Archive for the 'Doula' Category

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?

Digging my burrow of oblivion for self-survival

NS June 17th, 2010

It’s just hit me, sitting here in a coffee shop, why I might be feeling so fed up with blogging. It’s not because I have nothing left to say or don’t have the desire to write any more (because I obviously do –this post is proof!), or because the things I’ve become involved with lately are superior to blogging, or more fulfilling. It’s that I’ve always associated writing with changing the world, making it a better, fairer place with just a little less hate, violence, ignorance, prejudice and oppression. My writing has always gone hand-in-hand with my passion for social justice and one always influences the other.

The thing is, it’s only become clear to me lately that perhaps I will never be able to change anyone’s mind, that all of the hurt and anger and sadness I internalise when I read about all the horrific, ugly things in this world (and particularly our violent, patriarchal culture) is affecting my own happiness and well-being. It’s also been very difficult for me to admit that being part of the media may actually be contributing to many of these problems and that my idea that I would be different, I would get to write about the really important things, that I would convince my editor (in my mythical journalism job) to let me write authentically, honestly and without the influence of advertising, corporate interests and sales figures was the stuff of youthful naivety and arrogance.

And then what about my activism? If I couldn’t make it as a journalist I wanted to be the fiercest of advocates for those most deeply oppressed and wounded by man’s ills. I would march, stomp, kick, scream, campaign, shout and never, ever give up. But even then, I couldn’t find a way in. As a mother with two small children and limited income, I couldn’t get involved on anything other than a token level. Even jobs at non-profits and advocacy groups are fiercely competitive and hard to come by. Just because you have the passion doesn’t mean you have the right CV or connections or opportunities.

My once-ruthless appetite for news and politics has suddenly waned. I’d been a political bulimic – stuffing myself with as much information and indignation as possible until I felt I would explode and then regurgitated some piece or another, via a ranty blog post, to relieve the pressure. But then I slammed on the brakes, went from 60mph to 0 in no time flat. At first I thought it was election overload and that once that hopeless ‘coalition’ was in power I’d resignedly acquiesce and take up the mantle once again. I starved myself of news completely (now a political anorexic) and hoped that would do the trick.

Today, right now, I bought a newspaper for the first time in several weeks and sat down to read it. I actually felt apprehensive, nervous. I told myself I was being ridiculous and squared my shoulders as I nibbled my muffin and sipped my latte (a lefty if ever there was one) and examined the front page. I took a deep breath and started reading the cover story. First paragraph — ethic cleansing and systemic rape in Uzbekistan. The reporter didn’t just use those words though, oh no. He told us how a woman was questioned, bound, raped and then had all her fingers cut off before being killed alongside her small son. So far removed from the horrific reality of this atrocious act, the reporter was able to open with this, to draw us in for more-more-more.

Immediately tears sprang to my eyes and the familiar feeling of helplessness and anger bubbled up. But this time I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t force myself to do anything more than put my plate over the offending words — the gratuitous, sensationalist words — and bow my head as the tears slipped down the tip of my nose and onto the photograph of fleeing women and children, their terrified faces blurred and smudged by the drops falling on the ink.

This emotional frailty and feeling of helplessness is a strange, foreign thing to me and in marked contrast to when I’m running at 6.30 in the morning, along a gravel path where horses graze and then around a sun-soaked playing field where the grass glistens with dew. There, I feel powerful and free. I have air in my lungs, no thoughts in my head and it is just me, my feet, music in my ears and the early-morning creatures. Today I ran past a family of hedgehogs making their way slowly back to the wooded area beyond the path.

When I get back I check my phone to see if my client, the one belly-heavy with new life, needs me yet. Knowing I am going to witness something beautiful and wondrous and thrilling soon humbles me. I feel content, like this is what I was meant to do all along. For the first time in a long time I’m making things happen, not waiting around.

So, in the interest of self-survival, I need to believe, at least for a little while, that life is precious and wonderful and equal and free. I need to believe that the baby getting ready to make her entrance is not going to grow up in  a world mired in oil, marred by violence and folding in on itself. I need to pretend that she won’t grow up being told to be pretty and ‘nice’ above all else, that caring for her partner and children are all that matters, that her ability to make intensely personal decisions about her body, health, family, career and happiness are at the mercy of the two behemoths of moral proselytising; Church and State.

For just one moment, in the golden, glorious dawn of summer, I need respite. I will put my faith only in what I have control over and submit, for a spell, to what I don’t. I will strive once more to see the beauty and innocence and humanity on this planet.

Because if I can’t, even after trying, I’ll know I truly have nothing left to say.

On my shoulders

NS June 9th, 2010

I stood in Noble Boy’s room at 9.15pm last night, rocking him, singing to him softly and with tears running down my face. I was slightly annoyed that he wasn’t in bed yet, yes, but it was much more than that; it was the crushing weight of responsibility for his health and well-being.

Earlier in the day, he had had a scary episode upon waking from his nap, wherein he screamed and raged and kicked and writhed with such force and for so long (25 minutes) that for a moment I thought he was having a seizure or was choking.  He howled and turned red and bent his back in such contortions that I feared it would snap. The terror in his eyes mirrored my own. What was happening to my little boy? He arched away from me so violently that it felt like Rejection itself had inhabited his limbs. I sat on the floor and cried with him, both of us desperate for whatever it was to ease its grip.

Finally, it went. He choked out, “Mama!” and held his arms up to me, ready for a cuddle. He clung to me like a baby monkey and sighed great big hiccuping sobs into my neck. I rubbed and patted and sang and whispered and soothed. Fifteen minutes later he was running around after his sister, laughing and chomping on a snack. He was fine but I felt like a ghost for the rest of the day.

So that night, when he wouldn’t go to sleep and I heard him crying in his cot after NH’s third attempt at calming him had failed, I climbed the stairs once more and scooped him into my arms, even though I had a ton of work to do downstairs. He needed lots of cuddles and reassurance so I had a long time to stand there in the dark, thinking.

I was thinking about my first doula client interview, which is today, and the conversation I’d had with my mother-in-law when I’d had to ask her to come watch the children while I raced off to the dentist at 4pm and then straight onto a train at 5 to be with the client at 6. Noble Husband would leave work early and be home by 6 to relieve her, would that be okay? It was, but only just. She had other plans and would have to change or delay them accordingly. I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt frustrated.

This work-life balance stuff, the childcare arranging and juggling, the endless ‘favours’ being called in — it’s all on my shoulders. I’m the woman, I’m the mother, I’m the one who has to try to carve out a career after her other commitments have been met. For my husband (and most other ‘breadwinners’) it’s the other way around; work comes first and family is squeezed around its looming pillar of worth. I can’t go anywhere or do anything on my own without my mental tally of who I can count on, what time x or y has to happen and how early I can get NH home. It’s exhausting.

Taking care of these little people all day, trying to make a career work and creating my own sense of self…it’s really difficult to feel confident and autonomous when you’re dependent on others for everything; their salary and cooperation (NH), their flexibility and willingness (mum-in-law) and your children to not to scoop the contents of your heart out, day by day.

Eventually, I realised that NB was not going to let go of me and settle in his own bed so I carried him through to mine. I laid down beside him and stroked the soft skin of his arms and face as he took comfort in the warm milk and closeness my body provides. He drifted off to sleep, finally. And even though my eyelids were heavy and I wanted to stay with him, to stay cuddled up with my baby, I knew a mound of paperwork and dishes awaited me downstairs. I disentangled myself from his embrace and crept away, stealing one last glance at his face in the moonlight.

Sometimes, the weight on my shoulders is lifted just long enough to set me afloat.

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