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Archive for January, 2008

Why we shouldn’t eat for two……

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

For those of us who enjoy the excuse for an extra slice, its not good news that there are quite serious reasons why the old ‘eating for two’ adage is a myth. Until recently the pregnant woman tended to rest easy, eating according to her every whim and indulging her notoriously strange cravings. But science has now given us a good ticking off. It has been found that women who are overweight when they fall pregnant are at significantly higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or of haemmoraghing during their pregnancy. For those in the know, this in itself is not radical stuff, though that is not to underemphasise its importance. But more controversially, and perhaps also even more compellingly, there is further - as yet early - evidence, that an overweight mother is more likely to create an overweight adult. Scientists believe- and a long term study has been set in motion to test it- that hormones produced by the overweight pregnant mother alter the brain of the developing baby, making it more prone to being overweight later in life. Whilst dieting during pregnancy also comes with its own risks, it suggests that if we think that pregnancy is an excuse for packing on the piles, we should think again.

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. (observer.guardian.co.uk/woman/story/0,,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.