Friday, April 2, 2010


A comment posted in my previous blog prompted me thinking about birth from the baby’s perspective, and I was reminded of a chapter in my soon to be published (I hope) book. So much information abounds – books, DVD’s, community knowledge – about a baby’s first few days and weeks of life. But what is missing from a lot of these information sources is the baby’s perspective. In many ways, without considering this, the knowledge we have is shallow in the very least, misguided and inaccurate at the worst.

As the baby develops inside of the mother, imagine a world of gradual awakening and awareness - a watery cocoon that cushions and protects; a world where primal instincts are paramount and a consciousness gradually forms. A world where there is a growing confidence that all needs are met – no hunger, no cold, along with a constant knowledge of another’s (mother’s) intimate presence. Dr Joseph Chilton Pearce in the video “Pregnancy, Birth & Bonding” states that a baby’s brain is functioning in very basic terms “right from the very beginning” of its formation!

As babies develop inside of their mother’s they wonder and learn and grow. They hear, feel and know mother’s heart beat. All light is dim, but they are aware of changes in light and dark and they explore their surroundings and reach for light. All sounds are muffled, but they hear and know the voice of their mother and of those who she is in daily contact with. You might also say that they know mother’s voice by “vibration”. As a baby grows inside the mother’s womb, s/he explores and learns all about their environment. Scientists say that they dream – does s/he wonder what those sounds are that they can hear?

Soon the baby outgrows this watery world and it is time to move on. Do they just accept this? Do they give the signal to commence the process? Are they eager? Anxious? Fearful? Are they unaware?

How much do the mother’s emotions affect the baby? Does her fear and pain heighten her baby’s fear and pain? Does her calm acceptance and surrender enable her baby to make the passage more smoothly? How much does the baby depend on the mother’s unhindered labour hormones to adapt to the outside world? How much does the baby’s future depend on the hormonal imprinting that occurs at an un-hindered birth?

Of one thing I am convinced – babies are NOT just passengers – they are actively involved in the birth process and it is just as intense for them as it is for the mother. They communicate with the mother's body somehow - I do not pretend to understand it - I just know it happens because I have seen it over and over again. As the baby and the mother work in harmony, how much do the "support people" in the room interfere with this communication and activity?

Any natural endorphins that a mother produces to enable her to cope will also be of benefit to her baby. In an un-medicated, un-hindered, natural labour, a woman most often feels relief and intense pleasure at the birth of her baby. Does her baby feel the same? As a mother experiences the highest surge of oxytocin that she will ever experience (the best ‘natural high’ around) – her baby – still connected through the umbilical cord – experiences the same. What are the consequences of interfering with these processes?

This is one of the reasons why un-hindered birth is so important. It is not merely about a mother’s experience (as we are so often accused of placing a mother’s experience over the safety of the baby) – it is also about the baby. It is about imprinting maternal instincts on the mother’s brain, and it is about laying the foundation of a “whole individual” for the baby. Midwives need to understand and know that they cannot interfere with this process and there be no consequences.

Just because you might not know what those consequences might be, it does not mean that there are no consequences.

If you are attending a birth in any capacity – midwife, doula, and friend – THINK. Before you act, before you touch, before you speak – THINK. Ask yourself “will what I am about to do/touch/say interfere with the mother’s power and autonomy? Will it support her to reach more of her power or will it hinder the process and cause her to rely on me or another outside source?”

Many blessings in birth as you “be with” women and hold their space so they can get on with their task - - -

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Many recent events have all been pointing towards how women in labour are “monitored”. Many midwives do not do vaginal examinations because they are intrusive and painful and there are other ways of monitoring progress. This is all a very good thing, but I would suggest it doesn’t go far enough. The whole concept of labour progress is assessed using a male mindset. What I mean by this is that men and women think differently. It is scientifically proven our brains function differently and there are different connecting pathways between right and left hemispheres for men and women. Now all of this I say to point out that we are different – in no way do I imply one is better than the other – just different. And nothing is black and white; there are variations and scales within male and female. I am also not saying that science is purely a male domain – I love science, but how it is applied is usually different for males and females.

Since medicine first took over birth as their domain, it has looked at the whole issue with a male-mind. Progress of labour was assessed and monitored, categorised and boxed and put on a time line with a clear beginning, clear progression and clear end. And then they told women how it should be done according to their understanding. And women tried their hardest to ‘fit’ their models. One look at our atrocious birth statistics and trauma will tell you that women cannot fit into these boxes no matter how hard they try.

In reality, birth is purely a feminine phenomenon and we cannot understand it with a male mind. We have the body – the equipment so to speak – and the innate wisdom – to birth. And it does not involve monitoring and fitting into neat little categories. So as midwives avoid the actual physical measurement (VE's) to monitor progress, and come up with lots of external ways to know how a woman is progressing, we give no thought to the fact that we are still using a male-minded yard stick for alternate ways of measuring as if it is the valid way of thinking about birth. It is not just the how of measuring it is the measuring itself.

As women we are all very well aware that life is not like a straight line progression - relationships are not like that and birth is certainly not like that. A women telling a story will leave the progression of her story line for a bit and go back and tell you a side bit, or a piece of history that will make your appreciation of the story more comprehensive - progress is not definitely a straight line. Birth is a beautiful dance where a woman is mostly telling her life story. Let her do it her way, and progress as she feels she needs to - completely unhindered. If she feels she needs to check her “progress” on the male minded scale than something has happened to hinder her self expression and she is doubting herself. What she really wants to know is “am I ok?” Even though she may ask how far dilated she is, she is only verbalising like this because it is set in our cultural concrete that dilation measures progress in labour. What she really needs to hear is “Yes you are fine. You are getting closer. You can do this. YES – you do have the strength. Dig deep – the power to do this is within you.”

Don't get me wrong - all of these external signs are interesting and fascinating - and I watch and observe women, but I do not let the expectations of my observations change my assessment of where she is. I care about how she is and how the baby is. What matters is - how is she? How can I support her best? What does she need? Not "how far is she along the path?" she is either moving toward pushing her baby out or she is pushing her baby out. Who cares how close she is so long as she is listening to her body?

So my aim is to re-educate women into believing instead of the 3 medical (male minded) stages of labour there are really 5. (Well, I think I might reassess this and make it 6 to include the pre-labour stage as a valid stage of labour, because often what women are feeling during this stage is completely invalidated and dismissed with a “well you’re not really IN labour”. Don’t forget – the definite “beginning of labour” at 3-4cm is also a male mindset.) But once a woman is in labour, there are only 5 stages that matter. . . coming soon coming now out and needs to be left alone.
4. ohh look there's the placenta
5. don't you dare disturb mum and bub or I'll rip your arm off