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.

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.

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.

Opening Eyes

I have to start by saying that the labour and birth of my second baby followed almost the exact same biological pattern as my first birth experience. This time, however, I have not come out of it traumatised. I am very sad not to have had the HBAC that I planned for and dreamed of for so long, but the birth I did have was instinctive, empowered and healing. I was respected, I had amazing support from everyone around me, my body and my decisions were truly my own and I have come through the experience without regret.

So my labour began with a few indefinable niggles during Friday 27th January. I was absolutely convinced that my baby wouldn’t be born until February, having gone to 42+2 first time around I expected a slightly longer than average pregnancy again. So I tried not to get too excited about the niggles, being only just 40 weeks. However, my brain felt like it was trying to shut down too, I couldn’t concentrate on anything and just wanted to clean my house! I sent my colleagues on Four Mums a message asking for them to find cover for me for the upcoming weekly topic and joked that my neocortex was trying to shut down for birth. It was a joke, but it turns out I was spot on. I contacted my doula, Vicki, as she lives some distance from us and I wanted to make sure she had a good heads up, so I told her I was niggling but that I would probably still be niggling in a week! I knew my independent midwife, Debs, had been at a birth that morning, so I sent her a text asking if her other client had birthed and I had the all clear to go. She replied in the affirmative and I let myself relax, knowing everything was in place.

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Entering the Birth Head Space

pregnant-beach-sunset-mother-51386

Before Christmas I decided that I needed to start winding down towards my forthcoming birth. I started cutting back on my volunteer and support work and tried to focus on me and my family. Christmas made it easy, plenty of family distractions. Entering January brought some challenges, it has been hard to stay away from the forums and groups that I typically frequent and to keep “work” at bay. If my professional life were completely disconnected from birth and parenting then I would just keep going, keep life normal for as long as possible in order to prevent days or weeks of waiting for birth. But my “work”, such as it is, is to support other pregnant women and new mums through problems they are having with their maternity care providers. I’m a sensitive person, I am easily emotionally stirred by the experiences of others and I find it extremely difficult to turn a blind eye to the problems of others. While this is a massive bonus normally, allowing me to fight passionately on behalf of others, at this point in my pregnancy I really need to focus my emotional energy inward, on myself.

There are others like me, with passion, enthusiasm and time to provide advice and support to those who need it. Acknowledging this and trusting them to continue to do so in my absence has been challenging, it is something I absolutely must do now.

A couple of weeks ago, my tribe of wonderful women friends and my amazing mum, came together with me to celebrate my pregnancy and the new life about to be born, in the form of a blessingway. It was a truly wonderful occasion, with friends coming considerable distances to join me for this, so much thought and attention had been applied by all, especially the lovely Jo who organised it. It was a deeply spiritual ritual, tailored to me and my beliefs, but hopefully open enough for those present to share in the thought behind it even if they came from different spiritual or religious backgrounds. Together we shared our fears and hopes, channelled energy and most importantly…. ate cake!

Henna Belly

In the moments since in which I have struggled to keep worries at bay, I have looked down at my henna belly, touched the beads strung upon the necklace made for me and imagined the women of my tribe encircling me. Feeling their energy and support around me and within me is a true blessing.

As I approach this birth, which could happen any time in the next few weeks, I will continue to remember that and draw on it for the strength I need to overcome the challenges of the end of pregnancy and to enter the head space I will need for birthing my baby.

I feel emotionally ready to enter birth, I’m prepared on a practical level too with everything we need gathered together and ready to use. We have had a trial run with the birth pool, inflating and filling it, which, of course, had to be followed by an evening spent relaxing in it by candlelight. So now it is simply a case of allowing baby to be physically ready to choose the day. This is the hard part for me, being gracious and patient, though I know and believe it to be necessary and worthwhile. I’m still a normal human woman, I am uncomfortable with my size now and not sleeping as well as I wish I could, I’m bursting out of all of my maternity clothes and constantly fending off the “When are you due?” question with my suitably accurate “Some time soon” response.

I was given some affirmations at my blessingway and have written more for myself since. I share some of them with you now.

I am a link in an endless chain of birthing women.

300,000 women will be birthing with me. Relax, breathe and do nothing else. Labour is hard work, it hurts and you can do it.

We have a secret in our culture, and it is not that birth is painful, it is that women are strong. – Laura Stavoe Harm

I am surrounded by love and support.

My baby will be born at exactly the right time.

Live every day, enjoy each moment of pregnancy, for it won’t last long.

Every day my baby grows more ready to be born.

My body knows how to grow and birth the perfect baby.

Every day my body is preparing for birth.

Use this time wisely.

For more Blessingway inspiration, please visit my Pinterest Board.

Switching Off and Being a “Normal Mum”

Twice in just a few days I have been in situations where it is probably best to switch off my campaign head and shut up, be a “normal mum”, whatever that might mean. The first of these was the first of two Natal Hypnotherapy workshops that hubby and I are attending in preparation for this birth and I didn’t do so well. The second was my aquanatal class today. I did better.

I’ve always found it hard to know when to shut up and keep my opinions to myself and have probably pushed a fair few people away because of it in the course of my life. When my passions are raised they tend to spill out of me, but I’ve worked hard to get it under control and generally I think I do a better job now than ever before.

When it comes to birth, it’s a bigger challenge than most issues I’ve felt passionate about in my life. It’s such an intimate topic, birth is the single most significant physical act that a woman embarks upon and also the one fraught with the highest emotional investment too. I know that birth can be amazing and I know that all women deserve excellent maternity care. I know that there are fundamental, systemic problems with NHS maternity services that prevent the majority of women from having the births they should have. I hate seeing women being trampled on and abused by their care providers and it makes me angry and deeply saddened that I can even use the word “abused” there and know it to be no overstatement or falsehood.

Last Friday at the Natal Hypnotherapy workshop, I had to tell myself not to go to it expecting that I would know everything already and to accept any new knowledge or tools presented to me. At one point, having answered every question about hormones and birthing positions that we were asked, I actually apologised and made an effort to keep my mouth shut to give one of the others a chance to answer something. I felt a bit like Hermione Granger.

One of the other ladies on the course is also planning a VBAC and I couldn’t stop myself from making suggestions about which interventions she might wish to think more about. I don’t think I came on too strong there, but over lunch discussion turned to placentas (yes, over lunch) and I went and mentioned the fact that we’re planning a lotus birth. I think the others were mostly just intrigued, until I went a step too far and mentioned consuming the placenta as another option. I suspect I came away from lunch looking like a very weird hippy.

This afternoon was my aquanatal class, which I go to for the exercise and “me” time. After the class we sit in the café for a chat and the first time I went it was just me and the two midwives who run the class. We had a fantastic chat and I told them about what I do and which groups I’m involved in. They are lovely ladies, very keen on what they do, which is helping women keep fit and healthy in pregnancy and they have their gripes with the NHS, and so no longer work within it. However, I do suspect that they don’t see quite the same problems that I do.

Today there were others present, one lady due in a month or so and another who had a home birth a few months ago, another lady due early next year. I was very grateful for the home birthing mum’s presence, as she was able to say some of the things I would have loved to say, but in a much more palatable way than I can sometimes be guilty of. She was a normal, non-campaigning mum, a mum who only breastfed her eldest for a few months (compared to my 2.5 years) and who told us that her home birth “bloody hurt” and that she had a third degree tear and had to have a spinal afterwards while being stitched up. She was absolutely supportive of home birth and said she would do it again if she ever has another baby, but she definitely wasn’t ever going to come across as the dreaded hippy-type or militant birth campaigner. Like me.

For the most part I just nodded in agreement with her. When the nearly-due lady asked if it was possible to hire a midwife privately, as hers is so rubbish, I was able to espouse the virtues of independent midwifery and I also mentioned doulas. I think I managed to toe the line I find so difficult, that of switching off my campaigning head and just being a normal mum, talking to another normal mum and hopefully pointing her gently in a sensible direction that will help make a positive birth attainable. Maybe next week she’ll be telling us that she’s booked a home birth and hired a doula. Maybe even an IM. I hope so, for her sake.