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Crowning

When a woman’s eyes

roll wild in their sockets

like those of a frightened foal

when you look into her face

and see nothing

but raw animal instinct

stripped bare of all culture and pretense

look between her legs

and you will find her labia bulging

with the mound of new life

you will see the baby’s head crowning

a glistening, pulsing moon

fragile as a soft-boiled egg

wrinkled as a walnut.

But alas

while you are distracted

by the dramatic birth

of the baby

you will miss

time and again

the more subtle secret birth

that happens simultaneously.

You will miss

the birth of the mother

the death of the ego

and

the resurrection

of humanity.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Birth Poems

 

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Labour Pain

Women often ask me: Okay, so how much does labour really hurt? Well, how long is a piece of string? It depends. Labour pain seems to be unique and subjective. Every woman experiences it differently. For some women, labour pain is excruciating, especially towards the end. Others say they expected worse. It was intense, but it was manageable.

Medical researchers haven’t come up with much support for the pain threshold theory. It seems that the amount of pain you’ll experience depends not on your ‘pain threshold’, but rather on something else. Question is, on what?

If I’m asked the ‘how sore is it really’ question in my antenatal classes, I ask a question of my own. I say: “Labour is a lot like sex. The hormones and body parts involved are very similar. Is sex painful or pleasurable?” The first few women normally say that it is pleasurable. But is sex always pleasurable? What about rape? It is probably one of the most painful experiences a woman’s can experience in her life. Why? What makes it painful?

The answer I’m looking for, of course, is resistance. Sex becomes painful when a woman resists it. The same tends to be true for labour. Sure, the baby can be in a position that causes additional pain, like when he is lying posterior, but in general labour coping tools and techniques are all designed to minimise resistance.

Klaus and Kennell writes:

“Every aspect of labour support must start with the idea of reducing stress – mental, emotional and physical. The goal is to enhance the woman’s ability to relax. The body’s stress system is called the sympathetic nervous system, which produces what we call the ‘fight or flight response’. The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the system that creates calm and a feeling of well-being called the parasympathetic nervous system. The hormones of the sympathetic nervous system are epinephrine and norepinephrine. The parasympathetic nervous system produces a hormone called oxytocin. Reducing the stress response enhances the body’s own production of oxytocin, as well as natural opiates called endorphins.

When the woman can relax, oxytocin strengthens the contractions of the uterus. It also allows the muscles to function properly, the longitudinal muscles to expel the baby and the lower uterine muscles to relax, stretch, and open to release the baby. When a mother’s body is tense, the opposite occurs; the upper muscles of the uterus loosen and stop contracting, and the lower muscles tighten to retain the infant. This is perhaps nature’s way of stopping labour if the mother has to flee from a frightening experience … The fight-or-flight response occurs and the body gears for defense, sending blood to other organs of the body. If blood flow is reduced to the uterus, the uterine muscles constrict, causing the circular muscles of the cervix to tighten up, and dilation is impeded [and remember, the less blood flow to the uterus, the more pain]. Also, there may be less oxygen sent to the fetus. When the vertical muscles of the uterus continue their attempt to expel the baby, and the cervix resists, the baby’s head pushes against tense muscles. This causes more pain and lengthens labour.

When labour is not impeded by undue stress and fear, the woman’s own natural oxytocin is secreted from the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream. At the same time, her brain also secretes oxytocin to other areas within the brain itself. This has four effects. First, it markedly increases the pain threshold, so that the mother has reduced sensitivity to pain. Second, it results in drowsiness. Third, it results in some relaxation or calming, and finally, after the birth it helps the woman feel closer to the baby.” (The Doula Book, Klaus, Kennell & Klaus 2002: 70).

In other words, relaxation creates a positive feedback loop. The more relaxed the mother is, the better her secretion of oxytocin. In its turn, oxytocin leads not only to stronger and more effective contractions, but, paradoxically, also to less pain! The key to a less painful labour is increasing relaxation and reducing resistance.

But how do you reduce resistance? My top ten tips are:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques before labour, preferably with your partner. You can take a course like Hypnobirthing or The Mama Bamba Way, you can buy CDs on the internet, or you can practice yoga, meditation and/or visualisation. These techniques will all teach you how to relax into the intense experience that is labour, instead of resisting it.
  2. Support yourself with people that you love. Research has shown over and over that a mother who is supported experiences less pain. Consider hiring a professional doula to take some of the pressure off your partner and to support him as well.
  3. Ensure that you are labouring in an atmosphere that feels safe and comforting. If you are one of those people who tense up as soon as you step into a hospital, you should consider birthing at home or in an Active Birth Unit.
  4. Use water to relax you and to relieve pain. A birth pool is probably second only to an epidural in terms of pain relief. It really can provide extremely effective pain relief.
  5. Remember that your breath is your best friend in labour. You don’t need to learn a lot of complicated breathing techniques. You just need to breathe in a natural and relaxed way: in through your nose, out through your mouth. Try to make your out-breath a little longer than your in-breath and purposefully relax and let go while breathing out.
  6. If you find labour painful, tell yourself that this is healthy pain and that you welcome it. We are so used to resisting pain, to taking pain killers and rushing to the doctor. We are used to seeing pain as a message from our bodies that something is wrong. In the case of labour, however, pain has a purpose.
  7. Take it one contraction at a time. You can handle this one contraction, can breathe through an intense minute or minute and a half. What you may not be able to do, is cope with the idea of the contractions that have gone before this one (I’ve been in labour for fourteen hours!) or with the ones that are still to come (How long is this going to take?). The moment you start thinking of the past or the future – the moment you step out of the present – you are in trouble. See each contraction as one less, not as ‘oh no, not another one!’.
  8. Keep your mouth, your neck and your shoulders soft. It is almost impossible to hold tension in your body if these areas are soft. Blow soft raspberries with your lips, roll your neck, ask your partner for a shoulder massage in between contractions. Some soft, smoochy kisses will also do the trick.
  9. Make low-pitched sounds from deep in your belly. This increases endorphin release. If you find yourself crying ‘no’ and shaking your head from side to side as a contraction starts, try doing the opposite. Chant something like ‘yes’ or ‘open’ instead. Embrace the pain instead of resisting it.
  10. Use tools that will get you out of your normal state of consciousness into a more embodied, instinctive state. Lower the lights or close your eyes. Play relaxing music and move rhythmically with it. Dance with your partner. Spiral your hips.
 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in labour and birth, Natural Birth

 

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Preparing your Child for a New Baby

Some of the most helpful books on parenting I’ve ever read are those by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I felt so much more equipped to deal with my children’s negative emotions and behaviour after reading books like How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk and How to Talk so Kids will Learn. When I found out that I was expecting my second child, I bought their Siblings Without Rivalry. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the second chapter, the authors have an exercise in which you need to rate your emotional response to the following scenario:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and  says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.

Ugh, puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it?

When the new wife finally arrives, you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer. “Isn’t she adorable? Hello, sweetheart … You are precious!” Then they turn to you and ask, “How do you like the new wife?”

Ouch!

The new wife needs clothing. Your husband goes into your closet, takes some of your sweaters and pants and gives them to her. When you protest, he points out that since you’ve put on a little weight, your clothes are too tight on you and they’ll fit her perfectly.

Don’t you just hate her sometimes?

The new wife is maturing rapidly. Every day she seems smarter and more competent. One afternoon as you’re struggling to figure out the directions on the new computer your husband bought you, she bursts into the room and says, “Ooh, can I use it? I know how?

One just feels your fists clench right along with your teeth, don’t you?

When you tell her she can’t use it, she runs crying to your husband. Moments later she returns with him. Her face is tear-stained and he has his arm around her. He says to you, “What would be the harm in letting her have a turn? Why can’t you share?”

I think you get the picture. Of course I’m not suggesting that you should have only one child (not at all, I have five!). Please don’t feel guilty about wanting more children – or about either your older child or the new baby. As I said to a newly delivered second-time mom just this morning, motherhood is a guilt-ridden occupation. We feel sad for the older child that he’ll no longer have our undivided attention and we feel equally guilty about not devoting enough attention to the little one either. Siblings truly are gifts to one another if the relationships are handled lovingly and there are many benefits as well as drawbacks to each and every position in the family, whether you’re the oldest, the youngest or the middle child. Guilt doesn’t help you or your kids. It doesn’t improve the quality of your lives at all. It’s such an unproductive emotion – such a waste of valuable energy. Don’t indulge in it. Every time you feel guilty, see if the guilt has something to teach you – if it comes with a lesson, with a way in which you can improve what you are doing. If it does, change your behaviour or attitude. If it doesn’t, don’t allow the guilt another second of rent-free space in your already overburdened mind. Your kids will cope, as long as you love them and show it to them as often as possible. They’ll probably even like each other – at least some of the time!

So, what can you do to make the birth of a new baby less traumatic for your older child? Here are some tips:

  1. Many parents ask what the ideal age gap is. Experts have different opinions about this, but I generally just tell the parents that the age gap between their kids is the perfect one. After all, that’s their reality. In my opinion, there are pros and cons to all age gaps. If you have your kids close together, it might be tough on you in the beginning and the older child may not have as much time to be a baby and the sole focus of your attention. On the other hand, you’ll have kids so close in age that they’ll be interested in the same games and you’ll be able to read them the same book at bedtime. Having them further apart may make that first year easier on all of you, but your kids might not have as much in common at first.
  2. Expect your older child to be excited about the baby and adapt to the changes well. If you expect a smooth transition, that’s what you’ll get. If you expect jealousy and tantrums, ditto. This is what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I promise you it’s very real. Your child picks up on your fears and expectations, and act accordingly.
  3. Prepare your child during pregnancy. Read books together with stories about new babies, show your child pictures of babies, take him along to your scans and let him feel the baby kick. Look through his own baby pictures and tell him stories about when he was little. Make a big song and dance about how much your older child can do that baby isn’t able to. Take breastfeeding: talk to your older child about everything he can eat and drink, while Baby is so small that he can only have breastmilk.
  4. Get your child a gift from the baby. A great idea is a doll of his/her own that to take care of while Mom is busy with Baby. Place this gift next to Baby when he sees her for the first time. You might also want to make sure that the new baby is lying somewhere else than in Mom/Dad’s arms for that first meeting. Of course this isn’t possible at a home birth – especially when the older child is very involved in the birth – but in hospital (which is already a strange, somewhat scary environment) putting Baby in a bassinet for the first meeting might be wise.
  5. Let your child be Mommy’s little helper as often as he likes. This makes him feel important, like he is making a contribution. But don’t burden him with so much childcare responsibilities that he feels resentful.
  6. Have a special stash of new toys and books that are only taken out when the baby is breastfeeding. This way, your child will look forward to feeding times and you can even give him special attention by reading to him while Baby is drinking.
  7. Spend special alone-time with your older child when Baby is asleep.
  8. Accept the fact that your older child will have more of Dad for a while. Don’t fall into the trap of always caring for the baby while Dad looks after the older one, but don’t feel guilty about the fact that they will bond on a deeper level than before either.
  9. Accept that your older child may very well regress a bit in certain areas. Take it in your stride and don’t make a big deal out of it. Also try not to attribute all challenging behaviour to the new baby. With my youngest child, Dominic, I realised that 3-year olds often pretend to be babies, for instance. Had he just gained a new brother or sister, I’d assume that he was having trouble coping. Because he was my last, though, I realised that his ‘regression’ was simply make-believe. It wasn’t an indication of sibling rivalry. Even Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!
  10. No matter how young your child is, reflect his feelings and teach him feeling words. If he says he wishes the baby would go away, don’t deny his feelings and tell him he doesn’t really mean that. Of course he does. Instead, teach him to put his feelings into words. “You feel sad that the baby is taking up a lot of Mommy’s time.” Then give him a way to cope with his feelings, for instance, “Would you like to draw a sad picture?” Or, “Would you like to jump on the trampoline until you feel better?”

The first weeks with a new baby in the house can be hard – on you and on your older child. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on making the transition smooter? Please post a comment so other parents can benefit from your wisdom.

 

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Beginner’s Mind

“But I’ve never done this before”

Says a dad in the second row

From the back.

The big one with the brown beard

who secretly reminds me

of a friendly bear

with thick reading glasses.

“How will I know what she needs?

How will know how to support her?”

That’s why you need a doula,

I want to say.

Someone who has been there before.

But I don’t

Because I sense

That a dad brave enough to ask these questions

In front of the whole antenatal class

Is probably a dad

Who will understand

the secrets

of supporting

a woman in labour.

So I sway a little

On the big yellow birth ball

I like to sit on

When I teach

I think a little

About what it takes

To be with a woman

During birth.

“You will know what to do”

I tell him

“If you are really there

truly present

Each moment

In that room.

Do not think about

The breakfast you never had

Do not think about

That meeting you’re gonna miss

Above all

Do not think about

The rugby

The cricket

Or anything involving balls.

Take off your shoes

For the ground on which you’re standing

Is women’s holy turf.

Switch off your cell phone

and let that room

let that woman

become your entire universe.

Watch her closely

And you will know what to do

Listen to her

With more than your ears

And you won’t say

Stupid things

That’ll get you in trouble.

No, don’t write it down!

Just listen

Practice with me

Practice being present

In this moment.

Do not think

That your lack of experience

Is a handicap.

I am not a better doula

Hundred births down the line.

In fact, I might be worse.

For beginner’s mind

Is a shimmering pearl

Of magnificent value.

Not knowing

Being open

To things as they unfold

Are way more precious

Than tools

Tricks

And techniques.

You cannot go wrong

If you love her

You cannot go wrong

If your intentions are pure.

Leave your expectations

At the door of the labour ward

And enter the birth room

With your cup empty as a beggar’s.

When it is all over

And your back and shoulders ache

As if you’ve carried her

Belly and all

The entire way

Across the desert

She will turn to you and say

‘I couldn’t have done it without you’

And you will answer

‘But I did nothing

My love

You did it all.’

Trust me,

Nothing

Will be more than enough.”

The dad looks at me

Bemused

Befuddled

His mouth opens and closes

Like a goldfish

Flapping his fins

On the dry threadbare carpet.

He never finds his voice.

But Thabo

From the front row

who is not shy

his hand goes up.

“That was some speech

That was inspiring

Now I was just wondering:

Would all of that

Be in the notes?”

 

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Surviving the First Birthday After a Cesarean

Call me daft, but I’ve been a doula for four years and I’ve never even thought about how a mom who ended up with a c-section she didn’t want might feel on her baby’s birthday. Never for once did it occur to me that she might feel anything but joy on that day. Of course I knew that an unplanned c-section results in deep feelings of loss and disappointment. I just never connected those feelings specifically to the baby’s birthday. Perhaps I, too, have been guilty of the misconception that a mom who has a healthy baby should be happy, no matter how that baby was born. For those of you who used me as a doula, I’m sorry I didn’t phone you on your baby’s birthday for a chat. I’m sorry I never realised that it might be a bittersweet anniversary for you. From now on, I vow to do better. The following post made me see the light. I think it is especially important to read in the light of the sky-high c-section rate in South Africa. You can see the whole post on:

http://naturalbirthresource.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/surviving-the-first-birthday-after-a-cesarean-birthaftercesarean/

“Once a Cesarean, Always a Cesarean” never rings more true than when referring to a child’s birth. Even though a mother may later go on to have a vaginal birth or future healthy pregnancies, there is no way to step back into our footsteps in the snow and change that day in surgery. Sometimes, coping lasts a lifetime but there are critical moments in recovery in the first year that moms have to weave through and often, they are alone and unsupported. Most of the time, those close to them don’t even realize the impact of their words or actions, thinking they are sharing the moments with the new mother. On baby’s first birthday, many well-intentioned friends and family fail to see what is in front of them: a mother in mourning being forced into celebration.

A mom may ask herself if she’s even normal, because she feels so despondent or unwilling to plan birthday parties. She may throw herself into planning the biggest celebration possible, hoping it will drown all the pain out. The reality is, she often sees this is as the first anniversary of trauma. While not all cesarean moms view it this way, it’s important to understand how a mom could wind up in this emotional dilemma of baby’s birth vs mother’s birth experience.

Research shows that women remember their birth experiences for the rest of their lives. These stories impact not just today but the rest of their lives. A mother goes into labor and gives birth, remembering much of it while wrapped in the heightened sensations of labor. She remembers specific smells, looks, people’s faces and attitudes and words. As she goes into labor or is induced, she is often afraid of the unknown or even the known if this is not her first labor. She walks into the hospital and deals with strangers she is forced to trust at the most vulnerable time of her life. In some cases, she doesn’t really like her care provider or her nurses. Then, as labor continues, something changes and she labors longer and harder and suddenly, a cesarean. This isn’t what she prepared for, this is surgery. She is drugged, she is strapped down, and she is often throwing up. Sometimes, she is not even conscious, depending on the circumstances. Unable to help herself, she watches the ceiling as her body is cut open and her baby is taken away. Often, the obstetricians and nurses discuss their day or other clients or even football games. This event that was hers and personal becomes distracted and impersonal. Her baby is born and she gets a glimpse before having the baby removed, wrapped, and only a face and then gone to the nursery. There is no physical contact to solidify this bond between mother and child. There is no orgasm of love and completion in each other’s arms that is so tactile and important for every being. She is left alone with the staff, cleaned up and moved to recovery.

At this point, her husband or partner goes with the baby. They share joy, “Look at his hair! His fingers, his toes!” They call family and tell of joy in the new little person. His size, his weight, his features. They take cell phone pictures and post on Facebook or blogs. They are building a vision of love.

A year later, they share this vision. They talk over and over about the day he was born or the first moments they saw her. They are overwhelmed by the joy of that moment and they relish in it. “I was the first person to hold her!” a grandmother remembers. As they share these moments, the mother remembers, “Everyone held her but me. And when I finally got to hold her, it hurt so badly, I could barely move. “ They pass around pictures of baby’s first few moments, none of which include the mom except one, with an upside down baby’s face, wrapped tightly in a blanket, next to her head while she feebly smiles. She thinks to herself that even in that moment, she didn’t get to hold her baby or touch, skin to skin and feel the baby newness.

This is the reality of the first birthday. These flashbacks and moments where only the mother , and she alone, remembers and recovers her own experience. So how can someone help a mother in this situation? How can you, help yourself? Here are some tips on recovering at that first birthday:

Listen.

The new mother needs you to hear her side of the story.

Talk.

If you are the new mom, talk about the birth. Find someone you can share this with and just talk. Many women turn to online support at this time just to be able to get it out and share with other moms who get it.

Accept.

It’s not only ok but normal to wonder things like, “Is this baby really mine?” or “I don’t feel like her mom, I didn’t give birth.” Many moms have asked themselves these questions. Accept for yourself that your child and you have moved past that day, even if you were not unaffected by it. The feelings surrounding the birth do not have to stop you from loving your child, bonding with them and helping you both to grow.

Feel.

You have every right to feel however you want to feel. You do NOT have to dwell on feeling grateful that your child is alive or that your birth occurred the way it did. You have the right to feel questioning of the outcome and ungrateful for the way things happened.

Express.

Talk, paint, feel, write letters to the providers about your care. Write out your birth story in the way you wanted it to occur. Cry if you need to. Have a day for yourself, treating yourself well and celebrating your motherhood while allowing yourself the freedom to see the day as a multitude of different occasions that happened to different people at the same time.

Ignore.

You can ignore a child’s first birthday. The subtle way to do this is simple: Move the date. Make the party on a day that has nothing to do with the actual birth. Celebrate a half-birthday instead. You can still use a 1 candle at 1.5! You can have a small thing at home with just a cake and you and baby, celebrating together and being special in a way you were denied the first time.

All in all, treat this as if it were YOUR day. This is not simply a birthday, deserving of a Blue’s Clues cake smooshed by a happy baby. It is also the anniversary of a transition in your life that you deserve to memorialize in whatever way best suits your personal needs.

 

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Women

From the deep recesses of sleep

Another strong, incredible woman after the birth of her second baby

I drag myself to assist at the birth

of a woman I’ve never laid eyes on.

Candlelight

whispered encouragement

only women in the room

reverently gathered round the bath

to worship our fair goddess of fertility.

Somewhere far from here

the baby’s father

sleeps peacefully next to his new love

just as the two children

from his old one

sleeps in the birth room next door

while their mother strains and sighs

while their grandma frets and fusses

while their auntie rubs her sister’s aching back

and snaps digital pics.

“I can’t!”

the woman cries

and four pairs of female hands

stretch towards her

to transfuse their strength.

Into the warm water

slips a chubby pink baby

onto her mother’s chest

where she turns her head

to take in all the faces

belonging to the admiring voices.

“You did it!”

we cry

our eyes wet with tears.

Two hours later

the woman walks

to her tiny white car

straps her brand new baby

into an old car seat

and makes sure that her boys

are comfortably settled

on the laps of their grandma and aunt.

As the muezzin’s mournful voice

begins his morning call to prayer

she slides behind

the steering wheel

and drives herself

and her family

home.

The midwife and I

wave goodbye

until the battered white Corsa

disappears in the dark.

We turn to each other

shaking our heads.

“Women!” we marvel.
“Women

 

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What is Normal Birth?

Here is one of my favourite quotes about birth:

The question is disarmingly simple, like asking: ‘What is love?’ I open my mouth to answer quickly, then close it again, suddenly humbled by the realization that the answer is complex, emotional, elusive, rich, deep and varied.

Images flash in my mind – I see beautiful, wet babies in their mothers’ arms, I smell the birth smell and feel the holiness that hangs in the air; and I feel the wonder that rises in the presence of the wise and ancient process that is beyond human design or control.

Normal birth is the mother who stands up beside her bed where she has just given birth, faces me with her baby in her arms, her eyes flashing fire and triumphantly shouts: ‘I did it!’

Normal birth is the woman who dances the slow birth dance and sings the low birth song. It is the woman who is naked and not ashamed.

Normal birth is the woman who, though she has never been there before and did not know she knew the way, finds her path to the deep and quiet place within herself where her intuition and faith lie hidden and ready to feed her soul.

Normal birth is the woman who births in her own power, dignity, beauty, grace and strength. It is this mother and this never-seen-before baby working it out together for the first time.

Normal birth is what I trust this mother can do. It is what I believe in, cherish and humbly protect. It is the gift we give the mothers we serve and the gift they give their precious babies. It is the real life miracle I witness again and again with an ever-growing sense of privilege and joy.

Lois Wilson, American midwife (in Midwifery Today)

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in labour and birth, midwives, Natural Birth

 

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When the Flame Flickers

Burnout. Those dark days when the flame of your passion is assaulted so repeatedly by opposing winds that you doubt whether you’ll be able to keep it burning any longer. Those days when The System seems omnipotent – omnipresent – when you feel like an insect crushed beneath its ever-rolling wheel. Does anything I do make a difference, you wonder. Am I a fool to even try helping moms and babies achieve better births? An idiot to keep advocating breastfeeding when artificial feeding has become the norm worldwide? When that practice is driven by multinational companies who have billions of dollars at their disposal to find new ways to bombard parents with their products, new ways to evade the Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes?

Anyone who works in some kind of activism will know what I’m talking about. Some days you wonder why you keep trying. Why you keep getting up in morning with the idea that you might make a difference. Why you don’t just throw in the towel and let things take their course …

This week I reached an all time low. I felt like I just didn’t have the energy to be a doula and a lactation consultant and an antenatal educator who advocates choice and informed consent anymore. I felt like I kept banging my head against a brick wall. Sometimes it seems like all I get for my passion and hard work is trouble. Criticism and anger from those who’d like to preserve the status quo. Why should it bother me that two-thirds of women are giving birth with major abdominal surgery in South Africa? Why should I care that many of the rest are having routine episiotomies – a practice that is painful and just not evidence-based? Why should I lie awake at night because most women initiate breastfeeding but then wean their babies in the first six weeks? It’s not like one doula can do anything about these sad facts, is it?

I was ready to fling myself 100 percent into my writing. I actually offered to resign as antenatal teacher. (Luckily, my boss refused to accept that resignation). When I went to bed last night, I was planning to attend only those births I’d committed to and then gently ease out of the birth world. I honestly didn’t have the heart for it anymore.

I know, I know, I was feeling really sorry for myself. But cut me some slack. You have to be on fire in order to burn out, remember? It’s those of us who care deeply who end up hurting really deeply, too.

This morning I woke up and read the comment from thebirthmuse. She described natural birth as ‘magical’. Yip, I thought, that word rings a bell. It is magical to witness empowered birth. It is magical to see a mom put her newborn to the breast the first time – the way her eyes grow wide the moment he starts sucking. “Wow,” she’ll say, “he’s drinking! He knows what to do!”

Magic is certainly part of why I do it. The memory of magic gives me the energy to get up after each knock and keep trying to assist women who want a choice in birth and in how they feed their babies. But I also do it because of the moms. And I especially do it because of the babies. Because I believe they have the right to the gentlest, safest, most loving births possible. I believe they have a right to the incredible emotional and physical benefits of breastfeeding. I believe they are the ones who will make this world a better place if only we empower them to do so. I do it for Annabelle and Nathan and Sadie and Sanmarie and all the babies that have come before them and will come after them. I do it for them, because deep down, beneath the burnt-out part of me, the embers of passion are still glowing. Deep down, I still believe we can make a difference … one tiny little baby at a time.

 
 

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The Beauty of Labour

It never ceases to amaze me how different women look from their everyday selves when they are in strong labour. If they are able to surrender themselves to the process, that is. If a woman is really into her labour, her face might take on an angelic – if exhausted – glow. Her features become softer and more natural. She starts to look, I think, more like herself. As she drops her pretences and masks, the loveliness of the creation process itself shines through her. Life itself flows through her, unhindered.

You might ask me if her appearance really alters or if she only looks different to me. This I cannot tell you, for I possess only my own eyes with which to see. And, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Love for something or someone will radically change its appearance. I would not be exaggerating if I told you that I fall in love with the labouring mothers that I attend. Not in a romantic or sentimental or weird way, but in the way you fall in love with a tree or with a poem if you are truly present to it. So present that all else drops away. One can call it a mystical or spiritual experience, I suppose. The strict borders between sacred and profane definitely soften during birth, and the everyday dissolves into the otherworldly to such an extent that it becomes impossible to separate the two. And when the baby is finally born, and fed, and when I have listened to the new mommy telling her story as she experienced it, when I step out of the room to go home, the spell is broken. Almost broken. A faint afterglow remains with me, yes, and the best way to prolong this afterglow – the best way to preserve the memory – is to write it down as soon as I can. Through writing, I can almost – almost – relive an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in labour and birth

 

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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 1

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a psychological researcher and IBCLC. The title of this book is The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood. You can order it from http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Feelings-Motherhood-Second/dp/097295838X.

Soon after finishing it, I started a moms’ group in my house. Our first topic was ‘Motherhood Stress’ and I was overwhelmed by the response to this discussion. The women who attended were all so honest and open – even though they did not know each other all that well. I was just as surprised by the deep emotional response these topics stirred within me. I realised that I was pretty burned out myself and I subsequently took steps to feel better. This is a topic close to my heart and I’m hoping some of you will be interested in discussing and sharing here.

Flip through the pages of any mothering magazine and you’ll know what I mean: Our culture paints an unrealistic picture of motherhood. We see slim and impeccably dressed moms pushing designer prams – smiling contentedly, just like their babies. These moms always cope – they are always in control. Their designer suits never bear spit-up milk or pureed butternut stains; their babies never have snotty noses or grumpy days or growth spurts. They seem to have it all: money, success, poise, fulfilment and self-actualization.

But our culture also paints another picture – another ideal – one that is probably just as inaccurate. In this picture there are no smiling babies. They are all at day-care, their moms happily engrossed in their fulfilling careers. Stay-at-home moms are considered dull and uninteresting. Kids are considered little ‘monsters’ who will suck you dry if you don’t get away for some me-time at every possible opportunity. The sooner you ‘teach’ them independence, the sooner you can ‘get back your life’.

Of course, the reality is much more complex and multi-layered. Early motherhood was an incredibly hard and lonely time for me, even though it was also one of the best times of my life – a time that I remember with great fondness and nostalgia. I think we should break the silence about what motherhood is really like. We should talk frankly about all those secret feelings of motherhood – the ones we’re too scared to share because others might think we don’t love our kids or aren’t worthy of raising them. Few mothers seem willing to talk about these difficult feelings, but I think any mother of young children should know that she is not the only one struggling with stress, depression or burnout.

Having been both a stay-at-home and a working mother myself, I find it incredibly sad that women criticise instead of support each other. I can honestly tell you that both lifestyles are stressful and taxing. If you choose to stay at home, you are economically disempowered – even within your own household. You are often isolated and starved for adult company. You may feel that you don’t get enough mental stimulation and that you have very little sense of accomplishment – of completing tasks. After all, you change a nappy now, but in two hours time you’ll change another …

When you work outside the home – whether through choice or necessity – you are constantly pressed for time. You always seem to be torn: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children. When you are with them, you worry about the work that still needs to be done. To add insult to injury, research shows that working women still bear the brunt of responsibilities for childcare and housework.

The point I’m making is that motherhood – by its very definition – is a guilt-ridden role. The sooner we learn to let go of guilt, the better. The sooner we understand that self-care is not selfish, the less stressed we’ll be. And I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: if Mama ain’t happy, nobody ain’t happy!

Over the next few days, I’ll write a few posts about motherhood stress. What causes it? When is it serious? What can you do to feel better? In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What aspects of motherhood is going really well for you? What isn’t? Which motherhood feelings did you not expect and do you feel you should keep hidden?

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Articles, Postnatal Depression

 

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