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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth - Chapter 2

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth by Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, R.N., Francie Hornstein, and Carol Downer
Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers
Illustrations by Suzann Gage

Full Book AVAILABLE online for FREE

PDF of Chapter 2: Available ONLINE for FREE

Chapter 2: First, You Have To Get Pregnant



Subjective Signs

Many women experience
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
Some women experience
  • Breast enlargement
  • More frequent urination
  • Weight gain
  • Sensitivity to certain tastes or odors
  • Cravings for or ability to eat only certain foods
  • Changes in the appetite

Uterine Signs

  • Missed menstrual period (for most women)
  • Softer uterus
  • Enlargement of the uterus
7 weeks of pregnancy - the size of a lemon
9 weeks of pregnancy - the size of an orange
12 weeks of pregnancy - the size of a grapefruit

Cervical Signs

  • Change of color to a deeper red or bluish-purplish
  • Softer cervix
  • The os is more open than usual


Cervical Examination

    Looking at the cervix provides valuable information in pregnancy detection and is usually included as part of an examination by a physician or health worker.  It is even more useful for a woman to look at her own cervix if she has done self-examination before and is familiar with the appearance of her cervix when she is not pregnant.  Many women notice changes in their cervices by comparing what they see to the way it usually looks.  A darkening in color to a deeper red or bluish-purplish color is characteristic of pregnancy.  This is caused by the increased blood supply to the cervix and uterus.  This color change can occur within days after conception or, in some women, it doesn't become apparent until she is several months pregnant.  When a woman is several weeks pregnant, the cervix is softer and the os is more open than usual. 

Uterine Size Check

    Feeling an increase in the size of the uterus can be another indicator of pregnancy.  Since it is very difficult for a woman to feel her own uterus, this examination is usually done by a friend in a Self-Help group, a health worker or a physician.  A uterine size check or pelvic examination provides more specific information about the length of a pregnancy than looking at the cervix or a chemical pregnancy test does.  And experienced examiner will be able to tell with reasonable accuracy (within one to two weeks), how many weeks pregnant a woman is by the size of her uterus.  For example, the uterus is about the size of a large, unshelled walnut or a plum if a woman is not pregnant.  The uterus of a woman who is about seven weeks pregnant is about the size of a lemon; nine weeks, the size of an orange; and 12 weeks about the size of a grapefruit. Making the comparison of uterine size to fruit sizes is helpful for training women in Self-Help Clinics, health workers and physicians.  It is also valuable for graphically explaining to women about the increase in uterine size in early pregnancy. 

    If a woman has participated in a Self-Help group together to feel the size of her uterus and report if it feels softer or larger than it previously did.

    The length of time since the union of sperm and egg is usually measured from the first day of a woman's last menstrual period.  This is done for uniformity since many women do not know exactly when they became pregnant.  In fact, even when women know the exact date that they became pregnant, physicians still measure Gestation from the first day of the last normal menstrual period (LNPM).  The actual size of a woman's uterus is used less often by physicians.

    Any one subjective sign or observable characteristic of a woman's cervix and uterus is usually not enough for her to conclude that she is pregnant.  More often, it is a combination of these factors together with the knowledge that she was exposed to sperm at a time in her cycle when it was likely that she had ovulated.  However, some women have such regular menstrual periods that a matter of a few days of delay of their periods signals a sure sign of pregnancy to them.

    There are situations in which women find it difficult to determine whether or not they are pregnant.  Women who have irregular periods, who are under great stress, women who are nearing menopause, women who have recently stopped taking the Pill, or women who have signs of pregnancy often have difficulty in determining pregnancy without the help of a chemical test.  Occasionally, a woman has some bleeding around the time of her expected period when she is actually in the early part of her pregnancy.  Many a woman mistakes this for her regular period, especially if she has no other indication that she is pregnant.  Usually, this bleeding is different from a normal period; sometimes there is a lighter flow or the flow does not last as long as a regular period.  Also, having these episodes of bleeding can cause women or their physicians to think they have not been pregnant as long as they have been.  In these instances, having a uterine size check is particularly important. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

ABORTION DINNER by Shodhini Institute - DONATE!

Shodhini Institute is honored to HOST
The 1st Annual
Friday, December 7, 2012


THIS ABORTION DINNER will HONOR 30 plus WOMYN who have experienced ABORTION.  It will be a space for WOMYN to share their stories and FREE OURSELVES from the encounter of shame and stigma and allowing each other and ourselves to FULLY EXPRESS our own complex and unique experiences in order to facilitate healing.

As it stands now, women seeking abortion care must walk through crowds of protestors; abortion providers fear for their safety; states are passing laws to make women seeking abortions go through waiting periods, obtain parental or judicial permission, or view photos of aborted fetuses; politicians vote against women's reproductive rights. 

We can turn this situation around if we talk to each other, privately and publicly about our experience with abortion. 

At THIS ABORTION DINNER we are gathering to share OUR ABORTION STORIES over a lovely meal.  It's about time we get together, speak our truths and support each other.  We are reclaiming our bodies and our right to be free of shame and guilt!...And replacing it with sisterhood and collective action.  Shodhini Institute wants this ABORTION DINNER to be the beginning of a national campaign.


Our estimates are $30* per attendee.  But, whatever amount you contribute will make YOU a part of this HISTORIC ABORTION DINNER.

Donate* HERE or HERE

* THANK YOU gifts for $30 donation: A HEATHER AULT (print) greeting card and an "Abortion Speak Out Kit"

If you are unable to contribute, here are some quick actions to take online
  • Post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and any other social-networking site(s).
  • Post on your BLOG: Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Weebly, etc.
  • Post on your Website 

    "When hundreds of thousands of us start sharing our stories with friends and relatives, the cumulative effect of our honesty will be like the sun coming out from the clouds."
-Carol Downer

We are The Shodhini Institute that empowers and educates feminist women, Masculine of Center womyn, transmen, and gender non-conforming individuals about radical health and sex education with a holistic self-help foundation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth - Chapter 2

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth by Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, R.N., Francie Hornstein, and Carol Downer
Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers
Illustrations by Suzann Gage

Full Book AVAILABLE online for FREE

PDF of Chapter 2: Available ONLINE for FREE

Chapter 2: First, You Have To Get Pregnant


Determination of Pregnancy 


Many women are able to determine pregnancy in themselves without the aid of a health worker, physician, or any chemical tests for pregnancy.  Even women who are quite sure often visit a clinic or physician for confirmation, but it is not uncommon for women to feel that the test is only a formality since they are certain that they are pregnant.  Diagnosis of pregnancy is, after all, nothing more than a conclusion based on taking note of a woman's history and any physical sign and changes she has, sometimes with the aid of a chemical pregnancy test.

Traditionally, physicians rely on objective measurements such as feeling the size of the uterus, using chemical pregnancy tests or listening to the fetal heartbeat.  Brigitte Jordan, in an article entitled "The Self-Diagnosis of Early Pregnancy: An Investigation of Lay Competence," (1) has documented the value of women using subjective signs to determine pregnancy.  Out of 28 women in Jordan's study, none of whom had any objective (medically acceptable) evidence that they were pregnant, nearly one-half knew they were pregnant before they had missed a period and 44% were convinced that they were pregnant before the time when a commonly used urine pregnancy test would have been accurate.  All were correct except one woman who turned out to be getting injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) for weight reduction and had feelings of pregnancy from the drug.  Jordan believes, "It can be concluded that the women in this sample were able to make a diagnosis of pregnancy earlier and with greater accuracy than is possible in a physician's office."

Making a determination of pregnancy can be more or less difficult, depending on whether a woman has any changes in how she feels of the way her body looks; or whether or not she has been pregnant before; or whether or not she menstruates regularly.  The likelihood of pregnancy depends on at what point in a woman's cycle she was exposed to sperm and whether or not she was using birth control at the times.

Some women notice subjective signs within a short time after becoming pregnant.  These signs are extremely valuable in determining pregnancy, both for the woman herself, and for her health worker or physician.  The signs are many and varied and a woman may have all, some or none of them.  Health workers have reported that the most common signs experienced by women in early pregnancy are breast tenderness, nausea, and fatigue.  Other subjective signs of pregnancy described by women include breast enlargement, frequent urination, weight gain, sensitivity to certain tastes or odors, and cravings for or ability to eat only certain foods.  Also, some women have noticed changes in their appetites, finding that they eat more or less food than usual.
Looking back, the first sign of pregnancy I had was when I fainted at the office.  I attributed the fainting to not having eaten breakfast and then eating a sweet pastry and drinking coffee.  Later I noticed I gagged if I walked into a room where someone was drinking coffee.  I spent a Sunday making vichyssoise and when I brought it to the table and lifted my spoon out of the bowl, I had to leave.  At this point I knew none of this was psychological.  My breasts, which are quite small, grew more than I ever thought possible.  So it was no surprise when I didn't get my period on schedule.  I estimate that I started getting signs of pregnancy about a week to ten days after getting pregnant.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



BIRTH Trailer

BIRTH is a brand new documentary feature film by award-winning filmmaker Christopher Carson and best-selling childbirth author/teacher Suzanne Arms. This film is narrated by actress Carrie-Anne Moss, the mother of three children.

BIRTH features interviews with some of the most notable and leading edge practitioners, researchers and educators in the fields of pregnancy, childbirth, maternal-newborn care, women's health, breastfeeding, birth trauma, brain science and obstetric and neonatal practices.

BIRTH examines the midwifery model of childbirth and the medical obstetrical model of childbirth and compares the two models for levels of safety, cost, quality of care as well as immediate and long-term effects on our children and our families.

BIRTH features interviews and footage of mothers who have had a wide variety of birth experiences in hospitals, in birth centers, and their homes.  It also includes births in water, birth in the squatting position and even a birth in the ocean.

Suzanne Arms: "...Whatever amount you give makes you part of this ground-breaking hard-hitting show to transform how we bring babies into the world and care for each birthing woman."


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Doctors called midwives "untrained and dirty" on "60 Minutes"

YouTube Title: Gates Foundation: Giving A Fortune Away
Time: 13 minute segment
Date Aired: October 2010

"...It found that, by tradition, childbirth is considered unclean here. Babies are often left on dirt floors, uncovered, while the mother is tended to first. The foundation tested solutions, trained health care workers to use sterilized tools and taught the mothers to keep the babies warm; simple, inexpensive ideas that have reduced deaths here by half..."

Doctor's traditional way of eliminating independent midwifery, has been to call midwives untrained and dirty. Melinda and Bill Gates blame the high infancy death rate in India on midwives not sterilizing their instruments and leaving newborn babies on the dirt floor, because birth is "dirty".

The Gates new $1.5 billion program seeks to create millions of midwives, but under whose control will these midwives be? And how many babies will be "risked out" to go to hospitals to get high-tech medical care which generally ends up being C-sections or episiotomies and bottle-fed infants. See this 12 minute interview with Melinda Gates to witness this vicious attack on midwives--blaming them for the high death rate--not extreme poverty, and patriarchal oppression.

Gates Foundation: Giving A Fortune Away

Video Transcript:

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): The north of India, where it is a short drive from the big city to the Middle Ages. In the countryside of India`s most crowded state, Uttar Pradesh, often, food is scarce, electricity nonexistent, women and infants die in childbirth, and medicine remains in the realm of superstition. It`s exactly what Melinda Gates is looking for-- a neglected crisis where her investment can save the most lives.

MELINDA GATES: Our belief is that all lives, no matter where they`re lived on the globe, have equal value, all lives.

SCOTT PELLEY: What are you global priorities?

MELINDA GATES: HIV/AIDS, malaria, mother-and-child deaths, in that order.

SCOTT PELLEY: Why those?

MELINDA GATES: When you looked at where the largest number of deaths were on the planet, they were from things like AIDS, malaria, and these childhood deaths. And nobody was giving voice to them. And no one was really tackling them. So, we said systematically, "Those are places that we want to go and work."

What kind of decisions have you all made that have impacted the village?

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): It might be occurring to you right about now that you haven`t seen the world`s richest woman before. She`s not the type to stand on a red carpet with million-dollar earrings. Melinda Gates, forty- six years old from Dallas, is a former Microsoft executive who managed eight hundred people in software development and marketing. Now, the work of the foundation is her obsession. This isn`t a photo-op. In fact, it took us a year to convince her to let us come along. She travels often, probing for facts, analyzing needs, measuring the misery.

MELINDA GATES: I have to be here. To see it, and to feel it, and to understand, you know, what motivates these people. What is it that they`re doing for their livelihood? Unless I see it and feel it and touch it, I just don`t feel like I can do the foundation justice in terms of what we`re trying to accomplish.

Oh, she`s gorgeous.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): What she`s trying to accomplish here is saving lives at birth. In India alone, one million babies die every year before they`re a month old.

Because I wonder which ladies in this audience have lost a child shortly after childbirth? Oh, look at that. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. It`s a common experience in this village.

(voiceover) This is a great example of exactly how the foundation works. The foundation poured money into research to understand the problem. It found that, by tradition, childbirth is considered unclean here. Babies are often left on dirt floors, uncovered, while the mother is tended to first. The foundation tested solutions, trained health care workers to use sterilized tools and taught the mothers to keep the babies warm; simple, inexpensive ideas that have reduced deaths here by half. Part of the foundation`s strategy is to team up with governments and other charities to make the money go farther and spread the best ideas.

MELINDA GATES: These deaths of children under five have come down substantially; 1960 it was twenty million children under the age of five that died. Now it`s nine million children. That`s still too many.


MELINDA GATES: A year. Every year, nine million children die. We can get that down.

And as for those other priorities she mentioned, the foundation is working on a vaccine for HIV and nothing less than the eradication of malaria and polio, taking on everything at once.

MELINDA GATES: Part of what you`re doing--

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): Melinda Gates is analytical and driven, not unlike her husband. She likes hard facts, strict accounting, and expects everyone around her to measure up--very much the CEO.

MELINDA GATES: What has been the thing that women are most reluctant to change?

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): She talks about spending a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you realize that billionaire philanthropists aren`t like you and me. There was a funny moment when she was going through some of the figures and in an uncharacteristic slip she said she`d pledged one billion to vaccines when it`s actually ten billion.

You know, it just occurred to me you had misplaced nine billion dollars. Now, I misplace change at the end of the day. But you had actually forgotten about nine billion dollars.

MELINDA GATES: I think I missed a zero in there.

SCOTT PELLEY: Most people would remember that kind of a number.

MELINDA GATES: You know, I-- for me, I think more about the possibility of what it is we`re trying to change. So, if I have to go around the health statistics in the world, I don`t tend to get those wrong. But the amount of dollars we put in, I am always more focused on what`s the result we`re going to get, no matter how much money we`ve put into the issue.

SCOTT PELLEY: Now I`m from Texas too, so I can say this: You don`t wear your wealth like a Dallas gal. You don`t seem to be a big consumer of jewelry and cosmetics.

MELINDA GATES: I don`t find great joy in those things. I find much more joy in connecting with people. I`m much more at home being what I call out on the ground, doing this work. And for me, that`s where I find meaning. I don`t find meaning in-- in material things.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): This village had nothing material to give but music.

You know it`s a long way from Microsoft.

MELINDA GATES: I like this a whole lot better.


(voiceover) Seven thousand miles away, back home in Seattle, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is building its new headquarters. There are eight hundred and fifty employees figuring out which science or development projects are worthy. And listen to what they have spent already: four and a half billion for vaccines; almost two billion for scholarships in America; and a billion and a half to improve farming in Africa and Asia, just to name a few. The foundation`s wealth ranks up there with America`s biggest companies, just behind McDonald`s and ahead of Boeing.

Boy, his and hers offices. I`m not sure a lot of marriages would survive this.

BILL GATES: Oh, it works out great.

MELINDA GATES: We actually like it a lot.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): The Gates live in a secluded hi-tech mansion with three children. This is an early picture. The kids are now eight, eleven, and fourteen. Bill and Melinda met at a Microsoft meeting twenty-three years ago.

What did you think? I mean, it`s not everyday a girl gets asked out by the richest man in the world?

MELINDA GATES: Oh, no, it wasn`t that, it was that I didn`t think it was a very good idea to date the CEO of the company.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): It was back in 1993 on a vacation in Africa that they began to think about giving away their money.

BILL GATES: Well, if you have money, what are you going to do with it? You can spend it on yourself, you can have, you know, thousands of people holding fans and cooling you off. You can build pyramids and things. You know, I sometimes order two cheeseburgers instead of one. But we-- we didn`t have any consumption ideas. And if you don`t think it`s a favor to your kids to have them start with-- with gigantic wealth, then you`ve got to pick a cause.

SCOTT PELLEY: You don`t consider it to be a favor to your kids?

MELINDA GATES: No, absolutely not. We think--

SCOTT PELLEY: To give them enormous wealth?

MELINDA GATES: No, they should go on to pursue whatever it is they want to do in life and not feel cheated by that by being given something, given a whole lot of wealth. They would-- they would never go out and figure out who they are and what their potential is.

SCOTT PELLEY: Have you talked to them about this? Have you said, look, we`re going to give most of this way?

MELINDA GATES: Absolutely.

SCOTT PELLEY: And they`re okay with giving the money away.

MELINDA GATES: They are okay with it.

BILL GATES: Yes, they reach different ages, they may ask us again, "Tell me again, What? Why?"

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): The Gates` kids will still be massively wealthy. But their parents have already given roughly thirty billion to the foundation and they told us they`ll give ninety percent of their money away. Add to that the contribution of the Gates` close friend, Warren Buffett, who has committed another thirty billion to the foundation. This past summer, the Gates and Buffett challenged billionaires to give half of their wealth to the charity of their choice. So far forty have signed the pledge.

The foundation, you, have made certain choices about what you`re going to fund. And some people might ask, "Why not drop thirty billion dollars on a cure for cancer," for example?

BILL GATES: Well, there`s a huge market for cancer drugs. And there`s dozens of pharmaceutical companies that spend tens of billions on those drugs. In malaria, when we announced a grant for fifty million, we became the biggest private funders. And so, the fact that it kills over million children a year and yet has almost no money given to it, you know, that struck us as-- as very strange. But it became the thing we saw, "Okay, this will be unique. We`ll take the diseases of the poor, where there`s no market and we`ll get the best scientists working on those diseases."

SCOTT PELLEY: You`re trying to find the places where the money will have the most leverage, how you can save the most lives for the dollar, so to speak.

BILL GATES: Right. And transform the societies.

WOMAN: Good morning.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): Another society they want to transform is America`s, particularly through the schools. They have pledged nearly one quarter of all the foundation money to American students. And we followed Melinda to the Friendship Collegiate Academy High School in Washington, DC.

I wonder what you think is the most alarming thing about American education?

MELINDA GATES: I think it`s most alarming that we`re only preparing a third of the kids to go on to college. That`s a frightening thing for our democracy to say a third of kids are prepared to go.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): If only a third of high school seniors are academically prepared to go to college, the Gates believe that a revolution in teaching can go a long way to pushing that up to their goal of eighty percent. They`re funding research to figure out what makes great teachers great.

MELINDA GATES: Do you feel like you`re prepared? That you could go on and succeed in college?

CHILDREN (in unison): Yes.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): The foundation is at work in schools in nearly all fifty states. Sort of like "national parents," Bill and Melinda Gates have helped pay college tuition for twenty thousand American kids.

BILL GATES: The country is built on ingenuity. It`s built on having lots of very well-educated people. And if you were from a poor family, how are you going to be break out of that? Well, education is the only way. Education is the thing that twenty years from now, will determine if this country is as strong and as just as it wants to be.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): One of the boldest efforts of the foundation is unfolding in the slums that we visited in Delhi, an attempt to eradicate polio. No one in America has seen this since the 1960s. We found, in a Delhi hospital, a polio ward full of paralyzed children.

MAN: This young boy, Sahil. He is ten years old. Sahil has got paralysis of one side of his body, one leg. See what he`s doing, he`s trying his best, he`s bringing his hand, but he cannot move his leg.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): In a country where water often runs next to sewage, the virus, which is spread through human waste, finds new victims. Polio has been cornered to just four countries on Earth, so the Gates have teamed with Rotary International to bang on every door to find the last child who hasn`t tasted the vaccine.

Do you believe you can do that, actually eradicate the virus from the face of the Earth?

MELINDA GATES: It`s been done with smallpox. And that`s what gives us the hope and the belief.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): While in India, we were invited to a ceremony that every new mother prays for. Because so many newborns die, they`re not given names right away. This family had waited a week to bring their daughter into the light and name her "Durga," which means "Invincible." It was during the ceremony that we saw what it was that has moved a no- nonsense executive to give away her fortune.

MELINDA GATES: Can I hold her? Oh.

SCOTT PELLEY (voiceover): Durga`s first blessing was from the sun. Then she received a second, a future free of polio.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cervical Self-Exam and Fertility Awareness to Burning Man 2012!


What an inspiring and successful week at Burning Man! Here’s the report back:

Dressed in various incarnations of the Super Shero costume (depending on weather), I approached women and nearby men and struck up conversations about cervices, women’s sexual anatomy, fertility awareness, self-exam, and sexuality. I had long, in-depth question and answer sessions that broached a lot of material. I gave elaborate self-exam tutorials, with laminated photo instructions and model pelvis demos. And sometimes, I just gifted the self-exam kit, like a yoni-fairy flittering by dropping empowerment seeds into the open hands of lucky women.

Gifting a self-exam kit…
The reactions to this offering ranged from polite rejection to huge hugs, awkward giggling to photo ops, excited interest to tears of gratitude. One woman even said it was her favorite thing she’d experienced at Burning Man!

I pedaled around with the cervix mobile bike trailer stocked full of kits and clipped the laminated 'Entire Cycle' book to it so folks could look through it when I was parked somewhere. I danced in costume and prayed at the temple for the health of our bodies and spirits. It felt so satisfying to share resources and knowledge! Many people commented that they were glad education was being integrated into the Fertility theme of the event.

Speculum Power!
I was surprised how many of the women answered “Yes” when I asked them if they’d seen their cervix, and I am grateful to our feminist foremothers and progressive practitioners who are getting out the mirrors during pap smears. That being said, I encountered many women who didn’t even know exactly what their cervix was or that you can’t just see it from putting a mirror between your legs.

There are a few leftover kits, which I will send to women who contact me through

I feel so grateful for your support and encouragement and I know the women who received these kits are as well. Thank you for being part of this empowerment ripple effect!


My Super Shero sidekick, Amy, and I riding in the Critical Tits Parade, where 4000 women ride topless, celebrating their bodies exactly as they are! We gave out many kits that day to women eager to get to know themselves on a deeper level.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shodhini Institute Fundraiser

The Shodhini Institute is a radical international movement comprised of individuals that are questioning and re-envisioning the way we understand our bodies, health, and how we interact with the world within the framework of self-help. 

"Shodhini' is Sanskrit for female researcher. We are inspired by the Shodhini's of India who wrote the book 'Touch Me, Touch Me Not.' We are a growing network of healers, bodyworkers, transmen, masculine of center womyn, doulas, midwives, nutritionists, yoginis, scholars and sheroes out to revolutionize the face of Western medicine regarding our bodies, minds, and spirits. Join us!"

Shodhini is currently fundraising to create a website that will provide information on their workshops, Shodhinis and radical self-help = $75 (5 Years).  Also, Shodhini wants to sell "Self-Exam" kits on their current BIG CARTEL account = $120 (1 year).  In the last chip in campaign Shodhini made $40. Therefore the total price is $195 - $40 = $155

By donating, you will be entered into a gift raffle.  So, if you support the work of Self-Help/Self-Examination; please donate.  Their fundraising goal is $155 and the last day to donate is December 30th.

To Donate:


Other helpful Shodhini links:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Birthing Our Babies!


It's been over a year since this project began and Carol Downer has attended a lot of workshops, conferences, and met many incredible people.  This webpage is for all who have contributed their thoughts, energy, and criticisms; and it is also a celebration of the amazing work done by those in the past - including the sometimes under appreciated work of the Feminist Women's Health Centers.

Women's Health in Women's Hands decided to include a full PDF version of the Feminist Classic "Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth" by Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, R.N., Francie Hornstein, and Carol Downer - Illustrations by Suzann Gage.  It is now available for anybody to read and share with others.  And as stated on the webpage: "Although the books information is correct - over the interfering years, doctors have invented new technology and have found other reasons to promote intervention that need to be carefully evaluated by the woman; and we are contemplating adding new information.  We appreciate any input you may have - we will be working on a version of this book that can be edited...So please let us hear from you!"

For all who think and know that having people 'choose their birth attendant and the place to give birth' is essential:
And make sure to keep posted - because there is more to come.

Women's Health in Women's Hands

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


What's the right wing's real agenda? Rick Santorum says it so well...
by Carol Downer

What's the right wing's real agenda? Rick Santorum says it so well...


What is the women's agenda? Let's tell it to Rick Santorum and all his buddies.

We have the right to sex with the partner or partners of our choice -- or not to have sex at all -- even if we're married.

We have the right to marry whomever we wish.

We have the right to have children or not to have children -- and if we do have children we have a right to expect our whole society to help in the raising of our children.

We have the right to birth control if we want to use it, or we have the right to an abortion if we become pregnant without wanting to be.

If we have a child, we have the right to choose the manner of our birthing, including home, birth center or hospital, and we have the right to choose who will be at our birthing.


by Carol Downer

First, they arrested the prostitutes and took them "off the streets".  We did nothing, because we were not prostitutes.

Next, they took away federal funds to pay for poor women's abortion.  We did nothing, because we were able to pay for our abortions.

Next, they bombed the abortion providers.  We did nothing, because we didn't like them anyway, and talking about the whole issue made us uncomfortable.

Next, they outlawed birth control.  We could do nothing, because --

We had not defended each woman's right to control her own body, including charging for sex if she wants to.

We had not stuck up for those of us who couldn't afford an abortion.

We didn't honor and protect the abortion provider's who make "choice" a reality 

"I'm excited to 'speak out' against this stepped up war on women.  Hope to see lots of us there." - Carol Downer

Los Angeles, CA
Downtown: Pershing Square, North side
532 Olive Street
Los Angeles, CA
10:00 a.m to 3:30 p.m. (includes March around Pershing)

More info/locations:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RESPONSE TO Darby Mangen's article "End Birth Control? Not if We Can Help It!"

(Response by Carol Downer follows Darby Mangen's article)

End Birth Control? Not if We Can Help It! ... Darby Mangen
Nineteen-year-old Lori looked at me incredulously. “What do you mean, make birth control illegal?” Yet it has become abundantly clear in the fast-moving developments of recent weeks that Republicans would like to do exactly that.

Unthinkable? Until recently, only the lunatic fringe talked seriously about it. Suddenly it has become a legitimate topic of debate — a right women are being forced to defend once again.

Next Front in the War on Women: “No” to Prenatal Testing
Rick Santorum has long opposed
contraception and has pledged to preach about “the dangers of contraception in this country,” if elected president. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” he has said. The former Pennsylvania senator has also claimed that states should have the right to outlaw birth control. At the February convention of CPAC, Santorum took the position that insurance shouldn’t cover birth control because it “only costs a few dollars.”

Republicans have taken up the cause, under the guise of “religious freedom.” Leader of the Senate, vowed to not to let the birth control issue drop until they (the anti-birth control faction) wins.

Now Santorum has added prenatal testing to his list of unacceptable practices. “The government shouldn’t make health care providers fully cover prenatal tests like amniocentesis, which can determine the possibility of Down syndrome or other fetal problems,” said Santorum, who contends the law is intended to increase abortions and reduce health costs — totally brushing off the benefits to women and fetuses offered by prenatal testing and care.

Republican Fight to Control Women Approaching the Orwellian
Women Must Submit to State-Mandated Rape

The Virginia state legislature has passed a law, which Governor McDonnell is expected to sign, requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before being allowed to terminate a pregnancy. The woman must undergo a medically unnecessary procedure, which penetrates her vagina, without her consent and against her will.

Rape, as redefined by the FBI just last month, is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The legislature made it clear that this requirement is a purely punitive measure when it voted down, by a huge majority, an amendment proposed by a Democrat that would have provided the option, in some cases, of a non-invasive ultrasound. A similar law in Texas has been upheld by its State Supreme Court. The Iowa House is likely to pass a forced ultrasound bill, though the Democratically-controlled Senate will prevent its passage there.

A similar law in Texas has been upheld by its State Supreme Court. The Iowa House is likely to pass a forced ultrasound bill, though the Democratically-controlled Senate will prevent its passage there.

Response by Carol Downer
Hi Darby: I have a comment about your lead article re attacks on birth control. It's good, but I think 19-year-old Lori's reaction to hearing that the right wing wants to make birth control illegal shows me that our "pro-choice" movement has let them set the terms of the debate.

The attack on birth control should not have surprised anyone if they had a clear understanding of the basis for the attack on abortion. It shows me how effective the right wing anti-choice movement has succeeded in making people think that they are concerned about "the sanctity of life" or repelled by the regrettable necessity in the small percentage of later abortion of macerating the fetus. In fact, their strategy is, and always has been, to undermine women's ability to control their own sexuality and their own reproductive lives. The attack on abortion is an opportunistic tactical move to hide their real agenda by exploiting the uneasiness that many people feel about abortion, especially later abortion.

We who are fighting for women's rights to control their sexual and reproductive lives must constantly expose the real agenda of the right wing. Santorum states it in unmistakable language, "it's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." It's that simple and that profound.

Once you understand their agenda, it's clear that our agenda has to include women's rights to have sex with the partner of her choice, or not to have sex, even if she is married. If a woman chooses to marry, she has to right to marry the partner of her choice; if a woman chooses to have a child, it is her right to dictate the manner of her birthing, including birth center or home birth. If a woman of any age who has passed puberty, chooses to use birth control, it is her right to have access to all methods of birth control. If she chooses not to use birth control or her method of birth control fails, she has a right to an abortion. Just as the patriarchy's broad aim is to subject women to their rule, our aim must be to liberate women, and frame our political strategy in equally broad terms.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Abortion Speak Out Campaign

January 22nd marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As it stands now, women seeking abortion care must walk through crowds of protestors; abortion providers fear for their safety; states are passing laws to make women seeking abortions go through waiting periods, obtain parental or judicial permission, or view photos of aborted fetuses; politicians vote against women's reproductive rights.

We can turn this situation around if we talk to each other, privately and publicly about our experience with abortion – removing the secrecy and stigma and replacing it with sisterhood and collective action.

This year, if you are planning a campus event, discussion group, fundraiser, or sharing a meal with friends and/or family share your abortion story. Or if this post inspires you to have a Roe v. Wade ‘event’ – plan to share abortion stories. Sharing our stories not only helps us to integrate our abortion experience into our lives, but also informs others of the reality of abortion and lets other women know they're not alone.

When hundreds of thousands of us start sharing our stories with friends and relatives, the cumulative effect of our honesty will be like the sun coming out of the clouds

Take a moment to read WHWH Abortion Speak Out Kit; look through the material. Its intent is to be a guide for organizations or individuals who express interest to create a 'safe-space' where people can share their abortion stories.

Encouraging Suggestions:
(1) Host an Abortion Speak Out - Over the past year, organizations held over six different Abortion Speak Outs throughout the country; from the 2010 N.O.W. Conference (Boston, MA) to “Open Mic Speak Outs" in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.

(2) Post the Abortion Speak Out Palm Card (at school, work, etc.) - A prescreened list of pro choice websites, where women can share their stories and read other women's stories (i.e. 45 Million Voices, I’mNotSorry, Project Voice, etc); to prevent people from going onto FAKE clinics websites. For copies print p. 7 of the speak out kit.

(3) Host an “Abortion Speak Out” Conversation Night – invite friends and family for a potluck dinner and share frank and honest opinions surrounding abortion. References: Abortion Diaries by Penny Lane and My Abortion, My Life Conversation Night.

(4) Your Suggestions and Ideas - As emphasized before, the kit is only a guideline (don't let it hinder your creativity). Please keep us informed of any creative outlet this kit provides.

- Women’s Health in Women’s Hands

Recommended Read: As Access Slides, Feminists Need to "Extract" From Our Self-Help Past by Carol Downer

Thursday, January 12, 2012

As Access Slides, Feminists Need to "Extract" From Our Self-Help Past

[Originally published in On The Issues Magazine]
by Carol Downer

If working in the abortion movement for over 40 years qualifies me to gaze into my crystal ball to see the future for abortion rights in the United States, here goes.

Prediction Number One: I see the Supreme Court continuing to interpret Roe v. Wade in a way that will make abortion, especially later abortion, more expensive, less convenient to access and more humiliating, but I do not see the court reversing Roe v. Wade outright. I see clinics closing down due to restrictive regulations and lack of doctors, especially in areas far from an urban center. This lack of access will mostly affect young women and poor women of color. But, as was the case before the decision in Roe v. Wade, the majority of unwillingly pregnant women will continue to get abortions, no matter how far they have to travel or no matter how great the cost or risk.

Why? The hypocritical leaders of this country, both right and left, recognize that the U.S. industrialized economy is built on the small nuclear family with both parents working, so large families are out. This lowers the birth rate, which satisfies the leaders, who, rather than creating a more just, sustainable society, think reducing women's fertility solves social problems such as pollution and poverty. Immigration, legal and illegal, produces the influx of workers and soldiers so desired by the conservatives who have created an unjust society where one percent possess the wealth and resources, further enabling them to keep the 99 percent low-paid and politically powerless.

Prediction Number Two. I see successive generations of young U.S. women accepting new restrictions. I also see some radical feminist actions, such as the formation of an underground movement of menstrual extraction groups. This will keep the technology alive, but will not change the trend that makes abortion less available, more expensive and more stigmatized.

Why? Once Roe v. Wade became the law in 1973, all organized efforts to educate the public and to seize the technology of abortion came to an abrupt halt. The leadership, by default, fell to a few political advocacy groups, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington D.C. and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York and D.C. They keep a vigilant eye on how Congressional members vote on legislation affecting birth control and abortion. They, and NOW, have organized a couple of mammoth abortion rights marches on Washington over the years. But Washington D.C. ignores the masses who come in on Saturday, march through the streets, then board the busses and go home on Sunday.

In 1976, the first, most devastating blow to Roe v. Wade came through Congress, not the Supreme Court. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, an addendum to an appropriations bill, to stop any federal funding of abortion for low-income women. Every year, Congress re-passes this amendment. Every year, Congress exploits the racist and classist bias of the women's movement. We were ignominiously defeated by the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, 35 years ago.

Even though the vast majority of American women are pro-choice, even feminists are complacent and do nothing other than voting for pro-choice elected officials and sending a check to their favorite national pro-choice organization.

Turning Back the Attack
In my opinion, the factors keeping abortion "safe and legal" are: (1) the continuing broad public support for the decriminalization of abortion; (2) the stalwart daily work of hundreds of doctors and abortion clinics around the country in the face of anti-abortion harassment and violence, and (3) the policymakers' need to keep women in the workforce.
To regain the ground the women won in the past, we have to learn how we won it and apply those lessons to today. We must revive the spirit of the second wave of the feminist movement, which came out of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. The Women's Liberation Movement started out to liberate women by challenging the whole "system," but, unfortunately, changed its focus to raising women's status in that system.

Most American women today were not born then or were children, and have not experienced being part of a major social movement for women's liberation, as I experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. I joined the Los Angeles chapter of NOW in 1969, and was part of that huge wave of women who came forward to demand women's liberation, including repeal or reform of anti-abortion laws. Through the decade before that, I read frequent newspaper articles announcing that a respected community or professional organization had passed some resolution recommending the decriminalization of abortion. In 1962, I saw the television coverage of Sherri Finkbine's trip to Scandanavia to get an abortion.

This coverage was part of a powerful campaign to stop back-alley abortions. It was led by white religious leaders, mostly men, and professionals, mostly men, who educated the public and roused public outrage against these unjust laws. By the end of the decade, the women's movement started. Many women's groups set up "women's nights" at the local free clinic to provide birth control; they were referring women to New York and California to get abortions. One group, "Jane", in Chicago, set up an abortion service. The women at Harvard were delving into the medical library to write a newsprint booklet, "Women and Their Bodies," which was so popular that Simon and Schuster published it as Our Bodies Ourselves in 1970.

On the West Coast, our group worked with Lana Clark Phelan and Patricia Maginnis, the founders of NARAL (which stood for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws). We learned to do abortions with a new hand-held device that used suction to remove the contents of an early pregnancy; Lorraine Rothman modified that device so that groups of us who were minimally trained could extract either our menstrual period or an early pregnancy. We called this procedure "menstrual extraction." In 1971, Lorraine and I toured the country, teaching vaginal self-examination; self help and menstrual extraction groups sprung up at most of the places we visited. Rebecca Chalker described the process of menstrual extraction in On The Issues Magazine in 1993.

It was the cumulative effect of all these years of mainstream efforts, topped off by the massive numbers of women coming forward to protest, to march and to start projects to circumvent the law that laid the foundation for Roe v. Wade. The seizing of the means of reproduction by the women of the self-help movement did not escape the notice of Justice Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court justice who authored Roe v. Wade and referred to it in his opinion (see section IX, Letter B) among a list of new medical techniques. I believe that in another couple of years, one way or another, abortion laws would have become irrelevant because women in the U.S. were taking the matter into our own hands.

The Women's Liberation Movement saw the right to an abortion as part of the right of a woman to control her own body and her own reproduction and sexuality, which, in turn, is part of women's full participation in society and their power to assert their values.

Through the years, women have been somewhat successful in raising women's status, but in a militaristic, environmentally destructive society. U.S. women may come closer to earning as much as their male counterparts and getting as much education, but the system has become more entrenched and women's education and work only makes it more so.

Women are losing ground every day in the control of our sexual and reproductive lives. Women seek genital surgery to make their vulva and clitoris look like some non-existent ideal; the medical profession dictates that women submit to radical intervention in their births, and, women face multiple physical and social barriers to nursing babies.

Even the movement pushing for liberation from the tyranny of heterosexual roles doesn't challenge the patriarchal nature of society, but rather seems to be challenging the legitimacy of women's pride in our women's bodies, our ability to bear and raise children and to fight together, as women, for social and economic equality and a humane stewardship of the environment.

Rebuilding the Future
There are powerful stirrings of people around the world challenging non-democratic structures; even in the U.S., we see the Occupy Wall Street protests. Perhaps the forces are shaping up that will promote a new wave of feminist activism.

Whether this is so or not, there are women's health groups building a sound base for a broader women's movement, doing radical feminist health and sex education with a holistic self-help foundation. Some midwives and full-spectrum doulas are rebuilding the network of menstrual extraction groups. In short, we will be ready.

Carol Downer is the author of "A New View of a Woman's Body," "How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office," "Women Centered Pregnancy and Birth," and "A Book of Women's Choices."