While You Were Away…

parenting-word cloudAs some people may have gathered from my last post, something’s stirring over here at Spirited Mama!

I am indeed, still alive and still as spirited as ever. I decided that it was time to dust off this blog and breathe some life back into it. My life moved away from blogging for a while, I didn’t feel I had much to say and was focused on writing my fiction. But my mama bear is stirring and has things to say again.

It’s funny how life is this constantly shifting current, taking us from one place to another, often seemingly without us controlling it at all. There is definitely an ebb and flow to energy and that changes the course of our lives.

beach1So what happened while I was away? The Munchkin is now 6 years old and the Bean is 3. How did that happen? I’m also now a single mum. Both kids spent some time at a Montessori nursery, but are now both at home full time, so you can expect to see lots of posts about home education and parenting in general. I’m still nursing the Bean, and am a vocal advocate of full term breastfeeding, so that might come up from time to time too. I don’t have as much to do with supporting women and families with their births, but still admin a VBAC support group online and keep half an eye on the state of birth in the UK, so if something catches my eye I’ll probably mention it here. I want this blog to continue to be a resource for those with birth choices to make, even if that isn’t my primary focus these days.

Aside from parenting, what else has happened in the last few years? I’ve published two novels and a short story in the Echoes of the Past series, with novel number three due out this summer. I’m currently running a crowdfunder to raise funds for my publishing costs, so if anyone would like to contribute and help out this single mama trying to earn a living from her passion, then do please hop over to my Pubslush page and chip in what you can. But this blog isn’t about my books really, so I won’t be bombarding you with promos and the like, don’t worry. You might see a few book reviews of kids’ books though!

I’ve also really embraced Twitter, hence the title for this post. It’s become my favourite social media platform in many ways. It’s not great for holding conversations, but I love it for connecting with other people and keeping up with their news. Sometimes it is like shouting into a crowded room though, so I try to engage with people to make it meaningful to be there. Follow me via the link below!

I think that’s all from me for now. Check out my social media links below and hit the “follow” button to keep up to date with new posts here. I’m really looking forward to jumping back in to this crazy world of #pblogging with you all!

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Working With NOT Doing To

This is a topic I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now, but a discussion on Facebook this morning has nudged me to grab the little window I have while the Bean sleeps. As parents, we all strive to do the best we can for our children, there are a few different theories about exactly what is “best” and parents from differing schools of thought can have quite passionate disagreements on it. What the hubby and I feel is best is unconditional and attachment parenting. Let me preface this with the confession that we are not perfect, we often do not live up to our parenting ideals. We lose tempers and shout, we say things to the Munchkin that we regret and we spend many evenings despairing about things that have happened. But we chalk it up to experience and promise to try harder.

According to Alfie Kohn, there is ample research to show that children develop best into independent, free-thinking, compassionate and hard working adults if they have parents who give them unconditional love, who steer clear of punishments and rewards and practice “working with” rather than “doing to” parenting.

“Working with” parenting includes giving your child control over their own life, with appropriate limits, of course; so for example, allowing your child to choose their own clothes each day and dress themselves, to the best of their ability! Parents aiming to work with their children might also be sure to give explanations for boundaries, rather than expecting them to be adhered to without question. You won’t hear a working with parent saying “Because I said so!” Negotiation and compromise feature heavily in the working with household. Instead of rewards and praise, a working with parent encourages their child with descriptive responses, such as “I see you doing forward rolls, you really controlled your body and landed just where you meant to.” This gives the child the opportunity to evaluate their performance for themselves and decide how they feel about it. The child might respond with “Yeah, but I was a bit wobbly as I stood up, let me have another go,” or perhaps “Actually, it made me dizzy, I think I’ll stop now.” They learn to motivate themselves and take pleasure and pride in their achievements and to recognise their own limits.

Discipline“Doing to” parenting consists of using punishments and rewards, forcing children to behave in desirable ways. The foundation of this type of parenting is the belief that behaviour is more important than understanding. So for example, a doing to parent might force their child to apologise for accidentally hurting another child, with no regard for whether their child actually is sorry or not. When a child does not immediately follow the parental rules, a doing to parent might confiscate a favourite toy, force the child to isolate themselves for a period of time (time out) or possibly even use physical force, such as smacking. On the flip side, a doing to parent may use rewards and praise as well as, or instead of punishment. Rewards might be very material, such as food or toys, or they might be in the form of a sticker chart. Praise is the verbal reward system and is also quite damaging. Dishing out “good job”s or “well done”s is Pavlovian, pure and simple, it is behavioural conditioning. It teaches children to do something solely for the treat, like a good little puppy. This means that when the reward is no longer offered the child is not motivated to do the task. Alfie Kohn references many studies that have found this result in his book Unconditional Parenting.

Conditional, or doing to parenting hinges on the belief that children are inherently wayward and bad. How many times have you heard phrases such as “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”, “You’re making a rod for your own back” and so on? These comments come from a very dark view of human nature, one that asserts that children must be trained to behave in acceptable ways through systematic use of punishments and rewards. Bad behaviour must be discouraged through punitive measures and good behaviour must be encouraged with rewards; because no normal child could possibly be capable of doing the right thing for its own sake and all will be utterly selfish without punishments to keep them in check.

I don’t subscribe to this view at all. I have seen for myself how kind, well mannered and thoughtful the Munchkin can be and we have never forced him to say sorry, please or thank you. We have never put him on a “naughty step” or told him to do as he is told with no explanation. Today he pushed over the Bean in a scramble to get trains out of the toy box, I swooped in and picked up the Bean as he was very upset. The Munchkin was told, sternly, that he isn’t to push his brother over because he could get hurt just like this. The Munchkin took himself off for a minute and came back to us looking very solemn and said “I want to say sorry to him.” And he did, and gave his baby brother a cuddle.

time-outI’m not going to sugar coat things. Does the Munchkin sometimes (often?!) refuse to eat his nutritious home-cooked dinner because he would rather eat chicken nuggets? Yes! Does he get in a strop over the slightest thing and refuse to help tidy his toys away at the end of the day? Yes! Sometimes it does not matter what we do or say, he will not be cooperative and we find ourselves tearing our hair out in frustration. It is so tempting to yell, to punish him in some way. In truth, that would be the easy option. It is easy and on some level satisfying to yell “Go to your room!” in those situations. Would this be the lazy option? Sometimes, yes. Though I think most parents don’t realise that there is an alternative way, all they know is what they experienced as children and what well meaning friends, family and strangers are telling them to do, as well as what they see on TV or read in baby training manuals. Working with parenting is certainly not the easy option. It is so hard to push aside your own anger and pull your stubborn child into a loving hug instead of yelling. It is utterly exhausting to repeat the explanations for the dozenth time in 48 hours.

But he is three.

This is what I tell myself when I have to remove myself from the room in order to avoid shouting. I take a moment to breathe deeply and compose myself and I say to myself “He is only three”. When I am calm I can go back, give him a big hug and explain to him gently why I would like him to do, or not do something. Even if I just had to explain the same thing five minutes previously. Because he is three and he is still learning. It would be unreasonable of me to expect him to be able to control every impulse, to totally understand and have mastered his anger, jealousy and fatigue.

What about as children get older? Do punishments and rewards become necessary then? How about in schools? Do teachers need to use these tools in order to control their classrooms and get through the curriculum?

Well, I believe that as children get older unconditional love becomes more and more important because they become much more able to comprehend consequences and subtle behaviours. For a fantastic and thorough exploration of communicating with children of all ages, I highly recommend the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I hope that my teenage sons will be able to come to me or their dad if they are being bullied, or have feelings for someone that they need help understanding, or any other problem they may have. Knowing that they are truly accepted by us, no matter what they do or feel will be the foundation for open and honest communication. If they feel that they will only be valued or respected if they behave a certain way they will be less likely to come to us with the difficult problems life can throw at us.

As for schools, well that would be a whole other blog post, I fear. I strongly believe that schools can employ working with principles and some alternative models of education do so very effectively, such as Steiner and Montessori. However, very few, if any, state schools even try to do this. The “better” schools may steer clear of punishments as best they can, but they seem to feel the need to compensate for this with praise and rewards. Alfie Kohn has written books and run seminars for educational professionals, but I haven’t read any of this work. I assume it is of the same high standard as his Unconditional Parenting book and gives teachers and school administrators the knowledge and inspiration to change to a working with model. However, this is difficult within the current state system here in the UK as schools have little autonomy and are inspected by a governing body (OFSTED) that is unsympathetic to alternative models of child care and education.

school-disciplineI feel that sending a child to a “doing to” school can undo a lot, if not all of the good work that “working with” parents are doing at home. I would hope that children would still feel secure in their parents’ unconditional love and that this would be a good enough springboard for them to go into adulthood with all of the things parents wish for their children. However, I fear that detentions and A grades would be the undoing of most children from unconditional homes. My parents raised me in a pretty unconditional manner, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t see in myself the same weaknesses that Alfie Kohn talks about and I attribute this to the schools I attended. I think it is important for schools and parents to work together with children, to have the same foundations and approaches, in order for children to truly thrive. The alternative, and the one we are intending to pursue is to home educate. Though we have applied for a place at a couple of local schools and are crossing our fingers that our local Montessori or Steiner schools get free school status, just to keep our options open. If the Munchkin did end up at the local state school, well, we’ll be buying the principal a few books to read over the summer 😉

Full On Full Time Mum

The Bean is 6 months old today! So I thought I had better find the time from somewhere to pop back here and actually write something. I’ve been quiet for some time, thanks to a little thing called LIFE! I honestly did not realise just how little time I would have with two children. No one prepares you for this at all, I heard it was hard work, but I had no idea that I would literally have about two minutes in the day during which I was not feeding, fetching, doing or playing with one of my kids. I’d heard those jokes about parents locking themselves in the bathroom for two minutes to themselves, but it really is true! I have found myself doing that!

The Munchkin rarely goes to sleep before 8.15 and the Bean won’t settle to sleep until about 10pm unless I am in bed with him. He won’t even settle in the living room with us, he cluster feeds and when he isn’t feeding or dozing in my lap he wants to play. The Munchkin doesn’t nap at home any more, only if we happen to be out in the car at the right time and the Bean naps on the go for the most part. At home it is rare for him to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time, so I have no time to myself in the day either.

I’m finding it challenging, to say the least and I have bleak moments where I feel tearful and frustrated. But I know that this time is fleeting and they both really do provide a lot of joy. So I guess it’s all worth it.

The Munchkin is utterly in love with his baby brother and now that the Bean is sitting up and laughing all the time the two of them can and do play together a bit, with the Bean grabbing the Munchkin’s trains and trying to suck them and the Munchkin tickling the Bean and laughing at his expressions and noises.

The Bean is massive. He was big at birth and has resolutely stayed that way. We don’t weigh him, but he has been consistently in a size or two bigger than his age, he is currently transitioning into 9-12 month clothes and we are constantly getting remarks about his size. Thank goodness we declined all involvement from the health visitors, I don’t doubt they would have been trying to persuade me to wean him early with such silly remarks as “He’s big so he must be hungry and you’ll never be able to feed him yourself”, I have heard this exact comment from a supposed health professional. Sigh. Well, to the naysayers, our little man has had nothing past his lips but breastmilk. Or at least, not until this week… at lunch one day I had just finished feeding him and sat him up in my lap. In the two seconds it took me to re-hook my bra he had snatched some lettuce off my plate and shovelled it into his mouth!

So we’re taking that as a sign of readiness for solids and so begins another adventure in Baby Led Weaning. We used this method with the Munchkin with great success and pleasure and are really looking forward to doing it again. The Bean has had a play with some pasta, carrot and turkey, but so far has just managed to break the food up with his two little teeth and then spit it straight back out. So he’s definitely just in the exploration stage and so we’re not presenting him with food on a regular basis, just every now and then.

He has also decided to forgo rolling and move straight on to standing. He wants to be up on his feet nearly all of the time and is almost cruising the furniture already. He is currently stood in hubby’s lap, grabbing hubby’s face in both hands and slobbering all over it. Ahh, happy times 🙂

G’Night all.

In Support of Invisible Midwives Everywhere

Today is International Day of the Midwife. A day to honour all of the midwives who have been a part of all of our lives, after all, even those people without children of their own were born themselves once and chances are, a midwife attended their birth.

Midwives are there for women and their families on one of the most important days of their lives. Midwives nurture women in their care, guide them emotionally and physically through pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Midwives save lives and witness daily the amazing entry into the world of new little people, quietly, confidently and with compassion. Midwives know when to sit back and be invisible, trusting women to birth their own babies and only coming to assist if the need arises.

Or at least they should.

Unfortunately the systems that midwives have to work within don’t allow them to do their job properly. They are forced to place time limits on the women in their care, to intervene unnecessarily on a regular basis and to persuade women to birth in big obstetric units if their employer is under the false impression that these units will prevent law suits from happening. The fact is that home is the safest place for women to give birth, it is also the cheapest place. Continuity of care from a trusted midwife also results in better and safer births. It’s utter madness that the system doesn’t grab hold of these facts and embrace genuine with-woman midwifery.

All over the world, women and midwives face persecution and legal action against them if they dare to step outside of that system. Agnes Gereb, Hungarian midwife and obstetrician, is currently under house arrest for attending women birthing out of hospital. Even here in the UK, NHS midwives who work with women at the centre of their care face the possibility of harassment in the workplace from their colleagues. AIMS has a Midwife Defence Fund that people can donate to, this fund helps secure legal representation and cover other costs to assist midwives facing persecution. You can donate here: http://aims.org.uk/MDF/

Independent midwifery is scheduled to become illegal as of October 2013, due to red tape. The EU has declared that IMs must have indemnity insurance, but no provider on the market is willing to insure midwives working outside the system. Therefore, by default, midwives will no longer be legally able to practice independently.

IMUK has been tirelessly searching for a solution, but there is no option available that will allow them to continue to provide care during birth for women who are anything other than “low risk”, that is, “risk” as defined by an extremely conservative legal team in charge of defining NHS protocols, which is not always the same as genuine medical risk. Even if it were, women should still have the right to choose their care provider and place of birth.

If I am ever to have another baby, I would not be able to be cared for by a skilled and experienced midwife of my choice in my own home, as I have had two previous caesareans and am therefore “high risk”. The actual risks of a home birth in my situation are tiny and I should be free to choose to birth there with a midwife of my choice. The changes in the law mean that I am extremely unlikely to ever have a third baby and if I do, I would be forced to choose between the luck of the draw NHS service, who treated myself and my husband so appallingly three years ago, or to not have a midwife present at my birth at all. Basically, I don’t want another baby at all if I can’t have the same amazing midwife that I had for the Bean’s birth.

So today, on International Day of the Midwife, I’d like to shout out my support to independent, with-woman and invisible midwives everywhere who are striving to care for women and their families despite great personal risk. You are all superstars.

Three Little Words…

…and they are too small. Sometimes when I look at the Bean or the Munchkin I get so overwhelmed with emotion that I just burst into tears. “I love you” is too easy, the words are too small. There should be these huge, complicated words that truly convey the gravity of the emotions. I could look to other languages I suppose, “Watashi wa anata o aishite” sounds as complex as the feelings. Good old Japanese, a great language for making ours look abrupt. Or maybe the Romance languages do have it right, “Te amo” in Spanish and “Je t’aime” in French, short and to the point. In a way the emotion is simple. It’s raw, it’s fundamental and we can’t live a fulfilled life without it.

The love we feel for our children is so different from any feelings we might have for anyone else. It is completely unconditional and without question. Even when they drive us crazy love is still there. It’s there in the middle of the night when they just won’t sleep. It’s there in the park in the bright sunshine or trapped indoors when it’s pouring with rain (or snow!). It’s there when they’re sleeping in your lap and when they’re stamping their feet refusing to get dressed or eat or go to bed. It’s particularly strong when they are hurt or upset or unwell. And every time they tell you they love you? Pure magic.

Bedtime Battleground

So the Munchkin turned three today! I can’t quite believe it. I look at him every once and a while and I am just astonished by how tall he is, how well he communicates, how confident he is physically (he just recently started going up and down stairs/steps without holding onto anything) and just how grown up he can be. But bedtime comes around and I get a sharp reminder that he is a typical three year old and not the little adult he sometimes seems to be.

He is a real challenge a lot of the time; he is stubborn and fickle (yes, he can be both at the same time!), has a tendency to just completely blank us when he doesn’t want to do what we say, has complete meltdowns at the tiniest upset and is a bottomless pit to feed. But he is also bright, cheerful, gentle, loving and hilarious!

Bedtimes have become a battleground, much to my dismay. Bedtime now largely consists of the Munchkin refusing to stop playing in order to have his bath or go to his room for stories, refusing to take his clothes off, insisting things get done in a certain order and then changing his mind half way through, complete meltdowns followed by laughter-inducing games of chase around the house. I try to go with the flow, we are child-led in so many areas so it makes sense to me to be at least a little bit child-led at bedtime too, rather than mummy and daddy turning into these dictatorial monsters. I don’t want to fight with him. If he’s not ready to stop playing yet, then why not let him have another half an hour? If he wants 15 stories, then so be it. IF, and it’s a big if, at the end of it he will go to sleep a little more easily.

The problem is that’s not how it works. He gets overtired and even more prone to upset the later we leave bedtime. We have also learned from experience that that old adage “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” is actually true. For example, one cup of juice every once in a while had turned into complete refusal of water and tantrums if he didn’t get juice ALL of the time. We are working our way back from that particular situation and today he had lots of water without complaint. It helps if we don’t ask him if he wants a drink and just get him some water and put it where he can get to it himself when he’s thirsty.

I think there must be some middle ground somewhere with bedtime. The balance I try to go for, though I don’t always succeed as I’m often tired and trying to see to the Bean at the same time, is to compromise. “You can have one more go around the track with your train and then we’ll take your clothes off.” I also try to make things fun and not get cross with him for running around and making it a game. I’d rather he be laughing than crying.

The problem with this is that hubby is NOT on the same page at all. He wants the Munchkin in bed, asleep, by 7.30pm, as opposed to the 8.30pm that the Munchkin finally fell asleep tonight, so that he can have some time to chill out. I get that, I want that too, we’re both the kind of people that need some child-free time in order to recharge our batteries. But I am also realistic. We did have a really good routine a few months ago and what with the support of my parents, we had quite a lot of child-free time. But we have a two month old baby now. My availability for the Munchkin is dramatically reduced because I’m the only one with the boobs to feed the baby. Then there’s the massive emotional upheaval that the arrival of the Bean must be for the Munchkin.

Don’t get me wrong, on the surface, the Munchkin appears to be absolutely fine with the Bean, he is very gentle and loving with him and he comes home from Montessori or a day with my parents really excited to see his little brother. But it is noticeable that the Munchkin’s behaviour has become more challenging since the Bean’s birth, he also wakes in the night again now, when he had been sleeping through for months. When he does wake he is really upset, more than once he has told me he can’t sleep as he’s too sad. He can’t articulate what is upsetting him, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he misses being the only child and the centre of our world.

We made a big fuss over his birthday. He had a big party at the weekend, with all of his friends at a local farm park and today we went out with my family for a nice afternoon in the glorious sunshine. We’re trying hard to stick to our post-Christmas promise to minimise the presents and make the occasion about being together and enjoying new experiences, though it is very hard to convey the importance of this to others.

The clocks also went forward last weekend, so the evenings are suddenly much lighter and I am certain this has something to do with the Munchkin insisting that “It’s not bedtime yet!” He is also getting older and as children get older their body clock does naturally shift. I think he’s probably a little young for a 9pm bedtime just yet, but I accept that all of these factors are going to be having an impact right now. Hubby doesn’t. He gets so stressed and angry with the Munchkin that I find myself hoping that the Bean won’t need feeding during the Munchkin’s bedtime so that I can put him to bed instead of hubby doing it. But the reality is that by the end of the day I can be just as stressed out and short tempered as he is. Last night I had to walk away from the Munchkin as I got so upset with his refusal to cooperate.

I’m far from perfect, but I understand the Munchkin’s behaviour and I want to be flexible on this, I don’t want our household to be an angry one, not even for one hour a day, not when it’s every day like it is at the moment. So I am about to embark on a reading spree! I have a booklist, some of which I already own, others are on my Amazon Wish list (family – take note!)

  • Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
  • Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel
  • Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph
  • Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

It’s not that I believe in blindly following the advice in parenting books, far from it. I’m all for instinctive parenting; tuning in to our own gut feelings about the needs of our children. But sometimes you hit a blank wall and a few ideas to help you move forward are a good idea. And sometimes you are at loggerheads with your partner and need some proof that what you’re saying makes sense and has occurred to other people too.

Rebirth: A Second Chance

Rebirth. “A new or second birth”. A chance to start again, a chance to make new memories that heal the old ones. In terms of healing birth trauma a rebirthing might consist of re-enacting the birth in the way previously imagined or it might be a spontaneous and instinctive moment shared between mother and baby in the bath or in bed in the middle of the night.

After the Munchkin’s birth, someone suggested I try a rebirthing in order to heal emotionally from the trauma I experienced. But he was already about three months old, I wasn’t ready to let go yet and wouldn’t be for over two years, and the more time passed the less like a newborn he was and it just felt wrong to try. The very thought of getting my birth pool back out again made me burst into tears. So we never did it. I had to find healing from his birth the long, hard way and we’re finally there after some intensive therapy and an empowering second birth.

That second birth, however, was not the experience I longed for. Though it wasn’t traumatic in any way, it left me grieving. Within days of the Bean’s birth I knew I wanted to try a rebirthing. I needed to physically recover from the caesarean though and I needed to prepare in practical terms. I thought I wanted my midwife and doula to be there and was considering having the Munchkin there too, though at other times I felt I didn’t want him there. Getting everyone together at the same time looked unlikely when my doula gave birth to her own baby a few weeks after the Bean was born.

As the days turned into weeks I started to feel a bit desperate. My little newborn was rapidly developing into a strong baby and I was afraid it would get too late. So I decided to grab the opportunity as soon as the Munchkin was staying at my parents’ house for the night. Finally that moment came, 8 weeks after the Bean’s original birth.

Today, after an absolutely beautiful day out with friends to celebrate the Munchkin’s third birthday, he went home with my mum and hubby and I made our preparations. We inflated and filled the pool, lit candles and put on my birth music. I got into the pool and listened to the song that had been one of my hypnosis triggers that I used during pregnancy and labour, Chimes, a song by an unsigned band called Glow. I thought about being pregnant, remembered my blessingway and the hope and anticipation I had felt about my forthcoming birth. These memories touched some raw emotions for me and I began to cry silently.
I changed the music to the song I had wanted playing as my baby was born. I had played it on repeat for a long time during my actual labour when it seemed I would be holding my baby imminently: Firework by Katy Perry. Cheesy? Maybe, but when I first heard it I felt it was the perfect song to accompany birth. What a strong message of the power and awesomeness of a birthing woman.

Hubby got into the pool with the Bean and passed him to me under my arm and through the water. I brought him straight to my chest and held him, I told him how much I love him and explained that this was how I had wanted to meet him. The tears flowed with overwhelming sadness and joy and hubby snapped away with the camera to capture the moment.

The Bean was calm and alert, looking carefully at me and around at the strange surroundings. We spent a few minutes in the pool and then moved to the sofa, wrapped up warm, where I fed him and hubby brought me some food. It was the post-birth chill that we should have shared but were denied by the circumstances of the Bean’s original birth.

This rebirth doesn’t undo that birth, nor would I want it to. His birth was truly awesome, in so many ways, but it wasn’t joyful. Now I have new memories, the memories I had hoped to create and that does undo some of the emotional damage of his birth.

But it’s late now, so I’m signing off to go and curl up in bed with my baby.

Examining the Contract

I have been asked to write about the thought processes behind some of my birth choices. I’d love to detail every decision and all of the research behind each, however, I am a busy mum of two and do not have weeks to draft, fact check and reference such a post! What I can do is highlight a few key aspects and talk about them in general terms.

No VEs. Vaginal examinations are often thought of as an essential part of labour, few women seem to question their use and a great deal of emphasis is placed on “knowing” how dilated a woman is, both by health care providers and by many mums. The fact is that the use of routine VEs is not evidence based. Experts in normal birth agree that women do not dilate in a linear fashion and that time limits placed upon birth are unrealistic and have no place in normal birth. How dilated you are at any given examination tells you nothing about how quickly your labour will progress and some, notably Ina May Gaskin, speculate that the vagina behaves as other sphincters in the body and can actually close up upon intrusion.

For women planning a hospital birth or a water birth in or out of hospital, they will be led to expect VEs in order to assess whether they are in “established” labour or not and whether they are “allowed” to get into the pool. The whole idea of latent and established labour is undermining. It implies that women in the early stages of labour do not need or are not entitled to support and for women experiencing a long latent phase, repeated examinations with little to no progress can be extremely demoralising. As for getting into the pool, it is thought that getting in too soon can slow down labour. Well so what? If that does happen then surely she can just get back out of the pool. Besides which, what is the rush, exactly? Women birthing at home with a pool should feel free to use that resource as and when they feel the need for it. They do not need permission to use it.

An experienced midwife should be able to assess the progress of labour without these intrusive examinations, the woman’s behaviour, the noises she is making, the dark line that extends up from the anus and up the back and even the smell in the room are all signs that midwives can look for to give them an idea of how the birth is unfolding.

I have to emphasis at this point that about six or seven hours into my second labour, all the signs pointed towards a very imminent birth. I laboured in much the same state for another twelve hours before consenting to a caesarean. So these signs are not always reliable, but I would argue that they are no less reliable than VEs and in a normally progressing birth they are probably more reliable.

On a personal note, I felt that VEs were the cause of my first caesarean. I had intended to decline them, knowing how pointless they generally are, however when I was in labour I was told that I “had to” have them every four hours and I wasn’t in a state to refuse. Had I had a doula who could have reminded me that I didn’t want them and that I was entitled to refuse then perhaps that birth would have been different. I was having a long and intense latent phase, it took me twelve hours to reach 4cm. Each examination was painful and intrusive, disrupting my labour and crushing my confidence. This was reason enough for me to decline them second time around.

I did, however, ask for them when I was in labour because I knew that something was not right and I knew that some useful information might be gathered from one, such as the baby’s position, which can be found by the feel of the skull plates. I had to work quite hard to persuade my midwife that I really did want to be examined. She knew how strong my feelings on the matter were and she, quite rightly, wanted to make absolutely sure that I wanted one. I asked her not to tell me how dilated I was, I knew this information was irrelevant, but I needed to know if there was a reason why I had been pushing for hours already and felt no closer to birthing my baby.

No induction or augmentation. As a woman with a previous caesarean under my belt, the risk of uterine rupture was a hot topic. The real risk is tiny, 0.2%, but the use of drugs to induce or accelerate labour dramatically increase that risk. Even without a uterine scar, there are risks associated with this intervention, chiefly foetal distress. There are very few good reasons to induce labour, in my opinion. As long as the pregnancy is straightforward, and even some complicating factors warrant only a watch-and-wait approach, then there is no reason to interfere. I certainly wouldn’t accept induction for going “overdue”. You can see what I think about the length of pregnancy here.

As far as I am concerned, there was no good reason to augment my labour. Either birth will unfold in its own time, or urgent assistance is needed. My first labour was augmented. I was persuaded that my body wasn’t up to the task and I needed help to “coordinate” my contractions in order for my cervix to dilate. I begged for time, I really did not want to open myself up to all of the risks associated with the use of syntocinon, but I was bullied into it, told that my body had had plenty of time already and was clearly failing.

I can see how the use of synto has become so common, it is very normal for women to not labour well in hospital, the conditions are so far removed from those needed for birth to unfold naturally. In some situations augmentation may help to undo the damage caused by transferring into hospital, but for me, planning a home birth, this was irrelevant. I was only going to be going into hospital if me or my baby were in danger and needed immediate assistance.

Leaving the cord alone. I planned and had a lotus birth. I recognise that this is an extreme most people will not be interested in, however, the principle of leaving the cord in tact at least until it stops pulsating, is one that is gaining popularity. Research now shows that babies whose cords are cut prematurely are deprived of up to half of their blood volume and are more likely to be anaemic, suffer brain damage or develop autism. In a straightforward birth there is no reason whatsoever to interfere with this process and doing so is potentially very harmful. Where my view is considered a little more radical is in the belief that even in a complicated birth, leaving the cord alone is possible and even advisable. If a baby is compromised at birth then it needs all of the blood and oxygen that it can get, cutting the cord deprives them of both. Many people seem to be under the impression that a nuchal cord, that is, when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, is an emergency situation and that cutting the cord is necessary in cases when it is tightly wrapped. This simply isn’t true and this article explains why.

I’ll leave it there for now, but if there are any other aspects of my Birth Contract that you would like to know more about, please comment and I will do my best to explain my reasoning. Thanks for reading.

A Healing Birth Can Still Hurt

It’s a secret no one will tell you. My dear friend, and fellow blogger, Chloe, wrote about this recently. For those of us who have had traumatic births, we sometimes place a lot of hope on a subsequent birth, it becomes a lifeline out of the pit of that trauma. So what happens when that lifeline snaps? What happens when you don’t get the amazing birth you were planning? What happens when, like me, you get a birth that is far removed from the one you wanted but one that was not traumatic, in which you were completely respected and had your contingency plans followed to the letter?

My recent birth genuinely was healing and empowering. It was a positive experience, by and large. I was incredibly well supported, I was respected and listened to. I had all of my wishes listened to and accommodated where at all possible. I came out of it feeling elated that I had done something so rare and thrilled that people were talking about it. It might make a very real and positive difference for other women. My relationship with the Munchkin has improved massively. I can say with absolute sincerity, finally, that I gave birth to him. For years I could not say that, he was surgically removed from me, my caesarean wasn’t the same as giving birth. Now I feel differently and because the Bean’s birth followed such a similar pattern to the Munchkin’s, I can also speculate now that no amount of support would have resulted in a vaginal birth with him either. For years I was carrying this heavy weight around my neck: what if we had just done x, y or z? Well this time we did do x, y and z and it still didn’t result in a normal birth.

But there is a dark side to that realisation. For the first few weeks after the Bean’s birth I felt lighter. I felt relieved. But as time passed I realised the consequence… if nothing I could have done would have made any difference then why did my births both end in caesareans? If it was nothing to do with the support that I had, nothing to do with my antenatal preparation, nothing to do with the external conditions of my labour, then what is wrong with me? Because that is where my mind wanders, towards a reason. I’m not the sort of person who can just accept that “these things just happen”. Maybe once they do, but twice? Twice the same thing happened to me and my babies. To me that means something. To me that means that there is some sort of problem with me.

That’s a dark place to be. No matter how much those around me bent over backwards to make my birth as positive as it could be, no matter how close my bonds are with my children, I am still left aching emotionally. I am grieving for the birth I did not get. Again.

I know there will be people who think, and indeed, say, that I should shut up and be grateful that my babies are alive. I’ve heard it before, I’ve been told that I have “lost sight of what is really important” and to them I say: I matter. My mental health matters. My scarred uterus matters. My obstetric future matters. I don’t intend on having any more children, two has long been my theoretical limit, so right now I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that I will never, ever have a vaginal birth of any kind, never mind the beautiful home birth of my dreams.

There are three little words that I have read dozens of times in VBAC birth stories, three little words that carry such depth of feeling that I don’t think many people could fail to be moved by them and I expected to be uttering them myself: “I did it”. I will never say those words and that hurts.

So to all those wonderful, Very Brave And Courageous women out there who didn’t get their VBAC, or whose births have not taken them on the journey that they expected or wanted: I love you, I am crying with you and it is OK to cry, to grieve.

The All Powerful Birth Contract

My lotus caesarean was possible because I gave the possibility serious thought and planned for it, just in case. I discussed each aspect in depth with my independent midwife and prior to my labour she even floated the vague idea past the Consultant Midwife at the hospital, as a hypothetical situation, for her to discuss with her colleagues. When we arrived at the hospital we produced the following document, which details all of the conditions on which I would accept obstetric help. It is firmly worded, leaving no room for anyone to override my consent. I am so glad I had it and I am reproducing it here in the hope that others will be able to use elements of it, or the document in its entirety, to enable them to get the care and the birth that they are entitled to. It is written with the fact that I had independent midwives and a doula and was planning a home birth, however, it can be edited for those with NHS care providers and those planning a hospital birth. Please feel free to take what you can from it and share it with anyone you may feel would benefit from it.

Birth Contract

Baby expected: Early 2012

Planned place of birth: Home

Independent Midwives (IMs): ****

Birth Partners: ****

Onset of labour

If delivery prior to spontaneous onset of labour is medically indicated, I will only consider induction of any kind or caesarean section after very careful discussion with my independent midwife (IM) and husband.

Labour/Admission to Ward pre-section

I wish for my husband, IM and doula to have access to me to continue providing support, though I understand if this is only possible by rotating persons present in the delivery room.

My birth supporters have been given direct permission to advocate for me if I am unable to do so for myself.

I do not consent to vaginal examinations.

I do not consent to CFM without careful consultation with my IM about the possible risks vs benefits.

The birth space will be respected; anyone wishing to enter the room must knock and await invitation to enter, quiet voices will be used, lights will be dimmed.

I do not consent to the use of prostaglandins.

I do not consent to augmentation of labour with ARM or syntocinon. If there is a genuine reason to accelerate the birth of my child I will agree to caesarean section after discussion and agreement with my IM and husband.

I do not consent to administration of pethidine or any other opiate pain relief.

I will only consider epidural anaesthesia after careful consultation with my IM.

Birth & immediate post-natal period

I do not wish to be coached to push.

I will be using whatever position is most comfortable for me.

I do not consent to episiotomy unless an emergency situation develops.

I do not consent to ventouse or forceps delivery without consultation with my IM.

My baby will be handed directly to me for immediate skin to skin.

I do not consent to prophylactic administration of syntometrine.

I do not consent to premature cord clamping.

If my baby is in need of medical attention, it will be provided with baby in my arms or on a firm surface right beside me. There is NO NEED TO CUT THE CORD FOR THIS. I am planning a lotus birth, the placenta will remain attached to my baby, even in the event of a caesarean section.

My baby will be treated gently and respectfully; no vigorous cleaning, no routine suctioning of the airways.

I do not consent to routine administration of vitamin k. If the birth has been traumatic then I will consider oral vitamin k only and only after discussion with my IM and husband.

My family and I will not be separated. Provision will be made for my husband to remain with me and our baby at all times.

Caesarean Section

I will only consent to a caesarean section upon careful discussion with my IM and husband.

My IM is to accompany myself and my husband to theatre.

I do not consent to routine prophylactic antibiotics during surgery.

Anaesthesia should be in the form of spinal block, rather than epidural. General anaesthetic should only be administered with the direct consent of myself or my husband, upon the advice of our IM.

Voices will be kept low, as will lighting for the birth.

Forceps are only to be used to extract my baby after thorough efforts by hand have been exhausted. My IM will be watching.

My husband and I wish to discover the sex of our baby ourselves, no one else is to announce it.

The baby will be handed directly to me, uncleaned and with the cord intact and un-clamped.

Administration of syntometrine will be delayed until the cord has stopped pulsating. If this takes an unusually long time we can negotiate.

My placenta is to be kept attached to the baby and removed from me only after the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating. I understand the risks of my abdomen remaining open for this period.

If my baby requires immediate medical attention, it will be provided with baby in my arms or on a firm surface right beside me/between my legs. There is NO NEED TO CUT THE CORD FOR THIS. I am planning a lotus birth, the placenta will remain attached to my baby unless there is a clear medical need to separate them, not including resuscitation, as this can be done on a firm surface beside me. I do not consent to my baby’s primary source of oxygen (through blood flow from the placenta) to be cut off.

If I am unable to hold my baby immediately following birth then my husband is to be the primary contact.

If my baby does need to be taken from myself and my husband then my IM will remain with him/her at all times.

My baby will be treated gently and respectfully; no vigorous cleaning, no routine suctioning of the airways.

In the event of caesarean section, I will only consent to oral vitamin k if for some reason the cord has been clamped prematurely.

If the surgery takes place at night, provision will be made for my husband to remain with me and our baby.

Provision will be made for my baby to remain close to me at all times, including use of a co-sleeper bed/crib.

In the Event of Transfer for Retained/Adherent Placenta

My baby is to accompany me into theatre, as are my IM and husband.

My husband is to remain with me and our baby at all times, if admission is at night then provision will be made for him to remain with us.

Provision will be made for my baby to remain close to me at all times, including use of a co-sleeper bed/crib.

Feeding

I am planning to breastfeed and do not consent to my baby being given formula under any circumstances. If I am under GA then my husband and IM have permission to put the baby to the breast for me and express my milk to be given by cup or syringe. My milk or donor milk is to be given if I am incapacitated or unable to feed my baby myself for any reason.

I do not consent to the use of bottles under any circumstances.

Admission to Special Care

If my baby needs admission to the special care unit, my husband and I will be given unlimited access to our baby and we will be using Kangaroo Mother Care.

Please see feeding instructions above. If tube feeding is required for any reason, the milk MUST be breastmilk.