birth, labour, reflections

Leave the clock behind

As a pregnant woman, surrounded by a birth culture that is obsessed with monitoring the progress of labour, it is hard not to focus on how long labour has lasted and how long and frequent your contractions are.

Yet it appears to me that the habit of ‘watching the clock’ from the first rhythmic twinges of early labour can make the process seem long, drawn out and eventually exhausting.

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Every woman’s labour is different to the next and the effacement and dilation of the cervix can happen in fits and starts rather than along a predictable curve, so even if you are closely timing your labour it doesn’t mean you know how far you’ve come or how far you have to go, which is ultimately what all women long to know.

In the world of birth, you hear a lot about long labours, fatigue and lack of progress, which then lead to interventions such as the use of synthetic oxytocin to speed up the labour or epidural anasthesia to enable a mother, who has been labouring for many hours, to rest .

But what if our image and expectations of labour were different? What if, instead of watching the clock or the smartphone app to time contractions, a woman in the early stirrings of labour set her mind on some other absorbing task? Continue reading “Leave the clock behind”

birth, labour, pregnancy, reflections

Why trust in birth?

Diving into Pam England’s latest book, Ancient Map for Modern Birth, I was faced with a section on the notion of trust in the realm of pregnancy, birth and post-partum, which urged me to unpick the phrase ‘I Trust in Birth’ – the name for our doula service.

The words ‘I Trust in Birth’ surfaced, as an affirmation for myself as an embryonic doula, in a session with a pregnant couple preparing for the arrival of their first child. The phrase encapsulated the faith in myself and other women to be able to give birth in their own natural way, given the right preparation and environment. My friend, who was my doula at my first two births, had embodied that unswerving trust in my ability to birth and I found it contagious. In both births, the staunch belief that she held in me helped me navigate some tricky twists and turns in events where I otherwise might have faltered. Continue reading “Why trust in birth?”

birth, reflections

The gift of witnessing unassisted birth

It occurred to me recently, after watching the videos below, how valuable and educational it is to be able to witness unassisted birth.

For mothers and fathers to be, their children, and medical professionals to see what birth looks like when nobody intervenes in any way is a gift in helping us to understand what birth can be in its natural form, uncontrolled or influenced by outside forces.

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The decision to birth without the presence of a midwife or other medical professional is a very personal one, which only a small percentage of women in ‘developed’ countries consciously take.
My second child was born without a midwife present, although it wasn’t exactly premeditated. I considered the option of calling ‘them’ but it never felt like the appropriate time to allow a stranger into my birthspace – as having a homebirth with the UK National Health Service at the time would have meant that I would not have met the midwife who was sent out to my home on that early March night. And the second stage of labour, when the contractions accelerated massively in intensity and frequency, thrust me very quickly into natural pushing, which resulted in the sudden arrival of my baby boy.

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My experience with the NHS midwives at my first son’s birth was mixed and overall not so positive ( I will write aboout that birth in more depth another time). Hence, my deliberation about whether to allow them in .
My daughter’s birth, the third, was in the presence of a very experienced home birth midwife working in Portugal at the time. We had developed a relationship of trust over the course of the pregnancy and I was very grateful for her companionship and passion for water birth, which led to the beautiful underwater birth of Sashi.

Similarly, choosing to film or photograph one’s labour and birth is a decision that should be given plenty of thought. The feeling of being observed during established labour can lead to the woman feeling inhibited and unable to follow the instincts required in the raw, intimate act of birthing. A mother should not be thinking much at all but certainly not about how she appears on camera or whether her ‘performance’ is up to scratch. The presence of any kind of camera should not be at the cost of her being able to fully sink into the altered state of ‘labourland’.

Having said that, I am deeply grateful to the women who allow the camera into their birthspace and to the skilled (and hopefully quasi-invisible) photographers who capture some of the breathtaking images of labouring and birthing women. We can learn a lot about what a beautiful, life-changing experience birth can be from such footage and pictures.

[To view these videos, please visit Empowered Birth Project – Unassisted birth videos

1st video, scroll down to 4th embedded film, entitled ‘Alleingeburt im Wohnzimmer’

2nd video, scroll down to 9th embedded film, entitled ‘Unassisted childbirth in Hawaii. Breech & Dolphin assisted”

Frustratingly, I was not able to view them directly on YouTube as they have restricted access.]

In the first video, we see a mother ‘freebirthing’ her 4th child (ie. without a medical professional present). She is clearly very confident in the process having gone through it three times before, which makes it different fom watching a first time mother.
However, I believe that a first time mother can give birth in a similar way if she has developed the trust in her body and is protected from disturbances during her labour, allowing her hormones and mammalian instincts to guide the process.

I don’t need to say much about the video, it speaks for itself. How simple birth can be without the intervention and paraphenalia that all too often accompanies it. There is nobody telling the mother what to do or how to do it. There is no great ceremony or drama, just a mother giving birth to her baby in a simple, primitive way.

She delivers the baby and deftly catches it. I was particularly impressed by her confidence gripping the baby to prevent it falling to the floor from her standing position as they can be so slippery with vernix when they come out – this is a sign that she has done this before. She puts the baby to her chest and then, a while later, settles down in her living room where her older children come to greet the newborn. The birth flows into family life.

Interestingly, the second video is described as an unassisted breech birth. The setting is very different from the modest family home in the first video, this one takes place in Hawaii where the labouring mother spends time swimming with dolphins before settling into a bathtub to give birth. Vaginal breech births are incredible to watch when the baby is allowed to descend without outside intervention. And this mother remains amazingly calm throughout.

However, what I appreciate most about this video is that there are midwives present but there presence is almost undetectable. At one stage, one of them leans in to try and wash away some meconium from mother and baby and there is a verbal cue for the mother to lift the baby’s body to allow for the head to emerge. They are so ‘hands-off’ that the birth has been described as ‘unassisted’ because it is led by the mother and her baby.

This is when we realise that, while some women make an informed decision to give birth without a medical professional, it is also possible for a midwife (or even a doctor) to be present without their presence being an intervention in itself. A midwife can be a quiet, reassuring presence in the background who does not get involved in the birth unless and until it is absolutely necessary.

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I hope that as part of their training, midwives, nurses and obstetricians are watching videos of unassisted births so they can see what birth looks like when it unfolds in its own unique way and time, without being observed, watching the clock or the woman’s natural instincts being inhibited by lights, technology or inappropriate talk.

And thanks again to the women who have allowed the camera into the private arena of birthing. I have no doubt that the intention of these mothers is to share with other women out there, pregnant or otherwise, that this is how birth can be when you are in your power. Your body knows what to do. Nobody else need tell you how to do it if you are in an environment that supports your body’s physiological needs [link] for smooth labour and birth.

events, groups

Talking about Home Birth

On Saturday, Supriya and I helped organise the first of many (hopefully) home birth meetups in Coimbra for Uma Mãe Nasceu.

To our joy, the event was well attended with around 25 participants including midwives, doulas, parents and interested folk.

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We watched a short film showing four births in different contexts, which gave rise to some interesting discussion about the different dynamics that develop around labour and a birthing woman.

In the near future, we are planning to organise more meetings like this one to bring people together around the topic of home birth and how to make it more accessible in Portugal. We are hatching some plans to take the topic to different cities so we can connect with others who are passionate about this subject.

groups, our work, pregnancy

Pregnancy Circle

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We have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a circle of beautiful pregnant mamas right in the heart of our rural community.

You know what it’s like when you set an intention for a new project and then the universe seems to send opportunities flowing in the direction you want to go? Well it has felt a bit like that for me and Supriya.

Having been dreaming and scheming about coming together to work with birth and pregnancy in central Portugal, a few months ago, we committed to this exciting collaborative process.

No sooner had we sealed this agreement, doors started opening to allow us to engage with this rewarding work.

The fortnightly pregnancy circle is one of those doors.

The meetings are held in a cozy home setting and include some or all of the following elements:

~ Sharing circle – checking in, how we are feeling and what is happening in our lives

~ Yoga / Movement, led by Supriya, who trained with Birthlight

~ Birth Stories – a chance to share and process previous birth experiences in a supportive environment

~ Creative exercises – we use simple art and writing exercises, inspired by Birthing from Within, to access unconscious beliefs and fears around pregnancy, birth and parenthood

~ Deep relaxation – each session ends with a guided relaxation to allow for integration and rest

Currently, we are running this group in the Coja area of Arganil. If you’d like to know more about what we offer, you can read about our birth doula service or our birth preparation courses. Or if you are interested in joining the pregnancy circle or setting up a similar group in your area, get in touch.

events

First Home Birth Meetup

Join me and Supriya at Uma Mãe Nasceu‘s first home birth meetup next month in Coimbra.

Home birth is not acknowledged much in mainstream Portuguese culture since old traditions have been lost and replaced with a glorification of the medical industry.

So, it’s about time we start talking about it, raising awareness and bringing together all those curious or passionate about the subject.

Join the event on Facebook and spread the word. X

Coimbra Home birth event Flyer FINAL-page-001

motherhood, reflections

Arising through motherhood: Rebirthing myself

Time and time again, I’ve found myself lost in the depths of intense mothering of young children that has swallowed me whole – to the extent that I no longer know who I am or what I want.
At those moments, my spirit calls up from the well, gasping for air.
Continue reading “Arising through motherhood: Rebirthing myself”

our work

A new chapter of collaboration

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(Versão portuguesa em baixo)

You may notice that there have been a few changes made to this site recently. This is to reflect a new chapter of collaboration that I, Roshnii, am embarking on with an old friend, soul sister and co-doula, Supriya.

Supriya and I met on a meditation retreat in the Swiss Alps in 2004. Over the years, we became closer and closer, particularly as our journeys into motherhood unfolded. In 2013, we both decided to move to Portugal. My family and I made the move quite swiftly. For Supriya and her tribe, it was a slower transition.

For some years, we have dreamed about and discussed the idea of working together and now we are embarking on that adventure.
Continue reading “A new chapter of collaboration”

birth, literature

Immaculate Deception

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I have just finished reading a book called ‘Immaculate Deception – A new look at birth for American Women’ by Suzanne Arms. The book was published in 1975, so it’s far from new now but is nonetheless a thought-provoking assessment of technology-led obstetrics versus person-centred midwifery care and, despite its age, has many insights that are relevant to Portugal in 2018.

The idea that has really stuck in my mind is this one:
“According to most studies, 70% of all birthing women in America, if given adequate prenatal care, could deliver their babies normally and without need of medical intervention at all. Another 20% may have complications that require extra prenatal care and some special attention, but these mothers, too, could give birth normally, again, without need for medical interference. This means that at least 90% of all birthing mothers can have normal, spontaneous births and have healthy babies. Many doctors, among them the noted author and natural childbirth advocate Dr. Robert Bradley, believe that 90% is far too conservative an estimate for normal births, and that 93-96% is a much more realistic figure.” (p.48)

Continue reading “Immaculate Deception”

birth, labour

Toques: Ferramenta útil ou intervenção desnecessaria? / Vaginal exams: Useful tool or unnecessary intervention?

Inserir os dedos na vagina de uma mulher deve ser uma das formas mais íntimas ou invasivas de tocar o corpo de uma mulher. Ainda assim, este continua a ser o método mais utilizado para determinar a progressão do trabalho de parto.

Existem de facto muitas maneiras para uma parteira avaliar o quanto o trabalho de parto de uma mulher já progrediu, tais como:

  • escutar os sons que ela faz;
  • sentir o odor presente na divisão;
  • verificar a linha púrpura que pode surgir na pele entre as nádegas;
  • notar como a mulher está a interagir com os que a rodeiam.

Continuar a ler este artigo na Vida Ativa.

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Inserting one’s fingers into a woman’s vagina must be one of the most intimate or invasive ways to touch a woman’s body. And yet, this continues to be the most commonly used method of assessing a woman’s progress in labour.

There are in fact many ways that a midwife can assess how far a woman’s labour has progressed, such as: listening to the sounds she makes; observing the smell in the room; checking for the purple line that may rise on the skin between the buttocks or simply noticing how the woman is interacting with those around her.
As well as being an invasive and sometimes painful procedure that may make a labouring woman feel uncomfortable or tense at a time when she needs to feel relaxed and at ease, vaginal exams (VEs) can be problematic for a number of reasons.

Continue reading “Toques: Ferramenta útil ou intervenção desnecessaria? / Vaginal exams: Useful tool or unnecessary intervention?”