Keeping Birth Normal: Why Aren’t Women Being Taught Birth Basics?

Posted by: on Mar 19, 2017 | No Comments
Guest Blog Post by Spoken Word Artist & Doula, Kati Edwards

Thank you so much Paula for inviting me to write a guest blog. It is such an honour. I’ve chosen to tell a little of my background for those who don’t yet know me and tell a story highlighting one of the things I just don’t get about our maternity system.

Keeping Birth Normal: Why Aren’t Women Being Taught Birth Basics?

My journey into the birth world has been a little unconventional perhaps. In 2015, my home water birth was televised on the landmark BBC1 documentary ‘Childbirth All Or Nothing’. I say a landmark show because it was an undisturbed home birth which is so rare to see on mainstream TV. Anecdotally, the show was fairly seminal too. Partly, because I ingested a piece of my baby’s placenta on national TV. Anecdotally, I’d heard it might benefit and starve off the baby blues. The show apparently set off a wave of women wanting to do the same and keep their baby’s placentas to add into fruit smoothies!

But aside from the placenta smoothie sensation, the show did a great job of presenting some of the issues and diverse choices available to women and their partners when contemplating how and where to give birth.

The programme makers ‘Landmark Films’ were recruiting women who were making conscious choices in childbirth that were outside the norm and who could articulate their reasons for doing so. I think they did a really good job and still, to this day, sometimes people come up to me to say the show changed the course of their birthing experience.

As a result of being on the show, I’ve been subsequently invited to speak at birth conferences both in the UK and internationally either with storytelling or with my poetry.

This article focuses on something that happened at one of my first midwifery society conferences in 2015. The audience was mostly second and third year midwifery students although there were a handful of doulas and other birth workers. My chosen title at the conference was ‘Confidence, Positivity and Empowerment’ in childbirth.

At the time, I was working for the NHS in a Neuropsychology team in Physical Health so my job was all about how the ‘mind affects the body and the body affects the mind’. Since having my first baby in 2011, it always occurred to me that the mind/ body connection is SO important when it comes to childbirth and yet is given so little credence. There are few psychologists working within the field.

Antenatal appointments are mainly, in my experience, focused on the physical. There’s the taking of blood samples, measuring tummies, collecting samples of urine and collecting data on blood pressure. Data is collected and presented as though it’s an exact science and may be presented in a way that steers a path for those families involved, limits options and promotes fear.

How we are feeling about ourselves or our babies or the impending birth rarely appears to be on the agenda in my experience. And psychological strategies to help women and their partners help themselves are rarely presented as options. If one of the aims is to maximise comfort and minimise distress, I believe we must look further into how our minds can positively affect our bodies to give birth.

At the conference I alluded to above, one of the talks was on ‘Hypnobirthing’. It was this talk more than any other that stuck with me. But not for the reasons you might imagine. You see, I’d studied ‘Hypnobirthing’ for my own baby’s births and I knew the material well.

During the talk, the basic principles of ‘hypnobirthing’ were delivered. We learnt about how

  • the practice of relaxing deeply in pregnancy and women receiving a positive understanding of how the body works to help the baby exit the womb can be really helpful
  • when the woman is able to go into herself without being disturbed, she increases the chances of giving birth naturally
  •  the hormones affecting birth especially about the role of oxytocin sometimes called the hormone of love that makes labour progress most effectively
  • steps must be taken to keep fear out of the birth room because fear can increase adrenaline levels which in turn hamper the progression of labour

We were shown a sign given to hypnobirthing women to put on hospital doors that said something along the lines of ‘Quiet please. Hypnobirthing in Progress’.

And the audience had a discussion about how having this sign really makes a difference. We heard how staff frequently act differently around ‘Hypnobirthing women’. For example, staff are often much more sensitive to knowing these women want quiet. People knock quietly on the door to enter and speak in low tones with minimal distraction or interference.

All this support for the woman and protection of her birthing space clearly gives that woman a greater chance of her baby’s birth unfolding naturally.

As the lecture went on, I became more and more dumbfounded. To me, the lecturer was describing how birth worked. Things I already knew despite at the time not being a doula or a qualified antenatal educator or a midwife.

These were things I already knew, but the audience was mostly 2nd and 3rd year students. Surely they knew already this stuff? What had these student midwives been learning in the first years of their course?

If this is how birth works, why aren’t all women being given this knowledge and therefore the best chance to give birth naturally? (should they wish to of course).

Surely, you shouldn’t have to ‘hypnobirth’ or take natural birth classes to be given this chance?

After the lecture ended, I went and sat next to the speaker and said, “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?”

She nodded. I asked, “Can I ask, is what you’ve just said ‘news’ to these midwives?’

She looked at me slightly puzzled and said, ‘Yes. I think so.’

We later chatted about what I meant by this and for me, the following questions came up;

  • How come these midwives don’t know this stuff?
  • Shouldn’t we be starting off with ‘normal’ before we present the abnormal?

I want to shout from the rooftops, why is this ‘hypnobirthing’ and not just birthing?

Ultimately, what I just don’t get about maternity services is this:

Women should surely be supported to have the very best chance to work with their hormones to birth their babies?

I believe women who want to avoid intervention should be given the very best chance of doing so.

Shouldn’t ALL women and their partners know their baby’s births can be influenced by not only their own thoughts and feelings about the birth process but also the environment in which they choose to birth in and the trust of those supporting their birth space?

In my opinion and experience, there is not enough focus within the NHS on the things you can do to support yourself to have a better birth experience if you would rather avoid medical intervention. There is plenty of information about pain relief options but relatively little about what people can do to really help themselves have a better experience.

Women and their partners have to look elsewhere to supplement their knowledge, hire a doula and/ or do an independent antenatal preparation course.

And often, no-one tells them that this whole other world of birthing ‘enlightenment’ exists. Maybe it’s just something they have to find out for themselves. Through books. Through word of mouth. And even then, they’re only going to hear it, if they’re ready to.

For me, birthing ‘enlightenment’ in the modern age means: knowing your options, feeling comfortable with trusting your instincts, working through any fears and doubts so you can trust the process of birth and give yourself the best chance of a positive experience, having birth attendants around you can trust to understand your wishes and having mental tools to help you relax in all situations.

In my idealistic world, all women would have these opportunities and not just the lucky few.

 

Kati

Kati Edwards is a doula and antenatal educator based in Manchester, She is the creator of “The Birth You In Love Project”, a FREE mini-vid series to help women understand the basics of birth.

 

Dear Healthcare provider….

Posted by: on Jul 20, 2015 | No Comments

Dear healthcare provider,

Please think very carefully before you say the words you are about to speak. Before you laugh at my birth plan, snigger at my choices, try to bully or trick me (for the safety of my baby), before you insist upon that procedure, before you force yourself on my body with your ‘helpful’ instruments, and before you say even one word more, STOP.

STOP and think what you are about to do or say.

Let me tell you why.

We don’t know each other very well, and there are many many things you could not possibly know about my journey in life so far. You cannot know if I was shamed or bullied about my body, by my parents, siblings, other family members, friends or acquaintances at school, at the vulnerable time of my blossoming. You cannot have any idea the effect this had on me, you cannot know what ideas or teachings I inherited, or how traumatic my entry to womanhood was.

You cannot know if I was touched up by pervy old uncles, a teacher at school, my childhood dentist, or even a closer member of my own family. You cannot know if I had a boyfriend throughout my vulnerable teens, twenties or thirties, who undermined me, cheated on me, criticized, or even beat me.

You cannot possibly know if I was raped or abused, and how utterly utterly horrible it feels having people like you ‘just taking a little look’, and putting things into my vagina, however gently, as if I were a piece of meat. Maybe, just maybe I have had enough of that in my lifetime and I just want my body back. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I have not even been able to tell some of my close friends yet. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I barely know you, and I don’t feel safe to. Perhaps I haven’t told you because I have a toddler in tow at all my appointments, and really do not want to discuss that kind of thing around her. Perhaps I don’t want to tell you because I only just met you five minutes ago. Perhaps you, with your white coat, and air of authority and respectability,  with your letters after your name that are supposed to mean that you are a professional who would never hurt anyone, look a little like the dentist who used to do horrible things when I was five and noone was looking.

And perhaps someone just like you, who meant well, who had the right credentials, the right training, the doctorate, and the confident assured words, gave me some terrible advice last time, which led to a cascade of horrible interventions resulting in a birth that felt like I was being butchered. You will possibly not find out that the full impact of things that might have happened to me because maybe I don’t really want to tell you. Or maybe I don’t have time. You might be just another one of possibly many healthcare providers I might meet in the course of my pregnancy or birth. Do you think I really want to tell every last one of you everything that might possibly have happened to me to date? What do I know about you, really? Apart from your job title? Can you understand my perspective?

Right now, I am carrying a baby inside me, and I want to enjoy this time, in the present moment and not revisit my past. I do not want to invite stress upon my unborn baby. I am an adult now, and I don’t need to be told what to do any more by kindly, paternalistic know-it-alls.

As an adult, I am free to make choices about my body, and my baby. I am going to live with this body for the rest of my life, and whilst my birth is just another out of many you will witness today, or this week, or this year, I will live with that birth for the rest of my life. I will wake up and relive it over and over, for better or worse, and it will still be with me, when I lie on my deathbed.

So please believe me when I say that I do not make my choices flippantly or lightly.

I am planning to carry and give birth to my child the same way I intend to raise them – by listening to others advice and then doing whatever the hell feels like the sensible, intelligent thing to do, according to my own principles and preferences. As the parent of my child, I am responsible for making decisions on their behalf from the word go. Not when you decide. It starts now already. If I say no to something, it is because I have carefully considered and weighed up all the pros and cons, and decided that no is the best choice for us. If I say yes and give my consent, it is also because I have weighed things up and made an educated choice.

I may not have your degree or doctorate. But you know something? The age we live in is making your knowledge less exclusive. We are not in the 1200′s any more. I am part of a savvy, educated movement of women who are curious, who debate, who watch, discuss, and share knowledge. I can read, so have quite possibly, read quite a good many different books about birth. I have the internet, where I can read blogs and websites by midwives, discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of every minute aspect of birth. I have possibly taken part in discussion threads involving scores, if not hundreds of intelligent commenters, some of whom are healthcare professionals, so are more than qualified to comment, give advice, share information, insights and so on. The beauty of such forums is that women can try on different ideas and hold them up to be examined in the light of others experiences, before making any informed decision about things that will affect their baby or themself.

You don’t have a monopoly on understanding different aspects of birth. You are the expert in the information that you know, and an expert in doing things a particular way, but that does not mean it is the only way, the best way or that I absolutely have to agree to your way. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to force me to agree with it. You are a service provider, and your job is to serve me. Not the other way round. If what you are offering doesn’t sit right with me, I have every right to say No, and for that to be respected. If you do not like this, and I understand that this can be hard for you to swallow. But it’s the truth.

Every decision I make about my body and my baby has been carefully considered. I love the child that is growing inside me, I will love them their whole life long. I will never stop loving them. My child, my partner and I will also have to live with the consequences of whatever decisions we make on our babies behalf, so believe me when I say that we never make these decisions lightly.

So please don’t you dare wave the ‘dead baby’ card and use this as an excuse to trample over my decisions. If I choose to do something against your advice it can only be because I don’t entirely trust it, based on my own independent enquiries, study, reflection, earlier experiences and discussions around this particular issue, and as I said, this may involve a blow-by-blow dissection of the subject with other midwives, obstetricians, and possibly other mothers who have been in the same position as me and have been able to share their own take on things. Whilst it may smart that I have chosen to disagree with you, and take a different course of action, know it is my right to make that choice and that I am doing it in what I believe to be the highest interests of my baby and myself.

If you assume that I am choosing homebirth simply to have some kind of hippy ‘experience’, without thinking deeply about all the implications of what birth at home means, or that I haven’t weighed up the risks and cons sufficiently, please think again. I am choosing my homebirth because I genuinely, absolutely, believe it is where my body will be relaxed enough to give birth without inviting stress and interventions that I know are so common in hospital. I may well gush about my birth afterwards, I may tell my friends or write online about how it was beautiful, that I enjoyed it and felt ecstatic even. You might mistake this for dangerous wrecklessness and dreamy hippy nonsense. I assure you, it is a happy side-effect of taking an educated choice, after weighing everything up in all seriousness. If I report that I had a healing birth, it may be that an earlier one left me feeling so traumatized that I did not believe birth could be so gentle, and was taken by surprise at how calm being at home felt in comparison. I don’t tell my birth story to spread hippy-schmippy propaganda, but to give hope to others who may also have suffered a brutal, institutional birth, which opened up wounds, caused new ones, or left them bewildered and confused about the role of such ‘helpful’ institutions such as the one you work in.

I know your hours are long. I know your training took many years. I know you believe you are valliantly saving women every day, and in some cases, you do this, and I am grateful that you do. You might even save my baby or my life. If you do, I will be eternally grateful. I do not mean to say that I do not appreciate your work or your role. I am just reminding you of a few things in case you have forgotten along the way who has the ultimate say over my body and my baby.

So, are we clear now? Before you open your mouth and speak to me…. I want you to remember this conversation we will probably never have…. but perhaps you read it online and it made you stop and think before you make assumptions or rude comments about my choices….

Tread softly….. dear healthcare providers.. …tread very softly please.

How society tells women to be aspirational… just not in their birth choices

Posted by: on Jul 10, 2015 | No Comments

I’ve been thinking today about the mixed messages we receive about how and when we women are encouraged to be aspirational, and by contrast, when we’re told to stop whining and suck up our lot.

We are bombarded by aspirational messages every day in the form of advertising, where autonomy, breaking out of the box, being discerning and fearless are positively encouraged. We are almost being dared to push the very limits of what is possible, to not settle for anything less than our best. The Women’s Tennis Association tells us ‘Strong is beautiful’. EA games tell us to ‘challenge everything’. Adidas tell us ‘Impossible is nothing’. Nike tell us to ‘Just do it’. IMAX tells us to ‘Think Big’. Vodaphone say ‘Power to you’. L’oreal tells us we are ‘worth it’. Apple tells us to ‘Think Different’. Sky says ‘Believe in better’. Tag Heuer tells us ‘Success. It’s a mind game’. M&S says ‘The customer is always and completely right’. The Red Cross tell us ‘the biggest tragedy is indifference’. Porsche say ‘There’s no substitute. Ferarri tell us that ‘Only those who dare, truly win’. Audi say ‘Never follow’. We are even encouraged to have full soverienty over our  burger-choices, and told, proudly to ‘Have it your way’.

Choice seems to be the shiny, glittering prize of our consumerist age. Choice to have it on our own terms, choice to shop around, choice to assert our own personality and feelings. Choice, choice, choice, choice, choice. Choice is literally poured at our feet at every turn. And so long as we are CONSUMING, as long as we are buying into their version of freedom, of carefully branded (pseudo) empowerment, we are treated as captains of our own ship, we reign supreme. Price comparison sites are falling over themselves to help us, the discerning and intelligent public, to enable us to match up our exact requirements, with tickboxes and forms to ensure we are filtering things correctly and end up with exactly what we asked for.

If we travel to a hotel for a couple of nights, a relatively inconsequential event perhaps in contrast to many other life events, we can go and look on a website like trip advisor and get the lowdown on what the place is really like by reading hundreds of reviews and look at photos of the rooms from different angles, then fish around for the best deal we can possibly get before we go.

You might think that in this age when we are encouraged to be so go-getting, to be discerning, to strive for the best, to aim high and take no nonsense from anyone along the way, that women have never had it so good.

But when it comes to REAL choices, are women ‘worth it’ as L’oreal tell us? Or are we only worth trivial choices? Does our autonomy and thinking power only stretch to choosing what car to buy, what lipstick to wear and which brand of clothes wash really does get whites whiter than white?

When it comes to the really big stuff, to life and death, it’s amazing how our choices suddenly shrink. And when no-one stands to make a buck out of us, we are no longer savvy, cool and intelligent women who know their own minds, who are encouraged to ‘Never follow’ or ‘Think different’ or that success is a ‘mind game’.  Strong is no longer beautiful, but instead, if we assert ourselves on those issues that matter, those details  in our lives which really mean something, we are treated like a royal pain in the arse. This is where it all starts to break apart and we see a very different attitude to women… and this attitude is most prevalent when we speaks out about our birth choices. Suddenly, we are now seen in a different light – wanting things our way is a problem.

We might have been a tiger in the gym, or the boardroom, but when it comes to asserting our fundamentally personal birth choices we can suddenly face resistance in different guises:  gentle discouragement, being laughed at, told not to be unrealistic or unreasonable, selfish, or even reckless. It is a rare thing for a woman to state all her birth wishes and for every person along her journey to say – ok, let’s make this happen! It’s even sadder when female staff undermine the woman’s sovereignty and, perhaps worn down by working in an anti-feminist, patriarchal culture, can actually take the mockery of women to a new level – reinforcing a disempowering model.

And of course, those female staff are under enormous pressures and strains to pressure women to conform, comply, fit in with the hospital’s way of doing things so they don’t get into any trouble, and partly perhaps also because of their own trauma and not wanting women to suffer something they believe must be an inevitable consequence of a woman’s ‘unwise’ choice.

This has never been more true than when a woman chooses to give birth in her own home. You might be able to have your sodding burger any way you like it, but having birth your way? Do you know how hard that can be to achieve? The fight so many women have, the obstacles they need to jump through, the ignorance, the comments, the judgement, the warnings, the finger wagging and tutting. And even, outright lies.

If you are in any doubt about this, all I can say is that these are the exact reactions so many women are telling me in real life, and reporting in homebirth discussion forums, where others pipe up with ‘me too’s’. I have heard of midwives say ‘we’ll see about that’ or obstetricians tear up women’s birth plans in their face and laugh. This is how little autonomy women really have, in the so called civilised, developed world, of the free and the upwardly mobile.

I wonder if men gave birth whether there would be such a hoo-ha about their choices? Or would they be having Burger King style births, where every request was respected and met with a “Yes sir, no problem!”

The Red Cross is right, the greatest tragedy IS indifference. This is why it’s up to every woman to stand up for her rights, stand up for her choices and as Nike say, Just do it. Strong truly IS beautiful. On our terms. We really ARE worth it. But we don’t need some advertising brands to sell us that strength or that beauty, or that freedom. It is ours to hold onto and fight for.

We don’t have to tolerate the intolerable. Being pregnant does not invalidate our right to say ‘This is what feels right for me and my baby now can you please respect that and stop bullying me!’

If you want to refuse a certain procedure, like vaginal examinations or induction, you have every right. Find that midwife or doula or advocacy group to give you the courage to stand up for what is really important to you, those who will be your ally. But remember, ultimately it’s YOUR voice that matters most in the birthroom.

YOUR BODY. YOUR BABY. YOUR CHOUCE.

Homebirth – is it really that dangerous in 2015?

Posted by: on May 11, 2015 | No Comments

There’s a gameshow here in the UK called QI (which stands for Quite Interesting). When a contestant says a wrong answer, gigantic screens behind the contestant flash on and off whilst very loud alarm bells scream around the studio and the contestant is mocked for being such a dilly and saying the wrong thing. Sound familiar? Has that happened to you when you told people you wanted a homebirth? Of course I’m not suggesting ACTUAL alarm bells have gone off (That would be a bit weird) but…. when you encounter that attitude, you’ll know it’s there. It might be a veiled comment at the school gate, an exclamation of disbelief over dinner with friends, or an outright NO WAY! when suggesting the idea to your partner. What? You want a homebirth? You do know that women and babies used to die during birth at home, right? Are you mad? What if something goes wrong?

It’s a true enough fact. Women used to die in childbirth far more frequently. And so did babies. But is it really the act of being in hospital that has brought these incidents down to such a very tiny number? Can hospitals and modern machinery and advances really scoop up ALL the credit for birth being safer in 2015? Those entrenched in the system will tell you hell yeah! But I think not. And here’s why.

Giving birth at home in 2015 is not even remotely like giving birth in 1215, 1615 or even as recently as 1915. And here are 10 reasons that prove it.

1) Germs

We now understand that germs can cause infections. But, for hundreds of years, no one realised that inserting dirty hands or instruments into the birth canal could be fatal for the mother. It is estimated that over a million women died from ‘childbed fever’ in Europe alone in the years before the link was made. Ordinary household germs are fine when they are just knocking around in the home and it is actually beneficial for baby to be born in their own home where they will be immune to those normal germs – providing of course you don’t live in actually squalid conditions. But things like MRSA and other superbugs in a hospital environment are alien to a woman’s immunity. And the very act of being in hospital increases the likelihood of the use of instruments like forceps for example, or use of needles, or Caesarean surgery which could cause infections to happen. Staying away from hospital in the first place means these kinds of things are less likely to be needed. Giving birth in a modern day not-too-dirty but not-too-bleachy home which is clean and warm is a safer environment germ-wise than most hospitals. 

2) Water

….. Clean, fresh, running water. In the home. Coming out of a tap. Not only do most modern homes have their own bathroom with flushing toilet but they also have access to heated water, (Not just that but central heating – big trump card for homebirthers in 2015) and washing machines for instant cleaning of linens, bedding and clothes, which has greatly improved overall sanitation in the home – making modern day homebirth a much safer option than in earlier centuries. We take it for granted that water comes out of a tap on demand but getting clean water used to take up a lot of time and effort. Even better than just having water on tap – we can now have birth pools in our very own living room, offering drug-free pain relief and a more ‘active-birth friendly’ environment to replace the bed and to lying in the stranded turtle position. What’s not to love?

3) Diet

Women overall are well nourished in 2015. Ok some like myself are a tad erm too well nourished and we do have issues in the west with obesity. But overall? Women in 2015 have access to a wider variety of grains, meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, minerals and supplements than any other generation of women before them. There is greater understanding of women’s dietary needs, and even such conditions as diabetes or anaemia can be managed and improved with proper care, treatment and planning – by conventional means and also by a wide range of complementary medicines/practitioners. Both of these conditions can be extremely dangerous when unchecked and untreated, but we are better at addressing this today than ever before, and can even rule out homebirth if medically necessary – not an option in 1615. Dr. Amali Lokugamage talks in her book ‘The Heart in the Womb’ about the ways in which she reversed her gestational diabetes and was able to safely give birth at home, partly through modifying her diet. It is possible.

Malnourishment was once a frequent cause of death for mothers, whose bodies were depleted and not strong enough to support them through a long or difficult labour. We now have better access to foods to fortify mothers and most women here in the UK can afford to feed themselves quite well. A very different story to the poorest Victorian working class mother, perhaps having her eighth child on an empty stomach in cold and maybe even squalid, conditions. This particularly grinding poverty is not likely to be the case for most home birthing mothers in 2015.

4) Improved gynaecological health

Speaking of women having many children…. since the introduction of contraception, women are no longer having so many children as they once did. Gone are the days when it was entirely normal for a woman to have a brood of ten, and for the placenta to keep having to implant itself in a new spot each time that gets harder and harder when we are getting into such high numbers – causing increased risk of fatal post-partum haemmorrage. Women (or indeed very young girls) may also have had no choice but to give birth to a child following rape. Or incest. Such things were not discussed or written about and there were no self help groups or counselling services from folks trained in how to cope with such enormously emotionally damaging scenarios.Women giving birth to a disabled child could not know with certainty if the child would be well received by her husband and family and some may have been reported as having died during the birth but were in fact sent away. Having a baby out of wedlock was considered to be an absolute disgrace, so women were forced to give birth in secret, sometimes far away from home, where no one could find out. It must’ve been very difficult for some women (or young girls, let’s be honest) to bond with their unborn babies and lovingly carry them to full term. There was also the problem of dodgy abortions which were very dangerous for women and if performed badly, could leave their wombs scarred and damaged for any subsequent pregnancies. Let’s also remember that it was quite common for women to have STD’s in earlier centuries which sometimes went untreated. Syphilis in particular was rampant in earlier centuries and could have terrible consequences for mother and babe if left untreated.

5) Overall health

Women in earlier centuries would not have understood such underlying medical conditions as pre-eclampsia, or gestational diabetes or had any means of screening for them. Their bodies carried the scars of every illness that they ever had. Some illnesses could leave a woman weakened permanently. She may also have had treatments or operations that were dangerous or botched in some way. It stands to reason that women used to also give birth whilst suffering from cancers, tumours, rickets, poxes, viruses… all kinds of physical conditions that could make pregnancy and birth more difficult or even life threatening than it would be for today’s average woman. Nowadays women are cared for throughout pregnancy and can have their blood and urine tested, choose screening by ultrasound, receive effective, immediate, or ongoing treatment if needed for any underlying conditions and have an idea of how baby is doing. We now have so many ways to detect and identify if there are any obvious reasons why birth might be difficult or dangerous in advance of the event and anticipate how to manage those risks, and whether to absolutely avoid homebirth altogether. A woman in 1715 could not choose between the two -it was home or nothing.

6) No more corsets

In 2015 women are not contorting their bodies into corsets or other physique-altering clothing. Imagine what having such a pinched waist would do to a woman’s insides! It literally altered the shape of a woman’s womb and moved her internal organs into positions they were not meant to be in. Is it any wonder some women could not give birth to their children with such contorted bodies?

7) Women are more informed than ever

The age of information and the explosion of material on pregnancy and birth means that modern day women understand the mechanics and physiology of their own bodies and the birth process better than any other time in history. Information has gotten into the mainstream and women can read books, blogs and websites by midwives and other birth professionals,  attend courses, join support groups, compare graphic details, watch youtube videos of women giving birth, or talking about birth, and learn things like hypnobirthing to help them to feel informed and in control. Women in 1215, 1615, and let’s face it even as recently as 1915, might not have received any sex education at all, or at best be relying only on the bible, or a church person to tell them about birth. If they were lucky their mothers might tell them in advance but it’s not uncommon for women to literally be given no indication at all as to where their babies would even come out of them. Prudishness and modesty prevented some people (and some entire cmmunities in fact) from talking frankly and honestly about the female body and it’s functions. Any birth attendants might have chuckled knowingly amongst themselves or spoken in coded language that betrayed very little of what the woman in labour should expect. Imagine how terrifying birth must have seemed for women who didn’t have a clue what was happening to their bodies and if they would survive – how tense they would’ve been! This alone may have caused long difficult labours in the past.

8) Skilled equipped birth attendants are the norm

Those who attend homebirths nowadays tend to be trained midwives who have studied, witnessed, attended and analysed a variety of births and they attend with a whole kit of clean equipment (some life saving) – but not every woman was so lucky throughout the ages. Before the NHS and free midwifery care, not everyone could afford to pay a midwife to attend to them. They may have been particularly unlucky and lived at a time when a new breed of midwife came to the fore – cocky doctor men with instruments to wield – whether a woman needed them or not. Such doctors thought they knew best and became zealous advocates of forceps and told all their women patients to lie down to give birth. By inserting things into their vaginas so they could be seen to be doing things and justify their fee, many actually made childbirth more dangerous for women.

But by the same token, not every midwife had enough skill or knowledge to assist mothers well either. Some were living under very close watch and approval (or disapproval) of the church and had to be very, very careful about what they prescribed, did or suggested to mothers. There was a very real fear that midwives with their hooked nails ( for piercing the amniotic sac) and faith and knowledge in healing herbs might be at odds with the churches way of thinking and could end up on trial, or worse, on the scaffold. In the 1600′s in particular, witchcraft was something that terrified people and accusations of this were most often levelled at midwives. It stands to reason that a certain number of women and babies died because some midwives were actively prevented or at least, deterred, from performing some potentially life-saving action, or from prescribing a particular thing that would assist a mother or baby in difficulty. Women could be accused of witchcraft if they gave birth to a disabled child. Thank goodness we have a more compassionate outlook in 2015.

9) We no longer rely on horses for transport

Look at our infrastructures for transport in 2015. We have smooth roads, A-roads, motorways, cars, ambulances – heck we even have helicopers! Most midwives will tell you that any problems a woman has in labour tend to unfold slowly, and with proper observation and action can be managed at home, and even if transfer is needed, it might not always be a 999 drama. But even if, in the extremely rare circumstances that you DID need to get to hospital fairly quickly, this is not 1715 when you might be relying on a horse and cart to take you to the midwife woman in the next village (Who you would hope to god would be at home but you couldn’t be absolutely sure). No, in 2015, we have house phones, mobile smartphones to call for extra assistance and (and a team who will come in a flash), cars and fully equipped ambulances to help take you to one of perhaps several hospitals. All of which no woman ever had in earlier centuries.

10) We have our men by our sides

Women in 2015 have something many others did not have in the centuries before – the love and comforting support of their men in the birth room. Women supporting other women has always been the norm, and fine it is too. But there is some thing particularly reassuring for a woman to have the father of her child there to lean on, to rock with, to hold and kiss, and to love. Having that strong masculine presence and energy has made me feel bolder, more confident and more calm during my homebirths than I imagine I might have felt as a woman giving birth in 1615 with a group of gossipy old women surrounding me and making me feel like a silly little girl who doesn’t know diddly squat. Michel Odent says men in the birth room are a wimpy nuisance as they are too needy and nervous. I say pish to that. Sometimes, yes, men can be like this. But I have found in my own birthings the opposite to be true.
So there you have it. I’m sure I probably missed a whole bunch of reasons why homebirth is safer today than any other time in history. What I can tell you is this: electric foetal monitoring in hospital hasn’t been proven to save even one life. A quarter to a third of babies being born by caesarean is not normal. Women being routinely induced as frequently as they are (which often triggers what is known as the cascade of interventions) is also not normal. Women getting infections in hospital from c-section operations – not normal or desired.

Next time all those alarm bells seem to be going off when you tell someone you want to have your baby at home, and they tell you how dangerous homebirth is…. Take a step back. Remember hospital births with all their routine interventions are not always so very safe. Clinical yes. Sterile, perhaps. A little soulless. Possibly.

Is hospital birth necessary for some mothers who have very particular needs and risks?Absolutely. Should we have hospitals as a back up? Absolutely. But is it really necessary for 99% of women to have their baby in a hospital with all the increased risks of interventions and surgery and infections that that brings….. in these modern times when we’ve never had it so safe?

Well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide…..

Breastfeeding needs time, loving care and support

Posted by: on Aug 17, 2013 | No Comments

Breasfeeding is an activity which seems to be harder for some women to do these days.

I have been one such mama. After experiencing no problems breastfeeding my older three children, at the time I was having my fourth, I felt really stressed. I didn’t have the right kind of support to help me to breastfeed every day and every night, I was full-time home educating my other kids who needed me, and my husband was working crazy hours. I struggled to get a good latch with my son, and felt a failure for suddenly becoming so faffy and awkward and cack-handed at feeding.  I couldn’t believe that I was in this predicament fourth time round and it really rocked my confidence in myself to be in this position. Exhausted, I counted down the weeks and days till my son was three months old so I could say that at least I lasted three months. Looking back, I pressured myself to much to be a perfect mother, and could have relaxed a little. You live and learn.

The thing with breastfeeding is that you need to slow your life down to be able to do it – something which has hidden gifts and rewards for those who do it, but many women are unwilling or unable to slow down quite so much. Breastfeeding is a peaceful, not frenetic action. Sitting still is required. You can’t be multi-tasking very easily whilst you’re feeding, and if you’re used to go-go-go living, it’s hard for a woman to just.stop. The reason I gave up was because I could never sit still long enough – it felt like I was constantly having to tend to some minor emergency with my other children – the toddler who was hysterical because they spilt juice on the floor – or because the phone rang and I felt I must answer it, or the doorbell went. It’s only now that I realize how unimportant the phone or doorbell were. That they, not my baby, should have to wait, and come second. Had I just slowed down and planned my other children’s activities during feedtimes, I would have been more relaxed – I would have flowed more easily in every sense of the word. It’s easy to be wise after the event though.

In any case, in order to have a good flow – a mother needs rest. She needs nurture. Her milk just won’t flow nicely when she’s feeling rushed, or stressed. She needs to drink plenty of fluids. She needs good wholesome food that truly nurtures her and boosts her milk supply and energy levels, not junky crap. (Incidentally I received this book by La Leche League for review from Pinter and Martin last year and it was awesome – I will be using it a lot.)

She needs time to love and heal her post-birth body and be gentle with it. A feeding mother needs to be mothered herself in some respects – this is perhaps why women in communal or tribal groups simply don’t experience the issues of milk ‘drying up’ – a myth that seems to perpetuate whererever powdered milk is heavily advertised and promoted. Women in extended family/community groups help one another out with cleaning and caring for children and feeding one another’s families. They take things in turns. They nurture and value nursing mothers and venerate them.

With love, they help keep things lighter and more carefree. Western women are generally expected to do it all themselves, to ‘get on with it’ – often struggling alone, and isolated from that kind of daily help. It’s no wonder the milky powder that offers them a route out of exhaustion seems so alluring.

And now I find myself pregnant again, I am in a different place altogether – my hubby is sharing the care and education of our children with me, since he quit his business to do so – seeing how important those first few years are and that they cannot be reclaimed later. I’m enjoying a gentler paced pregnancy. The other children are all older – my youngest will be five and a half by the time this little one arrives – a whole two years older than my third child had been when I gave birth to my fourth. This time, I will feed my baby slowly. I will take the time to look lovingly at them whilst I’m feeding rather than at the clock, or nervously wondering what a curious and accident-prone toddler might be up to. I will have time to eat good food. To drink. To go for a pee in peace. It sounds silly but these things matter.

I’m a different mama this time round.

I really sympathize with mamas who turn to the bottle – but this time, it’s boobies all the way for me. I’m looking forward so much to nurturing my little one, holding him or her close to my skin….. and saying fuck it to the doorbell!!!

What is a natural birth?

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2013 | No Comments

Something struck me today about the term ‘natural birth’ and I had a little ‘aha’ moment to myself. So I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on this.

The term ‘natural birth’ conjures up certain images of tree-hugging mamas with hairy legs and sandals. (Guilty!) Natural birth is seen as something only some women achieve, while the rest, do not.

But what is ‘natural?’ How do we define it?

In its purest sense, to me, behaving naturally means acting from pure primal instinct. The reaction that we don’t even think about. A reflex. Something ancient. Something we cannot control or tame easily. An automatic reaction hardwired into our bones, deep down.

So when a mother goes into labour, her instincts will be entirely natural and primal to her.

If a mother has heard a lifetime of horror stories about birth, her natural reaction will be to fear birth.

If a mother feels unloved by her partner, or unsupported, her natural reaction will be to fear the coming of the baby on some level and all that means – perhaps unconsciously holding her baby inside for as long as she can – on a level of primal instinct.

If a mother feels unsafe in her birth environment or unsure about her carers, her natural instinct will be to clam up a little. She will not be relaxed in her body. She will naturally feel a little reserved in her body and personal space.

If a mother has been told her birth is likely to be difficult, or that her body will fail her, she may naturally feel deflated, scared, and disempowered, with a compromised sense of her own personal power, dignity and strength.

If a mother feels she cannot give birth without assistance, without interventions, under her own steam, how much harder for her to do just that? If her partner or mother or sister or friend or neighbour or midwife undermine her by telling her “Ooh you’ll never do it on your own steam, you just wait you’ll be screaming for the drugs like the rest of  them” – isn’t it only natural, when repeatedly told something, that it should become a self-fulfilling thing?

And equally, if a woman is repeatedly told “Your body was made for this. Birth is not as bad as you think. The pure intensity of it is normal and not to be feared. You will cope, like millions of others. This is an ordinary event. I believe in you. I will trust your body and only intervene if absolutely necessary….” then surely it naturally follows, that her body will relax and feel safe. She will open up and feel more in tune with her baby. She will turn her body this way and that and allow the baby to play an active role so they do a birth dance together, not against each other.

When we look at birth in this way, we can be more generous with the term natural. Our primal and natural set of behaviours are determined by whether we  feel safe and loved and properly listened to and cared for – or not.

When a woman understands the mechanics and psychology of the birthing body, she is in a position to truly activate something more powerful in herself than reacting from fear. Perhaps she rises above the expectations she had of herself. Maybe she finds a strength she never knew she had. Perhaps she, for the first time in her life, discovers a power, an autonomy, a determination and grit she never knew before. She recognises her vulnerability for what it is. She looks it in the eye and says “I see you, vulnerabilty and naked fear, I respect you, I honour you, and I understand you.” She lets go of the little girl self that needs to be looked after. And in that moment when she thinks she’ll split open, a natural warrior is born.

Blooming Marvellous

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | One Comment

” How does the meadow flower it’s bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold “

~ William Wordsworth

        

Isn’t it amazing how a tiny, tiny bud can contain something so magnificent?

This thought strikes me whenever I look at my favourite flower, the peony. So much potential stored inside ready to burst out of such a tight little ball! And when it opens freely and of its own will – boooom!!! Wow!!!! A miracle was waiting inside. A great glorious ruffle of beautiful petals.

The birth of a flower and the birth of a baby and the birth of a mother are really not all that different.

Our transition from woman to mother involves changes on every level. We grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, undergoing no less of a miraculous transformation than that of tight bud to bursting bloom.

As our babies grow inside us, we carry along with them, the seed of the mother that we are to become.

We too, along with our babies, must “break on through to the other side” as Jim Morrison sang – in other words we have to go through a major transition, a risky process, a difficult thing  - just like a seed risks everything by daring to burst through the soil and be exposed to the elements.

As we birth our babies, we give birth to our new selves. We are in fact as much of a baby, as much of a fledgling as our young ones, we too are vulnerable and need tending and nurturing and protecting, just as our babies do.

Just as flowers bloom best in soil and a position that they like, our experience as birthing women and mothers depends very much on type of  ’soil’ we are in and our suitability to it, on the elements to which we are exposed, on our companion plants, and the kind of gardeners who tend to us.

Some of us grow in wild places. Some grow in orchards. Some grow in structured, formal gardens. Some in greenhouses. Some in hot places. Some in unlikely places.

We are all like flowers growing in our own particular place and climate.

Some need little or no support at all and grow organically, some need a little propping up, some need transplanting gently to a better spot. Some are tended by gentle and imaginative gardeners, others by not-so-gentle ones.

No matter what – all flowers reach for the sun and deserve the care of loving, gentle gardeners in tune with the seasons and the rhythms of nature.

The hardships of birth and motherhood are the manure which will help a mama flower to grow stronger, and taller, and more majestic.

May you and your baby grow with love, dear mama-to-be!

May your roots be nourished and your petals have good access to sunshine and rain. May you be sheltered when you need shelter. May you have good companions.

And you too Daddies – you are flowers just the same…..

“Inside every man lives the seed of a flower. When he looks within he finds beauty and power ” –  ’Les Fleurs’ by Minnie Riperton.

May you all blossom and bloom – mamas, daddies and babes