Thursday 17 November 2011

Imagination Goes A Long Way

I took an early leave to prepare for my upcoming birth and to take extra time to bond with my firstborn.  Taking care of her when I am so heavy at 39 weeks is a challenge. I know toddler stage is probably the most active and explorative stage but believe me when I say she is extraordinarily active.  Family and friends who have been with her can attest to this.  Not that I am complaining, my pediatrician comforted us haggard parents that “an active body is a sign of an active mind”.

Unable to keep pace with her moving around so constantly, I employed the best arsenal I have – my colorful imagination.  Reading time with mommy makes her very excited.  She would quickly grab as many books as she could and sit comfortably on my lap.  Away we go to exciting jungles where lions and elephants roam the great expanse of Africa.  How Felix the fire truck saves the poor dog from a burning building or how Peter Rabbit narrowly escaped the wrath of Mr. McGregor!  Elaborate details, exaggerated sounds and body gestures would literally make her eyes open wide and she would exclaim “Oh no!” And from her expression, I can tell that she is in that wonderful magical place of fantasy.

I know recently that there is this trend to expose children or even babies to early academic training.  Emphasis is placed upon pushing them to learn ABC’s or count numbers at a very young age – and this age gets even younger as time goes by.   We are living in such a competitive world that we parents are afraid that if we don’t push them early enough, children might fall behind and not excel in school.  I would know. I tried flashcards and Baby Einstein videos (which by the way is being recalled for recent studies showing its ineffectiveness) as early as 6 months to ‘jumpstart’ her early learning.  I found out that nothing could be further from the truth.  Apparently, there is no scientific evidence that early academic training works.  In fact, children turn out to be more stressed and less creative.

In the book “Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten” by David Perlmutter, M.D. and Carol Colman, it expounds that, “the choice of early academic intervention, especially the kind of “drill and test” that are so popular today is the wrong approach.  Instead of building great brains, we are merely creating tape recorders that can regurgitate information but cannot synthesize it to come up with new ideas.  At a time when a child should be encouraged to be creative, which is the foundation for advanced thinking, many children are being loaded with facts.”

It goes on to say that, “any child can memorize his ABC’s or learn to count if he is drilled long and hard enough, but these are not effective brain-building activities.  Creativity is at the core of all problems, writing an essay, or designing a science project.  For example, if your child is confronted with a new challenge, such as a difficult math problem or a challenging essay, what does he need to succeed?  First, he must be comfortable with being in a novel and challenging situation.  This comfort level is fostered during the first five years by allowing children to explore challenging situations, engage in creative play, and learn that failure is an option.  In other words, it’s ok to take intellectual risks.   It all requires creativity.”

This is music to my ears. Fostering creativity is what I do for a living. Almost anything can be used as a prop for imaginative play.  In fact, the simpler the better and it can take us as far as our imagination goes.  A big empty box is especially our favorite.  It transforms from a hot air balloon, to a train, to an airplane and transports us to new exciting places.  Even our pretend play – from being a princess to a tiger, the hunt for what material to use and making them is in itself part of the creative process.

The versatile pillow case as a Queen's Cape or a Tiger's Tail

Just the other night, we had trouble putting her to bed as she was used to being carried and danced to sleep by her “yaya”.  Her dad was getting tired carrying her so I asked him to put her down.  As expected, she became fidgety, tossing, turning and wanting to go down the bed.   With Alfred starting to get exasperated, I quickly exclaimed to her, “Ava, tell Daddy what an exciting day you had!”  That got her attention and we both chimed in making heightened remarks like “Really?! You saw a squirrel climbing the tree?!  Was he looking for his mommy?” and so on.  We would make up stories and before we know it, she was off to dreamland.  Whew!

So all these heavily marketed learning paraphernalia and expensive electronic toys are not really necessary.  Aside from taking so much space in our tight living space, Ava gets bored with them so easily.  It is quite restricting too.  With creative play, I engage Ava to use her imagination and most importantly, to ask questions as these are sometimes more important than knowing the answers.  Albert Einstein did say that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Friday 11 November 2011

Real Reasons for Cesarean Sections?

Has the reproductive system of the 21st century woman suddenly malfunctioned?  Has it suddenly ceased to innately give natural birth?

How else can we account for the alarming increase of induced and caesarean births?  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for caesarean section rates fall between 5%-10% and yet WHO survey around the globe affirms C-section rates at ‘epidemic’ levels. 

  • Nearly half of all births in China are delivered by cesarean section, the world’s highest rate — a shift toward modernization that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
  • The WHO, which reviewed nearly 110,000 births across Asia in 2007-2008, found 27 percent were done under the knife. 
  • In the U.S., C-sections are at an all-time high of 31 percent. A government panel warned against elective C-sections in 2006.
  • In Latin America, C-section rates in all eight countries surveyed earlier by WHO were 30 percent or higher — similar to the U.S. rate.

These figures are very frightening for an expectant mom like me who wishes to give natural and gentle birth. Left and right, friends and loved ones end up birthing under the knife.  You hear the all too familiar reasons – fetal distress (which prompts one to wonder why babies too have forgotten how to be birthed), low amniotic fluid, going past due date, failure to progress, repeat cesarean births… reasons which are highly debatable in the first place.  Still, these don’t explain why such problems are so rampant nowadays.

These selection of books have given me so much confidence in natural birth.

I decided to dig deeper. I searched for books written by doctors themselves who validates the importance of natural birth from a medical point of view.  After having gathered sufficient knowledge straight from the horses’ mouth, I can, to a large extent, pin it down to two major factors:


Take the case of continuous use of external fetal monitoring (EFM), where two large straps are placed around the abdomen to detect baby’s heartbeat and uterine contractions, which has become standard practice. In The Birth Book by William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N., it asserts that “the problem with EFM is that what the monitor says and what’s going on with the baby are not necessary correlated. Not everyone is equally skilled at interpreting nor is there uniform agreement as to what the different patterns mean. Also, recent research suggests that damage to a baby’s brain (e.g. which later causes cerebral palsy) occurs mainly before labor begins and is usually not due to insufficient oxygen during final passage. Indeed, when EFM was introduced to hospital procedures, cesarean section rates doubled, yet babies did not turn out any better”.

Another device that found its way into standard obstetrical practice is the regular ultrasound check-up.  Although it is very useful for pregnancy with complications, it has, however, become an unlikely tool for grounds of labor induction and cesarean births on an otherwise healthy pregnancy. Responsible for determining estimated delivery date (EDD) and amniotic fluid level (AFL), it has largely contributed to the rampant induction of labor for supposedly overdue babies and low amniotic levels despite not being backed up by studies and statistics to necessitate such procedure.  What about scheduled cesarean sections for breech babies when there is still time the baby will turn?


Modern society’s notion is that the more we intervene, the better for the baby.  Doctors test, monitor, measure, and invade to try control every aspect of pregnancy and delivery.  Intervention then becomes an option if birth doesn’t go according to a predetermined timetable.

According to The Birth Book, fear of malpractice is a contributing factor to the cesarean epidemic.  If a doctor “did everything” including a section and the baby was still less perfect, the jury is less likely to find the doctor at fault.  In fact, obstetricians believe that number of surgical births will be cut into half if not for the legal consequences hanging over their heads. This succinctly explains the reputed phrase “the only cesarean I’ll be sued for is the one I don’t do”.

In the comprehensive and well researched book “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” by Sarah J. Buckley, M.D., many commentators have recognized a link between high cesarean rates and having obstetricians as primary birth attendant:

“There is a higher level of comfort that obstetricians feel with the risks associated with cesarean deliveries compared with those associated with vaginal deliveries. In contrast, low-technology models of care (midwifery, birth center, homebirth) are at least safe, involve fewer interventions, and have lower cesarean rates – typically below 10 percent”.

The combination of the ubiquitous use of technology and fear of “not intervening enough” is a powerful force behind the alarming rise of surgical births. As Dr Sears points out, if technology cries wolf, the ultimate question is what to do with the findings -is it just an unusual pattern or the baby is really in trouble?  Not wanting to take chances, the hospital path from delivery room to operating room becomes a road frequently traveled.

Technology is perhaps the greatest paradox of our modern lives. It has given us so much, yet it has also stripped us some valuable wisdom from our modest past. In the name of ‘extra precaution’, this has given way to routine tests, invasive technology and unnecessary interventions.  Never mind that for centuries babies were birthed in the safety of their homes and mothers trusted her instincts.  She felt connected and well attuned to her own body and baby, a time when women felt most empowered.

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