i had a lovely chat with alexia from fear free childbirth the other day all about doulas – what they do? why are they needed? how they support the papas? everything doula …you can check it out here
Hands off my baby!
Avoiding induction and my 10-month pregnancy…
If you’re pregnant, ‘overdue’ and facing the prospect of induction, this is for you. A few months ago I was in the same situation and it helped so much to know that I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t have to meekly submit to the NHS. I carried my daughter to almost 43 weeks and she was born perfect, healthy and not a moment too late.
Throughout my pregnancy I was so careful. I ate well. I didn’t take a single painkiller. I carried on running until 7 ½ months, and went for long walks right up until the day before the birth. I was so determined that my body should be in tip-top shape to bring my little girl into the world. We had planned a natural home birth and nothing was going to stop me…try as it might!
When my ‘due date’ came and went, I wasn’t surprised. I was born 2 weeks late so I was expecting a longer-than-usual pregnancy, yet those last few weeks dragged on. I honestly believed I’d be pregnant forever. But the fatigue and the nervous waiting were nothing compared to the pressure to be induced. My goodness, you’d think that babies were never born before the invention of Syntocinon. Or that tragedy was certain to befall every baby who took a few more days to mature in utero. And yet every birth horror story I’d heard had begun with induction or a membrane sweep – benign terms for messing with a very delicate hormone system and ruining a perfectly healthy pregnancy. Didn’t anyone notice the correlation, I wondered? Nobody was going to evict my little girl from the loving home I’d made her. I told her repeatedly that she was safe and welcome to stay as long as she needed.
As soon as the ‘due date’ hit, I was ‘offered’ induction by my midwife, which I declined and made clear this was not something I wanted. But every time I interacted with the NHS, the pressure became stronger. They scheduled daily calls asking me to go into hospital. Daily calls! They wanted to talk incessantly about the risk of stillbirth as time went on (which is still infinitesimal, if you do your own research). They were scared about me carrying my baby past their schedule; I wasn’t. I could just feel that everything was OK. But it was incredibly stressful to fend off constant negative suggestions, and I’ll always be angry about how the last few days of my pregnancy were made so unnecessarily difficult when they should have been so peaceful. I was told that to encourage labour to start I should avoid stress (adrenaline) and stay happy (oxytocin). That was difficult while I imagined my midwives tapping their feet and checking their watches.
At 42w 4d I went into hospital for ‘monitoring’ and being strapped to a monitor for 45 minutes showed that, as I knew, everything was perfectly fine with the baby. The only thing wrong was that she had confused the midwives by not appearing when they expected her to. People in my local coffee shop and neighbours passing my house commented that ‘baby will come when ready’. They seemed wiser than the people with years of training and experience. Stories about ‘late’ babies by perfect strangers on the internet were a strange source of comfort. I felt like a medical freak. I was told that nobody goes past 42 weeks because by that point, they’ve been pressured into induction…so no wonder the midwives were nervous. They had no precedent to follow, no procedure with tick boxes laid out in my maternity notes folder.
Labour finally started all by itself at 42w 5d and I proceeded with a totally natural birth at home. There was no pain relief apart from a pool of hot water, just the power of sheer determination. I used just two of the many, many visualisation techniques I’d practised, and leaned heavily on my husband and my wonderful doula for TLC and encouragement. After five hours of active labour my daughter was born weighing 6lbs 5oz, with an Apgar score of 9 and showing no sign whatsoever of post-maturity; a vigorous pink knot of lustful yelling. (In fact, I learned that there was a true knot in my daughter’s umbilical cord – most likely the result of her turning breech at 37 weeks and then back again at 39 weeks in two huge movements. So turning head down very, very late is also possible without intervention…but a very scary thing to wait for!)
She headed straight for the breast and nursed happily for 45 minutes. The midwives commented on how healthy she looked. I should probably mention that the NHS midwives who attended the birth were just awesome. My experience of the NHS as a cold processing plant was totally at odds with the dedication and care those two women showed me.
If I had given in to other people’s fear and agreed to induce, my daughter could have been almost three weeks premature by her own terms, and would probably have endured birth trauma as a result of being forced out. To me, that was FAR more dangerous than waiting for nature to get things started.
The most important lesson I learned was: trust yourself. Others are scared because they can’t feel what you can feel. I knew my body was designed to carry this baby. I’d got through nine months (OK, ten months…) perfectly safely and didn’t believe my body would just ‘give up’ at the end. That kind of faith is frowned upon in conventional medicine because it can’t be controlled or rationalised. I chose to listen to people who respected my judgement and supported my positive attitude, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
contributed by a mama who trusted herself
its going off in spain – reminiscent of the burning of millions of women during the witch trials of the middle ages. today sees a report about the strange goings on of the witches being released by one of the governing bodies of the spanish midwives – this report has been collated over the last three years and has been put together by a multi-disciplinary group of experts composed of nurses and legal specialists in health and criminal law (this is what google translate tells me anyway!). the witches in question aren’t really witches of course but supportive women at the heart of the community encouraging families to make their own decisions around birth and loving them throughout those decisions regardless of what they are. doulas work – the evidence is clear – read more about it here.
fair enough i say to collate a report about a new body of women that are becoming prominent working amongst the new families of your country. we like to take care of our mothers and babies surely – so we look into something so big and so powerful sweeping our nation. however, the results of the report are astonishing to say the least!
the piece of journalism breaking the news is sensationalist media at its worst and clearly cherry-picking the most shocking findings of the report but they are included none the less and i want to address them because i am certain this isn’t how i go about being a doula and i’m pretty certain this can be said of most of the doulas in spain – i spent a heavenly week in a large circle of mainly spanish birthkeepers this last autumn whilst co-facilitating loving the mother (read more about these workshops here) and they were an incredible bunch of women working very hard to bring health and peace and joy to women birthing their babies and becoming new mothers in whatever way the mother herself sees fit.
the three main claims are extraordinary and i want to say a little about each one.
the report claims that doulas divide the family by shutting the father out of the process. in twenty years almost every single family i have worked with has involved a close relationship with the father as well as the mother as we ALL work together to facilitate gentle birth and try our hardest to generate as much love as we possibly can. doulas are reassuring for men and can support them through the process – at a birth women are often birthing incredibly well with no assistance or support and its common for them to ask to be protected and accompanied but left. this can be a very unusual and some times impotent feeling for a man – the doula is there to support him through this and be a reassuring and often times practically useful presence. i once read a birth story written by a dad i worked with – it included a section about him bursting into tears when i offered to make him a cup of tea as i was the first person all day that had shown him any care during the very emotionally trying experience of supporting his wife birthing their first child. not once have i come between a woman and her man – the only time a mother and father agreed that he wouldn’t be at the birth (previous birth trauma for them both meant they felt most comfortable with this arrangement and they had made this decision themselves before they met me) i took a gamble and asked her (as baby was imminent) if this still worked for them – she changed her mind and i popped my head out of the bedroom door to ask him the same question. he came in to witness his second son born gently and powerfully by his gorgeous wife – the healing of this experience was incredible. we love fathers and we encourage them to love and support their partners. read more about dads and doulas here.
the second claim is that we use the term “obstetric violence” to encourage families away from medical assistance when they birth their babies. there’s no doubt that their are birthkeepers in all their forms that may have witnessed trauma at their own births or those women who’s births they’ve supported at. this trauma leads to an intimate understanding of the impact that this trauma has on the world. how the woman is impacted and begins her mothering as a survivor rather than a victorious woman. what it does for a man to see his sexual partner and lover brutalised. what impact does this have on the baby? their potential as a contributing adult to this world? what this means is almost all the doulas i have met are pro-choice – proactively encouraging families to think through all their choices very carefully. working through the options until they settle on the ones most likely to bring about the end goal they are after. this may be a heavily medical birth or the other end of the spectrum at home alone in the dark but we all agree that women must choose as it is the woman who lives with the consequences of her choices for the rest of her life. who loves this woman’s body and baby more than this family? who cares more about the outcomes? occasionally we are supporting someone’s choice to not take up medical or obstetric care – its their choice to make. don’t believe that birth can be traumatic or are affected by these issues – talk to these people here.
finally and my particular favourite is the suggestion that doulas belong to a cannibal sect. now i’m a big fan of walking dead but i’ve not taken that any further! its incredible that this is included in a serious manner in what ought to be a very serious report. sure i’ve met a few doulas that have eaten their placentas but i’ve met many more mothers who had no doula who’ve chosen to do this for many reasons. read all about your placenta and possibly consuming it here. i’ve met even more mammals who’ve done it. truth be told among the families i’ve supported this is quite rare. i don’t encourage or discourage – my job is to ensure women know their options and exercise their choice. many will bury their placentas which is the most common human behaviour around the world. most common is to leave the health services to dispose of it. sadly and i’m sure disappointing more than a few folk who read this report we do not meet at the full moon around a fire on top of a hill and eat human flesh. that makes for a great story though doesn’t it?
after initially being so amazed, then angry and now just dumbfounded i leave you with the wise words of ibu robin lim placenta lover extraordinaire (read more about her here) lets all deal with this with love – it is the Mothers way and the only way.
“I am holding a Loving space for ALL BirthKeepers to work together with Care, Love and Respect… that is the Mother’s way.”
things you can do to make a change here
you can sign a petition against this report here
you can purchase an awesome book all about doulas – who they are, what their history is and what they do – you can buy it here
you can share this article so that the world will know doulas are full of love and not placentas 🙂
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.
I have always been a fan of Michel Odent. Primal birth was one of my first reads as a budding new doula and Birth and Breastfeeding was an inspiration when pregnant with my last and unassisted birth. There is such confidence that he exudes from his books with regards to the case for undisturbed labour resulting in pleasurable birth with excellent conditions for bonding. I had been consumed with jealousy in my second pregnancy that cats have so much more freedom than women to take themselves off on their own in the dark to birth their babies in safety. This is a far cry from the place that most women find themselves in at the end of pregnancy and I have heard so many women saying they wished they could just go build a nest and give birth on their own. The notion that they can seems only a distant dream when well meaning midwives want to check in on women and consultants want to monitor women’s pregnancies. Then there are the wonderful caring family members and friends consumed with excitement, so they call every 5 minutes to ask if anything is actually happening. No wonder pregnancies get longer as women are less safe with their physiological need for privacy not being met with the constant observers.
When I found out my cat was pregnant in the summer 2014, I was a very happy surrogate grandma. I could be a doula for my cat and mother her through pregnancy and observe, albeit from a distance, how she would raise her young kittens. She was only a kitten herself at 10 months of age and we expected she would have 2 kittens from what the vets had said. I had gentle curiousity at the thought of observing a mammal from afar give birth without all the restrictions that have been put over humans since birth moved into busy hospitals. I also wondered whether her unhindered births may put me off my love for the doula, thinking that she would birth alone and need nothing being the independent mammal that she is.
On the 31st August, I went to a beautiful homebirth of a second baby. The baby was born in the water and the mama was absolutely blissed out and the Dad and husband truly in awe of his partner. I got back to a quiet house, kids in bed and a clean house. I had bought a dog cage and put it where my cat used to sit. I had covered it inside and out with fabrics so it was cave like. Much to my surprise at 2am, my cat came to sit on me in bed next to my sleeping toddler. I gave her a little pat and settled back to sleep but she started mewing like she wanted more attention. I kept stroking her and realized I could feel her contracting under my touch. She was dribbling and purring with pleasure. I knew pretty quick that she was in labour in my pitch black room on top of me in my bed. After about an hour she jumped off me next to my sleeping son and yelped. I then heard lots of licking before a shrill mewing. I had always known never to disturb a cat in labour but I didn’t want another kitten being born on my son! I moved him over and sadly aroused him enough to want milk without sleeping properly so we left her with her 3 babies by then in the dark on his cot attached to the side of the bed. At 7am there were 5 scrawny looking kittens suckling their mama as she laid out proud on my bed. She was treated every few hours with cooked fish and chicken and dried food. They nursed pretty continuously for a week so she could not really get up much and she appreciated the food and water under her chin every so often. She would only be happy with me near her nest so I protected her from my ever curious kids.
So my expectation of cat birth could not have been further from what my cat chose. She had places to be alone but she chose to be next to me and a toddler crazy as it was.
I had read a book in 2012 called ‘The Power of Pleasureable Childbirth” by Laurie Morgan. It really challenged me on why I would want a doula at a planned unassisted birth. A doula being seen as something outside of the normal family unit, so an intervention. Ever since I read this I have reflected on whether the intervention of me being at a birth has affected that natural flow of the births I have been too. I think for most of the families that I have been a doula for having the intervention of a doula was a better insurance than meeting the interventions of birth within a medicalised system. I chose to have a doula because she was someone I knew well and had been to her birth a few months earlier. Having her come with her baby was like an extension of my family really. I also wanted the emotional support of a woman as I had never received this in my relationship with my children’s father. The birth of my cat’s kittens really did highlight that there is a role for doulas to play when this is what a mother wishes. Not all women receive the nurturing from a partner that they need for giving birth. Not all male or female partners trust the mechanics of birth. Not all partners want to talk about life events after the occasion so I guess a doula fits this gap. My cat I believe picked up the scent of oxytocin from the birth I was at that very day. She came to my magical family bed, which is full of oxytocin with a breastfed toddler and she wanted me to lovingly touch her. Something that I don’t like in labour but plenty of women do like touch. Given that cats are much more intuitive than many of us humans have evolved to be, I believe my cat found it was safe being next to someone who trusted birth and mothering.
I feel very honoured to have witnessed my cat birth her babies and very honoured to have doulaed for so many families. It is wonderful to see how it all unfolds when left alone and in the case of my cat see how much pleasure is gained from acknowledging the need to be loved!
hannah can be found at http://calmyorkshirebirth.co.uk/blog/
and running doula uk preparation courses in york at http://redtentdoulas.co.uk/