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Archive for the ‘Birth general’ Category

Being Good Enough

Monday, April 26th, 2010

On the same subject as ‘brining up babies’ that has been in the press recently, there was a fantastic half hour on Radio 4

Between Ourselves: Series 5 where Olivia O’Leary talks to Laverne Antrobus , and educational psychologist, and Oliver James, the now very successful author and child psychologist about what children actually need, and what we can do as parents to bring up happy, emotionally healthy children. I highly recommend a listen.

The Vanishing of the Bees

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I once saw a very good documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees ( which if incidentally you get a chance to see then you should- quite haunting stuff but really well done and inspiring - if nothing else you’ll want to plant more flowers). The basic premise of the documentary is that industrialised farming, with their monocultures and their over-reliance on pesticides is detrimentally harming the very thing that farmers depend on- the bees which pollinate their crops. It reminded me of a fabulous book by Michel Odent called ‘The Farmer and the Obstetrician’ - which again I highly recommend you read. In it he argues that we have not understood the ills of industrialisation in the world of farming until it is too late- or at least until we have outbreaks like foot and mouth and mad cow disease, and that we are in danger of treading the very same path in our ‘industrialisation’ of the birth process. too much is undertaken in the context of birth for reasons of efficiency, and to cope with the sheer scale of hospitals and the number of births they are coping with. As a result, too little time is taken with each women, tending to the emotional side of birth. Protocols are introduced, be they the routine use of pit to speed up labour, or the arbitrary time limits imposed on stages, or the use of EFMs ( when they have been proven to bestow no benefit on mother and child and simply increase c-section rates) - not to make birth better or easier for the mother or baby, but to make birth easier to manage for the hospital. And all of this without any idea of where it might lead us or what the consequences- both medical and social- are of this huge interference with an otherwise natural process.

It was Ghandi who said speak only if it improves upon the silence. Surely we should apply that adage to any natural process- intervene only if it improves upon the natural process. In far too many cases it doesnt, and we are yet to discover what the consequences of this is. Surely we need to stand back to gain some perspective, lest it takes a disaster to warn us of the perils of interference.

A Call to Arms

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Culture, the media, the medical establishment and even to an extent the feminist movement have, by default if not by design, taken birth away from women. We no longer trust our instinctds and we fear the very thing that it is most natural for us, as women, to do. Whilst those involved in the birth process profess to having a common goal; the safety and well-being of both mother and baby, mortality rates are actually on the increase and c-section rates are at almost epidemic proportions. Far tii many women sepak of their births as disempowering traumas that they simply suffered through of were invasively relieved of. Inevitably, those very same women speak with despondancy, celebrating their babies but muted about their births.

Yet it neednt be this way. 90% of women should be able to birth entirely as nature intended, and those who do speak of the toughest, most challenging experience of their life with both pride and elation.

As science is increasingly showing correlations between birth and bonding and as our social ailments underline and evermore pressing need for a generation that is balanced, nurtured and emotionally stable, it is not a moment too soon that we might seek to give birth back.

What you body knows

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

A wonderful cranial osteopath by the name of Emma Westlake recently said to me ‘ Your body knows what to do’. This should be the mntra of every pregnant woman. ‘My body knows what to do’. Because it does. Even though our entire birth system- be it antenatal care, birth preparation classes or our cultural obsession with horror stories- suggests otherwise.

As much as we choose to focus on the rare abnormalities and the potential but unlikely risks, the truth is our bodies and instincts are extraordinary. When the natural process is left undisturbed, when a woman is left to be her own physical and mental master, then the vast majority will birth without help or complication. There are 6.5 billion people on the planet- most of whom have been born without access to modern medecine- proving the point that we are pretty good at this birth thing.

Whilst medical advance has ade up for where nature has lacked, the truth is a lot of the problems that have afflicted child- bearing in the past have been man-made- based on a lack of hygiene or nutrition and on the insistence on interfering.

We should be grateful for when doctors save us or our babies- of course we should- and as the grateful recipient of an emergency caesarean I do not make such a comment lightly. But intervention very often happens unnecessarily, or as a result of previous intervention and it is this that leads to a mistaken belief in the incompetence of nature. We have, sadly, made birth more abnormal than it needs to be, ensuring that both woemn do not believe in themselevs or their bodies any longer. Yet women have given birth in comas. You body knows what to do.

The Safety of Home Births

Monday, April 7th, 2008

In the most recent issue of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, an article was published suggesting that home births that encountered problems were less safe than hospital births. This was reported in recent articles in both The Telegraph and The Guardian. This is an important finding, not least because it refutes the previous research that concluded that planned home births were at least as safe as hospital births for low-risk pregnancies. It is essential hat we take heed of research such as this, and do not simply refute it because it is not smething hat we want to hear. We also need to be careful not to be reactionary and end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Studies like these do, and should prompt healthy debate and further research. And it is essential that we dig beneath the headlines ( note how different they were depending on the newspaper) and work out what the possible reasons for such findings might be. If the conclusion of the research was that home births by their very nature were inherently more risky, then how do we account for the birth outcome statistics in Holland- which are some of the best in the Western world- and thier unusually high home birth rate at around 30%. Equally how does Ina May Gaskin, famed for her birth practice on The Farm in Tennessee manages to have a c-section rate of only 1.4% and a transfer rate of only 13% inlcuding postpartem transfer, when her births are always at home or at her home-from-home centre. ( There is an interesting article on home birth safety on their website)

Instead of simply labelling home birth as dangerous, it is essential that we establish why, if the data is correct, it might be dangerous in some situations and not in others. And based on this, we need to make provisions for the minority who might still choose to birth at home, to ensure that being at home is made as safe as it can be. In scenarios such as these, scare-mogering headlines are not at all useful. What we need is to establish what the science is really telling us, and act accordingly.

Take heart; we are making progress

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Though there is good reason for the ‘natural childbirth’ camp to lament to dominance of technology & excessive intervention in the world of birth it is equally important to recognise than in some areas, birth has dramatically improved. Choice, whilst arguably still limited for some women, is available for many of those who seek it out.  Being strapped to a bed with feet in stirrups, expected to labour alone and then being separated from your baby was commonplace some 70 years ago as this still  delightful video shows. Note the woman’s comments regarding her instinctive desires- and then tell me that a woman doesn’t know best?!

Fashion and Fad

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

It seems extraordinary that something as fundamental as birth could be subject to fashion and fads, yet you need only look to Brazil, where c-section rates are a mind-boggling 80% in some urban areas, to see that trends can take hold in the strangest of settings. This flippancy with regard to birth is usually something I lament. Surely, I argue, we should make decisions about the way we bring a child into the world with a little more intelligence?

But I have a confession to make. How loud I lament depends a little on what exactly is on fashion. When women were opting for major abdominal surgery because others were, I heaved a great big sigh of disappointment and disbelief. When I hear the latest fashion is for home birth and the natural way, I have to confess I lament a little less. (,,2237776,00.html)

This is not, however, because I am one of those natural birth teachers who believes in natural birth at all costs. As the grateful beneficiary of an emergency caesarean I have had first-hand experience of the perils of nature and the blessing that is major abdominal surgery. I do not believe a woman has failed if she does not give birth naturally. I do not believe a woman should be cajoled into a particular birth- natural or otherwise- by anyone or anything.

The reason I confess to a small quiet internal celebration, is that when something is in fashion, the general public become more open to it. Whereas the great voices in the world of birth found themselves knocking their heads against a wall 30 years ago when they questioned hospital protocol, now the debate is loosening up. We actually have debate. People are thinking once more about what it means to be born, and questioning the predominance of technology in the birth place. Only 2% of births take place at home now, but ‘home birth’ is beginning to take up a disproportionate amount of column inches. And best of all, instead of being bombarded with horror stories, these zealous celebrities speak of celebration and empowerment and positivity. Just the language we need to begin to develop a more balanced and measured view of birth in our culture. Hail to the fashionistas!

The Need to Talk

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Most women feel some anxiety in the face of child birth. This completely normal reaction to the unknown, and to the possibility of being pushed to your mental and physical limits, is understandable. It is also exacerbated in our society by our presentation of birth as an ordeal to be suffered through. No media representations of birth are ever positive. Instead women are lying back, legs splayed, faces contorted in unbearable pain whilst their bits are exposed to an audience of onlookers. An American commentator once said, ‘American TV heroines only ever give birth in lifts, taxis, beside remote lakes or in planes, three miles up above the Earth.’ To present birth as anything other than dramatic and horrifying would do nothing for ratings. So our culture becomes, through story and tv, increasingly fearful of birth. And what happens? The prophecy is one of those self-fulfilling ones, for the more fearful a woman is, the more difficult and hence potentially traumatic her birth will be.
Thankfully, for most women, this fear of childbirth can be alleviated, at least in part, by antenatal classes, yoga for pregnancy, hypnotherapy and talking to experienced birth attendants. For some women however, this fear is so extreme that it is categorised as a bona fide phobia; tokophobia (’toko’ means childbrith in Greek). Helen Mirrin once attested to suffering from this very phobia in a Daily Mail feature, saying it explained why she has never had children. Far from being a simple culturally induced fear, this is absolute terror, insuring such women not only avoid pregnancy altogether, but also often reel in disgust at the pregnancies of others. For these women, no amount of positive thinking can help. Sadly, few sufferers admit to their feelings, so the ailment goes largely undiagnosed and the subject remains a virtual taboo. Whilst the origins of the phobia can often be childhood sexual abuse- and so the fear is wrapped up in all sorts of other understandable mental trauma- for other women the fear has come from a video or image or early horror story that they were privy to. Perhaps we should think twice before we sell the idea of birth as horrific?

At this stage there are no known cures for sufferers of tokophobia, but as with all birth related issues, open dialogue is essential. Too much of birth is cast off as virtual taboo. Choices facing women, fearful or not, are extremely limited and mandated by a profession that is increasingly ignorant of the physiology of birth. As the obstetric profession has increasingly sought to take care of every possible physical complication in the birth process, the emotional side of things has been increasingly ignored. But how a woman feels about birth is an essential component of her birth experience. Women need to be encouraged to talk, and given the time to do so. Only then will birth related subjects cease to be taboos, and many women will have better experiences- and might even find the courage to embark on the journey of motherhood- because of it. And for those whose fears are too great to overcome, dialogue will at least create a social understanding of tokophobia and demote it from a taboo topic to one that can at least be explored through conversation and debate.

Birth in Australia

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

If you thought women had few choices here, just be thankful that you are not in Australia, which seems positively draconian by comparison.

Read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald…

I am not sure about the argument that Australia’s size makes home births unsafe- most people live in cities!!!!

Unfolding mothers

Friday, October 12th, 2007

I am listening to a beautiful series of messages on BBC radio 4 - Womens’ Hour  ………….it has reminded me of something I read somewhere that spoke of all the mothers that have carried and birthed babies, a long line of mother and daughter and mother and daughter going way back. It encouraged the pregnant mother to think of how many women it has taken to get to her, standing here, with her baby in her belly, about to be a mother herself.Sometimes we focus so much on the birth, we pick it to pieces and plan for what we want, get consumed by fear and caught up in debate that we forget to revel in the wonder of birth and what it is to be a mother.