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An Inconvenient Truth

April 23rd, 2010

This is a letter I sent to the Guardian this week in response to a comment by Zoe Williams ( who herself was responding to a very interesting article Baby Wars: parenting guru cries foul over Queen of Routine’s tough-love approach

I highly reccomend reading the article. My letter is below.

I disagree with Zoe Williams ( For Crying Out Loud, Thursday April 22nd). I am all for showing compassion to mothers- they are undervalued enough as it is- but stifling the critics and the debate smacks of political correctness gone mad. We seem to have developed an ‘anything goes’ mentality where we now avoid the difficult parenting and birth conversations in case we make someone feel guilty. Yet science has made huge leaps over the last decade and we are now capable of plotting the development of the human brain like never before. The importance of touch and of responding to a baby’s early cries can no longer be underestimated. This does, and should, throw new light on the parenting debate. It is, to borrow a phrase, an inconvenient truth to some that parenting is and needs to be intensive in the beginning, but to imply otherwise is simply doing mothers a great disservice. Everyone is up in arms if it is doscovered that we have been misled by a corporation, or if an industry seeks to withhold the facts- the cigarette industry immediately springs to mind. Knowing the facts doesn’t take away our choices, it simply makes them informed.
Nicole Croft
Buddhabellies

The Vanishing of the Bees

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.

Breech - don’t panic

April 19th, 2010

Palpating ( which is when the midwife feels for the position of the baby) is beginning to be something of a lost art. Whilst midwives are all trained to do it, there is increasing reliance on late scans for confirmation of a baby’s position, and it seems to diminishing the confidence and therefore the ability of midwives to accurately determine which way around a baby is lying. Admittedly it is very easy to mix up a head and a bottom- whilst the head is rounder and harder than the bottom, a baby’s bottom is fairly bony and fat=free, so the mistake is easily made. Supposedly the best way to check is not simply to focus ont he supposed head or bottom, but also on its position relative to the shoulders.

All too often women in my classes are told at 35, 36 or 37 weeks  that their babies are breech. The obvious panic ensues as it is now routine to schedule 38 week c-sections for breech babies. Women then fling themselves down into knee-chest position, call or email me in a panic, and search for every possible alternative method ( acupuncture, incidentally, is probably the most successful of all the ones on offer) to turn their babies before uuuming and aaahing over possibly consenting to an uncomfortable ( but often successful) external cephalic version ( where a doctor manually turns a baby whilst it is still in its mother’s tummy- more on that in another post).

Whilst it is important to be informed in the face of a possible breech baby, my first piece of advice is now always, dont panic. Just because someone has said that they think the baby is breech DOES NOT MEAN IT IS. In my experience, the diagnosis is becoming more frequent, and 9 times out of 10 it is wrong. So the poor mother has read up, panicked, stressed and worried, only to discover at the scan that the baby is happily head down and all her worry has been for nothing. A huge 95% of babies are head down at term, leaving only 3-4% breech and the odd one transverse, but those that are in these more unusual positions can also change position right up until the end. Of course babies are sometimes stubbornly breech, and knowing that in advance of labour is important, but our increasing relaince on scans as a back up, as well as the fear of undiagnosed breech babies ( which few midwives have the experience at delivering now) means that more and more women are being told that their babies are breech when they are not.

So if you are told your baby might  be breech, take a deep breath, focus on the ‘might’ and make your decisions once you know for sure.

Classes for the Summer

April 19th, 2010

Classes are currently running every Monday night ( except bank holidays) until Monday July 19th after which there will be a break over the summer. I am currently taking bookings for mid-May and June. There will be a couples workshop in June, date to be confirmed within the next two weeks.  Please email interest or for details of either nicole@buddhabellies.co.uk

Couples Workshop

March 1st, 2010

The next couples workshop is Tuesday 23rd March 7.15 to 9.45. Places are limited and filling up quickly so please email your interest.

A Call to Arms

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.

Women with heartburn have babies with lots of hair!

October 5th, 2009

After a very lively & amusing dicussion last week in class, I was sent this article which - believe it or not- supports the supposed old wives tale that women who suffer heartburn throughout pregnancy will have babies born with lots of hair!! So those of you with heartburn, prepare for a full head of hair……….

Health in Pregnancy Grant

September 14th, 2009

Health in pregnancy grant…… Are you aware that if your baby’s due date is on or after 6th April 2009, and you are 25 weeks pregnant or more the Government will pay you a non-refundable grant of £190 to you help prepare for the birth of your baby. That could cover the cost of a whole series of yoga and birth classes. To access the fund, go to www.direct.gov.uk/money4mum2be

Women should endure more pain in childbirth?

July 14th, 2009

In Sunday’s Observer there was an article entitled ‘Its good for women to suffer the pain of a natural birth,’ says Medical Chief.  Good old journalists- we can always rely on them to throw something eye-catching, controversial and ultimately misleading into the ring. And in this case, what a red rag to a bull Dr Walsh’s comments have been.

To say that the debate has been heated since Sunday is an understatement. The column inches suggest it was Sunday months ago, not just two days ago and the debate is without doubt coloured by anger and vitriole. A trawl through websites , comments boxes and online mothers forums makes you hope that Dr Walsh is not reading. Whilst the odd woman meekly puts her hand up to say she had a drug-free birth and-god-forbid- quite enjoyed it, the vast majority are angry women who feel that they are having their choices squeezed or are being made to feel guilty for them. And if this was the case- if women were being denied choices, or we were somehow being told that childbirth is our due punishment a la Old Testament, then the outpourings might well be justified.

But misunderstandings can start wars, and I am increasingly convinced that this outcry is exactly that. A misunderstanding. No one is saying that women shouldn’t be allowed epidurals. They are available, many women’s experience with them is positive- in fact I have a friend who very proudly proclaims that she has given birth three times without ever feeling a contraction, thanks to early epidurals, and no one is condemning her. Epidurals are often described as the rolls royce of anaesthesia and they can sometimes mean the difference between a positive birth experience and a traumatic one. And for that reason alone they should be an option for all women.

But to think that we can have something for nothing is equally just short-sighted. It is essential that women recognise that to debate the pros and cons of an epidural is nothing but healthy- and that is exactly what Dr Walsh, admittedly rather big-footedly, is trying to do.

To say that there are downsides to epidurals is not to condemn the women who opt for them. It is simply to state a fact. There is that saying ‘ you cant get something for nothing’ and in the case of epidurals it is absolutely true. It is a fantastic and usually very effective form of pain relief but it has a downside that we need to acknowledge and consider.

What concerns me is that we seem very happy with understanding the risks of anything else when it comes to medicine- the pros and cons of HRT, the potential downside of an anti-cancer drug, even the possible side-effects of paracetamol, but for a doctor dares to suggest that not enough consideration has been taken of epidural downsides, he is painted as the devil incarnate.

It also ignores the again very healthy and in fact very interesting debate as to why on earth there is pain in labour and whether it is of any great benefit. In fact pain is a topic that I believe is actually undercovered in child birth classes. We talk about how to cope with it, and different forms of pain relief from aromatherapy oils to epidural, but it is never truly dissected and understood. Instead, woman’s idea of pain is simply the trauma, the extremes of it and the idea that it is the most pronounced characteristic of birth. And yet time and time again women come back to my classes after they have given birth, and speak of pain as though it were an aside. They dont deny it was painful, but emphasise that the experience was so much more than that. It is not unlike a mountaineers description of his successful attempt to reach the summit of some treacherous peak- whilst there was undoubtedly pain involved in the ascent, it does not dominate his story.

So who are these women? Are they super-human, smug, lucky or plain stupid?

No, they are just normal women, like any other, but with a caveat. They are normal women who’s cultural perception of birth has been supersceded by something else. They are almost always well mentally and physically prepared for birth, they have been bolstered in confidence and in their sense of what birth entails, and are suitably convinced of the place of pain in labour to give it a go. They also labour under good conditions - those conducive to a physiological birth ( see  Primitive Brain at this link ), usually with outstanding one-to-one midwifery care, and sometimes with the luxury of having a doula.

To try to bring down epidural rates without recourse to anything else is foolhardy to say the least. It is no different to trying to cap elective c-section rates without recognising that their rising is a product not of a weakness in women but an inherent problem in our cultural perception of birth and more importantly, the system in which women in this country are pregnant and labour. Women have access to unprecedented levels of information- books, websites and endless forums. And yet most of them are more unprepared and crucially more fightened than any generation of women before them. Our interventionist system, which promotes electronic foetal monitoring and unexplained hospital protocols,  induction and intervention makes contemplating a natural birth nigh on impossible for many women. And the fact that we have too few midwives, whose ideology and caring gets swept away in a plethora of rules and the madness of overwork means that women are simply not cared for enough during their pregnancy or throughout their labours. The single biggest emotional state to ensure a woman copes with labour, and might experience the pain without the suffering ( for the two are potentially mutually exclusive) is confidence, and until we find practical ways to instill this in the next generation of mothers, we need to offer them the next best thing, and very often that is an epidural.

Preparing for Birth - why bother?

July 7th, 2009

‘I just wanted to share this with you. It is the beginning of a rather wonderful email I got from a woman in one of my classes who faced with placenta previa was admitted into hospital early and had to have a c-section, all on the back of really diligent preparation for a natural birth.

Her words are an absolute lesson in why women need to prepare for birth no matter how it turns out, and to feel that they are wise to its nuances. They are also testament to the extraordinary support one gets from feeling a part of a community instead of isolated and alone.Instead of facing the unknown with fear, she mustered up courage. Instead of lamenting what ws happening to her, she held her head high and dealt with it.

Birth requires you to be brave. Whether you are choosing to give birth without drugs or you are faced with a c-section, either way, you need to be brave. In fact, to become a mother at all you need to have endless courage and to get it, not only do we often need to dig deep, but we need to prepare and to feel supported. And if we do, and if we are, we truly can face anything.

‘I thought I would write to let you know that Arthur the Acorn was born on Friday 12th at 8.15 weighing just under eight pounds. I wanted to thank you for all your help over the last few months. The yoga has been a complete joy - as much as the actual yoga itself, coming into a group of such lovely, friendly ladies, all struggling with worries and anxieties about their bumps and life afterwards, laughing about waddling and puffy feet, and being reassured and coaxed towards the inevitable by your superb lectures. Because of all this, when it came to the inconvenience of being in hospital, the mild panic of contractions starting, and the sheer terror of walking into theatre, I did not feel alone. As scared as I was, I knew you would all cheer me on and tell me it was going to be alright. And it was.