Is the Erica May Rengo Case a Hoax?

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Baby Levi, Erica’s oldest son

About three years ago, there was a news story that caught the social media world by storm. “Habiba” was a homeless nursing mother whose baby was taken away from her. You can read more about that heart-breaking case here. I was quite surprised to find that the google search term “Is Habiba a Hoax” sent thousands of web surfers to our blog. I ended the post with these sentiments:

For the sake of argument, if this is a hoax, it’s one I’d be proud to be duped by: protecting the rights of mothers and babies everywhere.

So now, here we are again with the story of Erica May Rengo, a home-birthing, breastfeeding mama of three in Washington. Erica had her children taken away from her by Child Protection Services. There’s not much news coverage of the case yet, aside from this article on Medical Kidnap. At the end of the article, readers are encouraged to call or email the mayor, which I did. The office said they had received hundreds of calls and were going to be in touch with CPS regarding the case. (Erica and Cleave go to trial on Dec 2nd)

Some people are questioning the validity of the information in the article, the omission of facts, and the entire story in general. As I said in Habiba–it’s true: we don’t have all the facts! Of course we don’t. Do we ever? But I think that’s missing the point in this instance. I always want to do the best with what I have. And what I have is a story that tugs at my heart.

However, it’s not up to me to have the facts. I’m not a trained CPS professional. I’m not a judge hearing the case, or a lawyer presenting it. This isn’t a charity that I’m sending money to, or an organization I’m devoting time to. BUT what I can do, I want to. Like, calling a governor’s office to ask him to please investigate, (immediately!) and if the facts remain as presented in the article, to reunite the Rengo family as soon as humanly possible? Maybe there are additional details that will come out, and there are other avenues that would be better for this family before reunification. I don’t know. But I want her to have a fair investigation. Erica has twin babies and a toddler that need their mama. (The goal of CPS is to keep families intact as often as possible, BTW. So unless there are some egregious facts omitted from the article, CPS failed.)

This is a story that hits close to home. As a nursing, home-birthing mother, I relate to Erica. I feel for Erica. I hurt for Erica. And quite honestly, I find it hard to even think about how her children are doing. I imagine how mine would be without me, and it’s painful to consider. Yet, seeing the outpouring of support for this family inspires me, and shows our mama-solidarity in the face of injustice. If this story is true, imagine the difference a ten second phone call, a quick email, or even a Facebook post can make in a family’s life. And if it isn’t, I will never regret time spent helping others in good faith.

**Updated to add (11/27): For the record, I don’t believe this is a hoax. Ask my mother. I called her to talk about it – and she called the governor too. Ask my husband, every 15 minutes last night I asked him, “Could you imagine if…”, “That could have been us…”. Ask my 4.5 year old, who came in and out of the dining room as I wrote the post, watching Mommy “help another mommy.”

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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5 Favorite Tools for Going Diaper Free

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We practice Elimination Communication. While the goal is “early potty training,” my younger daughter is turning nine months now, and I’m itching to go entirely diaper free with her. When you remove diapers from the equation, you rely more on cues and intuition, putting yourself more in tune with baby and YOU! Plus, I’m all set with the weekly diaper load down two flights of stairs, and the exploding diaper bin in her room. She is also a huge wiggler and does not like getting a diaper on lying down. We’re in undies/bare bum part time now, but in the next month or two, I’ll pack up all but about 6 cloth diapers, and use them as rags for any misses. I have been thinking about what I’ll need to take the diaper-free plunge, given my experience with her sister. Here are 5 important things for a diaper-free journey!

1. Toddler training undies. We’ve used undies part time at eight months with both my daughters. I didn’t want to go bare bottomed with my first as it was cold. And because I knew some misses were inevitable, and I didn’t want to wash more pairs of pants than I had to. But try to find undies for petite bums! It took me weeks of researching and trialing, but I settled on these because they were both affordable and absorbent. They worked well for my average sized 9 month old. I’ve had friends who swear by these ones by Blueberry.

2. A throne and a corner. You may already have one of these if you’re practicing EC, but I found that having a designated potty space, where my girls would read books or play with toys, was key to consistency and making pottying an enjoyable experience. I bought an antique wooden potty at a yard sale for $10. It’s literally one of my favorite baby purchases ever. I feel like half of my older daughter’s waking hours were spent on that potty! I’d post a picture, but she’s half naked in all them. We got something like this. 

3. Vinegar and water. You probably already have both these things in your home, but when you ditch the diapers, there will be misses and messes. Yes, WILL. So, have a spray bottle of 50:50 handy, and wipe down the floor, carpet, or high chair. The first time I tried this, I was skeptical, but after the vinegar spray dissipates, there’s no trace of urine!

4. Towels or wool blankets. If you are going cold turkey and moving out of diapers at night too, these may come in handy. Some moms put them over the sheets and then just throw the wet towels on the floor in the middle of the night (assuming co-sleeping) if their little one pees. I found them really annoying while l was trying to sleep, and since the night time misses were only about once a week, I just had an extra folded towel near my pillow, and then used a few under the sheet as an extra mattress protection. I would throw a clean towel over a miss and deal with it in the morning. We prioritize sleep here!

5. Patience (and a sense of humor!). It may take a little getting used to for both you and your baby! But once you take the plunge and put away the diapers for good, it will likely take your EC relationship to a whole new level. I found that when we were relying on diapers for back-up, I would get lazy, and just let my daughters go in their diaper. But once that wasn’t an option, we developed a potty rhythm and misses were far less frequent than with the diapers! It took a few weeks though, so don’t give up! You will have good days, and not-as-good days. I found that the whole process was far more enjoyable when I took it all in stride and armed myself with the vinegar and some diaper rags!

Good luck! Are you considering taking the plunge to go diaper-free? What’s holding you back?

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

5 Ways to Bond With Your Baby When Baby-wearing Isn’t an Option

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I’m a huge baby-wearing fan. My first daughter literally fell asleep in the carrier, and only in the carrier, for the first 21 months of her life. She lived in a brown Boba for almost two years. She did weddings, funerals, holidays, shopping, walking, cooking with me. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I loved wearing her, and assumed the rest of my babies would have that same luxury of living their first few years so close to mama.

Shortly after my second daughter was born though, I realized it wasn’t going to be such smooth sailing. I had incredibly painful varicose veins for much of my second pregnancy, and though they went away after birth, once my baby passed the ten pound mark, I could feel them flaring slightly. As her weight increased, my leg felt worse, and around six months postpartum, I developed pelvic pain and hemorrhoids that made it challenging to hold her, never mind wear her.

I felt guilty, sad, and at a loss. It seemed like one of my best mothering tools had been taken from me. Luckily, my daughter was an early crawler, and a very content baby so I managed to make dinners and do other tasks around the house while she played, instead of carrying her. But still, I wanted to be close to her. I’ve had to be more intentional but I’ve worked through the feelings of loss and instead try to focus on the ways we CAN bond! Here are my top five ways of staying connected to my daughter while trying to preserve my body.

1. Co-sleeping. My little one sleeps in the crook of my arm part of the night, sometimes on my chest, and sometimes, when I’m tired, on the other side of the bed. But we are always close, and I wouldn’t trade our nighttime snuggles for anything – not even an uninterrupted night’s sleep! We also spend about a half hour snuggling in the morning with her older sister in the bed, so everyone feels like they have their physical needs for love and affection met before our feet hit the ground! (If you’re concerned about safety, check out some of Dr. James McKenna’s research on safe co-sleeping, and his safety guidelines.) 

2. Co-bathing. Yup, it’s as easy as it sounds. Jump into the bath with your baby. If they are going through that distracted nursing stage, it’s a great way to gently encourage a good feed. It’s relaxing for you too!

3. Floor time! I am so much more intentional about tumbling on the floor with my second baby. She does “airplane” on my legs while I lie on my back, and crawls over, under, and around me. I barely ever sit on a couch, and when I do crafts or read with my older daughter, we always sit on the floor instead of at the table, so the baby can participate at all times. We also do lots of hugs and kisses on the floor.

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4. Use your stroller wisely. I didn’t use a stroller at all until my eldest turned 2. And even then I used it sparingly. I just felt like they inhibited our freedom to walk off the path, to get through doors, down stairs etc. I still feel that way, but there’s no way we could do museums or park trips without one now that I can’t hold my baby for more than a few minutes at a time. I try to push her to a destination, and then take her right out, and play on the floor for a bit before we need to move again.

I considered buying a stroller with a seat that faced toward me, but I knew my girl wouldn’t be in a stroller for that much longer–as soon as my kiddos can walk, they do–it just takes a bit longer to get places! If circumstances were different though, I may have bought something like this as a long term investment so I could interact and so that my girl could feel safe. (When babies face the world in their stroller, it can be stressful.)  As it is, I like to have my older daughter push the stroller when we walk around town, and I sometimes walk next to or in front of the stroller, making faces, and being silly with the baby.

5. Relax. We are an on-the-go family. We live close to downtown Boston, and my older daughter and I used to go into town weekly. We loved riding the train, exploring the parks in the city, and going to museums. It’s been really hard for me to slow down in that respect, and plan our day around home naps (rather than carrier naps, as in the past), but it’s been a sweet time for my older daughter and I to have time cooking, drawing, reading, or just resting. It’s a season! Before I know it, my baby will be walking, and it will be hard to catch her, never mind pick her up!

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A few other strategies made life a bit easier too. Accept help! Dad puts baby to bed when he’s home, Nana carries her down the stairs if we are going out together, Big Sister watches her when I run to the laundry. At church, instead of carrying the baby up the stairs to Sunday School while I drop off her sister, I leave the baby downstairs with a loving friend. (One of her favorites happens to be a male friend who is at least 6’4″ with glasses and a booming voice. He’s also a trained NICU nurse.)

I’m also much more organized. All the diapering supplies are in one place. The things we need to get out the door are all by the door. I can’t afford to be running around the house looking for things with her in my arms. I also do use the Ergo back carry in a pinch!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

How and Why to Practice Elimination Communication

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Yesterday we looked at the history of diapering/pottying in the US. Today, let’s see why we may want to take a different road…

Given our recent past, it’s easy to see why anything but a diapered baby is met with skepticism and even condemnation for parents “pushing” their children too quickly. But, as with co-sleeping, experts have failed to clarify the real issue. How you respond to your baby’s elimination needs is entirely different than when.

We don’t advocate turn-of-the-century tactics. In fact, we cringe when people comment that our little ones are “potty trained.” We aim to understand their needs, and lay the foundation for a relationship of mutual respect. We’re communicating with our babies, not training them. The difference may seem subtle (and possibly even irrelevant) before you start.

Let’s draw a firmer boundary between traditional toilet training and potty-based communication. First and foremost, with EC there’s no negativity around elimination. If your child arches his back when you put him on the potty, you’re free to let him go—even if he pees in the corner, or in his diaper a moment later. Sometimes that’s frustrating for mom, but it’s counterproductive to obsess about the miss, shame the child or use any form of punishment.

EC philosophy inherently rejects all timelines as well. Babies are individuals, so assuming they should be at a given stage is detrimental to all involved. EC is about responding to your baby’s needs—so have fun and relax. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing!

In many societies throughout the globe, babies are pottied in response to their cues. In China, for example, cotton, water, and soap are all scarce items. Mothers make a whistling sound to cue their babies, and little ones dressed in split-crotch pants easily eliminate in response. By the time children can walk, around 12-14 months, they know to squat and eliminate on their own.

In many places throughout the globe, including India, Africa, Russia, and South America, locals use a similar method. In warmer climates, babies are carried naked in slings. Mothers respond to babies’ cues and signals by taking the baby out of the sling, and little ones are free to eliminate without soiling themselves or their mamas.

So…What Now?

You want to start communicating with your little one about elimination, but you have no idea where to start. We didn’t, either. Here are four tools to launch your EC relationship.

Get going. You can potty your baby from birth, or as early as you feel comfortable. Miriam got started soon after birth; Megan waited three months until they had settled into more of a routine. It’s most important that pottying is enjoyable for everyone. If you’re overly stressed by the idea, it’s probably not the right time.

Read cues. It may seem hard to believe, but during his first few months, your little one probably communicates before he goes, whether you respond or not! Common signals include sudden fussing, squirming, grunting or crying out, becoming still, waking from sleep, or a specific facial expression.

Once your baby’s old enough to notice visual cues, you may want to incorporate the sign for potty. Around six months—or earlier, if you’d like—you can show your baby the toilet sign every time you say potty. In American Sign Language, it looks like a closed fist, shaken from side to side, with your thumb peeking out between the index and middle finger.

Once a baby begins signing, it’s pretty amazing to have him deliberately tell you that he needs to go. For some, this happens as early as nine months, but all babies develop and communicate at different rates and in different ways.

Give cues. Around the world, mothers give their babies cues, like “ssshhh” or “psssss.” In the early days of your EC journey, the cue is given when mom notices her baby going. Eventually, her baby associates the cue with relaxing his bladder and releases when he hears the sound.

Get support. In today’s wired world, if none of your neighbors practice EC, you can still get all the help and encouragement you need online. Check out The Other Baby Book’s Facebook page or Diaperfreebaby.org for more support!

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This post was excerpted from The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Check out our book to learn more about other baby-friendly practices, like natural birthing, on-cue nursing, baby-led weaning, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing! And the e-version is FREE from October 9-12!!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

9 Best Baby-Led Weaning First Foods

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One of my favorite practices during our first daughter’s first year was Baby-led Weaning, the practice of giving her autonomy over feeding herself solids. This means we didn’t go the rice cereal route (empty, yucky calories, and a time-consuming mess? no thanks!), but went straight to real, nutrient dense food. After filling her up on milk, we offer whatever food it is we’re eating (within reason – spicy chicken wings doesn’t make the cut) and let her explore, eat, or reject the offerings. Compared to many of our friends, who start their babies on food before six month, we started a bit later (7.5 months), waiting until our daughter hit the 6 month milestone when her gut was fully sealed, could sit up unsupported, and showed an interest.

I’m not a nutritionist, nor do I play one on tv, but I can tell you what we’ve found to be the most nutrient dense, easy to eat, and well-liked items in our home for those first few months of “playing” with food.

1. Egg yolk. This is a messy one, but SO loved. It was both girls’ first food. Sometimes we scramble a few yolks separately, or hard boil an egg and just pop out the circular yolk.

2. Avocado. If you leave a little piece of the (washed) skin on and cut it into a wedge, it’s a bit easier to eat.

3. Root vegetable fries. My girls have enjoyed beets, sweet potato, red potato, carrot, turnip – roasted and with a little butter or olive oil. In the other half of the pan, I’ll add seasonings to the portion for the rest of the family.

4. Fried apples. Cut into wedges for easy gripping, apple slices sautéed in butter or coconut oil are super yummy. It’s like apple sauce that babies can pick up.

5. Melons. My second daughter started food in the summer, and adored cantaloupe, watermelon and honey dew melon, cut into finger sized chunks.

6. Beef Sticks. We buy grass-fed beef sticks from US Wellness Meats and I live off them when I’m pregnant and nursing. Both girls really like them too! They suck on them and as they get a little older, are able to get some of the meat out.

7. Oranges. I didn’t like oranges until my second pregnancy, so we never kept them around the house. But after my second daughter was born, we always had a stash, and turns out she loves them! She sucks all the juice and leaves me an empty orange “shell”.

8. Hard cheese – Do you know that in Italy, a common first food for babies is parmesan cheese mixed with olive oil? I haven’t gone that far, but my girls enjoy sucking on a good quality cheddar or hunk of parmesan.

9. Whatever else we’re eating. I’ll take out pieces of vegetables from a stew, cucumbers from our salad, or banana from the oatmeal.

Mamas, baby-led weaning should be a fun, stress-free experience! Remember, breast-fed babies do not need anything aside from milk during their first year, so food should be a time for exploration, play, and first tastes! If you’d like more structure to your baby-led weaning experience, you may enjoy the cookbook, (review here) or the book, “Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater.” If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the cookbook! It’s all the info from the book, condensed, with recipes!

Want to learn more about other baby-friendly practices, like elimination communication (ditch the diapers!), nursing, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing? Check out our book, The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year.

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

A Journey to Home Birth

When I was pregnant with my first in 2009, I had this idea that women who have their babies at home had some exceptional birthing abilities (or just couldn’t get in the car fast enough). Maybe they had really large pelvises, or were skilled in hypno-birthing, or were just uberconfident. I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and thought perhaps the hospital was the best place for your average Betty Birther like me, who felt pain, had no patience for imagining I was on a beach, and yelled a lot during my first birth. I felt like I had no place having my baby at home–and I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to. My birthing mojo had been stolen, and I had to find a way to get it back…

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Serafina’s homebirth, 2/2014

You could say I was a reluctant home birther. I always assumed women who have their babies at home just know that they know that they know. I didn’t. My first birth was in a hospital, and though there was plenty I could grumble about (you want to take my baby for a hearing test at 3am, really?!), I felt comfortable with the decision after considering both a birth center and briefly, a home birth. The idea of a home birth appealed to me on a visceral level – it felt like the most natural thing to do. Yet, I knew plenty of moms, and they all delivered their babies in hospitals, so how could bad could institutionalized birth be?! Plus, my husband and mother, the two most important people in my life, didn’t support it. At all. It was the “What-if-something-goes-wrong” argument. No amount of Ricki Lake could convince either of them otherwise, and it didn’t seem worth the effort. (I won’t spend time here talking about the safety of home birth, but feel free to check out some studies yourself!)

And really, my hospital birth wasn’t all that bad. It was pretty ordinary, and maybe a little boring for the doctor waiting in the wings, in case the midwife needed support. I didn’t get an epidural, wasn’t induced, wasn’t monitored very frequently. One of the nurses even said in a quiet tone, “We love these kinds of births. We hardly ever get to see them and they seem so real!” (Yes, as I am screaming, I mentally note that there is nothing fake about the intensity of a contraction.) After my baby was born, I requested they not cut the cord, not administer eye drops, or a Vitamin K shot, or bathe the baby, or vaccinate…needless to say, my “birth plan” was pored over by everyone who came in the room, just to make sure they got it all right.

I’ll admit – it was tiring to continually say, “Yes, you read that right. No, no Hep B. No, please don’t wash off the vernix.” And although at firstI chuckled, I got tired of seeing the biohazard symbol on my baby’s little plastic box, just because I refused her bath. (The plastic box is a whole different issue.)

Fast forward 3 years, and despite an enormous amount of research, interviews, and meeting homebirthing moms through writing The Other Baby Book, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go the home birth route during my second pregnancy. I truly supported and encouraged homebirth as an option for pregnant moms, but still had some hard-to-articulate concerns about the pain (was I prepared to handle another birth like my first again??). I knew at that point a home birth was likely going to be a much better overall experience than a hospital birth, but I also knew my husband’s stance, and didn’t look forward to the push back I thought I’d get from the rest of our family. So, I decided to find a new midwife (mine had moved on from the practice), go back to the hospital, and suck up the emotional drain of explaining myself to each new nurse on shift.

But my first appointment with a hospital midwife was disappointing enough to be my last. After waiting an hour (HOUR!), only to talk about testing, and percentiles, and risks for 30 minutes, I had a sour taste in my mouth. The midwife I met with was supposed to be one of the most sympathetic to natural birth, and yet I didn’t get that impression at all. It felt much more like pregnancy was one big “What if?” The last thing I wanted was for someone else to be casting doubts about the next nine months, and about birth in general. I wanted a birth provider who was knowledgable enough to provide excellent care, who shared the same birth philosophy with me – that birth is a natural, normal occurrence. I felt really discouraged after my appointment, and my thoughts kept drifting back to a home birth. I called a friend who recently had her baby at home, and she came right over to talk me through some of my concerns. I’ll never forget her words.

There are risks no matter where you birth. Do you trust God with the outcome of your birth, no matter where it is and what happens?” I nodded, though I pondered those words for the days and months to come. “Then have your baby where you have the most peace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. Even me.” It’s amazing how friends can speak the words we most need to hear, but don’t have courage enough to speak to ourselves.

The more I thought about birthing at home, the more excited I became. I had moved on from just not wanting to be in a hospital, to embracing the idea of being at home. So, I cautiously brought up the idea of a home birth to my husband, and he agreed to meet a few midwives. It helped that by this time, Miriam and another dear friend had both had positive home birth experiences.

We started by meeting a very experienced midwife, who I knew had an answer for every question under the sun. Mark was impressed. I liked her, but wasn’t sure it was the best fit…especially for over $5,000! From there, I dug through a local list serv and got recommendations for other midwives. I called a few, but when I met Sarafina, I knew she’d be the one. She has a presence about her–calming, empowering, and someone I’d be OK with seeing me naked. Seriously. That’s a factor. In other words, I felt totally at ease around her. Sarafina’s partner, Jessica, has this quiet strength, and bonus: they have an amazing student midwife, Kara, who never stopped smiling, and always complemented whatever I was cooking when she came over (way to my heart – love my food)!

The entire experience went beyond my expectations. What stands out though, is the quality of prenatal and postpartum care. I looked forward to every appointment–and not just to hear the baby’s heartbeat, but to have a conversation about what was going on in all aspects of my life. It felt like a very holistic model of care, rather than a fractionated, numbers driven model. They always presented my options, but never once did I feel like there was any agenda. I could chose what testing I wanted, or how to approach certain issues. I didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or belittled for my choices. I felt informed, and encouraged to make my own best decision. Barring some of my physical discomforts, I was at peace with my pregnancy in a way that I wasn’t for my first.

It’s the little things that make a difference too – Sarafina and Jessica came to my house for the third trimester (rather than me driving to their office), and I can’t tell you how fantastic that was. I didn’t have to disturb Anabella, or rush around in traffic, in snow, to make an appointment on time. I could be in my pajamas, or eating breakfast. There are five (!) postpartum visits to boot. I was so surprised to learn that. Sarafina gave me a great hip massage on day 3, Jessica did some breastfeeding troubleshooting, laundry lugging and folding, and general encouragement on day 7, and all along the way, they were available for any questions I’ve had. I’m going to miss our times together. I may just have to have another baby…

What about you? Where did you birth? What was the decision-making process like?

You can read more about my actual birth here, and if you’re in the MA/Boston area, you can find BirthMatters, Jessica and Sarafina’s practice, here. 

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.