Sophie talks about normality in birth after the recent furore. For the original post go to Nurturing Birth Directory
I am so grateful to Juno Magazine for letting me reprint the article I wrote for their autumn edition about postnatal doulas – Mothering the Mothers.
JUNO is a natural parenting magazine that inspires and supports families through its range of features, columns and artwork. Established in 2003, it is published four times a year, in March, June, September and December. The editorial is broad, covering all aspects of family life for all ages. JUNO is loved by many readers for its articles that share personal experiences and reflections, and for the beautiful and striking images and illustrations from a range of artists.
JUNO is available through WH Smiths, independent retailers, online at www.junomagazine.com and as a digital edition via iTunes or exacteditions.com. All subscribers receive free access to the full back catalogue of issues in digital format.
I hope you enjoy!
Yesterday was my final volunteering shift of the year on the postnatal ward at my local hospital. Each time I go in I spend a few hours visiting with new mums and their babies and it gives me the most amazing opportunity to support women feeding their newborns. Every time I come away having learnt something new, having met more extraordinary women overcome challenges and find confidence in their new role as a Mum. I meet such a huge variety of women – from the really young to the more mature; the first-timer to the Grand Multip with five or more children; the under-privileged to the extremely affluent. And, at the point when I meet them they are totally united by this experience of having given birth. Almost without exception they are instantly catapulted into that maternal need to know that their baby is feeding, is getting what he/she needs and is thriving. The vast majority of women I meet have a desire to breastfeed – they know that their milk is what the baby is expecting to receive, know the benefits for both the baby and themselves, and have possibly even done some classes about feeding. So, why are there problems? And how are we letting women down in this country?
I was really fortunate, earlier in the year, to do a study weekend with an extraordinary woman and psychologist, Anna Verwaal. Her work is primarily around prenatal and perinatal psychology – a lot of what she had to say was extremely challenging as she believes that babies are affected and informed by the pregnancy they experience and the birth they go through. Not so great to hear for anyone whose experiences during those times are less than positive. However, the message I took away was that women (and families) need emotional and practical support not just in preparation for birth, but also in preparation for pregnancy. What a lovely idea to have fertility doulas, particularly for those who are treading that difficult path of fertility treatment, exploratory tests and miscarriage.
Time and time again the subject that new Mums bring to me is that of night-times and baby’s sleep. Often it is a couple or more months down the line, when the novelty of the newborn has worn off and life is settling in to a more predictable pattern. That is when we have emptied the sleep bank of anything that we stored during pregnancy, and when we are desperately searching for answers/solutions to sleep-problems.
Elizabeth Pantley, author of the No Cry Sleep Solution says that women believe that they have one of two options – to cry it out, or to live with it. And for most those are bleak choices. We are biologically programmed to respond to our babies when they cry, in fact the majority of mothers will wake a few minutes before their babies do at night – it’s like we have an inbuilt alarm clock. It therefore goes against the grain to let our babies cry for any length of time – it causes us distress, let alone our babies. And, there are more and more studies coming out about the psychological damage being done to babies by controlled crying, with emotive words like abandonment being used. However, living with a nocturnal waker can be a real challenge – we need sleep – in fact sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. So, what can we do. Do we have any alternative choices? (more…)
I’m not sure how many of you will have heard Woman’s Hour this morning where the subject was choice in birth. Once I got past Kirstie Allsop’s uncomfortable interview style, I found it interesting to listen to, amongst others, Belinda Phipps and Christine Hill discussing antenatal education. It is a subject close to my heart, given the work I do in preparing doula clients for birth, and also as I embark on antenatal class provision myself. There seemed to be unequivocal agreement that antenatal classes are good thing, but it is intriguing to note the divergence of opinion on what subjects are key to cover, and what can slip.
Thankfully the furore surrounding the birth of Prince George has finally died down and, with luck, Kate and William can get on with their lives without such an extreme media spotlight glaring. They have entered that phase that has become known as “The Babymoon”. This term was originally coined by the splendid anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger (who I saw last in Edinburgh in April – in her mid-eighties and as lucid and sharp as ever) to mean a time immediately after birth when the parents hunker down and spend time getting to know their baby. In fact, it is believed that fathers find the transition to fatherhood far easier if they do spend two weeks minimum at home after the birth. The babymoon term has been “stolen” by various travel companies to entice pregnant couples away to enjoy one last holiday together prior to the baby’s arrival, but we won’t dwell on that!
This week I went in to my daughter’s Year 3 class at school to give a talk about my job. I was a bit apprehensive, as I am sure you can imagine, thinking about all those 7 and 8 year olds running home and telling their parents about how they had learnt all about birth, breastfeeding and the like, so decided to focus on the postnatal and baby massage side of my job – on what babies need when they are newborn and how doulas can support mummies and daddies in looking after their precious new baby. My first question to them all was “What is a doula?” As expected very few responded, but one little boy, Spike, thrust up his hand. Surprised, I asked him; “I know Ab-doula, from Tintin” came the reply. I’m fairly sure from my rusty memories of Tintin that Abdullah is a man from the Middle East, so I said I didn’t think he did the same thing I did. When I told them that “doula” comes from the Ancient Greek meaning female slave they found that quite amusing. Not very women’s lib really is it!