Doulas help you in ways you maybe can’t even imagine yet!

Mar 28, 2019 | No Comments

Why would you need a doula? What do they do? To give you an idea, I’ve written a list of some of the many ways I have supported parents in the birth room and in the hours and days immediately afterwards.


Over the years I’ve….
…. encouraged mums verbally during pre-labour…. early labour… transition…. pushing stage……. birthing their placenta…. and before caesarean birth
…. held their hand when they hit super-intensity and thought they couldn’t do it any more (some using gas and air and some without any drugs)
…. rigged up their phone to play music in the birth room
…tied hair back of a mamas face into a ponytail
…. passed her water to sip throughout labour
… set up fairy lights to change the mood in the room from being stark, white and bright, to more relaxing and conducive to birth
…. rearranged the furniture in the room to help make maximise the space for optimal flow and movement
…. set up inflatable birth pool
…. helped fill the birth pool with water
…. helped drain and clean the birth pool
…. been a constant calm voice, no matter what was unfolding….
…. brought food and hot drinks to parents
…. carried bags from room to room or car to hospital and back to the car
…. parked their car for them so they could just walk into the hospital at the entrance and not have to cross a big carpark whilst having contractions
… held baby while mum had a blood transfusion
… calmed shaking dads down
…. been available at all times of day and night to process the birth, give breastfeeding support and keep mums company when they’re very tired but up feeding their baby at 3am
…. dug out baby clothes and nappies from mums overnight hospital bags or from around the house
…. held hands while canulas were inserted into mum’s arm
…. changed baby’s first nappy
…. helped baby to latch on for the first time and support a mum who was very weak after losing a lot of blood
… cleaned up blood… vomit… poo… amniotic fluid
… trodden on poo and cleaned it up silently!
…. scooped poo out of the birthpool using a sieve
…. kept an eye on the thermometer in the birth pool for temperature
…. located and liased with midwives to ensure birth ball was found out of the cupboard… and remote monitoring equipment was fully charged and ready for my client
… read stories to toddlers in hospital room alongside labouring mum
…. supported mum to walk to the toilet whilst hooked up to a monitor
…. bought dads a clean t-shirt and new pants from the local supermarket on day 3 in hospital
… gone home and fed the cat                                                                                                …. talked older children through the intense noises of labour so they understood that their mum was ok and safe and that what was happening was very normal

…. helped midwives prepare the placenta for refridgeration
…. helped mums to find better positions for comfort
… physically supported them to get in or out of the bath or birth pool
…. explained things using less medical terms and simpler language / translated from english into their own language if parents didn’t understand something
… bought parents time in non-urgent decision-making scenarios
… handed mums nightshirts, sanitary pads, knickers, snacks and other personal things out of their reach in their bag on the floor
…. stayed with mum so dad could go home and get some sleep after a very long night… and be with his other children or feed pets etc
…. held babies while their mum had 20 or 40 winks…
… held baby while mums had a shower….
…. brought home-cooked food for the freezer or to eat straight away (to save parents cooking)
… travelled in an ambulance during homebirth transfer with mum and comforted her on the journey whilst husband drove in car behind
… cooked parents a hot meal in their home
…. caught a baby because the midwife got lost and didn’t arrive in time!!!
…. asked anaesthetists to be more considerate in applying cannulas (please can you wait til she isn’t having a contraction before you stab her in the arm with that needle!)
…. tidied up and put the room back to normal after homebirths, made up beds with fresh bedsheets
…. given love to all in the family and kept them in a positive bubble
…. massaged mums feet and lower legs before and after birth
…. taken pics of the labour and birth on parents request
…. renewed car parking tickets so the dad didn’t have to go and be away from their partner at a really awkward moment when she really needed his strength and support
…. gave parents encouragement to trust their instincts and follow them
…. belly laughed, cried and shared confidences                                                                  …. washed up and cooked breakfast                                                                                      …. closed bones                                                                                                                            …. massaged mums back well past the point where I felt my arms would surely drop off
…. and more!

Dear midwives, I need to tell you something

Mar 25, 2019 | No Comments

I’m so sorry.

In the years I had to campaign and fight for all women to have the same rights to homebirth, I heard from so many mothers across the country who were tired, hurting and broken by their birth experiences. Angry at the injustices inflicted by the very same system that is pushing you to your limits.

I’m ashamed to say that because of my anger I haven’t always thought too kindly of you. I’ve blamed you for births that maybe didn’t need to go the way they did, and for all the casual cruelties inflicted on mothers and their babies, that were really, most likely, not your fault, but a result of there just not being enough staff to do the million and one things you have to do to care for several women at a time.

I can see more clearly these days just how your long your shift must feel some days or nights, how little support you get from your bosses sometimes in supporting truly physiological births, and what the stress and trauma of working in this system can be like for you. I hear the stories from broken midwives who don’t want to leave but are so ill from stress that they feel they have no other options. I see your good heart. I see your hard-earned skills. I see your frustration. I see the lack of breaks.

The management systems you are having to work within are not your fault. They probably not even the managements fault either. They’re being squeezed too, no doubt. I see the bullying you suffer for being that one midwife who wants to spend longer ‘with woman’, who wants so much to offer true continuity, and the ridicule and resistance you face for trying to do what is common sense and evidence based, only to be sneered at, or labelled a ‘trouble-maker’ behind your back (or maybe to your face).

I see from midwife friends around the country just how little true support there is for you when you grieve for women who experience very difficult or traumatic births, and then have to carry on as if you hadn’t seen it, keeping a practical head and not disintergrating into a flood of tears until you can get home and maybe not even then if you have children to care for or other more pressing things you need to do. It seems impossible that you can’t be just a little heartbroken… even those of you putting a brave face on it all for years on end.

After all that training, only to find that the ideals you learnt in your early days are just so fucking hard to keep up, day after day and year on year, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must feel to not always be able to practise how you would wish to. I share your tears behind closed doors for the cracks in the increasingly pressurised maternity system. At it’s best, the NHS can be utterly magnificent, life saving and wonderful, but I see and hear from some of you how it can also push you to breaking point and leave some women shaken and traumatised. Even if we are bloody good at soldiering on and putting a stiff British upper lip on it, that stress has to find some way out or we store it up inside us. And I’m sure you guys are experts at supporting each other and laughing off some of the horrors you must see. Privately I know some of you have weeks or months when you are haunted by things that likely were not your fault at all, but the failings of the system and it’s limitations that you are working in, by policies and funding gaps and staff recruiting inconsistencies and fuck ups up the chain.

So I just want to say, on World Doula Week, that I see you, and I am incredibly grateful and in awe of all you do for women. The miracles you pull out of almost thin air every day. The silk purses you make from the sow’s ear you are handed. Holding it together day after day. I hope you can keep finding ways to look after yourselves when you feel like the wind is in your face.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I see you. I really do.

Mother’s Guilt!

Mar 9, 2019 | No Comments

Keeping a large family fed, watered and clothed in these modern times can be a complex web of decisions for us mums. It feels like there isn’t a single choice that doesn’t mean either our kids miss out on something fun, or the planet suffers in some way. When half of all products contain palm oil, it seems bloody everything us wrapped in plastic and hardly anything is organic or fairly traded… every day can feel like guilt bingo. If we eat on the hoof because we made a spontaneous plan, it feels like a baby orangutan will die because there will probably be something will palm oil in it. Or it will be wrapped in plastic. Or sprayed in chemicals which some poor worker inhaled. Or involve some kind of animal product where the animal was raised in captivity of some kind.

When we buy clothes for a large family, how many of us can honestly afford fairly traded 100% organic cotton or wool clothes for every last item, guaranteeing it was made in the UK and didn’t involve anyone hunched over a machine for 16hrs a day?

Are we still good parents if we use cloth nappies and have the odd McDonalds? Or get an organic veg box every week but buy toothpaste with flouride? Does one undo the goodness of the other?

It feels like everywhere we turn there is a crappy consequence for how we live. Some days it can feel like the only righteous path to live is to go all Oliver Cromwell and ban all the fun, terrible things altogether. Pretend it’s the 1700′s and grow all our own food and make all our own clothes and turn our backs on 2019 and happy meals (not organic and probably made of turds) and ipads (someone’s village probably got destroyed as they mined for precious minerals to make it) and glitter (bad for sea animals) and flip flops (because they wash up on beaches) and not strictly necessary trips (because consuming fuel is crap for the planet eh).

And I just want to say that if you’re feeling utterly exhausted by it all and want to run away and live on an island somewhere…. it’s not all your fault. This shit is bigger than you. You can’t always win. At least once a day you will probably do something that fucked something up for your kid or the planet or your sanity. It’s impossible to be good at everthing all the time.

So please give yourself a pat on the back. We’re living in crazy times. Modern life is a bit rigged against us doing everything totally ethically, all the time.

Do the best you can today… and remember that doing some things better than you did yesterday is better than doing nothing…. make small changes if you can here and there…. but don’t walk around beating yourself up about not eating 100% wholesome food or living 100% plastic free…. or not eliminating 100% of palm oil from your diet….. or that you bought a Nestlé product by accident because you were tired and didn’t see the label til you got home…… or because your kid watched a lot of episodes of something they liked because you had no energy left over after a challenging day/week or even year…..

Do what you need to do to get through your day….

…. and bless the rest!

Why it’s NEVER ok to ‘wash your hands’ of a woman’s birth plan

Jan 30, 2019 | No Comments

Unless it’s happened to you, you might think I was making up some of the comments I’ve heard from GP’s, Obstetricians, Midwives and Health Visitors either first hand, from clients, from other doulas, from women on various support forums I am on, or from the birth stories I gathered for the Birthplace Matters campaign, because they are so wholly inappropriate as to be shocking.

Rather than seeing a woman as a responsible adult and seeking to genuinely listen and understand, I’m hearing over and over comments such as:

“I’m having nothing to do with this ridiculous birthplan”

“I won’t support you to give birth at home and want nothing more to do with any of it – I’m washing my hands of you”

“Ha – good luck with that!”

“You are not allowed”

“You either follow my recommendations as I say or I will have to withdraw my care from you”

“Do you WANT to kill your baby?”

Whether you like to admit it or not, mothers are responsible for protecting their baby and making decisions on behalf of that baby before it is born. Not after the birth when everyone is done telling her exactly what she should do. Now already. As daunting as that is, you have a duty to respect their parenting choices right now just as much as you have no say in how or where they will educate their child, or all the myriad of other choices they will make down the line. It’s not your child. So you don’t get to have the final say on anything that mother chooses.

Now, I fully appreciate that in your careers you have seen all kinds of situations and may be haunted by other experiences you saw, and maybe somehow even feel responsible for in some way. But this woman is not THAT woman , this baby is not THAT baby, and confusing the two is not only misplaced but doesn’t necessarily reflect actual real life risks and statistics.

The likelihood is, any fears you have are a product of your own experiences that you have not debriefed from properly and are now projecting onto this mother before you, and out of all proportion with reality, with facts and figures that show a different picture than the one in your head.

Just because you once saw a woman almost bleed to death in a particular scenario, doesn’t mean that every woman in front of you in a similar situation, is also going to have that experience. you have to keep the risks in proportion to reality.

This is why, when you scare a woman half to death about what her birthplan means, you have a duty to keep your own fears and traumas out of the way of reality. If one in 200 women are at risk of having a uterine scar rupture after earlier cesarean, you need to be sensible when you talk to women about that, not terrify her and call her crazy for wanting a VBAC for example. Women can interpret facts for themselves and if a mother makes an informed choice based on doing her own research (because yes, women research the heck out of birth these days and data and studies are all out in the public realm since the invention of books, journals and the internet), it is your duty, to support that woman, instead of treating her like your silly child. You are not her parent. You don’t get to laugh in her face, undermine her, make jokes at her expense or WASH YOUR HANDS OF HER.

You are public servants. That means you serve the public’s needs. They are your clients and you do what they ask, unless there is some genuine logistical reason that something cannot be done after exploring all the ways to try and enable her wishes.

You don’t laugh or harass. You don’t get to bully or lecture her at every single appointment what a terrible choice she is making, just because she is not choosing what you would choose. I wouldn’t dream of doing that to any client who made different choices from my own! And by the way, the same respect and compassion should be applied if her original birth plan doesn’t go how she hoped – it’s not open season to make ‘told you so’ type comments or dismiss her voice entirely throughout the rest of the care – she still deserves to birth with dignity and not be treated within a new paradigm where she is punished for originally ‘snubbing’ your recommendations. Her birth choices were *never* about you!

If it’s not your body, it’s not your choice.

If you are a health care provider, you have a duty to pull up any colleagues that do this, reminding them it’s a gross overstepping of their role to think they are permission givers or permission deniers. Please share this post with anyone who needs a reminder!

And here is a link to the AIMS book ‘Am I allowed?’which spells out what women are allowed to do (Hint: They’re allowed to do whatever they damn well like, because they are the boss of their own bodies, unless they are ACTUALLY mentally incapacitated, as opposed to making choices outside of guidelines or what you approve of)

https://www.aims.org.uk/shop/item/am-i-allowed

 

Nobody has ultimate power over mothers decisions – not doulas, or health professionals of any kind. It’s good to be reminded of this sometimes! Respecting mothers is a feminist issue and when someone laughs in the face of any mother it speaks of how someone feels generally about women’s capacity to make good decisions.

In 2019, it’s time we truly swept away all that patriarchal nonsense, wouldn’t you say?

 

Dear Mama-To-Be, I’m not who you think I am….

Dec 20, 2018 | No Comments

Dear mama-to-be,

When you first contacted me, you came with shattered dreams and a broken heart from a time before when you lost faith in your body, and lost faith in the system that was supposed to help you do this wild crazy birth thing.

Some of you have white or pink silken lines painted on your tummy, which were not there before you had your babes. Others have scars of a different kind, the sort that come to you as flashbacks, memories of a painful time, or painful times before.
You say you want a warrior who will fight for you, defend you, and keep away the beasts.

What I actually do, is fight with words, mostly on my keyboard, as a writer of letters, to key people in the birth world who can make change happen – if they choose to open their hearts to it. I try to petition and win hearts and minds with words – sometimes it falls on deaf ears.

I want you to know that from the first time we meet, you take up residence in my heart and head. I make a camp there for you, a red tent of sorts. I light the candles and tend the hearth. There you will find fluffy blankets, a listening ear, and books. Lots and lots of books.

You see, you think you are hiring a professional to hold your hand and rub your back when it hurts in labour, but for me, it goes deeper than that. The real work I do happens in the months, weeks and sometimes just days before.

The REAL work is in the love and the preparing for an event that is an unknown entity. I invite you to go on a journey exploring the landscape of birth options before the day comes. I try to entice you with books and stories which show you the ways that others have carved their own pathways, and found their courage, navigating complex systems made up of allies and obstacle-putters. I hold up a bright lantern and show you many paths, knowing only you can choose to walk down those pathways – I cannot walk for you.

After all you’ve been through already, I agonise with you, wondering if, on the day, you will receive care with strings attached… or whether the support will be unconditional. It can be hard for you to own this truth but I must tell you that the only person who can choose whether to yield, dig your heels in, or slink creatively out of a situation that’s not right for you….is you. It’s you who has the last word on what happens…. even if you are making the best choice out of a crappy bunch of options.

I try so hard to help you understand that you have more power than you think in a system that gives off mixed messages of power and control. To point you to allies. Role models. Pioneers.

In my own way, I try to help you bring balance to the different elements that hold you back from standing fully in your *own* power, to find your *own* voice, and to find your *own* coeurage. I cannot be *your* voice, I cannot be *your* coeurage. Your journey is your journey – I am here as a witness to where you are at right now and to hold your hand lovingly throughout.

My role is to help you realise you have had the power all along. That it is you who holds the key to your own enlightenment. That you have access to unimaginable strength deep in your core that you perhaps just needed reminding that you have. I shine a light on you, to show you what you forgot.

And if I’ve done my job properly, then on the day, you shouldn’t even really need me at all, except to look deeply into your eyes and reflect back what you already know:

YOU CAN DO THIS.

How doulas can help you navigate your birth journey

Sep 17, 2018 | No Comments

I’ve been staying in wildest Dartmoor, in a beautiful yurt for a few days.

Today I made my winding way up to Bel Tor and I had some realisations and thoughts about birth as I walked along the twisting path, up to the Tor and back again.

At first the Tor seemed really far away and that I had bit off more than I could chew. Sometimes it can feel like that when you go into labour and think birth itself will be too big, too much, too far in the distance and too hard! “What have I signed up to?” I thought! As the wind blew in my face, I wrapped a shawl around my ears (I get terrible earache) and followed the rugged path, trusting I must be going the right way, since there weren’t really any signposts. A little like early labour, I just put one foot in front of the other in what I assumed must be the right general direction.

Soon enough I found myself walking down a very bumpy and stony path. The parallels with the birth journey were really jumping out at me!

In good weather, with the right footwear, with clear sight, you can avoid tripping over big stones, or even stumbling on the smaller ones, skirting around them skillfully and with great care. What the stones or obstacles to smooth birth might be, will look slightly different to everyone, and some cannot be seen until you are up very close. If the path is particularly bumpy you will need to be looking very closely where you are putting your feet so anyone distracting and chatting to you will mean you have to stop in your tracks. If you meet someone coming back down from their own journey to the Tor who smashed their nose on a rock, you would know that not everyone does that, but it would be a wake up call to take more care where you put your feet!

As I walked further on I thought to myself “There’s hardly a soul about, and it seems such a private and even lonely pathway but how many humans have walked this exact route over the millenia?” and how many women across the ages have walked the birth labyrinth? You might feel alone in your journey as your contractions grow wilder and stronger, but although you are the only one giving birth in the room at that moment, you are part of a chain of mothers going back down the ages, and many many others are walking their own roads simultaneously elsewhere around the world as you give birth!

Back to my story… well after all those potenrially trippy-uppy rocks in my pathway, I now found myself at the foot of the grassy, gorsy sheep poo covered hill with the Tor, cragged and ancient, nestled on top. I wasn’t sure which way to walk, with paths this way and that, wherever there were breaks in the gorse, with curly horned sheep grazing, a little wary of humans. I followed my nose, trusting there must be ‘no singular or right way’ to go up. If it were dark I suppose I could have easily found myself tangled on gorse bushes – what are the gorse bushes in your own maternity care or birthing set up I wonder? You might not have any at all, or go a route that bypasses them.

Nearing the top, I found a burst of energy (bit like the bit during birth when you suddenly have a burst of adrenaline for the final push) How had I gotten from that carpark to all the way up here? It had seemed so hard but now, up close, I could only marvel at the magnitude of these beautiful stones, and after touching them in awe, decided to scale them to the highest one.

My feet found steps out of the natural curves of the stones, past little clusters of wild flowers, and a tiny holly bush. As if I had been there many times before, my feet just knew how to climb and it almost felt like the stones were helping me. After this magnificent stomp, I was on top! It had seemed so far away and impossible just 20 minutes before (birth can feel like this as contractions intensify!)

I stood a while, and looked at the hills all around. And then I noticed the wind, and how strong it was whistling around, behind my back. I thought in that moment how it feels to give birth, as if you’ve just scaled Everest, with the wind that was in your face, now firmly behind you.

The differences in the weather can completely change the experience. You can wear the right boots, and the right clothes for climbing a Tor, or to keep with my analogy, to give birth, but you have zero control over the weather. You could climb the same Tor a hundred times and the experience might be very different each time, even though you might follow a similar path each time. You might get to the top and be able to see for miles around, with gentle sunshine illuminating the trip or have an insufferable fierce heat or biting cold, bitter winds making it difficult.

As every person experience of climbing a Tor will be different, even on the same day… every woman’s experience of birth, is different. If you wear flip-flops, forget your jacket or sunglasses or water or layers or it’s hailing, the experience is going to feel much more challenging for you than if you are really prepared for the journey on the day. And some days the weather can be unpredictable and changeable!

A doula is someone who passes you your water bottle when you say you feel thirsty, or pulls some sunglasses out of her bag if you forgot your own. She will point out the boulder in front of you that you and so many others nearly tripped on, or shout “mind the poo” and she knows this journey is the same but totally different for everyone. She will pack her own bag with snacks and make sure her camera batteries are fully charged to capture that view or might just stop and help you catch your breath. She might have zero control of the weather on the day, but she will point out that flip-flops won’t cut it for a hike like this or pack a hairband so the wild winds dont blow your hair in your face so you can’t see! She knows she can’t climb the Tor for you. She also knows how much easier it is to climb to the top when you have a gently encouraging companion, it makes the journey a little easier!

She knows that at the top of that hill, the views are amazing… and that if a woman just can’t climb up, she must have some pretty good reason why.  You can’t climb to the top if you’ve twisted your knee, broken your foot or tripped and got concussed on a rock. Sometimes a woman’s backpack is just too heavy. Sometimes the weather is just so so ridiculous as to be laughable. And sometimes if we need someone carrying a sedan chair to lift us up those last few steps, and it’s the only way up, so be it!

We all face different challenges and have our own labyrinth birth journey to go on. Some of us travel on a clear day with a light breeze, and others go up in a hurricane.

One thing is for sure – next time may be completely different. And having a companion who knows the terrain can make it a better journey – in any weather!

How to have a positive birth when the maternity system is on its knees

Jul 30, 2018 | No Comments

In 2018 you would think we would have it sussed when it comes to how we treat and educate birthing women. We’ve had a long time to figure this stuff out – millennia in fact. So why are some women still having a really hard time giving birth?

We are going to go on a little journey. It will all seem like doom and gloom for the first half of the blogpost but trust me – by the end of the journey, you’ll realise it’s anything but. Bear with me and you’ll find out why. Now back to the subject in hand….

It’s not like we don’t have information available – I mean, we live in the age of information – information about how to give birth most easily has literally never been so freely available as right now. We have the means to be connected to all kinds of people across the globe.

 

Unlike women in previous centuries, we have vast online virtual libraries we can access at our fingertips – written by midwives, doctors and all kinds of really knowledgeable experts and lay people. It’s all out there. For those who don’t do the online thing, we have enough books, midwifery journals, research papers and magazines to fill whole football fields that have been written on the subject of giving birth. Many books we can borrow from our local library, books we can pick up for pennies second hand, at shops or online, or brand spanking new, from across the globe. We could not have any more access to information about birth if we tried. Women can buy old (or not so old) copies of  midwifery journals on ebay – that’s how accessible information is to us now. So why are so many mothers still in the dark?

Even this modern maternity system with its all-singing all-dancing technology and all the millions of quid thrown at it still aren’t preventing babies born distressed, birth trauma to mothers, PTSD, postnatal depression or women feeling dehumanised or butchered.

We should be crying out “Why are such large numbers of women coming out of birth feeling broken, traumatised and even violated!” The statistics are unacceptable in such a supposedly developed country. Where are we going wrong? And why aren’t we more angry about it?

The answer to this is because birth has become another industry – run on a system of conveyor belt standardisation. Robotic. Machines and monitors and litigation and targets are slowly taking the place of the personal judgement of a highly skilled, personal midwife. We’ve taken our distrust and fear of birth and women’s knowledge to new heights, and so much of it is based on untruths. Untruths which suit people who stand to make thousands if not millions from keeping everything just the way it is. And many many good people are working within that system. Kind-hearted people, making a difference to some lucky women. The rest however, are just processing us all like cattle – on automatic mode and no longer caring like they might have once done about individual women any more – because caring hurts too much, or simply takes up too much energy and headspace in a busy day of targets when they don’t even have time to so much as go for a piss for 9 hours straight, and they just want to get their head down and do their job without getting noticed too much, or bullied for standing up for individual women wanting anything outside of protocols. I have a lot of love for these tired and good people. But I’m just saying it like it is.

Midwives are over-stretched, and undervalued. They are expected to do magic with little support from above but are harangued with threats and consequences if they make even a tiny mistake. It’s not their fault the system’s shit. It’s a system built on the principles of a masculine model of industrialisation and profit-driven interests that are driving this maternity machine.

If this all sounds doomy and gloomy, take heart. There is plenty to feel good about. There is a thriving and active counter culture working hard to help women have positive and personalised, fully human experiences – trying to change the system from within and without. I know some really good people working within the system who are dedicated and passionate and somehow surviving in the rather toxic culture that they are expected to work in. They are the rebels, the movers and shakers who refuse to let women be just another number on the conveyor belt. They are the advocates, quietly working in the background, people you’ve probably never heard of, passionately working to bring love and common sense to women’s birthing experiences. Midwifing. Facilitating gentle Caesareans. Advocating. Campaigning. Writing. Making documentaries. Speaking at conferences. Doulaing. Educating. Giving the finger to the ‘computer says no’ culture. Or just tirelessly shouting the message: “We need to treat women and their babies better than this”. Up and down the country and around the world they are meeting up in hospital meeting rooms, conference rooms, in living rooms, in online forums, at events and gatherings of all kinds, trying to do better, to find solutions for women to push back against the mass and impersonal industrialisation model. You’ve most likely never heard of many of them but they number in the thousands. I know this, because I move in these circles!

So what can you personally do to improve your own birth experience?

 

Learn how your body works and which interventions are evidence-based… or not….

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that most people’s education on birth is shockingly lacking or based on media dramatisation or disproportionately blown up fears inherited from a crappy narrative about birth and what women’s bodies are capable of. Our education system is a bit rubbish when it comes to teaching us about our bodies so it’s up to you to learn about birth physiology if you want to stack the odds in your favour for a natural birth. If you don’t understand how your body works, and if your midwife is working on outdated or non-evidence based ways of supporting you or ‘managing’ your birth because that’s what her bosses insist on, you are more likely to be nudged along the conveyor belt and end up with interventions you might not need – including a caesarean. I’d like to say I’m kidding but I’m being deadly serious.  Many caesareans that are happening today are just not medically necessary at the onset of birth but become necessary after a string of other interventions stresses the baby and makes it unsafe for them to stay in the womb and endure the process of labouring in that particular way any longer. I wish I was making this up. But I know too many birth experts who are speaking, touring, writing, documentary-making, frustrated, sad, angry, broken and passionately verbal about this very phenomenon. Taking the time to study and familiarise yourself with some midwifery slang and understanding the variations of normal gives you a better chance of being able to ask confidently and assertively when you feel you actually DO need an intervention.

Find the birth books that midwives are inspired by

Instead of reading whatever is in your local bookshop by celebrities and authors such as Gina Ford (never had babies or been a midwife so her advice is actually pretty dangerous), try reading any one of these amazing authors – Milli Hill… Natalie Meddings… Ina May Gaskin… Dr Sara Wickham… Sheila Kitzinger… Michel Odent… Mark Harris… AIMS publications… Prof. Sheena Byrom OBE… Janet Balaskas… Dr Sarah Buckley…. Penny Simkin… Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg… Becky Reed… Frederick Leboyer… Rebecca Schiller… Dr Amali Lokugamage… Prof. Soo Downe OBE… Maddie McMahon… Kicki Hansard… Pam England…. Margaret Jowitt… Mia Scotland…. Adela Stockton… Katrina Berry…  look them up – they’re all, without exception brilliant and knowledgeable authors with a absolute wealth of birth experience. Whatever you do, don’t rely on NHS information alone!

Hypnobirth your baby

It’s not a fad, and in other parts of the world they have understood the power of the mind for millennia. It works, and when taught properly, can help you even if birth takes a turn in a different direction than you hoped for, giving you coping tools for life beyond the birthroom, and beyond  plan A.

Consider an Independent Midwife

I know it’s a lot of money, but consider hiring a private midwife – it will possibly be the most important couple of grand you ever spend in your entire life. More important than fancy nursery furniture, buggies or the latest car, expensive holiday or a big wedding. The positive ripple effect on the rest of your life will far outweigh the inconvenience of paying out. Continuity of care from the same person is proven to help birthgiving women on multiple levels – it’s the gold standard which all midwives wish they could give but so often can’t because of the institutional shite they have to wade through. The one’s who stay on after their shift has ended or will come and visit you even though they’re not being paid for it are like hens teeth.

Think about hiring a doula

Doulas mother the mother. We offer continuity of care by getting to know you before you give birth, are a solid, calm, reassuring presence during labour, and stick around for the days and weeks after in a way that is so much harder for midwives to do (Not their fault). We signpost you towards evidence-based information, but equally help you to cultivate a sense of trust in following your own gut feelings – that famous mother’s intuition. Doulas offer non-judgmental and loving support to you and your partner and being independent of your usual friendship or family circle can be an advantage as it means we don’t bring any of the baggage to the birth which can sometimes happen when having other family members or friends come to your birth. We offer positivity and perspective based on what is evidence-based rather than feed you negative stories because of aunty Doris’s neighbour’s sisters awful birth story or what your sister in law saw on One Born Every Minute!

Create a circle of positivity

Pregnancy is a time to immerse yourself in positivity and listen to and read stories of women gave birth in a positive way, even if things didn’t go to plan. Sharing positive stories instead of trading horror stories will help you much more. Check out Natalie Meddings website and facebook page for her TellMeAGoodBirthStory movement. And if you want a real dose of positivity check out all things Milli Hill. She has written a great book that has just come out, sparked a movement by the same name.

Hang out with people who uphold your dreams and visions without laughing at you or putting you down.

Birthplace Matters

Have you weighed up the risks of giving birth in hospital? Or only looked at the risks of homebirth? Setting foot in a hospital building opens you up to protocols and interventions which may otherwise be avoided at home. People often look at the benefits of hospital without considering the benefits of home too. It’s important to dig deep and look at actual benefits vs perceived benefits and actual risks vs. perceived risks. Sometimes we can be swayed away from hospital by such tiny statistics that we overlook other larger statistics which may be undesirable or compromise us and our babies if we go into a technical environment which may be offering us a false sense of safety.

Know your rights

If you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for yourself with any conviction? Of course, it’s better not to have to use your voice or put your foot down, to have to refuse or rebel. It’s so much nicer and easier to be able to just let go and trust – but this needs to be in the right context. It’s certainly an easier life in the moment just going along with what you’re told to do. But, if we don’t have a basic sense of what’s what and how birth works best and easiest or the tenacity to follow our instincts even against medical advice then sometimes we can be soft-talked and tricked into things that aren’t in our (or our babies) best interests. (Many of us have been there, so if you’re reading this and nodding – you’re not alone). I strongly advise all mothers-to-be to read a copy of the AIMS book ‘Am I allowed?’. It’s a book which clearly sets out your birthing rights. I also recommend you read Rebecca Schiller’s online articles and book. She works for Birthrights, and is very knowledgeable about all things relating to this area. Sometimes it helps you have more resolve if you understand a gentler way to do a procedure which is being done elsewhere and it doesn’t hurt to ask or assert yourself to ask others to do something a new or different way.

What does this all mean?

It’s not possible to know exactly how birth will unfold, but you can be prepared and supported in ways that you might not otherwise be if you just go along with someone else’s (well-meaning) flow and you can still have an amazingly positive birth which puts you firmly in charge of all decisions even if your plan A doesn’t work out. It’s scary and it’s adulting to take on that full level of parenting responsibility and decision making but your parenting doesnt begin once the baby is born – we have to do what feels best for us and our babies even if others don’t agree. You have all the tools and knowledge you need at your fingertips and with the right team, you can have a truly beautiful and positive birth even in these strange, modern times!

How you can help women avoid birth trauma and PTSD

Jul 1, 2018 | No Comments

What causes birth trauma?

According to the Birth Trauma Association, it’s caused by a number of things:

  • Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
  • Induction
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section
  • Impersonal treatment or problems with the staff attitudes
  • Not being listened to
  • Lack of information or explanation
  • Lack of privacy and dignity
  • Fear for baby’s safety
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
  • Baby’s stay in SCBU/NICU
  • Poor postnatal care
  • Previous trauma (for example, in childhood, with a previous birth or domestic violence)

There are some things we really can’t do much about, that as we say, are in the lap of the gods.

But whenever and wherever we can make things even a little nicer, easier, and less traumatic we really should be collectively striving for that. No matter how tired, exhausted, overworked a health professional might be, some things should be a reflex, inbuilt into our behaviour. No-one’s perfect, and we can learn from mistakes – it’s never too late to do better for our next client or service user!

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10 ways to help avoid / minimise birth trauma

1)  Point out what the protocols of your hospital are, but do not use coercive or bullying language EVER.

Make it clear what they are but always make sure women are aware that

- mothers-to-be are not legally bound to follow protocols

- there are sometimes several schools of thought around an area and that it would be wise for them to do their own research beyond the NHS leaflets to make an informed decision

- that protocols are designed for the general public, not each woman specifically or idiosyncratically

- she will often have several pathways available, some of which are not recommended but she is free to choose if she wishes, presented without emotion or persuasion – not just one you want to push on her because of your own preference.

2)  Acknowledge when you don’t know enough about a subject rather than pretending you do.

Signpost to robust, evidence-based sources and up-to-date information. Ask the mother how she is feeling and what her intuition is telling her to explore and research more closely. Instead of trying to look infallible, just admit ‘ this is outside of my knowledge’ and then point them towards someone more expert than you. Make a point of being open to learning things that are new and out of your current knowledge, so you can give women only what you know to be truly accurate information.

3)  Never dismiss a mother’s intuition.

If a woman has a strong feeling about something – trust her. While collecting birth stories for Birthplace Matters, I heard from so many women who had very accurate knowledge or intuition about how their baby was doing, either that everything was fine or that something was wrong, or how close they were to pushing their babies out, which was ignored. One example I hear a lot are stories from women in relation to dilation and pushing. I recently talked with a doula friend who had supported a woman who went from 6cm to having a baby in her arms in just 15 minutes. It can honestly happen.  So don’t shout at a woman not to push because she isn’t dilating according to the Friedman curve.

4)  Support women’s informed decisions

If she chooses a pathway that is outside of guidelines, try and find it in your heart to support it, without badgering her and bullying her over and over to get her to co-operate in an ‘our way or the highway’ campaign. Acknowledge she is going outside of recommendations and give her your care and loving support anyway. She is a fully grown adult not a silly child – don’t treat her like one. Her parenting right to make decisions for her baby doesn’t begin once she leaves the hospital and sets foot across the threshold of her own front door – that responsibility is hers NOW already. Make it clear to her that you understand that, without tutting, frowning, and making snide remarks please.

5)  Give statistics responsibly and talk about benefits as well as risks

Simply saying, for example that your baby’s risk of abc doubles if xyz happens is a terrifying prospect to any mother. However, if you tell her her babies risk of something doubles from 0.05 percent to 0.1 it gives woman a more realistic sense and is more helpful in making them make truly aware so they can arrive at their own carefully weighed up decisions – if there are risks to something, women need to know using maths not misleading language designed to scare them. Let them weigh up the benefits and risks of a particular pathway – NEVER make decisions for them by omission – if you are only presenting them with one option when you know damn well there might be 2, 3 or 4 options then you are forcing a pathway that isn’t chosen freely.

6)  Advocate for them even if you don’t agree with their choices and defend their human and maternal rights regardless.

Refer women to others with specialisations in supporting whatever the woman herself wants to choose, and don’t take her non-compliance as a reason to take it personally or be nasty. It’s not about you.

7)  CONSENT!

You should not be doing anything to a woman without her consent, and in order to make sure you have gained her consent, you must explain fully what you are doing or what a recommendation is. And remember it is just that – a recommendation, or suggestion.  You can’t put your gloved hand inside a woman and get consent as it is going in. You cannot break her waters without her consent. You cannot do anything at all to her or her baby, unless she gives her consent. Even if you think it’s in the best interests of the mother and/or baby. This is not your baby, your birth, or your body. She will live with the consequences of your actions so make sure she said yes and understood first!

8)  Read the birthplan

It’s completely reasonable for women to express their wishes and when something is written in black and white it should be read by staff. You are public servants to her, not vice versa. She is not there to grease the wheels and make your shift easier. Her taxes pay for you to be there assisting her and she may only give birth once or twice in her lifetime. This may be everyday work for you, but for her, this is one of the most important days of her life

9)  Gentleness costs nothing

No matter how many times you’ve stitched a vulva today, or put in an IV drip or cannula, or catheter, no matter how busy, rushed or tired you are – please remind yourself of the human in front of you who may walk away with PTSD because of your actions – this woman is not a piece of meat but a living, breathing, feeling, person with dreams, future memories, and rights.

10)  Remember why you joined this profession

If you think you can’t offer gentle care anymore, consider moving on to another career path. It doesn’t make you a bad person to admit that. It makes you a caring one who won’t let women suffer because of traumatic practices which are ingrained into the people working around you which have become so normalised they’re not even seen clearly for what they are any more..

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The links below are from the Birth Trauma Association website:   http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/about-the-bta/research

Allen, S (1998). A Qualitative Analysis of the Process, Mediating Variables and Impact of Traumatic ChildbirthJournal of Reproductive and Infact Psychology, 16: 107 – 131.

Allen S North N and Elliott P (2005) An investigation of the relationship between PTSD and PND symptoms and factors mediating the development of PTSD following traumatic labour experiences ( Paper available from Sarah Sllen Department of Psychology Southampton University SP17 1 BJ)

Andreucci CB1,2, Bussadori JC3, Pacagnella RC4, Chou D5, Filippi V6, Say L7, Cecatti JG8;Sexual life and dysfunction after maternal morbidity: a systematic review. Brazilian COMMAG Study Group; WHO Maternal Morbidity Working Group.

Ayers S Eagle A Waring H (2006) The effects of childbirth related PTSD on women and their relationship : a qualitative study. Psychol Health Med 2006 Nov 11 (4) 389-98

Ayers, S, Bond, R, Bertullies, S and Wijma, K (2016) The aetiology of post-traumatic stress following childbirth: a meta-analysis and theoretical framework. Psychological Medicine, 46 (6). pp. 1121-34. ISSN 1469-8978

Ayers, S. & Ford, E. (2012). PTSD following childbirth. In: C. R. Martin (Ed.), Perinatal mental health: a clinical guide. (pp. 155-164). M&k Update. ISBN 1905539495

Alvarado R Perucca E Rojas M Monades J Olea E Neves E Vera A (1993) Gyneco obstetric aspects in women developing postpartum depression. Obstet Ginecol 1993;58 (3) 239-4

Ayers, S and Pickering A.D. (2001) Do Women Get Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a Result of Childbirth? A Prospective Study of Incidence. Birth. 28 (2): 111 – 118

Ayers S Thoughts and emotions during childbirth: a qualitative study. Birth 2007 Sep 34 (3) 253-63

Ballard, C. G. et al (1995) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after Childbirth. British Journal of Psychiatry. 166: 525 – 528

Beck, C. T. (2004) Birth Trauma – In the Eye of The Beholder. Nursing Research. 53(1): 28 – 35

Beck, C.T. (2004) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Due To Childbirth – The Aftermath. Nursing Research. 53 (4): 216 – 224

Beck CT (2006) The anniversary of birth trauma; failure to rescue Nurs Res 2006 Nov-Dec 55(6) 381-90

Born L , Soares (2006) CN, Phillips SD, Jung M, Steiner M Women and reproductive related trauma Annexe NY Acad Sci 2006 Jul 1071:491-4

Boudou M Sejourne N Chabrol H Childbirth pain, perinatal dissociation and perinatal distress as predictors of PTS symptoms Gynec Obstet Fertili 2007 Nov 7

Callahan JL, Hynan MT Identifying mothers at risk for postnatal emotional distress: further evidence for the validity of the perinatal post traumatic stress disorder questionnaire J Pernatol 2002 Sept 22 (6) 448-54

Church, S and Scanlan, M (2002) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth. The Practising Midwife. 5 (6): 10 -13

Cohen et al (2004) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Pregnancy, Labor and Delivery, Journal of Women’s Health, 13(3): 315 – 324

Creedy, D. K (2000) Childbirth and the Development of Acute Trauma Symptoms: Incidence and Contributing Factors. Birth. 27(2): 104 – 111

Crompton, J (1996) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Childbirth. British Journal of Midwifery. 4 (6): 290 – 294

Crompton, J (1996) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Childbirth: 2, British Journal of Midwifery, 4 (7): 354 – 373

Czarnocka, J and Slade, P (2000) Prevalence and predictors of post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 39: 35-51.

DeMier R.L. (1996) Perinatal Stressors as Predictors of Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress in Mothers of Infants at High Risk Journal of Perinatology. 16 (4): 276 – 280

Emerson, W. R. (1998) Birth Trauma: The Psychological Effects of Obstetrical Interventions, Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health”, 13 (1): 11 – 44

N. Goutaudier , N. Séjourné , C. Rousset , C. Lami  & H. Chabrol Octogone Negative emotions, childbirth pain, perinatal dissociation and self-efficacy as predictors of postpartum posttraumatic stress symptoms

Gamble, J.A. et al (2002) A Review of the Literature on Debriefing or Non-Directive Counselling to Prevent Postpartum Emotional Distress. Midwifery. 18: 72-79

Holditch-Davis, D et al (2003) Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Mothers of Premature Infants. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN), 32 (2): 161 – 171

Hynan, M. T. (1998). The Perinatal Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Questionnaire (PPQ). In R. W. Wood and C. P. Zalaquette (eds.) Evaluating stress: A handbook of resources, 2: 193-199. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Joseph S Bailham D (2006) Traumatic childbirth: what we know and what we can do. RCM Midwives 2004 Jun 7 (6) 258-61

Kennedy, H.P. (2002) Altered Consciousness During Childbirth: Potential Clues to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. 47 (5): 380 – 382.

Menage, J. (1993) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Women Who Have Undergone Obstetric and/or Gynaecological Procedures. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 11: 221-228

Nicholls K Ayers S (2007) Chilbirth related post traumatic stress disorder in couples; a qualitative study. Br J Health Psychology Nov 2007 12 Pt 4 491-509

Parfitt, Y. & Ayers, S. (2009). The effect of postnatal symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression on the couple’s relationship and parent-baby bond. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology,stress and depression on the couple’s relationship and parent-baby bond. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 27(2), pp. 127-142. doi: 10.1080/02646830802350831

Priest SR Henderson J Evans SF Hagan R (2003) Stress debriefing after childbirth: a randomised controlled trial. Med J Aust 2003 Jun 2 178(11) 542-5

Reynolds, J.L. (1997) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: the Phenomenon of Traumatic Birth. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 156 (6): 831 – 834

Rowan, C. Bick, D. Basots, M.H. Postnatal debriefing interventions to prevent maternal mental health problems after birth; exploring the gap between the evidence and UK policy and practice. World views Evid Based Nurs 2007 3 (2) 97-195

Sandstrom M, Wiberg B, Wikman M, Willman AK, Hogbierg U. A pilot study of EMDR for PTSD after childbirth Midwifery 2007 Jan 12 th

Soderquist J Wijma K Wijma B Traumatic stress in late pregnancy J Anxiety Disorders 2004 18(2) 127-42

Soderquist J Wijma K Wijma B Traumatic stress after childbirth; the role of obstetric variables. J Psychom Obstet Gynaecol 2002 Mar:23 (1) 31-9

Soet, J. E et al (2003) Prevalence and Predictors of Women’s Experience of Psychological Trauma During Childbirth. Birth.30 (1) 36 -46

Turton, P. et al (2001) Incidence, Correlates and Predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Pregnancy After StillbirthThe British Journal of Psychiatry. 178: 556-560

Vaiva et al (2003) Immediate Treatment with Propranolol Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Two Months after Trauma, Biological Psychiatry, 54: 947 – 949

Van Pampas MG, Wolf H, Weijmar Schultz WC, Neeleman J, Aarnoudse JG

Post traumatic stress disorder following pre eclampsia and HELLP syndrome J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 2004 Sept – Dec 25 (3-4) 183-7

Wijma, K. et al (1997) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: A Cross Sectional Study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 11 (6): 587 – 597

 

The 12 Ancient Midwives

Mar 15, 2018 | No Comments

Have you ever wondered how women give birth without assistance? The ones who have their baby rather dramatically and unexpectedly in such places like the back of a taxi, in a lift, or alone in the toilets at high-school? How do they manage it without pain relieving drugs, since there are none available?  And is a woman ever truly alone, and unassisted, when she births?

How would you cope?

Well for starters, birth is not a solo sport. It is a partnership, a dance of two – mother AND baby. When the birth is not disturbed or directed by others, a baby and mother are perhaps freer than being directed by assisting strangers. By moving and twisting and turning their bodies in collaboration entirely on instinct, as happens in the wild, women can usually expell a baby from their body by a series of involuntary muscular reflexes – much like going for a poo. If the woman can let her body take over from her mind and just do what it knows how to do, she removes one of the biggest obstacles to birthing easily – fear.  Animals all over the world do it every day, without having been to a single hypnobirthing class or reading a Sheila Kitzinger book!

Deep in our bones, we have primally imprinted birthing reflexes buried under all the layers of our education and civilisation.  I doubt there would be so many people or animals on this planet if that wasn’t true. And if a woman can give birth in a coma, then the human body, undirected in any way from external instruction, surely must be considered expert at expelling babies?

But who delivers a human baby in the spiritual sense, when no midwives are present? Who honours and witnesses the arrival of a little soul?

I was pondering this during the last dreamy days of pregnancy with my daughter Poppy in a state of dreamy meditation. And then I saw them clearly.

Introducing…. The 12 Ancient Midwives…

     

 

These ancient helpers give us the power to be able to birth our babies even when there are no other humans around. Their names are….

Love – is the reason this baby was made in the first place. Love swirled and worked its magic inside your body to receive your partners sperm and usher it towards the egg so your baby could begin its life inside you. It was a guiding force all along. Why not now? Why shouldn’t love, that helped the baby get in, also help the baby to get out! When a woman births with love from her heart, with loving thoughts, body, and soul, the baby will come with more spirit than if she feels hateful, angry or purely scared. For this reason, Love is the first midwife.

Patience – as every good midwife knows, patience is the ultimate tool in her kit. Generally speaking, the more she can respect the natural momentum of the birthing mother and baby dyad,
and not interfere, the less complicated will be the birth. A mother who is patient with herself and her baby as she gives birth will birth more easily and smoothly. Patience is the second midwife.

Trust – When we trust in our bodies, in the will of the universe, in our baby, it takes the tension out of our bodies and relaxes them. We can do things we thought previously impossible when we replace fear with trust. When we trust, we give permission for life to unfold in the moment, feeling it will all work out as it is meant to. For this reason, Trust is a great midwife, and she is the third of our twelve.

Laughter – has a magic effect on us. It transforms pain into something other. It makes difficult things more manageable. Laughter opens up our chest and rolls through our body, releasing tight muscles and making them relax. Laughter is a free form of medicine, and requires no outside persons. When laughter is a midwife at birth, she makes things smoother, happier and easier. She is the fourth midwife.

Ancestors – do you ever wonder if your ancestors are guiding and keeping protection over you? Sometimes they might leave a sign they are around, holding the space for you. Perhaps you can
smell a faint trace of them. Or a song plays on the radio suddenly that was your song. Perhaps a bird leaves you a feather or some other token, that only you understand. Our ancestors can carry on giving us the gift of their strength even after they have gone from the earthly realm, through their memory and example if nothing else. They are the fifth midwife.

Prayers of the living – every good thought others have towards you, your baby and your birthing has an energy that draws a line between you and them across the miles, in the ether. I really
believe this. For this reason, I believe prayers have power. When a woman is birthing and reminds herself of the well wishes and support of others, she can draw on it as a source of strength. This collective body of positive, confidence-boosting energy is the sixth midwife.

Cosmic forces – are the mysterious energies which govern all life. Some call it God, others nature. Whatever you believe, our place in the universe is a blessing, and the universe swells and swirls and pulses according to its own order, its own rules. We are but a humble speck in it all. It is good to remember this. The cosmos is an endless series of cycles of creation. We are not in charge of everything, we cannot control everything. When we give birth it is good to remember we are here but for the grace of god and so are our babes. The seventh midwife is there whether we choose to believe in her or not!

Strength – until a woman gives birth, she usually has no idea of her full powers and strengths. Birth reveals hidden depths and strengths she never knew she had – especially more so when she births alone and is not overpowered by others. When a woman births without limitations or boundaries, her strength is a force to behold. Strength is the eighth midwife who digs deep into a woman’s inner treasure chest and delivers a baby into the world with pure, raw, trembling, earth shaking primal force.

Intuition – will be the mothers companion for the rest of her mothering years, as with the other midwives. Like the others, intuition will stick around. She is the watchful midwife with the third eye. She feels the answers to things others can only partially understand. This midwife is supremely ancient. She is the midwife who never truly sleeps but always keeps half an ear or an eye open. The ninth midwife will help a woman to know things that her rational brain could never know on its own.

Connection – Even whilst alone, a woman is not truly alone. Her baby is there with her. She is part of the interconnected web of consciousness to which we all belong. It is comforting to remember this during a birth. A woman is connected, cradled, and held by others at the mere thought of them. She can draw strength from the love she shares with her baby’s father, and from her friends and family – anyone she feels safe and happy with. When a woman gives birth she also straddles the worlds of ancestors and descendants and stands at a crossroads between past, present and future. The connections she has through her bloodline, umbilically link her like a matryioshka doll to them all. She can also draw strength by connecting in spirit to all the other birthing women in the world labouring their babies in that same moment as her. Connection is the tenth midwife.

Surrender – is a powerful teacher. She is the midwife who leads us down the rabbit hole and tells us it will all work out fine, that our bodies are made to cope. She whispers to us to have faith in the wild and crazy process. She tells us it will all be ok at the other end of it all. Without her, we cannot let go. Without her, we cling to the safety of all that we know. But we cannot bring forth our baby if we don’t go down the rabbit hole. We must walk a labyrinth journey of sorts, going deep into our own strength and body to bring out a baby. Surrender is the the eleventh midwife who says it is safe to let go, let go… let go… .let go…..

and finally…

Nature – The midwife in every cell of your body. She knows what to do. She is the great conductor that leads the orchestra of hormones in our bodies that birth the baby. She does what she needs to do, with her own utter efficiency and logic, and her own timing. Sometimes she leads the orchestra in a waltz, sometimes a birthing is more of an opera – but she knows what she’s doing. She is wiser than any human and has secrets we will never understand. If you listen closely to her she has great wisdom to teach. Make friends with her and learn ways to harness her gifts. She is abundant, generous and nurturing as well as feisty, wild and untamed. And she is the twelfth ancient midwife. Is she the most important?

I hope you enjoyed meeting the twelve ancient midwives. Chances are, you know them already. If you know a mama having her first baby, maybe you could show her these friends who can guide her on her journey, helping her to draw on her incredible strength to birth and raise her baby with peace, love and confidence – no matter where, when or how she gives birth.

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A slightly longer version of this post used to sit on Rebecca Wright’s (no longer active) blog. She gave her permission for me to reclaim it and share it here.

Extortionate fees or extreme value for money?

Feb 8, 2018 | No Comments

If you think doulas are expensive, trust me, you are about to find out just what good value we actually are.

This as an open letter to Dr Ahmed Rashid, an NHS doctor, in response to his comments about doulas in the British Journal of General Practise, February 2018….

” I first came across a doula as a junior doctor working in obstetrics and the idea has fascinated me since. In case you haven’t heard of them, they are trained or experienced lay women who provide social, emotional, and practical support during pregnancy and birth, but do not provide any clinical care. Although the practice has ancient origins, the modern doula movement began in the US in the 1970s and private doulas, hired by mothers (often for extortionate prices), have been popular in certain parts of the UK for some time. A recent Oxford study focused instead on volunteer doulas, trained by third-sector organisations. After interviewing 19 doulas and 16 mothers who had received their support, the authors concluded that they can play an important role in improving women’s birth experiences by offering continuous, empowering, female-focused support that complements the role of midwives, particularly where the mothers are disadvantaged. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all.”

Dear Dr. Rashid,

I’m not sure you appreciate quite how much work goes into doulaing, and the costs we incur in the act of doing this valued work, so please allow me to enlighten you.

Firstly, training to become a doula is not an undertaking which is funded by an employer but is paid for by the woman herself. During her initial training a doula will likely spend hundreds on the training course, and hundreds more on books to better understand the many complex needs of the women they serve. Some clients will have experienced earlier birth trauma, others may be survivors of childhood abuse or domestic violence. Even straightforward births can be greatly assisted by a doula who is skilled in certain things – which in themselves may also cost money for her to learn or do. Aromatherapy oils are not provided for free to doulas, nor are such things as a rebozo scarf (extremely useful tool which I invite you to google), or the many other items doulas might carry in their bag to aid women to give birth. The NHS budget doesn’t always stretch to some things which are proven to help women and which doulas invest in as part of their toolkit.

Furthermore, doulas take pride in continuing to learn after their initial training, and supporting women may take on many forms – providing assistance with all manner of skills which don’t happen by magic but are gained through training courses, which also cost money to attend – when you consider course fees, travel costs, accommodation costs are all out of the pocket of the doula herself, this adds up.

Then there are yearly insurance fees, membership to Doula UK, taxes, fuel costs, hospital car park fees, website/ promotional / advertisement costs, mail system fees, payment fees (paypal costs for example). We don’t get new clients by pure magic. And even word of mouth can only go so far.

Consider this – a doula is potentially putting aside a whole month of her life during every ‘on call period’ with a caveat on all commitments or social arrangements that she makes to ensure that she can reliably attend the birth of her client who has invested a lot in her emotionally besides the financial cost of hiring her. If a doula charged £1,000 per birth and booked 12 clients a year, forgoing a holiday, that is a maximum yearly income of £12k, before taxes. This is hardly extortion, when viewed in this light.

I conducted a poll this very evening on a Doula UK forum to see what the average doula charges for doing all this work. There were 30 respondants, with the mean average fee for births, including London pricing, coming in at £787.

Does this in all honesty strike you as moneygrabbing, or extortionate, Dr Rashid? Could you or would you, do this kind of work for that sum? Would you put your whole life on hold for that? Even those women who charged at the upper end of the scale gave detailed descriptions of the numerous antenatal and postnatal visits included in their package with a broad range of services to assist mothers in recovery from childbirth – none of which are even remotely available on the NHS.

Going to births can be gruelling. It is a sweaty, bloody, pooey, pissing, puking, very much hands-on kind of job. I have come away after 27 hours solidly supporting a woman and her partner absolutely drained to my core. Unable to drive myself home safely. Emotional. Aching all over. Bruised. I have known doulas to stay with women for five days straight. This job is not for the faint-hearted! Plus, who do imagine looks after our children while we do this work? And at what cost?

Please do not underestimate how much this job takes out of us. You may think we just massage our clients back a little for a few short hours and squeeze their hand whispering encouraging things but you do not see the hours of invisible work, research and worryinwe do for our clients. This is more than hand-holding – we support women’s journeys with our whole being.

You may not know of the meetings or email exchanges for the months before, providing information and signposting towards services and resources, or the messaging at 1am trying to resolve breastfeeding issues as a mother struggles and needs someone to talk to who has been there and can help…. but we do. It’s a normal part of our work.

The Cochrane review has already demonstrated our influence in the birth room as a force for good, and I can vouch for this in my own experience. The mothers I support talk about how transformational the process of becoming a mother has been for them, and have often told me how integral my support has been in facilitating the family’s bonding, healing, recovery, and initiation into parenthood. I have had fathers message me, thanking me and saying how much my influence has shaped their partners identity as a new mother or helped shape their parenting journey per se. I also know, from my work as founder of the Birthplace Matters campaign, that relying solely on the care of the NHS alone can leave some women utterly high and dry – the stories I have been told are freely available on http://www.birthplacematters.org.uk if you care to see what standardised care without doula support looked like for some women. The NHS is severely stretched and midwives cannot always offer the care they would wish to – this is where doula support is especially valuable.

Would you really have us all offer this dedicated extended support spanning many months either for free (which doulas do sometimes offer for a valued friend or for access fund clients (where a few basic expenses are funded through a charity but they receive no other payment at all for the birth or on call period) or for a measly couple of hundred pounds?

I respectfully ask you to reconsider your comments about our true value in the light of the many ways that doulas help women and their families. We do this work for love, not to get rich.

 

I hope you perhaps appreciate now how much we doulas are in fact excellent value for money!
Regards,
Paula Cleary
Doula and Founder of Birthplace Matters