Four Local Birth Events in the next couple of weeks!

9/25/11 “Meet the Doulas Day” at Cradle, 3rd Floor of Thorne’s Market, 150 Main Street, Northampton MA, 2 pm.

9/30/11 Authors’ Reading from “Home/Birth: A Poemic” at Neilson Library, Smith College, Northampton MA, 7 pm.

10/1/11 Events at The Springfield Pulse Gallery, 11 Pearl Street, Suite 230, Springfield MA. 2-5 pm: Birth Art Exhibit; 7-9 pm: Screening of “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing” followed by a discussion with filmmaker Vicki Elson.

10/9/11 The Connecticut branch of the American College of Nurse Midwives is celebrating Midwifery Week in New Haven with workshops (CEU’s available) and a screening of “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing,” 11am-3pm. for registration and information.

“Childbirth Education Essentials” workshop in Northampton, MA USA

“Childbirth Education Essentials” workshop in Northampton, MA USA, November 19, 2011
This unique, intimate one-day workshop for childbirth professionals and students explores what expectant parents and their educators REALLY need to know about pregnancy, birth, cultural/media influences, fear-busting, baby-bonding, and raising healthy happy kids.  It’s an immersion in skill-building: teaching experientially, tailoring classes to specific populations, encouraging parents to cultivate deep responsibility, resisting commercial co-optation, and transforming institutions.  $150.
Participants may choose to complete the “Start Teaching” packet ($100, available at the workshop) to become Certified Childbirth Educators.  This is a very thorough but quick and inexpensive path to certification.  CEE is a small, grassroots program, and our CBE’s are encouraged to also explore larger organizations with more infrastructure.
The CEE workshop is offered in Massachusetts and California regularly, and around the world as requested.            
Childbirth anthropologist Vicki Elson, MA, CCE, CD has been a doula and childbirth educator in her diverse community for 28 years. For the past 19 years, she has been training childbirth educators for ALACE (Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators), Seattle Midwifery School, the Prison Birth Project, and the Massachusetts Midwives’ Alliance.  Her award-winning film, “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing” is shown in classrooms, community centers, conferences, and living rooms around the world.  Her second film, with the working title “What REALLY Works For Childbirth” is currently in production.
The intense experience of childbirth has the potential to change lives.  Vicki believes that gathering with neighbors in a live class is much more helpful than learning about birth from the internet or TV.  She is concerned about overuse of obstetrical interventions in some places, and about lack of access to needed interventions in others.  She is enthusiastic about distributing useful and accurate information AND easing information overload.  Her mission is to prevent trauma, cultivate love, empower women and parents, and have more fun.
More information can be found here at
Vicki Elson, MA, CCE

Hey World – Ignore Us!

My film is a success around the world — and that’s a problem! “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing” was made for North American audiences. But I get mail from Malaysia and Kenya and Kazakhstan, and it’s pretty relevant in those places too. The film includes 100 clips from U.S. TV shows and movies (plus a little Monty Python) contrasted with real births. The idea was for North Americans to see the contrast between the real, the fake, and the doctored “reality” shows, and make up their own minds about what reality they want to relate to. But we export our culture so globally that our overdramatized, undignified, and unrealistic birth images are everywhere. Message to the World: Please don’t trust Hollywood to teach you about your own most profound life and love events, your own body, your own capabilities. Ignore us!

Call for Participants

I’m making a new film (the first one is “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing,”  I’m looking for widely diverse interviewees — diverse not just in nationality, ethnicity, and class, but in experiences.   Moms who used every trick they learned in childbirth education class, and moms who made up their own coping methods spontaneously. Moms who loved/hated their epidural/cesarean/induction/analgesic.  Moms who got great/lousy care/support/respect.  Moms who had unnecessary interventions, necessary interventions, not enough interventions.  Moms who survived traumatic experiences or difficult outcomes.  Ecstatic moms.  Moms who learned something about themselves that they can carry throughout their lives. Teenagers, great-great-grandmas.  Births in hospitals, homes, birth centers, Volkswagens, gardens, refugee camps, elevators.


I’ve already filmed a mom of 6 boys, a homebirth mom of an 11-pounder, and a hilarious actress.  There are 100 survey responses so far. This is fun! I think the finished products (film plus website, maybe a book) will be extremely useful.


Please feel free to send interesting mamas (including yourself!) to my online/mail-in survey.  Go to, and click on “Be part of the next film.”  Thanks!


Vicki Elson, MA, CCE

Outstanding Resources


My films, script consultancy, and other stuff can be found here.

For links to my favorite online resources, books, and films, click here.





Quicker, easier, less expensive: Childbirth Educator Certification

Hello!  Want to become a certified childbirth educator, ready to teach prenatal classes?

Please visit this page!


One Day Workshop for Childbirth Professionals

Hello, fellow childbirth professional!

Please visit Childbirth Education Essentials.

What do you REALLY need to know about having a baby?


A one-page guide by Vicki Elson, MA, CCE,

Think of a time when you amazed yourself.

A time when you did something you didn’t think you could do.  Did you…

…climb a hill? move out? graduate? stand up for yourself? survive troubles?

Now, think about how you did that.  Did you…

…have somebody nice to support you?  take it one step at a time?  have faith?

just do it?  let instinct take over?  just keep breathing? cry and keep going?

find a rhythm?  laugh?  sing? repeat words to yourself?  invent a ritual?

soften your body?  take a walk?  take a shower or bath?  be gentle with yourself?

Whatever helped you then might be a clue to what will work for you in labor.

Even if you plan to have an epidural, it’s a very good idea to figure out some ways to relax your body and mind and cope with pain, because:

Even with an epidural, you still have to work to push the baby out.

You might not get the epidural as soon as you want it.

Sometimes epidurals don’t work.

Even if the epidural is perfect, coping skills are great for life…life with kids!

You might find that you don’t need an epidural after all (it includes an IV & bladder catheter, & possibly longer labor, staying in bed, & potential side effects.)

Pain in labor is normal & healthy, even if it’s a totally unfamiliar new experience.

It comes in waves, with brief peaks and then longer painless moments.

Unlike other kinds of pain, there’s nothing to fix…and you get a prize at the end!

The stronger it is, the better it’s working.  Stay curious about what’s happening.

Pain stimulates hormones that are good for labor and good for the baby.

You will discover – and remember – how strong and brave you really are.

Pain and suffering are not the same thing.

Pain is just physical sensation.  Flow with it.  Suffering comes from thoughts.

Suffering is thinking that it shouldn’t be how it is.

Suffering is worrying that it will get worse or go on forever.

Suffering is feeling guilty or blaming somebody.

For now, let your body be in charge of your mind.  Stay curious!

Plan on these things:

Eat excellent food: colorful vegetables, wholesome proteins, whole grains. Sugar, grease, & white bread taste good but don’t nourish you or your baby.

Choose midwives or doctors who respect you and your wishes for labor.

Bring a nice labor companion to support you: partner, friend, relative, doula.

In consultation with your care providers, try to avoid interventions when they are not medically necessary. Learn the risks and benefits of: inducing labor, IV, continuous electronic fetal monitoring, drugs for pain, epidural anesthesia, pitocin, amniotomy, episiotomy, cesarean.

Stay upright and moving around as much as you can throughout labor.

Pushing: Don’t lie on your back. Follow your body’s urge to push.

Keep your baby with you, skin to skin with blankets on top, and breastfeed.

Get lots of help and support after the baby is born, and always.

Enjoy your baby!  Unconditional love from parents is the gift that lasts forever.

See also: “What REALLY Works For Labor?” blog and project.

What Really Works for Labor? blog post

I keep trying to condense the most useful ideas into bite-size chunks for you.  Since this topic is the heart of childbirth education and labor support, I think about this a lot.  Below, there’s a little blog post.  I also made a one-page guide that covers what I consider to be the most essential things about pregnancy, birth, and parenting.  And my next film / book / website will combine the best research with the voices of moms — I hope it will be super-useful.  You can participate here!

Little blog post about labor:

If you do the little breathing and melting thing (see The Most Useful Thing Ever?) throughout your pregnancy, I promise that your pregnancy will be more fun. And maybe when you actually go into labor your body will say, “Oh, I know about this, I think I’ll melt,” in which case your shoulders won’t steal energy from your uterus, you won’t be so scared, and the pain and hard work of labor will be more tolerable or even welcome.

But in labor, just breathing and melting might not be adequate at all. While focusing on your breath does have a physiological relaxation effect, you’ll probably need several of these:

LOVE from the people around you

WATER like a shower or bath or even just thinking about that 3/4 of your body that is water and can therefore flow however it needs to

RHYTHM like walking, rocking, chanting, counting, bouncing on a physioball

DANCING which is actually great in labor, with a friend, with happy music

MASSAGE on your lower back, your feet, your head and face, your shoulders — tell them what you want!

WORDS you repeat in your head or out loud: “I’m doing it, I’m doing great,” “My body rocks,” “Yeah!” or “Run for the light, baby!”

LAUGHING at anything that strikes you silly

MEDICINES can help, but please make informed decisions about risks and benefits

I asked the world’s expert on labor, my daughter Jasmine, how she gave birth to an 11-pound baby without drugs. “I don’t know, Mom,” she said. “Oh, come on, you must knowsomething,” I persisted. “I don’t know, I just got into my animal place and did my work.” There you have it, from the mammal’s mouth: go feral, go wild, be as calm as your cat and as strong as a mama ox.

It would be cool if we just laid little eggs. It would be cool if we were like kangaroos, with babies less than an inch long that pop out and crawl up all by themselves into the pocket to nurse and finish growing outside their mamas’ bellies. It would even be cool if we were like nonhuman primates, whose pelvic bones don’t have to support walking upright, so their babies slip out more easily. But we’re still animals, and birth is not something we do with our brilliant minds, it’s something we do with our animal muscles and hormones and funny grunting noises. Roar!

See also

Vicki’s Manifesto: Radical? Or Normal?

This was my very first blog. It’s an adaptation of an article I submitted to a new radical childbirth publication called SQUAT. I love the name!

What do you think? Am I a radical? Are you? Or are we just working toward something sensible and equitable?

Some mamas get way too much intervention in childbirth, and others die from lack of access to medical care when it’s truly necessary. In such a world, we must ALL advocate for equitable, sensible, evidence-based care.

For some, radicalism means unassisted childbirth. I believe that this trend has a valuable sociological purpose — to remind us that most humans give birth just fine — but I’m concerned that some individuals may pay the ultimate price. In some cases, the presence of a qualified, well-trained midwife might make a life-or-death difference. And if, say, the umbilical cord precedes the baby, or the baby is stuck in a shoulder-first presentation, or the placenta is blocking the cervix, or the placenta detaches before the baby is born, cesarean section is essential for survival.

To me, “radicalism” means holding down the holistic end of the spectrum, questioning protocols that are not evidence-based, expanding knowledge about natural childbirth methods, and adding a huge dose of love, gentleness, and respect to the equation. I’ve met many people who share these values. Some were wearing vegan sandals and some were wearing white coats.

I’ve been a childbirth educator and doula since 1982, during which time the US cesarean section rate has skyrocketed. Everybody should know that in 1965 it was 4.5%, and now it’s 32% and climbing — without a corresponding improvement in outcomes.

In my work, radicalism means plugging away, year after year, educating pregnant people, forming alliances with holistic midwives, nurses, and doctors. It means offering doula and childbirth education services to everybody — whether they are richer, poorer, younger, older, straighter, queerer, single, partnered, or incarcerated. It means looking at the global picture, working to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

I have to say that statistically, it’s not going very well. Capitalism maintains health care inequities. Some things just don’t make sense — like insurance that pays for hospital birth but not home birth with qualified midwives, even though the latter is equally safe and vastly more cost-effective (and, in our family’s case, much more fun). Economic and time factors and the fear of malpractice lawsuits contribute to the cesarean problem. The ubiquity of interventions like continuous electronic fetal monitoring and epidural anesthesia contribute to the famous “cascade of interventions” scenario.

And there’s one other factor that must be addressed: culturally, we are afraid of childbirth. This is exacerbated by TV and movies. It turns out that more pregnant people watch “reality” childbirth shows than attend childbirth classes. In my work, I’ve seen a change over the years — as more and more people get their information from TV, they come to believe that birth is dangerous, fast, and undignified. They think that “normal” birth involves medical rescue, while natural birth is for hippies, weirdos, aliens, and old-timey pioneers.

That’s why I focused my master’s thesis (Anthropology, University of Massachusetts) on TV and movie birth scenes. Now that my radical little kids have grown into radical awesome adults (yes, I’m proud), I’ve had the energy to update that thesis and turn it into a film that’s being distributed all over the world: “Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing” (

Making the film, I didn’t just want to whine about how unrealistic and terrifying TV birth scenes are. I wanted to juxtapose them with scenes from empowering natural childbirth documentaries, partly to highlight how ridiculous TV is, partly to keep from reproducing the very thing I was complaining about, and mostly to offer viewers an inspiring antidote. The natural childbirth films I excerpted are all worth watching in their entirety, and I hope that viewers will seek them out.

There was a silver lining to looking at birth through the lens of mass media. Since it’s our shared popular culture, the film came out very accessible, and it’s hilarious. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

I’ve been amazed to find that people are showing the film in Uganda, Greece, India, Malaysia, Australia — apparently the US exports so much of its culture that its movies and TV shows are familiar all over the world.

I designed the film as a tool for pregnant people/partners, care providers, teachers of health, sex ed, and media literacy, and screenwriters who want to do a better job (check out our new resource for Hollywood called REEL CHILDBIRTH: Script Consultants Deliver The Facts).

Now that I’ve broken even on the project, I’ll be dropping the price and trying to get the word out there in cyberspace so that anyone who might find it useful will stumble across it. If anybody wants to review it, tell me where to send a review copy.

As antidotes to the culture of fear, I also recommend short films called “It’s My Body, My Baby, My Birth” and “Birth Day,” both available at the delightful websites and I recommend books by Ina May Gaskin, Penny Simkin, and The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

Keep an eye out for these: There’s a new film coming out called “No Woman No Cry,” about global maternal and infant health issues. Also the film “Babies” is fascinating. It’s about the lives of four babies in Mongolia, Japan, Namibia, and California.