Shyama Caruso with 2-year-old son Riley networked with alternative health care providers at Southern Oregon Birth Connections' Mother's Day meeting. - Bob Pennell

Making Connections

With more showers than flowers defining this Mother's Day, Hinako Kuhlow decided there's no place she'd rather be than a free potluck celebration at Ashland's Bellview Grange.

"I wanted to see all the moms and babies," says the 28-year-old Talent resident, cradling her 6-week-old son, Mahkai.

Kuhlow and many other participants connected through midwife Laura Roe at the monthly event organized by a new, local network of health providers.

A founding member of Southern Oregon Birth Connections, Roe invited some 25 families she serves annually to the group's fourth meeting since February. Practitioners plan to educate the community at these regular gatherings on aspects of childbearing and rearing, as well as mainstream, alternative and holistic facets of health care.

"There's so much information, and it's kind of nice to have it consolidated," says Kuhlow's husband, 31-year-old Zach Kuhlow.

"It's kind of like a provider listing but in person," says Stella Lyn, a doula, apprentice midwife and herbalist who helped found the group.

"I think it's amazing to them to realize how many choices there are," says Lyn. "It's like putting a face to a name."

From naturopathic physicians and lactation specialists to yoga instructors and massage therapists, a dozen practitioners are listed on the website www.southernoregonbirthconnections.com. More than 30 providers, however, massed for the group's first event, a Valentine's Day open house, says Lyn. La Clinica and Ashland Community Hospital have been represented, along with acupuncturists, herbalists and hypnotherapists.

Starting with a 30-minute meet-and-greet before an hour-long lecture, the gatherings host "new ideas and other ways of living," says Kuhlow, a nursing student who was raised by a "vegan, hippy-type mom." He says he sees no reason why mainstream medicine can't coexist with holistic models.

"Eventually, they'll merge."

Southern Oregon Birth Connections opened its lecture series in March with the topic of pregnancy, followed in April by childbirth choices. Upcoming lectures will address pregnancy's fourth trimester, the "precious" newborn and breast-feeding. After October's baby-ware fair, organizers likely will plan presentations on pediatric care, vaccinations and other stages in child development and family health, says Lyn.

Dispensing with the serious topics for Mother's Day, Southern Oregon Birth Connections put on a free brunch, live music and kid-friendly crafts. About 100 guests piled their plates with fruit, cheeses, salads, breads, quiches, frittatas and desserts — some gluten-free and dairy-free — to the tune of acoustic guitars.

While children painted ceramic flower pots to plant with violas, parents indulged in a little complimentary Thai massage. Raffling gift certificates for rafting trips, photography and bodywork helped raise funds for future events.

"We are offering to give back a little bit this time," says Lyn.

Giving back was Shannon Clery's intent by attending with her 5- and 2-year-old sons Milo and Kieran, both born at home under Roe's care. Her family with husband Rob Sweeney is complete, Clery says, but she wanted to show appreciation for practitioners who had a hand in the birth and health of her children.

"I just wanted to come out and support their efforts," says the 38-year-old Ashland resident.

Before Southern Oregon Birth Connections formed in fall 2009, Clery was immersed for four years in a precursor of sorts that Roe suggested. The local e-mail group Mamas Medicine Wheel includes about 200 women of childbearing age who share parenting and health ideas, with Clery as moderator. Southern Oregon Birth Connections, she says, brings those voices out into the community.

"This is something that's just so much more of a personal way to connect."

Since giving birth to 4-month-old Ahtiana, Myra Villella craved a social connection, which Southern Oregon Birth Connections provided for her family of four.

"We just had our baby, and I felt like I was really out of the social calendar," says the 28-year-old Ashland resident, adding that she planned to attend more events.

The Villellas shared brunch with their family physician, Dr. Bonnie Nedrow, who says she values the opportunity to make her practice and personage accessible through gatherings like these, which aren't just a service to families.

"There's a whole bridging with all sorts of practitioners ... that I wouldn't normally spend time with," says Nedrow, who practices at Ashland's Hidden Springs Wellness Center.

Rather than making a referral from a list, Nedrow can refer patients just across the room for a complementary therapy. One parent's question may engender a group discussion that wouldn't surface in a doctor's office. Peers lend perspectives that may elude practitioners, Nedrow says.

"We learn so much better in a group," she says. "I like to kind of go back to that model.

"We've lost the sense of community, and that's where people really learn from each other."

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