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GUEST POST: Why I Love Ina May Gaskin

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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: 

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Ina May, Felix & Me

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.

Spiritual midwifery

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.

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* not in fact her real name, I did not go to school in Nashville

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3 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Why I Love Ina May Gaskin

  1. Pingback: 7 months old – and some time-saving tips* | The Happy Baby Project

  2. Such a fantastic article from Betty Soo. (So glad you’re doing so well up north.

    I feel compelled to share why I love Ina May too. I had only heard bad things about birth until I started seeking out positive stories. Ina May’s book convinced me that a good birth experience was down to your perception of it. Combining this with hypnobirthing, I felt confident enough to go down the home birth route.

    I was all set for my beautiful natural birth when my waters broke 10 days early. I wasn’t in labour and the waters had meconium in them. I was told to come straight into hospital and I was put straight onto a drip to induce me. I was also strapped to a monitor, lying on a hospital bed in a labour room that was so high tech it felt like a spaceship.

    However, the things I’d read in Ina May came into my mind and I realised that my changed circumstances didn’t mean my labour was going to go wrong – I was determined to avoid ‘the cascade of intervention’ my antenatal classes had gone on about.

    So I relaxed. We had very supportive midwives who allowed me to move about as much as possible whilst hooked up to machines, we had the lights down low during my labour and we played music. The midwives were always present but they were a wonderfully supportive presence. I felt in control pretty much all of the time. (Apart from just before my baby was born, when I freaked out a bit, but that’s totally normal apparently.)

    After a fairly slow start my labour kicked off. I have no idea if I pooed! But I did feel fairly calm throughout and my lovely baby arrived after 6 hours of active labour, with just a bit of help from gas and air and diamorphine.

    I would say to any woman expecting her first baby to expect the best, not the worst. Trust your body and your baby to get it right. (And trust your midwife too.)

    I’d also say try to be flexible about what you think a ‘good birth’ is. I had to change my thinking about home versus hospital very quickly but I think that doing it meant I had a really good and fairly natural experience despite it being medicalised.

  3. Betty I love you and your blog addition to Sashas’.
    My 2nd pregnancy was just like you explained.
    I LOVED giving birth and felt ALL woman.
    I grunted like a tribal Queen and pooed alot too.
    I plaited my hair like Pocahontas; which I think Sasha should do as you will look gorgeous, and got into the groove.
    I can only describe the final pushes as the most amazing experience I have ever had. My first pregnancy went in a slightly different direction so I felt very blessed to have experienced the birth of Little bear 2 in this way.
    I was, however in a country hospital and not at home but my midwife stayed with me until my little bear 2 was born: beyond her shift. She kissed my forehead when she presented my bundle and we both cried in happiness. She was amazing and she has a place in my heart for sure. Although hubby was present and indeed very supportive, I could only hear one voice and that was hers. Despite it being my 2nd, I remember coming in with contractions being minutes apart, saying, “so whats happening?”. My midwife took my hand and said, “We are going to have a baby”. I sort of looked at her in a strange way, recalls my hubby as if to say, “I beg your pardon”.
    I had purposely stayed at home on my tens for as long as possible and this pregnancy gave me all those great opportunities so when I finally kissed my toddler bear’s head for the 100th time, who was sleeping soundly and got my hubby up (do remember he was at work that day and very very tired ladies), I got to the hospital with not long to go.
    I was in the waterpool for most of it which was delicious. What I did not realise, because I had not experienced the sense of pushing with Bear 1, was indeed the pushing sensation or rather the need to push. For some reason, with this new feeling, I really needed to come out the pool. If baby bear 3 comes along, I will be more in tune with it all but that’s life experience in a nut shell.
    Baby bear 2 was born, after Grunting Tribal Queen Milly Moira hung off the bed. My midwife loved the position I got myself into. Regardless of health and safety, that was how Mumma Bear was gonna deliver sista.
    Baby bear 2 was beautiful and I fell even more in love. Bear 1 came to visit and the two of them together made me the proudest mummy in town, grunts and all.
    I write this reply to all the mums out there and all the different births we all experience, from hospital to home, c/section, natural, high risk, midwife led and consultancy led. My 1st bear’s experience brought me my first ever bundle and I wouldn’t change it for the world despite it being not so natural.
    But I do like grunting I must admit.
    Good Luck Sasha and thank you Betty. X

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