Call me a Chameleon!

Call me a Chameleon!

chainimage-chameleon-colorful-lizardimage credit: chainimage.com

As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.

Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words;  (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.

So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?

Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:

Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???

Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)

In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.

Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :

  • I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
  • I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
  • I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
  • I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
  • I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
  • I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
  • I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
  • I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
  • I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
  • I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
  • I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
  • I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
  • I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
  • I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
  • I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
  • I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
  • …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.

My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers,  recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.

Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!

I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a  full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.

I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.

What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?

  • Unconditional and continuous support

  • Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda

  • An open mind, an open heart and open hands

  • Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth

  • Positive and empowering communication

  • No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition

Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.

If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.

hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

 

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

I’m guessing you are here because your birth story included a Csection. Perhaps it was planned, perhaps not. Either way you are now healing from major surgery. OK, I know that technically speaking a Csection is not “major surgery” because the uterus – the giver and nurturer of human life – is not considered to be a “major” organ?!?! I am a woman, a mother, a feminist, and a doula in Amsterdam; and because I am writing this post we will define a Csection as major surgery here.

So you are healing from major surgery whilst also facing those intense cocooned days of living with your newborn baby, waiting for milk to come in, comforting and feeding your newborn baby, trying to remember to eat and drink enough yourself, not to mention your whole body and system recovering from 8/9/10 months of pregnancy…..

all. at. the. same. time.

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(Image credit: Helen Carmina Photography)

Now, as many clients and friends will testify, I am a great believer and fan of the body’s ability to heal itself miraculously – but given that there is so much going on for you after having had a baby, a major surgery and a major rite of passage – a little helping hand to support it in it’s recovery and reacclimatisation can go a long way to a happy healthy postpartum period.

Here beneath you will find a comprehensive list of holistic healing tips to help your body, mind and soul heal and thrive following a Caesarean birth.

Practical Hacks

# Bed and bedroom # Rework it for practicality’s sake. Leaving the remarkable ease of a hospital bed with hoists and levers and buttons to raise you up and down to your heart’s content can be a big shock to the system. When you arrive home head straight to your bedroom with someone on hand to do the heavy lifting (in NL we are so lucky to have Kraamzorg for this support) and make the necessary adjustments.

  • Make sure baby is close; to you and/or your partner. Consider safe co-sleeping to make sure they are really close. Having baby as close as possible will limit the moments where your heart might break a little bit as you are struggling to get up and reach baby.
  • Get something to step up onto your bed if it’s high, something strong and sturdy to hold on to as you lower yourself if it is low.
  • Set up an adequately sized bedside table (this may mean drafting in a larger or wider temporary table) which is big enough to house a big bottle of water, a tea pot full of tea (see below), a breast pump or a baby bottle, your mobile phone and it’s charger (maybe you will need an extension lead), a lamp suitable for use in the night, a muslin cloth, pain meds, and if there is any room left – a little bowl of healthy nibbles to be topped up by your loved ones every 12 hours – think fresh fruit, nuts, crackers, dried fruits, dark chocolate (it helps the oxytocin keep on flowing and boosts serotonin don’t you know?!)

# AIR to the wound as much as possible # Lie down whilst baby sleeps or is carried by your partner and just let clean dry air reach the wound – in the very immediate days that might mean that you need to hold the belly up off the wound as your body begins to reacclimatise to not having a full pregnant belly anymore.

# Nothing more than water! # In the first couple of weeks water is all that is needed to wash the wound; and the most important thing: dry it scrupulously (moist patches of skin can be breeding ground for fungal infection; see aromatherapy hacks for antifungal oils) – see the old cotton sheet tip hereunder – these strips can make soft, clean and reusable drying cloths too.

# Pain medication # Keep on top of the dose for the first few days. Double check with your healthcare providers if the pain relief you are prescribed is compatible with breastfeeding. Many medications work by building up a certain level in the blood; so when you take a dose set an alarm or get someone to remind you when you are due to take the next dose in order that your dose remains on an even keel and so that you don’t get caught unawares by intense pain.

# Big ‘Bridget Jones’ knickers # When lying naked in bed skin to skin with baby isn’t possible for whatever reason – big Bridget Jones knickers to the rescue. At least 5cm above your belly button (if you can find them!!!), 100% cotton, at least two sizes larger than you would normally wear (they will help keep the sanitary towels in place too!) and if you can bear it; have someone take a photo of you doing your most seductive hip shaking in these pants – so you never forget the comfort of these hip huggers!

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# Rip it up # Additionally, tear up or cut up an old cotton sheet – get it washed in a hot hot wash (60 degrees plus) and tear it into strips about 15cm x 25cm in size, to fold or roll up and to tuck between your wound and the aforementioned Bridget Jones knickers.

# One step at a time # Keep moving. Slowly but surely, a little bit more each day. Keeping moving helps our whole body to heal, regulate and keep functioning optimally through good circulation and good flow of the lymph and other fluids. Keeping mobile can also help to prevent a build up of trapped gases. You don’t need to head out of the door if you don’t feel ready, but stroll around the house, if you have a garden have a wander in the garden. Don’t carry or lift anything heavier than baby though remember, and do what you need to do to help your body feel safe and supported; even if that means physically holding your abdomen with your hands as you walk for a few days.

# Sleep When Baby Sleeps # The original and best restorative modus operandi for our bodies. Potentially easier said than done with a newborn baby; so I mean it when I say “Sleep when baby sleeps!” The washing, the cleaning, the ironing, the phonecalls, the social media updates can all wait: sleep is where the healing is at!

# “It takes a village” # Every family needs extra help after the birth of a newborn, but following a Caesarean birth, with rest being as fundamental to physical healing as it is; organising a meal train, or someone to come and entertain siblings or the dog, someone to put a load of washing on and peg yesterday’s load out on the line (you get the idea) can really make a difference to your peace of mind and the logistics of those early weeks. I can’t speak for elsewhere but I know that here in Amsterdam and elsewhere within The Netherlands, we have some incredible mother-led communities and organisations being initiated by volunteers that are easily accessible for all. You can find the Postnatal Support Network of Amsterdam here, and I have no doubt that you will find someone in your area that can point you in the right direction for help and support. If not: reach out to friends. You can set up a WhatsAp or Facebook group for those friends in your circle who can offer some support and get used to asking for what you need during the coming few days, weeks and months.

Food & Drink

# Water Water Water # Aim to drink at least 2 litres of pure water a day (on top of teas and broths). This is essential for rehydrating after surgery and a hospital stay which can be notoriously drying for the body. It also helps prevent infection, flush out inflammation and traces of analgesia and antibiotics, help keep the bowel and urinary tract moving and flushing, along with providing enough hydration as your body begins to produce breastmilk too!

# Wholesome Good Food # This is important however you give birth, but especially after a Caesarean. A varied, well balanced diet rich in protein, good fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre will help your body attribute the necessary nutrients to all the different bodily functions happening at once (as mentioned above). Foods which help to fight inflammation are also helpful for your body right now.

Spicy / Herbal Hacks

Get the kettle on!  Tea time!

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(head over here for the tea set!)

Nettle tea, dandelion tea, fennel tea and breastfeeding teas such as the Weleda tea will all help to promote breastfeeding but also assist your body in flushing out all the excess fluids your body produced during pregnancy, aswell as help your body cleanse out all the pain medication, anaesthetics, antibiotics and IV fluids that you may have received during the Caesarean and immediately afterwards.

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Warming spices: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric – hello Chai latte! In Traditional Chinese Medicine giving birth to a baby represents a serious interuption to the flow and force of one’s qi or “chi” as we commonly say in the West. It is therefore considered essential to post partum healing to replace the lost heat after any birth, but giving birth via major surgery is considered an even greater deficit in chi.

Also worth noting: turmeric is not only a warming spice but one of nature’s greatest anti inflammatory substances (over the counter anti-inflammatories include Advil/Nurofen/Naproxen), and is a galactagogue (a substance which encourages the production of breast milk) so turmeric can truly have a multitude of highly beneficial side effects. See this link for a wonderful recipe for a rich nourishing turmeric “golden milk” at no. 7 & a simple but tasty turmeric tea at no. 1 It is worthwhile noting that Turmeric is best absorbed by the body when paired with black pepper; again more info via the link above.

CAUTION

Raspberry Leaf Tea – whilst after any other type of birth I would encourage the use of Raspberry Leaf Tea, following a Cesarean I would encourage caution. Longer term certainly helpful as it is such a wonderful uterine tonic at any stage of a woman’s life, however for the first six weeks following the operation I would personally be limiting this tea to once every few days.

Peppermint Tea or Peppermint Oil – whilst normally both peppermint tea and oil would be wonderfully helpful after surgery on or around the abdomen for gas or trapped wind, following a C-section during the period of time where you are likely to be trying to initiate breastfeeding – peppermint oil is understood to interrupt milk supply and production. See instead the aromatherapy section further down the thread.

Breastfeeding Hacks

Find the position that works the best for you and your baby. Maybe it is sat upright holding baby in the “rugby ball” position. Perhaps you can lie on your side with baby adjacent to you (this might not be possible immediately after a Cesarean). If you are sitting cross legged it can be really wonderful to put a cushion or pillow underneath each of your knees as it takes the strain off your abdomen. If the breastfeeding pillow which you bought with every good intention in the world isnt working for you – don’t hesitate to try without!

Please head over here to KellyMom.com (a great source of breastfeeding information and support) for their take on setting yourself up for successful breastfeeding after a Caesarean birth.

Milk Production/Pumping – I just want to be upfront and honest that milk production can take a little longer following a Caesarean (and analgesia); and so pumping might well be suggested to “improve” or hasten milk flow. Please don’t despair, this does not mean that “you can’t breastfeed after a Caesarean”. In those early days it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain on your hands and knees, but keep in mind that in fact it is the first 8 weeks post partum which determines your milk production and flow, and each day you are probably noting that you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger: have faith – this too shall pass! All that said, given that it can be more difficult to initiate breastfeeding after a C-Section, if you have any pain or doubts about baby’s latch or your breasts, then make sure to consult a well recommended Lactation Consultant or Peer to Peer Breastfeeding Counselor to iron out any issues before they take route. Lastly; due to the IV fluid that you receive when you undergo a Cesarean birth combined with the fact that baby doesn’t withstand the compression of a vaginal birth; babies born via Csection can have a slightly higher birth weight than their vaginally born counterparts. This can in turn mean a slightly elevated weight loss in the early days…remember to bring this into any conversation about baby’s weight loss (even if it’s just a personal reminder to reassure yourself) and perhaps consider waiting one more day before intervening with supplementation.

Probiotics – after having been exposed from the inside out to bacteria which are so different from our own microbiome in an operating theatre, and then receiving a big dose of antibiotics; taking probiotics in the form of supplements, or drinking yoghurt or water kefir, or eating fermented foods like Sauerkraut can really help mothers and their babies readjust their microbiome from the inside out. Studies are showing us that our guts are fundamental to good health, and unfortunately also show that having a Csection can have a detrimental effect on our babies’ gut health. I say “can have” because I believe that we can redress this difference. The probiotics have a great impact on breastmilk milk quality but also on our internal healing as they can help to reduce gas, constipation and bloating which are common post surgery side effects. Of course if you choose to feed formula then supplementing your baby with a dose of probiotics for babies is a healthy supplementation. I personally have had positive experiences using Bio-Kult and ABC Dophilus probiotic powder for babies from Solgar.

“Skin to Skin” – this is so helpful for promoting bonding, breastfeeding hormones, improving the microbiome of the infant and mother, regulating temperature of mother and baby, and don’t get me started on the yummy squishy smell of the newborn. (Be still my ovaries!) Make sure your room temperature is warm enough, and snuggle up together in bed – include your partner too!

Aromatherapy Hacks

When using essential oils on the skin they should always be diluted in a carrier oil. Good carrier oils include coconut oil, sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil; all of which are readily available – some even in super markets.

Immediate post partum the ways that aromatherapy can work are not related to the wound but more to the healing going on in the abdomen, specifically helping to eliminate trapped gases or constipation with gentle light touch massage around the upper abdomen.

Fennel, cardamon, ginger; all helpful should there be any trapped gas, or constipation. If you’re feeling a little warm or your temperature is up then fennel with it’s slightly cooling properties would be a wiser choice. The other blessing here is that all three of these herbs and spices are traditionally used as galactogogues – substances that promote and enhance milk production.

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Please note it is wise to use only one drop of whichever one essential oil you choose to use on your body, as new mothers and their babies remain very sensitive to smells of all kinds (it is nature’s way of protecting the newborn). Dilute even one drop with a small teaspoon of carrier oil.

Rose, lavender, and chamomile to relax and restore. Bergamot and/or neroli to lift the spirits during the day. These essential oils could be used on a warm or cool compress on your face or your neck, or could be diffused gently in the room. Again; less is more.

Following the first 6 weeks of healing the wound should be healing nicely – or certainly appear to be doing so from the outside. From the six week point in the healing process, gentle massage and wound care on the skin can be supportive in successful longer term healing. Once again; go gently with the dosage – start with just one drop of whichever oil you choose in a teaspoon of carrier oil. Also, go gently with your touch and pressure – be mindful of how your wound is feeling. Start out for the first couple of months with light touch massage once or twice a week gently increasing if it feels comfortable; and then 3-4 months post partum introduce massage with an electric toothbrush or a vibrator (yes a vibrator!) if it feels comfortable for you. The gentle pulsation of the toothbrush or vibrator is thought to discourage adhesions from forming amongst tissue and organs.

Frankincense – a healing essential oil with antiseptic, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, it is also a cicatrisant (which means it promotes effective healing and regeneration of the skin/wounds/scars). It is also an effective digestive oil; when used externally through massage it can help to relieve trapped gas.

Lavender – wonderfully calming (but not necessarily the best essential oil to promote sleep as it actually improves mental function), antibacterial, antiviral and proven to be an effective essential oil for pain relief. It has also been understood to speed up the healing process of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns because it improves the formation of scar tissue.

Chamomile – antidepressant, antispasmodic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and cicatrisant (see above), wonderful for promoting skin healing and regeneration too; calming properties for even the most sensitive skin.

Carrot Seed Oil – antiseptic, antiviral & disinfectant, carminative (removes stubborn trapped gases), It stimulates both circulation and metabolic function; which in turn can promote good healing. Carrot Seed essential oil stimulates the growth of new cells and tissues. It also tones the skin and prevents it from hanging loose or showing signs of aging. It has a soothing earthy aroma and is known to promote relief from stress and anxiety, which having a refreshing effect on the emotions.

One last word of caution; even after the 6 weeks…go gently; especially if you are breastfeeding. One or two drops in a heaped teaspoon of carrier oil is more than enough. The body is so sensitive for the first 4 months after giving birth; and whilst essential oils are natural, they are powerful and can impact on the function of the uterus and the production and regulation of hormones amongst other things, so over use can result in heightened sensitivity.

Homepathic Hacks

I carry the Helios Homeopathic Childbirth Kit in my doula bag – always! I know many other doulas do, and I find it to be very helpful during all stages of labour, birth and post partum parenting. It has five powerful remedies in an adequately potent dose to assist inside out healing following a Cesarean Section too.

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Arnica: a common addition to many first aid kits, Arnica is useful for all new injuries, and can help reduce soreness, bruising, tissue damage, and bleeding related to surgical procedures. Very helpful for alleviating bruising, swelling, and soreness during recovery from most surgeries.

Bellis perennis: commonly referred to as Bellis Per. Useful when bruising and trauma occur to soft tissue, and/or to deep internal tissues after surgery involving the abdomen, breasts, or trunk-especially if a feeling of stiffness or coldness has developed in the area.

Calendula: to help complete the healing of deep wounds (a Csection incision means cutting through seven membranes) along with preventing inflammation, suppuration and infection at the site of the wound. Calendula also helps prevent keloid formation of the scar.

Staphysagria: useful when pain persists at the site of a surgical incision, or after procedures that involve the stretching of a sphincter muscle. It is also indicated after surgeries involving reproductive organs (prostate surgery, hysterectomy, C-section, episiotomy) or the abdomen, stomach, and rectum (including hemorrhoids). Staphysagria may also help after operations on traumatic injuries.

Hypericum: particularly useful for injuries, wounds and surgeries involving nerve rich areas of the body.

I took the remedies above for three weeks on rotation. The Helios Childbirth Kits include the remedies at a very potent dose (200c), so for clients I recommend two weeks at the strongest dose as included in the kit, then acquiring the same remedies at a lower potency (30c) for another week or two. For more specific advise on any other symptoms you are experiencing I recommend finding a qualified homeopathic practictioner in your area.

Rescue Remedy: another favourite from my doula bag! This is very helpful for the emotional side of the healing and coming to terms with the experience, along with those moments of potential overwhelm which come with just having had a baby, and are exacerbated by the intense aches and pains that come with Cesarean recovery. A few drops under the tongue when you feel like you need it; as an added bonus it is very “cleansing” for the body too.

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Psychological & Emotional Healing

Acceptance and Integration – these are simple, commonly used words which psychologically are the foundations of a healthy processing of any difficult experience in life, including difficult or traumatic birth experiences. First of all, tell your story as often as you feel comfortable sharing it. Seek out your partner, your friends and family, your healthcare providers, a therapist, your doula (or post partum doula), the neighbour, the dog(!)…anyone who can listen to you unconditionally and non-judgementally, and simply allow you to speak things out and recall things one by one to make sense of how it all unfolded. This is a very important step for your brain in processing the experience; this is one of the primary ways in which it organises difficult or traumatic events.

Journaling – could you find the time to write down a few words each day about your feelings about the Caesarean, your recollections, what you’re grateful for from the experience, how you feel you are healing each day, what disappointments and concerns  have come up for you that day? It doesn’t need to be worthy of Anne Frank; it might just be a list of words, it may be a collection of pictures or diagrams, you could use video or voicenotes. Again, journaling in this way can be incredibly helpful in assisting the brain to process the experience and not file it away as a trauma. The three feelings you should pay keen attention to and treat with extra special care are guilt, shame and fear; if these feeling persist then consider getting a referral to a therapist.

Support Groups – there is a lot of support, empathy and healing to be found in the experience of sharing birth stories with others who have gone through a similar kind of birth experience (particularly if that experience was far away from the experience that you were hoping for). It is important to find a group which is facilitated by someone who you feel safe with, and who can hold space for all members of the group, and who can be relied upon to maintain healthy, non judgemental, mature and open communication in the sessions. I know many birth workers (myself included – click here to join the Cesarean Support Network NL); midwives and doulas, along with coaches and therapists who host group meetings in person; there are also organisations such as the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN)  that have local chapters just about everywhere in the world. Facebook and other online forums also have a variety of virtual support groups which can be sources of tremendous value; especially when they are international and there are people online around the clock.

VBAC/ Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – one of the most difficult things I have read about women who give birth by Caesarean Section is that they are significantly less likely to choose to have more children because for many the experience of having the surgery, and recovering from surgery is too much to imagine going through a second time. I do maintain that some of that is because there is so little follow up care from health care providers, and somehow such a stigma attached to Cesarean birth that there are few resources out there on successful short, medium and long term strategies for healing successfully from a C-Section. Please keep in mind that the outdated adage “Once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean” is NOT TRUE. Many women go on to experience vaginal birth following a C-Section; so please don’t let your experience of having had a Csection put you off planning a VBAC. Most doulas have experience supporting VBAC; and as I do run a VBAC Support Group in Amsterdam, I hope to write a comprehensive VBAC post in the not so distant future *watch this space*.

Longer Term Healing Hacks (6 weeks +)

Keep working on Acceptance and Integration – this journey can make leaps and bounds and take long rests over many months and years.

Body work – consider seeing a chiropractor, an accupuncturist, an osteopath, a cranio sacral therapist, a somatic coach, a Mizan therapist, an energetic healer, or an Arvigo practitioner. Whilst the mind commands a lot of our attention, our bodies can often go ignored, and our bodies store a lot which actually we often need to release. Seeing any one of the therapists mentioned above (and there are many other types of physical therapy that can help – you need to work out what is good for you) could have a very supportive role in healing the body from the experience of surgical birth.

Massage or cupping – one of the potential complications with longer term healing following a Csection is adhesive scarring (internally). By massaging the area directly around the scar (as mentioned above with an electric toothbrush*** or vibrator), the adhesions are understood to be less likely to form. Gentle cupping (non therapeutic grade) around the scar after a few months can also discourage adhesions (extensive scar tissue) from forming. It can also be very beneficial for gently removing any inflammation and/or stagnation in the area of the scar; improving sexual response, improving the functioning of the uterus, and bringing blood flow, lymph flow and warmth back into the region. A great practitioner for this is Mirjam Heemskerk of Gentle Beginnings here in Amsterdam; she specialises in holistic recovery in the post partum period. You can visit her and her wonderful work over here.

 

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(I have successfully used my Philips Sonicare toothbrush for both excellent teeth cleaning and Caesarean scar healing! *** Not the brush end; the body of the toothbrush!)

Further reading

http://wellnessmama.com/25482/c-section-recovery/

https://www.burrelleducation.com/2012/c-section-recovery-an-holistic-viewpoint/

http://www.modernalternativepregnancy.com/2013/01/26/what-are-the-best-natural-ways-to-recover-from-a-c-section-and-weekend-links/

What can you add??? What worked for you??? 

Leave your comments with your own tried and tested healing hacks, or your experiences with the suggestions above – would love to know if this helped you in anyway.

“Doula Amsterdam”   “Amsterdam Doula”   “Doula in Amsterdam”   “Holistic Doula Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula”  “Doula services Amsterdam”   “Amsterdam Doula Support”   “Birth Support Amsterdam”   “Amsterdam Birth Support”   “Doula Support Amsterdam”   “Doula Amsterdam”  “Amsterdam Doula” “Ilena Doula” “Doula Ilena” “Ilena Standring”

 

 

Is There a “Right” Way to Give Birth??? (A piece shared from a guest blogger at BloomaBlog)

Is There a “Right” Way to Give Birth??? (A piece shared from a guest blogger at BloomaBlog)

Is there a “right” way to give birth???
Here I am sharing a well constructed, short and sweet piece here on the author’s Liz Hochman’s opinion about the answer to this question.

http://www.blooma.com/right-way-give-birth/

I invite you to visit her web page here: http://minneapolisdoula.com

 

Thank you Liz; your piece really resonates with me personally and professionally.

 

I agree whole heartedly that there IS a “right” birthing outcome, that it’s not really about a “right way”or “right mode” of giving birth. I love this quote from your piece:

“Is there really a right way to give birth? Yes. The right way to birth, is the way that matches your values, takes account for your health history, and leaves you feeling empowered, strong, and capable when you are holding your baby. Notice that I did not say the right way to birth is a mode or method of delivery.”

It’s certainly not about ‘naturally in the sea on a remote tropical island with dolphins chanting encouragingly’ VS ‘an elective Csection booked in on the date that suits you 5 days before your wedding anniversary’.

 

There is no “VS”.

 

> It is about the mother feeling safe.

> It is about the mother (& father) having access to all information and statistics on the pros and cons of their choices.

> It is about feeling autonomous in her choices; both whilst formulating her birth plan, and in the eventuality that in the unfolding of the birth story there are some unexpected developments.

> It is about feeling supported and nurtured by her partner, by her family and friends, by her community and by her health care providers whatever her choices throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and the post partum period.

> And I would hope the cherry on top would be that however birth unfolds; that the outcome is she recognises her body and her feminine power for the very miracle that they are…that her body made, housed and birthed a baby!

 

What does this article bring up for you?

Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

You’ve all read the headlines, the sensationalist introduction to link to new studies on the latest medical research, the byline underneath the headline:

“Moms beware! C-section may harm your baby’s ‘concentration’ “

“Mother’s agony as anaesthetic wore off during C-section”

“Are women losing ability to give birth naturally? They’re relying too much on C-sections and drugs, says expert”

“The mothers made to feel guilty about their C-sections by OTHER MOTHERS”

“A study revealing the prolongation of labour, thanks to epidurals, has been useful in identifying the iatrogenesis – doctor induced harm – at the root of the cesarean problem”

“BIRTH IS THE KEY in breastfeeding: a natural birth unlocks breastfeeding potential and so much more”

“Induced labor may double the odds of C-section”

“Cesarean birth without labor associated with breastfeeding problems say two new studies”

“C-section babies more likely to become overweight”

Then we have the commonly rolled out “statistics” on how having a doula attend your birth means a “40% decrease in the risk of having a cesarean” or how “One-to-one midwifery care reduces C-sections and improves health care”, and the ever so helpful article entitled: “How to reduce your risk of having a Cesarean”, followed by a provocative article asking “Once a Csection, always a Csection???”….I saw that one and thought of the brave, courageous ladies who come to share their hopes and fears in the VBAC Support Group and thought “oh dear – how would you be feeling about your planned VBAC after reading that tagline?”

There I was, scrolling away on my Facebook page the other day – and the newest well intended article about how Csection babies seem to have a higher chance of having Autism, ADHD, obesity related illness, a bad temper*, longer eyelashes*, multiple nipples*, a recurrent ingrowing toenail* and a tendency to smile later* than babies born via the vaginal canal popped up in my news feed. Following my own positive experience of a C-section and subsequently well documented break up with the Natural Birth Movement these articles do intrigue me and I almost always click in to read them, review the science, consider the message and absorb what I can to support my son’s health. I read the article and noticed my mood had worsened. So I observed the feelings, felt them. Fear, worry, dismay, guilt….and then the thought struck me:

“Are these articles doing more harm than good – are we perpetuating fear of Cesarean birth and contributing to birth trauma by doing so ???”

First of all it is important to say: I don’t know the answer. I don’t believe that there is a binary answer to the question. I’m questioning whether or not I should even pose the question publically or just ponder this further alone?! As a disclaimer I will also point out that I have no science to back up this question or subsequent questions.

The criteria for experiencing birth trauma are well clarified by the Birth Trauma Association with a very clear list of potential contributary topics which contribute to birth trauma.

  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section

These are two very clear very distinct definitions from a list of sixteen identified contributary factors. How do these events lead to trauma in some mothers but not others? They are not unusual birth outcomes. Is it the physical trauma of the body within these birth circumstances leading to a psychological trauma, or these birth circumstances having been feared/dreaded/denied as a possibility by the mother/never considered as an option meaning that when these circumstances unfold in this manner; the subsequent experience is therefore psychologically traumatic? It’s a bit of a chicken vs egg anomaly. How could we ever really study the impact of having read articles denouncing the perils of Csections on any women, let alone a wide ranging statistically meaningful group of women? Perhaps the only thing we can really do is to be conscious of the question as we encounter another article with a shocking headline?

When it comes to the notion of birth trauma and headlines like these contributing to birth trauma; the more comprehensive question would be

“By repeatedly using sensationalist and confrontational headlines when we publish these studies and their findings regarding birth by Cesarean are we:

a) setting women up with irrational fear of a procedure that sometimes becomes inevitable in an emergency?

b) paving the way for great disappointment in not “achieving” the optimal spontaneous vaginal birth?

c) laying the foundations for trauma by inherently invalidating and dismissing many women’s experience of birth by cesarean as suboptimal? ”

I certainly don’t believe that if we are perpetuating the fear of Cesarean birth in this way that we are doing so consciously – although unfortunately I have seen well meaning birth workers commenting on how “graphically violent” an image of a baby being born by Csection was (which seems a little counter productive to the notion of unconditional birth support).

I read the research, studies and their findings keenly (despite the way the headlines are worded) as a birth professional too; as I stand for informed choice. Informed choice in childbirth should be fundamental, always – whether the choice comes in an emergency situation, a semi emergency situation or even as a choice earlier in pregnancy. I can see and have seen that risks, benefits and options are not always explored fully with expectant or labouring families by medical professionals; and so I can see that by using sensationalist headlines information comes to parents through other channels which otherwise they may not encounter. New research which is consistently being conducted means that sometimes people who made a certain set of choices a few years ago, may well discover something that would affect their decision were they given the opportunity to make the same choice again now; sometimes those people are deeply effected by these articles too. I hope their concerns can be somewhat allayed by reminding them that we do our best with the knowledge that we have at the time.

Above and beyond being crucial in women having all the information they need to make informed choices for their families, the publication and sharing of the research is important and meaningful in the evolution of how we collectively approach birth as mothers, fathers, birth workers, health care providers and policy makers; how medicine and medical protocol advances; and how we can best support our babies’ health post partum, throughout childhood and onwards into adulthood; catering to the specific needs which are unquestionably sometimes a little different to babies who are born via the vaginal canal. This is wonderful as we are actually able to develop practices like seeding the microbiome of the mother’s vaginal canal into the newborn baby’s body post Csection, in order to best replicate some of the benefits of vaginal birth. For more information on this practice head over here. It means that the procedure of the C-section itself can be adapted to offer the mother and baby some of the psychological and physical benefits of spontaneous vaginal birth by performing “Natural C-sections” or at the very least “Gentle C-sections”. For a personal account of a Natural C-sectionby a mother who took part in a study currently being conducted by UCLH in the UK please head over here.

It does seems clear to me though, that some of the aforementioned headlines could be perceived to be perpetuating fear of Csections; intentionally or not.

The question does then broach the bigger picture of the presentation of birth within mainstream media, and the notion of birth as a feminist issue (although birth as a feminist issue deserves it’s own book – let alone a blog post!). I was reminded of the visual presentation of health crisis in the media recently when my beloved grandfather had a heart attack and said a number of times to the emergency healthcare providers; “I can’t believe I’ve had a heart attack – I wasn’t rolling around on the floor groaning in agony with a puce face at any point”. Women’s impressions of birth from mainstream media are often equally misguided, and can range anywhere from “I gave birth on the toilet – I didn’t even know I was pregnant” to “my waters broke as I left the expensive department store, I gave birth in the taxi on the way to the hospital into the taxi drivers hands” to “I fainted in the street and was rushed into hospital via blue light straight into theatre to be put under general anaesthetic and my baby was delivered by emergency C-section”. Certainly any of these situations are possible: but all fairly unlikely. The reality is that there are many opportunities for you as parents to ask questions, discuss your desires for your birth plan, discuss and negotiate the “What Ifs?” or grey areas of birth preferences, and to sometimes even say “I hear that the protocol states we ought to do something to further the progression of my labour right now; but I do not want to and am not ready to agree to any intervention”. Indeed when looking at the reality of pregnancy and planning birth preferences; there is usually very little ‘high drama’ to attract big audiences or a large readership(!)

What can we do with this question? I’m not even sure: doula it? Hold space around it? Consider that client we know who is currently going through the fog of PND or PTSD after having experienced a birth outcome she wasnt anticipating? Consider the heightened intuition of the client who is 39 weeks pregnant and who we know who is digging deep for faith in her body as she prepares to VBAC after having stalled last time she laboured at 3cm? Consider holding space for those clients and others like them before we repost the article unthinkingly and unquestioningly?

It feels important to me to ask the question of myself and the communication I contribute to the discussion around birth; specifically via Caesarean birth.

And so in the name of desensationalising Caesarean birth, in the name of anecdotal evidence to allay your fears about the shocking headlines telling you the dangers and suboptimal outcomes of Caesarean birth: let me finish by telling you the last chapter of a beautiful birth story of a mummy and baby boy I know very well (ahem ahem blush blush) who ended up meeting eachother in the bright, blue, loving and gentle theatre of the OLVG through a stargate wound as opposed to having met in their living room after the full journey through the vaginal canal.

It wasn’t what they had planned.

It was exactly what the mother had feared the most.

But it was beautiful, truly beautiful.

It was deeply healing.

It was what she needed, despite having had a doula, an independent midwife and a best friend as birth attendants to try to  avoid it.

It was a whole host of things underpinned by a whole host of emotions; but it was their unique, wonderful birth story.

She experienced that heart burstingly ecstatic moment right there in the theatre.

The wonder.

The bonding.

The magical miracle of birth, albeit a different kind of magic to the magic she’d been hoping for but magical all the same.

Breast feeding worked out.

The wound healed perfectly and quickly with no infection or complications.

And to date there are no health issues to report in her son, partly because she reads all the articles she can on the health impact of Caesarean birth, and makes the choices that feel right for her and her family in order to best mitigate any “potential long term health impact”.

Words can’t always express the emotion of birth; but I believe these photos capture some of them – a big big thanks to Claudia Van Dijk (midwife from vive: vroedvrouwen in verbinding who took them.

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*Please note* no studies currently prove any link between babies who are born via csection to having a higher chance of having: a bad temper, longer eyelashes, multiple nipples, a recurrent ingrowing toenail, or a tendency to smile later (you’ll be glad to read).

What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

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As a coach and a doula I do a lot of networking online. I was very grateful yesterday to receive this very honest and curious question from an expectant third time mother:

{Q} “As I have only really heard of Doulas on USA TV shows, can I ask what… (sorry I’m trying to word this as my intention is far from to offend you but to learn if this for me)..would I get from you that i wouldn’t get from my midwife, husband, my mum and friends? I’m trying to work out if this service is going to give me anything extra than I’m already lucky enough to have? Thanks x”

{A} “Your midwife’s two priorities are the physical health of your body and the physical health of your baby; my priority is empowering you to make the best choices for your emotional, psychological and spiritual health, and then supporting you and those choices to optimise your enjoyment and empowerment through your birthing experience. A doula supports those aspects of your husband’s/wife’s/boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s health and enjoyment, and if relevant your other children or other birthing partner. In other words your midwife will focus mainly on your cervix, vagina and baby’s health, I’ll focus on making sure you are feeling positive, peaceful, comfortable and powerful as the latter stages of pregnancy, labour and the post partum period unfold.

Your husband/boyfriend as a male (or your wife/girlfriend/friend as a non labouring female) has the potential to be both having their own profound experience as well as being or feeling a little lost in the experience. He can read a lot of books to prepare him, he can empathise as much as his imagination allows him to, he may feel scared, exasperated, helpless, overwhelmed, overjoyed, traumatised, frustrated, squeamish or traumatised at any given moment during labour, birth and immediate post partum.

Michel Odent has infamously asked three confronting questions of fathers being present at a birth:

First question: Does the participation of the father aid or hinder the birth?

Second question: Can the participation of the father at birth influence the sexual life of the couple afterward?

Third question: Can all men cope with the strong emotional reactions they may have while participating in the birth?

For the answers and full exploration of this topic read the full article here: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/fatherpart.asp

A doula can support your partner in their experience of labour, both practically (ie popping the kettle on, making cups of tea, topping the birth pool up, making the placenta smoothie after birth, taking photos with you all in frame, letting him go to the bathroom and take a break for a moment), emotionally (a hand squeeze, a hug, a shared look, a hand on the shoulder, a safe word if he’s squeamish) , and all in the name of helping him to support you best. I love this article, and this quote from it “Our doula really helped bring me together with my wife as she gave birth. My wife remembers my constant support and never failing love or knowledge. She remembers the doula as a nice person who did some stuff in the background. We won’t give birth without a doula.”

Your Mum is your Mum. You were connected at one stage by an umbilical cord, or by adoption papers; either of those things carry a lot of emotional baggage – in a good way most of the time, but sometimes some women find that emotional baggage doesn’t actually keep them in the best place for them to experience their own power during labour….some women need their mothers and can’t imagine labouring or birthing without their mothers in the room. If your mother is there; then a doula can support your mum in supporting you in the best possible way; taking away the things that might take her away from the – the practical and emotional things above. Or, if your mum is not there, then a doula can mother you; take care of your every need in a nurturing way – but without the same weighted emotional ties. And she would probably offer to text your mum to keep her informed of the process so that you are kept away from the bright light of the mobile screen which isn’t so conducive to the labouring mind.

Your friends are family you choose, you mention them so I’m assuming you are close and that’s wonderful that you know they are there to rally around and be supportive. The thing is with friends that we often have a certain point with friends where we stop just before we ask them ‘one more thing’ – because we think “Oh but they’ve already done so much” or “ Oh god should I share that info or is that just TMI” or “ I know she’s having a really tough time with her husband right now – I can’t have a pregnant moan about the fact that I sent my Tim out for hazelnut icecream and he bloody came back with macadamia nut brittle instead” etc. A doula is there to listen to the TMI stuff, to go that extra mile and make up an extra batch of xyz as needed, to realise the difference between a hazelnut and a macadamia and to not think you’re a pregnant or labouring diva but to just get to know you and do those extra little things in just the right way for you….so your friends can come round, have a cuppa, have a two way moan because you know you’ll save that extra moan with your doula so you have space for their stuff too.

Other things a doula does above and beyond the team you mention:
– She helps you inform and empower yourself about birth so you can plot out your birth preferences not based on what the hospital protocols/home birth team/birth centre normally “allow” but upon what will work for you and your family, what will make you feel safest and what will hopefully mean a positive, peaceful and empowering birthing experience as opposed to birthing a healthy baby at any cost.
– Unwavering, non-judgemental and non-phased birth support at any birth you choose or need to undergo. In a Pennine stream, in a hospital theatre, in a birthing pool in your living room, the local birth centre or on your kitchen floor: a doula will be there calm and unwavering, with a hug, a smile and an eye to eye look reminding you of your power and strength when you need it most – whatever the setting whatever the situation.
– She holds the space around labour, birth and the golden hour post partum. What does that mean? It means helping you to keep your surroundings during the last weeks of pregnancy as calm, safe and peaceful as possible, and during labour means protecting that space and reminding those who may come in and out of it to respect it, promoting oxytocin amongst everyone who comes in and out; and that oxytocin will help you and your body to remain saturated in it (Oxytocin is one of the main hormones in the birth hormone cocktail)
– She records your birth story for you; the time you really got into the zone, the funny thing you said whilst eating a sandwich, the time the midwife arrived, the time your waters broke, the time the delivery kit was mobilised, the moment baby crowned, the moment baby was fully earthside…and if you’re lucky she will be able to take a few photos too!
– She can offer alternative pain relief methods such as massage, acupressure, rebozo, aromatherapy.
On top of all that I would say that I personally can offer:
– Years of counselling and coaching experience to support in listening, overcoming and setting intentions and goals around pregnancy, labour, post partum and breast feeding
– Reiki and polarity massage before, during and after birth
– Alternative support in helping you with Optimal Foetal positioning )including Moxa for breech presentation
– Massage, acupressure, rebozo sifting and aromatherapy as above
– Birth photography
– Currently offering preparation of placenta smoothies and portioned placenta for the freezer, plans to offer placenta encapsulation in the not so distant future
– Excellent tea making skills; and a penchant for choosing the right herbs to support good health throughout”

I received this reply following my answer:

“Wow thank you for this information, I’ve read, reread and read again for good measure ( it’s peaceful here at 5.30am lol) I think your work of empowering the person going through the labour and pregnancy and her partner is such an incredibly amazing thing and understand how and why many many couples would need and want you by their side especially for a first birth or after a previously traumatic experience. Having laid here digesting your words and reflecting on my previous birth experience ( emm c-section, sick mummy, very cardiac sick baby and then natural, long but brilliant personal birth with my hub by my side then straight home to breath in our own space) I feel my husband and I are all we need to create an environment in which to bring our third child into our family. I do feel for my second child my husband ( his first) would have really gained so much from you bring there from what you’ve said above. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve sent your comment above to two friends who are both due to give birth in August ( one first time parents and the other a mum who’s going to be a mum and a dad soon) who I think will both be very interested in your support.”

What would you add to the list of benefits of having a doula beyond the great statistics that are out there?

Did you have a doula?

Did you not have a doula but wish you had? Why?

Did the experience live up to your expectation?

What would you tell someone who was thinking about having a doula to support them and their family?

A quote I love which is a good one to end on (and also features on my business cards) is this one from John H Kennell MD:

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it”

(So impressive are the positive birthing outcomes for mothers supported by doulas)

Still need convincing?!
Here are some other articles on why you might like to hire a doula:

http://expectingthebestbirth.com/50-reasons-to-hire-a-doula

http://taprootdoula.com/2015/03/23/stop-worrying-and-hire-a-doula/

http://www.bellybelly.com.au/pregnancy/doulas-what-is-a-doula/

#worlddoulaweek 22-28 March 2015

#worlddoulaweek 22-28 March 2015

I am a birth doula because I believe passionately that if we change our birth stories, one at a time; we can change the world – one mother and one baby at a time.

To have the honour of supporting and nurturing a woman during her pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum period; to help her stay in touch with her power, her vulnerability, and her courage; to hold and protect those sacred spaces during this time in her life to allow her to surrender into them; is utter oxytocin-fuelled loveliness.

To celebrate: I’m currently able to offer my voluntary services as a doula for three families within Calderdale and Kirklees, in exchange for evaluation of my service and support to facilitate my full certification and for my ongoing learning.

I am looking for families that are due to give birth somewhere in the next 2 to 10 weeks; as this will give them the optimal time to enjoy the benefits of being supported and nurtured by a doula.

If you engage me to support and serve you as your doula, you can expect:
– to be listened to and be heard
– to be seen and be appreciated
– to be encouraged and empowered
– to be served and honoured
– to be nourished and nurtured
– to be supported unconditionally; no questions, no judgements, no compromise

Having completed an advanced skills course with Penny Simkin on supporting survivors of abuse (sexual, physical or emotional) and PTSD sufferers, I am very well equipped to support women who have survived childhood or adult abuse, and would be pleased to be able to offer such support on a voluntary basis. I am also interested in supporting single mothers, and mothers having a VBAC, please make contact directly.

Here’s to healthy, happy and relaxed pregnancies;
here’s to cherished and empowered labouring goddesses;
here’s to nurtured and confident mothers:
here’s to the benefits of the extra support, information and nurture that doulas can offer!

Doulas: cherishing, nurturing, informing, coaching and empowering women throughout pregnancy, labour and early motherhood.

Ilena J Standring
Doula & Coach
Amsterdam

+31(0)648688308

An Open Letter To…..

An Open Letter To…..

Dear Natural Birth Movement,

In June this year I gave birth to a beautiful bouncing baby boy. He was born 2 weeks and 3 days over his due date. The 36 hour journey he and I took together was in parts both the highest and the lowest, the lightest and the darkest hours I remember living. The nearly 16 weeks I have spent with him since have been pink, fluffy, warm, fuzzy and heart explodingly incredible. There have been moments where I have had to pinch myself, to check if this new life is really real and even now as I write my heart is full and my body enjoys another flood of Oxytocin just thinking of him.

But then I remember why I write to you, and my heart hurts a little as I access again the grief, the shame, the guilt and the confusion you have caused me. This is a cocktail of emotions I never thought you’d inflict on anyone, let alone me, and yet I see you inflicting it unwittingly on others too. Perpetuating the same self important, frequently impossible standards, the same standards I feel you have measured me up against, and against which I feel I have measured short. I want to write about and share my full birth story – sing it from the rooftops!!!! But before I do, I need to lighten my load and create some more space inside by getting something off my chest.

We need to talk.

I’m leaving you.

I’m moving in with the Empowered Birth Movement. She and I, well we’re better together than you and I ever were. Let’s face it – there were a few moments we stood high on that soap box together weren’t there? My getting together with the Empowered Birth Movement is better for the people around us; our female peers, their partners and birthing companions, the care professionals nurturing new mothers and their babies; and it’s certainly better for me and those I am privileged to assist as a birth coach and doula.

I notice you’re shocked.

When I came to the realisation that I have to break up with you – I was too.

It all started about 14 hours into my birth story. The first sign I was in labour was that upon waking I noticed my waters had broken and I had “menstruation pain”. As Thursday wore on my labour intensified and I was happily astounded by the amniotic fluid which intermittently gushed out around the house (Note to self: I must remember to thank my best friend and doula again for following me around with towels) Then I saw a pale greenish colour appear. The fear kicked in: would this mean that we would have to go to hospital – that dreaded place of unnatural and intervention riddled deliveries?

It did – neither my midwife nor I wanted to stack risks with me being a first time mum, carrying a big baby and being already 42w2d. I felt disappointed. As if I had failed at the first hurdle somehow. My contractions, which I had enjoyed riding at home in the shower chanting Ong Namo with Snatam Kaur, felt painful for the first time as I had to navigate the short 5 minute journey to hospital. The bright fluorescent light seemed to embody all that was unnatural; all that went against what you had promised me when I prepared for this day, told me to believe in myself and in my body, and since I chose to birth at home. I could almost hear you say “I told you so”. I rallied back and forth with the question “Is it really meconium? Do I really need to be here?”

Well there we were in the hospital; you and I and our strongly worded birth preferences which I had negotiated fiercely with the hospital at 42 weeks, then again at 42+1 to gain more clarity in the “grey areas” which had appeared in the conversation you, me and my midwife had had with the senior midwife and the gynaecologist at the hospital. I was fearful. Despite the fear, I drew on the oxytocin my body was saturated with and opened up to the midwife who was on duty. I asked her to stay present with me, to maintain eye contact with me whilst doing internals – to speak to me about the interior of my vagina and cervix and no one else. Hour by hour in doing so with such consideration and tenderness she gained my trust and I in turn hers, and she let me labour on unassisted. You seemed surprised, but I didn’t linger on the growing ill feeling between us, as my son and I had work to do.

Fortunately you stuck around and set up the birthing pool in the labour suite bathroom, you nodded approvingly at the various essential oil compresses, the crystals, the yoga postures, the homeopathy kit, the relaxing music and the affirmations.

Cut to 30 hours into our birth story following a couple of interventions, a journey back and forth and back again between 6cm and 8cm (YES that can happen!); I had an IV dripping synthetic Oxytocin into my veins and my uterus was leading my body in an almighty fight against the invading chemicals. And that’s the moment when you really flaunted your true colours: I felt like a failure asking for pain relief. I asked however, and my wish was granted. I avoided your gaze. During the three hours I spent floating away on the magic carpet of Remifentanil, intermittently glimmers of conversation came through;

“You’re nearly there! 9cm – great!”

“Your contractions are really effective now….”

But I was exhausted; from chanting, swaying and squatting, from the fight for intervention free plateaus and progression, from the 32+ hours with only 2 light meals, from being my own advocate throughout as a solo parent, from you and me fighting about our conflicting expectations of eachother. And despite all that fighting, during those hours floating away I found my truth: that my son had brought me healing enough throughout pregnancy without having to make the passage through my cervix and vagina and heal that trauma too. (I am a [sexual] abuse survivor)

“Don’t worry” I heard, “You’re 9.5cm and in minutes you’ll be at 10 – if you can’t find enough energy to push we have everything we need to help you achieve a vaginal birth.”

‘No. Thank. You.’ I thought. ‘Stay away from my vagina.’

“I want a Csection” I heard myself say with conviction, clarity and absolute certainty.

Whilst my relief at finding the surrender I had been looking for was almost palpable, I couldn’t make eye contact with you.

In the four months since little JT was born, we have come head to head at many crossroads. I have found you tutting in the sympathetic “Oh what a shames” which I receive when I explain he made his way earthside via his own stargate; my Caesarean wound. I have found you lurking self righteously in the Facebook comments of an “informative natural parenting piece” on how epidurals do indeed pass through the placenta and babies’ alertness is adversely affected; callously telling a woman who said she shouldn’t be shamed for giving birth to a dead foetus with the help of an epidural that in her case “it didn’t matter that the epidural crossed the placenta”. I have found you in the form of a prenatal yoga teacher withholding the happy stories of babies born by Csection to clients in my new friends’ post natal meet up class; the insinuation being that these stories weren’t the optimal outcome that the teacher had been encouraging her students to strive for. I found your influence in the story of my brave warrior friend who gave birth to her beautiful daughter at 27 weeks – where she defends the fact she had a Csection by explaining how dangerous it would have been for baby to have become at all distressed during a “natural delivery”.

I hear you dripping all over the expression “normal birth” – for what is a “normal birth” these days anyway??? I hear you in my final doula course training – a fellow student defending a brutal sounding gynaecologist she had witnessed manually dilating a woman from 8cm to 10cm to keep her in the proper timeframe and avoid being transferred to an inferior public hospital (I verbally winced at that idea); and your final defence? “Well at least she didn’t have to have a Csection.”

I read you as I come across a quote stating that it is a women’s right of passage to give birth naturally and vaginally; and I am left once again wondering if somehow my own experience (which is that the right of passage is in fact becoming a mother: a journey which started from the moment I was conscious my body was housing an embryo and not from the moment I felt the ejection reflex and started to push) is somehow invalid?

So no; I’m afraid these militant ideas you keep don’t ring true for me. I’ve opened my eyes to the countless women who also feel they have to apologetically explain their choosing an epidural or outside intervention – through myself having felt that need to defend; and now I’m starting to understand and realise why so many women unquestioningly hand over their power to medical care providers completely in the face of your dogmatic alternative. They’re frightened they won’t make your grade.

There is good news for me, and my fellow sisters who think along the same lines as I do though!

The Empowered Birth Movement is working hard to inform women about their rights, the possible choices and the protocols and side effects of the choices available to us in birth. The Empowered Birth Movement is exploring and inhabiting that vast expansive space between your natural birthing utopia and the carefully scheduled medical approach to delivering babies. The Empowered Birth Movement is bringing information about all options – judgement free – to the public sphere, bringing candid new images from all types of birth stories so that women can visualise for themselves what will feel safest for them.

When we talk about healthiest birth experiences we have to look at “health” holistically; physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And I have you to thank for bringing me to that perspective. Speaking as a mother, as a doula and as a birth coach though, I can tell you first hand that there are many reasons why the “healthiest birth” choices for a woman may well include comprehensive pain relief and or surgical assistance. Those reasons range from having a phobia of blood, to being a survivor of sexual abuse and being keen to avoid a trigger, to simply not wanting to experience the pain of vaginal childbirth…all of these are valid reasons.

Whatever the reason – we are entitled to make our own choices. As female peers, as mothers, as birth workers, and as birth activists we have to STOP pushing preferences and shaming women’s choices. Birth activism and reclaiming birth is about informed consent and empowered birthing experiences – not a natural birth at all costs. And it’s certainly not about attributing shame to any mother’s birth story because she fell short of the latest soft focus home water birth video on Instagram or Youtube.

So here we are.

My bags are packed.

I’m ready to go.

Shall I leave my keys on the shelf in the hall on my way out?