Archive for the 'Birth' Category

Death and rebirth of a dream

NS May 10th, 2013

I stopped writing two years ago. Just like that, I stopped.

After six years of solid blogging across several websites, working hard to grow my audience and hone my skills, I gave up. My journalism degree was gathering dust while I was wiping snotty noses so I put it in a box and then up in the loft, its golden embossed letters a painfully-etched reminder that I’d never made it. My blog was popular in a small niche circle but I’d come to realise that a book deal wasn’t coming, a job at a newspaper or magazine wasn’t going to fall into my lap, and the possibility of being any kind of professional writer had faded into the sunset of my 20s.

I lifted my fingers from the keyboard, put the cap on the pen and deleted the feed readers, apps and Tweet Decks that had up to that point been daily sustenance, like air or water. I made a conscious decision to stop seeking out stories of injustice and oppression, the tales of sadness, tragedy and misery that were my bread and butter, creatively. Sure, I could also write about funny and heartwarming incidents but those were mainly to do with my own life and I was becoming increasingly averse to writing too much about my family lest I contribute to their therapy bills later in life.

So I stopped writing and concentrated on life’s simple pleasures, my doula business, my friends and my family. I felt an intense need to disentangle myself from the dark, overwhelming, distracting and all-consuming tentacles of The Internet and The News. No more did I want to read horrific and idiotic comments on news articles, or Tweet more with strangers than I communicated with my present-day, living and breathing friends. I started reading books again. I lost 15 pounds, went to a few new places, cultivated new friendships and tried to formulate new hobbies (though I never did get past learning two songs on the ukulele or three rows on my knitting needles). I chose to stroll amongst the roses and notice their sweet smell instead of their sharp thorns.

Yet at the same time I didn’t want to be a 30-something who never realised her dreams, morphing into a regretful woman or someone who was just happy enough. I had a supportive husband, two hilarious children who I loved with all my heart and a burgeoning business as a birth doula. I kept telling myself I should be happy with that and stop depressing myself with all the ‘might have beens’ and ‘could have dones’.

But I still wanted idealism and passion and the ability to do great and wondrous things, though perhaps at something more realistic than writing [It pained me to write that sentence, let alone think it. Something more realistic. Pfft. I am now a caricature of a TV sitcom dad who warns his artist son or dancer daughter that they have to choose a more pragmatic career and get their head out of the clouds]. I was also drawn to returning to work in a more regular, full-time capacity, in a career that would pay the bills if I needed to support myself. While Noble Husband and I have a very strong marriage and he’s always supported me being at home with the kids or doing part-time work, I know all too well that I’ve been disadvantaged economically and professionally because of the years I spent raising our children and writing for free or very little. As a feminist woman raised by a strong working mother, I’ve always felt a bit nervous about relying on someone else entirely for my livelihood. I’m already way behind where NH is in regards to pensions and I have to think about making some of that up so that I’m not destitute in my old age.

But what did I want to do? If I couldn’t move people and effect change with my words, I was going to have to do it with my hands and my heart. So I began asking myself: What makes you tick, Noble Savage? What do you care about more than anything in the world? What or to whom would you be willing to devote your life?

It took me awhile and I lay awake for many a night before finding the answer, which is: Women. Specifically, the appreciation, empowerment and advancement of women.I believe that women are so much mightier, beautiful, intelligent and capable than we ever give ourselves credit for. Women may not hold much of the power in law, government, religion or society but I have seen the inescapable, bone-shifting potency of raw female power in moments of life, death, birth, tragedy and joy. I see it in the wise eyes, strong hearts and clear minds of the women I’ve been blessed to know in my own life and those I’ve supported as a doula.

The epiphany settled upon me after one particular incident. I was in a hospital room, clasping a woman’s (my client’s) hands as the grey-pink light of a new day peeked through the frosted windows. She was looking directly into my eyes as she knelt on the bed and prepared to give the final pushes that would bring her baby into the world. She needed my presence to keep her grounded and so we were locked in this very tender embrace, our hands gripped tight and her head on my shoulder as she rested between contractions. Suddenly, her look changed from one of quiet determination to one of wild despair as she clenched my hands harder and whispered something I couldn’t hear. I asked her to repeat it. “I’m going to die, I’m dying” and said in a panicked voice, as if she had resigned herself to it and there was nothing more to discuss. I took her face in my hands and said kindly but firmly, “No, you’re not dying. You are so alive. You are giving life. And you are amazing.” She looked up at me, smiled, and on the next push her baby was born. Afterwards, she hugged me and told me that when I’d said those words and seemed 100% confident in her, that she suddenly knew that it would be okay and that she could do it. I left that room so high on endorphins, oxytocin and emotion that I still get a rush just thinking about it.

I guess you could say I had a spiritual awakening, but it had nothing to do with religion. What I realised is that my centre, my passion, my raison d’être is women, and that I had the capacity to help women in a way other than in my writing. Indeed, in a more physical, life-altering way.

The other thing I’d come to realise is that I love working WITH women too. I know many people bemoan all-female environments and I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I detest the idea that women are back-stabbing, catty, emotional vampires who will turn on a fellow female in an instant if she thinks someone is prettier, smarter, or getting more attention. I’ve never felt more inspired, empowered and safe as when I’m in a room full of like-minded birth workers. I was at a conference recently and the array of intelligent, kind, witty and determined women in my presence was almost overwhelming. I felt so lucky to be there amongst them, amongst people who, like me, want to help women and help make things better for us all. Sisterhood is powerful.

And so I decided, after this long, emotional process of reevaluating my dreams, that just because one dream may never come to fruition doesn’t mean it hasn’t served its purpose. Writing led me to politics which led me to feminism which led me to women. Women led me to motherhood and guided me through it, and so now I try to do the same by being there for them as a doula. And now I’m ready to take that one step further and become a midwife. I spent all of 2012 applying, interviewing, testing, waiting and hoping and just confirmed a couple months ago that I will begin training in September. Yep, I’m going back to university to get another degree, this time a BSc in Midwifery. Maybe I’ll even get the ol’ journalism degree back down from the loft when I qualify, so it’s not lonely up there on its own.

If you’d asked me 10, 5 or even 2 years ago if I wanted to be a midwife I would’ve looked at you like you were crazy. But now I know it’s what I was meant to do all along and that everything up to now was a stepping stone to this destination. After all, midwife literally means ‘with woman’. And with women is where I want to be.

My new project: Broken Birth

NS February 20th, 2011

You’ll have likely noticed that I’ve not been around very much lately. I’ve alluded to a new project in the works and promised that I would let you know what it is when it was finished. So, without further ado, my new website, Broken Birth.

This is the content of the About page, to give you a better idea of the site’s aim.

Serious flaws in maternity care are having widespread and detrimental effects on how women experience birth. It is breaking not only our bodies, but our spirits. Diagnoses of Postnatal Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of traumatic births are more commonplace than ever.

Contrary to popular myth — that birth is only one day in a woman’s life and that a healthy baby is all that matters — how we give birth has a knock-on effect on nearly everything else as we begin our journeys into motherhood: recovery time, breastfeeding success rates, emotional state, confidence in our abilities, incidences of depression, our reproductive and sexual health, interpersonal relationships, (dis)trust in our care providers and the maternity services as a whole, and whether and how we give birth to future children.

The Royal College of MidwivesAIMSDoula UKNCT and various other organisations with a vested interest in pregnant women’s rights and well-being are increasingly concerned with the startling lack of continuity of care, lack of choices in where and how women give birth, lack of evidence-based and woman-centred care and failure to gain informed consent or refusal when it comes to interventions. Severe staff shortages, restrictive policies and procedures and a growing culture of defensive medicine tie the hands of those working within the birth profession, making it nearly impossible for them to provide the service they know women deserve.

In a perfect world, my job would be eradicated. Families wouldn’t need doulas to help guide them through and protect them from the maternity services as they give birth on the conveyor belt of care one often receives on the NHS. But the system is broken. And now many of us believe that birth itself is broken, that our bodies are incapable of carrying out a process for which they were designed.

We can’t just slap a coat of glossy paint over the maternity services and hope the shine distracts everyone from the deep flaws within. Instead, we must repair it completely by uncovering all the cracks and then working at filling them in. Midwives and mothers, doctors and doulas, politicians and fathers…all of us must contribute. And as with any DIY project, it will require time, patience, the right materials, a sense of purpose and, of course, funds.

I want to restore birth to what it should be. I want to fill in those cracks so that no more women fall through them. If you do too, come on in. You’re in the right place.

Here’s what I’ve written about so far:

The danger of getting caught up in ‘the numbers’

Who’s talking about maternity services

The midwife shortage

Birth trauma

If you are at all interested in advocating for change so that women have better, safer births, please subscribe and spread the word to any like-minded friends and family.  You can follow Broken Birth on Facebook and Twitter too. I’d really appreciate help getting the word out to mums and midwives, doulas and doctors, fathers and feminists, and anyone else concerned with the state of the maternity services in the UK and around the world.

If I get a nice little following I can return to writing this blog more regularly so if you’d like to see more Noble Savage, show some love over at Broken Birth too. Thank you!

The call

NS January 2nd, 2011

Soon after I became a doula, I considered shutting down this blog.

I’ve grumbled before about the possibility of having nothing left to say or being tempted to throw in the towel but I can never quite bring myself to do it. This blog has been a major part of my life and, dare I say it, my identity for the past (coming up to) 6 years.

So I’m not going to shut it down. I may post more infrequently, or in manic bursts between silences, but I’m not ready to let go of the part of myself that still believes I am/will be a writer.

That said, I think I have a new calling.

When I became a doula, I wanted to help women have better births. After writing about, reading about and now even witnessing firsthand the terror and trauma that so many women go through (often unnecessarily) to give birth, I am even more devoted to not only helping individual women receive better care and become empowered enough to make their own choices, but to actively fighting to change the appalling state of maternal health in the UK and around the world.

Here are a few facts to chew on†:

  • If you are a north-western European woman, your risk of dying in childbirth is 1 in 30,000; if you live in Afghanistan or Sierra Leone, your risk is 1 in 6
  • Every year over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth; 99 percent of them are from the poorest nations
  • Preventing unwanted pregnancies would reduce the maternal mortality rate by a quarter. At the moment, more than 68,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year
  • There are not enough midwives. One in four women in the world give birth without a skilled attendant present. Even in industrialised, wealthy nations, women are frequently left unattended or unsupported as they give birth, resulting in both physical and emotional trauma
  • Women in poor countries lack access to needed caesarean surgery; women in rich countries are subjected to too many. Both have dangerous implications for maternal health
  • The child of a woman who dies in childbirth is much more likely to die before the age of two

In the UK, David Cameron is revoking his campaign promise to provide at least 3,000 more midwives within the NHS, the minimum number needed to bring the service to a safe and acceptable level. Once again, as they do the world over, politicians’ lips do a lot of moving but their commitment to actually providing the funding and resources is non-existent.

Do we really matter so little?

NHS midwives are stretched so thin that at the Royal College of Midwives’ recent annual conference, RCM General Secretary Cathy Warwick painted a bleak picture of maternity services and warned that they are at the breaking point. In today’s Observer, on the front page, Warwick warns once again that if the maternity services don’t improve quickly, it is only a matter of time before it begins to break down completely, further endangering women’s lives and those of their babies.

If we can’t get maternal health right in even the most prosperous, wealthiest nations in the world, what hope do we have of bettering conditions in developing nations where conditions are much worse?

Even Dr. Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, today issued a warning that women who give birth at night are at greater risk for inadequate care due to staff shortages and inexperience because senior staff tend to work during ‘normal’ business hours. This, despite the fact that many women go into labour and arrive at hospital in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning. I’ve personally heard countless stories of women in full-on labour being turned away because there just aren’t enough midwives to cope and being sent to another hospital, A&E or being forced to give birth unattended in a waiting room, corridor or car park. It does paint a rather worrying picture, doesn’t it?

That’s why I’m working on a new project, one that will hopefully combine my passions for birth advocacy, feminism and writing into one big ball of justice-seeking, anger-tinged-yet-hopeful blogginess. I’m hoping that all will be revealed in the next few weeks so watch this space. I do believe that 2011 is going to be a busy, busy year.

Bring it.

†All stats taken from ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad For Business’ by Gabrielle Palmer

Photo credit

Yeah, I did get a medal for birth

NS October 1st, 2010

My son turned two a couple weeks ago. At various points in the day I thought of where I had been in labour and made sure to stop and mark the moment when he had been born, at 4.32pm. When I thought back to his birth, I smiled. I remembered it warmly and fondly and with more than a little joy.

His entrance into the world, in our home, went just as I had hoped. While it was obviously intense, I did not consider it horrendous, overly painful or traumatic. At many points and up until I was nearly ready to begin pushing him out, I was smiling and laughing, so excited to meet my little guy and in awe of my body’s intuitiveness and primal, biologically-designed power.

If I could recreate and live through that day again every year (without adding to my family each time!), I would. Every contraction, every push, every soul-shaking guttural groan, every everything. I want to feel it again because it made me feel so utterly alive, so connected to myself, so grounded and yet so light that I felt as if I could simultaneously meld into the earth with feet of stone and fly far away, up into the clouds.

But I didn’t write about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share those feelings of nostalgia and joy. I kept my mouth shut and my head down because that is what is expected of me.

Our modern cultural narrative of birth tells me that my experience, my story, does not exist. It’s either all in my head or a bunch of hippy claptrap designed to make other women feel inferior and guilty. Enjoying birth is a privilege I am not allowed to have because so many others have been denied it, through circumstance or luck or whatever forces are behind the story of how our children are born.

Last year, when Noble Boy turned one, I surveyed my view at the apex of the mountain. I know I’m lucky to have even climbed that mountain and that it wasn’t necessarily anything ‘special’ I did or was or knew to get there. I don’t presume to have special powers that other women do not possess or more knowledge than those who had disappointing, interventionist or traumatic births. My birth is in no way a condemnation of anyone else’s. It is simply and only what it actually is: mine.

As a doula, an advocate for mothers and vocal member of the online birth community, I fight tooth and fucking nail for women’s right to choose not to give birth at all, to choose caesareans, to choose hospital birth, to choose narcotic pain relief and as many bells and whistles as they want. I do this alongside my advocacy for those who don’t want drugs, don’t want interventions or don’t want to leave their homes to have their babies.

I am a birth advocate because I believe in women’s autonomy and in their personhood. I believe in mothers’ ability to make their own decisions, lead their own lives and have their own experiences, on their own terms. I respect them. I trust them. I want the best for them.

So when my own experience is sidelined, marginalised, silenced, criticised, dismissed and ridiculed, it hurts. It hurts a hell of a lot. I have to choose my words very carefully when relaying my son’s birth and be sure to throw in self-deprecating remarks and pay penance for not finding it horrible, lest I hurt anyone’s feelings or make them think I’m ‘smug’. The accusations of superiority and patronisation are sometimes implicit and, often times, outright explicit, said to my face with defiance and what appears to (sometimes) be glee.

I guess that’s because it’s socially acceptable to tell a woman she is crazy, ridiculous, smug, flaky, woo woo, arrogant or any other myriad of derogatory terms when she says childbirth was anything but a best forgotten ride to hell and back. Women who say they didn’t find it painful or even found it pleasant are told they are outright lying, the implication being that because the majority experience birth in one way, those who fall outside that ‘norm’ must be disbelieved, discredited or punished.

And no matter how this sounds to anyone, no matter how many accusations of insensitivity or insanity are thrown my way as a result, I think it’s completely ridiculous and more than a little sad that women having joyful, memorable, special (yes, sometimes even pain-free) births that changed them, moved them, empowered them — inexorably and unalterably for the better — are being silenced and shouted down lest anyone with a less-than-ideal birth get their feelings hurt.

How are we ever going to change that narrative and know of more women having positive stories if we don’t hear any or won’t allow them to be told?

I’ve spent months and years walking on eggshells, bending over backwards to make sure that I don’t offend or belittle or minimise other women’s experiences. I strive to face my own little creeping prejudices and biases and correct them before they turn into sweeping generalisations or proclamations of what is Best and True and Noble. I do my best to listen and learn and help when I can and only where I am wanted.

I have no interest in competing for gold in the Birth Olympics but I sure am sick and fucking tired of being told I’d better get off my high horse because there ain’t no medals in this here event, sweetie cakes.

Well you know what? I do have a medal. I have a medal of achievement around my neck and it hangs there, invisible, every day. When I want to feel good about myself or when I am doubting my capacity to cope with something life has thrown at me, I take it from where it hides beneath my heart and gather up all the strength from that place of calm and courage within me from which it came.

But no one else gave it to me, nor did I expect them to. I gave it to myself.

I mark my son’s birth as a victory not because I was competing against anyone else or because I needed to win, but because of how I felt about myself as I made that journey towards the finish line.

The thing is, birth doesn’t even have a finish line; it’s a starting point. So even if one woman’s didn’t go as she’d dreamed, even if that journey ended without the ‘medal’ she yearned for, she still finished the race and that, in itself, is pretty damn amazing. Us mothers are doing what billions of women have been doing for billions of years —  giving over their bodies and their lives so that another body and another life might grow and flourish.

Pretty fucking cool, right?

As Dr. Seuss says:

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose

I have no interest in marking out a path or prescribing a method or lifestyle of my choosing for others. Life’s not worth living if it’s under someone else’s thumb, in accordance with their wishes or in conjunction with their views. We’re all individuals and we’re all going to choose and experience things differently so it’s important that we extend respect to those whose life choices and experiences have taken them down paths divergent from our own.

I try my best to practice what I preach but damnit, I expect a little bit of that respect in return. Is that really too much to ask?

Here, at the apex of the mountain

NS September 18th, 2009

Evan birth

One year ago today, at this moment — the exact moment captured in this photograph — I possessed more presence of body, clarity of mind and connectedness with humanity than I ever had before. Giving birth to my son at home with no interventions or drugs was, hands down, the most amazing, mind-blowing, peaceful, empowering yet extraodinarily ordinary thing I have ever done. Not just because I felt proud of my body for doing what it was designed to do, or because I felt special or superior to anyone else, but because I’d learned so much about myself, and the power of women, in the process. I wrote:

Believing in birth and making it happen has given me a renewed sense of faith in myself, something I think was desperately needed. I now know that I have the power within me to do things I previously thought impossible or too painful. I can face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and with enough determination, organisation and knowledge, clear them easily. This was more than just my child’s birth – it was my rebirth. I’m not a religious person and I don’t even consider myself spiritual, but I do know that I’ve never felt more alive, more connected to humanity or more powerful, yet so humble. If that’s not a sacred experience, I don’t know what is.

Since that event, my committment to fighting for a feminism that includes mothers in a way that doesn’t marginalise,  patronise or demonise our experiences with pregnancy, childbirth and parenting has grown — especially those that do not mesh with modern-day expectations or norms. My feminism is not just about making sure women have the right to NOT have babies (though that is profoundly important); it’s about giving them the right to choose HOW and WHERE and WHY they have those babies, if that’s the path they’ve chosen. Fighting tooth and nail for reproductive rights and talking about the importance of complete bodily autonomy should apply to birthing women as well. Telling a mother-to-be that she is endangering her baby by trusting her body and that she’d better submit control of her birth to a medical institution or professional that usually assumes the worst of our bodies, makes us believe we are fragile and ignorant and Other…well, it’s not very feminist at all, really.

I’m not talking specifically about home birth either, but ALL birth, everywhere. A woman who’d rather be in hospital, or who has no choice but to be there, shouldn’t feel she has to prostrate herself before an endless array of bureaucratic policies just to get quality medical care and make her own health decisions. We each deserve a birth that isn’t solely about the end result, but about how we experience it: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually  and socially.

Complete knowledge. Complete care. Complete autonomy. Complete respect.

Nothing else will do.

Happy birth day, The Noble Baby. To both of us.