Note from Sasha: My good friend Betty Soo* is one of those natural mums. She’s always been maternal since school, when I’d go round after a bad break up to be put to bed with a glass of wine and a ciggie, and she was always on the phone with great advice on everything from dealing with family issues to remedies for cystitis. So it was no surprise to me that she went on to have three beautiful children, all of whom were born naturally, at home in a birthing pool. She is an amazing, relaxed mum and I am honoured to call her youngest my goddaughter.
So when I got pregnant, she was one of the first people I called, knowing she would be full of honest, good-humoured and wise advice. And while she managed to put me at ease about lots of things (a glass or two of wine being fine etc), she was also delighted that I was going to an Active Birth Yoga class with a teacher who recommended reading Ina May Gaskin. You see, karma has a way of making things right in the world, and Betty Soo went from a City job in London to being a birth and breastfeeding counsellor in the rural North of England, a job to which I cannot imagine anyone more suited. Ina May is her idol, championing the same natural, relaxed, mother-led birth that Betty Soo herself had. I’m still aiming to have an instinctive, active birth (even if it goes tits up and I end up having every intervention under the sun) so was interested in knowing more. Here’s what she had to say:
Betty Soo with number 2 and Ina May
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is the one book I recommend every pregnant mother reads, particularly if she has chosen to give birth as nature intended.
Now before you all beat my NCT-addled body, I said chosen on purpose. Not everyone wants to give birth as nature intended, not everyone gets to choose. So please don’t vilify me for writing this. I am going with the idea that Mum and baby are doing well and she would like to go down the natural choice route.
Ina May is an original hippy – a self-trained midwife, she responded to the needs of the women of the American hippy trail. There was one quite natural outcome from all that free love, and no one to help the women birth their babies – no midwives, no hospitals, no obstetricians, probably no health care insurance and certainly no NHS. So, Ina May became a midwife using books and some help from medics along the way, a large dose of love, a dash of spirituality and a strong belief that women can give birth and sometimes really enjoy it.
So, back to Ina May. Her book is not just fabulous, she is lovely too (I have met her! See pic above). She talks about poo, a lot. She says (about giving birth) “let your monkey do it“. She suggests you make horse lip noises in labour, snog your partner like mad and create a sexual atmosphere. Yes, a sexual atmosphere, how shocking! Anyone remember conception?
The monkey thing is all about letting go of your hang ups, your worries about weird noises escaping your lips, pooing yourself, not being able to cope – all your human issues that a monkey, frankly, wouldn’t give a crap about. There’s that word again… If you’re pushing hard into your bum as baby is coming, it might well happen. You might be worried now but remember - the midwife is your friend, she performs magic tricks with bed pans, she makes poo disappear, so if anyone is a bit afraid of showing their partner some poo, rest assured, it will be hidden, unless you have a waterbirth, in which case my husband had a sieve (aka fishing net). After two experiences of this, I am over it. I only worry that I will ‘owe’ him in later life.
And now for the science bit; currently in the UK our caesarean rate is worryingly high, 25% of all births (WHO recommend a level under 10%). I say worrying because although caesarean section is a fabulous tool for rescuing, it also increases risk. So in ideal circumstances it would be a tool to use with caution.
When Ina May published her Guide to Childbirth, it was not just the beautiful stories and wise words which captured my heart, but a tiny Appendix giving the statistics for The Farm midwifery service. These statistics made me weep.
Realistically we are talking about a group of people who one assumes are emotionally supported, have a low stress lifestyle, eat well and are supported by a very experienced normal birth midwifery team. And yet, I am still in complete awe. Their caesarean rate is just 1.4%. How do they do it?
I believe that it’s a bit like The Little Engine That Could. The midwives, the pregnant women, partners, children, everyone on The Farm believes in normal birth. They see it often, have seen it working and they know it works.
Compare this to my own experiences of birth prior to pregnancy – a few off-putting stories involving hospitals and emergencies, episodes of Casualty and ER and well, nothing else, I wasn’t that interested - I’d rather discuss my shoes thanks all the same. At my first ever booking in appointment, my midwife asked where I would birth my baby? In hospital, I replied, because surely that was where all babies were born? She suggested my home. Really? What nonsense! That never happens on Casualty. But it intrigued me. Was it possible and most of all was it safe? The answer for me was yes. Two super supportive midwives coached me through what was a nerve wracking time, supported me and most importantly, did not leave my side. This is what every woman deserves, whether they choose to birth in a hospital or birth centre or at home; proper one (or two) to one midwifery care. Just like Ina May would give.
So what would pass on to my best friend, if she were soon to increase the population of this planet?
- Get in touch with your pelvic floor and all of its roles – wee, poo, uterus - it’s all a very fabulous part of you, don’t be ashamed by it, embrace it (although not literally).
- Read/watch/listen to every positive birth story you can lay your hands on. An awareness of the variety in length, progress and challenges of birth will help you feel prepared when your day arrives. It will also help manage your expectations to allow for a great range of possibilities during the birth journey.
- Do not watch One Born Every Minute (unless someone has edited for you and even then with caution) and do not listen to the horror stories women, who you often barely know, seem so happy to relate. Birth is like a marathon, you need cheer leaders, not people telling you how awful it’s going to be. (NB Orgasmic birth does exist, I saw the film).
- Birth, in the most part, is fabulous. Yes, it is hard work (‘labour’ kind of gives it away). But, like many jobs that take time and effort, the rewards are boundless.
- Going on from this, BELIEVE IN BIRTH – we really would not be here as a race of people if it didn’t work, would we? Sure, stuff happens, but in the most part, BIRTH WORKS. If you don’t believe me, find someone to talk through why you feel this way or find a natal hypnotherapist to work with.
- Talk to your partner about birth, about expectations after birth. If this is proving fruitless, pay for NCT classes where you will be helped to gain insight into your own and each other’s expectations of parenthood. You may also make a great support network of other parents to be to help you through the fog of first time parenting.
- Birth can be hard, breastfeeding can be hard, being parents can be hard, but what you get back is priceless and after the hard stuff you can look back with a real sense of achievement. You can say ‘I MADE this baby, I GREW him’.
And that has to be the coolest thing ever.
* not in fact her real name, I did not go to school in Nashville