Sesame Street in the NICU / The Announcement of a Birth Retreat Center in the Making



Remember when Sesame Street was artistically clever, witty, made the grown-ups laugh and had its own quirky personality unique to other kiddie shows? Thankfully, it's still educational and probably more progressive with emotional education and inclusivity. But even my toddler and preschooler can tell the difference between the artistic sophistication of old Sesame Street versus the market-driven Sesame Street of today. I've turned new Sesame Street on for them plenty of times and even with the bright colors and poppy tunes they get bored after about five minutes and want to watch something else. So, I've started turning on older episodes on HBO Max (we're currently on the seasons from the 1970's because I'm a Millennial parent priming my kids to be record-playing hipsters) and shockingly enough, even with the hazy distortion of old television, they're hooked. It has a slightly calming and entrancing effect on them at first and then once they've normalized the euphoric effect of witnessing true art, they're curiously stimulated by the content of the show but in a grounded sort of way that doesn't cause them to act like screaming banshees. They can watch old Sesame Street for hours. And, frankly, I can let them because the background noise is so pleasant and their silly skits are so engaging.


As quaint and charming as it all is, watching old Sesame Street is also a historical cultural study as well as a litmus test for how far (or little) we've evolved. My husband and I found each other engrossed in one of the episodes; particularly during a documentary-like segment that had a rather disturbing effect on us which had to do with the way a baby is often introduced to the world. The scene is supposed to be really sweet, of course. You see a father carrying his 4 year-old son on his hip as they look through a wired glass window into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Everyone is smiling and feeling all gooey, except for the bewildered newborn babies. A nurse - to the baby, a complete stranger that smells nothing like his mother - holds the neonate up to the window so that the father and son can adore the new addition to their family. Kind of like when you’re about to adopt a new puppy or a kitten. After the father was done pointing excitedly to the baby, the kid's mother comes walking up to them outside of the NICU. They exchange a few sweet words, the boy mopes and asks, "Mama, when are you coming back home?" to which she very sweetly replies that she'll be home in two days.


Now, I'm totally about to sound like a radical home-birth advocate. Just to be clear, I'm not. I’m an advocate for empowered births whether that be at home, at a birth center, in a hospital or on a bog or a log, I don't care. As long as the mother feels safe and supported. I will say, however, that I think the medical system is, well, a system. Once you sign up for it, you’re in that system and having your baby separated from you because of a slight abnormality is part of that system’s protocol. When there’s an abnormality at a home birth, the baby is watched closely as the mother cradles her baby - skin to skin - and nourishes her newborn with her medicinal milk. (Did you know a baby’s saliva sends information through the mother’s nipples to the rest of her body so that she can produce just the right amount of “prescribed” nutrients? As author Angela Garbes puts it, a breastfeeding mother’s body is like a pharmacy to her baby.) Conversely, when there’s even the slightest concern for the baby’s health at a birth center, the baby is often transported to the nearest hospital’s NICU. One of the reasons why I’m always a little circumspect of birth centers.


But perhaps a new era is on the rise. Maryn Green of Indie Birth has recently announced that she and her associate, Margo Nelson, are planning on opening up a birthing retreat center where breech babies aren’t turned away; where a midwife can stay with a mother during her first postpartum days and VBAC births are welcomed with open arms. To me, this is as wonderful news as the heavens opening up to all who can bear the light.


They’ve already collected a great deal of support; most impressively from OB’s Dr. Stu and Dr. Nathan Riley who are important male voices for revolutionizing the way our Western practice treats the most valuable event that happens every millisecond on this planet - birth.


Between ten to fifteen percent of all babies born in the US are admitted into the NICU. The last thing a newborn baby needs when faced with a potentially life-threatening case is to be detached from the very woman who gave him life and then put into a separate, foreign room with fluorescent lights flickering above his head and the smell of rubber gloves to replace the smell of his mother’s chest. Even if he were to be bottle-fed his own mother’s milk, the milk that she produces for the bottle would lack the specific nutrients his critical condition calls for if his saliva does, indeed, send an analogous prescription to his mother’s milk supply.


NICU or not; from the baby’s perspective, it’s already bad enough that he had to leave his sublime universe we know to be his mother’s womb. If they say the child’s brain is like a sponge from birth to age three, then how come it’s so socially accepted that his introduction to the world is treated so hastily and mechanically? Do we actually think that his first days outside of his mother’s womb is an exception to the rest of his development?


I’m not dreaming of a day when every woman is giving birth in her home or in a birthing oasis/retreat center because I think it would be so boring if everyone thought like me. I am, however, dreaming of a day when every hospital adapts the tried and true practices of midwifery. I’m also hopeful that someday all birth centers will no longer have a conveyer belt to the hospital; where they’re more dedicated to being an oasis of midwives and doulas of strong integrities.


Fortunately, I think we’re on our way. I hear more about women in labor asserting their rights in the hospital room, and I also hear more about hospitals honoring those rights rather than resisting thus patronizing a birthing woman’s intuition. It may not always seem like it due to human nature’s myopic fugue, but things are always progressing. Evolution is inevitable. Perhaps our children may not be growing up to a sophisticated Sesame Street, but at least their birth experience doesn’t have to be akin to being birthed in jail.


If you’d like to know more about the Indie Birth Retreat Center, visit their website here where Maryn & Margo illustrate what it could look like and how we can contribute to making this birth retreat center possible.


Here are a few highlights of what this birth retreat center can provide with the help of anyone who’s passionate about participating in its manifestation:


  • The option for undisturbed midwife-attended births for women anywhere in the world that want or need to travel

  • A focus on breech births and possibly the first breech training center in the US led by Dr. Stu Fischbein who’s currently on board as their breech birth expert

  • A 9+ bedroom birthing house with 2 kitchens

  • 300 acres of land complete with a stream to roam in and get grounded on before birthing a baby

  • An organic farm to provide farm-to-table nourishment before and after birth

  • The first radical midwifery training center in the US

Nature provides what’s relevant, and the need for this type of birthing retreat center is necessary in our world. For that reason alone, I strongly believe that the Indie Birth Retreat Center is already in the making. We only need to follow Nature’s cues.