Women’s Health in Women’s Hands is a website by Carol Downer.  It features DIY Gynecology, with lots of woman-to-woman information about our reproductive and sexual anatomy, choices in the birth setting and breastfeeding, safe and effective birth control, abortion, menstruation, menopause, and menstrual extraction—told frankly from an independent woman’s point of view.
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Healing Birth is Healing Our Earth
April 30, 2015 through May 3, 2015
Berkeley City College

By Carol Downer

I met Molly Arthur at the THE TIME IS NOW Roundtable in Santa Barbara, CA in 2012.  She presented
a slide presentation showing how, even though she grew up in a influential family in the Bay Area, her mother contracted cancer which Molly believes stemmed from using Chanel No.5 every day of her life.  Molly sees environmental degradation as harming everyone, regardless of class.  She links the struggle to birth healthy babies to that of having a just and healthy world.

Molly has spoken extensively and attended midwifery and environmental conferences to gather like-minded people together, including Deb Puterbaugh and Suzanne Arms, to hold the Birthkeepers Summit whose goal was to “…launch a grassroots social movement for a paradigm shift which brings a maternal focus of care and compassion to life and birth systems…” 

Molly invited me to chair a session, “Reproductive Sovereignty or Bust”, and we held a self-help clinic in our room at a nearby hotel.

Approximately 300 people, nearly all women, attended.  Featured speakers included Katsi Cook, Loretta Ross, Dr. Michel Odent, and Robin Lim. 
4 breakout sessions with 6 concurrent workshops were offered by a dazzling array of 43 speakers who were authors and founders and members of women’s health organizations. 

The day after the workshop portion of the Summit was over, a
Teach-In was held in front of the Moscone Center protesting ACOG’s policies relating to childbirth practices, such as episiotomies and cesarean-sections.  At least 150 people attended.  The speakers had a bullhorn; they were knowledgeable and effective.  No press coverage.

The BirthKeeper Summit was great!  I hope a grass roots women’s health movement that is full spectrum and pro-woman comes out of it.  I highly recommend that activists working on women’s reproductive issues go to next years’ summit which will be held in Washington, D.C. May 12-15, 2016.

In contrast to most women’s health conferences, this conference welcomed all those active and interested in promoting all aspects of women’s reproduction, those concerned with birth control and abortion and those concerned with birth, and those who are working to protect the environment.  I felt tremendous energy and enthusiasm from the participants.

Also, in contrast to most women’s health conferences, women of color and indigenous women were integral to the program, not only in their numbers, but also in their input and leadership. The ambiance of the conference was open and accepting of diversity of approaches and ideas.

Many people told me that attending a Self-Help Clinic and seeing cervixes together, with other women changed their lives and they became midwives or started women’s health projects which they are still doing!  Other people have done this (Kathryn Hall-Trujillo of BirthProject USA; Linda Bennet, lay midwife arrested for practicing medicine without a license, for example), but I realized that we must revive our self-help clinics (or DIY Gynecology workshops or Shodhini sessions), because this is how the best feminist health projects have originated.

I’m working on getting self-help clinics to be part of women’s health conferences, not just on the periphery in a nearby hotel room.  So far, I’ve contacted BirthKeeper Summit 2016 and MANA 2015.  Still no answer from either.  Stay tuned.



I was among 11 Elder BirthKeepers who were honored the first night of the main conference.  The others were Raven Lang, Michel Odent, Nan Kohler, Phyllis and Marshall Klaus, Judy Luce, Suzanne Arms, William Emerson, Marily Milos and Kate Bowland.  We each spoke and then were presented with beautiful turquoise with gold shawls.  It was wonderful to have my abortion work recognized and to be treated so warmly by a group of women who mostly work in birthing babies.  I felt like I’d come to my full-spectrum “home”.

(Since I didn’t attend any workshops, I asked Janna Blair Slack to write up reports of workshops she went to.)

Janna: “RECLAIMING THE DIVINE FEMININE”, presenter Susan Highsmith, PhD, “Divine Feminine 101” mixed with a dash of the Da Vinci Code, but very enjoyable overall”.  She also attended “DIGNITY FOR WOMEN ACROSS THE PREGNANCY SPECTRUM”, speaker Farah Diaz-Tello.  “SO super informative, she’s a great presenter, passionate yet able to make her case clearly.  She discussed several of the most recent and egregious cases of women being criminalized for stillbirth or miscarriage or refusing a Cesarean.  She did a great job of outlining this disturbing trend, giving examples of how police are now increasingly called to the hospital room of families who’ve just had a stillbirth, for “protocol” reasons.  Can you imagine?  Having a stillbirth and in the subsequent hours having cops show up to question you???”

I displayed a speculum and the Del-em.  I sold all 12 copies of Sex, Herbs and Birth Control that were donated by Ann Hibner Kolwitz. I also displayed copies of A New View of a Womans’ Body, Women’s Book of Choices, How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist’s Office, Sweetening of the Pill by Holly Grigg-Spall, Cut, Stapled and Mended by Roanna Rosewood, and Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.  We gave away literature about pro-choice websites for abortion stories and menstrual extraction.  Janna Blair Slack displayed her books of poems, “The Doula Experience” for $5.  This can be ordered from

Many came by and looked at the books.  Several commented favorably on Caliban and the Witch, Sex, Herbs and Birth Control and A New View of a Woman’s Body.  I talked with the following:

Doulas Training International who had the booth across the aisle from us.  They are encouraging doulas to be advocates in the birth setting.

Alana Apfel, author of new book, “Birth Work as Care Work”
asked me to write a blurb for it.  I have done so; it is a worthwhile book which approaches women’s traditional care work and we women that do it with respect.

Margaret (Maggie) Matchin
She has been a sex worker (porn films), a drug-abuse prevention educator, and is now a doula.  I agree with her productive approach to confronting patriarchy without attacking women.

Diana Snyder-Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett LLP
Attorney working on the forced episiotomy case, which Improving Birth is totally committed to.

OUR SESSION “Reproductive Sovereignty or Bust” 
The panelists were Eileen Schnitger, Director
Women’s Health Specialists of Northern California, Fabiola Santiago, Research Associate at Human Impact Partners (HIP), Janna Slack, full-spectrum Doula from Eugene, Oregon, and Mary Lou Singleton, Midwife from Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

We had a very small attendance (4, including Farah Diaz-Tello of NAPW), possibly because there were 6 other concurrent sessions, one featuring Loretta Ross, another Stephanie Dawn, and another Shelly Sella.  Eileen presented a slide show.  The presentation went well.  Good discussion.

Our panel was approved for Continuing Education Units (CEU) by California Association of Midwives (CAM).  Carrie Sparrevohn, BS, LM, helped me thru the approval process. 

We distributed small flyers about the session in person and at the table, but there were only 7 of us.  Fabiola Santiago was the presenter and showed self-examination, and explained how to use the speculum.  Eileen Schnitger, her co-presenter, brought the self-help supplies and shared her cervix.  Then the others did self-examination, except one woman who indicated that she would like to do S-E with Fabiola.  The session was lovely and we laughed and shared information, like always.  Everyone left with a speculum.

MEETING WITH HERMINE HAYES-KLEIN, we met while Janna staffed the table.
  1. Improving Birth is supporting a woman who is suing a doctor for giving her a brutal episiotomy over her express clearly stated objections.  Her mother videoed the incident.  They were looking for an attorney.  I referred them to Mark Merin.  He took the case.
  2. she’s in contact with a woman who is considering offering menstrual extraction.  I explained to her what our policies and experiences are, and she is going to discuss this with the woman.
I ran into Margaret (Maggie) Matchin at the Teach-In on Sunday and we went to lunch with her man-friend.  Afterwards, she and I walked in the Haight-Asbury section and had a wonderful wide-ranging conversation, particularly about current problems with those who use the net to shame those who disagree with them.  We also visited Good Vibrations!  What a great place.


Dawn Thompson, Founder, President
Improving Birth, “Bringing Evidence-Based Care & Humanity to Childbirth”

Heather Thompson, Ph.D.
Elephant Circle:
(supporting strong people during vulnerable times)

Karen Ehrlich, CPM, LM
11120 Oceanview Avenue
Felton, CA 95018

Dynamic Doulas

Bernadett, midwife
Portland, Oregon, 97283

Claire Campbell


Verana Bailowitz
Told me that Peruvian Shaman helped give herbs, prayer, ceremony for ovarian cyst rupture issues.

Abi Huff

Dr. Eden Fromberg

Jodi Koumouitzes,
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