Tag Archives: childbirth education

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 www.mindthebaby.ie 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 www.mindthebaby.ie 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.

Information is power

photo credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) via photopin cc
photo credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) via photopin cc

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!