while in the womb or detoxifying enzymes).
What do we need to have our babies flourish in a toxic world?
Exposures in early life, including inutero, can have significant life-long health impacts. It is in these early years of life as they pass through critical developmental stages that establish the foundations for adult health and wellbeing. What happens in these early years matters for life.
We make choices everyday about the consumer products we purchase and use. Here are some immediate tips for living more healthy in a toxic world:
Become a conscious consumer
Ask questions before buying: Is this product made in line with my values? Does it contain hazardous chemicals? What is the environmental impact of this product? Or on my health? Will it accumulate in my body? Can it be excreted?
Become a chemical detective
Learning how to read labels, challenging our assumptions about consumer products, the companies that manufacture them and the government bodies that regulate them, and knowing some of the health implications of chemicals is a significant step towards living more healthy in a toxic world.
Also, familiarise yourself with a good chemical database such as:
Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database:
Miessence Chemical Ingredients Directory
The Chemical Maze
Create a toxic free home
The environment we provide our children has a profound effect on every facet of their development. The right to a clean, healthy and uncontaminated environment, so that they are able to achieve their maximum potential is the foundation for wellbeing. Consider what’s in your pantry, your shed, your cleaning products, your personal care products.
Eating for wellness
Whenever you buy your food, whether that is at a supermarket, organic wholefood shop, health food shop, farmers’ market, cafe or restaurant, talk to the owners/farmers about your ethical concerns, needs and requirements. Ask them to stock the products you require and that they meet your ethical standards. Your request makes ethical products and foods more available to others and alerts them to customer needs and requirements.
Demand protective policies
There is currently no specific policy on children’s environmental health in some countries such as Australia (Chemicals that are banned in other countries are still being consumed in Australia eg. BPA – Bisphenol A, Phthalates; some flame-retardants; food colourings; preservatives etc). Demand more rigorous laws for chemicals prior to release.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is a research fellow at the University of Queensland, mother, author of the bestselling book Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World and all round chemical conscious parenting nut. She blogs here.
This is an important film! A beautiful film. A film about a woman on a mission to breech birth within the medical system. This film called to my heart as I sobbed in the back of the screening, my own grief released, as I watched her birth her breach baby. My first baby Adiva was breech. She was an undiagnosed breech. Which means that I didn’t know she was breech. No one knew. And so after 22 hours of labouring, about 8cm dilated and ready to go, the midwives at a Melbourne birthing centre informed me that they ‘don’t do breech births’. That is was ‘…against hospital policy’. There was no discussion, no choices. They simply bundled me and my contractions up, cathedised me, injected me, cut me, and pulled out Adiva. I was in shock. She was in shock. I didn’t talk about it for a long time. I just got on with being a mother and doing all the things a mother was expected to do. The healing has taken a few years. Birth Talk in Brisbane helped alot. Homebirthing our second baby was also part of that healing process. I think as a society we have forgotten about conscious birthing. And yet I think we have access to the most profound way of healing through bringing new life into this world. This film is part of reconnecting to that conscious birth process. I loved it! Here is the trailer…
Christmas time, I asked my partner to buy me a ‘I Have a Placenta in My Freezer’ t-shirt, which I think is the best t-shirt ever, but he didn’t seem to find the humor in it that I did. I thought his lack of humour was strange given that we had Adiva’s placenta in our freezer for nearly three and a half years, moved it to three different states, five different freezers (one deep freeze) before planting it at the base of a native tree at my family’s beach house last year.
But this time we’ve been more efficient with Jedda’s placenta. It spent just four months in our freezer and we planted it this evening g. We decided that our beautiful home, and our front garden, was the perfect place to plant our placenta – for this was the home where we grew and birthed Jedda.
We all took part in preparing the space, digging the hole and planting the frangipani tree (its our family’s favorite tree). Adiva wore her fairy wings and blessed the sacred space with her wand. Jase dug the hole and tossed together the compost and top soil. We then all explored our placenta together before planting – stretched the meaty umbilical cord, opened up the membrane and peered inside at the arteries that sustained Jedda and I for nine months. We talked about the different colours, textures, shapes, and weight of our placenta; the medicinal properties (placentophagia, the eating of the placenta, which curbs postpartum depression and hemorrhage), and how many cultures plant a placenta tree as a ritual of life. Just as the placenta nourished Jedda, it can also now nourish the tree, and in turn, the tree fills the needs of humans and animals – a perfect example of the circle of life.
We then all gave blessings of gratitude: Jason gave thanks to me for growing and birthing our baby Jedda. I gave thanks to Jase, our friends, and in particular our homebirth midwife Andrea and then cried. Adiva thanked the placenta directly: ‘Thankyou la-centa’ she said patting the flesh, and then offered thanks to the butterflies and bees of the world. We then decorated the base of the tree with Adiva’s treasures that she had collected, creating a circle of stones, rocks, shells and pinecones around the tree, before she became distracted with a cane toad that turned up to enjoy the festivities. Jedda slept through the whole ritual.
The standard procedure for miscarriage, and often the only one provided to women who go to hospital, is the surgical option of a D & C (Dilation and Curette). It has often been argued (and assumed) to be the safest option to ‘avoid infection’.  But serious complications, such as risks of anesthesia, uterine perforation, cervical trauma, intrauterine adhesions, hemorrhage, infections leading to infertility, pelvic pain, and increased chances of an ectopic pregnancy, are associated with a D & C.  In addition, and contrary to common assumptions, higher infection rates are experienced with a D & C, compared with more a natural course action. Waiting for your body to miscarry your baby was confirmed by a Cochran Review to be a safe option, and the risk of infection is in fact decreased by waiting. In one study, most women (91%) had birthed their baby in 6 weeks.
For some women, the uncertainty of when this passage will take place along with the emotional aspect of continuing to carry a ‘lost’ baby is stressful and distressing. In this case, another option is misoprostal (or equivilant). Misoprostal is a drug (administered vaginally) commonly used for labor induction. It causes uterine contractions and the ripening (effacement or thinning) of the cervix. Research comparing medical (use of misoprostal) and surgical treatment for miscarriage, found that misoprostal had ‘high success rates and low-side effects’. Women in the study were more satisfied with this treatment than those that received surgery.
So, the sum of this research is that there are options other than surgery for most women.
But while birth is still considered to be a medical condition, miscarriage is seen as even less natural, and hence, the high rate of surgical intervention will continue. The fact is though, our bodies not only know how to give birth, they also know how to end a pregnancy. And with this knowledge, women (and families) have the opportunity to meet such a loss with dignity and humility, and space to be with their baby’s and to say goodbye in a way that suits them.
 Calleja-Agius, J, Vaginal Bleeding in the first trimester, Br Journal of Midwifery, 16, 2008, 656-661; Sotiriadis, A. Makrydimas, G Papatheodorou, S. Ioannidis, J, Expectant, medical, or surgical management of first trimester miscarriage; A meta-analysis, Obstet Gynecol, 105, 2005, 1104-13.
 Constantinos, D. (complete)
 Op cit, Snell, 488.
 Op cit, Snell, 488.
 Goldberg AB, Greenberg MB, Darney PD (January 2001). “Misoprostol and pregnancy”. N. Engl. J. Med. 344 (1): 38–47.
 Demetroulis, C. Saridogan, E. Kunde, D & Naftalin, A. A prospective randomised control trial comparing medical and surgical treatment for early pregnancy failure, Human Reproduction, Vol 16, No. 2. 2001, 365-369.
In the time of the Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child. Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life. The Buddha was said to have such a medicine.
Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, ‘Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?’.
‘I know of such a medicine,”’ the Buddha replied. ‘But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients.’
Relieved, the woman asked, ‘What ingredients do you require?’
‘Bring me a handful of mustard seed,’ said the Buddha.
The woman promised to procure it for him, but as she was leaving, he added, “’I require the mustard seed to be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent, or servant has died.’
The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed. At each house the people agreed to give her the seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited – in one house a daughter, in another a servant, in others a husband or parent had died. Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death. Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child’s lifeless body and returned to the Buddha, who said with great compassion, ‘You thought that you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.’
Perhaps miscarriage of a baby has a way of reminding us of the impermanence of life. That life, in all its complexity, is mysterious in its workings and our rationalisations of beginnings and endings can often be naïve at best. That there are other forces at work and larger plans than just what we see in the material world. And that perhaps maybe death might also be the seed of life.
Miscarriage statistics make for sober reading. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health recently reported that for every three women who have given birth by their early 30s, one has had a miscarriage. While 1 in every 140 babies born in Australia is stillborn. This means that over 2000 babies are stillborn every year in Australia. Yet despite its frequency, miscarriage and stillbirth is an almost invisible phenomenon. It seems that while we continue to develop technology to control our fertility, we’re still so disconnected from the emotional realities of pregnancy and miscarriage.
My dear friend Anna’s miscarriage and has promoted me to think about all the women in my life who have had miscarriages or birthed their still born babies: The three mum’s at my playgroup who have had miscarriages. I don’t know the details, but their miscarriages have been slipped into conversations, a way of connecting to other Mum’s, of being acknowledged. A woman who at to yoga school in Melbourne, whose belly grew round before our eyes over the months, birthed her stillborn baby at 38 weeks. Unknown to us, she walked into class a month later to a mass of excited eyes, and shook her head, looked down, ‘we had a boy’, she said, ‘he didn’t make it’. Our fruit shop lady, a robust Chinese woman, had three miscarriages, each in the first trimester of her pregnancies. When I was pregnant last year she would laden me with persimmons as I was leaving her shop, ‘It give you strength to grow and birth your baby’ she would say to me, ‘I needed more persimmons when I was pregnant, lots of persimmons’. My dear friend and business mentor had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. They held their baby in their arms and when they were leaving the hospital they named a particularly bright star that night ‘Felix’ for their baby girl. A work colleague had a miscarriage at 11 weeks: ‘I felt cramps, then my waters broke. I rushed to the toilet, and yelled for my husband who sat and held my hand as blood and clots spilled out. Every few minutes I would glance down and he would say ‘Don’t look’ and quickly flush the toilet. I’m still haunted by this now. We didn’t name our baby, and I still think about his little body now’. My grandma also had three miscarriages at home by herself, baptized them with some water from the bathroom tap, wrapped them up in old cloths and buried them under the petunias in her garden. She then got busy with her remaining nine children.
While many of my colleagues and friends argue that miscarriage is an intimate and private matter, and thus should be kept intimate and private, I think perhaps we need to continue to find a place where we can acknowledge the wisdom that comes from entering the world of loss and grief – both personally and within the wider community. One of the central points that keeps emerging for me while I do this research is that all babies are still born. That we, as Mama’s, birth our babies – those both alive and those who have died inutero. Either way, they are all still born. And perhaps if we acknowledged this, we might be able, as a collective, stand unafraid of what life may bring, or take away.
‘I birthed my baby!’ my dear friend Anna told me today, ‘I’m so proud of myself. And yet not many people want to hear about my experiences of birthing my baby, particularly now that my baby isn’t alive any more’.
After an ultrasound confirmed her baby no longer had a heartbeat, a very sad Anna and her partner went to the hospital to talk through their options. The conversation with a Brisbane hospital registrar went something like this:
‘If I have a D & C (Dilation and Curette – the most common surgical procedure for miscarriage) I want my baby taken out whole’, Anna states.
‘We cannot guarantee this’, the registrar replies.
‘And I want to bring my baby home’.
‘After the D & C we will need to do tests and that will take a few weeks. After then you can bring the products of your miscarriage home in a jar’, says the registrar.
‘But it’s my baby’ Anna states, ‘it’s not your baby. What if I don’t want any tests. What if I just want to bring my baby home …my whole baby home’.
‘Its standard procedure’, the registra says again.
But what do we do when we want our baby whole (as is very possible for most early pregnancy miscarriages) and what if we don’t want our baby tested and given to us in a jar? Why is it that miscarriage assumes something went ‘wrong’, that it is a result of some kind of pathology, or worse, something a mother did.
Inspired by my friend Anna, a homebirth midwife, natural birthing advocate and Mama to three fabulous girls, I’m now writing a joint article for publication with her about miscarriage. Why? Because Anna birthed her baby whole, in a bath, and with her family beside her - the way she initially intended. She had a funeral in the back yard for her baby which was healing and connected the family. She made informed and empowered decisions which has helped with her physical and emotional recovery. Why? Because of the often unnecessary (and potentially damaging) surgical interventions we assume we must always take; and because there are safe, non-invasive options that are available if we want to take a more natural path. Anna reminds me that in most cases our bodies not only know how to give birth, but also know how to end a pregnancy.
So this is what I will be blogging about over the next few weeks as I immerse myself in the research…
My friends in Melbourne are getting ready to birth their first baby. They’re excited. I’m excited for them and can’t wait for them to experience that first breath taking moment when you catch a glimpse of your baby.
AJ gives me a call. I ask how Mel is doing. He says, ‘Only 8 weeks to go and she’s already so huge. The baby is so huge too. The obstetrician says it’s unlikely that she will be able to birth him. I looks like she will be induced early’.
I love my friends dearly yet I immediately struggle with this conversation. Mainly because I can hear the concern in AJ’s voice for keeping Mel safe and cared for (he loves her so) and at the same time, I get unhinged by hearing that age-old myth about the huge baby that won’t pass through the small pelvis (otherwise known in medical profession as CPD or cephalopelvic disproportion). I thought women in the 70’s and 80’s had crushed this myth by birthing big babies with no trouble at all, but it seems not.
And with the grace of a hormonal, sleep deprived woman who birthed my own baby just weeks ago, I’m not exactly tactful. Poor AJ.
The fact is, CPD is implied rather than diagnosed. Obstetricians can’t weigh babies in the womb, they can only guesstimate and they have no way of knowing weather the baby will continue to grow inutero, or plateau. And measurement of the mothers pelvis is rarely done. When it is done, pelvic assessment has been shown to be inaccurate because the results do not influence the way that the delivery is managed.
In short, there are no less than four variables in this ‘big baby, small pelvis’ scenario that cannot be measured: i) The pelvis is not a fixed, solid structure. The hormone relaxin softens the ligaments that join the pelvic bones, allowing the pelvis to become mobile, loose, stretchy. The degree of pelvic expansion will vary from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy. This cannot be measured; ii) Positioning of the baby can influence the delivery, whether her head is flexed or tilted for example; iii) The position that a woman adopts during labour makes a significant difference to pelvic dimensions. Squatting can increase pelvic dimensions while lying horizontally can decrease it; and iv) Nature has given human beings moldable, pliable, heads. Babies’ heads are made up of separate bones which move relative to each other, allowing the baby’s head to ‘mould’ and adjust to fit the mother’s body thus reduce its diameter during passage down the birth canal. No-one can predict the capacity of an individual baby’s head to mould.
In their policy, Statement On Normal Ultrasonic Fetal Measurements, The Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine states that, ‘No formula for estimating fetal weight has achieved an accuracy which enables us to recommend its use.’
As for the argument to induce before the baby gets too big, the Cochrane Review Board states that there is ‘no evidence of improved outcomes following induction of labour for women who are thought to be carrying large babies’.
AJ says to me, ‘but Sarah, the stakes are so high!’. And in that statement I hear so much inherited fear and mistrust that they can birth their baby peacefully and without intervention. It reminds me of the bumper sticker my midwife has on the back of her car: ‘Birth is safe…interference is risky’.
By keeping this huge baby/small pelvis myth alive the medical profession are inherently saying to women, ‘I can’t trust that you can birth babies’ safely’. That ‘you are faulty units for growing a babies that you can’t possibly birth with your pelvic inadequacies’. And ‘that you require a medical expert to successfully and safely birth your baby’, despite the fact that women have been doing this for centuries, that this is the way nature has intended pregnancy and childbirth to be, and that there are important physical/ spiritual/emotional reasons for labour to be this way.
To unborn bubba’s it says, ‘I can’t trust that you know when you are ready to come into this world, and that you know how to safely come into this world’.
Pelvis too small? Baby too big? Evidence shows otherwise. Women show otherwise. Our bodies are designed to accommodate even a large baby. I love this quote by Pearl Jam, ‘The smallest oceans still make big, BIG waves’. I hope Mel and AJ do too.
I probably learnt more about deliberate living when I birthed Jedda just a few weeks ago than any other time in my life.
I remember feeling connected to Jase as he traveled in the car behind the ambulance, blissfully unaware of the possible uterine rupture. My homebirth midwife sitting close to me telling me to go inside and talk to my baby. ‘Hello baby’, I said, ‘Move for me please….ahh, there you are. I am here. We can do this together. I am here’. She didn’t miss a heart beat. She was fine. I was the one that had to keep my body together to see her come into this world. I remember watching my breath, breathing in, breathing out, slowing down my contractions, keeping in touch with my baby, my body.
I remember the rush of flouros in the hospital, being strapped to the monitor, catheterized, internal probing. I remember deliberately not getting involved in the medical clamour. Staying connected to my baby. I remember pushing when my body had no urge to push; pain from the cintosin that I just wanted to crawl away from; the room that was jammed packed with midwives, specialists, and even a student who popped her head in because she had never seen a suction delivery. I remember the sharp pain of the vontous cap as it slipped through cervix and then my midwife holding my hand and at each contraction yelling at me, ‘Push your baby…push your out right now Sarah!’. I remember deliberately diving into the pain anyway and pushing, pushing, pushing. I remember the pain took my breath away, the grinding of bone on bone, stretching, panting, another dive and pushing out a bloody-gooey Jedda, who slid calmly onto my arms. The warmth of blood down my legs. I remember her slippery skin and meaty arms and the warm blankets that encased us. She was spectacular. I was spectacular! And not long after that, a doctor sewing up of my split perineum as my midwife watched on eating her sandwiches. A quick drink of juice, signing the hospital waver forms, and as I held on tightly to my freshly baked daughter, I checked myself and my baby out of the hospital and walked into the humid air to our waiting car.
Later that night I watched an exhausted Jase and Jedda sleep.
Birthing Jedda in this way gave me the opportunity to live moment by moment, to choose what I wanted to focus on, think about, act on. I had a homebirth with some medical assistance. A conscious birth. An empowering birth. And there are many lessons I have come away with:
Presence: being in the here and now. Breathing in and breathing out -watching the patterns, rhythms, tone and depth.
Simplicity: There is just the basics of what’s right here and now. Nothing in the past and nothing in the future. Just here and now.
Equanimity: Reality is reality and there is no negotiating with it; to get from point A to point B you have to DO it, WALK it, BREATHE it, BIRTH it, take one contraction at a time, one breath at a time, immersed in the experience – so you might as well see it through with equanimity because there is no diversions now! And there is obsessing about comfort and discomfort because you can’t do anything about it. You just live in the moment. Listen to your body. Move where it needs to move.
Awe: There is some element of the whole experience that awes you with its grandeur, literally, it’s size or magnitude. To be at the coalface of the primordial self; surprising moments of stillness or the flood of an incredible contraction. It puts you in touch with your own mortality and your connection to mothers that have gone before you.
Surrender: Permission, and almost an obligation to give of myself entirely to this one thing. ‘Get your mind out of the way, your body knows how to do this’ a friend says. To trust, trust in your body, trust in your baby.
This was deliberate living to me and I loved it!
And 26 hours after it all began, I fell asleep. Deliriously proud.
This is Jason’s version of events from an email he sent out to family and friends….
It’s been 7 day’s now since our new addition ‘Jedda’ came into this world, and since then we’ve been in that blissful new baby bubble. But since we’re popping our heads back out into the world, I thought it high time to send out a bit of a run down of how our little bean came into the world.
For those of you who are time poor, here’s the abbreviated version: Sarah’s waters broke at 2:30am Sunday morning, followed by some oohs and aah’s, an unexpected ambulance ride to the hospital (unexpected because we were homebirthing), a push and a pull and ‘pop’, our new little bean popped into the world at 7:23am on the 11/10/09 weighing in at 7lb, 13oz and 50cm long.
…for those of you who are thirsty for a little more detail, read on…
It all started at 2:30am Sunday with Sarah’s waters breaking. A half hour later she was having ‘full-on’ contractions. At the rate Sarah was going I was concerned whether I’d get the birthing pool inflated and filled on time. As it turned out I needn’t have stressed as Sarah, while fully dilated, labored all through the day, with little, to no, reprieve. Our midwife Andrea arrived around 4:30am which was a great relief to Sarah and particularly myself (not that I didn’t have everything under control:-).
We had a beautiful birthing setup in our living room with dim lighting, candles, soft music, relaxing oils and lovely birthing pool. Adiva eventually rose, hung out, ate, and got bored so went next door to play with the neigbours where she stayed all day and all night popping in occasionally to see if her brother or sister had been born yet.
Sarah continued active laboring until around 4pm when her belly suddenly developed an unusual shape of two humps instead of one and complained of sharp scar tissue pain (from a previous c-section). Andrea urgently directed me to call an ambulance for immediate transfer to the hospital. I didn’t really know why at the time, and in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t. Andrea and Sarah were thinking ‘Uterine Rupture’, which is a rare complication of a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) delivery where the previous c-section scare tissue ruptures and the Mumma ‘bleeds out’ which is life threatening for both mother and baby. So I was blissfully unaware of all this, and continued faffing about the house packing a hospital bag.
As I turned off the music and blew out the candles, I thought, here we go again, another chance of a natural birth dashed once more, with visions of Sarah being wheeled straight into theatre and myself scrubbing up and gowning down as soon as I arrived. Much to my surprise however Sarah was wheeled into the birthing suite, assessed by the hospital midwives, and the call was made to attempt a natural birth (she was so, so close). Poor Sarah had been in active labor for sixten hours up to this point and fully dilated for eight hours (for some reason, Sarah’s body just didn’t get the urge to push).
With a little help from some oxytocin (Pitocin), a vontous cap, some major pushing, pulling, Andrea yelling for Sarah to ‘push your baby out now’, some wailing and nashing of teeth, the beautiful Jedda Julie entered the world.
Our homebirth midwife Andrea was incredible. She advocated for us all the way to have the most natural and empowering birth possible, and ensured that Bubba came straight to the breast and once there stayed there. We were so exhausted and moved by the whole experience that no one knew whether she was a boy or a girl till I went around and checked ten minutes after delivery. We ensured the umbilical cord remained intact until the placenta was birthed ensuring Jedda got the maximum amount of nutrients possible from Mumma. Andrea also advocated for as little medical intervention as possible.
A few hours later we signed ourselves out of the hospital at midnight and drove home to our comfy family bed, which Sarah had been dreaming of all day.
I’m always amazed at Sarah’s strength and determination and how it allows her to achieve anything she sets her mind to. This birthing experience however tested these traits to a whole other level. After this experience I now have a new found respect for Sarah’s strength and commitment (and all Mummas for that matter). Sarah set her mind on having a drug-free, VBAC delivery (vaginal birth after c-section) and in the throws of contractions, with an exhausted, misshapen uterus, Sarah didn’t give up and successfully achieved her goal. Albeit we were only 5 minutes shy of being transported to an already prepped surgical theatre to undergo an emergency c-section if the last attempt of pushing didn’t work.
Now we’re all back home and have been enjoying our new family dynamic. As Dadda, I’ve been spending a great deal of last week ensuring a smooth a transition as possible, providing Sarah and Jedda the space they need to bond together, but mainly ensuring Adiva still feels loved and that all of her needs will be met – to the point where Adiva and I have been ‘camping out’ in a tent in the back yard for the last three nights. As bonding as this experience is, I’m hoping the novelty wears off very soon so we can move back to the comfort of our illustrious queen bed before I slip a disk in my back on our wafer thin camping mattress.
I’ll sign off now by letting you know that Mumma and Bubba are doing great, Adiva is very happy to have a new sister and proudly presents her to any new visitors in her arms. Buddy, our 18yr old Dalmation, is not so fussed as he knows from first time round that this means yet another demotion in the pecking order, he’s pretty much used to the drill by now and visibly aged a year over night.
Stop a toxic legacy: Raise Chemical-Free Kids
What chemicals are in your body? Do you know? And what about your kids?
For ten year old Sammy Douglas and his family, their understanding of the chemical burden our kids are now carrying, almost came too late. It started when Sammy collapsed in the family apple orchard nearly two years ago. The convulsions and seizures that began soon after, and have continued to this day. ‘I carried him back from the orchard myself,’ explained his Dad, ‘nearly two kilometres, and then drove him fifty minutes to the closest hospital. He was unconscious and I kept looking at his chest to make sure he was still breathing. It scared the hell out of me’.
At the time, the medical practitioners didn’t know how to diagnose Sammy. So they didn’t. But the seizures continued. A group of specialists eventually took blood and urine samples. When the results came back, they revealed high amounts of organophosphates (chemicals which form the basis of many insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides) and heavy metals (aluminium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and silver). His body also contained a chemical cocktail of everyday products he used in and around his home and property: perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), a group of chemicals used as surfactants and stain protectors contained in sticky tape, carpet protectors, non-stick pans, household cleaners, and flame retardants; Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates used to make plastics flexible, including baby bottles, tupperware and water bottles; parabens used to keep fungus and mold from personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, soaps, gels; perfumes; preservatives, food additives and more.
How did they get in there? And what are all these chemicals doing inside a ten year old boys growing body?
For the Douglas family, most work they did around their rural property involved chemicals of some sort. They sprayed pesticides on the orchards and gardens to control the insects; herbicides to control weeds; and synthetic fertilisers to help the plants grow faster and with higher yields. Then, because these chemicals leave residues in and on the fruit, they would use industrial detergents to wash the fruit, which would leave even more residues, and then wax the fruit with more products to give the surface shine. When it came to raising their livestock, the sheep needed constant worming (drenching) and dipping (a liquid insecticide and fungicide used to protect animals from infestation against external parasites, such as mites, blow-fly, ticks, and lice) and steroids; and they used anti flea agents for the working dogs. Mrs Douglas explains, ‘It never even dawned on me that this stuff could get into our bodies. I assumed that because we were using the products as directed on the label, that we would be fine. The experience with Sammy has made me think otherwise. I realise now that I was exposed every time I washed Sammy and his brothers clothes, or when they tramped through the house with their shoes; when I helped around the property picking and packing fruit; shearing or dipping the lambs; or washing my hair for that matter. Following the directions on the label is just not enough. We can’t control these chemicals, even if we wanted to. They get into our soil, our waterways, and then our food. We inhale them and they are absorbed through our skins. Labels don’t really mean a thing these days’.
The key point here is that chemicals (not intended for the human body) are everywhere. We ingest, absorb and inhale them everyday and there are more untested chemicals than any other time in history. It is well established in medical literature, that children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental chemicals. The dynamic physiology of children and the different ways in which they interact with their environment means that children often have higher exposures than do adults in the same environment. Babies and children are particularly vulnerable due to their lower body weight, lower metabolic rates and fewer detoxifying enzymes that do not process or excrete toxins the way adults’ bodies do. They digest more food in proportion to their body size than adults, thereby potentially to ingesting more chemicals per unit of body mass, and initially, have a less varied diet, making them susceptible to chemicals. Similarly, they drink about one-third as much water each day, thus exposing them to more toxic contaminants in water compared to that of adults, and breathe more than adults per kilo of body weight. Children also have a higher skin surface area to body weight ration than adults, and the skin of children is also more permeable than adult skin. This results in enhanced absorption of toxins and chemicals through the skin. Babies and children also dwell closer to the ground, exposing them to pesticide residues from gardens, car exhausts, and chemicals such as adhesives from flooring and carpets. They can also experience sustained exposure to noxious agents because they cannot remove themselves from their environment due to lack of mobility.
While some chemicals can be excreted through the body, many others are bioaccumulative (cumulate in the DNA, organs, bones, blood, fat etc. of the body), or react with bio-molecules such as DNA, haemoglobin, or fatty acids. The label on products doesn’t provide us with this information. In fact, testing for chemical toxicity of the body is still rarely done, and when it is done, it is performed on singular chemicals and does not take into account the potential for chemical interactions.  Since people are exposed to multiple chemicals simultaneously, such as bubblebath and shampoo, the current regulatory standards are inherently limited. In Australia, many chemicals banned or restricted in other countries across the world are still available here.
It is also well established in medical literature that interactions between genetic and exposures to environmental chemicals play a critical role in developmental and environmental illnesses that our children and young people are now experiencing. These include cancers, diabetes, asthma, generalised immune conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, autism, and neurological and behavioural conditions.
So what chemicals are you and your children consuming? Consciously or unconsciously? And what can you do about it?
1. Become a conscious consumer
We make choices everyday about the products we purchase and consume. Ask questions before buying: Is this product made in line with my values? Does it contain hazardous chemicals? What is the environmental impact of this product? Or on my health? Does it accumulate in my body? Can it be excreted?
2. Become a chemical detective
Learn how to read labels and challenge your assumptions about consumer products, the companies that manufacture them, and the government bodies that regulate them.
3. Create a toxic free home
The environment we provide our children has a profound effect on every facet of their development. The right to a clean, healthy and uncontaminated environment, so that they are able to achieve their maximum potential is the foundation for wellbeing. Consider what’s in your pantry, your shed, your cleaning products, your personal care products.
4. Eat for wellness
We have the opportunity to make a political statement every time we eat. Whenever you buy your food whether that is at a supermarket, organic wholefood shop, health food shop, farmers’ market, cafe or restaurant, talk to the owners/farmers about your ethical concerns, needs and requirements. Ask them to stock the products you require and that meet your ethical standards. Your request makes ethical products and foods more available to others and alerts businesses to customer needs and requirements.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is a researcher, presenter, mother and author of the bestseller Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World. To order a copy of the book or for more information about chemicals, kids or our seminar series go to: www.chemicalfreeparenting.com
 For example, Dourson, M. Charnley, G. Scheuplein, R. & Barkhurst, M. (2004) Chemicals & Drugs Risk Assessment: Differential Sensitivity of Children and Adults to Chemical Toxicity, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, 10 (1): 21-27; Barr, D.B., Wang, R.Y., & Needham, L.L. (2005) Biologic Monitoring of Exposure to Environmental Chemicals throughout the Life Stages: Requirements and Issues for Consideration for the National Children’s Study, Environ Health Perspect, 113(8):1083-91; Grandjean, P & Landrigan, P. (2006) Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals, The Lancet, 368 (9553) 2167 – 2178.
 Op cit Dourson, Charnley et al, 2004; Vorhees, C. & Bellinger, D. (2005) Protecting Children from Environmental Toxins, PLoS Medicine, 2 (3)203–208.
 Karr, CJ. & Solomon, GM. (2007) Health Effects of Common Home, Lawn, and Garden Pesticides, Pediatr Clin North America, 2007;54(1):63-80; Parsons W (1995) Public policy, Aldershot, Edward Elgar, UK; Penel, N. & Vansteene, D (2007) Cancers and pesticides, Bull Cancer, 94(1):15-22
 Goldman, L. (1995) Environmental Risks Facing Children and Recommendations for Response, Environ Health Perspect, 103, (S6):16
 op cit Dourson, Charnley, et al. 2004
 Eichenfield, S. & Hardaway, C. (1999) Neonatal dermatology, Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 11: 471-4.
 Op cit, Barr, Wang & Needlam, 2005.
 Dingle, P. & Brown, T. (1999) Dangerous Beauty – Cosmetics & Personal Care, Healthy Home Solutions, Perth.
 For example, Weiss, B. (2000) Vulnerability of children and the developing brain to neurotoxic hazards, Environmental Health Perspectives, 108 (Suppl 3):375-81; Choi, SM. Yoo, SD. & Lee, BM. (2004) Toxicological characteristics of endocrine-disrupting chemicals: developmental toxicity, carcinogenicity, and mutagenicity, J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev, 7(1):1-24; Weselak, M. Arbuckle, TE. & Wigle, DT. (2006) In utero pesticide exposure and childhood morbidity, Environ Res. 103(1):79-86; Landrigan, PJ. & Garg, A. (2004) ‘Children are not little adults’, in de Garbino, JP (ed), Children’s health and the environment: A global perspective, A Resource Manual For The Health Sector, Geneva: WHO; Chap 2:3-16.
Why? ‘Why’, I get asked from family, friends and work colleague, ‘would I choose to homebirth? Why would I put myself at risk, particularly after having a previous cesarean? Why not choose an elective cesarean or at least go for drugs to ease the pain? ‘Go for the epidural’ a woman tells me while waiting in line at the fruit market, ‘natural birthing is over-rated’ she says, ‘and never works out anyway’. And on the other hand I get comments about how brave I am. ‘Oh, you’re so brave for doing that. I couldn’t do that’. Brave? Brave of what? Brave assumes there is some kind of peril or danger or ‘risk’ I am to bear. Something I am to be frightened of. My body? My baby? Birthing my baby?
I think underlying these comments is a fear and an inherent distrust of women’s bodies; that the medical profession or an ‘expert’ (of my body?) must intervene to make it safe; and that homebirthing is much ‘riskier’ than hospital births.
I didn’t always want to homebirth. I had my first baby girl in a hospital birthing center in Melbourne when, at eight centimeters dilated, we discovered she was breech and hospital policy prohibited breech births. I had no idea why idea this policy existed at the time, but as a compliant patient, I handed over all decisions (and my body) to the ‘experts’ and joined the growing number of women receiving cesareans across Australia. It was a completely traumatic experience and compromised my ability to initially connect with my baby, and trust my body again.
So when I conceived again, and started down the track of seeking out a natural birth, VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) in a hospital setting, I was slotted into the ‘high risk’ category. And the conversations went something like this: (time durations) ‘We will give you approximately 4 or 6 or 8 hours to give you the chance to have a natural birth’; (where I could labor) ‘No, no, you won’t be able to have a water birth because we will have to monitor you with an ETC machine’; (additions to my birthing team) ‘We would advise you strongly to seek an obstetrician’; (the medical tests I would need to have) ‘You will need to have an ultrasound scan at week 12, 20 and 28 to determine the position of the baby and your placenta’…’anti-D immunoglobin injections at weeks 28 and 34 because your blood is rhD negative’… ‘a gestational diabetes test’… ‘a FBE’ (full blood examination)…’a nuchal translucency test at week 13’…’a Strep B test at week 38…’ blaa blaa blaa….
‘But what if I don’t want any scans, tests, swabs, injections?’, I asked the resident obstetrician.
There was a blank stare from across the desk.
‘My baby will let me know if I need these’, I earnestly explained, ‘I trust my baby and my body, it knows what to do’.
The look was something like ‘Are you a fu*&ing fruitcake?’ although he probably thought his silence disguised his thoughts.
And whilst I’m sure I could navigated and negotiated myself around this system, make compromises and concessions, I knew inside that it wasn’t the kind of environment I wanted to carry out pregnancy. I didn’t want to be sneaky and shifty in order to have as natural a pregnancy and birth as possible. I didn’t want to be a ‘compliant patient’, mainly because I wasn’t a patient, and because pregnancy and childbirth is not a medical condition.
So I’m choosing to homebirth. And these are my main reasons why:
So, fruitcake? Who’s calling who a fruitcake?
‘…live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.’ (Walden, Henry David Thoreau, pg. 85)
Living deliberately is a big deal for us, even if we don’t come close to doing it a much as we intend. What we do know though is that everyday big business, the media, the cosmetic/personal care/fashion/medical/diet/food industries spend millions of dollars each day trying to make us crave and desire their products; and in the main, they are effective at doing this. They produce advertisements that appeal to us, both visually and emotionally, offering us promises of better/easier/faster laundry, cooking and cleaning; smarter kids; healthier kids, happier kids; and better/younger/fitter bodies, skin and lifestyles.
It’s all so alluring… but is it?
Therein comes the cycle of working, consuming, working, consuming, working, consuming, working, consuming…. more is better, growth is good…. And in this world of ‘more is better’ our planet is used as a disposable resource; parenting inherently becomes about control and discipline; the ‘sickness’ industry thrives as people (and our planet) gets sicker; and we are all so individually divided, yet accept that this is what we do in life, and go along for the ride.
And whilst it’s difficult to always break this cycle, we can be conscious of it – our relationships and interactions with people, the sort of families we wish to create, our connection with our environment – and go some way towards changing it. This is what deliberate living is for us (my family and I)
Most of the factors in deliberate living start with us as individuals, extend to our family, and then our approach to the world. In practice, this means living green – living as close to the earth as possible, and when we’re busy and not able to do this, supporting the organic industry – particularly those who deliver us the weekly box of organic fruits and vegetables and connect us to our local organic farmers. Essentially, living green means being aware of our impact on the world and the environment. When you are raising future generations, how can you not be? There’s an ancient Indian Proverb that says, ‘Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our children’.
It also means conscious parenting, and in process of parenting we invest in our own self-development. We have had to unlearn much of the inherited values that we grew up with, compassionately acknowledge our baggage and mistakes and move towards who we want to be as parents. We read, we take courses, converse and share stories with others on the same path and keep moving forward. We respect children, ours and others, as being whole and complete just as they presently are—not in the state of becoming, but rather that they have already arrived. In this way, we engage in ways with children in a way that fosters empowerment and connection, and we have learnt a lot about active listening, being present and giving up our own ‘stuff’ for another. This is not always easy to do. Author, Rue Kream’s work has been particularly influential in my own journey of conscious parenting. She states ‘… yes, we are parents, but we are also people living our one and only lives. Let your children see you live each day with happiness and hope’. In this way, we also try and lead by example because we know that what parents do, rather than what they say makes the difference for their wellbeing as they travel into adulthood.
Living deliberately for us also means establishing and maintaining as much of toxic free environment as we can. This means removing or minimising the chemicals and contaminants in our lives. We use personal care and cleaning products that are toxic free, natural, local and 100 percent beneficial to the body. We use natural remedies, herbs, oils, before we would consider dosing ourselves or our children with any sort of drugs. We live more and more by Hippocrates motto, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’.
We also know in practice that a good partnership (or marriage), keeping the company of supportive friends, a nutritious diet, physical activity, rewarding ‘work’, sufficient money ( living deliberately means life gets less expensive), sound sleep, and religious or spiritual belief or practice all enhance our happiness, and their absence diminishes it. Gratitude and kindness lifts our spirits; and giving support can be as beneficial as receiving it. Being connected, engaged, cherishing intimacy, and maintaining interests give meaning to our lives. Having goals, a sense of belonging, hope, a belief that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves fosters happiness. As 19th Century German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche states, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how’.
Really, we all know we are going to die, therein comes the yearning to make the most out of the time we do have—to live deliberately. And so we continue to move towards this….
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