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Babywearing, motherhood, postpartum, reviews

How and why I wore my babies

Before you read about my experiences of babywearing, take a look at these amazing images depicting Portuguese women in the earlier 20th Century carrying their babies.

portugal-babywearing

I loved using baby carriers to hold my babies close while on the move or at home, when they were little and needed cuddles while enabling me to keep my hands free.

By carrying my children I felt connected to women all over the world, through the ages and in different cultures who have done the same. It seemed the most natural way to move from place to place with a young baby as I was able to smell him, feel his body against mine, listen to his sounds, talk to him. He could see what I could see and be involved in my interactions with the world. I knew straight away when he was hungry and could also feed him while in the carrier if necessary. He didn’t need to cry to get my attention and he could sleep cuddled up against my body, where he felt safe and relaxed, not to mention soothed by my movements and heartbeat, which resembled what he felt in the womb. Continue reading “How and why I wore my babies”

baby, birth, breastfeeding, motherhood, postpartum

The amazing benefits of Skin-to-skin: Investing in your long-term wellbeing

There is nothing more beautiful than holding your bare baby against your skin in the magical moments after birth.

For some years now, the practice skin-to-skin contact, immediately or as soon as possible after birth, has been found to be beneficial to both mum and baby.

Newborn skin to skin

However, here in Portugal, it is still common practice for the pediatrician to take the baby away for medical checks in the first crucial minutes  or hours after birth. Here, I am going to explain why asserting your right to spend the first hour of life skin-to-skin with your baby is an investment in the long-term health and wellbeing of both of you.

You may want to discuss your preferences with your caregivers during your prenatal appointments so that they know how important it is to you that you have an uninterrupted hour of skin-to-skin time immediately after birth. Your partner, doula or birth companion will need to assert your wish to have this skin-to-skin period at the birth when you, the mother, may not feel like speaking up.

Skin-to-skin, or Kangaroo Care (KC) as it is known specifically when the baby is in an upright chest-to-chest position with the parent, is not just something nice to do with your newborn. There are many important and tangible health benefits for both mother and baby.

Continue reading “The amazing benefits of Skin-to-skin: Investing in your long-term wellbeing”

our work

What is a doula anyway?

Although the word ‘doula’ dates back to Ancient Greece, it is relatively new to the English and Portuguese language, but what does it actually mean?

Below is a (not exhaustive) list of some of the aspects of the role of a doula in this day and age, which I recently wrote for the Uma Mãe Nasceu website…

Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning servant or handmaiden. It has become the term used for someone who takes care of a woman during labour and birth and in the early days and weeks with a new baby.

These days, when we live in less close-knit communities than in the past, women are often choosing to hire someone to fulfill the role of a birth companion that might once have been taken by a grandmother, aunt or other experienced woman in the community.

doula-hug

Reassuring presence
A doula is often, but not always, a woman. She will have a positive perspective on birth and mothering either through her own experiences or by attending other women. Her role is to provide emotional and practical support to a mother, her partner and family throughout pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Continue reading “What is a doula anyway?”

motherhood, our work, postpartum

‘Closing the Bones’ – Every mother’s birthright

My first experience of having my ‘bones closed‘ after the birth of my daughter was with Rocio, a shaman, healer and ethnobotanist from Ecuador, who touched my body and could feel straight away how my energy was both blocked and leaking out of me. It is a bit of blur what followed but suffice to say I felt quite different when I left the clinic that day after having been jiggled and massaged by Rocio’s warm healing hands. Some years later, as a doula, I heard about a technique called ‘Closing the Bones’ being taught by two doulas, Maddie and Sophie. At the time I didn’t realise it was the same technique that Rocio had given to me, but I felt drawn to the idea of closing the body after birth so decided to learn in order to offer it to birth clients postpartum.

It turned out that Maddie and Sophie had been trained by Rocio to pass on the techniques. During the workshop I had a profound experience with the woman I was working with. As she rocked my pelvis with a rebozo in a technique called sifting, I felt held and nurtured. I went back to a memory of myself in my own mother’s womb; energy started to flow throughout my body and I experienced something similar to a full body orgasm. I wasn’t able to formulate any words for several minutes after. It felt like my whole body had been bathed in a healing light. I continued to experience the effects of what we had experientially learnt during that workshop for several days. One of the most poignant realisations was of feeling like I had come back home to myself. I felt centred and complete, which meant that I was able to be with my daughter in a completely different way.

Continue reading “‘Closing the Bones’ – Every mother’s birthright”

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.

timing-contractions

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.

newborn-kiss

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.

Untitled

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.

waterbirth-b-w

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.

IMG_4593

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

gaiagoddess

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