Reading books and having babies are not mutually exclusive

Sinead Gleeson has a lovely article in today’s Irish Times about the history of women and reading. It has a great title too: Women gaining power, page by page. It’s a wonderfully strong and positive statement.

She makes an excellent point about the power of the written word and the historical patriarchial fear of women acculumating knowledge and therefore independent thought, something that was seen to be discouraged and indeed stamped out. This sentiment still pervades in many cultures.

Reading books and having babies are not mutually exclusive Mind The Baby Blog
Antoine Wiertz’s The Reader of Novels
Sinead Gleeson discusses this pictures in her article

One thing in particular that stuck out for me in the article was Sinead’s reference to reading being an alternative to domestic responsibilities or delivering babies “on the kitchen floor”. In the cultural and historical context of the 19th century that she was comparing them to, of course education was seen as incompatible with the chiefly female responsibilities of housekeeping and rearing families and in this case her point is well made. But culturally I think we need stop separating academia and intellectualism from having children and managing the household. One read of Sinead’s statement could be that if women were allowed to pursue as much reading and education as they wished, then why would they possibly choose domesticity and natural, unmedicated childbirth? In fact, forgive me Sinead if I’ve misunderstood, but I think that’s what the underlying implication might be.

Empowering women with the same educational, societal, cultural and political opportunities as men and pursuing a feminist ideology for society, thereby ensuring equality and choice for everyone, is not to perceive childbirth and domestic duties as a “lack of” something or a repression. Yes, for centuries women were forced into essentially a life of servitude which involved keeping house and multiple pregnancies, wanted or not, and it is to be celebrated how times have changed for the better. But we cannot undermine or disrespect the beauty, spirituality and community of childbirth and raising children. They always have been and always will be something miraculous and magical, and in many ways bigger and beyond our control, regardless of what else is going on in the world. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood transcends social class and time.

Access to education and birth control have had a massive impact on independence and equality for women but bearing children and staying at home are as legitimate choices as any others. It is possible and extremely common – as we all know of course – to be highly educated, well read, intellectual, excellent at managing your household and have multiple children. So why do we perpetuate this myth of having a lot of children, particularly naturally and at home, and doing the housework as a debasement?

Reading books and having babies are not mutually exclusive Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: Dumfries Museum via photo pin cc

Rather than a dichotomy between reading and natural childbirth, I see them as being fundamentally linked. It is only through reading and learning that women can educate themselves about how birth should be rather than what we’re told it should be. Most women form their ideas of childbirth from the mainstream media where hysteria and negativity prevail. Digging deeper, more reading, more watching of real births (not made for television documentaries like One Born Every Minute), more education on birth options, pain management options, the implications of all of the available options, possible interventions, likely scenarios and outcomes would probably see more women choosing to have delivering their babies “on the kitchen floor”, methaphorically or literally.

The Internet has been fundamental in faciliating access to less mainstream information. Think of how you use it yourself. I can only imagine the things I wouldn’t have known about pregnancy, labour, birth and being a mother if I was relying solely on books I could buy in my local bookshop. As an example, there’s a large bookshop in my local village which is well stocked with pregnancy and parenting material. On separate occasions I’ve gone in there looking for Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, What Mothers Do, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Better Birth Book and they’ve had none of them. They kindly offered to order them all for me but my point is I knew to ask. How would others know? They’d most likely choose from whatever was available on the shelves and why wouldn’t you? I only discovered these books through researching online and speaking to women who were interested in having or have had a similar birth and child rearing experience as me. One of the first books I bought before I got pregnant was The Irish Pregnancy Book: A Guide for Expectant Mothers. I would be fairly confident that if this had been my only reference book throughout my pregnancy, I likely would have had a number of stressful unwanted and unnecessary interventions and a negative birth experience because I took the book at face value and would have done everything it told me to do. It’s written by a consultant from the biggest materntiy hospital in Ireland. What could possibly be more authoritive than that?

So I’m making a call for a redrawing of “woman”. Rather than making her two characters: the educated, well-read, independent, and free spirit unburden by offspring versus the uneducated, ignorant, cleaning, baby factory let’s combine the two and call her Everywoman: educated, well-read, independent, free to do whatever she likes at home or not, and free to choose not to have children or have as many children as she wants any way that she wants. Lots of women have this choice, many women do not but let’s do our best to make Everywoman someone every woman could be, if she wanted to. Let’s not cheat ourselves by accepting the stereotypes. Like the title of Sinead’s article, women are gaining power, page by page and when it comes to giving birth, women should be regaining power, page by page.

How long is 90 seconds?

I’m feeling all inspired and fired up by the Olympics today! It’s been a great two weeks. I have such admiration for all of the athletes whose hard work, dedication and natural talent is literally written all over their bodies.  All the television rules in our house were suspended.  There’s nothing but goodness to be gained from watching the physically and mentally elite of the world!

Usually a detractor of boxing, I’ve become a fairweather fan during the last fortnight like most of the country although in fairness I’ve had my husband whispering in my ear for years about the skill and discipline of the sport.  I have suited myself that in the safe confines of the spirit of the Olympics that it’s about the expertise, experience and talent but not about being punched violently about the face and head.

how long is 90 seconds? Mind The Baby blog
Kate Taylor
Photo courtesy of

Watching Ireland’s new darling Katie Taylor box her way to gold was more like watching a dance than a fight which is a tribute to her obvious skill and talent. I am in absolute awe of Katie.  She really is such a trailblazer and a wonderful example to men and women alike of what can be achieved when you put your mind to something even when the world is against you. And such quiet confidence, what a superstar.

Another thing that struck me about the boxing was how short the rounds were – 3 rounds of 3 minutes for the men; 4 rounds of 2 minutes for the women – but then 2 minutes is likely to be an eternity when you’re repeatedly being punched in the nose. Just like 90 seconds can feel like an eternity when you’re in the throes of active labour. (How’s that for a segue? :))

You find it written everywhere in all the pregnancy literature about labour: contractions will last 90 seconds at the height of labour; stage 1, stage 2; early labour, active labour; increasing in duration from 30 to 60 to 90 seconds yadda yadda, yeah yeah, I get it…

I didn’t really get it until I went to my first prenatal aqua-aerobics class. I loved it! A bit of cardio, some good proper pregnancy proportioned exercise, a bit of wading around chatting with the other pregnant ladies and then at the end: the kicking.

What’s the kicking you say? So she lines us all up at the bar at the side of the pool:

At the height of your labour, 90 seconds will be the length of your longest contraction, she says.

Yeah, yeah, 90 seconds, I know that, I’m thinking.

So on my mark, she says, hold onto the bar and kick your mightiest until 90 seconds has passed and I shout stop.

Oh okay, I think, 90 seconds – piece of piss.

A random number of seconds in – because, get this, time is relative – I’m red in the face, gasping for air with absolutely no control of my breathing.

Oh shit.

She gives us 60 seconds to catch our breathe and then off we go again for another 90 seconds because THAT’S HOW LABOURS WORKS.

Double shit.

Although this time, I knew what was coming and managed to grab a hold of my breathing a little bit. My lungs were still on fire though.

We only did it those two times and suddenly the realisation of the actual possible length of 90 seconds in labour dawned on me…

I came back the next week and the next and the next, and each time my 90 seconds got shorter and I learned to know exactly how many deep breathes it takes for the 90 seconds to pass. It was eight incidentally, which meant once I got to four I knew I was over the hump.  Interestingly, when I was in actual labour my breathes really extended, particularly the exhale, and it ended up that it was four breathes per contraction but again at least I knew when I was on the way back down.

That preparation really stood to me in the end. Although I got a terrible fright the first time, it was a fright I needed to put things in perspective for me and the kick I needed to prepare myself.  Labouring women do far more rounds than Olympic boxers you know! But same as Olympic boxers, we take it one round at a time 🙂

If you haven’t tried it, give it a lash. Kicking, not boxing that is.

A shopping list for a homebirth

Of the 70,000 odd births in Ireland every year, only a couple of hundred are homebirths.  The Home Birth Association of Ireland say that for each woman who has a planned homebirth there are approximately another ten who would like to have one but can’t because of the lack of service provision around the country.

A shopping list for a homebirth Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: eyeliam via photo pin cc

When I began planning my homebirth about half way through my pregnancy, I found it difficult to find information on what I might need, once the hospital had covered off the big, obvious things like a birth pool and towels.  So I thought I might share with you here what I bought in the end and what was useful or not.  It might be helpful to some readers or maybe you might know someone thinking about a homebirth you could pass it on to. Other homebirthers, please chime in if there’s something you’d recommend that worked well for you.

1. Birth pool

One of my midwives recommended getting a birth pool for pain management.  The midwives supply gas and air but I found the pool invaluable and completely forgot about the entonox in the end.  I got my pool, the very lovely La Bassine, from Mary at For the love of your partner’s sanity, I would definitely test the bejaysus out of the pool before D-Day.  For example, make sure you know how long it takes to heat enough water in your boiler to fill the pool.  Make sure your hose is long enough to go from your sink to where you plan on having the pool.  Make sure you have the right hose connections to fit on the end of your tap so that you can connect the hose to the water source.  This took two trips to the hardware shop for us before we got it right!  We also purchased an eco hose to fill the pool with. I only had to read a couple of things about the number of chemicals in a regular garden hose to turn me right off that.  Incidentally, we considered the purchase of a pool as a disposable cost.  Most people reuse their pool or pass it on and  you can buy pool liners for this purpose. Myself and my husband know ourselves too well however and even before we had any idea what labour and a birth at home would like, we were pretty confident nobody would be willing or able to properly clean, sanitise and pack away the pool once the baby arrived. Considering our homebirth was being provided as a public service and at no cost to  us, we were happy to pay the one off cost of the pool which with all the accessories set us back about a hundred and fifty euro.

2. Tarpaulin to cover the floor in case the pool leaks

We bought a massive blue tarpaulin sheet that nearly covered our whole kitchen floor which cost about twenty euro. It turned out to be really handy because we had the reassurance of protecting the floor but we (well, my husband) was able to just roll it up and get rid of all of the mess in one swoop so there was no cleaning or scrubbing.

3. Bubble wrap

One of the midwives recommended that we have some bubble wrap to cover the top of the birth pool to keep the heat in when I wasn’t in it.  In the end, we never used it because my labour was much quicker than expected but I can see how it would be useful.

4. Cheap dark towels

We bought bales of towels from Argos, about a tenner each, to use during the birth.  Having shopped around, Argos were by far and away the cheapest for towels at the time although I’m sure depending on what promotions are going on, other outlets would have similarly priced ones.  Surprisingly, IKEA towels turned out to be quite expensive.  Again, we were thinking of the disposal aspect hence the attention to price.  The towels were multifunctional in the end.  The midwife used some of them to set up a comfy delivery area so that I have nice softness under my knees.  She also used them to wrap the baby in when he was delivered and then I used them for my shower, for putting on the couch just in case there was heavy bleeding and on my mattress for the same reason.  Obviously, the dark colour was just to mask any blood.

5. Plastic basin

Ah yes, the infamous basin from There was poo.  This one euro lifesaver from Tesco was invaluable for my projectile vomiting once active labour kicked off.  Again, straight into the bin it went.

6. Plastic cups and straws

We bought a couple of big plastic cups – the hard, coloured ones rather than the flimsy disposal ones – so that we could use and abuse them without being concerned about breaking glass.  They were great because T just kept one topped up with ice cold water which he kept beside him on the floor and he just lifted it to my mouth with a straw in it between contractions.  Bliss! Actually we still have these.  Baby S loves to try and stick his whole face in them.  Another thing that was handy with these were ice bags so that we could drop cubes into the water to keep it cool.  The midwife suggested at one point that I might want to suck on the cubes themselves but I tried it once and hated it!  You just don’t know.

7. Tens machine

I found this really great at the very beginning, especially on my lower back.  Then I got to a point where I totally forgot about it until it started annoying me.  We rented one.  I’d highly recommend it.

8. Plastic jug

We bought a big 2 litre plastic jug which was a great way for my husband or the midwife to be able to pour warm water over my back when I was having contractions in the pool.

9. Cushions and a blanket

A trip to IKEA got us a whole bunch of cheap cushions and one lovely soft woolly blanket.  We used the cushions during labour and the delivery to provide a soft surface for my hands and knees. I have such fond memories of the cosy blanket. We wrapped it around ourselves and the baby over the first few days when we were in the living room settling in to feeds and naps.

10. Fish net/sieve thing

We bought a yoke to have to fish any bodily anything out of the pool.  It was useless.  There has to be a purpose built one out there.  If you find one, let me know!

11. Birthing ball

I used my birthing ball all the way through my pregnancy.  I’d bounce away on it every evening when taking in a little TV.  I didn’t use it during my labour at all but it was fantastic for the delivery.  I delivered on my knees, with my upper arms leaning on the birthing ball.

12. Heat packs

I’ve raved about these before but I’ll say it again, wheatgerm heat packs are the business. Once the midwife had settled myself and the baby on the couch, the next thing she did was heat up the lovely heat packs and pop them on my shoulders.  They were aching after the birth and some nice fleecy heat was exactly what they needed.

13. Face cloth

The face cloths actually came within the towel bales I mentioned above but they’re worth singling out because they were lovely to have pressed on my forehead and then to wipe my face after they had been dipped in cold water.

14. Roll of plastic bags

To throw everything in to!

15.  There were a number of other items that we got in to the house especially for the birth that we just never got around to using.  I think though if my labour had been longer we would have found them useful:

– Massage oil

– Fruit juice in small cartons with straws

– Honey

– Granola

– Yoghurts

So there you have it! Anyone have anything else they’d like to add to the list?

Public breastfeeding: where do you sit?

Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week for another year. I thought I’d top off my trilogy of breastfeeding posts for the week by looking at perspectives of breastfeeding in public. When I say perspectives, I’m specifically talking about sitting on one side of the fence as a woman who has yet to breastfeed a baby and what that looks like and then hurtling over that fence to sit and see the view from the other side as a mother who, above all else, has to feed her hungry baby who doesn’t necessarily know whether he’s in public or not.

Public breastfeeding: where do you sit? Mind the Baby blog
photo credit: c r z via photo pin cc

Before Baby S came along, I always thought that I would breastfeed.  I can’t really put my finger on why because I wasn’t breastfed myself nor had any exposure to breastfeeding growing up.  The first real interaction I had with a breastfeeding woman was when a friend of mine had her first baby and when she fed him in my company, whether it be in the comfort of our respective homes or out and about, I was always super keen to be seen to be supportive. I wasn’t 100% sure how to do this and maybe in hindsight I should have asked her but in my mind I was actively concentrating on treating it as perfectly normal, carrying on the conversation or doing whatever it was that we were doing.  The one bit that used to throw me was where to look: should I be making eye contact with her and not look at the nursing baby? Or should I move between the two? Or should I have been looking at her breasts to acknowledge the nursing going on? The things we tie ourselves up in knots about when we’re aiming for political correctness!  From the other side of the fence now, I wouldn’t even notice this careful positioning of the eyes of my companions.

When it came to my first “public nursing”, myself and a new friend also with a tiny two week old decided we’d provide moral support to each other and headed to the local coffee shop to try it out.  Nobody paid a blind bit of attention to us and we were only delighted with ourselves.  Although in fairness, we live in a part of Dublin which I might go as far as saying could be the, if not one of the, breastfeeding capitals of Ireland, so we were not an unusual sight by any stretch.

After that initial success, myself and Baby S found ourselves out and about quite a lot and very quickly my concern about other people’s reaction to my breastfeeding dissipated when it became obvious that the needs of the screaming, starving baby – who literally went from nought to ravenous in seconds – seriously outweighed my concern to be mindful of passersby and I now think there isn’t a man, woman or child in the whole of Dublin who hasn’t seen my breasts at this stage.  There is nothing like the sound of an insistent hysterical infant to focus your attention and block out all else around you.

I’m an old hat at it at this stage and I couldn’t care less where, when or how I feed.  Not that Baby S gives me much choice any more as he has become adept at launching himself at me across a room and nuzzling his head between my breasts! Only on one or two occasions have I felt uncomfortable but I think I might have been picking up on a vibe from people around me. I’ve often wondered how I would react if anyone passed a comment to me and I was always poised with my speech about my legal rights and threatening an establishment with a hefty fine, but the opportunity never arose :). I know this comfort with public nursing isn’t something that everyone experiences and some woman prefer not to do it at all. Each to their own, I say but for me, it was pretty, pretty handy.

What have your experiences been as an observer or a nurser?

Public breastfeeding: where do you sit? MindThe Baby blog world breastfeeding week

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