Hello! A big warm welcome to my doula website. Please stay and have a look around. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the contact page. Thanks for dropping by! Kind Regards, Ellie xxxx
As a doula I find the large majority of my conversations outside of my working life also revolve around birth. I’m cool with that as it’s obviously one of my favourite subjects. These conversations are often a great learning experience for me. Hearing other people’s thoughts and stories helps enrich my own knowledge and often theirs. Just sometimes, these conversations leave me somewhat riled.
I recently had a brief exchange with someone in a social situation who had a mutual friend with me. Our mutual friend was expecting her first baby and had spoken to us both about her plans for the birth. As a doula, I instinctively don’t discuss these things with others without expressed permission from the woman in question, but this lady began to talk about our mutual friend’s birth plan. “I love how she’s got this birth plan and it’s all natural” she began and looked at me with a smile. She went on “I said to her, I think it’s great that you’ve got this, I really do, BUT….” I felt my stomach drop “if it all goes wrong, don’t worry, just focus on the baby…” here it comes “because that’s what matters.”
I gently began to explain why birth plans were important while said woman’s phone began to ring and my four year-old began tugging on my arm. I became flustered as she nodded unconvinced and the exchange was quickly over. I have mulled this over for days in my head, thinking about what she had said. Apart from her words seeming hugely patronising, she really truly thought that she was helping. So here it is, my first blog post about why this kind of talk really doesn’t help.
So I feel the need to explain what birth plans are about, because clearly there is some confusion. Birth plans are not predictions. They don’t assume everything is going to be fine. They are tools to help women navigate the maternity system; to have a voice about what kind of care they wish to receive. They contain “what ifs….?” and contingency plans. They are drawn up for the exact reason that birth can be unpredictable and families that take the time to do this, go into the birth room feeling more confident than if they didn’t. When things don’t go the way that you really hoped they would, there are still options that can improve your experience. How can this be a bad thing?
“The power of a birth plan isn’t the actual plan, it’s the process of becoming educated about your options“ says Jen McLellan of the “Plus Size Birth” Blog.
Never a truer word spoken but to elaborate on that; birth plans are directives. They empower you and having this stuff in writing means in your most vulnerable moments, those moments where you find it hard to articulate yourself, your birth partner can help. They know your story and they understand your wishes and they can effectively communicate that to your care providers. Birth plans build a team. They are useful for everyone.
Here’s the thing. When you warn women about the possible dangers of birth and remind them of its unpredictability, this is nothing new. Everything you’ve said, they have thought about. I don’t know a single first time woman who didn’t spend part of their pregnancy worrying about this stuff. Who didn’t lie awake in bed at night, stressing about what could happen and questioning whether they could really do it. And this isn’t surprising, the vast majority of media representations of birth are negative, dramatic and damn right terrifying. We’ve had a lifetime absorbing birth fear. The downside doesn’t need reinforcing. It’s the norm.
There are little pockets of change like The Positive Birth Movement which aims to help women feel empowered and confident about their births. BBC 2 recently aired an excellent documentary “Birth All or Nothing” following the contrasting experiences of four women who had made informed choices about the way they wanted to birth. But on the whole, the prevailing narrative in Western society is that birth is scary.
If you’ve had a baby, like it or not you are in a position of power. Pregnant women will look to you for the answers. You went through this and you survived it. Here you are right up there on that pedestal. Your words will become a meme, they will etch themselves on a pregnant woman’s brain. It’s important to get it right.
This is the point where I want to reach out to those of you who had a less than positive birth yourselves. Maybe things didn’t turn out the way that you planned. Maybe it was down right horrible for you. Your feelings are valid and your story needs to be told. Just not to her. Not now.
I know you’re worried for her because of what happened to you and that is completely understandable, but this is exactly why birth plans are good. We know that what really makes a positive birth is feeling listened to and respected whatever the outcome is. Birth plans are instrumental in this.
There is so little space for women to talk about their experiences and all too often people make it clear they don’t want to hear it. Fobbing us off with a phrase like “all that matters is a healthy baby” (a phrase which needs it’s own separate, very long blog post.) I see this anecdotally every time I explain to someone what I do. No matter the age or background, whether the experience was good or bad, women spill their stories to me. They talk with passion and emotion like it was only yesterday. Women don’t forget.
As doulas we put a lot of work into debriefing our own experiences. It’s not appropriate for us to bring our stories to someone else’s birth space, so we tell each other. We are lucky. We get that opportunity and we are always listened to.
This could be considered radical but what I want to suggest is that you support your friends in their choices. You behave positively about their intentions and if you find that it’s bringing up stuff for you, write it down or find someone (who is not pregnant) who can actively listen and debrief with you. When you look at her birth plan and feel the need to point out the bad stuff that ‘could happen’ what she hears is that you don’t believe in her and you don’t think she can do it. She’ll feel demoralised and whatever the outcome of her birth, it’s likely you won’t be the one she comes to to talk it through. This isn’t your story, it’s hers, and she needs you to be strong for her.
There’s a phrase I hear a lot. It’s said to new families, in person and all over social media. It largely comes from well meaning parents. Parents whose kids are older now, parents whose kids are all grown up, grandparents of grown up kids. Parents who look back with rose tinted glasses and prickly eyes remembering the oxytocin swell they felt when their seemingly enormous “babies” were little dots too. It rolls off the tongue as easily as “hello” when they see your newborn baby. “ENJOY THIS SPECIAL TIME. THEY GROW UP SO FAST”. I remember people saying this to me after my first baby. I remember the forced smile I put on when they asked if I was “LOVING IT?”, the nod of my head as I wondered what they meant. Was I doing it wrong? When would I sleep? It didn’t feel special. What was I supposed to be enjoying?
When I work with families in the postpartum period there’s a lot of listening and hand holding. The range of emotions that flood the new mother’s brain can be overwhelming. Among the intense feelings of love, joy and wonder, there are often much darker thoughts. There’s a flicker of guilt in a mother’s eyes when she turns to me, eyes filled with tears and says “I’m really not enjoying this”.
There’s a level of surprise and relief when I inform them that I hear this from most of the families I work with.
I often liken the postpartum period to becoming a sponge. Just as newborns have thin skin, so do mothers. I burst into tears in the hospital when a paediatrician commented that the way my son’s babygro was designed was “unusual”. The slightest comment or raised eyebrow can be devastating and unravel our self esteem in a matter of minutes. The presupposition that we are definitely enjoying ourselves can do the same thing. If we aren’t, are we allowed to say?
The thing is, having a newborn baby is almost never the blissful haze you expect it to be. After the initial rush, the excitement and the joy; after the hormones wear off, comes the hard part. The long long feeds, seeing your partner in shifts, the endless nappy changes, the one handed meals and cold cups of tea, wondering “will I ever get a proper sleep again?” No matter how many times people tell you parenthood is tiring, nothing really prepares us for the kind of exhaustion and emotional rollercoaster that our first baby brings.
This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy our babies. Quite the contrary. Most new parents will tell us that they spend hours watching them sleep, noting every wriggle and every frown, feeling that intense love and protective instinct and in awe of how perfect they are. But everything that comes with our bundles of joy? It’s usually a mixed bag.
Research shows that a mother’s brain rewires itself during pregnancy (https://www.popsci.com/pregnancy-re-wires-brains-moms-to-be/) It stays like that for two years after she gives birth. Not only has she just made a human being,she has a new brain to deal with! Things that didn’t upset her before can have her in floods of tears. Having children shakes us to the very core, and we need to feel safer to talk about this.
As our children grow up, and we look at others with little ones, we mourn that simpler time. That same oxytocin that made us fall in love with them, kicks in during the rare times we get hold them again. We feel wistful about their early years, when we were their everything and our everything was them. The temptation to urge our friends to freeze time and remember is strong. Please understand that these families are still finding their way. Freezing time is the last thing you want when you’re hanging on for your next nap or hot meal. The days are rolling into one another and just having a shower requires a level of planning that even a board meeting might never achieve. Aside from the practical, they are likely scared and overwhelmed. She questions whether she can do this everyday forever and sometimes wonders whether she should have had the baby at all. She is bored and confused. The days are long and the weeks are short. They have become something new and adjusting to that takes time.
We don’t often remember these bits. I guess it was nature’s way of getting us to keep on making babies. The way we hold experience in our memory contains distortions, deletions and generalisations. But I’m pretty sure the dark days were there for all of us. Let’s try to remember that when we hold space for postpartum families. Let’s meet them where they are, instead of where we think they should be. Instead of “are you loving it?” ask them, “How are you?” and have no expectations about the answers. Instead of “enjoy it while you can” ask them what you can do for them while they navigate this new journey. Perhaps then, they’ll start to enjoy it more.
I wrote this just over nine months ago and wasn’t brave enough to share. On HG Awareness Day 2018, I’m plucking up the courage.
I want to talk about HG
With the recent Royal pregnancy announcement the press were on fire again. I actually knew it was coming. There had been whisperings in the community. Reporters clocking the duchess coming in and out of hospital. We nodded silently and gulped with empathy. We all took deep breaths…..
You see for those of us in the HG community, these Royal announcements come at a price to our mental health. Kate Middleton’s first pregnancy was the first time Hyperemesis had made it into mainstream media. It raised awareness of an often misunderstood illness that so many of us suffered in silence with. It also attracted a fair amount of unpleasantness and shaming.
I share quite a bit about myself in here. After all, a blog is supposed to be reflective. It’s supposed to be a recording of my thoughts and ramblings. But this is also my business page. I do like to keep a certain level of privacy and there is a book I’m reluctant to open to the public.
With the work I do for a pregnancy sickness charity I’m wired into the community. The press requests came pouring in and a call to arms in sharing blogs and articles erupted. I wanted to help. I wanted to write. I wanted to talk about HG. But I couldn’t find the words.
Twelve years after my first diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum and I still can’t find the words to blog about it. Is it the conversations I’ve had over the years? The conversations where people told me “pregnancy is a blessing not a curse”, “you should be happy. Some people can’t have kids.” or “you just need to stop being silly and eat something.” Is it because I feel what I have to say has already been said, and no matter how many times we say it, they still won’t believe us?
I’ve spent most of these royal announcements sharing the odd article and then retreating into a media blackout. All I can do is to continue my one to one support for the HG sufferers assigned to me, through texts of encouragement and let them know that they are heard. This is what keeps me going.
It may just be that I don’t feel I can ever truly convey what I went through in words. It will never be enough. Or maybe exposing myself to the judgement of the internet scares me. So I’m leaving this wound closed.
I will say this; HG made me who I am today. It’s a beast. If you ever go there; please find me. I’m here to listen.
It’s the end of world breastfeeding week. I’ve had some discussions this week that have been frustrating to say the least. On social media I’ve been accused of “forcing the issue” and “alienating women” when expressing a desire to have breastfeeding taught in schools. I’ve been asked where “world formula feeding week” is. I trawled through a facebook thread about a woman being asked to cover up in a museum, and was so upset by some of the remarks that I couldn’t even bring myself to comment.
This is what happens every year on World Breastfeeding Week. The media and formula industry jump at the chance to start wars between vulnerable women. They set us against each other and convince both sides that they are out to get one another.
I would write a blog about how my celebration of breastfeeding is not a targeted attack on the reader who chose to bottle feed her baby. How my calls for better support for women during the postpartum phase, are not sneers at the effort some women put into feeding but ultimately it just didn’t work out. I could write about how I have sat with women and held their hand as they fed their baby their first bottle of formula. How I admire ALL WOMEN and support them whatever. But I’ve said all that. I’ve said it again and again.
This year the focus was on “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”. I think with all the squabbling that got lost somewhere. It’s about coming together. So I want to tell a story about breastfeeding and collaboration.
In 2009 I was living at my parents house with my seven month-old baby. My partner was seventy miles away finishing the final year of his undergraduate degree and I only saw him at weekends. I was lonely, exhausted, isolated, had no friends with babies and had moved back to my hometown after nearly a decade away. I didn’t sleep and I barely had the energy or confidence to go out and meet people.
Facebook had just started to be ‘a thing’ and scrolling through it, I stumbled across a group called “Hey Facebook Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene”. The title prompted me to have a look. Turns out Facebook had been removing people’s breastfeeding photographs for “obscenity” In 2009!!!
Anyway as a breastfeeding mum I became quite passionate about this issue. Here was a group with thousands of members standing up for women. It was heartening. This was back in the day where facebook groups had a discussions forum within them. Somewhere in the archives will be lengthy debates about issues from nappies to abortion, from baby food to circumcision. I came across breastfeeding counsellors, women who called themselves “doulas”, midwives, and women and men from different walks of life. This protest group became more than a campaign. It was a place to connect with others around the world. It was a sanctuary, a forum and a support group. It was my first village.
The group made a difference too. I’m not saying the removal of breastfeeding photos doesn’t still happen. I’m almost certain it does, but things have changed a great deal. They changed because we didn’t back down. We came together and challenged the discrimination. I am proud to be part of that.
I met some amazing women in that group. Many of them I am still in touch with now. I have been lucky enough to meet two or three of them in the flesh! There are now thousands of support groups on facebook for parents and they are probably much more sophisticated and helpful than ever. But being in that group gave me confidence with breastfeeding, it gave me confidence in the decisions I made and ultimately it led me to becoming a doula.
So I’m seeing in the last day of World Breastfeeding Week by raising a glass to my virtual village. Saying thank you to all of you in cyberspace who had my back in those early days. Thanks for being there and getting your boobs out for the babies. You changed my life. No really, you did.
I’ve been thinking about Mary and Joseph. Yes I know those of you who know me might be surprised by this, given I am an atheist. But this is obviously a story that’s being told a lot at this time of year. Whether I think it happened or not is kind of irrelevant. It’s a significant story, and part of our cultural heritage. My daughter just played the donkey in her school nativity and understandably talks about it. It’s an important story and one that continues to be told again and again. Besides all of that, I’m a birthworker and any story surrounding babies and birth, is of interest to me.
Most paintings of the nativity represent the baby Jesus on display in the manger (These are contemporary representations and the bible account of Jesus’ birth is more vague and quite different). A crowd of admirers gather around and watch his every move. You can almost feel the oxytocin. Who doesn’t love to admire a baby? It must be the doula in me, but something about this niggles in the back of my head.
I just have one question. Did they really need a manger?
This is not meant to offend anyone or pick on the Christmas story. I’m just wondering where the manger came in and why?
Were cots commonplace among Jewish people in the middle east at this time? Maybe a historian can fill me in. I don’t know about you but if I had just free-birthed in a stable, I’d be snuggling down in the hay and keeping my baby next to me.
Everything we know about skin to skin and an undisturbed first hour of birth isn’t new. Yes the research is new (http://www.cochrane.org/CD003519/PREG_early-skin-skin-contact-mothers-and-their-healthy-newborn-infants) but the knowledge is old. Before the modern medicalised model of birth, this is what mothers instinctively did. Our babies were carried in cloth and kept close to us. We didn’t pass them around, we didn’t sleep apart. We weren’t away from them.
Lets say for arguments sake that had they been at home in Nazareth, Joseph would have built a cot for the baby, and that that was the normal way of things. After travelling hundreds of miles across the desert to a strange place and being refused entry to a cosy place to labour, would you really want to be apart from your baby? Would you be searching for somewhere to put them down so desperately?
I like to think the paintings may have got it wrong. Mary would have kept her boy close and nursed him. Kept him warm against her chest when the visitors came bearing gifts. And when it was time to rest, I like to think she snuggled down in the stable and curled her arms and legs around him, drifting off into cholecystokinin-induced slumber.
What do you think?