I met an old friend today who I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade. He has gotten married and had two babies with another on the way since the last time we met. He was waxing lyrical about the joy of being a father and how it has changed his life and perspective utterly and he said a few things that struck a chord with me. Maybe two chords – one harmonic and one inharmonic. The first thing he said was he wonders what he was afraid of all this time. He had been terrified for years of becoming a father to the point where he considered returning to singledom at one point when it looked like there might a chisler on the horizon (false alarm). I find this totally understandable. I think if you’re not there, you’re totally not there when it comes to thinking about having children. For me, it was like a switch: not even slightly interested in children to all about babies!
The second thing he said was that he was so lucky to be married to the beautiful, wonderful wife and mother that he was. Because all of his mates’ wives turned into dragons after they had their children.
I need to think about this a little bit more. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this but it’s the first time I’ve heard it since becoming a mother. It’s funny, when you’re busy trying to make babies and have babies, the husband/wife father/mother dynamic is something that never crosses your mind. That is until your baby arrives and everyone’s life changes forever and those relationships change forever too. Suddenly there’s this whole other element of having a baby that never blipped on your radar. And apparently some men experience dragon mamas. I don’t know what to make of this or whose perspective to take it from. I think I’m going to park it for now, have a mull and maybe come back to it at a later stage. Anyone have any thoughts on the concept of dragon mamas or otherwise?
I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday on the Home Birth Association’s conference because I think I told a lie towards the end. I made a comment about not being interested in convincing women to have a homebirth like me. It niggled at me all day because I think it’s only half true.
If I’m honest, I think I’d like women to at least think about having a natural birth. And when I say think about it, I suppose what I really mean is to educate themselves about pregnancy, birth and labour so that they know what they’re letting themselves in for and can make informed decisions about how they’d like to birth their baby.
Otherwise, how would you know that there’s a chance that an epidural might slow down your labour, or might start off a cascade of interventions that you’d prefer not to have? How would you know that keeping fit and active during your pregnancy can help with your labour? Or that being well rested and not working like the clappers up until the last minute will help you go into spontaneous labour and ensure you have the energy to birth your baby? How would you know that you can’t have a shower or go to the toilet for a few hours after an epidural whereas with a natural delivery you can usually stand up and walk with your baby in your arms to bed or to the couch or wherever you need to be? How would you know that being up on your feet and moving around can help move your labour along by using gravity to move your baby down and that being on your back isn’t really ideal, unless of course it feels right to you at the time? (Myself and my husband practised many labour positions but on the day, all my body wanted to do was stand.) By the way, I’m not anti epidural at all. In fact I think they’re fantastic when you need them. I just think sometimes when women don’t have all the information on the side effects and risks they can be too quick to ask for one and be unprepared for what happens next.
I had my baby with the community midwives in Holles Street and I remember so clearly a couple of things they told me. At the start of my pregnancy, they handed me an information pack that had printed in block capitals YOU HAVE NINE MONTHS TO PREPARE FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR BABY, USE IT WISELY. I read that, took it on board and ran with it. I think it paid off for me. Later in the antenatal classes, the midwife once again said “it’s up to you to be prepared for your labour and one of those things is you need to ensure you are WELL RESTED.” I’d never heard anyone talk about that before. I had worked with women for 10 years who talked about lying about their dates so they could work up til the last minute to maximise their maternity leave at the other side. Which of course is perfectly understandable.
But no one had ever mentioned to me that it could affect the birth. When I told my mother I planned on finishing work a month before my due date, she was delighted. She was also the first mother I heard say “well, you need to be well rested to get through a natural birth”. And then I heard her say it again, and again. And I felt sad for her because I know she worked up until the bitter end on all her pregnancies and had very little maternity leave because that’s how it was done in her day. She obviously understood and probably remembered her need for rest and strength at the time.
Finally, I remember a midwife talking to me about the line of birthing options. Picture a straight line where at one end your baby is in your arms and along the line is a series of stops, like a DART or subway map. The stop furthest away from your final destination is labouring at home and maybe having your baby there. If that doesn’t work out for you for whatever reason, the next stop is labouring at home for as long as possible using all your toolkit of natural pain management, then delivering your baby naturally in the hospital. If your natural toolkit isn’t working for you, next stop gas and air, and so on until next stop epidural and maybe some people stop at C-section before pulling in at your final destination of happy healthy baby. The midwife was explaining that choosing homebirth was just one extra stop at the beginning of your journey to give you a chance to have a natural birth if you wanted one. I’d like to think that every pregnant woman would be informed about all of the stops on their journey – pros and cons – before they decided which stop to jump on at to reach their wonderful final destination. Because knowledge is power and knowledge takes away the fear of not knowing or understanding what’s happening to you in the moment. Power and fearlessness are a great combination when you’re working hard at having a baby. That’s all!
So says Ina May! Butt loosening, smiling to take away the pain, acting like a mammal and lots of poo were just some of the topics covered by Ina May today at the homebirth conference.
She was A-MAZ-ING. A frighteningly intelligent, entertaining and sometimes smutty(!) woman, Ina May spoke so eloquently and with such understated passion and humour, you could just listen to her tell stories until the cows come home. Not only did she give two keynote addresses, she also sat in the audience and took notes of the homebirth discussions going on, chiming in with her own well informed opinion on the current state of maternity services in Ireland. It was great. There were a few things I took away from her speeches:
She talked about how important it is to have the lower part of your body relaxed when you’re in labour. As mentioned earlier, you need to loosen that butt! (Obviously you can tell I really enjoyed this one) Leaning on a staff, holding onto a rope from the ceiling or banisters, hanging off your partner’s shoulders and blowing through your lips like a horse – all good, go for it.
Labour doesn’t hurt when you smile! This is because of all those lovely endorphins running through your body – yay! Making a labouring mum laugh is very effective in relaxing and dilating her cervix. Stressing her out does the opposite.
The forceps rate at her midwifery centre, The Farm, is less than 1%. Why? Because the midwives are nice. No stress, keeping the mama calm, giving her loads of encouragement. Not shouting, cajoling, bullying, rushing, upsetting.
Dads can never tell a labouring mum too often how beautiful she is and how lucky he is she is having his baby. She never gets bored with that. Makes sense to me!
She also spoke about how we have to fight for our right to choose homebirth. Although the conference was such a life affirming, celebration of positive birthing in Ireland, in some ways I felt it ended on a sad note. In the afternoon, we were treated to the knowledge and experience of six women working in some aspect of maternity care in Ireland. Overriding the discussion was an air of despondency as one panellist spoke of her fear of homebirth programmes in the hospitals being cancelled in coming years due to budgetary reasons, another questioned if we had really come any further along in maternal rights in the last 30 years and independent midwives talked about how their hands were being tied by new legislation and a restrictive memorandum of understanding with the national health provider, the HSE. It felt like after many battles, there was a hint that Irish women might be losing the war.
Personally I can’t understand how we find ourselves in this situation. Basically a woman’s choice of how she births her baby is dictated by administrative and financial issues rather than a human right to choose how your child arrives in the world. How outrageous is that? Why does maternity care have to be “managed” anyway? Pregnant women aren’t sick. Surely they just need to be facilitated in getting their baby safely into the world?
Listen, I don’t believe homebirth is for everyone, just as consultant-led care isn’t for everyone but really it comes down to having the choice to giving birth in the way that makes the mama most comfortable. Comforted by the idea of seeing the same consultant for every appointment, having them deliver your baby and enjoying your private room? Go for it. Like the idea of labouring at home, popping in to deliver your baby and availing of three nights on the ward with the associated midwifery support? Happy days. Can only imagine labouring in your own home, wandering room to room and then delivering your baby on your bathroom floor? The choice should be yours. I’m not interested in convincing people to have their baby the way I had mine. I’d just love if every woman could choose to have the same sense of peace, comfort and then the subsequent euphoria that should come with having a baby. Wouldn’t that be deadly?
Very well done to the HBA committee who did a sterling job organising the conference. I have much respect for people who walk the walk and get up of their asses to make that difference. These women do.
Ina May Gaskin is probably the most famous midwife in the world – who knew there were celebrity midwives? – and she’s in Dublin tomorrow for the Home Birth Association‘s 30th anniversary conference. Hurray! Her book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was the main reason that I decided to have a homebirth half way through my pregnancy. Sure she makes it sound easy!
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In fact, it’s a must read as far as I’m concerned if you’re thinking about having a natural birth. Yes it has a whole bunch of black and white birth photos from the 70s that sent my husband running for the hills, but it also has the most beautiful and diverse birth stories in it with exceptional advice on how to have a natural birth and prepare yourself for the best outcomes possible.
My favourite birth story was the two-parter told by a husband and wife, both OBGYNs, who spoke of how they had to overcome their experience with medicalised births to achieve the successful natural homebirth they wanted. It’s such an empowering, positive book. It would fill any mum-to-be with confidence. It also made me think I would want to walk for miles in the woods when I went into labour. In reality, no chance! But that’s a story for another day…
It should be a great conference. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Blogging about all things parenting and some things downright personal!