On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.
31 months and 1 day.
2 years and 7 months and 1 day.
One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.
I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.
If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.
We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!
So how did it all come to an end?
On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!
I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.
I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”
The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.
Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?
Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”
“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.
I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)
I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.
In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!
I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.
image 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.
I’m often torn between sharing my personal stories or not – torn from a professional perspective and torn from a personal perspective. From a professional perspective as doulas we are taught that in the name of providing non judgemental and unconditional support we must be cautious when sharing personal stories so as to keep things neutral and therefore to not form ideas in our clients’ or network’s minds as to “what kind of doula” we are. As a coach I am a firm believer in authenticity: as I am all about authentic and wholehearted loving and living, in both my role as a coach and as a doula. So from that perspective personal story sharing is up there as a foundation of authenticity.
Personally I also hate that feeling when you’re trying to share your truth and someone shares or “over” shares and kind of over looks your experience; and that is the last thing I would want to do intentionally; to friends and acquaintances and of course to clients. Of course sometimes some parts of our personal histories are just that: personal. Intimate. Things we don’t necessarily want to share.
So when I saw that the UN was promoting the sharing of ‘brelfies’ to support World Breastfeeding Week 2016, after an initial reaction of positivity and gratitude once again for social media and how wonderful it can be when used as a tool to promote awareness and positivity, then I got that torn feeling about what I was going to do with it “professionally”.
Without going into the ins and outs of what has been a hectic week, I pressed pause on the whole thought process and got on with life. But today I decided it was time.
I had a moment this afternoon to filter through all my photos from 2014 (the year my son was born – there are literally thousands!!!) and find my very first brelfie. It made me cry. Now admittedly – it’s not actually a brelfie, as my beautiful little sister took it for me – but it is also coincidentally a photo of the very first time I breastfed outside the rosy newborn cocoon of love which my beautiful apartment had become since my bouncing baby boy arrived earthside.
I can see on my face and my body remembers and feels all of this when I look at the photo:
pride love surprise nervousness gratitude
the newness the let down reflex the nipple shield
the sibling love
(my sister and brother had travelled to come and meet their nephew together)
trepidation my fuzzy new mum brain warm fuzzy feels
oxytocin the weight of his newborn self self conscious
the props to support feeding after my caesarean birth
my shiny sweaty skin as I was still having a huge hormonal temperature peak when I got the let down reflex
hope the rosy glow of new parenthood the smell of his milk drunk
tiredness the sleepy high of breastfeeding the relief of the silence as he drinks
the smell and taste of a deliciously naughty but nice sickly sweet starbucks coffee
Why did I decide to share in the end?
Because I am so proud of our breastfeeding journey; and because that photo is one of the first photos of our journey. For me, breastfeeding has been a rollercoaster of liking and loathing and triumph and tribulation and pride and shame.
Yes I said shame – and my most embarrassed moment in my breastfeeding journey came last week at the zoo here in Amsterdam. I continue to feed my son and for some that is confronting – we dont see toddlers breastfeeding often enough and different pockets of society have a lot to say on the topic. A woman and her friend were approaching, and one of them looked closer and realised that what could have easily been miscontrued for simply a cuddle, was in fact me breastfeeding my toddler. The first friend sniggered, and pointed out very cattily what was going on. The second woman blatantly threw a pointed look of disgust in our direction, not once, not twice, but three times in the space of the next 5 minutes. My friend sat next to me was ready to jump up and confront the woman, but I urged her not to as I was so taken aback and so upset. And yes – I felt ashamed.
So maybe it is also that experience which makes me boldly stand up and share the very first (public feeding) brelfie I have; because I look back on the whole journey and am very grateful, very proud, very happy, and because realise I am very privileged and lucky to have had the resources available to me to overcome the difficulties, to ensure that my breast milk and my own health remained the healthiest choice all this time, and to keep encouraging me through the moments when it was tempting to give up.
I would love to see your brelfies, and would love it if you would share your brelfies out and about in the virtual world to normalise the sight of breastfeeding and to support and encourage new mothers out there navigating the newness of breastfeeding or navigating the toe durling ouchy moments or navigating the sleepless torture of night time cluster feeding.
Disclaimer: As a doula in Amsterdam, I support you in whatever choice you make about feeding your baby. Your body, your baby: YOUR CHOICE.
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 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.
*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).
Two days ago I downloaded the series of podcasts from one of my top five most inspiring sheroes/heroines Elizabeth Gilbert who I was so privileged and inspired to meet in November 2013 at High Tea at the De Hortus Botanicus here in Amsterdam as a celebration and promotion of the release of her then latest book The Signature of All Things.(It’s a really wonderful read btw!!!)
Last night I started to listen to them, this morning I was aching to hear the rest, so the Teletubbies were put on the iPad for the little person and I indulged. Creativity explosions! Ideas galore! Gratitude beating through my body! Thankful faithful heart.
The two quotes in the Instagram picture which literally made me catch my breath when I heard them came from Episode 4 of Magic Lessons where Liz speaks to Rob Bell, had to be written on my fridge immediately. I recently discovered (thanks to my tenants who were living here for the first half of this year) that you can write on my cupboard surfaces with dry wipe marker – anyone who knows about my sheer love of both stationary and playing teacher(!) will atest to the fact that this is wonderful news.
Later this morning as I was walking The Pig and was still reverberating with the thankfulness, creativity and gratitude I decided to share one of my daily practices with you.
My “3 Things”
- 3 things I am grateful for today.
- 3 things I am hoping for today.
- 3 things I am trusting today
- 3 things I am releasing today
So here is today’s list – even though it’s a little earlier than I usually put them together:
Today I am grateful for:
- My friend Liz and all that she is; her work, her generosity, her spirit and her laugh!
- The incredible late summer weather that Amsterdam is bathed in
- Amsterdam Oosterpark – where The Boy, The Pig and I walk every day and enjoy the daily changes where we really notice “It is a new universe every second!”
Three things I hope for today:
- That the forecast is right and that we can enjoy this late summer bliss for three whole days
- That my client is enjoying being 9 days postpartum and that breastfeeding is establishing well
- That my next client is ready to contact me and move forward with our work together
Three things that I trust today:
- That I will be divinely guided to take the next perfect step toward helping my clients to find me
- That the universe in all it’s glorious abundance is taking care of my finances
- That I will start “The Book” when the time is right
Three things I release today:
- The need for perceived originality in my writing – surely if I write from my heart and soul voice then that in itself is unique?!
- Worry – it takes so much energy and focus away from the areas I wish to direct my energy and focus like The Boy, The Pig, my desires and my dreams.
- Guilt about the iPad and Teletubbies: listen to Magic Lessons Podcast episode number 1 for the justification
A) as much as I say “daily practice” I confess it doesnt happen every. single. day.
B) sometimes the same thing will take up space on the list for days/weeks at a time
C) sometimes I don’t manage 3 – but I still write 1 or 2
Maybe you have heard the rumours???
Often described as “The Mother of Authentic Midwifery”, “America’s Most Loved Midwife” and notorious for her practice’s exemplary results and low intervention rates, Ina May Gaskin has gained international notoriety for promoting natural birth: and it is true – she is coming to Amsterdam!!!!
Maybe you thought, “Tickets will be sold out – no chance I’ll be able to join”
Well the daytime event with Ina May Gaskin on the 25th September 2015 was so popular it sold out in a matter of days, but the organizers and Ina May got together and decided to arrange another event on 24th September 2015 and so here is…
> > > YOUR INVITATION < < <
to join us for………..
AN EVENING WITH INA MAY GASKIN
19h00 – 21h30
@ CREA Theatre, Nieuwe Achtergracht 170, Amsterdam
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
Not completely. Let’s say my façade fell apart. My mother and baby group tribe got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden….
Yesterday was day two of my back flaring up. No baby wearing – the stroller was out (oh how my self judgements raged about being disconnected from Jasper/how I’m failing at the attatchment parenting model/gremlin grumbling ad infinitum). I lost my tram pass (grrrrrrrrrr) so bought a single ticket (cue bigger GRRRRRRRR) and found some redemption in the pleasure of giving a free pass to the first person waiting at the tram stop I debarked from. Then I remembered I was 35 minutes late…rush in to the building as fast as possible – never mind the back twinges!
I came upon my new mummy friends and their bubbas sat around in an oxytocin filled room, sheepskins, blankets, fleeces, big innocent eyes, new teeth to speak of, bare bouncing bottoms, warm sudden wet fountains(!)….for the first time that day I felt like I could really breathe. I was greeted by a big kiss and “You’re looking hot today!” Indeed I’d highlighted my eyes with a stripe or two of liner, somehow hoping that a little jet black mascara and Mac serpent green would galvanise me and prevent me from losing my marbles.
My little man was excited to be in the building, which he already associates with joy, connection, laughter, song and development. He greeted everyone with big flirty Gemini smiles, more than happy for that moment to be centre of attention in a room full of love. He was a useful distraction for me; an extension of my facade. I brushed off my wince of pain as I sat down with a brief comment acknowledging it wasn’t anything physical, just some emotional turbulence manifesting physically. And our mother and baby Shiatsu massage session started. Monika was magnificent – connecting with everyone in our group individually and collectively. We all learnt a lot. We breathed deeply. We let go. We watched our bubbas let go and love us even more in our spacious open selves.
And the session ended. Monika graciously, generously went to one of our mums – a true warrior goddess recovering from major surgery on her intestines but eager to see us at her earliest opportunity. We busied ourselves chatting and beginning to clothe our naked mini beings.
I felt Monika’s hand before she said “And you Mama….lets work out whats happening with your back”.
The touch of a human. The touch of a mother. The touch of a balanced centred and well intentioned woman, a nurturer. Wow; always a pleasure – but as a solo parent and a single person one of the things we can miss the most is the loving touch of another. Already I felt relief. What ensued was Monika inviting me to lay face down on a yoga mat – my little man was quickly tended to by a loving mother with spare hands(!) – and Monika set to work on my spine…. Pretty quickly there was a big build up and release of heat, the tension seemed to vibrate underneath my skin, my spine tingling with the targeted manipulations. The tears fell, fortunately my hair covered the side of my face, but then the heat and the sweat took over, the thoughts tumbling –
“Oh jeeeeez….how will I manage to spring up and surreptiously wipe up this pool of tears, snot and sweat as I head off to the bathroom once she’s done?”
“What is wrong with me that a massage does this to me time after time?”
“Breathe…ouch that hurts….breathe….ouch that hurts….breathe”
“Oh my god I’m supposed to be leading a session with these ladies next week – who the hell will respect me enough to participate NOW?”
…..you get the picture!
Monika’s magic hands sensed it was time to stop kneading. She advised me to stay still for a few moments, reassuring me that Jaspie was just fine. I thought “Jump up, drag your sleeve over the wet patch, look at the floor and make a dart for the door – no one will see your mascara streaked panda face- go go go!”
My body had other plans. It threatened to spasm. The fear came. I froze. I eased myself back on the floor.
Darling Esther arrived at my side with loving arms and gentle cooing tender words. Reassuring and distracting, encouraging me to take some time. The rest of the thoughtful, considerate group of women held the space, gave me space, took their space and led by example: they allowed the experience to just be what it was, in that space, on that day, and loved me anyway. No sideways glances. No whispering. No knowing looks. No false comments about “everyone falling apart sometimes” or “hormones eh?!” No single mother pitied projections, no meaningless “I don’t know HOW you DO this on your OWN”.
Once I’d manoeuvred my sobbing damp self off the floor, I was held. They mothered me. They continued to hold the space around me. Judgement free, hurry free, question free.
So I had fallen apart. Not completely but not far from. My façade had fallen completely away. My sisters got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden.
My aching back still grating. The fear of a spasm lock down still playing out in my head. My mascara still tracing an interesting angle vertically on my cheek. But feeling seen. Feeling valid. Feeling cherished.
And the falling apart; it was OK. Really. It was more than ok – it was a huge relief. It was an opening. It was authentic. And we connected even more deeply than before. We bonded; our hearts wide open and non-judging. We “saw” each other. Me through my lens of tears; they through lenses of empathy and compassion. My falling apart represents progress for me. Letting go and letting people in. And through letting it all hang out and being totally accepted even in that snotty messy version of me, I get the added bonus of feeling SO much healing gratitude that my life is blessed with 150 minutes, once a week, with a sisterhood that does what our ancestors and our tribal counterparts know heals the spirit of a woman more than any drug or any therapy session could ever do.
With heartfelt gratitude to my sisters and their beautiful bouncing gurus from ‘Tiny & Mighty’, and wishing all who read this post a bare minimum of 150 minutes of utter and complete acceptance and authentic connection, this week and every week.
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?