Othering

othering

ˈʌðə/

verb

gerund or present participle: othering

  1. view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.
  2. “a critique of the ways in which the elderly are othered by society”

 

Like many I am so raw today. There is no doubt our work is of paramount importance in light of the tragedy unfolding before us in Manchester. Love is the only remedy for this. I believe bringing in the next generation with a greater capacity for love is our solution and it drives my work. Yet there is so much hatred. The agenda of terrorism is met. We are running around bumping heads – I had to block someone’s social media hatred already and it’s only midday. I’m yet to travel home on a plane as a Muslim – this is always interesting – today I have learnt to expect scrutiny.

 

I had already decided to write this post and it seems deeper and more tangible with the emotions of today.

 

In the last few years I have noticed a trend amongst the wider world but specifically amongst the birthkeeper’s of hating on each other. I see it in organisations. I see it in competitive practices. I see it in judgement of each other’s difference especially when it comes to a woman’s ability to earn a living. I see it in racism and othering. I see it in bitching.  I see it in separation all the time. Where does it come from? What on earth is happening? It is exhausting me!

 

Why shouldn’t we all do things differently and offer different services and pricing structures and flavours? Different accents, backgrounds, languages, skin, religions and ways of viewing the world. Often women want to look at their “mother” when they are birthing – why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to do this? Women are all individual – it would make sense that their birth servants were too.

 

Is this something we have inherited from our patriarchal systems? Women are pitted against women always with only one acceptable way at a time. Our mothers were all told in the 60’s and 70’s you must have a non-existent arse or you are hideous – our daughters are told you must have a huge one or you are a monster. Everyone over 35 should be induced at 40 weeks. Red hair is evil and on and on and on. There is never acceptance of difference in that culture. We must not join in.  There is no self-appointed queen of the doulas/yoga teachers/educators/midwives.  There is no right or wrong. We have to go to Rumi’s field and all hang out. I am forever struck by the irony of the love of Rumi these days whilst the othering of Muslims grows.

 

We must really listen and try to understand. Especially not undermining and judging. I love to see choice. I love diversity. I am a Londoner – we thrive on a Columbian breakfast, Trini lunch and Pakistani supper. It’s all we know. Trust me life is better with flavour.

 

Perhaps I live a blessed, sheltered life – maybe I’m a Pollyanna but I have come up in this world of birth and women and mothers being taught it is ALL about love and acceptance. That love is the only medicine. The only way. The way you power yourself through the sleepless nights of squeezing hips at birth, sore nipples, patriarchal medical models of care, traumatised women, low income and so on. We have so much to contend with already. I know personally many birthkeepers with Chronic Fatigue, ME, kidney problems, depression and so much more. Let’s shorten that list by loving each other more.

 

Let’s also stop taking away from the intelligence and decision making abilities of women. In this judgement are we assuming women are not smart enough to see, to read, to make choices – we need to stop mirroring the system we are trying to improve and begin mirroring the original system we still have access to in indigenous grassroots midwifery. Women supporting women with love. There is no other way.

 

As I finish my thoughts I challenge you to seek out at least one woman this week you have othered and wish her well. Send her love. Support her. Help her. Love is the only way.

Advertisements

Birthing with Sisters

Birthing with sisters

 

“When someone else speaks of a similar experience, it can evoke the memory and bring back the feelings, which restores the experience. Only if we speak from personal experience does this happen. This is why we need words for women‘s mysteries, which, like everything else that is of women, seems to require that one woman at a time birth what she knows. We serve as midwives to each other‘s consciousness“.

Jean Shinoda Bolen  

“Crossing to Avalon”

 

On a quite afternoon, as Scotland’s weather seems to show it’s magic with mist and rain. We were drinking tea in Nicola’s kitchen and talking about womanhood, sisterhood, birthing and life.

 

Me: Nicola, tell me, about your doula journey, how did you get to this point where you are now? How did you become a doula? I know you may have talked a hundred times about it, but maybe some new angle…

Nicola: Well It‘s really good to think about it every time. I have a very fortunate set of circumstances. I came to have my children in this community where everybody seems to have babies at the same age as me. My sister was there with me and had already started her family, and my family. Nobody was really bothered, they had their babies easily. I was really fortunate, because I had never thought how frightening it could be.

Me: So you were not damaged?

Nicola: Yes, I think I wasn’t  (laughing). I was protected. All the bad things that I was told, It just didn’t sink in. I don’t know why, maybe that’s the way I am. I never expect things to go wrong. I am upset with people when things go wrong, but I get more upset about the brutality of bad treatment. When the midwife comes sometimes it is just the government health program, it’s not midwifery. It becomes a tick box exercise, like  OK “I had you in the hospital”, “Ok, I am filling out my notes”, “Ok, I am going”. No words like “Hurray, you have a baby, it’s great” or “how you guys doing?”, “how do you feel about it”.

Me: Working through all these years, do you think this attitude changes?

Nicola: I think they don’t have time and resources to practise true holistic midwifery. I think it is getting worse, because they are under more pressure now. When I had my first baby twenty years ago and I had named midwife, I really connected with her. I will never forget her. She caught my baby and  I was told to go to the postnatal ward at 1 o’clock in the morning, and my husband is going home. I was in my early twenties. She obviously saw my face and she told me “I am going to take you there”. She took me upstairs and she sat at my bed for about 2 hours drinking tea with me. This is extraordinary in our health service. This is never happening in our local hospital today. No midwife is coming and sitting with you. It’s just not going to happen, because they are so overstretched. It would be like disappearing from their job for two hours.

Me: This is the thing, that amazes me all the time, how birth is related to initiation. This is such an intense experience and you are very vulnerable at that moment. If you get stuck in there, it can be so damaging and painful, and you will have to walk a long way to heal these wounds. It seems like a lot of women are carrying birth traumas in our time.

Nicola: It’s shedding. You have to shed. My last daughter is in puberty and she is in this hormonal “I am angry”, “I am crying”, “I don’t know what’s wrong”.  I gave her a cuddle and said “we are really lucky that we have this shedding, that you can shake all the things that you have to shake off to become a woman”. We have this before every cycle. In our bodies we have to shake off, to prepare for a possible new baby. It’s  happening in the menopause, in your wise age. A lot of women are really angry having premenstrual stress, or they don’t know why they are so angry when they are pregnant. Its very important to go through it, not to be medicated, to have somebody with you who knows about this. It’s sad, that most people don’t have that.  

Me: I think we are coming to this question, how would you explain, what you do as a doula?

Nicola: I had to think for a long time about this. I decided, that a doula should be the ultimate faith bearer. She always believes everything will be ok – in an almost worshipping way. Even if something happens, it’s still going to be ok. You believe, that woman will walk through whatever she will have to walk through. It can be hard, but eventually it will be all right. You have to be the person with your feet on the ground. You have to give them love. You have to really give them love.

Me: It seems, that doula work is so related to the shamanistic way. You go through something, that seems like chaos. The shaman tells you, that’s the principle of life, that’s how it works. Suddenly everything clears out. It’s like Jung would say, in every chaos, there is a cosmos.

Nicola: I think, that midwives were shamans. You still find midwives around the world creating ritual and ceremonies. I was talking to one Native American guy, who used to be in a difficult place, but now he is helping the young people when they are in the same situation as he was. He is using traditional ceremonies and rituals. When I asked him what he does for a living, his answer was: “I am healing the next seven generations and the previous seven generations”. He is saying, that the good birth, and a good birhkeeper is also doing the same thing. If you have a good birth, you are healing seven generations back and seven generations in front. So the good birth keepers are shamans, and these are authentic ones.

Me: It reminds me that when I was pregnant, everybody was expecting that I will give birth the same way as my mum and grandmother did. It’s such a powerful feeling, when you go the different way, when you have the opportunity to experience, to relate to these powerful events in a different way. It’s something like healing in your mother line and you can pass something different to your daughter.  

Nicola: Oh yes, it’s such a powerful healing, that you can change that pattern, you can break it, you can almost break the spell. I had a talk with one woman. She was expecting her second baby. Her first baby was stuck in some way, when she was pushing. It was the same when her mum was giving birth, and her grandmother too. So yes, it might be something physiological, but it might also be some psychological pattern. She has to think about it and discuss it with her daughter. To work something out.

Me: Do you see any changes in relation to birth in the women that you are helping?

Nicola: No…Well it’s more popular now. They are and will always be women, who are giving birth. There are more people, who realise that the national health service is broken and that there is a lot of things missing, and there is some danger in that struggling system. I had one woman, and she was so badly mismanaged, from the medical point of view, they created so much more risk for her, she may have been better birthing in her room on her own.

Sometimes I think, that you have to hit the wall, to jump back. Something like that is happening in our hospitals.

Me: In my country Lithuania, we saw, how dads came to the birthing room. Now it seems normal and is encouraged even by staff. But doulas are something new and a lot of rejection is going on. I hear a question – why do you need other person? If you have the father at the birth.

Nicola: Women were having other woman come and be around them when they had babies. When they started to go to the hospital eventually somebody said, you can’t bring your mother anymore, because they are getting in the way. So it’s natural for women to be with other women during birth.

I have seen much research, that showed, when a doula is present, the father is more relaxed and active during birth.

It’s really important to remember the history, how fathers get into birthing room. We campaigned  for men to come to the birthing room to protect their woman, because they were so violated and brutalized. Now this is the cultural interpretation, that you are there as a man, and this is bonding, watching your child being born and supporting your woman. But it’s not how it started. In hospital everybody is listening all the time to see if something will go wrong – they listen to the babies heart beats, they check her blood pressure, everything around is geared for something going wrong. Usually when something goes wrong or risky, dad will listen to midwife, of course. The subtext is that you have to listen, otherwise your wife and baby will be in danger. So they always act to keep their child and mother alive and well. This is natural and very healthy. For dad to go what his wife would say and not what implied risk from health care provider would be radical.. So that’s why doula should be there in the first place. She is someone different, saying like me, everything will be all right. You have choice – this is your decision.

Me: I think women bring different things to birth. It brings a lot of things in our life too. I want to ask you about sisterhood. I have this impression that more and more women are gathering, sharing their experiences, talking and appreciating their womanhood. How do you see those things?,

Nicola: Well, I think this is a natural part of society and the problem is, that we destroyed our society. We’ve gone from the village to the town, to the city and we lost the community. This is an unnatural way and a lot of problems come from there, like the epidemic we have of depressed women, who are basically drug addicts with prozac and the like. I saw my mum taking everything from the doctor, pharmacy and everything she could get her hands on to deal with her difficult unsupported  situation. What we do with our older ladies here? We treat them so badly and make them so lonely that we have another epidemic of mentally ill older women and then we put them in the care home. Its awful. I need these women – my children need these women – this should be the easiest and most appreciated stage of our life. The natural and healing way for women is to go together.

Me: I am reading this extraordinary book about “Dreaming sisters” by Diane Bell where she studies Aboriginal women’s lives from a woman’s perspective. A women has this big house, where old women, widows, lonely women live there. The wise women are in charge. You can go there, just to sit with other women, to spend time, to get help, support, to live there. They have their rituals, celebrations. It made me feel, that this is the way how women become strong and secure. You have all the time this sisters, where you can find help, support and peace.

Nicola: Yes, it’s so true. That’s natural human behaviour. This is Fitra, the Arabic word and it’s so true. Fitra is our inner nature or our code that we are born with. Like a baby knows where to find a breast.  You feel this in your body. You respond to those kind of things, because that’s how we are supposed to live.

Me: There was a lot of devaluation in women’s relationship. It felt like it’s ok to be in the family and the relationship are important and respected there. But when women go out with their friends, society sees it like shallow time – gossiping, shopping and pink fluffy stuff.

Nicola: Yes, I think we really have to stand up for that and say “what’s wrong with women getting together?”. We have to be that person that stand’s up and says “grey hair is beautiful, old age is not ugly, that’s the sign that I went too far”. Every other culture in the world appreciates it as wisdom, beauty, knowledge. You have to be the renegade. One of my teacher says, that you can tell the renegade by the arrows in his back. I am looking forward to being a grandmother and having grandchildren, everybody is running away from this among my peers. But I am getting shot on that, because it’s not an easily understandable thing in our culture right now. So we need more people standing up and saying “shoot me down, I don’t care, but I believe…”

Me: I’ve noticed, that men started to appreciate those women gatherings too.

Nicola: Definitely. It’s really good for a man to have a strong woman with a good circle of friends. This is the problem with the common structure, if we don’t have it, we put everything on the men – they have to be the mum, the aunty, friend, lover, husband and so on. It’s impossible for one man to carry all these roles.

Me: I think womens circles are very important when you have your baby. Those Australian aborigines can’t understand how woman in our society with a little baby is living alone in those flats-cages and sometimes spends all day long alone.

Nicola: Yes, and I think it breaks a lot of them.

Me: I want to ask you about postnatal support. It seems, that a lot of things are happening to prepare women for birth, but the postnatal period seems a little bit more left out. What do you think?

Nicola: I think postnatal support should be just as important. We have to undo a lot of miseducation, for example about breastfeeding, it used to be understood that the bottle is safer, easier. We have to get the basics. We have to talk more about the rest period after birth. We have to spread the news, to talk, that this is going to be better for you, you will be happier, you will have calmer baby, you all will get together as a family.

Me: In old cultures they have this ceremony after birth. In Lithuania the women went to sauna, and after that it was the celebration to welcome her to the society. How do you think, what’s the meaning of that?

Nicola: It’s very important to honour your transitions as human beings. We do really badly in this area. We are not honouring toddler’s, teenagers, we do nothing for menopausal women, we do very little for parents. We have some baby showers but little of any depth.

Me: But sometimes it seems like more for present, then for spirit.

Nicola: Exactly, empty. I think it is really important for women, after doing such a big job, to be acknowledged, to celebrate this with close ones, to hear, that “we are here for you”, “you are fantastic”, “here is food”, “we are here to help you”, listening to her grandmothers stories with their babies is really important, this is giving everything that they need.

Me: What do you think the most important thing for taking care of women postnatal?

Nicola: I like to cook. Because I believe, that with cooking you can really nourish people.

Me: Yes, one of the most vivid memories most people have are their mums cooking, all these tastes, smells, warmth. It nourishes not only your body, but the soul too.

Nicola: Yes, the food is really important. It makes a good environment to hang out, to talk. This is very natural way.

Me: I’ve noticed, when you are doing some kinds of work like cooking, grass picking, sewing, the talk goes very smoothly and very deep. It’s like healing.

Nicola: This is relative, I think, to different brain activity. It’s like meditation, knitting and something like that. You busy your hands and it’s related to your brain. We need that more.

So lot’s of talking.  The feedback that I get, the good doula does a lot of listening. I always say to doulas, that you have to go in like the best mother that she could have. So you are not judgmental, you are encouraging her. Of course you can be firm if you feel that. But loving and caring is the most important thing. “Go take the bath, I will be with the baby”, “I will wash your hair”, “I will make soup for you”…

​Me: It’s so good to listen to that.

Nicola: Yes, I know. I would like to have that. We all need that and we all should have that.

​Me: What are the happiest moments for you as a doula?

Nicola: Well …seeing parents happy in their bed with a baby, having had the birth that they wanted, appreciating the impact that made on their lives. That’s the happiest moments. It’s such a good start. My best moments are after VBAC birth. When a woman had a caesarean the first time, and she is told that her body doesn’t work properly, you are broken, you are useless. When you love her, prepare her, give hope and trust her and being there, when she gives birth vaginally and saying “I am not broken at all, I can give birth” This is so empowering and a healing experience, to have a normal birth after caesarean trauma. You can transfer it to your life. In a broader sense.

It helps us believe, that we can do a lot of things, if we want. It‘s really powerful. Birth does that, for growing women in society.

should a wise woman earn enough money? witches, midwives and healers

should a wise woman earn money? witches, midwives and healers

“money is undeveloped”….”money is bullshit”…..”i don’t care about money” – all real life quotes from women i have met who are trying to change the world through healing and birth. these same women also have a repeat cycle of money-relative stress when enough isn’t coming through their doors, into their inbox or their account to make ends meet. something needs to change.

maisie really breaks it down so well in her post about charges here http://www.maisiehill.com/what-do-doulas-charge/

i’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – mulling it over in my mind. we are reclaiming old ways without the structure of how to live in those old ways. its comparable to our grabbing on to attachment parenting and learning as we go – we quote south american tribal peoples and then don’t actually really live like them with the community and family structure to support it and for some it can become incredibly stressful and perhaps impossible to maintain. likewise most of us are no longer in the structure of old where we can step outside and pick our own apples, draw our own water, find our own medicine and invent our own iphone – everything costs money and we need that money to survive and most importantly maintain ourselves and perhaps others in order to continue with our good works and be able to give our services to others. we should not be working at the supermarket to feed our families when we could be doing much more valuable work for the world to put that food on the table instead.

who are these people i’m talking about? i like susen weeds definition “those who have the skill, the personal power and the courage to midwife the changes – large and small, from birth to death and in between – in the lives of those around them” …this is a huge job and whoever is filling that role should not have to worry about cash flow – it is very important and valuable work which deserves abundance.

with this central community role came power, risk and freedom. the witch would always know the intimate ins and outs of her people – she knows of terminations, bad habits, sexual diseases, love affairs, losses and much more – here in lay her power and led to her risk.  many would suggest that the witch burning and slut shaming of women throughout the world and throughout history has its roots in destroying this power. this is not over – we still have witch killing in tanzania , kenya, uganda, ghana, south america, india and in europe not so long ago the witches of romania came together to curse the government for bringing in legislation that taxed their earnings.  all of this brought freedom from their independent income as healers and midwives – you find countless tales of unmarried mothers and all sorts of other predicaments that haven’t been met well in human history.  these people were not afraid to receive payment for their specialities, knowledge, instinct and wisdom and they were also not afraid to love you for free as well – we need this balance.

we mustn’t be afraid to be compensated for the risk we incur every day and rewarded for our valuable skills. we owe it to the women who lost their lives in the past to continue and prosper. know you are in good company and let them inspire you to become independent and live the life you truly want to.

this autumn wysewomen have the honour and pleasure of hosting the incredible giuditta tornetta from LA – she will be joining us for the weekend in edinburgh facilitating a healing the money session which will be looking at your relationship with money and supporting you to find your own ways of healing it so you can be abundant and keep giving your love to the world. if you are looking and thinking to yourself you can’t afford it then this workshop is perfect for you! you can find out more about it by clicking on the link below where you will also find details on how to book. on the saturday evening it will be halloween or as we like to call it in edinburgh samhain and we will also gather together to watch the samhain parade on the royal mile followed by remembering and honouring all the wise women before us especially those that met death due to their work.

http://www.healingthemoney.com

have a look at the amazing samhain parade – you are welcome to join us at the evenings events  if you don’t take the workshop

Why Just One Day?

This post is dedicated to all the amazing doulas I know who ‘mother the mother’, to every breastfeeding support worker I know and to every single mother I have ever supported – you are all incredible.

One day? One day of the year we get. Just one. One day to appreciate, to thank, to hug to our hearts and sadly, sometimes, to remember, our wonderful mothers.

And whilst it’s lovely to be celebrated in this way, especially when the children are little, receiving homemade cards and flowers picked from the garden, this day always makes me think of all the mothers around the world just getting on with a million thankless tasks.

One day? Just one? When we do what we do? I can’t even begin to find the words to describe the awe I have felt for mothers I’ve met since I became a doula.

Mothers nurture a growing child in their wombs, fiercely protecting that future human despite having been rejected by the child’s father, despite rape, poverty, despite extreme emotional and physical suffering.

Mothers give birth. Some hunker down and roar their babies out; lioness mamas ecstatic with earth-shattering power. Some dream their babies into the world – flowing, spiralling, floating in the warm, wet other world of birth transformation.

Others have their children ‘untimely ripped’ from their wombs by induction, c-section, instruments – sometimes necessarily, but all too often at the instigation of an ‘all powerful, all knowing’ paternalistic figure.

But they all keep their dignity, their strength, their abiding love. Frequently, around the world, mothers sacrifice their babies, or even their own lives on the altar of poverty and ignorance.

Some mothers feel that overflow of piercing, painful love the minute they feel their child’s hot, wet body at her breast. Others, many who have been separated from their babies, find the love blossoms slowly over days and weeks. Some revel in the warm,  liquid, primal, sensual experience of the babymoon but many suffer pain, social isolation, lack of skilled support, physical complications or the black hole of postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress.

Whatever our journey, all of us mothers fight for their children, even to the extent of killing themselves in the belief their children will be better off without them. Really? Overly dramatic? Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death but we don’t hear these stories. Society is rightly, too ashamed to air these herstories, too scared to examine what it reveals of a world that allows such tragedy.

Without exception, we all bear guilt. Motherhood, especially in the West, has become a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ competitive battlefield. In our anxiety to get it right, we turn to the marketplace – to the legions of ‘experts’ and childcare manual authors who grow fat on our insecurites and doubt.

30% of UK mothers now work full time at the same time as still doing the majority of the childcare and domestic tasks. Around the world, the economic contribution of women means the difference between full stomachs and starvation for the majority of families. Most female work is drudging, badly paid, back-breaking, illegal and often downright dangerous.

Mothers around the world ‘bring forth in suffering’, not through God’s Will but because mothers must be submerged, disempowered, forgotten. What is the alternative? What trouble would we cause if we were all strong enough to stand up to a world that disenfranchises our daughters, sends our sons off to war, drags our children into drugs, violence and poverty and celebrates the machismo of our husbands when they leave us.

What would happen if our bodies were celebrated for the effortless way we can bear children and feed them, instead of using our curves and breasts to sell products?

What if Mothers had a voice. What if we all took back what is ours by right – our birthright – to labour and give birth safely with skilled loving attendants, in the place of our choice; to be supported with patience and loving care through the transition to parenthood; to be supported with affordable childcare, equal pay, financial support to stay at home with the children (after all, isn’t this a JOB, even if it doesn’t register in the GDP of a country?). To live without fear of starvation, rape, slavery, or domestic abuse.

What if we had the time and energy to actually get a say in the way the world was run?

One Day? Just One? Bad show, I say. Let’s make every day Mothers’ Day

As an afterthought I’m adding some fascinating facts to the end of this post:

According to the WHO: Every day, approximately 1000 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Amnesty International’s report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, urges action to tackle a crisis that sees between two and three women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth in the USA….With a lifetime risk of maternal deaths that is greater than in 40 other countries, including virtually all industrialized nations, the USA has failed to reverse the two-decade upward trend in preventable maternal deaths, despite pledges to do so.

Unlike the US, Britain has an independent body that records all maternal and perinatal deaths so that clinicians can learn and be held accountable. The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries is crucial but its continued existance seems uncertain.

On average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. (womensaid.org.uk)

In the UK, PM David Cameron admitted pre-election that the NHS was short of 3000 midwives and promised to recruit that number. That promise has been forgotten. Midwives and mothers are worried maternity sevices are being parred down to dangerous levels. Meanwhile, in many developing countries, millions of pregnant women have no access to antenatal care or skilled intrapartum support at all.

If you want to find our more or join the movement to take back motherhood, visit www.oneworldbirth.com

this was originally posted at the birth hub here by the gorgeous maddie december 6th 2013

this blog is part of the #postnatalrevolution in honour of sheila kitzinger passing on to the light.

wysewomen workshops hold a very popular motherwarming workshop at different locations all around the country – the motherwarming workshop looks at different ways to keep mum, baby and family healthy in the immediate postnatal period –  find local dates near you here

having a postnatal doula can support you during your babymoon – find out more here and here

the babymooners

This article originally appeared in the Scottish Herald – saturday 21st february 2009 and was written by the very talented Vicky Allan

Should you rush back to work after childbirth? Vicky Allan talks to those who prefer to take this post-natal business lying down

WHEN the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, returned to work five days after a caesarean section, she triggered a savage debate.

Dati, hair perfectly coiffed, with just a hint of baby bulge about the midriff, was one in a long line of public figures who had paraded their maternal resilience for the cameras. There was Jennifer Lopez looking svelte six weeks after having twins. Then there was Nicole Kidman, showing “no sign”, as one paper put it, “of a baby bump just after 10 days”. Though we know this may be an airbrushing of reality, it remains a forceful ideal. In Britain, one year’s maternity leave from work is a legal right, yet the sense remains that a successful woman does not allow a baby to interrupt the continuity of her identity as a socially and economically active, sexual, independent agent. A strong element of damage control must be applied to any impact a baby might have on one’s life. No phrase embodies this more than the idea of “getting one’s life back” after childbirth.According to Tina Cassidy, author of Birth: A History, Dati is symptomatic of a trend, and her age, 43, is an indicator of this. “Women who wait so long to have their first baby have already established their careers as being central in their lives. And when you have been working at a job so hard for so long, it becomes your whole identity. I think women also feel insecure about losing that identity when they have a baby so they fight their instincts to push themselves out of the house.”

The impetus to get back in action quickly after childbirth is a relatively new one. Throughout history most cultures have practised the opposite: a period of “confinement” in which the new mother is looked after by family and community, often away from men, fed certain foods and nursed through the early weeks after giving birth. “These customs,” says Tina Cassidy, “were meant to facilitate bonding, establish good breastfeeding practices, ensure that the baby thrived, that the mother recovered and the newborn was kept removed from potentially dangerous diseases.”

Even now, women in much of the world still follow the practice. Here in Scotland, however, it is rarely entertained as a possibility, though a friend of mine was advised by her midwife to remain in bed for 15 days after giving birth to her second child, ringing a bell whenever she needed anything. “Allow yourself to be treated like a queen,” she was told. “It will be your last opportunity given you now have two children.”

Edinburgh childbirth educator Nicola Goodall went further following the births of three of her four children. Goodall, who converted to Islam at the age of 23, opted to follow the traditional Muslim 40-day confinement period. During that time, she tried not to leave the house and succumbed only twice: when she had to take her daughter to hospital and to buy a nursing bra. Other people took her children to school. Friends brought her soup and shopping. Her husband took over many household jobs.

“I would spend as much time as I could in bed for as long as possible. Then I would spend as much time as I could sitting around reading. It was like a honeymoon, the babymoon that Sheila Kitzinger the social anthropologist, writer and childbirth campaigner talks about. Relaxing, eating well and just spending time looking at the baby,” she explains.

This practice isn’t so far from what might have been the norm in Scottish culture a century ago. The oral history book, Scottish Midwives, records the experiences of midwives and “howdies”, the uncertified midwives or “handywomen” who were their precursors and often spent around four weeks in a mother’s home, helping out with chores.

“We had to try and keep the mothers in bed,” said Margaret Foggie, who conducted postnatal home visits in Glasgow in the 1930s. “We would tell the husband to remember the wife was not well, so run the messages and look after the weans’.” Annie Kerr generally stayed with mothers for around two weeks after the birth, and described having “sic a shock” when one woman got up to pick up her baby while she was baking in the kitchen. Another midwife from the Outer Hebrides recalled: “In the olden times the mother really stayed in bed – she didn’t come out at all in the first 10 days. The friends went before she got up, to see the mother and the baby and there is an old Gaelic word for it, bangaid’, which is like a banquet.”

The book includes testimonies from women working in the latter half of the 20th century, including, one, Ella Clelland, who observed the transition from confinement to shorter hospital stays and said: “Mothers nowadays don’t or won’t rest enough. They possibly think they don’t need to. But they get very tired and I think that’s why postnatal depression is more now.”

Was Clelland right? Reports of postnatal depression are certainly on the rise and some people, including Diane Nehme of the Association for Post-Natal Illness, believe that lack of rest may be a contributory factor. “There is no respite care, and women are often discharged in 48 hours, even after first deliveries. There is so much pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations to return to work after short maternity leave and no paternity leave, juggle childcare and raise the perfect baby.”

Japan, which practises a month of confinement, has one of the lowest levels of postnatal depression in the world. “The problem,” says Cassidy, “is that the support system to encourage mums to stay with their newborns has frayed.” The physical distance that strains family ties and the detachment from local communities means many first-time mothers don’t even consider a period of rest. No-one is telling them they should behave like a queen for a week and they wouldn’t know how to find the help to do it even if they wanted to.

Confinement wouldn’t work for everyone and, over the centuries, many women have felt repressed by it. But what matters is that women are aware of it as an option and can make an informed choice.

Of course, some women – particularly those who run their own businesses – cannot contemplate this short holiday from career obligations. A few weeks after the birth of her second child, Karen Macartney, who runs the website informedwomen.co.uk, turned up for a business appointment, but was physically ill with nerves to such an extent that she couldn’t enter the meeting room.

The broadcaster Gail Porter talked, during a recent interview, about doing voice-over jobs within a month of giving birth to her daughter, only to find herself leaking milk into her shirt and sobbing into the microphone.

On the whole, women who run their own businesses seem to be among the most successful at managing the transition to motherhood, perhaps because they have more control over managing their workloads around the needs of their children.

Lorna Pellet, who currently runs Graduates For Growth, recalls that her two pregnancies were creative times in which she expanded her businesses – her original venture was Edinburgh’s Café Florentin. “The best time for planning, for a woman,” she says, “is when she’s pregnant. You can have expansive thoughts because there is a finite timeline. For me the process of being pregnant and having a child was also about reshaping my lifestyle. I think you have to be prepared to go with the rhythm of the child, coping with the changes as opposed to trying to fit the child into your life. Having my first child felt completely natural. I did have childcare and we had a flat above one of the shops. It was very flexible. It’s about having a great infrastructure and this is where community is incredibly valuable, and something that it takes all parties to invest in.”

There is no obvious path back to the days of the howdies and that associated secret world of female knowledge – nor would we want it. Bringing fathers to the birthing bed has been one of the great revolutions of modern times. If we are to create a society in which men and women can operate with freedom and equality, then we need them to stay there. Indeed, we would like them to stick around for longer, ideally with equal paternity leave rights to those afforded to women. They need to hold the baby for longer.

Meanwhile, Goodall believes the idea of lying-in will have its time again. “Not long before I was born, you might have got into problems as a healthcare professional for encouraging a woman to breastfeed. Now the opposite is true. And I can’t help but think that it will come around that way with rest after childbirth.

“We know so much about maternal bonding today, and even breastfeeding is now seen in the context of this whole biological nurturing thing. So I think having a time of seclusion with your baby, a babymoon, will soon be seen as part of that.”

find the original article here 

wysewomen workshops hold a very popular motherwarming workshop at different locations all around the country – the motherwarming workshop looks at different ways to keep mum, baby and family healthy in the immediate postnatal period –  find local dates near you here

having a postnatal doula can support you during your babymoon – find out more here and here

nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth.

she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.