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Notes from the Chichester Home Birth Conference 12.3.16

Dear Friends,

I wish to share the notes I took from each speaker at the conference as their comments and advice was so interesting. Most of my notes are verbatim interspersed with my reflections. I trust the speakers won’t mind me sharing their wisdom.

Ina May Gaskin

Birth works! Other mammals seem to be able to give birth by themselves ok.

Keep normal birth stories alive to counterbalance the fear that currently prevails. She was saying it is really important that women hear stories about birth where it was normal and straightforward.

Ina’s first baby was a forceps birth (two thirds of US women were having forceps at that time so it was fairly normal) and she felt it ‘took her power away’. It kept her apart from her baby for the first day as a consequence. It was a negative experience that motivated her to do something different. How quickly something can be lost if people don’t tell stories anymore. She, and other women, thought this was the norm and safest option performed by the obstetrician who knew best. The past way of birthing was normal compared to the current ultra medicalised methods.

Her philosophy was/is, as long as the mother and baby’s vital signs were/are ok then proceed!

THE MOTHER TEACHES THE MIDWIFE, not the other way round!!!

She also believes that the way we talk to birthing women is very important. Using the right words can have great physiological power.

Each woman is a unique case.

She was explaining that having your baby at home gives you the most power because mothers have the ‘choice’ to do what they want in every respect at home. Whereas in hospital you tend to have to do what you are told by the superior powers. For example, if a mother wants to eat, drink and then go in a birthing pool if she has one, then she can! She can also ask the midwife to leave or even fire her if that is her ‘choice’.

Although Ina was totally advocating home birth as a normal and the more enjoyable place to give birth, she did state quite clearly that there are times when a woman has to go to hospital and sometimes caesareans are vital and good. Woman with placenta previa need to birth in hospital. She mentioned the possible cause of pre eclampsia to be poor nutrition, stress or lack of exercise. She said there is some risk in getting pregnant as much as getting in a car or life in general. Just be informed and observe how things all balance out.

Ina advocates two components that totally support labour which are of paramount importance: the emotional component and the need to ‘Surrender’! This is where I get very excited because it is something I have ‘felt’ for a long time and experienced. Doing anything that allows you do surrender control and to feel more relaxed which may require expressing a fear or something that is blocking the labour flow. Let the emotions out! Kissing is good! Encourage the mother to love her body and even encourage her (if that is the right word) to touch her own body. Let her touch her vagina and help the baby out, it’s ok, it’s her body. She said even touching/massaging her own clitoris can help a woman surrender during labour. We make love to create a baby so why is it not seen as something more pleasurable to give birth… It can be ecstatic.

Another really powerful suggestion she gave was to ‘laugh on purpose’! I love this idea. As we all know, the jaw and throat area is connected to the pelvic area and so if we relax our jaw and throat it relaxes the vagina. Laughing opens the throat and she noticed it helped during labour. Another thing I have learnt from another amazing birth keeper (Binnie Dansby) is to say YES. That word also has the effect of opening the throat which in turn relaxes the vagina. We watched a video of an elephant giving birth and how it opened its mouth a lot while getting the baby out.

Ina said the problem is that women are getting the ‘fear’ information first. There is even a phobia called tokophobia which is the fear of birth.

What do we do to eliminate fear?

Study nature more… animals don’t have a problem birthing. Show more videos on ecstatic birth (look at youtube). Don’t watch negative birthing videos and refrain from watching TV where birth is portrayed in a dramatic way rather than a normal event. Read Sheila Kitzinger, Joan Donnelly etc.

The power of the midwife comes out of home birth.

She says it is a fundamental human right for someone NOT to touch you which also applies during labour!!! It is not the ‘right’ of the doctor to invade a woman’s body just because she is in labour.

Other useful tips for midwives, doulas, partners are:
Privacy. Give a birthing woman privacy so she can go within and not get distracted. Non judgment on how she is doing or what she requests. Doing knitting or needle work while a woman is in labour makes your own pulse calmer and you produce oxytocin. Allowing her to have a warm bath. Singing to her or with the mother.

Such beautiful, natural, normal, obvious suggestions!

To summarise: Just keep it simple, remember your body knows what to do, practice simple techniques as above, surrender, let out emotions, view positive birth videos, read positive birth stories, empower yourself and know that you, as a birthing woman, is in charge and midwives listen to the mother. SURRENDER!

Clara Haken

Clara is a Consultant Midwife and interested in how childbirth is portrayed in the media and its impact in society.

She gave lots of statistics about birth in the media.

In the 1960’s the first birth was shown on TV. Nowadays, 94.3% of people watch TV for an average of 25 hours. Facebook had one billion users worldwide while YouTube had one trillion views in 2011. The Daily Mail (largest UK newspaper) has almost 200 million views every month which is huge!

Stories have a longevity. Print, film, social media enables a lot of relationships between the medias. Media can be a catalyst for change, hence birth stories etc influence women’s beliefs and experiences.

A home birth is hardly ever portrayed on TV. The anthropologist Sara Clement did a study in 1993 showing that in 70% of childbirth shown on TV, 63% were fictional, rapid and either delivered by a doctor or member of the public. Haken’s study of labour in 2006 showed 98 programs showing 237 births in a week, 45% were caesarians! Call the Midwife finale had 1.9 million viewers! And the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory has 24.4 million viewers with a demographic of 18 – 49. Series 7 had an offscreen home birth but these are a minority.

Independent midwife Virginia Hows showed home birth as an antidote to One Born Every Minute. The Daily Mail has had many negative home birth stories.

For good references, look at: The Birth Place Study, NHS Choices Health News, NICE recommends home birth for some mothers.

Fear in the media cycle must be broken.

Maclean collected 198 stories across 23 publications which looked at women and their birth stories showing a skewed perspective. The order was: fear, ordeal, pain, effective staff and gratitude, malicious staff…

Stoll and Hall 2013 study showed that out of 1894 female students, only 20 knew about home birth!
Business of Being Born, Kavanagh, Hans and Kimberly 2011, Grantley Dick-Read.

There are opportunities to influence birth.
We must challenge inaccurate reporting and influence those commissioning and producing media. We need to create positive stories and resources.

We need to put birth in the mainstream and make it normal and part of life! (Gena Davis Institute of Gender Equality)

Behind the Headlines

*Everyone talks about the power of the mind on birth.

Sheena Byrom OBE

She was a practicing midwife for 35 years, one of the UK’s first consultant midwife, helped to lead the development of three birth centres in East Lancashire. She’s a board member of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), a member of the RCM’s Better Births initiative, Patron of StudentMidwife.Net, and Chair of the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust. She is also the author of two books Catching Babies and the Roar behind the Silence. She was awarded an OBE in 2011 for services to midwifery, and she received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Midwives in 2015.

Sheena said we must practice true listening to pregnant women.

Help women know what is best for THEM. We must practice women centred care.

Epidurals makes one disconnects from the birth process.

Midwives (Doulas) need to be the best they can, smile, find a positive role model, live the 6 C’s, love your job, show LOVE as an antidote to FEAR, help others grow, be kind to your colleagues (encourage and acknowledge them)…

Birthing women can do physically activity such as walk around, walk up stairs, squat. Attend positive birthing classes.

Above all, they need to learn to listen to their bodies!

Better Births Initiative:

The National Maternity Review Report:

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