Monday, December 7, 2015

Is Your Child Being Gaslighted? Watch Out!

This is the second part in the child abuse series. You can read about grooming here.

Gaslighting is a potent, but often obscure form of psychological abuse. The term comes from a popular movie, Gaslight. In the movie, the husband slowly and progressively gains psychological control of his wife by employing various mental techniques that lead her to doubt herself, become isolated, and eventually feel as if she is going insane. Altogether, these techniques are referred to as the process of gaslighting.

Because gaslighting can be very slight and insidious, many people are unsure how to identify it and how to prevent it so as to protect their children. Like its sister, Grooming, adults often use gaslighting techniques routinely for a variety of non-violent reasons.

The problem is, even if Grams or the kindly neighbor down the street are falling into gaslighting behaviors innocently, the patterns set up in early childhood can leave a lasting impression on your child, creating a vulnerability for future cycles of abuse.

“Gaslighting occurs when a person you trust to tell you the truth about reality, is, in fact, bending reality with lies. When this happens consistently over a period of time it causes you to question your sanity.” (Anna Valerious, Narcissists Suck)
“Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.” (Theodore L. Dorpat, “Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation, and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Analysis“)

So, what is it, exactly? In as short a summary as possible, gaslighting is the method of making a person doubt herself and trust the person more than herself. This can involve rewriting history, implanting fake memories or distorting memories. It can involve questioning her motives and emotions or invalidating them. It can be as slight but profound as making her think she can't trust what she saw or heard with her own eyes and ears.

And although doing this to children might come from non-violent or even well meaning intention, as you're realizing, this is a precarious foundation for a child. We want to raise children who can trust their inner compasses, who can rely on their instincts, and who can accurately process what they see, hear, feel, and sense in the world around them.

The Primary Method

When it comes to small children, the primary method of gaslighting is emotional invalidation. Emotionally invalidating small children is a simple and fast way to gain control over or compliance from them. When you hear someone emotionally invalidating your child, it's a safe assumption that gaslighting has just occurred or is occurring.

"Chin up, Bud! I was only teasing."

"Hey, don't cry now. I didn't say anything mean. There's no reason to cry."

"You're not mad at him. He was only playing. Don't be immature."

"Why are you scared? It's just a mask."

"That means he has a crush on you! It didn't cause any blood anyways."

If you hear emotionally invalidating statements, quickly place yourself in the situation. Get down to your child's level, make gentle physical contact and gentle eye contact. Ask your child for details and listen closely. When you hear underlying emotions, pinpoint them, name them, and remind the child it's ok to feel them. Point out boundaries if they are involved. For example, "Whether or not Timmy likes you, it's never right to push you on the ground. Next time, tell him to stop and find an adult if he keeps chasing you."

The Secondary Method

The second process of gaslighting children will usually instantly sort out who is benevolent and who is planning to intensely abuse your children. This method might not be a common or frequent danger, but when it happens, it's time to take careful notice. It's the process of creating an alternate reality, often with emotional connection or emotional intimacy to the adult projecting the false reality.

Adults who do this for non-violent reasons typically are only using your child for basic emotional feeding. This is lightly related to objectifying people as "emotional supplies" in other topics such as dealing with personality disordered abusers. By creating and projecting a reality to your child, the person creates an artificial level of intimacy for bonding. This is very similar to the grooming technique that sexual abusers use, to create the "special secret" that only the abuser and the child know. The adult gets to "feed" off the positive emotions of the child, receiving joy, happiness, excitement, attention, love, and affection from the child in exchange for the projected false reality.

Wanting the child to participate in traditions, rituals, games or other "fun" play that is covertly imbued with a sense of reality is the main sign of secondary gaslighting. The important note here is that although the adult is playing a game, (or the adult justifies the method by telling other adults he's playing a game), the child is groomed to accept it as reality. Santa is real. Animals are really talking at night. Leaving food out for the Elves actually keeps them from turning evil. Etc, etc.

Signs of the second method include:

High levels of details about a tradition or ritual. So, it's not merely a fun game about Santa, but a careful description of who he is, what he will do in your home, how the child has to behave, where Santa lives...

A sense of secrecy, privacy, and intimacy. It's a special game just between your child and the adult. Others who "don't believe" have been tricked by a "bad" character in the game, or are lacking virtue (faith, hope, innocence...). Other adults can't be trusted to tell the truth or will try to convince your child to give up belief. The child might be encouraged to keep secrets or hide details from other adults and children.

Behavioral-based or focused. This might be when many parents start to notice something is happening. The child's behavior changes. The child might be scared to sleep at night because the elves are moving around in her room. Or the child tries to be "good" to earn the promised rewards. A sign that the person doing the gaslighting might have abusive plans is when the behavior involves the adult. For example, the child has to obey the adult. The child has to shower the adult with affection. "Give me a hug, remember, that's what good girls do!"

Breeds mistrust and doubt. The child starts to have trouble deciding what is real and what is not. Who is trustworthy, who is not. The child often begins to doubt himself, wondering if his senses work or if he's remembering things correctly. If another child or adult shares information contrary to the artificial reality, the child gets upset or anxious. If you try to affirm your child, you might realize your authority and trust is already eroded, and the child has already been warned that you are lying.

Includes other people. To help fortify an artificial reality, the adult will often enlist other cooperative people to prove to your child that she can't trust her own senses. This also creates a sense of isolation in the child, as she begins to think everyone else agrees and no one else has a different perspective. If you see other people playing along, the situation is probably pretty advanced at this point.

Combating these forms of gaslighting can be very difficult. They are slow, progressive, often hidden forms of manipulation. Adults from all walks of life and in all positions can use these techniques on your children. In the classroom, church nursery, at playdates, while babysitting, at family reunions.

As the child goes through the bonding process and her boundaries are broken down by the adult, she not only has trouble trusting her own instincts, but can then be taught to ignore or despise the input from other children and adults, namely you: the parent.

Once you've lost your position as a trustworthy ally, it can be a long and hard fight to save your child from this level of enmeshment. Although often times, this cycle is non-violent, such as a well-meaning Grandma trying to make Christmas "fun" for your kids, there are times where gaslighting is used deliberately to gain control of your child for additional abuse.

If this involves the adults in your life, the additional abuse might even be intended for you. For example, once the adult has broken down the natural barriers your child has, and gained control of him, he might then use the child to abuse you, and continue abuse that you experienced in your own childhood. You can read more about it here and here.

With your child isolated and artificially enmeshed with this adult, it leaves your child vulnerable to sexual abuse, emotional abuse/scapegoating, psychological manipulation, and more. It can also mean the child is forced to witness abuse of other children and told to keep it a secret. Sometimes, the witnessed abuse is woven into the story. For example, the adult might physically abuse another child in front of your child, then explain that the Elves told the adult to do it because the other child was misbehaving.

Whenever you notice gaslighting techniques, confront the person immediately. The sooner you confront gaslighting, the less damage your child can experience. This also sends a warning to the other adult(s) that you are watchful and will intervene. Ways to combat gaslighting:

Expose your child to a variety of beliefs, ideas, cultures, and people.
Encourage exploration and child-led fantasy, not adult-created stories.
Encourage your child to question the world around her and inside of her.
Find opportunities to affirm him and his impressions, beliefs, and conclusions.
Play the memory game, where she discusses a memory as SHE remembers it and you affirm it.
Spend time emotionally validating your child daily, accepting his emotions, especially tough ones. 
Promote a sense of authentic intimacy with caregivers, family, and friends so the child has his heart filled and isn't eagerly searching for someone.
Explain the difference between a surprise and a secret.
Create a word or gesture to share when the child wants to play fantasy and make something "real" instead of trying to convince the child it isn't real.
Deconstruct the projected reality with information. Research the history of traditions and rituals. Watch movies together, read books, attend cultural events.
Emphasize healthy disagreement versus control and overriding another person. Model healthy ways to hold many viewpoints and to respect input from other people. Remind your child that she can hold onto her own memory, her own emotions, her own viewpoints even in the face of controversy, and even when a bigger, stronger, smarter, adult disagrees with her. 

More resources on gaslighting:

Techniques and description

Repairing afterwards

Connection to narcissism

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

When Marriage isn't Beautiful

I know I'm not qualified to talk about marriage because my husband and I are coming up on 8 years. We've been friends since we were kids and we were highschool sweethearts, but the rough road only started 8 years ago. It's hardly a drop in the bucket.

But, I did want to get this off my chest because I've had a couple people mention how "beautiful" our relationship looks to them. Ha. On the outside.

Let me tell you something about marriage, or at least our marriage, although I suspect this is a generally true situation for most things worth experiencing in life.

It's not beautiful. It's not amazing. It's not a breath of fresh air or some lovely daydream.

Marriage is about walking into a person's deepest, darkest nightmares. Freely. Yeah! You make a public agreement to do this! It's about choosing every day to stand by that person's side.

Love isn't fun like an umbrella drink on the beach. Love isn't fresh and pampering, as if you've found someone to fulfill your every whim or make your life easier.

It's hard, sweaty, dirty, even scary work.

It's about going into the darkest part of your heart, something few people want to do on their own. And then INVITING another person into that room! It's about someone holding your hair while you vomit into the toilet. And not a clean toilet. It's about staying up all night with a toddler who refuses to wear a diaper, but wants to keep peeing in the bed. It's about the one thousandth time you asked your spouse to please close the drawer so the baby doesn't get into it, and the next morning, the drawer is open.

Marriage takes the absolutely worst, dreariest, boring, annoying, ugly parts of you and puts them on crystal clear, hi-def directly in the other person's face! And for them, the same to you!

When you're leaning against the edge of the birth pool, screaming that you can't and that you hate him, that's marriage. When he's worked 30 hours of overtime and makes monosyllable grunting noises then falls asleep, that's marriage. Watching your partner experience negative emotions, and make poor choices is marriage. Watching her age, watching her suffer, that's marriage. When the house is wrecked and the kids are screaming and fighting and you wish you could go eat at a fancy restaurant but you dig into leftovers, that's marriage. There's nothing glam about it, because the purpose isn't to make you look better or to get you what you want at the expense of your family.

Every twisted scar, every childhood wound, every dirty secret, is in some horrible way, a gift to the other person. And marriage comes into play because you've seen it all. You've bared it all and you've seen it all. You've been through everything from the awkward to the uncomfortable. You've said goodbye to loved ones, you've heard her sob in the middle of the night over a pregnancy loss, you've seen him walk in the door with a gaunt look on his face and known something was wrong. And you keep walking side by side through it all.

People are quick to say they would die for their loved ones. They would take a bullet. They would say, "Choose me" to the bad guy, to save their partner or children. They would go on a secret mission to save the world. They would be a hero.

And what they forget is that real love is dying a little every day in obscure and minute ways. In ways that no one else sees. You don't get medals for quietly doing the laundry when you'd rather be working on a personal project. You don't get medals for going to work every day to support your family. People don't stand on the side of the road and cheer for you after you've wiped the ten thousandth snotty nose and tucked your child in for the millionth time. When you make the choice to calm your ego and respond to an irritable partner with respect, no one sees in your home. When you clasp his hand in the middle of the night and choose to be there for him after a hard day, no one cheers you on for losing more sleep.

Love rarely requires us to be heroes and heroines. Hardly anyone is in the movies. Instead, we're living out the real deal of life. It comes with a steady drip drip drip of expectations, and those expectations aren't pretty. It's about looking at our own imperfections. Admitting we have imperfections, and spending every day working on them, asking the people who deserve the most from us to forgive us yet again.

And somehow at the end of the day when ever fiber of your being has tried it's hardest to keep mothering and keep cleaning and keep breastfeeding and he walks in the door grumpy and tired, marriage is the choice to walk over to him, and squeeze his sweaty, stinky, dirty, tired, scarred body close to your sweaty, stinky, dirty, tired, scarred body, and whisper that you missed him. That you love him.

Because somehow, despite all of this parenting and partnering being the hardest thing in your life. Despite feeling the drip drip drip of every day tearing apart at the selfishness in your soul, despite opening every square inch of your heart and baring yourself in all your imperfections...this is the best thing you've ever done. It's soul-twisting, heart-wrenching, bone-wearying work raising a family and solidifying a marriage. It doesn't come with parades and medals or immediate success. You can't even be sure you will make it. But, you know deep down it's the most valuable thing in your life. So you keep going.

It's a lot of things. But, fun, fresh and airy, pretty? Those aren't the right words.

Happy Anniversary, Hon. Here's hoping for the gift of eight more years, then eighteen and onwards.

I know I'm not qualified to talk about marriage b/c my husband and I are coming up on 8 years. Hardly a drop in the...
Posted by The Guggie Daily on Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Short Time Ago

A Short Time Ago 

A short time ago, I waited and waited. "If she isn't born soon, will doctors go in there and take her?" I stared at my coworker, surprised by the wording and tone. "She's my little girl, she'll tell me when she's ready."

A short time ago, I labored and labored. "It's been days now, you should just go to the hospital and get it over with already." "You've tried long enough, you don't get a medal, you know." "Even though everything seems alright, maybe something is actually wrong." I stared at words on the screen from my online friends. "She's doing well. She'll be born when she's ready."

A short time ago, I struggled and struggled to breastfeed. "This is day FOUR and your milk isn't in yet. Just give her a bottle." "Aren't you tired of pumping AND breastfeeding?" "She's obviously never going to get the hang of it, just get her tongue tie done." I grimaced at the words over the phone and told them, "She's working hard with me. We'll find our way in due time."

A short time ago, my daughter was capable by my judgment, but hesitated. In all kinds of places. In academics. In sports. In friendships. I knew she could do it, but her mind would tell her to wait, to observe, to think twice. I bought her a bike when she was 3, but she refused to ride it again after her first try. "Just put her on it and tell her to pedal, and don't back down until she does it!" I quietly put the bike in the closet. "She will figure it out when she's ready."

The voices grew in number, and they surged like a peak in a song. "She's not trying hard enough, you're not pushing her enough," they would say. "Have you taken her in for testing? Maybe something is wrong," they would urge. In a whisper, some would drop phrases, "Selective mutism" and "autism." They'd knowingly nod. I'd stare at them, sigh, and grimace, shake my head, and turn away. I knew my daughter and my daughter knew I was on her side. "She will be ready when she is ready, and not a moment earlier."

A short time ago, my daughter quietly pulled her bike out of the closet. She rode it through the house over to me while laughing. "Mom, I want to ride my bike now." It was dark and had just rained, but I stood out there on the trail, laughing with delight as she rode her bike as if she always could.

A short time ago, I opened the door to the bathroom and found her reading a paperback book. "Do you read now?" I asked her, an odd calm in my voice. She smiled hesitantly at me, before opening up her excitement like a dam exploding. We suddenly had favourite authors and genres in common. "Let me introduce you to Nancy Drew," I whispered, almost strangled with happiness.

A short time ago, I watched her walk up to strangers and greet them. I watched her make friends with anyone, no litmus test necessary. I watched her try new foods and learn new languages. She blossomed, she opened, a flower blooming on her own time in all her glorious beauty. I wanted to shout to out to all those voices, "I was right! I was right! My daughter is who she is, and I stood next to this tightly closed rosebud and protected her!"


A short time ago, my daughter took my hand and said, "Come over here, Mom! Try this new ride! It makes your brain think you're sky diving. "Sorry, I'm too busy." In truth, I was too scared. Who would ever want to simulate falling?

A short time ago, she ran over to my side at the restaurant. "MOM! You have to taste this! It's delicious!" I hesitated, staring at the fork. "Um, I don't know. I like what I ordered. You enjoy it."

A short time ago, I watched my daughter approach new children at the park and begin talking to them. I looked shyly at another mom. I made eye contact, then looked down again. I stayed on the park bench that day.

A short time ago, my daughter yelled at the top of her lungs. "MOM! MOM! MOM!" I looked up, up, up, and saw her at the top of the tall slide. Just at the beginning of summer, she wouldn't even consider going with me on the little slides. I had begged her. Cajoled her. Told her it was safe and I would go with her. She had stood there, eyes wide, silent, shaking her head. Now, she was screaming down from the top, "MOM! C'mon! GO WITH ME!" I stood there silently on the ground, shaking my head. I couldn't ever conquer that slide. She went down alone. I sat that day and pondered a lot of things.

A short time ago, she asked me to climb a rock wall. "No, sorry. I'm too tired. The babies will need me. I don't know if I can do it." The words stuck in my throat. I looked down at her and smiled. I took her hand. We climbed that wall together. Just a short time ago.


What it's like to be 5...unconditionally

A Short Time AgoA short time ago, I waited and waited. "If she isn't born soon, will doctors go in there and take her?...

Posted by The Guggie Daily on Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When you feel stuck, start moving your quarks.

Over the years, I've come to realize one of the prevailing emotions people are experiencing when they contact me for help is that of being stuck.

How did I get here? 
What am I going to do?
How can I ever get out of this spot?
I don't have any choices.
I can't do anything to change.
I try to become a better person and I fail.

They are on a path that keeps going forward into the distance, and they don't know why, and they don't know how to stop, or turn around, or get on a new path. They spend a lot of time thinking about steps to take, but here's where I think their efforts become ineffective: they only consider BIG steps in a linear and concrete way.

That's not how the universe works. The universe is not a straight, simple line. It is a maddeningly complex sworl, with many small pieces building upon themselves into larger pieces that then construct something out of nothing. And these building blocks become infinitely smaller, yet are all the more vital to the actual creation of matter.

You might not be strong enough, or have enough money, or enough freedom to move the molecules of your life. But, a quark? You can move a quark.

If you feel stuck today, go smaller. Don't invite more stress into your life, banging your head against atoms. Don't spend the day crying over how to get rid of a bad home purchase, or what to do about an fulfilling marriage while you're raising young children. Don't chase after the rapidly moving protons and electrons, as if you're going to find that dream job through sheer will in a day. You're not going to overhaul decades of unhealthy eating with a 30 day fix. You're not going to transform a mom-body neglected and hurt for years with an expensive shake.

No. Want to change? Then move your quarks. Today, put on a different pair of shoes. Eat something healthy for breakfast. Say hello to a neighbor you usually shuffle by with your head ducked. When you're at the store, buy a new vegetable that you haven't tried before. Go to the library and rent a book about another country. Try a new hairstyle. Buy an article of clothing you normally wouldn't wear.

Start chasing after leptons. Sign up for a class unrelated to your degree. Learn how to curse in another language. Go to that party you would've declined. Try out that hobby you secretly admire but feel guilty considering. Get outside and get your heart beating.

When you hear the voice in your head gearing up for a litany of negative and self-harming rants, change ONE script. Just one. You don't need a whole inspirational lecture, and your brain wouldn't believe something that overdone anyways. Just ONE small script will start to override the foundation of code set in your head.

I am worthy.
I have a right to exist.
I am lovable.
I bring happiness into my world.
I have the tools to be at peace.
I can do this.
I am all that I need to be in this moment.

Parents in a rut, skip that playground you visit every Friday. When your children are driving you insane and you feel that merry go round of fighting starting up again, lie on the ground and pretend you're morphing into a zombie instead of yelling at them. Get in the car and drive to somewhere you've never taken them, and don't tell them where you're going. Buy your child a gift on the way home from work today. Even if it's from the dollar spot. Surprise your children with something new and delightful, no strings attached, no reason for it.

I'm not trying to be 1950s here, but seeing as how much of my friend's list is comprised of SAHMs/WAHMs...when your spouse gets home, don't start droning on and on about how the day was, who pooped, what leftovers are for dinner, etc. Secretly call up a babysitter. Go to the local planetarium for a date. Play truth or dare. Laugh. Don't talk about the kids or the bills. When your partner walks in the door, just silently walk over and start making out. Can you imagine the surprise after years of coming home to a stressed out partner?

Every day is filled with millions of small decisions. The quarks and leptons of your life are right there, waiting for you. Start changing the smallest parts of your universe and you'll begin to realize your entire life can change, too.

For my geneticist friends who aren't into the references here, think of epigenetics and nutrigenomics.

What we eat, our physical activity, where we live, how we sleep, the stimulation of cortisol and adrenaline, all of these alter the genetic expression of our DNA. Every day, every little choice we are making is turning DNA on and off like a billion light switches, creating a big picture.

Simply by adding a new vegetable to your diet, you can change your genetics. Simply by learning a few words in another language, you can alter the synaptic behavior in your brain. Or learning to dance. Or meeting a new person.

Parents, every time YOU make a SMALL CHANGE in your parenting, you are LITERALLY altering your children's DNA. If you're trying to change your parenting, look to the small things. Trying to reconnect? Do you feel as if you don't have the time, the energy, the patience to shower them in love? All it takes is a big hug as they are getting into the car. One hug a day could change an entire lifetime. Instead of buying five parenting books you'll never have time to read, look into your child's eyes in the morning and genuinely SMILE. Say good morning brightly. Make the first words out of your mouth positive, and ignore the pressing, stressing stuff for a few moments.

Try it. Start small, start now, and stick with it. You will think it's silly, your brain will say it's patronizing, the voice in your head might say it's a worthless endeavor. But, over time, you'll start to see the changes build into something, every part of your universe sworling together in a new and beautiful way. You'll realize you were never stuck in the first place.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Bedtime Existential Crisis

Don't you hate how during bedtime, you just want the kids to lie down and go. to. bed. And their whining for more water, for one more story, for more snuggles, more nursies, just feels like TOO MUCH.

 But then, when you realized they've all fallen asleep, you're suddenly all like, "OH NOES. Did I love them ENOUGH? Did that one fall asleep while I was nursing this one? Did she close her eyes knowing she's loved? Was it really that hard to just give him ANOTHER sip of water? What is the meaning of life, other than one more sweet story w/ your children? What have I done?"

And you like...try to move them around on the bed from their odd positions where they dropped asleep, and try to give them an extra kiss and snuggle. But mostly they wiggle and drool and roll away from you, completely unaware of your existential parenting crisis...

Don't forget...where you steadfastly nurse your child to sleep every night of his existence from birth onwards, wondering if it will ever end. Then one night, he falls asleep on his own, like accidentally, and you go, OMG!!!! I didn't HOLD HIM! And nurse him! And whisper I love you ten thousand times!

All the while, your heart is full, and it is empty, and it is bursting with joy and pain. Like every contraction during labor, like every nerve wracking newborn breastfeeding session, like every moment of your parenting: you would go to the end of the world for your child and yet at any moment you could fall into an exhausted heap.

When you gaze down at your peaceful, serene children, you realize nothing else in the world matters. And yet, almost without noticing, your shoulders relax for the first time today, and your mind begins to wander to other purposes.


But then you quickly come to your senses. And pee alone. And eat icecream while watching horrible reality TV. ‪

This is the bedtime existential crisis.

How you imagine bedtime with a growing family:

How bedtime really is:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tikkun, Jewish Intactivism, and Human Kindness

Tikkun, Jewish Intactivism, and Human Kindness

Judiasm, Intactivism and the Movement to Enlarge the Scope of Human Rights

Jews and the Jewish world have been deeply involved in the many of the latest movements for human rights. The 1960’s and 1970’s were the beginning of the women’s and racial equality movements, and the environmental movement began to make inroads into general American consciousness. The 1990’s and 2000’s marked the beginning of the LGBT equality movement in the United States. In the 2000’s, ecological issues began to be acknowledged even by government and industry. In 2013, the Occupy movement that emerged in New York City spread worldwide as people began to consider economic necessities as a component of human rights. As the moral arc of human rights has increased, Judaism began to address similar issues. The rights of women were taken into account. All non-Orthodox Jewish traditions began to welcome gay congregants and perform weddings for gay couples. In many Jewish congregations environmental issuesadvocacy for peace, and humanitarian activities are viewed as more central than specific observances such as the minutia of Kashrut food preparation.

As we become aware of new ideas and strive to live in the most ethical ways possible, we review our beliefs and adjust them regularly to improve our own lives, and those of others.

On Babies and Bodies: Jewish Ethics, Intactivism and Social Responsibility

According to the religious interpretation of Halachah, all Jewish laws are interpreted within the framework of moral and human rights. Morals and human rights are always placed above laws, ritual, and scripture. This is a constantly evolving process as the realm of human rights continues to expand. Slavery and animal sacrifice were outlawed from Judaism thousands of years ago. Women increasingly gained rights, and eventually entered into the Rabbinate. Most Jewish communities are fully accepting of gays and lesbians and most non-Orthodox Rabbis will perform gay and lesbian weddings. Issues like the environmentcreating a compassionate world, and global human rights affect the ways that Jews adjust their lives to act in more ethical ways. Today children and babies are seen as possessing more human rights and more Jews are questioning circumcision as a result, even Rabbis. Some are questioning circumcision from a historical perspective. There are even some Jews who support laws against circumcision. Some Jewish Intactivists like Moshe Rothenberg and Ron Goldman have been pushing Jews to acknowledge these issues for decades, while many younger Jews are adopting Intactivist views more easily due to the use of the internet and holistic parenting ideas. The rise of Feminist thought and gender equality are also factors in the rise of Intactivism among a younger generation of educated Jews.
Many intact Jewish males feel comfortable in religious Jewish environments and are glad that they were kept intact. Intact Jewish males can be Bar Mitzvahed, read from the Torah, have a Jewish wedding and can do any other Jewish religious service in practice today.

The Evolution of Jewish Ritual and Practice

Blogger and lawyer Rebecca Wald and novelist and writer Lisa Braver Moss, both Jewish mothers, are working on a guide to these new rituals. Titled ‘Brit Shalom, a New Jewish Way to Welcome Baby’, it will contain the text of various peaceful Jewish covenant rituals, and contain the words of parents and Rabbis who favor it. Dr. Mark Reiss has compiled a list of more than 200 Brit Shalom celebrants, mostly Rabbis and Cantors, who perform these humane welcoming rituals.A couple of the experiences of Jewish parents who’ve chosen a Brit Shalom can be read here: Natalie Bivas (performed by two Rabbis), Shawn Stark’s son’ Brit Shalom led by Rabbi David MivisairStephari (with photos), Moshe RothenbergMichael S. Kimmel(in Tikkun magazine), Diane TargovnikSara RockwellRabbi Steven BlaneSome Jews who are rejecting circumcision are basing their beliefs in fundamental Jewish moral principles.
Young Jewish Families Keeping Their Newborn Sons Intact
Over 100 years ago, one of the most important leaders of the Jewish Reform movement, Rabbi Abraham Geiger wrote "I cannot support circumcision with any conviction, just because it has always been held in high regard. It remains a barbaric, bloody act, which fills the father with anxiety and subjects the mother to morbid stress. The idea of sacrifice, which once consecrated the procedure, has certainly vanished among us, as it should. It is a brutal act that does not deserve continuation. No matter how much religious sentiment may have clung to it in the past, today it is perpetuated only by custom and fear, to which surely we do not want to erect temples."

Today Jewish parents are finding many choices other than Brit Milah, including other covenant rituals, such as 
the well-popularized Brit Shalom. With more than 200 Jewish leaders, mostly Rabbis and Cantors officiating at them, these peaceful welcoming are becoming a much more mainstream Jewish phenomenon.

Here are what some Jewish leaders are saying about the subject today.
“Question: Can a child who has not been circumcised have a Bar Mitzvah?

Answer: There is no doubt that, according to Jewish law, status is automatically conferred from mother to child, and that a child is considered Jewish solely by virtue of his or her birth. A Brit does not make a child Jewish, and the lack of Brit Milah has no impact on a child’s status. Not fulfilling the Mitzvah of Brit is no different from not keeping kosher or not observing Shabbat. There is no inherent Halachic reason why an uncircumcised person should not be called to the Torah or be allowed a Bar Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding or any other Jewish activity.”
Rabbi Chaim Weiner, 
To Include Or Exclude?, A Question of Jewish Law, February 2, 2011.

“…many committed and affiliated Jews… are choosing to welcome their male babies with a brit shalom, a covenantal ceremony without cutting…. Circumcision may be an ancient rite, but it is wrong. It is wrong in terms of Jewish values for it violates the most fundamental Jewish principles of sanctifying life. Spiritualizing the wounding of circumcision does not change the damage, nor make it ethical. As Deuteronomy 30:6 teaches, what is truly required of us in order to contact the divine has to do with the architecture of the heart, not the alteration of male genitals.

Over the ages Judaism has demonstrated a remarkable ability to mutate in practice and retain the integrity of its spiritual legacy. It's time that our gatekeepers lead the way, the people of Israel, will demand the gates be opened.
Miriam Pollack, Rite is ancient, but wrongBoulder Daily Camera, 07/27/2014.

“One of those officiants is Elyse Wechterman, a Reconstructionist rabbi based in Massachusetts. (She also leads inclusive services for families with special needs in Rhode Island.) She calls her ceremony a brit atifah, a Covenant of Wrapping. The ritual involves wrapping the baby in a tallit, as a sign of the covenant between God and humanity—the ritual can be used with boys who aren’t being circumcised, boys who are, and girls. For Wechterman, the fact that the ritual is so broadly embracing is important. “I feel like this normalizes the conversation and welcomes the child into the Jewish people in a way that is meaningful, speaks to the needs of the parents and is reflective of the wisdom and depth of the traditions,” she told me. “For many people, the tallit is a symbol of protection, a loving embrace under the ‘Wings of Shechinah.’ I’m framing what I do in the positive: What authentic Jewish wisdom and insights can we bring to the welcoming of this child?”
For Wechterman, brit atifah lacks the defensiveness that sometimes defines brit shalom and those who advocate for it. “I’m not saying brit shalom isn’t meaningful,” she said. “But it seems more defined by what it isn’t then what it is. I am not interested in doing ‘not-circumcision’—I’m interested in welcoming the next generation of Jews into the covenant in the most meaningful ways possible, which does not necessarily have to include brit milah for boys.” (The fact that different practitioners of circumcision-free rituals have issues with other practitioners of circumcision-free rituals reminds me of the joke, “two Jews, three synagogues.”)
Wechterman enumerated some of the reasons people choose not to do brit milah: “One of the biggest impetuses is the growth of the natural childbirth movement; parents are questioning a whole bunch of previously held conceptions, for good reasons. And I think the impact of feminism can’t be understated. A core predicate of contemporary feminism is the notion of bodily integrity and physical self-determination.”
And having a ceremony, rather than simply doing nothing, can help distressed family members process. “I’ve seen grandparents who were so shocked and upset that their children weren’t circumcising, and I do a ceremony that affirms a Jewish life for their grandchild and they’re moved to tears,” Wechterman said.
She continued, “I’m not opposed to circumcision. But if I were going to stake a claim on what’s essential for Jewish people to do, I’m not sure brit milah would be it. I’d rather focus on getting people to observe Shabbat and make meaningful choices about food. Jewish continuity is more about embracing Jewish practices that enhance our lives, not this one moment of a son’s life.” The resistance to opting out of brit milah, she thinks, has manifold reasons. But one of them is that the deciders have always been men who are circumcised. “Men who are circumcised can’t imagine not doing it, just as men who aren’t circumcised can’t imagine doing it,” she pointed out. “But with significant numbers of women rabbis, things are changing.” And with more parents questioning everything from vaccines to genetically modified food to the need for organized religion, things may be changing pretty rapidly.
To Cut or Not To Cut: Finding Alternatives to Circumcision, Marjorie Ingall, Tablet, July 9, 2014.

“There are really no practical religious ritual consequences - and I’m speaking about this from an Orthodox perspective too - to not being circumcised… The only exclusion in Jewish law – even from an Orthodox perspective, for an intact Jewish male is the Pascal Lamb, the Korban Pesach which hasn’t been brought in 2,000 years, and it won’t be brought again until the Temple’s rebuilt ostensibly. If it’s even brought when the Temple’s rebuilt, if the Temple’s rebuilt.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011.

"Because slavery, in any form, is a blatant human rights abuse, no Jew alive today keeps slaves, despite the many mitzvahs that an institution of slavery would bring him. Judaism always prioritizes human rights, so much so that thousands of opportunities for mitzvahs were abandoned with a tradition deemed to be a human rights violation...
As per rabbinic sources, present day bris milah at eight days old is done for the purpose of injuring an infant and permanently mutilating his sex organs. It is important to read that sentence again. If the reader has understood, he will find it impossible to defend this practice further. If he cannot find grounds to disagree with it, he must ask himself why he dismisses the Torah's inherent mitzvahs associated with human slavery. Such a train of thought inevitably begins: “Slavery is wrong because it forces something upon someone against his will.” This train of thought must be carefully examined and reapplied accordingly.

One may well make the assertion that while one is not required to own slaves, bris milah is seemingly mandatory. However, there is no Torah verse discouraging slavery either, and it stands to reason that the practice would bring with it numerous opportunities for mitzvahs. Despite this, no posek would permit a person to keep a slave nowadays, even if he merely wanted more mitzvahs to fulfill. The 21st century views slavery as a human abomination, and despite its prominence in the Torah, Jews have recognized this practice as harmful and unproductive for human welfare, even in its most compassionate of forms.

Circumcision of an infant is increasingly being viewed a human rights violation, and must certainly be viewed as such... However, no one in the modern world has the right to do this to another human without his permission. Circumcision of a baby is a serious malpractice and human rights violation, and must accordingly be viewed the same way all human rights violations are viewed within the Jewish faith."
Yechiel Weiss, 
Judaism, Bris Milah, and Human Rights: A Torah Perspective, 

"…the ritual and religious consequences of not being circumcised amount to nothing. There is absolutely nothing that an intact Jewish male today cannot do. Contrast this with - I'm talking from the Orthodox perspective - non-Sabbath observance. Jews who are not Sabbath observant are not trusted in Halachic courts of law, they cannot be witnesses at people's weddings, they cannot be trusted with issues of Kashrut, making sure that things are Kosher... Here's an issue that is very easy to solve. You don't even have to argue for the eradication of male circumcision in the Jewish tradition for everyone to be happy. All you have to do is say that this will be a decision that an individual makes at an age when they can make the decision.
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, NYC Q&A with Rabbi Steven Blaine & Laurie Evans.

"Yes, I have a son, and when he was born, I hired a mohel to cut him. What a dolt I was. An ignorant fundamentalist, nothing more. My wife, born and raised Catholic, had to quash the urge to seize the boy and vanish into the woods behind our house before the mohel began. I wish she had."
Scott Raab, 
A Jew Against Circumcision, Esquire, July 31, 2013.  

 "[Circumcision] be it religious or secular, has no place in a humane society, nor in a religion or culture, such as Judaism, that emphatically values the protection of the helpless, the pursuit of justice, and reverence for life.
As a strongly affiliated Jew, Hebrew speaker, and lover of Israel, I will continue to do what I can to educate other Jews about the very serious harms of circumcision. Certainly, no parent intends to inflict damage upon his or her child, but the misinformation, disinformation, mythologies, and deeply held allegiances are profound and widespread. As couples realize how unholy it truly is to hold another individual down and take a knife to their tender genitals, more and more Jews, both in the U.S and in Israel, are choosing to welcome their babies into the Jewish community with a non-violent ceremony, a brit shalom.

As secular Jews, and even, some orthodox Jews, question and reject circumcision in greater and greater numbers, a tipping point will occur. Certainly, no amount of scientific evidence documenting the suffering of the newborn, or the anatomical importance of the foreskin, will dissuade many of the orthodox from changing this practice, but, hopefully, in the not too distant future, they will be the anachronistic few; the rest of us will have moved on to a more enlightened, gentler and kinder embrace of our precious, newborn baby boys, and redefinition of the most fundamental mitzvah: above all, choose life."
Miriam Pollack, NORM News, 
Winter 2013/2014.


A New Guide to Intact Jewish Welcoming: Review of Celebrating Brit Shalom by Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald


A New Guide to Intact Jewish Welcoming
Review of Celebrating Brit Shalom by Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald
(Notim Press, 2015)

Copies available at and

Guest Review:

Rebecca Wald and Lisa Braver Moss have followed a time-honored tradition in Judaism, one followed by Rabbis, scholars, and the Jewish people for centuries. They've looked at our world, the way we practice Torah, live our lives, and proposed adjustments to accommodate a more ethical approach. The guide, titled Celebrating Brit Shalom is the first published prayer book for leaders of this new Jewish ritual. So far, the book has won good reviews from Jewish celebrants in the UKprogressive Jews in California,Orthodox-raised Jewish Intactivist Jonathan Friedman and others.

A surgical, violent practice that is somewhat unquestioned in Judaism, is finally being discussed widely in the Jewish press. The subject of the book is bris ceremonies that exclude circumcision, for Jewish boys who are not going to be circumcised. These rituals emerged in the 1970's and 1980's and there are many beautiful stores about them. They are called a variety of different names, but they share in common a rejection of circumcision. Occording to one estimate, more than 1,000 of these rituals have been done in the United States since the movement began. Moshe Rothenberg, an early Jewish leader estimates that he himself has performed more than 100 of them on the East Coast, beginning in the early 1980's. Parents are creating a variety of rituals to name newborn Jewish boys, and Rabbis are starting to think and talk about these in new ways. Among the Reform, Humanist, and Reconstructionist movements and the non-denominational, which make up more than 75% of American Jews, acceptance of these rituals are increasing.

The writers of this guide, Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald are both fully engaged in talking about the subject among Jewish audiences, and in the Jewish media. Between the two of them, they've been featured in Jweeklythe Jewish Reporterthe Jewish WeekBoulder Jewish NewsTabletLilliththe Jerusalem PostTikkun, and many others. Rebecca Wald is the editor ofBeyondTheBris, a blog for Jewish Intactivists, and Lisa Braver Moss is a novelist who wrote the first work of fiction about Jewish Intactivism.

Wald and Braver Moss aren't the first Jews to question circumcision. Jewish scholar and historian Leonard Glick,MD, PhD, psychologist Ron Goldman, PhD, doctor Dr. Mark Reiss, Jewish Feminist Miriam Pollack, and movie maker Eli Ungar-Sargon are just some of those who led the way. Each made fundamental steps in convincing Jews to rethink the subject. Goldman wrote the first book to talk about the subject at length, but Braver-Moss and Wald's book is the first ritual guide for Jewish parents. A variety of important Jewish Intactivists including Ungar-SargonJonathan Friedmanand others originally come from Orthodox backgrounds. Each has made fundamental steps in convincing Jews to rethink the subject.

A Jewish Legacy of Human Rights
Jews played an active role in many of the human rights causes of our time. The civil rights movement happened and many Jews took part in the freedom rides and other acts of protest of that day. Women's rights happened, with many Jewish women actively involved and Jewish women entered the Rabbinate. Gay rights happened, and today we have Jewish gay and lesbian clergy and marriages. Judaism evolved and improved as a result, and there are a plethora of creative responses to these issues regularly coming from a wide variety of Jewish groups, individuals, and movements. Today many among a wide range of Jewish movements are talking about social consciousness and sustainability as issues of spiritual responsibility.

Judaism evolves and expands. There was a time when the Bat-Mitzvah was a radical idea. There was a time when a female Rabbi was unthinkable to some. I remember many years ago attending high holiday services at a large reform synagogue on the East Coast and seeing for the first time a female Rabbi at the pulpit wearing a kipot and tallit. In the 1990's, that was a rarity. Today it's a common sight in synagogues everywhere in America. We've created Jewish naming rituals for baby girls, and they caught on very quickly. The Bat-Mitzvah emerged in the early 1900's, and today even the daughters of Orthodox Rabbis celebrate some variation of it, showing that progressive movements like Reconstructionist Judaism influence Orthodox practice. These are signs of how far we've come as a people in 25 years. As a people, we've made enormous progress correcting racism, sexism, and homophobia, and we are in the process of addressing how issues of social justice, classism, and caring for the earth fit into Jewish practice.

Wald and Braver Moss two Jewish mothers who are leading us one step farther on these issues. They are pioneers pushing us to address another issue that must be fundamentally questioned according to Jewish ethics.Their guidebook, "Celebrating Brit Shalom" is a huge step forward. With almost 150 Rabbis actively and publically doing these welcomings, they are quickly becomming a part of the Jewish mainstream. Parents looking to find a Rabbi, Cantor or other Jewish celebrant to perform a Brit Shalom, can find more than 200 of them on Dr. Mark Reiss' list. Free of the contentious arguments on the subject, Celebrating Bris Shalom is welcoming and perfect for young Jewish families.
I especially like that the book sidesteps the contentiousness of circumcision, and directly addresses parents who choose to keep their sons intact, and want a ritual to connect them to Judiasm as well. The writers did a good job of including Jewish songs in the book, but I hoped to see more Jewish themed artwork and even images and words of Jewish families who've already opted for these peaceful newborn blessings. Images of families holding Brit Shalom events would greatly strengthen the book. Perhaps the next printing will contain some of these as well as more artwork.

The audience for this book is clearly Jewish families rather than just Intactivists. Wald and Braver Moss's guide is being well received in the Intactivist community, but it is also generating talk in the Jewish media. Eli Ungar-Sargon gave the book an enthusiastic review, focusing heavily on the ritual aspects of the book, in the influential Jewish magazine Tikkun. The book is already endorsed by a variety of Rabbis from some of the progressive Jewish movements. Not everybody in every movement of Judaism is ready for this guide, but many are, and more are becoming so. This book may lead to deep connections between young, holistic, progressive, Jewish parents, and a new generation of Jews who are wrestling with and redefining the way that Jewish practice evolves.

There are many young Jewish parents active in finding their own ritual to name a Jewish son who will remain intact. This book will be a blessing for those families and their sons.

Copies available for purchase at and

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How to remove toxins and properly bond for a natural, connected waterbirth

By now, you've probably seen Healthy Home Economist's sensationalist article on how waterbirths destroy children's guts and should be avoided. It's fascinating to me, really, because she spends a lot of time focusing on the concern of chlorine/chloramine treated tap water. Which, unless you avoided bathing in this and drinking this from 3 months pre-conception to the time of birth, means you have already altered your baby's microbiome. Why talk about the issue of chlorinated drinking and bathing water, but then blame the water birth after 9+ months of chlorine exposure in food, tap water, bathing, swimming, disposable paper products, etc?

Don't get me wrong. I feel I'm actually one of the few people who has piped up about the severe concern of halogen compound exposure in our environment. I even wrote a little brochure about it, and I have made the tough assertion that several chronic illnesses such as lyme and EDS are caused or worsened by dioxins. I think awareness is lacking, and that halogen compounds are the big kahuna being ignored.

Anyways, that aside, her article prompted me to put together some basics that I've shared about waterbirth before, as a proactive way of preparing for a natural birth that is low in toxins and that promotes physiologically normal bonding.

Here are some of the things I've done to prepare for my births that address halogen compound exposure, contaminant exposure, and bonding concerns:

1. Look for a PVC-free pool. Women are creative when it comes to birth pools. Choose what suits your needs, but take a quick look to make sure it's low in toxins. Same goes for pool liners if you're going to use one. Do not use cheap materials, such as remodeling/paint liners found in hardware stores, industrial containers, or low end animal troughs.

You can also prepare the birth pool if it is new by opening it up and placing it outside in the sunlight (think indirect if you get strong sun, don't damage it!) Spray distilled white vinegar evenly on the surface to help the offgassing. Those new plastic smells should slowly dissipate. Rinse the pool thoroughly before bringing it inside to use.

If you're using a permanent pool such as your jacuzzi or hot tub, research your options for pre-cleaning. You might be able to chemically clean it, then rinse it and fill it with filtered water just for the birth.

2. Purchase a lead-free hose and connectors. Surprisingly, a lot of people don't know about this one. Make sure the hose you buy specifies lead-free. Don't use any cheaper, older or soldered/previously soldered connectors that might also contain questionable ingredients. Another one that might not occur to parents while rushing around during a birth: rinse the hose out first before putting it into the birth pool to remove any manufacturing contaminants.

3. Water treatment. Research the various options on how to treat your water and decide which one will work for you. Boiling water and letting it stand in the birth pool will remove the majority of chlorine/chloramines....into the air. So as the birth pool is being filled and then while it stands for 5-10 minutes, you can labor in another room. Briefly ventilating the birth room after the pool is filled will clear out any concerning air. You can also use portable dechlorinating tabs and filters. And/or a filter that connects to the hose.

Reverse osmosis or steam distillation will remove the most contaminants from your water. You don't have to purchase an expensive whole-house system. Smaller systems can cost $200. But, a smaller undermount or counter top machine will take much longer to fill the pool. A combination of boiling water and filling from the reverse osmosis system can be the most reasonable method.

It's important to note that this issue is one you can certainly address, but it is not a huge, scary issue. The studies discussing chlorine exposure are talking about extended exposure in chlorinated pools. Not bathing or drinking tap water. Although I also easily address this topic in our own home with a reverse osmosis filter and dechlorinating filters for the bath faucets, this is not a deal breaking topic.

Stop and think about the way you are being manipulated to feel when it comes to worrying about waterbirth. How do you think the surfaces in a hospital are cleaned? What products and what water source do you use to clean your bedsheets, your towels, and your home for a land-homebirth? If you're feeling really scared or upset by the HHE article, take a deep breath and do an actual risk assessment, along with reviewing your many options.

Preparing the pvc-free pool with boiled water.
It's also being filled with a lead-free hose and reverse osmosis system.
Placed next to the patio door, the room was quickly and conveniently ventilated.

4. Use additives with caution. If someone is concerned about bacterial growth, standing water, if the pool becomes contaminated in some way, then empty it, clean it and refill it. Do not try to create your own shock treatment with bleach, ammonia, or other chemicals. And that includes essential oils.

I have heard a few accounts now of birth pools being shocked with heavy duty essential oils. Essential oils are wonderful, but also powerful. At high levels, they can also harm healthy gut bacteria. Some of the powerful antibacterial ones are also potentially unsafe for birth and definitely unsafe for newborns.

Also be sure to ventilate the room briefly again if diffusing essential oils for the mama, to ensure that once the baby arrives, he is not exposed. Sniffing direct from the bottle might be the most contained method to use for birth.

5. Avoid interrupting bonding. Although interruption can occur with other birth methods, due to the wet environment and concerns about temperature regulation, these interruptions might be more prominent with waterbirths. And this might also explain why some mothers, such as HHE, feel that waterbirth somehow harmed their children. Ensure that your birth team is educated on how to protect the bonding process after birth in a water environment. This means things such as:

  • Warm unscented towels in the dryer and place them over both the parent and the baby, not between the parent and the baby. 
  • Avoid submerging the baby's body or attempting to wash the baby in the pool.
  • Avoid "hatting" or placing a hat on the baby's head, which might interrupt sensory bonding.
  • Remember to rub in the vernix, and do not roughly scrub the baby dry with a towel.
  • Don't encourage the mom to separate and take a shower with scented products soon after birth. 
  • Don't encourage the baby to get bathed in a separate bath soon after birth, and certainly not with scented products.
  • Avoid scented products on the birth team, and avoid using fragrances and air fresheners during/after the birth. Birth can come with strong smells, like being in the woods. If this is uncomfortable for the birthing mother, opening a window for fresh air is helpful. Don't start misting stuff everywhere! Including essential oils!
Notice the towel is over BOTH mama and baby.
Baby is not submerged.
Mama's chest is not submerged.
6. Remember to stay together. Another reason some moms might attribute waterbirth to problems with breastfeeding is the interruption that occurs soon after birth. Once the baby is born, usually the mom cradles her baby on or near her chest in the birth pool for a few minutes. But, inevitably, they need to get out of the pool. This is when her birth team might unknowingly cause problems. As the mom and baby leave the pool, they must be moved to a safe, calm area where they can remain together and continue the physiological bonding process. The baby should stay in her (or her partner's) arms. No one should remove the baby, wash the baby, dress the baby, or leave the room with the baby. Now is not the time for the mom to spend a long time showering and dressing. If the mom is hungry, food should be brought to her.

There is something about this critical stage that is easily altered without anyone noticing. This golden hour is interrupted in key ways with waterbirths. A good birth supporter must have a trained eye for this moment and take steps to keep the mom and baby together, naked, undisturbed, and prepared for breast exploration and the breast crawl. 

Interruption occurs with other kinds of births. But, the problem here is that the brief time spent in the birth pool is often logged as the bonding time. When it is not. So once the mom leaves the pool, it accidentally represents a transition or milestone, when in reality, it is not and the mom and baby must still continue bonding.

Mama moved right out of the pool and onto
a designated bonding space. No hat, no clothing, no showering.

7. Vernix. Contrary to the fear in HHE's article, vernix is not water-soluble. That would be laughable, seeing as how the baby is submerged in fluids for months. Vernix has immune properties that are very important and I've always shared about that aspect. To claim that waterbirth destroys vernix and makes the neonate susceptible to halogen compound exposure or contaminant exposure is simply not supported by the scientific evidence. This idea shows a lack of understanding when it comes to birthing in water, along with a lack of understanding about vernix.

Vernix has many overlapping functions. It directly assists the baby in countless ways during the pregnancy and during transition from the womb to earthside. (You can read all about vernix here.)

The baby swallows it during pregnancy, which helps to develop the gut microbiome.
It has innate immune properties to help protect the baby.
It is a thermal (temperature) regulating substance.
It encourages proper skin growth.

Most importantly, and the part that seems to be missing in the waterbirth fearmongering:
As a layer on the skin, it provides a hydrophobic barrier. Translation: it is water resistant.
The brief time it takes to gently bring your baby up to your chest after passing through about 18 inches of already offgassed water is not destroying guts and ruining lives. I'm not sure how to put it in a nice way, but that idea is ignorance and total bullshit.

Bottom line: if you are freaking out because you think birthing in water will somehow destroy your child's immune system and breakdown a substance that humans have used successfully for thousands of years, don't. Take a deep breath, go through your preventative checklist with your birth team, and then relax. Waterbirth has some specifics that need to be addressed, but they aren't insurmountable or inherent issues. They are concerns that can be easily rectified ahead of time.

With all the potential benefits of waterbirth such as reduced pain, increased movement, relieving pressure and weight on the mom's joints and ligaments, bonding with her partner and children during birth, etc, it would be a shame if a mom discarded this option out of unwarranted concerns about halogen compounds and a misunderstanding of vernix.

Here comes the baby right out of the water...covered in vernix.
Photo submitted by Hethir Songstad.

It appears that the highly toxic tapwater did
not impede any vernix here!
Photo submitted by Sarah Durso.