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Profession forum at the BirthWorks Peace in Birth Conference 2019

At our professional forum our speakers commented on the following:

Question #1: What is the most important thing that women need to learn:

Amber Price: They have the power to change anything. One voice can make change. Consumer
demand is important.
Lewis Mehl Madrona: Consumer demand brought the epidural epidemic. If consumer demand
was for fewer epidurals, it would happen. Women need to see birth as a joyful experience and
not a fearful one.
Nancy Wainer: Remind women that their bodies are designed to give birth.
Michel Odent: The most important question to ask today is, “What is the future of humans?”
Obstetrics is trying to neutralize the cesarean section. Most people are looking at the past –
nobody looking at the role of hormones. We must consider another question, “Are we
neutralizing the laws of natural selection by obstetrics?”

Question #2: What will it take to do this? Is the pendulum swinging in a way to create
better outcomes?

Amber Price: Ways to change the world perspective is through the images that are shown in the
media, at baby showers, and other birthing events. We need to change the words we use around
being a woman and women at birth.
Lewis Mehl Madrona: We need more funding for midwives. Studies do count and need to show
the value of midwives. Maybe midwives can get masters and PhDs, do research, and publish.
Nancy Wainer: Have big billboards saying, “I had a natural birth!” Give talks in elementary
schools about natural birth. High schools are too late – we need to reach younger children. In the
media, have TV commercials of “I had a beautiful unmedicated birth!”
Michel Odent: Before asking the question, it is more effective to analyze the current situation.
We are neutralizing the laws of natural selection. Some women give birth easily and some don’t.
Some mothers and babies die. This is the law of natural selection. But today, some give birth
naturally and some by cesarean section. We have neutralized the law of natural selection. We
need to change our way of thinking. The key word is “protection” against factors that cause
stimulation of neocortical activity in labor.
Lewis Mehl Madrona: I believe that today, epigenetics is more important for the natural selection
of genes. Autoimmune disease is now known to be a change in function of the gene. The
environment is a switch that can turn genes on and off.

Michel Odent: The secret is the evolution of evolutionary thinking. Pure genetics is hereditary
but suddenly some traits are acquired in life through epigenetics. We have to enlarge our concept
of evolution. The mother is transporting genes and the microbiome to her baby long term – we
need to think pure genetics.

Question #3: If there was one road block for peace in birth, what would you replace it

Nancy Wainer: Replace the belief that a cesarean section is an okay way to have a baby.
Michel Odent: It depends on your perspective…there are two places to give birth: home and
elsewhere. Both need to be safely available to women.
Amber Price: The biggest impact is for normal birth to be staffed by midwives.
Lewis Mehl Madrona: Have equal payment for equal work.

Question #4: What advice would you give to birth workers? What can they do today?

Lewis Mehl Madrona: Tell positive birth stories wherever you are be it in line at the grocery
store or at Walgreens. Guide them to think positive about birth.
Amber Price: Use a common language with consumers such as RMC or Respectful Maternity
Michel Odent: Talk with pregnant women. Birth must release hormones; one is oxytocin, the shy
hormone. Talking with them about birth helps them understand what is happening in their
Nancy Wainer: Share your joy.

Question #5: Peace in Birth is achieved through….?

Nancy Wainer: Chocolate
Lewis Mehl Madrona: Peace anywhere is achieved through the process of radical acceptance.
When making a judgment, breathe deeply – realize the whole life that person must have
had…send love. I’d be happy to have a doula come talk to my medical residents. Have the
courage to reach out and have conversations.
Ambe Price: First, find the right persons to talk to. Be willing to have casual conversations, one
on one. This is the modality for moving forward. Invite providers into your community. They
will come because they want to learn more. We can’t change a culture from the outside.
Secondly, birth for one woman may be great and for another traumatic. Women are asking for
the image of empowered birth without doing the work of labor. Technology is here to stay.

They need to see positive images of women giving birth. Monday morning quarter backing is
extremely dangerous as in “If I’d been there, she wouldn’t have had a cesarean.”
Gabe Tullier: If you don’t understand what a person is doing to you, get on the same page. That
releases serotonin and brings peace.
Nancy Wainer: Peace comes from doing the best you can do in each moment. We can’t control

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BirthWorks with Birthpedia Conference – Highlights

Our conferences are being described by attendees as, “The BirthWorks Experience” and this is different from other conferences they have attended.   Our program is based on the practice of human values along with integration of the mind, body, and spirit.  This is experienced in all of our conferences and workshops as well as in our training programs. The setting of the Lakeside Inn overlooking the lake was infused with peace itself, thus enhancing the theme of our conference, “Peace in Birth.”

All keynote speakers and presenters focused their talks on the theme of how birthing families and health care professionals can have more peace in birth.  They addressed this in a multitude of ways ranging from birthing vocabulary, to mother/baby skin-to-skin contact, to empowering high risk moms, to the importance of comprehensive childbirth education, to avoiding birth-worker burnout, to healing through birth stories and finding peace after experiencing birth trauma to name a few. I will touch on some of the keynote lectures here.

Nancy Wainer explored the world of birthing vocabulary and its effects on pregnancy, labor, and birth.  She made distinctions such as “We don’t catch babies, we receive them.”  The Bag of waters becomes the “amniotic release.”  The mucous plug becomes “Baby Gel.”  Is there such a thing as a “Natural Cesarean?” or a “Gentle Cesarean?”

Michel Odent MD discussed how the human placenta transfers antibodies to the mother so that the mother’s microbiota is friendly to the baby. Today most women give birth where there are unfriendly microbes, not colonized in the same way. Today we must ask, “How is our health to be organized?” He said, there are only two kinds of birth: birth at home, and birth elsewhere.  Today, we have dysregulation of the immune system comparing only with hospital birth.   We need to find new ways to adapt.   He went on to say that too often we associate stress as a negative way of thinking, but there are times when we need stress hormones. In a pre-labor cesarean section, babies are not being exposed to fetal stress hormones. For example, corticosteroids are needed for maturation of the baby’s lungs.  Also, understanding the birth process means understanding “Neocortical inhibition” which should become part of the birth vocabulary.  We need to wonder why birth is so difficult for some women and not for others.  It has to do with “Neocortical inhibition.”  The neocortex must stop working in labor.”  Women need to be protected against key inhibitory functions.

Michel made the trip across the Atlantic at the age of 88.  We gave him a tribute slide show of his work through the years, including pictures as a child, and also gave him a journal in which everyone at the conference wrote words of gratitude to him for his lifelong work in birth.  When asked the question, “What made you become interested in birth?”  he answered, “Oh, I’m not interested in birth – I’m interested in humans but of course birth is a part of human existence.”

Brad Bootstaylor MD:  Is one of three obstetricians in Georgia performing vaginal breeches in a hospital setting.  His Dads catch babies 90% of the time. He sees birth as a natural event that may or may not need managing. He emphasized the need to always have a conversation with birthing parents in shared decision making, hearing their needs and then discussing how they can work together. Even in an emergency cesarean, the process is important.  He said, “I help her to remember that her job is to bring her baby here to the earth.”  He shared seven pearls of care some of which were respecting a patient’s values, enhancing physical comfort, providing emotional support, involving the family and especially listening to the mother.

Dr. Bootstaylor said he enjoys his work and brings a positive attitude to women giving birth and their families. He doesn’t think, “Oh my, she’s still here!” He has assisted many women in vaginal breech births thus helping to avoid the major surgery of a cesarean.  Above all, he feels a trusting relationship is essential to any birth.

Lewis Mehl Madrona:  Being a board certified family physician and psychiatrist of the native Lakota American Indian background, Lewis brings storytelling as a form of healing in his culture and he has applied that to birth over much of his life. He acknowledged that there are both good and bad stories but they are the glue that hold people together.  Every story we hear affects our physiology whether we like it or not.  If we use it, it grows up; if not used, it fades away.  How do we make sense of story trauma?  Know that even in the worst trauma, good comes out of bad.  This transforms the victim into a hero.   What makes people feel better is giving meaning to what happened.    You can’t erase a story once it is told.  We can also strengthen good stories by retelling them over and over again. Lewis said story-based medicine may treat pain.  Listening without interruption and judgment is the greatest gift we can give anyone.

Mary Renfrew:  is a leading health researcher and midwife.  She has conducted research in maternity care and in infant feeding for over 30 years and her work has informed and helped to shape policy and practice in those fields both nationally and internationally.  Her work has a core focus on improving health and care for women, babies, and families and reducing the impact of inequalities.   Due to ankle surgery, her fascinating lecture was presented through skype.  She spoke about global challenges and developments in midwifery and how to tackle those through evidence and through education thereby moving evidence into policy and practice.

Amber Price: As the only CEO in the country who is also a midwife, Amber had much to share with us about how she is making changes to help pregnant women and women in labor at the Tristar Centennial Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Nashville TN. She said as a society, we dictate behavior for mothers and babies, but instead, we need to teach and not mandate. Below are just a few of the points she made in her talk.  View her entire fascinating talk by purchasing it at

  • 52% of pregnant women in the US are obese with BMIs over 50. Hospitals need equipment to meet their needs. If women don’t get what they need, they won’t come back.
  • Women think they are going to be treated like a queen in the hospital, but are often disappointed.
  • Both women and health care providers feel alone and largely unsupported.
  • There is mutual distrust between women and healthcare providers, exacerbated by word of mouth and the media.
  • Procedure rather than patient centered care is prioritized by healthcare providers. Women’s reports of care indicate that interventions are routinely imposed on them without meaningful informed consent.
  • The difference between home and hospital birth is that birthing women take on guest status. People are in control in their own homes,  however, when walking into the hospital, the minute they ask “May I use the bathroom?” or “May I have something to eat,” someone has power over them.

See our next E-news for the Professional Forums held at our conference.

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Pushing Past My Comfort Zone: Childbirth Educator Workshop in Huntsville, AL

By Shandus Parish


I attended the BirthWorks Childbirth Educator workshop on February 1-3, 2013, in Huntsville, AL, with facilitator Sally Healey. Although the weekend was packed with challenging exercises and conversation, I had a wonderful experience engaging in self-reflection, learning a great deal about myself, and forging deeper relationships with a group of women I previously knew mostly as acquaintances. I expected to learn the nuts and bolts of facilitating discussion, become educated on a variety of birthing topics, and generally learn about leading a class. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this workshop involved something much more complex – nitty-gritty, emotional, soul-searching.
I was inspired many times that weekend, particularly in response to the visualization exercises. I’ve always struggled with this kind of exercise because I find it difficult to stay focused on something that felt forced and, frankly, a bit hokey. However, the exercises we used in the workshop did not feel forced, I think because they were structured in a way that required full participation from our inner consciousness. I was astonished by my responses to some of them, coming up with answers that I didn’t even know were in my head. For example, during one visualization we were instructed to imagine a maypole with many colorful ribbons attached to it. In our mind, we were to visualize grabbing hold of one ribbon and to reflect on how that ribbon symbolized ourselves. I expected to see a strong, thick, sturdy ribbon, but instead I immediately imagined a crinkly, fragile-looking ribbon. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get that ribbon to morph into anything else. It revealed to me a deep sense of fragility that I didn’t realize I still had.
Another inspiring activity involved writing about our own birth story from our mother’s perspective and then to analyze any negative assumptions that were revealed in that story. I expected this to be an easy, fairly objective exercise, but as I wrote and then shared with the group, I sobbed uncontrollably as I sympathized with the deep embarrassment, hurt, and abandonment my mother felt at the time of my birth, due to actions of my father. I grieved for my mother and the experience she had, and developed a strong sense of gratitude and understanding of the strength she must have had to mother me so well, despite her circumstances.
In general, I was inspired by how powerfully the births of our own children (even our ownbirths) influence our personalities, emotional responses, and ways of interacting with the world. Conversely, the culmination of how we were raised, the experiences we had as children and young adults, and the relationships we’ve had with significant others and friends can have a tremendous influence on our birth experiences. To ensure the highest likelihood of a positive, empowering birth, expectant mothers should intentionally explore and process through those experiences so that they can begin to own them and transform negative circumstances into empowering memories.
For my own life, the workshop reminded me to trust my instincts more often, not just when giving birth, but in every moment of my daily life. Our inner consciousness knows far more than we can ever realize! I was reminded how important authenticity is in my life and relationships, and to embrace my true self, regardless of how others may receive it. Additionally, it taught me to be more aware of how others’ experiences have shaped their behaviors and how they respond to the world. That is, I should be gentle with everyone, because I may never know what struggles they have to work through.
The workshop will influence my teaching in several ways. For one, I will research and practice ways of responding to my students’ answers so that I can be prepared for any response. I have facilitated many group discussions in the past, and I know how easy it is for a discussion to end too quickly when a facilitator isn’t skilled at helping individuals process difficult emotions and at drawing out responses from those who tend to be quiet and non-participatory. I will also make myself engage in activities that may seem silly or uncomfortable to me, because at the workshop I found that when I was faced with an exercise that made me feeluncomfortable, I had a great deal to learn about myself and about why that discomfort was there. Pushing past my comfort zone was always rewarding. Because of that, I will embrace those uncomfortable, challenging moments in my classes, knowing that if we can all push through that wall, we may discover something momentous.
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Workshop Review: Raleigh, North Carolina

The is a lovely review, written by Laura Farnsworth, of our 2006 North Carolina Childbirth Educator workshop.

The BirthWorks weekend retreat was nothing like I had experienced before. Through guided exercises, we explored feelings and philosophies about birth, discussed our relationships with our mothers, identified feelings of blame and guilt and released grief over past birthing experiences. Unlike other childbirth education workshops, BirthWorks uses emotional exercises and discussions to lift fear and empower the inner voice.

Over three days, I experienced incredible healing. In any other setting it would have taken more time to merely touch the surface of my feelings. By isolating blame and guilt, I was able to work through issues with my daughters birth. I realized that my birth was intended to be what my mother was denied with her children. I felt lifted after expressing grief over my mother’s passing as I now explore what it means to be a mother.

Our views about and experiences with childbirth represent so much of who we are. By delving into the emotional realm of birth, I was freed to relinquish pain and hurt that may limit my ability to grow and blossom. The birth of a baby is our re-birth, and how better to enable the metamorphosis than to trust our ability to create.

-Laura Farnsworth

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Workshop Review: "Three Days of Love"

by Brittany Sharpe McCollum

One woman’s first hand account of her beautiful experience attending a Childbirth Educator Workshop held in Cherry Hill, NJ

My South Philly backyard has become Monterrosso and this cheap glass of Chianti is now straight from the hills of Tuscany. It’s amazing what three days of love can do.

I have always been intrigued by our behavior when we walk into a room of strangers, all seated neatly in a circle. We smile, say hello, then look in our bags as if there is something important in there that we are so relieved to pull out. ‘Ah, yes, chap stick is just what I needed’ or ‘Oh, yes, just checking, uh huh, it’s still in there, no need to bring it out.'(That is my personal favorite) And to think, this was us, when three days later we were spilling tears and sharing stories as we hugged each other goodbye.

It seems impossible to give this time the credit it deserves. It was a space so different from the everyday life of work and even home. I have never before been in a group setting where I felt love from everyone. Not just existence or presence but radiated love.

It’s hard to say whether that feeling is due to the serendipity that led us each to Cherry Hill for those three hot July days or if it is that way for each group in Birth Works workshop. I am sure it stems from both the fate that brings people together and the sound philosophies of BirthWorks that led us all there.

My nature does not position me as the class clown, the center of attention, or the nerd (although sometimes I find myself leaning in that direction). By choice, I am somewhat in between these three. When I was urged to rebirth through the turtleneck exercise by a lovely woman with a longing for the mountains, I said “no,no.” Then I found myself saying “okay”. She later whispered, “I knew it was for you”.

I wriggled. I squirmed. I worked through that tight, dark, warm space like it was my life. And, in a way, it was my life. I pressed myself haphazardly against the rug. Soon I fell into rhythm, a dance. The birthing dance, perhaps, that good old pelvic rocking with which we are all so familiar. And I worked that collar down, down, down, over my hair, over my forehead, over my eyes. And I kept my eyes closed. There was no alternative. I was birthing and that is intense and focused energy. My eyes remained shut until that last piece of sweet-smelling cloth worked its way under my chin. And I could breathe. And nothing felt better than the hug I received, that initial human contact, as my eyes opened upon the room.

It just happened that that day was my birthday. Really, it was. And it just happened that I had been born by cesarean. And it just happened that that exercise occurred to the minute of my birth years earlier. I believe my re birthing has now set free generations and generations of my daughters to come. Yes, lovely woman, that was mine.

We all may not have had that sort of healing during our time together but I do believe that we all breathed a little deeper, felt a little stronger, and smiled a little truer. Imagine if 12 women from around the country, strangers days before, can pour love upon each other, enough to flush the cheeks and raise one’s head, what we can do as a world of sisters pouring love upon one another… That is birthing. That is growth. That is beauty and wisdom. Only good things can come.

If you have a BirthWorks Workshop experience you would like to share for our blog, please send it to