Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Call The Midwife…the times they are a changin’

I was lying by a pool in Crete when I first read the Call The Midwife book by Jennifer Worth. Surprisingly for my companions (who knew me as someone who doesn’t read a great deal) I was completely hooked and read the booking almost without coming up for air. Imagine my excitement when I found out it was going to be televised. Like many midwives and childbirth educators I was looking forward to something which I hoped would prove to be an antidote to the modern-day depiction of birth offered up as ‘reality television’ in One Born Every Minute.

And so it was. Gentle, honest and a real piece of social history the first series drew us in, made us care and demonstrated how women gave birth – sometimes under difficult circumstances – and midwives supported them woman to woman.

But isn’t it interesting to notice, as the series have progressed, how the interaction with the midwives and the women they care for has been subtly changing. Initially very hands off and trusting of women to birth their babies, this series has relied much more on the introduction of entonox (gas & air) and the use of the maternity home as an option for women having their babies.

And I suppose that this is very true to reality. It was during the 1950s that these changes did indeed begin to happen, swiftly followed in the 1960s by more and more women having their babies in hospital and culminating in The Peel Report (1970) which recommended that hospital birth should be available for all women

But is has not just been the move from home to hospital that has greatly impacted on women’s experiences of birth. During this same time frame, and continuing on to the present day, the level of intervention during pregnancy and birth has increased drastically. At the same time women have got healthier – supported by a universal NHS system, had fewer babies each and benefitted from much greater understanding of health, nutrition and the physiology of the childbearing year.

It seems strange to me that as women are arguably better placed to birth their babies easily – stronger, more knowledgeable, eating well and taking care of themselves in a way they never did in the 1950s – the perception is that the opposite is what is happening. So many women seem to have the belief that they will need help, that hospital is the safest place (just in case something goes wrong) and that birth is difficult and problematic. It is the classic case of pregnancy and birth being risky until it can be shown, after the event, that they weren’t.

This is no way to prepare for such a major life event. Undermining women’s confidence is only going to add to the pressures and complications rather than alleviate them. When women are surrounded by those who believe in their ability to give birth and so support them to do this their way then surely a positive attitude and approach make a straightforward and empowering experience more likely?

So next time you are talking to a woman who is pregnant (or are pregnant yourself) think about what you say and how you say it. Keep your language positive and supportive rather than taking delight in sharing ‘horror stories’. Birth can be powerful and intense, and it can also be beautiful and awe-inspiring. Good preparation with a belief in nature having designed women’s bodies to do this can really help women and their partners. It is important to take away the negative images and the fear that surrounds modern-day childbearing, taking it back to the basics – after all it isn’t rocket science!

Thursday, January 24th, 2013
Homoeopathy for pregnancy, birth and beyond

While planning this week’s Self Help Homoeopathy Course I was reminded of why women who are pregnant often turn to homoeopathy as a healthcare option; pregnancy being a time when conventional medicine has little to offer them to help alleviate symptoms of illness. For some women it becomes a case of doing something, rather than doing nothing at all – even if they don’t necessarily ‘believe’ in homoeopathy. Then, once their babies have arrived, they appreciate the gentle nature of homoeopathy. The opportunity to help their children, without always resorting to antibiotics or pain relieving medication is attractive. It also gives women a sense of retaining (or gaining) some power over what happens. This reminded me of a blog I wrote a while ago which first appeared on the Birthworks website Birthworks website – I reproduce it below for anyone who missed it first time around.

“When I qualified as a homoeopath in 2003 I knew that working with pregnant women would probably form a big part of my clinical practice. As an experienced NCT teacher, yoga for pregnancy leader and more recently a Natal Hypnotherapy Practitioner, this has certainly proved to be the reality. In fact the two threads of my life intertwine so beautifully that sometimes it is hard to see the join.

My final year research project in 2003 focussed on whether women found using homoeopathy during pregnancy and labour to be empowering. I had read so often that holistic therapies empower patients, and more specifically that homoeopathy empowers pregnant women, offering additional choices and improving women’s sense of control and autonomy. I wanted to find out whether this was true…

Unsurprisingly published research into this subject matter was limited – not only are homoeopathic trials notoriously difficult to set up and finance, but also ethics around pregnancy and birth are (quite rightly) restricted. So my focus was on the subjective experiences of the women themselves.

Women are the main users of complementary therapies and pregnancy is often the time when women turn to homoeopathy – an holistic system of healing dating back over 200 years – as it is considered to have a particularly gentle and safe sphere of action well suited to pregnancy. Concerns over the impact of orthodox medicines upon the safety of the unborn child and hence a greatly reduced range of options make more holistic forms of care more appealing to the pregnant woman.

Pregnant women today are generally well-informed and have high expectations of their pregnancy experience as a whole, particularly with regard to the birth. Interestingly I discovered during my research that the women who adjusted best to pregnancy were those able to see themselves as autonomous and in control…women who were empowered.

By talking to women who had used homoeopathy during their pregnancy, labour and early postnatal period I was able to gather a sense of their experiences. An holistic approach to their health care was of prime importance:
‘it was the holistic thing…rather than everything being separated out’ (Woman 5)

For women who consulted a homoeopath, rather than just self-prescribing, there was additional emphasis on the rapport they built up with the practitioner. Having their concerns listened to and taken seriously meant they felt more supported and added to their feelings of positivity:
‘I spent a long time with her to analyse the different things that I needed and she seemed to really listen’ (Woman 1)

All the women I interviewed expressed a degree of anxiety, specific to the pregnancy and more generalised. Increased vulnerability and a sense that their usual level of self-control had been compromised were also mentioned. Often these feelings were linked to interactions with medical professionals. What they suggested that homoeopathy then offered them was reassurance, protecting their babies from the ill effects of conventional medicines. For some women just knowing that they had remedies to fall back on was considered enough, even for those who were not convinced of their efficacy. This increased their confidence, adding to a sense of retaining control.

I would dearly love to do further research on the use of homoeopathy in pregnancy, labour and the early postnatal period. My small study demonstrated that just having it as an option was a powerful factor in their feelings of choice and control, with the personal interaction with a professional homoeopath adding an additional layer of support considered valuable. In a narrow sense the women all felt empowered and cited homoeopathy as a contributory factor to that feeling. I would imagine that whichever complementary therapy a pregnant woman chose the same could apply.

If you would like to read more about homoeopathy for the childbearing year I would recommend the book Homoeopathy For Mother and Baby by Miranda Castro.

To find a registered practitioner in your local area visit The Society of Homeopaths website.

Thursday, December 13th, 2012
It was the breathing that got me through…

Hearing or reading those words makes my heart sing. Knowing that I have contributed, albeit in a small way, to a woman’s positive birth experience makes doing my job such a pleasure. It also helps me cope with comments that are often made, in the press or elsewhere, about the idealisation of birth that people like me perpetuate. Childbirth educators can be accused of being ‘anti’ all number of things…anti-interventions, anti-hospitals, anti-medical professionals, anti-pain relief and so on. When faced with such accusations I start by taking a very deep breath in and a long, slow breath out. Breathing in calm and breathing out tension not only helps me to relax but it also prevents me from saying something careless or ill-considered.

I am not ‘anti’ anything really, other than women being treated as if they don’t know their own bodies and can’t make decisions about their care. That’s pretty basic stuff in my book and what I have found over the last 20 years is that women who are supported respectfully by those who believe in them, are much more likely to experience pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period in a relaxed and calm way.

And so we return to ‘the breathing’ method of staying calm. No matter how a baby is born, a calm and peaceful attitude and environment can only be of benefit. Deep breathing brings precious oxygen for mother and baby, it calms the mind and body – thereby helping to loosen joints and soften muscles. Research shows that being relaxed reduces the experience of pain and the need for analgesia (think about how much easier it is to have an injection if you are relaxed), working with the sensations of labour rather than fighting against them helps women use the natural hormones of labour and babies born to calm mothers achieve higher Apgar scores at birth. And there’s more…positive birth experiences can improve postnatal mental health and well-being which in turn will help bonding with your baby.

So whether it’s NCT antenatal courses, Yoga for Pregnancy, Homoeopathy for Childbirth sessions, Pregnancy Relaxation classes or Natal Hypnotherapy Workshops my aim is always the same. Support women, and their partners, to have calm and confident births. Help them find a way to use breathing, relaxation and self-hypnosis to maintain a sense of focus and to help them connect with their instinctive birthing body. Dispel the negative images they may have and replace them with positive ones.

That way the stories I hear, time and time again, use the language of confidence and empowerment. Whether babies are born vaginally or by caesarean the breathing is still considered valuable. Midwives are often amazed at how relaxed the women are and complement them on their breathing. It makes my work a complete joy and hopefully helps the women I worth with have a better birthing experience.

Read some lovely, calm here birth stories here.

If you want to find out more about calm and confident birthing here are a few books you could read and some CDs you may like to listen to…

Effective Birth Preparation by Maggie Howell
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
The Breathing by Virginia Campbell & Charlotte Whitehead
Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah Buckley
Natal Hypnotherapy Range of CDs for Pregnancy, Birth and Postnatal Recovery

Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Baobab – the Tree of New Life?

I recently visited the Eden Project in Cornwall – where I sampled my first ever Baobab Smoothie – it was actually delicious and very refreshing. I had been drawn towards the stand because of the link to my work as a Natal Hypnotherapy Practitioner. The symbolism of the Baobab Tree cannot have escaped anyone who has read Maggie Howell’s book, Effective Birth Preparation, or attended a Natural Pain Relief Workshop. Often referred to as the Tree of Life, for me the Baobab Tree is actually the Tree of New Life. As Ray Mears explains in this video clip the women of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania give birth within the hollow of the Baobab Tree, some believing that if this tradition stops that ‘the Hadza tribe itself will die away’. It is from there the new lives within the tribe begin…

So why would a woman wish to give birth inside a tree? Take a moment just to have a think…

It offers the basic needs for a labouring woman – safety, protection, privacy and warmth. Stripping away everything else those are all the majority of women need. Those women, and their supporters, who prepare for labour and birth using Natal Hypnotherapy will be encouraged to find ways to create their very own Baobab Tree. What will help them find the privacy they need? The safety and protection from being disturbed? How can they ensure comfort and warmth?

Now I am not suggesting that every woman should rush off to give birth inside a tree in Tanzania (or indeed in the Eden Project Biome!) Equally there will be women who, for a wealth of reasons, are happy to birth in brightly lit rooms, filled with medical equipment and surrounded by people they have only just met. That may be their preference and I am not suggesting that is wrong for them.

On the other hand for many women a different option offers them what they are searching for. It may be that birthing at home will do this best – an environment they can set up to suit themselves and somewhere that they feel completely at ease. Alternatively a birth centre (either stand-alone or alongside a consultant-led unit) will be what they would choose. And for other women their local maternity unit would be their choice.

Each of these options do not preclude the creation of a Baobab Tree environment – whether labour is straightforward or more complex, vaginal or by caesarean, women can still be supported to feel all those basic needs are being met. So wherever women are birthing please remember to dim the lights, use blankets or shawls for warmth and privacy, maybe use a birthing pool and, very importantly, work confidently with staff to build a mutually supportive and trusting relationship. It doesn’t matter where or how a woman gives birth – if she feels safe, supported, calm and confident her experience will be better and, as a consequence, her postnatal well-being and emotional health will be greater.

Read Alex’s birth story which tells how she created her own safe space during labour.

How will you create your own personal Baobab Tree?