Clare's thoughts on birth - what is going on?

My interest in birth is deep and feels very instinctive. I want to help change this horrid cycle that seems to be have taken hold. I know there will be people thinking - why do I care SO much about birth, especially as my family is probably complete. But it’s everything – it’s just SO important.  


I am a naturally empathic person with a huge sense of justice. So having to hear practically every woman I know having the same fearful perceptions of birth – it’s just sad. And unnecessary. It ruins what is the most amazing journey. I feel it damages a mother from the start, making her doubt her own instinct from the off. How is that good for society?


The notion that birth is something to fear is being handed down, passed along – generation to generation. It’s becoming embedded. Interestingly, my grandmother thinks ‘us youngsters’ make a fuss out of birth these days. She often makes comments like this and everyone just rolls their eyes. Noone actually stops and thinks about what she is really saying. 


Female members of my family, including my mum and aunt say she doesn’t understand, that she’s forgotten what labour is like, how worrying it all is for example, and that the fact that we have more tech and scans now means that we are so much better placed.


But there is so much truth is in what she says. That fuss is made, and fear created as a result. I wanted to dig deeper into what my grandmother was saying. I knew what she was trying to say. She followed her body. In her mind, it was all very uneventful. And I found comfort and balance from her comments. 


The system puts us in boxes it seems to me. It turns us into types. Those choosing homebirth are seen as risktakers, despite evidence confirming the risk is the same as having a baby in hospital. Or if a woman wants/needs a caesarean, there is judgement there too. 


It’s all very negative, stereotyping and damaging for mothers. It sets women up to think if I can’t be trusted to have a baby, I can’t be trusted to bring up a child. If everyone came together in a more holistic way, the system could be fantastic. Home birth could be more or less the default and the sky would be the limit. 


I was very excited to experience birth a second time. Nothing could stand in my way. The thing that struck me the most in both of my birth journeys was the huge and vastly disproportionate distrust in mothers and their ability to birth. I think this is fairly standard for first time mothers but second time, there’s this even weirder space between ‘we won’t worry so much because you’ve done this before’ to keeping you with just enough fear that you ‘listen’ to them (midwives, doctors, consultants) 


Even in the 12 minutes I was in hospital, they wanted to put a trace on my tummy, and there I was, roaring. ‘Don’t push!’ they said, to which I answered, ‘I’m not!’ 


Of course I wasn’t… my body was just doing it - try telling someone not to wee when they are desperate mid flow!  The older midwife in charge even told me to get on my back.


I said to the midwife next to me, I want to be on my side and she said ‘of course, just do what is comfortable’. So I moved to my side. Yet again, so much distrust. A woman comes in fully ready to go but they still insist they know best! 


People’s reactions to my second birth surprise me. ‘You were lucky weren’t you?! ‘Oh that’s quick, lucky you got to hospital’ when I actually thought going to hospital was unnecessary. The truth is I didn’t need to be there. Once my baby was born there was no fussing or medics telling me what to do. I thought how strange that after months of being directed and told ‘they know best’ ,I was now in a room with my baby and that was it. 


It was such a text book second labour - just like I’d read it would be. It followed the pattern so predictably, they when I was quietly labouring at home on my own, I could hear that book in my head, encouraging me on. 


I focussed on the rest rather than the contraction, I’d feel reassured, ‘ah yes, they said this would happen…’ and on with the show. 


There was no fear. No doubt. I have never felt more sure about anything. As my baby was crowning at home, I just said to my husband ‘the baby is coming’ just phone them back and tell them I’m having the baby here. But there were staff shortages, so there was no midwife available and we ended up going in. Even so,  I wouldn't be distracted. I just stayed focussed.


It was so funny that I didn’t listen to the calm play list I’d made, I didn’t have a pool, I had the trusty two mini hot water bottles and lavender. And a cup of chamomile tea. I wholeheartedly welcomed the sensations and powerful contractions knowing that it was all for the best possible reason - to meet my baby. 


In the intense throws of it all, I kind of forgot what I was doing it all for..and then my baby was placed on me and I thought, ‘oh yes, this is what it was all about.’ 


I was so in another world for the last bit, that to have this perfectly pink, beautiful little girl staring at me felt surreal. She looking to me for that same familiar warmth and comfort to which she had been accustomed in my womb. 


I looked at my phone an hour late and realised I already had happy birthday texts from friends who had early starts with work. It dawned on me - I’ve just given myself the best birthday present ever, a little girl. My mum cut her cord and my mum had me at the same hospital 34 years ago. There was something magical and like a circle had been completed that day. 


While still pregnant with my baby, I had to go in for checks, for a low-lying placenta.


On the antenatal ward, I was opposite a woman in tears being induced. She was 38 weeks and had ‘probable preclampsia’. What even is that – surely you either have it or you don’t. The things the midwife said to her were just awful. The induction wasn’t working. 


But sadly I had heard it all before with my own first birth when I refused induction and went off home. I was made to feel like a reckless fool. ‘We’ll do this and that and if that doesn’t work then… then if not do it all again… if not then c section…’ 


You could see the horror in this poor woman’s face after already being on this ward for three days. Her husband came in fresh faced and couldn’t understand why she was getting upset with the ‘medical advice’. When the midwife went, she sobbed alone on this ward. So tired, so frustrated. I went over to her and just chatted to her – offered her a bit of support. Like a doula I guess. Instantly you could see she felt better. It was so simple. So why do so many women feel so completely alone, unheard and abandoned when going through it.