Around about this time three years ago, I was labouring in my kitchen. It was a beautiful summer’s day and we had thrown open all the windows to let the light and air fill the room. Midsummer poured in on top of us. My husband and midwife were with me. I remember circling around the kitchen island, stopping every now and then to stoop down and support my body during a contraction, while my husband silently applied counter-pressure to my back. I remember being in the birth pool with him at my head breathing me through each surge while my midwife poured warm water on my back. I felt safe, so supported, strong…and happy. Continue reading The perfect birth
I think most mothers remember the birth of their children like it was yesterday, no matter how much time has passed. Sure how could any woman possibly forget such a powerful, life-changing day when their bodies did the most incredible thing and brought a new life into the world? They say every pregnancy is different and every birth unique, which makes perfect sense because even though the mama might be the same, we’re talking about a whole new different human being and all of their individuality playing such an important role in the pregnancy and birth process. Continue reading Share your positive birth story and photos with the women of Ireland
Waterbirth in Ireland was the theme of this year’s Home Birth Association annual conference on Sunday. If you were following me on Twitter, your timeline would have been bombarded with a blow by blow account of the day. Between myself and my fellow Irish Parenting Blogger David who was representing Birthingmamas on the day, I think there probably wasn’t one inch of the conference we didn’t cover!
The biggest take away for me was that water birth – whether you’re talking about just labouring in water or both labouring and delivering your baby in water – is most definitely not the preserve of women planning a home birth. Having access to birth pools in both hospital and home births is a great option for labouring mothers and the over riding recommendation seems to be “get thee to some warm water!”.
We heard great speeches from renowned UK midwifery lecturer Ethel Burns and Philomena Canning, Dublin-based self employed community midwife, who between them have over 70 years of midwifery and water birth experience. Ethel took us through her fascinating 2012 research on outcomes for women using a birth pool and Philomena spoke about her experience and the benefits of water birth.
Here’s some facts you may not have been aware of:
- All midwifery units in the UK have a birth pool. We have very few in Ireland
- Use of a birth pool during the first stage of labour decreases the need for analgesia (pain meds), results in less augmentation of labour, more spontaneous delivery, less infection, reduced pain perception and increased maternal satisfaction. That’s an awful lot of good things.
- Evidence also shows that using a birth pool results in more intact perinae, no increase in extensive perineal trauma, and no increase for minor or major primary post partum haemorrhage
- It is not necessary to wait until you are x many centimetres dilated to get into a birth pool. You can get in when you want to get it in.
- If you are interested in or planning a natural birth, Ethel’s research proves that both labouring in water, or labouring and delivering in water, increase your chance of having a normal birth. Ethel also pointed out that data shows that if you are a healthy first time mother with no complications, you are in a very high risk group for an emergency C-section. Getting yourself into water for your labour will reduce your chances of this happening.
Both Ethel and Philomena gave great tips on the practicalities of using a birth pool:
- Ethel recommended that the temperature of your birth pool should be slightly cooler than your normal bath temperature but said that you shouldn’t get hung up on temperature. Cooler is better and be comfortable. Philomena agreed that your own comfort was key and suggested a temperature between 37 and 38 degrees.
- Philomena stressed that the most important thing about using a birth pool is to make sure that your partner does a trial run of filling the pool beforehand. You need to know how much water you’ll need, how long it takes, that the hose, taps, nozzles etc all work together.
- From a timing perspective, Philomena recommended that if you’re having a home birth, don’t wait for your midwife to arrive before preparing the pool. Have it filled and ready to go before you think it’s time to call her – otherwise you mightn’t make it that far!
Philomena made three really important points about water birth and natural birth. She said that mothers will always benefit by going with nature as much as you can and that the great thing about a water birth is that it keeps your caregivers away from you and “hands off”. She also called water birth the epidural of home birth. Having laboured in a birthing pool myself I can attest to that last one and also add “but much more pleasant”. 🙂
You can access Ethel’s research at this link here if you’d like to read more. As was mentioned a number of times at the conference, birth pools are so widely available now and quite affordable, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t decide to have your own birth pool at home to labour in before going into the hospital if that’s what you wanted to do. Given the relatively few birth pools available in Irish maternity units it’s certainly something to consider.
There were a number of other topics discussed at this year’s home birth conference including policy developments in home birth in Ireland in the last 12 months and women’s rights in childbirth to choose both where and how they deliver their babies. I’ve covered those same issues here myself in the last couple of months so you might be interested in reading my earlier post, Giving Birth Is a Feminist Issue and my guest blog on Feminist Ire.
You might also like to read my Shopping List for a Home birth and for nostalgia’s sake, I started this blog this time last year the weekend of the 2012 home birth conference when Ina May Gaskin was in town so you might like to check out A Lot of Midwifery is about Loosening the Butt!
Happy water labouring!
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.
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?
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.