Pushing for change

By Mara Rockliff

Forceps-wielding masked doctors looming over strapped-down screaming women. Lamaze-trained husbands huffing and puffing helplessly beside their wives. Dumb jokes about passing bowling balls. No doubt about it, as depicted in American popular culture, giving birth is a scary proposition.
Lakshmi Bertram had a different vision when she first became pregnant. “I wanted freedom of movement and choice,” she writes in her book, Choosing Waterbirth. “I wanted to be able to do whatever I needed to feel the most comfortable while birthing my baby.” Since then, she’s given birth underwater five times.
Bertram will be one of a panel of speakers discussing “Managing Your Labor Pain” at 7 pm June 6 in the McIntire Room of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library downtown. Joining her will be acupuncturist Kyung Lee, massage therapist Pia Adler, hypnotherapist Steve Mustoe, and doula Melaine Copeland. Melissa Dean-McKinney, labor and delivery nurse at Martha Jefferson Hospital, will present what conventional medicine has to offer, including drugs.
Thursday’s panel is the first of a series planned by a new group, Informed Birth Options of Central Virginia. The group formed in February after a local talk by Spiritual Midwifery author Ina May Gaskin drew hundreds of couples eager to learn about alternatives to today’s standard birthing practices.
In the Charlottesville area, such alternatives are rapidly disappearing. Last year the Birth Center of the Blue Ridge closed down, leaving pregnant women little choice beyond hospital wards. Only one nurse-midwife attends home births now, and she won’t work with first-time mothers. Certified professional midwives, still criminalized in Virginia, are leaving for other states where their years of intensive medical training are valued.
Still, local women have more alternatives than they are hearing about from their obstetricians, say the organizers of Informed Birth Options. The group looks toward a day when “all birthing families in Central Virginia are free to birth how and where they choose.” Their goal is to make such informed choices possible by spreading knowledge.
“We’re trying to offer information that might not be available in hospital birthing classes,” says planning committee member Jackie Emm. “We’re not a radical alternative group. We want to be welcoming to every birthing family.”

Informed Birth Options of Central Virginia presents “Managing Your Labor Pain,” a panel discussion by conventional and alternative health practitioners, in the McIntire Room of the Jefferson-Madison Library downtown, Thursday, June 6, 7-8:45pm. Free and open to the public. For more information, call Jackie Emm at 973-3482.