Women in Health: Meet Krystina Friedlander – you don’t need to be pregnant to benefit from this awesome doula’s wisdom

Krystina Friendlander Baraka Birth

I am so delighted to introduce my friend, Krystina Friedlander, who has very kindly agreed to be interviewed for Nourished Living’s Women in Health interview series. Krystina is a doula, childbirth education instructor and herbalist (check her out at Baraka Birth). We met a few years ago in Cambridge, MA where she is currently residing, and I have missed her dearly ever since we moved away. Krystina is  one of the most passionate advocates for women’s health I have ever met – I have had the privilege of taking one of her classes, and I can honestly say it was life-changing!

Krystina is not only brilliant (truly, she is one smart cookie), but she also never hesitates to generously share her knowledge and passion with others, whether in the classroom, over a casual brunch, or, of course, in this interview. I am sure you will enjoy reading her thoughts below, and, if you are itching for more, you’ll find all sorts of fascinating insights on her blog.  

Let’s begin with a question about you. How did you come to pursue this [awesome] line of work? 

As a sophomore at Tulane I took a fascinating course on the Anthropology of Sex and Reproduction, and we read a study on doulas at a hospital in Mexico. The results clearly showed that women benefited from having a trained assistant available to them, and it sort of blew my mind; why wouldn’t every country do this? I didn’t realize that doulas existed outside of Mexico. Years later living in Doha, Qatar, I met an American Muslim woman working as a doula there and it reawakened my interest. I planned to train with her, but got married and moved back to the United States before that could happen. My husband strongly encouraged me to pursue it here in Boston and I discovered a thriving childbirth community.

What type of support does a doula offer?  Why do you think it is important for a doula to be a part of a mom-to-be’s birthing team? 

What I’m available to offer is support in the weeks leading up to the birth, not just to get to know mom and her partner but also because some women and couples have questions and concerns about the birth process in the hospital, qualms about procedures, and want more information and to have someone outside of the hospital to serve as a sounding board for them. Once active labor starts I’m either with her laboring at home for as long as she wants, or in the hospital, providing massage, words of comfort, grounding her in the normalcy of the experience. I stay with her through the birth and until breastfeeding is established, so about two hours afterwards. We then meet once or twice after she’s back home to talk about the experience, see how she’s doing with the postpartum, and to share resources. I’m available by phone and email during pregnancy and whenever she has questions in the months or years ahead.

I think doulas are very important, especially in hospital settings. It’s useful in a homebirth for the added physical support, but homebirth moms tend to be very well educated about the birth process and need less information, plus they’re receiving continuous care from their midwife or midwives who may also provide more of that physical support. In hospitals, a woman often sees various care providers leading up to and even during the birth. There’s not that continuity of care, there can be lots of unfamiliar faces, including students coming in and out of the room. And a big misconception about hospital birth is that the nurses, midwives, and doctors are there to comfort you. It’s great if the team you get is supportive and friendly, but they have a busy schedule and it’s not their role to provide the comfort measures that doulas do.

Massage, position change suggestions, hydrotherapy and other tools, plus the emotional encouragement and support in such a vulnerable moment is at the root of why moms with doulas are less likely to request pain medication. Doulas also help mom or parents advocate; there are plenty of procedures and processes going on in American hospitals that are not evidence based and parents are increasingly aware of that–it takes a long time for things to change in American healthcare–but in the moment it can be a challenge to ensure that their birth preferences are honored. So, something like delayed cord clamping, a doula can remind the staff that parents want and expect that. Doulas can also create the space for conversation and negotiation when the staff wants something that parents are unsure about. So as a result, people who hire doulas have a significantly lower rate of cesarean section and other interventions.

As a doula, you get to witness some of  the most precious (and intense) moments of a family’s life. What do these experiences teach you?

Incredible patience, for one thing. Contrary to what people assume from watching American media, birth is (mostly) boring. It’s about waiting for a process to unfold and supporting a woman in that process every step of the way. It’s long nights awake stroking a woman’s back, trading off naps with her partner. I’ve also learned that no two births are alike, everyone brings their own physical and psychoemotional dynamics into childbirth. I’ve seen that fear makes birth much harder, and that’s tough because we spend our whole lives stewing in a culture of intense, intense fear around childbirth and it takes a lot of work on mom’s (and partner’s) part to release that. I’ve learned that I’m not in control nor am I responsible for a woman’s experience of her birth; I do my best to support her regardless of the situation as it unfolds, I don’t tell her what to do (nor is that my job), I’m there to listen and hold space.

Working with other women in a variety of settings has also helped me to think about my upcoming first birth later this summer, which we’re planning at home. I’ve learned that women need to feel safe in childbirth, and for some people that will be in the hospital with all the staff and technology, and for others, including myself, it’s the safety of a skilled and experienced practitioner in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

I know that you are also an expert in herbalism and fertility. Could you offer some advice to readers who are thinking of starting a family on how to best prepare the body for a healthy pregnancy?  

I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, but it’s something that I’ve learned a fair amount about. We have so many health issues as a society, so a preconception routine is going to look a lot like any other healthy routine, with some added points. Hormonal contraception can do a number on our bodies, and perhaps not in the ways we’d expect. It depletes the body of folate, which is critical for healthy fetal development, so I recommend a year to recalibrate the body (and at least three months if that’s not feasible) and rebuild folate stores using dietary means. It also includes working on improving our bacterial flora, which hormonal contraception alters. Eating healthy, whole foods, avoiding processed flour and sugar, incorporating plenty of healthy fats into the diet (reproductive hormones are fat soluble). A midwife friend swears by adding cod liver oil, which is rich in Vitamins A and D.

If you had the power to make everyone adopt 3 healthy daily routines, what would they be? 

Joyful movement, of any kind. Nourishing food that we take time to be thankful for. Displays of affection, whether a phone call or a really good, deep hug.

Finally, I can’t let you go without asking you about the elusive quest for work-life balance. As a woman who I know always has a lot going on, could you share with us your philosophy on this, and also some ways you find balance despite your hectic schedule?

I waited tables for a long time while living in New Orleans, and we used to get slammed during Mardi Gras. At first it was totally overwhelming, everybody asking for everything at the same time, having to meet a million demands. Then I figured out that you can only do one thing at a time. Seriously, I carry this with me wherever I go. The challenge is to do that one thing mindfully and well, without my brain already latching on to the next thing on the list. I’m certain that having a baby will make this even more of a challenge, but all I can do is that one thing at a time.

Krystina Friedlander is a childbirth doula, childbirth education instructor, and herbalist in Cambridge, MA. She holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology from Tulane University and is interested in diverse childbirth practices across the globe. She writes about her experiences at www.barakabirth.com/blog.

Women in Health: Sarah Villafranco – from the ER to natural skincare

Over the past few years I have been blessed to encounter so many inspiring women who use their unique gifts and talents to improve the health of those around them in profound ways. These healers come in many forms: they are our doctors, masseuses, acupuncturists, herbalists, midwives, doulas, nutritionists, coaches, farmers, pharmacists, yoga instructors, and more. Over the coming months I will be interviewing a few of these women who have kindly agreed to share some of their pearls of wisdom with us all in a new series titled Women in Health. I think you will find that their knowledge is inspiring and that their passion is absolutely contagious!

My first interview in this series is with Sarah Villafranco, MD. Sarah began her career in emergency medicine and then founded Osmia Organics, a Colorado-based organic skincare line (read on for the amazing story behind her career-shift). I discovered her products over a year ago and have been obsessed ever since. She now focuses on “helping people choose natural and organic skin care products, encouraging them to nourish themselves physically and spiritually, and detoxifying their medicine cabinets all the while”. I am so delighted that she agreed to participate!

Let’s start off with a question about you, because I find your story very inspiring. You began your career as a doctor working in emergency medicine, and after years of practicing you made a major career shift to found Osmia Organics. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you make this change? Were you always passionate about natural beauty care?

I love medicine. I loved practicing emergency medicine, and I never lost sight of what an honor it was to be able to help people in such distressing moments. But, I didn’t want to keep fixing problems after they had occurred: I wanted to help prevent them. I would spend 15 minutes talking to a patient about smoking cessation or dietary patterns while the nurses rolled their eyes because the patient had come in with a sprained finger. But, I wanted to inspire people to embrace their lives and health with more joy and appreciation, especially after my beautiful mom died at age 64. Sometimes I just wanted to yell: “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS IS YOUR ONLY LIFE AND THERE IS SO MUCH BEAUTY IN IT THAT YOU ARE COMPLETELY IGNORING??”

I have been a lotions & potions girl for as long as I can remember – I loved watching my busy lawyer mama take five seconds to slow down her movement while she applied face oil (way before face oil was cool!). But, I didn’t have Osmia in mind until I took a soap-making class. Something switched in my brain – literally, like a light switch. First, there was no concept of creating a natural beauty line, and then- click – it was all I thought about, all the time. Making soap is an incredible combination of hard science (I am a nerd, deep down) and endless creativity (not so present in western medicine). And, as I started using essential oils to scent the soap, I became more aware of how they tap directly into people’s power to heal themselves. Then I knew I needed to make more than soap, and that I could use the brand and our products to practice a kind of medicine that made more sense to me. So, that’s how Osmia was born.

In the ayurvedic tradition, it is advised to avoid putting anything on your skin that you would not feel comfortable putting in your mouth. Could you help shed some light on why caring for our health should not stop at eating well and exercising, but should extend to personal care products as well?

Well, in a sense, you are “eating” some of what goes on your skin as well as in your mouth. Certain (though not all) chemicals that you put on your skin get absorbed into your blood stream, lymphatic system, and cells, just as your food does. There are a lot of people who use extreme scare tactics to discourage you from putting “toxic chemicals” on your skin – I don’t really take that approach. Instead, I encourage people to think of diet and skincare in the same category – as “fuel” for your body and spirit. If the food is low-quality or filled with unnecessary ingredients, the effect can be diminished performance – fatigue, lethargy, depression, hypertension, diabetes, etc. But, if you choose nourishing, plant-based food with fewer additives and less processing, you are providing premium fuel, and should see better performance. The same goes for your skin care: be sure it’s nourishment for your skin and spirit, rather than something packed with synthetic colors, scents, and fillers.

Do you find that some people’s skin go through a “purging” or transition period after switching to a natural skincare routine? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of making the switch?

Absolutely. Anytime you switch skin care products – natural or not – your skin has to adjust. Our bodies are made up of complicated (and amazing) feedback systems, and those systems are constantly calibrating themselves depending on the cellular environment. For example, if you are using products that are too harsh and pulling too much oil from the skin, your skin will increase its sebum production to maintain its barrier function, often causing acne. Conversely, if you are piling on too much product, your skin will produce less sebum, and may feel dry all the time. The trick is to strike the right balance, and you should expect some bumps (literally) while your skin regulates itself. It’s a bit like training a puppy – you need to provide a consistent, calm environment, and eventually the puppy will start to behave. But, if you change the rules every few days, you will end up with a neurotic, confused dog.

If you had the power to make everyone adopt 3 healthy daily routines, what would they be?

1. Exercise! It’s a free, healthy drug that makes you happy!! Seriously – the word “endorphin” comes from “endogenous” (meaning from the inside) + “morphine” (a drug used for pain relief). You can make your own morphine!! Just 20 minutes of brisk walking per day (especially to fun music) will change EVERYTHING!!!

2. Notice things more: listen to the music playing when you walk in a store; see what jewelry your coworker is wearing; taste your food and drinks consciously; feel compassion more readily, even for people you don’t much like; and, never let a hummingbird fly past without hearing the whistling sound of its wings and marveling at how movement that fast is even possible. Life is just so much more interesting when you really look around and use your senses.

3. Loosen up! Laugh more – at yourself, at your pets, with your family and friends, and at Life. Whatever it is that has you stressed out is probably not even close to the mountain you’re making of it. And, when it really is a big deal, all you can do is breathe through it. Handstands are great for learning to laugh at yourself – I do them all the time.

What is your favorite Osmia Organics product that you couldn’t possibly live without?

My LEAST favorite question – they are all like my little babies, and I can’t pick a favorite child! But, if I must, it’s probably the Black Clay Facial Soap. I use it twice a day, and it definitely helps keep my perioral dermatitis symptoms at bay. It’s creamy, balances my skin, and smells great. I take it with me wherever I go, and if I ran out – very unlikely, since I own the company – I would panic!

———–

Isn’t she lovely?

P.S. I also  panic when I run low on the black clay facial soap – I always have a back-up just in case! 

Spring has sprung: eating for the vernal season

transitioning into spring

We made it! We’ve  survived the most brutal winter of all time! Last weekend, my husband and I spent a Sunday afternoon taking a gentle hike through some forest trails – I was so happy I could have cried. The birds were back, the sun was shining, and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket. This weekend was equally glorious – the trees are budding, the grass is greener and the crocus flowers in our neighborhood are beginning to bloom. Spring is here!

With this change of seasons, it’s important for us to slowly shift away from the heavier foods and more reclusive lifestyles of winter. The Inner Classic, the most important text of traditional Chinese medicine, tells us that this is the time of year to “rise early with the sun,” to take  ”brisk walks” and to take part in the activity and rebirth occurring around us in nature.

Reflecting on this text and thinking about my record over the past few years, I realize I have not had the most graceful of transitions between seasons. And so, in an effort to keep myself on track, I have put together a seasonal transition regimen of sorts and thought it might be helpful to share:

Spring is a time for cleansing

Spring cleaning is not just for our homes and closets: in traditional Chinese medicine, this season is linked to the liver and gall bladder, and special care should be taken to avoid overburdening these organs. One should generally eat less, and the heavier foods of winter should slowly be substituted for lighter fare with ascending and expansive qualities (just like spring!) Think sprouts, greens and seasonal vegetables.

Heavy, overly-fatty foods can make the liver sluggish and should be avoided. Dandelion root is an especially cleansing, liver-supporting herb that you can enjoy as a tea.

Decrease salt consumption

Salt and salty foods (miso, soy, heavily-salted broths, processed meats, etc.) should be minimized during the spring season due what Chinese medicine refers to as their “sinking energy”. If you find yourself with salt cravings, increase your intake of complex carbs, which can reduce this desire (source: Pitchford, 2002).

Reduce your intake of animal products

The regular consumption of animal products should be avoided as they are heavy and taxing on the liver;  instead, enjoy whole grains, legumes and seeds.

Use pungent herbs for cooking

Pungent  herbs have an expansive effect on the body – basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, dill, caraway and bay leaves are wonderfully supportive (and delicious!). (source: Pitchford, 2002).

Enjoy some raw food…

Spring is the time to increase one’s consumption of raw foods (especially later in the season as we transition into summer). Just be careful and make sure to listen to your body: if you have any signs of digestive difficulties, then raw foods should be avoided or minimized, as they are more difficult to digest and are traditionally thought to dampen one’s “digestive fire.”

…however, most of your food should still be lightly cooked

Even though some raw food is good for many of us at this time of year, the majority of our food should  be lightly cooked (a diet composed primarily of raw foods, as mentioned above, is taxing on our digestive system and is usually not a good idea).

Spring cooking methods should differ from the slow-cooked stews and soups of winter: vegetables should be cooked for a short period of time, but at higher temperatures (it is best if they maintain some of their “crunch”).

Go outside!

Get reacquainted with nature (and, in my case, the sun!). Spring is  the season of youth, activity and rebirth, and nothing is more refreshing for the body and soul than some quality outdoor-time.

 

Understanding labels: the egg confusion

Eggs cover

If you take a stroll down the refrigerator isle in any grocery store, you will probably notice that an egg is no longer just an egg. Purchasing this kitchen staple entails deciding if you like your eggs cage-free, free range, vegetarian-fed, fertile, enriched, certified humane, organic and more… As with milk and meat, the humble egg has been brought into the food labeling world’s no-man’s land.

As confusing (and annoying) as it is, it is important for us to understand what these labels mean. Every dollar we spend on food has consequences on our health, the environment, and of course, animal welfare.

conventionally raised chicken

Factory farmed eggs have been dubbed “the cruelest of all factory farm products:” hens are tortured and condemned to live their life in tiny, shared crates where they do not have the luxury of enough room to spread their wings. Spending much of their life in filthy, feces-ridden cages under severe physical and emotional stress, the conventional egg is an inferior product, lacking in virtually every nutrient that its (truly) organic counterparts are able to boast. What’s worse, is that these hens are fed a dangerous amount of antibiotics, which of course are passed into the final product sold on our supermarket shelves (and eventually ingested by us…). Not appetizing.

To help, I put together the below resource with a list of commonly used labels on egg cartons in the hopes of helping you cut through the marketing clutter so that you may make an informed decision about your purchase:

different types of egg1

 

different types of egg2

I now purchase pasture-raised eggs from a farm I know and trust. My conscience is clear, the eggs honestly taste better, and the yolks are a brighter, richer color than the mass-produced ones I used to buy - truly egg-cellent ;)!