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EcoBirth-Women for Earth and Birth

Uniting the earth and birth movements for the well-being of our world

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dr Sandra Steingraber speaks quietly with iron resolve

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D, ecologist and mother, speaks quietly with a big stick. Her lovely voice and gentle presence belies her iron resolve to make a better world for her children. She is intimately familiar with disease and grief, and greed and manipulation and bodily invasions. She is courageous enough to live a life that contains truth-living and truth-telling to power.
EcoBirth produced a lecture by Dr. Steingraber in San Francisco, Oct 28, 2010. When I picked up Sandra from SFO, she asked me about my lineage here in San Francisco and she got to hear lots about my family having been in San Francisco since the 1820’s. She was flying in from the Women’s Conference in LA County and we got to do a little bashing of So Cal and Hollywood and celebrities and politicians- all in great array at the conference. We had a wonderful visit in her friend Judy’s old Edwardian in the Mission District. And I got a sense of some of the contours of her life. She discussed how she determines which speaking engagements she accepts and how those decisions may impact the very real economics of her life. She tries to look at the sponsors of the conferences who so frequently invite her to speak. And in no uncertain terms she said she would go nowhere near an event that was sponsored by a baby formula company.
This struck me as a brave act of integrity and a model for how we all might try to figure out how to accommodate ourselves to live in this imperfect world. Somehow we want to balance taking a stand for something we perceive as truth, but without being rigid, doctrinaire and irrational. I envy her the privilege of having a platform to speak truth to power which may have some good influence in the world.
I tie this impulse into EcoBirth, which recognizes the connections we have with our surroundings, our world through so many generations. Yes, it does matter where we were born and raised. And it does matter how our Mother Earth is treated, because we personally embody that current lack of care in our wombs and pass it onto two generations after ourselves. It does matter that the human qualities of greed and indifference affect how we birth our babies, what milk we can feed them from our own breasts and what food is nourishing from the bounty, given to us as a gift, from Mother Earth. So when do we realize that we will take a visible stand? We listen closely to those courageous people who show us how to do it with grace and openness, like Sandra.
Dr. Steingraber, besides being a mother and an ecologist, is an author, and cancer survivor, and an internationally recognized authority working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. Continuing her investigation begun in her first book, Living Downstream, Steingraber’s book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, explores the intimate ecology of motherhood, which is both a memoir of her own pregnancy and an investigation of fetal toxicology. Having Faith reveals the extent to which environmental hazards now threaten each stage of infant development. In the eyes of an ecologist, the mother’s body is the first environment for life.
Sandra has been able to communicate through her beautiful prose and her poetry the naming and recognition of what is happening to our world now, so we can understand it. The wonder, joy and beauty of our world shines in her language and is embodied in her life. That evening we had the honor of listening to a woman who walks the walk and is a guide to us on how we can do it too.
I said to Sandra, “Thank you for your filling the space for all of us as spokesperson naming the perils that are hard to hear about our world. Thank you for being visible to the entire world, especially those in power, acting with integrity and courage. Thank you for being a good mother to your children and to our children and to all our creature kin’s children.”
Please visit my posting of the lecture at http://ecobirth.blogspot.com and hear Sandra’s provocative answers to the below questions:
1-In Having Faith, you took an intimate, scientific look at pregnancy, fetal development, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Yet the book is also a spiritual journey, so beautifully displayed in the chapter on Faith’s birth itself. What have you learned of the sacred in our lives—in the connections between mother and child and environment—from that experience?
2-What part does grief and suffering play in this conscious understanding of the world and its imperiled trajectory about which you seem to want to enlighten us?




Saturday, September 11, 2010

Continuity of lineage-who are we related to?

My twin granddaughters are born and thriving, feeding, growing, pooping, crying, so real! I had been thinking about the unbroken lineage we all embody. I am fascinated with the history TV shows saying that the Native Americans in America are descended from 20 people. And I remember on a trip I took to Quezac in the center of the mountains in France, when I asked the Gite/hotel owner, "How long had her family been here?" She said "Always", it seemed inconceivable. But I do realize a very long continuous chain of connection and relationship to my ancestors, not just to my great-grandmothers who came to America with their warring army husbands on this western frontier, but way, way back to the beginnings. We came from Africa, we are all related, this is inconceivable, but profound to me. My relations are everyone. My husband and I were just trying to figure out what percentage these girls are of Chinese, Russian, Irish, French, German, Scots, Spanish- O it is a mish-mash! And these delineations of ethnicity and nationality are just arbitrary, not the absolute truth.

They have been given names that have Celtic foundations, seems very appropriate to me. I took out some books I had collected on Celtic art, history and spirituality. The Celts seemed to have been a curious mix of crazy, killing warriors and a strong connection to the earth and the daily miracles in the simple relationship with life around them. Their names are associated with wisdom and fire. I will tell you the names when I get permission from their parents, because I am not in charge of these precious beings, and permissions can not be given out by me for them. I have to understand that I am a step removed from them, which I am finding is quite hard to grasp emotionally. But they are in a chain of relationships that is truly immutable and I am in that chain with them, all the way back to thousands of years ago.


Now, my granddaughters will express so many aspects of their lineage and their environment. I wonder what affect their birth and first days will have? That is a poignant question for a person who is so tied into EcoBirth. I will hold this question, because I do not have the answer and right now it is too close to me emotionally to get a perspective.


I just want to make an effort to welcome these darlings to a beautiful world and I want to offer help to my son and daughter-in-law with the immediate everyday duties that come with their increased responsibilities. I want to hold the space for them of beauty and love that is hard to see in this new chaos of new life- x2!


This wonderful quote came to me today in my companionable email box and it spoke to me. Thank you Mr RLS!



WORD FOR THE DAY
Saturday, Sep. 11
The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, September 6, 2010

Salmon Creek Falls Environmental Center - Where I will be presenting "A Mother's Legacy- A Precautionary Tale" on Friday, Oct 1, at 7 pm, 1935 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, CA

Numinous time before birth of my granddaughters

I feel as if I am in a numinous space and time, waiting for my granddaughters to be born (yes girl twins, natural and fraternal-sororal, if you ask! due now). I see them in my daughter-in-law's belly and feel them move and kick . " There's the butt, there's one head, there's the other head!" Anticipation is delicious in a certain way.

But they are not here yet, even though they are alive and kicking! And I do not have the physical, embodied relationship with them, that I had with my two children. So I am not sure how I feel, but the feeling is intense and moving. When they come into this realm, I will be immediately different too, a grandmother. Our relationship will be immutable, unchangeable, and there are very few unchangeable things in this world. I cannot even call their names, and I cannot know who they will look like.

It is such a transition time, germinating, not really fallow, but yes, they are seeds that have been growing in the dark, protective womb of their mother. Right now all that they need and their potential life story is contained and held. Somehow their spark of life happened, through love, I believe. But there is the biology of it too, that manifests this mysterious life force. And this biology can be effected by outside forces, not by the conscious will of their mother, not by any truly rational choices of our culture and influenced by place and time.

I believe this changeable biology creates a responsibility on me, because I would never want an action that I do to harm my grandchildren. But I know I have done harmful things and continue to do them. I realize that how I live on this earth is what my granddaughters will inherit.  I understand that my relationship with my all-encompassing Mother Earth somehow is immutable too, just like my relationship with my granddaughters. And I feel that my Mother Earth, who holds and nurtures and feeds me is beneficent. She would not want to harm either, yet she accepts what is happening to her, with involuntary surrender.

I understand that I hurt my environment with my choices or ignorance. And those choices invade my daughter-in-law's body and my grandchildren's development.  This is not right on so many levels, perhaps that is why this is such an emotional time for me. I am so close to the effects of my actions being exhibited in my granddaughters.  Yes, that is it.

I am conscious of the delicate dance with my daughter-in-law of  being helpful, not pushy, supportive but not being a know-it-all; understanding that I have a unique relationship with these as yet unborn creatures, that confers a particular joy and responsibility that only I have. Perhaps if I keep this numinous space in my awareness, I will better understand what I can do to help my earth and my grandchildren. Then when the embodied birth happens, like my granddaughters very physical appearance in this realm, I will also realize and do what is real in this world to help all my relations and my sustaining mother earth.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Exploring the meaning of EcoBirth

I have been thinking so much in the last weeks about the meaning of EcoBirth. Whenever I mention the word to others, I see a reaction- whether curiosity, amazement, intensity?  their eyes widen and their brows crinkle and they want to know what it is, they want a definition.

I try to keep it short and pungent: I generally say it links earth and birth, it emphasizes the whole life system because it is all connected, not separated, so what we are doing to the earth, we actually are doing to ourselves, our bodies, and then we are passing that onto our children and grandchildren. I say that birth is the primal event of life that we all have in common and that birth practices are as important and long-lasting as the effects of possible pollutants during a mother's pregnancy; that how culture practices birth is an indicator of what we think about women, babies and the earth.

I then go on, if there is the opening, to say that the first environment for our children is the mother's body- it is complete, everything needed by the baby is available and then when they are born they get their air, water and nourishment from the earth's environment.

This is usually a fairly provocative explanation, I then say there is research that shows currently that our mother's bodies are pre-polluted and the effects are being seen in our children and possibly in our grandchildren, because, think of it, when my baby is being formed in me, so is her reproductive capability- her eggs- two generations are being formed and a hormone disruption, caused by pollutants on any specific day during my pregnancy, could interrupt the development of my child, which may show immediately at birth or even later in her life, or with her children. There is usually some real eye-widening then.

Then my companions cannot hide a concern about the toxins in our lives, they mention the things they are generally doing now to help the world, like recycling and shopping conscientiously, frequently they are involved in extensive "green" causes. I get to hear birth stories; their own and in particular their baby's. There is no forgetting of details about what happened during their children's birthing.

I hear an emotional response to the idea of the connection between the earth and birth. They might ask for what more they can do, or wonder what else they could have done to have a peaceful birthing experience. They generally say it is quite overwhelming living in this world now and they are not sure how to best do it, and they worry about what their children will live with soon. I try to hold their fears and concerns, and listen well. I invite them to come to the October 28 lecture by Dr Sandra Steingraber, usually give them my card or get their email so we can stay in touch.

I would love to hear your first reaction to the word EcoBirth- what did you think it meant?

I wish you all goodwill and
may we have a clean world, safe births and healthy children!

Molly

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Apache Blessing for us and our Mother Earth

May the sun bring you new energy by day, 
may the moon softly restore you by night, 
may the rain wash away your worries, 
may the breeze blow new strength into your being.


These lovely words make me breathe slower and smile. It makes me realize that my yearning for comfort and nourishment is fulfilled by the earth and its gifts to me. I relax on Mother Earth's breast with a sigh and contentment. And then I know these word are for me, coming from creation. Thank you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2007 Call from 200 scientists for a precautionary approach to toxic chemicals

This is the foundational statement upon which we want to base our position against toxic chemicals, as mothers and grandmothers. We can listen and hear what we are being told about the possible harm to our children and we can act to change our world. We can protect our children by knowing that we have the strength to make our world a better place.  We can look at what our world is now and use our unique gifts to take steps to improve it. Our children will have to continue the work, they will have better answers than we can even conceive of. But we have a legacy to pass on that is unbroken from our mothers through the centuries. We have a responsiblity and a love that is immutable- a mother's love- that is unconditional and includes all children and our beloved Mother Earth. May we know our place in the ecosystem of life and pass it on gently and hopefully.


 2007, May 24, 2007


THE FAROES STATEMENT
[Editor's introduction: In this powerful consensus statement, more than 200 scientists from five continents call for a precautionary approach to toxic chemicals, to protect fetuses and children from chemical exposures that may cause serious disease later in life, and which may also afflict their children and grandchildren. The Faroes Statement defines a "new paradigm of understanding in toxicology."]
[Introduction: This consensus statement was issued March 24, 2007, by the International Conference on Fetal Programming and Developmental Toxicity held May 20-24, 2007, at Torshavn, Faroe Islands, which was attended by more than 200 biologists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, nutrion researchers, and pediatricians. The conference was organized jointly with, and sponsored by, BCPT (the journal, Basic & Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology); the World Health Organization; the European Environment Agency; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. The conference was co-chaired by Philippe Grandjean (University of Southern Denmark and Harvard School of Public Health) and Pal Weihe (The Faroese Hospital System).]
Background
Fetal life and early infancy are periods of remarkable susceptibility to environmental hazards. Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children, and across the entire span of human life. Among the effects of toxic exposures recognised in the past have been congenital malformations and other adverse pregnancy outcomes. These outcomes may be readily apparent and have been linked to toxicant exposures during or prior to pregnancy. Even subtle effects caused by chemical exposures during early development may lead to important functional deficits and increased risks of disease later in life. The notion of developmental plasticity of organ functions and disease risks has gained much support from both experimental and epidemiological studies. The timing of exposure -- with an emphasis on critical windows of susceptibility -- has therefore become a crucial factor to be considered in toxicological assessments.
During May 20-24, 2007, researchers in the fields of environmental health, environmental chemistry, developmental biology, toxicology, epidemiology, nutrition, and paediatrics gathered at the International Conference on Fetal Programming and Developmental Toxicity, in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. The conference goal was to highlight new insights into the effects of prenatal and early postnatal exposure to toxicants, and their sustained effects on the individual throughout their lifespan. The Conference brought together, for the first time, key researchers to focus on human data and translation of laboratory results to elucidate the environmental risks to human health.
Research state of the art
The developing fetus is extraordinarily susceptible to perturbation of the intrauterine environment. Fetal development is adjusted to the intrauterine environment of nutrients and energy supply to fit the anticipated postnatal environmental conditions. If a disparity arises between prenatal and postnatal environments, it can cause abnormalities in energy metabolism, endocrine functions, and organ development. Evolution seems to have favoured a "thrifty" phenotype that optimizes the energy use, but which, in an environment with ample food and limited energy expenditure, can increase the likelihood of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, and associated diseases.
The physiological mechanisms involved in the development of energy and nutrient metabolism are also highly vulnerable to toxic effects of environmental chemicals. Chemical exposures during prenatal and early postnatal life can bring about important effects on gene expression, which determines normal development and also predisposes to disease risks during adolescence and adult life. Many environmental chemicals can alter gene expression by DNA methylation and chromatin remodelling. These epigenetic changes can cause lasting functional changes in specific organs and tissues and increased susceptibility to disease that may even affect successive generations.
New research on rodent models shows that developmental exposures to toxic chemicals, such as the hormonally active substances, diethylstilbestrol, tributyl tin, bisphenol A, genistein, can increase the incidence of reproductive abnormalities, metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes, and cancer, presumably through epigenetic mechanisms that do not involve changes to DNA sequences but may be heritable.
Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol, an estrogenic drug no longer used on pregnant women, causes an increased risk of vaginal, uterine, and breast cancer. Low-level developmental exposure to a plastics ingredient, bisphenol A, can result in increased susceptibility to breast cancer or prostate cancer, and prenatal exposure to vinclozoline, a common fungicide, also promotes later development of cancer. These substances are only weak carcinogens, if at all, in the adult organism but are nonetheless hazardous to the growing fetus. In addition, when exposure to a carcinogenic substance occurs during early development, the expected life-span will exceed the normal latency period for development of the disease.
Functioning of the human reproductive system is highly vulnerable to changes in the intrauterine hormonal environment. In men, increasing occurrence of testicular cancer, poor semen quality, and cryptorchidism have all been linked to developmental exposures to maternal smoking and endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as diethylstilbestrol. Additional risk factors include fertility treatment of the mother, phthalate exposure, and occupational exposure to pesticides with suspected estrogenic and antiandrogenic activity. Perinatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as polychlorinated or polybrominated biphenyls, endosulfan, or DDT compounds, may affect puberty development and sexual maturation at adolescence. Expression of some of these effects may be promoted by predisposing genetic traits.
The brain is particularly sensitive to toxic exposures during development, which involves a complex series of steps that must be completed in the right sequence and at the right time. Slight decrements in brain function may have serious implications for social functioning and economic activities, even in the absence of mental retardation or obvious disease. Each neurotoxic contaminant may perhaps cause only a negligible effect, but the combination of several toxic chemicals, along with other adverse factors, such as maternal stress or decreased thyroid function, may trigger substantial decrements in brain function and may predispose to the development of serious degenerative disease.
The immune system also undergoes important development both before and after birth. New evidence suggests that exposure to some immunotoxic chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls and atrazine, and maternal stress may cause aberrant reactions of the immune system to foreign proteins, including vaccines. Such effects may be related to a shift in immune system balance, with an increased susceptibility to infections and an increased risk of development of allergy in the child.
While the research on developmental toxic effects has to date emphasised maternal exposures and the neonatal environment, the possibility exists that paternal exposures may also affect the child's development. Experimental studies suggest that ionizing radiation, smoking, and certain chemicals may be of importance, and some exposures may also affect the sex ratio of the children.

Conclusions
Three aspects of children's health are important in conjunction with developmental toxicity risks. First, the mother's chemical body burden will be shared with her fetus or neonate, and the child is then likely to be exposed to larger doses relative to the body weight. Second, susceptibility to adverse effects is increased during development, from preconception through adolescence. Third, developmental exposures to toxicants can lead to life-long functional deficits and manifestations of increased disease risks.
Research into the environmental influence on developmental programming of health and disease has therefore led to a new paradigm of toxicologic understanding. The old paradigm, developed over four centuries ago by Paracelsus, was that "the dose makes the poison". However, for exposures sustained during early development, the most important issue is that "the timing makes the poison". This extended paradigm deserves wide attention to protect the fetus and child against preventable hazards.
Part of the new insight derives from numerous animal studies on fetal programming being responsible for reproductive, immunological, neurobehavioural, cardiovascular, and endocrine dysfunctions and diseases, as well as certain cancers and obesity. These adverse effects have been linked to chemical pollutants at realistic human exposure levels similar to those occurring from environmental sources. Among the mechanisms involved, particular concern is raised about changes in gene expression due to altered epigenetic marking, which may not only lead to increased susceptibility to diseases later in life, but the effects may also be passed on to subsequent generations. Most chronic disease processes are characterised by multi-causality and complexity. Understanding such processes requires a more holistic approach that focuses on systems and tissue biology.
Recommendations
** Studies on the etiology of human disease therefore need to incorporate early development and characterise appropriately the factors that determine organ functions and subsequent disease risks. Such associations can best be examined in long-term prospective studies, and existing and planned birth cohorts should be utilized for this purpose.
** Cross-disciplinary approaches and translation of animal data on exposure biomarkers and disease susceptibility need to be promoted for application in studies of the etiology of human disease. Communication and clarification of key concepts and terms needs to be stimulated between the scientific disciplines involved and between these scientists and policymakers.
Environmental chemical exposure assessment should emphasise the time period of early development. Exposure data already routinely collected need to be optimised for application in epidemiological studies. Cord blood, cord tissue, human milk and other biological samples can be applied for assessment of exposure biomarkers and for determination of gene expression changes.
Since humans are exposed to numerous chemicals during development and throughout life, mixed exposures need to be considered in a life- course approach to disease. Further, the interaction due to other life-style factors, such as intake of essential nutrients and societal environment, needs to be explored. This research should also involve the impact of genetic variation and genetic predisposition to disease.
** Toxicological tests and risk assessment of environmental chemicals need to take into account the susceptibility of early development and the long-term implications of adverse programming effects. Although test protocols exist to assess reproductive toxicity or developmental neurotoxicity, such tests are not routinely used, and the potential for such effects is therefore not necessarily considered in decisions on safety levels of environmental exposures.
The accumulated research evidence suggests that prevention efforts against toxic exposures to environmental chemicals should focus on protecting the fetus and small child as highly vulnerable populations. Given the ubiquitous exposure to many environmental toxicants, there needs to be renewed efforts to prevent harm. Such prevention should not await detailed evidence on individual hazards to be produced, because the delays in decision-making would then lead to propagation of toxic exposures and their long-term consequences. Current procedures therefore need to be revised to address the need to protect the most vulnerable life stages through greater use of precautionary approaches to exposure reduction.
Note: This statement has been developed by the International Scientific Committee of the conference, taking into account comments and suggestions from the conference participants. The statement (pending minor editorial revision) will be included in the conference proceedings.
Members of the International Scientific Committee
David Barker (UK) David Bellinger (USA) Ake Bergman (Sweden) Roberto Bertollini (WHO) Sylvaine Cordier (France) Terri Damstra (WHO) George Davey-Smith (UK) Erik Dybing (BCPT) Brenda Eskenazi (USA) David Gee (EEA) Kimberly Gray (NIEHS) Mark Hanson (UK) Peter van den Hazel (The Netherlands) Jerry Heindel (NIEHS) Birger Heinzow (Germany) Irva Hertz-Picciotto (USA) Howard Hu (USA) Terry Huang (NICHD) Tina Kold Jensen (Denmark) Philip J Landrigan (USA) Caroline McMillen (Australia) Katsuyuki Murata (Japan) Larry L Needham (USA) Sjúrður Olsen (Denmark) Beate Ritz (IARC) Greet Schoeters (Belgium) Niels E Skakkebæk (Denmark) Staffan Skerfving (Sweden)
Copyright 2006 by Thomas Steen Christensen

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pregnancy-Related Deaths on the Rise?: Forum | KQED Public Media for Northern CA

Pregnancy-Related Deaths on the Rise?: Forum | KQED Public Media for Northern CA
A significant article for young women came out today from California Watch- A Project for the Center of Investigative Reporting

http://californiawatch.org/health-and-welfare/more-women-dying-pregnancy-complications-state-holds-report


about maternal mortality in California. Dr Elliot Main, from CPMC in San Francisco, was the author and said that he posted information on his website about the study for the past year. This was a State funded study and has not been officially released yet.

http://www.cmqcc.org/maternal_mortality

And there was a fabulous interview on KQED Forum today by Michael Krasny (one of my heros), a full hour interviewing three truth-telling men -

-Aaron Caughey, associate professor at UCSF and director of the Center for Clinical and Policy Perinatal Research within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

- Elliot Main, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the California Pacific Medical Center, and principal investigator for the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative

- Nathanael Johnson, freelance journalist and author of the California Watch article on the study suggesting that maternal death rates have tripled in California over the last 10 years

and the quick take on this is that there are too many inductions of labor, which increases the likelihood of a c-section, which has a higher risk of morbidity and mortality for the mother, but exponentially increases at each subsequent c-section, because of the scarring of the mother's uterus. So there should be less first time c-sections.

There is a need for change in hospital birth practices to lessen first time c-sections, the report says. And on the KQED Forum one hour interview, other influences were also discussed: the higher payments for c-sections from insurance companies and the pressure to get a birth over with quickly as being more cost-effective for the hospital and staff.

But what rang true with me was the response to a nurse who called to say that women no longer believe in their capability to handle birth. And that the current culture supports speed, convenience and control, which is contrary to how birth unfolds.

EcoBirth wants to empower women to understand their capabilities- they need to tap into that fierce passion to protect their babies for themselves. Be strong, be fierce, be soft- all those things are possible.

Declaration of Interdependence for EcoBirth

Interview about Women's Congress for Future Generations