Robin Lim, CPM and 2011 CNN Hero of the Year, accepts the first Jeannine Parvati Memorial Birthkeeper award from the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, in San Francisco on November 16, 2012.
Robin Lim is an outspoken advocate for accessible and gentle maternity care. With unstoppable dedication, she authored over 20 books and speaks around the world, trains midwives and physicians to provide respectful competent maternity care. Robin founded Bumi Sehat, a nonprofit organization which provides perinatal care, birth services, a host of ancillary services such as literacy education and geriatric yoga groups in Nyuh Kuning Village outside of Ubud Bali, Indonesia. Bumi Sehat was among the first responders to provide health care services in Aceh, Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami devastation. She works exhaustingly to run her organization and promote accessible and gentle maternity care.
Conference attendees clamored for photo opportunities with CNN’s midwife hero. Yet, there was a notable absence of journalists for Robin’s scheduled press conference. Robin used the time to speak extemporaneously with a group of admirers. She discussed her work in Bali and the e-votes which created a consumer landslide for her 2011 CNN Hero of the Year award. As always, Robin encouraged health advocates to continue working for accessible health care, health maintenance and preventative programs. She told birth stories and discussed challenges of working cooperatively with Indonesia’s health care system.
As birth guru to those who promote healthy and respectful childbirth, especially home birth. Robin Lim and Ina May Gaskin are living embodiments of the women’s self-care revolution that began in the 1960s and 1970s.
Robin spoke of the importance of love, sparking a personal cord in the hearts of her listeners. She said birth advocates should love adversarial physicians and legislators, rather than speak against them, to build bridges for midwifery practice. Some of Robin’s admirers openly criticized and validated one another’s remarks such as, “Hospitals take the baby away,” “Hospitals don’t treat women as people,” “There is no privacy,” rather than seeking common ground from which to build rapport between health care providers.
Stemming my own frustration at a destructive us vs. them mentality, but honoring Robin’s authority, I contributed only, “There are respectful providers within the hospital system also.”
Robin’s admirers’ awe reminded me of ancient Birth Cults. While good can be wrought from inspirational movements, one should never relinquish critical thinking.
Robin and I have a deep and abiding friendship, commitment to each other’s families, and are passionate about our work. Like many close friends, we don’t always agree.
Our long complex history began in 1974 at Goleta’s Dos Pueblos High School near Santa Barbara. Robin was the young campus political activist while I was the teenage ideal respresentataive for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. We were in awe and intimidated by one another. Robin’s mother would not allow her to visit my home because she feared the cult of Transcendental Meditation. I lived with my mother at Maharishi International University’s makeshift campus in a rented stucco apartment building in nearby Isla Vista.
In time, Robin and I both spent time on the fringes of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation (TM) Movement where our lives crossed every few years. We were teenage destitute mothers who divorced abusive meditators. We both coincidently became midwives who practiced midwifery in Fairfield Iowa’s TM community (at different times). Thanks to Robin’s support, she allowed me to conduct medical anthropology research in 1997 (over 20 years after we met), documenting indigenous birthing practices in Bali for my graduate thesis through the University of California, San Francisco.
One of Robin’s favorite topics is Lotus Birth. “Lotus birth” means never cutting a newborn’s umbilical cord at birth. Robin speaks of lifelong attachment trauma from severing the cord. Robin advocates keeping the placenta attached to a newborn baby until the cord and attached placenta fall off, possibly a week after birth. At the minimum, Robin suggests to delay cutting the cord for several hours after birth. Robin referred to, in her view, needlessly “violent” images of scissors cutting an umbilical cord in otherwise lovely photos of gentle births.
Robin promises a peaceful future from the practice of Lotus Birth. This makes no sense! The placenta is an organ to support life inside the womb only. Every mammal cuts or eats the umbilical cord and placenta at birth. It is a far stretch to imagine lifelong trauma from cutting an umbilical cord.
Lotus birth is not scientifically valid, nor is a delay of several hours after birth before cutting an umbilical cord. For all of Robin’s fabulous work, it’s a shame that she avidly promotes this. The extreme practice of leaving a dead placenta attached to a baby can be hazardous. There is a very real risk of causing coagulopathy (dangerous clots or bleeding) by keeping a newborn attached to a dead useless placenta for a prolonged period. “Lotus birth” is a modern new-age ritual that lacks scientific basis. Promoting such radical practices can undermine the credibility of any well-intentioned health care provider, and can prove risky for babes.
Research and logic value delaying cutting the umbilical cord until it ceases pulsing oxygen and blood into a newborn (the number of minutes varies with each birth). Placental function keeps a newborn brain oxygenated while the lungs adjust to extrauterine life. Placental blood is baby’s blood; it maximizes newborn iron stores. But dead meat, e.g. a nonfunctional placenta for a mythical “Lotus Birth”, creates a needless risk.
Last evening, Robin invited me to join her for dinner with other home-birth goddesses : Nan Koehler, Robbie-Davis Floyd, and the adult children of late luminaries Jeannine Parvati Baker and Mary Kroeger.
Robin laughed with the group over dinner, “Of course I vote from Iowa, it’s a swing state. Every vote counts.”
Robin still lists the Transcendental Meditation community of Fairfield, Iowa as her American address, voting from Indonesia via absentee ballot. Earlier this week, Fairfield Iowa’s mayor declared November 13 as “Robin Lim Day”.
Robin then reached across the table, holding my hand. She smiled “Gina, can you imagine? I spoke about orgasmic birth, women’s health, sperm and contraception to Maharishi School and in Fairfield High School’s packed gymnasium. I thought of you all those years ago, as the first ‘Ru to attend high school there when you were the only TM teenager.”
“Something good is happening” I responded, quoting Maharishi. We laughed, raising our beer and hot sake to toast for divine retribution over grilled Ahi. Others at the table would never imagine our family’s shared victories over twisted cult histories.
Only last week, Robin spoke at several events in our former home-town, the home to Transcendental Meditation’s Maharishi University of Management (MUM). Robin is an inspirational, funny and charismatic speaker. Her heart warms to share her passion with a community that was integral to her family. Decades ago, the TM community valued celibacy and families were marginalized. She is (as am I ) gratified to see Fairfield’s meditation community acknowledge the importance of women and children’s issues. After our battles for children’s issues years ago, maybe there is hope. Our beloved community is awakening. Robin plans to actively maintain connection with her Fairfield supporters.
In the early 1980s, the TM community marginalized Robin, a few others, and me for our outspoken advocacy on behalf of children. Our concerns conflicted with Maharishi’s instructions to abandon children for hours daily to attend group Program (meditation) and Maharishi based meetings, atop necessary employment. Robin’s home, others’, and mine became de-facto orphanages for many TM neglected youth. Many young adults who were raised in Fairfield during those years developed very real problems.
Ironically Maharishi University of Management’s website now highlights Robin’s recent Fairfield honor, as can be seen here. MUM capitalizes on any local notoriety.
In her public talks in Iowa, Robin decried that her Fairfield honor is in a state where the practice of (non-nurse) midwifery can be tried as a felony, for practicing medicine without a license. Whereas, Certified Nurse-Midwives, like myself, are legally recognized in Iowa. A side note, Ina May Gaskin, the original advocate for home birth through her influential hippy-era book, Spiritual Midwifery, is an Iowa native.
Robin’s husband, Wil, and I stood behind Robin’s adoring crowds during the AAPPPH conference events. We caught up on family news while Robin met with other friends and adoring fans.
“That sport coat looks great on you!” I complimented Wil on his elegant jacket of raw silk.
“I picked it up at Fairfield’s Bargain Box for four dollars.” He said. We laughed with shared memories of a favorite thrift shop, where penny conscious shoppers purchase the pre-owned cast offs of Maharishi’s wealthy followers.
“That makes sense. That’s a used Raja jacket.” Bowing with my hands in prayer position over my heart, “Raja Wil. You are beaming today.” I teased him as a lofty Raja, a title with gold crown bestowed upon those who paid one million dollars for several months of prolonged meditation with Maharishi.
Will shrugged, “No one here knows that.” Fortunately, Wil never learned Transcendental Meditation.
“Hey, You can’t beat four dollars for a tailored silk jacket. That’s even less than it originally cost for custom tailoring in India.”
Old friends are the best!
For those in the Bay Area — On Sunday evening November 18, 2012, a fundraiser to support Bumi Sehat’s work, will be held in Santa Rosa, California. For information about this event, please look here.
Donations to Robin Lim’s Bumi Sehat foundation can be made here.