It’s so easy, when reading tales of maternity services in crisis, or women and families being treated poorly, to sink low into despair at the state of it all.
But it’s really not all bad news.
I am constantly in awe when I think of the time and talent some people donate to others in order to help them through their pregnancy and early childcare experiences.
So in order to cheer us all up, I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteers their time to help pregnant women and families.
Thank you to the feeding supporters who spend years studying breastfeeding and formula issues in order to then spend many more years volunteering on feeding helplines and drop-in clinics. For free.
Thank you to the doulas who work for no fee to assist women prisoners and women who have been domestically abused.
Thank you to the people who give up their evenings or lunchtimes to run antenatal groups to encourage everyone to feel positive about birth, no matter what type of birth they want or need.
Thank you to the lawyers who give away their expert knowledge to protect our human rights.
Thank you to the volunteers who run the numerous groups and campaigns to fight for choices in Midwifery, support families with complicated pregnancies, multiple birth or stillbirth and miscarriage loss.
Thank you to those that open their homes and phone lines to provide free counselling to women, men and birthworkers affected by birth trauma – even years after the baby has been born.
Thank you to the parents and off-duty professionals who support others in online groups and provide practical signposts and information without mother-bashing.
Thanks to the parents who share their birth and feeding stories online, so that we can all learn from their joys and learn from any failings in support.
Thanks to the family and friends of the volunteers, who support those who are giving so much to the rest of us.
And thank you to you for reading this far.
If I have missed you off the list, then I am sorry. Please know I am grateful for the work that you do.
Now, let’s spread the love. In the comments below, please tell me about the person or charity/volunteer organisation that has given you the most pregnancy-related support. What is it about them that makes them so special?
Bonus challenge: call or email someone who has helped you and tell them about how it made you feel. I can guarantee that you will make their week.
Image from nateOne.
It’s often been said that birth is like climbing a mountain.
Effort, yes. Challenging, yes. Dangerous? In some circumstances.
But why climb a mountain when you can take a cable car?
I was pondering this earlier this week when I was on holiday.
The landlord of the B&B in which I was staying had recommended a walk along the coastal path.
“It’s only five miles,” he said.
“The views are stunning and it’s a really obvious path. You won’t need a map.”
Five miles, I thought. That sounds do-able. Should take two or three hours and there’s a cream tea at the end of it.
“There’s a shortcut to the start of the walk,” he added. “Just go up to the top of the hill and down the other side, and then you’ll be there.”
I’ve done a fair bit of walking before, so was reasonably prepared and quite looking forward to it.
Of course, some of my friends would have been horrified.
You can’t go walking on your own like that! they’d say.
What if something were to go wrong? You could fall over and break your arm. Or your leg. I read in the paper that someone slipped off a ledge and DIED. Far safer to stay on the main road – nobody ever gets killed on those.
Thankfully, those friends weren’t with me, so I set off.
After a couple of hours, I’d reached the start point. So much for a shortcut – but it was only five miles.
I stocked up with water and ice cream, just in case.
The walk was beautiful. The path was clear and the views were lovely.
After what seemed like ages, I still hadn’t really left the start point. I bumped into a couple of walkers coming the other way.
“How far is it to the next village,” I asked?
“Oh, we’ve just come from there,” they replied. “It’s about a three hour walk. But we did stop for lunch.”
Three hours? I’d been going for about that already. It was meant to be a relatively swift amble; I wasn’t sure I’d signed up for this.
I continued on. The path became steeper. This thing was becoming an effort.
After about an hour, I met some more walkers.
“How far to the next village?” I asked, again.
“Oh, about two and a half hours from here. It’s about six miles. We did stop for lunch, though…”
I came to the realisation that measuring things in time wasn’t helpful. Onwards I went again (turning back was not an appealing prospect).
I went up to little crags, only to find the path turning me back down again.
I slipped and fell a couple of times.
Although I was on my own, it was good to know help was nearby if I needed it (there were lots of other walkers).
There came a point where I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.
But there was no magic helicopter ready to take me off the cliff. Turning back was no longer an option. I had to continue ahead.
Although I was puffing and panting a lot by this point, it still felt good. The view was stunning and there’s a satisfaction from travelling with your own effort.
There’s no point in thinking about how far you’ve come, how long there is to go, or what might be around the next corner.
I didn’t have a map. And the journeys other people were making, although similar, weren’t identical.
All I could do was tackle each moment as it came and enjoy the rest at the top of the peaks.
It’s all very Zen.
After what felt like a zillion hours, I still hadn’t caught sight of the village.
I met a family who seemed fresh-faced and clean. They can’t have come far, I thought.
“How far is it to the next village?” I asked, desperately (not that the answer was going to help me much, but anyway).
“Oh, it’s just round the corner at the top of the hill,” they said. “You’re almost there!”
I didn’t quite want to believe them but once I pulled through the undergrowth, I saw a church tower in the distance.
I felt a rush of elation – mixed with sadness.
I’d quite enjoyed this walk, after all.
Half an hour later, I was eating cake in the café. Which was about to close. But – good news! – there was a bus back, leaving in ten minutes.
I wasn’t going to tell you this part of the story, but I went home on an open-top double decker bus.
And I hated it. After a day of walking at my own pace, suddenly someone was doing the work for me.
It was going too fast. I felt out of control and sick.
Everything that could go wrong started running through my mind. What if the bus crashed and fell into the sea? How about if a tree decapitated me? What if I missed my stop?
And yet, some people choose the bus as their first choice of transport.
Similar distance. Same destination.
But isn’t the journey part of the fun?
Walking was hard work. I felt sore afterwards and got sunburnt. There were times I wanted to give up. Everyone lied about it being five miles – it was nearer ten.
But if I’d taken the bus, I’d have missed:
– The white flower peeping out from behind a stone
– The cow ambling down the hillside
– Walking up a river using boulders as the path had vanished
– Seeing an ancient set of fertility stones
– Cooling my feet in fresh spring water
– The sense of satisfaction from knowing that I could do it
What has all this got to do with giving birth?
I’ll leave you to work that out.
All I’ll say is that the bus certainly has its place, but maybe those people walking their own paths have got something, after all…
Have you set yourself a physical challenge (e.g. climbed a mountain, trekked the desert, swum across a lake, run a marathon, walked 5 kilometres)? Please tell me: 1) what it was; and 2) how you felt afterwards in the comments below.
I have a terrible feeling that we have had a mini alien invasion and that nobody else has worked it out, yet.
I haven’t been able to uncover all of the facts, but I think there’s a reverse force-field in play.
It’s acting like a mirror and is blocking all the parts of the internet which connect research evidence and common sense to health services.
Before you think I’ve finally lost it (or MI5 comes to get me. Is it MI5 that deals with alien invaders? Must Google that…), here are some examples to back up my theory:
Birth in the dark
We know that giving birth with low-level lighting helps a woman to feel safe and secure and to produce more natural oxytocin – the hormone which helps her to give birth.
And yet – WHOOMP! This information entered the force-field and got switched round!
Instead of giving birth somewhere cosy and dark, the care providers gave us hospitals with noise and bright lights.
Alien interference is the only logical explanation.
Having a known person with you before, during and after labour gives the best physical and emotional outcomes for mothers and babies.
Continuous support during pregnancy and knowing the people who care for you in labour can make all the difference in how you feel about your birth experience.
And yet, in recent years the vortex has come into play. The information has been scrambled and instead most women in the UK will not have met the Midwife who is with them during birth until they go into labour.
This is why so many people have turned to Doulas. Doulas appear to be able to cross the alien portal and still keep their connection to the outside world. Maybe they are double-agents? Hmmm…
Delayed cord clamping
Letting the baby have its own blood rather than stopping the supply as soon as he or she is born has been known to lead to better outcomes for decades.
But the alien translators got it backwards, and at the time of writing, the NICE Guidelines still recommend cutting the cord as soon as the baby is born.
You’d have thought with these three clear examples, even the worst sceptic would be convinced of the existence of a force-field.
But I know some of you are really cynical, so there’s more…
Birth on your back
Giving birth on your back is known to be a not-very-fabulous position for most women having a baby.
But something really odd is going on. Despite lots of information that standing, squatting, kneeling or doing pretty much anything that your body and your baby tells you feels right is better than being flat on your back, most women in the UK still give birth lying down.
Does the vortex operate around hospitals? Do they know they’ve been affected?
Do we need to issue protective layers of tin foil and hats made of colanders to every pregnant woman in the land?
What’s going to stop this reverse force-field from taking over?
Length of pregnancy
We have known since – forever – that babies don’t come on a particular timetable.
But the force-field has been at work again. Scientists are ‘surprised’ by the idea that there’s a five week difference in the length of most pregnancies.
And the NICE guidelines? They ‘offer’ induction to anyone over 41 weeks.
Even though we know that babies aren’t ‘overdue’ until 42 (or even 43) weeks.
As I’m sure that most healthcare professionals are marvellous and intelligent human beings, the only obvious explanation is an alien force-field.
Otherwise, it’d be like saying that a lot of humans in positions of authority are really, really stupid – and that just won’t do.
The aliens are trying to intercept women’s knowledge, and stop it from getting to those who care for them. I don’t know why. Maybe they are afraid women are too powerful.
It must be a conspiracy…
References and further geekery:
Oxytocin – Michel Odent (Daily Telegraph)
One-to-one care – Midwife4Me
Cord clamping – Delayed Cord Clamping
Five week window for giving birth – BBC News
Thank you to DuncanCV for the image of the alien babies.
What other evidence of this alien force-field have you found? Please report your findings in the comments below. They can’t round us up all at once…
I strongly refute any suggestions that I have spent too much time watching announcements about the new Doctor Who.
As it’s World Breastfeeding Week, I thought it would be a good time to give a potted ‘who’s who’ guide to breastfeeding support.
Except, that’s not quite accurate. Because some of these people provide feeding support, too.
Formula, breastmilk, pumped milk, donated milk, mixed feeding – you name it, there are people who are ready to support you.
As always, however, you need to know the ‘right’ person for the job. And they may not be who you think…
Disclaimer alert! None of this is medical advice, yeah? Talk to your own team if you are having issues… we’re all agreed that random ladies off the internet aren’t going to be able to know everyone’s individual circumstances? All cool? Let’s continue…
The hierarchy in your head is probably wrong
If we are honest, most of us have a mental medical hierarchy which goes something like this: Consultant is the top, Doctor/GP/Paediatrician comes next, then Midwives and Nurses, then volunteer support workers and then me as a parent/patient.
Even just a little bit?
The problem is: when it comes to breastfeeding support – that model just doesn’t work.
Turn it upside-down
Right at the top of the ‘experts’ list?
You and your baby.
Even if you haven’t known each other in the outside world for very long, you’ll still know a lot about whether your baby is feeding happily.
Baby looks and feels fine, is filling nappies with poo and wee and you feel good? Hurrah!
It hurts when your baby feeds, he’s floppy or your instinct says something’s ‘off’’?
Get some help.
You and your baby are the experts in your own bodies.
So who else can help you if you need some support? Let’s have a look at some possible candidates:
Contrary to popular belief, most Doctors don’t have much training in breastfeeding (unless they’ve done some extra study themselves).
Paediatricians, whilst being experts in sick children and babies, aren’t experts in infant feeding, either.
Lots of people fall into the trap of thinking that a ‘doctor has told me xxx, so it must be what we need to do’.
I’m not suggesting that you should ignore medical advice! But it is worth asking how much breastfeeding training a practitioner has had. And it’s possible to thank them for their suggestion and seek an alternative view from someone else if you feel you need it.
Midwives will have had some formal training in breastfeeding as part of their initial Midwifery education. Some of them also receive further training as their career progresses.
However, their main area of expertise is in the first few days after a baby is born. They have to care for mothers as well as babies, and breastfeeding is not their only focus.
They won’t have any expertise in babies who are older than a few days.
Again, it’s always worth asking what their experience is, and getting extra help from elsewhere if you need it.
In the UK, Health Visitors will come to see you and your baby after the Midwife has handed over care.
You would have thought that they would have a lot of feeding expertise. But it varies. The key thing? Ask them about their experience and the evidence for their suggestions – and second opinions are fine!
(Do you see a theme, here?)
So if the conventional forms of support don’t work out, where else can you go? Cue the breastfeeding volunteers!
A Peer Supporter (role may have a different name) is a mother who has breastfed her own child and volunteers with a breastfeeding support organisation to help other mothers.
She will provide encouragement and empathy, but not medical advice.
Peer Supporters can help with suggestions for common breastfeeding issues and provide a listening ear. They can also signpost you to further sources of support if you are having a more troublesome problem.
Depending on the organisation which she volunteers with, Peer Supporters will have had about 12 weeks’ training or done a home study module. You can always ask about their background and experience – they won’t mind.
Peer Supporters work with charities and won’t charge you for their support (donations to their charity are always welcome!)
A Breastfeeding Counsellor (they may have another name) is a senior volunteer in the breastfeeding world. She will have breastfed her own child and will probably have started supporting other women as a Peer Supporter.
Depending on the organisation with which she volunteers, she will have done around 2-3 years’ training.
Yep. 2-3 years. In her own time. To offer a service for free.
*Stops in awe for a moment*
Breastfeeding Counsellors offer non-judgemental support. They can offer suggestions for more complicated feeding issues and also offer support and strategies for women who are formula feeding.
The Counsellor part of their title is important. Breastfeeding Counsellors are trained to listen to you and can help you to debrief any feeding problems you had with previous babies if you wish.
If you ring a breastfeeding support line, it’s usually someone at Breastfeeding Counsellor level that you will talk with.
Breastfeeding Counsellors are volunteers and won’t charge for their services.
Problem too tricky for a Breastfeeding Counsellor? Serious medical issue? Step forward:
Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
A Lactation Consultant is the lead professional in the world of infant feeding (breastfeeding and formula feeding).
In a hospital, they may sometimes be called an ‘Infant Feeding Coordinator’.
They may have been Breastfeeding Counsellors who did further training, or they may have had a more medical background such as being a former Midwife or Health Visitor.
Technically, anyone can call themselves a ‘lactation consultant’, so it’s important to check that they are ‘board certified’ (look for ‘IBCLC’ after their job title).
In some parts of the country, IBCLCs are available on the NHS. Elsewhere, you can go to one privately. There is a list of practitioners on the IBCLC website (see below).
Last but not least, your partner can provide loads of emotional and practical support.
Whether it’s because they pay attention to the breastfeeding stuff in the antenatal classes because you can’t stop thinking about labour, grabbing you a glass of water and making sure you are fed, or reading everything there is to know and calling for help if you need it – encouragement and belief from someone else can go a long way.
These people are all here to help you. So don’t be shy – if you are in need of some feeding support, ask for it as early as you can. Nobody will mind!
References and further geekery:
Analytical Armadillo – The Pyramid of Breastfeeding Support
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – Breastfeeding Support Titles
Maddie McMahon – The Who’s Who of Breastfeeding
Milk Matters – Who’s Helping You?
Sources of support:
As well as phone feeding helplines, the four charities above also offer drop-in groups around the country. They can also signpost you to good books and videos for support.
There may also be other breastfeeding cafes or groups in your neighbourhood. You can go to these at any time – even whilst you are still pregnant. They usually have cake and biscuits, so it’s all good…
Thank you so much to Mothering Touch for the breastfeeding picture!
Have I missed anything off the list? Got the wrong end of the stick? Please let me know in the comments below.
You may also like: Who are the pregnancy experts?
Men are lazy and don’t want to look after children, says Gideon Burrows. But they should do it anyway.
A bold statement for anyone to make. But that’s the kind of writer Gideon Burrows is. Funny, engaging – and not afraid to shy away from the bigger issues.
Equally shared childcare
My personal utopia, when it comes to having a family, has always been two parents, both of whom work part-time.*
So when I saw Men Can Do It! The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it, I ordered it straight away.
And now I’m telling everyone to read it.
Gideon’s style is relaxed and informal. This is a well-written book that is an unexpected page-turner.
When Gideon’s children were born, he didn’t realise that most couples don’t share childcare evenly. He and his partner split all the duties – and it was only ‘too late’ that he twigged he could have got off with a much lighter share (like the rest of his friends).
The book charts his experiences of trying to be an equally-involved father.
Problems start before his first child is born: he’s ignored by Midwives and chucked out of the hospital in the middle of the night.
He feels that men miss the first few lessons in babycare this way.
Originally, Gideon took one day off work per week while his partner did the rest of the childcare. But when he saw her career ‘go down the toilet’, he realised that perhaps his own job sacrifices hadn’t been that great and it was time to reduce his own work hours, too.
From then on, they were equal. He took sole charge of the children for the same number of hours a week as his partner. And he strongly encourages others to do the same.
Discrimination and excuses
Instead of the couple being applauded for their stance, they met with some discrimination. The general assumption that men are ‘useless’ with childcare meant that whenever Gideon was in sole charge of his children, people would ask ‘Are you babysitting today?’
He claims that the worst offenders were the mothers at the toddler groups, who would form ‘cliques’ and exclude him from the conversation.
And whenever their work/life balance arrangements were explained to friends, they’d be given a catalogue of excuses as to why equally-shared parenting ‘wouldn’t work for my family’.
The common objections: career ambition, finances, men’s ability to parent are addressed in the rest of the book. The couple even managed to work out a way to continue breastfeeding whilst splitting the house and childcare duties.
The overall message is that potential problems are challenges to be overcome, rather than complete obstacles.
There are some parts of the book where I feel the author misses the point.
The naïve surprise he feels about being discriminated against on the grounds of his gender is almost funny as a female reader.
Childcare is not considered a high-status job SHOCK! People can be quite nasty to each other about parenting decisions HORROR! Healthcare professionals are sometimes patronising GASP!
He is advocating for male equality and some sections of it feel like feminist writing must have done thirty years ago. It shouldn’t be ‘them and us’, but rather ‘everyone together’.
There are also some places where, in his desire to be equally involved, he doesn’t recognise that actually, it’s his partner who deserves the credit and attention.
For example, he is hurt when in labour, the healthcare team in hospital didn’t ask him what he thought about any of the medical options being offered.
That’s because a women has a right to decide what happens to her own body and it’s not an option ‘offered’ to her male partner.
And whilst I am sure that having him helping and supporting during labour made a huge amount of difference to his partner’s experience, giving birth is a uniquely female achievement and deserves to be celebrated.
How would you feel if you’d just run a marathon and your friends who held a banner and cheered took all the credit for your completion of the race?
On another occasion, he is offended when another mother asks how he is ‘coping’ when his partner is away for several days on a business trip.
Clearly, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the tone in which the question was asked. But I didn’t feel the question was discriminatory as he did. I think she’d have asked exactly the same question to a female friend and it was a subtle way of reaching out to offer help.
It does highlight how hard it can be to be the trailblazer, however. People will attack you for being different, and after a while that can take its toll.
I would have loved a bit more of a look at the psychology of bonding – is it true that children ‘need’ more mother input at certain stages, and father input at others?
And, for an equally-shared parenting book, it would have been nice to have had a chapter from Gideon’s partner about how she had found the whole experience…
Overall, this is a very engaging book with lots of great ideas for how to make equally-shared parenting work, and anecdotes that anyone who has looked after children will laugh at and relate to.
There is lots of humour in this book and I like that as well as an overarching manifesto for how government could change legislation to make it easier for fathers to take a more hands-on role, there were also more practical tips that individuals could implement straight away.
(Heard of the ‘toilet squat’? If you are a women, chances are you’ll never have needed to do it. Male childcarers, however…)
This book will make you think and question your own assumptions about gender roles in families. It will also flag up that women can be really sexist, too – and we should stop sabotaging our male partner’s involvement in childcare (even unconsciously).
It’s interesting that Gideon reports that more women than men are reading the book. Maybe his point that most men ‘just aren’t interested’ in childcare is true? I do hope you all prove me wrong…
Because, single male readers of this blog, if you read this book and take it to heart, there will be a queue of intelligent and funny women lining up to go out with you.
And I’ll be at the front.
Men Can Do It! The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it by Gideon Burrows can be ordered on Amazon (£).
(£) = a link where I receive a small commission. It doesn’t affect what I review or write. If you don’t want to use it, here’s a plain link instead.
Read the book? Have your own equally-shared parenting adventure? Please tell me about it in the comments below!
*OK, I’ll scrub that, slightly. My personal utopia is that I’ve won the lottery and am living on an island somewhere where money is no issue, but you know what I mean.
Wun dai Sally cat had bin out doin nauty stuf in teh alleys wiv Stanley cat an dey had hooj sekz.
Few wks l8r, Sally cat realize dat she iz well up teh duff.
Stanley cat haz buggerd ov coz he doan rally care coz he iz well rubish.
Sally cat iz liek oh moi daiz so she iz den goin 2 C teh Midwif cat.
Midwif cat tellz her 2 calm down cuz she iz only havin kittehz an dat liek not rally hooj deal. Milloins ov teh cats iz havin kittehz eveyr dai an she shudnt git all stresseh ova it.
Sally cat iz well offendud cuz she finks dis iz speshul tiem 4 her & she want sum extruh attenshun.
Midwif cat is liek K ill look aftr U. But everthin goin 2 b alright an u probs wont need me anywayz.
Sally cat git all fat wit the kittehs on teh inside.
Midwif cat sez were wud u loik 2 hav teh kittehs? Lawts ov cats iz now goin 2 teh Vets.
Sally sez oh noez not teh Vets! Dey iz liek hurtin me last tiem i woz der an i doan liek dem i iz rally skerd ov teh Vets.
Midwif cat sez but sometimez Vet dey save ur LIF.
Sally sez but i doan wanna go Vets unles emerjenC.
Midwif cat iz liek K den how bout u stay at home? Catz hav alwayz had deir kittehz at home. Only recentlee dey goin 2 teh Vets.
Sally sez she prefr bein in her houz.
Sally iz worrid abaht teh pain.
Wot if it hurtz me 2 hav de kittehz? she ask Midwif cat. Dey iz havin claws an i fink dat wil be painfull on teh wai out.
Midwif cat iz liek trust me u will B fine. All u iz havin 2 do iz goin in 2 teh cupbord.
Teh cupbord? sez Sally wot in der?
Teh cats hav allways bin goin in teh cupboard 4 teh havin kittehz sez Midwif cat. But teh lites must not b on cuz u will frighten away teh oxytocin.
Teh oxytocin? ask Sally cat wot iz dat?
Teh oxytocin iz Luf hormone explain Midwif cat. It liek majik. Wen u hav teh kittehz, it der. Wen u hav teh hooj sex, it der. Wen u hav lot ov catnip it der. Wen u in dark it der.
It mak u feel al warm an luffly an halp ur pusy cat git teh kittehz out.
But basement cat liek to chase it away. An if teh oxytocin git chasd away u will B gettin all stresseh & angree an if it gits chasd all away u will EAT TEH KITTEHZ an im gonna hav 2 tel Vet on u.
Sally cat duz not wont teh oxytocin 2 go away.
Wot can i do 2 keep the oxytocin in teh cupbord? she aks Midwif cat.
Stay in teh cupboard on ur own. i will be outside wiv Michel cat 2 protect u. We will stop basement cat frum gettin in. U can ask Ceiling Cat 4 halp if u want 2.
We wont turn on teh lites or cum in unles u ask us 4 halp. Stay positif and relaxeratd an ur body will do teh rest. Everfin goin 2 B fine.
A few dayz l8tr Sally cat iz on a walk an den she wants 2 go inside rally bad. She check teh houz an der iz nobody der. Iz all quite.
Sally cat go upstairs 2 teh cupbord. Iz all warm & cozee an she curl up on teh blanket.
She haz a nice rest an den her body go OOF OOF an out pop teh kittehz!
Woz not expectin dat fought Sally Midwif cat isnt even heer.
She lie on her side an teh kittehz iz all feedin frum her teets.
Dis liek well eazy fink Sally but i iz well knackered nao.
An round teh cornr cum Midwif cat wiv sum catnip.
i iz always rite an i sez u cld do it she sez.
An dey all lif happly eva afta an Stanely got cawt by teh cat suport agenyc cuz he liek well deservd it.
TU 2 LOLCat wedding ceremony 4 teh inpirashun.
All text by Ann Charles. Lolcats text & imagez combind usin rolfbot.
Plz share dis post. Kthxbai x
I’m writing this on the train on the way to my Aunty’s wedding in Cornwall. Happy days.
I’m not the first person to make the analogy between weddings and pregnancy, of course, but it got me thinking: there are quite a few similarities…
The date seems to be very important
“Congratulations! When’s the wedding?” say your friends.
“When’s it due?” asks every random passer-by in the street to a pregnant woman.
We are obsessed by measuring and numbers. However, unlike a wedding ceremony, a baby doesn’t have a fixed date on which it will definitely arrive.
And it doesn’t come in a pony and trap, festooned with flowers…
Your mother wants to be involved
She needs a special outfit. You shouldn’t do things like that. We never had all this fuss when I was young/getting married/having babies/magically saying the wrong thing to make you feel bad.
The groom gets sidelined
Yes, OK, technically you can’t have a traditional wedding without a groom. But nobody’s really thinking about him. He’s just a minor detail, right?
(And yes, I know sometimes weddings happen with two women or two men. I trust you to reread this and replace words to suit your own circumstances.)
The wedding day is a big event
Wedding days are very important. They mark a new phase of your life and the event will be something you remember in great detail for years to come. Everyone wants it to be a happy time.
Similarly, the baby’s Birth Day is a big deal. A new person has joined your family and the memories – good and bad – will be etched in your mind until you die.
Wedding v marriage
It’s all too easy to focus all your energy and attention on the big day itself, and forget the teensy-weensy fact that you will be living with this person for the rest of your life.
How do you want your marriage to work? Who will be responsible for the finances? What do you think about different childcare methods? How do you change a nappy?
You can learn as you go along but a few discussions before you commit might smooth the way.
And just as with having a baby, the memories of those nights without any sleep will soon fade…
You probably don’t need to spend as much money as you think
A marriage ceremony costs around £50.
Giving birth is free.
Yes, you can buy heaps of stuff in matching colours…. But you don’t need to.
It’s more fun with friends
Weddings are a chance to celebrate and gather friends and family around you.
The time after birth is similar. Although you may not want crowds of people, drawing on your support team can be useful.
Just make sure you give them useful jobs to do rather than letting them come up with their own mad ideas (remember your hen night? Exactly).
Trivial details suddenly become ma-hoo-sively important
There’s a difference between ivory and cream. Your baby is 2/5 engaged. You had no idea that either of these things existed six months ago. And suddenly, they really matter.
In both cases, your friends don’t want to hear about it.
This will piss you off.
Location, location, location
The place where you get married will be important to you. Some people will recommend the standard state provision. Others will suggest that you spend lots of money going somewhere fancy. And you may have a religious tradition which means the ceremony’s venue is a done deal.
You will probably find that getting to know the person running the ceremony first will make you less nervous, but unfortunately, this option isn’t always available in all wedding settings.
Do it your way to have the most fun
As soon as you announce you are getting married, people will start giving you lots of suggestions and telling you things you ‘must’ do.
Not doing some of them will probably mean your partner will die (or so they say).
You may find that getting a copy of Debrett’s (£) and following it step by step rocks your world.
Or that breaking with tradition and having a wedding in water might be more your thing.
Although your family and friends want to support you, the best kinds of weddings are the ones where you and your partner have thought about what you want. It’s all about you.
You might even write your wishes out into a plan.
You’re only going to do this a few times in your life (unless you are working towards an appearance in a Channel 4 documentary), so go for it!
Body fluids will be involved
It’s a legal requirement (for a non-voidable marriage, at least…)
And hey – what gets a baby in will get a baby out! (£)
Wearing white is a stupid idea
Have I missed anything? How else is a birth like a wedding? Please let me know in the comments below (the funnier, the better)!
Thanks to akeg for the gorgeous photo of the wedding baby.
The (£) symbol means I get a small commission if you buy something via the link. It doesn’t affect what I post. You can always use this plain link for Debrett’s or this one for Orgasmic Birth instead.
You’re pregnant. Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of you. The old lady on the train stops to offer you advice.
Friends who’ve had children regale you with stories.
People tut if they see you in the wrong part of the cheese aisle at the supermarket.
And every other day, there’s a story in the national press telling you that you should/shouldn’t/must/mustn’t/definitely can’t or it will drop off/do or do not do THE THING that they are writing about.
So who exactly are the pregnancy experts?
It might not be who you think.
You and your baby
Coming in right at the top of the list are you… and your baby. With your partner (if any) a close third.
Think about it. If somebody told you they’d been working in a certain field for twenty (ahem) years, you’d assume they were an expert in it.
You’ve lived with your body for your whole life.
You’ve known your baby since before s/he was made.
That’s a lot of expertise.
You know when something doesn’t feel quite ‘right’.
You know if your baby is moving differently from normal.
You are the expert. Everyone else is here to support you, but the person with the most knowledge?
The main professional expert in pregnancy (in the UK, at least)?
Depending on how old she is, she will have had three-four years’ undergraduate training in all things related to pregnancy, birth, and the first few weeks after a baby has been born.
Around half of her training will have been in ‘normal’ pregnancy, with the other half focussed on ‘high risk’ and less standard scenarios.
S/he is the lead carer for women with standard pregnancies, and is a health professional in her own right. She’s nobody’s assistant (a bit like a Physiotherapist or an Occupational Therapist – she is an expert in her field and involves other health care professionals when needed).
Obstetricians are Doctors who specialise in abnormal pregnancy and birth.
They will have undergraduate and post-graduate training, but are not experts in normal pregnancy.
They come into their own if there is a problem. Obstetricians are surgeons and can perform operations such as caesarean sections.
They can also advise on ‘high-risk’ births and may be called if instruments (for example, forceps) are needed to assist a baby who is stuck.
Unless they have taken a special interest in normal birth, their knowledge of low-risk pregnancy is limited.
According to Amali Lokugamage, an Obstetrician who trains Doctors, Obstetricians-to-be receive eight weeks’ worth of training about normal birth in their fifth year of training.
Many Obstetricians are also Gynaecologists as well – Doctors who specialise in problems with women’s reproductive organs.
Doulas are ‘experts’ (though they probably don’t like the term) in non-medical options around pregnancy and childbirth.
The key here is non-medical. Doulas do not have any professional responsibility for your health and do not offer any medical advice. It’s not their area of expertise.
Instead, they can talk you and your partner through your options, signpost you to places for support around the issue you are having, and help you learn techniques to make sure you feel in charge of the decision-making process.
Suddenly discover that your baby is Breech (pointing bottom or feet-first)? A Doula can help you find the space to think through all of your options, and point you in the direction of experts, support groups and research to help you work out what you would like to do.
Because, after all, you are the expert.
Last but not least – there’s lots of support available from other parents in your local community.
Perhaps you know about a parents’ and toddlers’ group. Or a fab antenatal class where you can meet other pregnant parents in your neighbourhood. Maybe it’s even a Positive Birth Group.
If you prefer to stay behind a screen, there are hundreds of online communities – from virtual home-birth support groups, to organisations for families with twins and triplets and general parenting discussion boards.
Whatever fear or life issue you are facing, someone else is bound to have gone through something similar. And just feeling like you are not alone can be a big help in itself.
It’s all about you
Anyone on this list can help support you in your pregnancy and birth.
But – no matter how ‘official’ they appear – they cannot make decisions for you.
Imagine you are the Prime Minister of your own pregnancy. You’ve gathered a team of specialist advisers and experts around you… but you are the one that will make the final call.
Your own intuition about your own circumstances is worth more than any degree.
Your body. Your baby. Your birth.
…Yours to enjoy. Good Luck!
How did you make decisions during pregnancy? What would you need to feel confident in listening to yourself? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.
As this is National Breastfeeding Week, I thought it was about time I wrote a review of one of my favourite feeding/parenting books:
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition).
It’s about, um, breastfeeding. But also so much more…
There’s no getting away from it. The title is slightly weird – and not very accurate. The Womanly Art… was first written in the late 1950s, when that kind of branding was probably what all the groovy Mums thought was brilliant as they came home late from a night dancing a the milk bar. Or something.
The first edition was written on typewriters by the founders of La Leche League – a worldwide support organisation famed for breastfeeding and parenting advice, and a name no-one can pronounce (it’s La lay-chay. Apparently).
The book has gone through numerous incarnations since then and the 8th edition is bang up-to-date. It talks about how to juggle feeding a baby with your iPad (not literally) and the dilemmas faced by women who need to return to work soon after birth.
It also talks about techniques for bottle feeding and how partners can successfully support feeding, even if they don’t lactate themselves.
But I expect ‘The family guide to feeding babies milk in various different ways with quite a lot of early parenting advice thrown in’ was probably too long for the book cover…
The UK version of the cover is bright orange, to match the flame-coloured hair of the mother and baby in the main photo. I think this is funky and beautiful; you may think it screams ‘LOOK AT THIS BOOK WITH THE MODERN WOMAN AND THE WEIRD TITLE. IT’S ORANGE!’
It will, however, be easy to find should you be stumbling around in the dark, groping for a newborn in the early hours whilst trying not to stub your toe on any unattended sharp objects.
The first part of the book is an introduction to breastfeeding, with information on things you can do to prepare when pregnant; what you might consider when giving birth to give you an improved chance of getting the baby to latch; and then a section on the first few days after the baby is born.
The book then goes on to have a chapter on each stage of feeding, divided into weeks (so you get the first few days, the first few weeks, the next few months, feeding after a year and so on).
Towards the back, there are sections on problems you may encounter, with some suggestions on what to try to fix them. There are also ‘tear sheets’ at the back for when you need a quick reminder (e.g. baby crying and you don’t have time to rifle through the index).
Throughout the book, the emphasis is on the importance of building your support network – not just so you can feed a baby, but so you can feel part of a community. The book is still produced by La Leche League, who also run support groups and helplines, so it’s not surprising that the authors think that sharing experience with other families is key to feeling good about your feeding choices.
The book’s tone is incredibly friendly. Like, really. It feels as though some of your most approachable-but-cool friends are sitting opposite you, mugs of tea in hand, offering virtual biscuits as they support you through whatever is happening.
There is a wealth of knowledge, here. It would be a brilliant book to read cover-to-cover when pregnant, but the chapters also mean that you can dip in and out to sections as you need.
I liked the fact that it wasn’t all about breastfeeding – the book recognises that sometimes women and babies have problems, and offers techniques if supplementation is required. For example, it shows you how to make a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), which is a way to feed a baby expressed or formula milk but still allowing him/her to feed from your breast.
It also talks about techniques for using a bottle which give maximum cuddling time for you and the baby (always nice) and allow those feeding to be able to spot when the baby has had enough.
It also has a good dose of humour woven through. There’s advice on how to deal with the ‘Aunt Frannies’ in your life, and the section on ‘The average diet of a Toddler’ had me snorting out loud (a lot of carpet lint appears to be involved).
The book is focussed on the American medical system, and mentions procedures and hospital routines which may not be relevant to those giving birth in other countries.
It’s very enthusiastic about breastfeeding. You will probably either find this infectious and supportive, or a bit irritating. The first couple of chapters are probably the most zealous, and then it settles down.
There are also some suggestions (e.g. about co-sleeping) which may differ from the official national health advice in your country. As always, you are a grown-up and it’s up to you to make your own choices – the book will offer some suggestions but it’s down to the individual to do what’s right for their own family circumstances.
This book gives a fabulous introduction to all the issues but can’t replace in-person, expert support tailored to your own circumstances. See the Help! section for contacts for Breastfeeding/feeding support if you need it in more detail.
This book is not about breastfeeding; it’s about parenting. I would put this on my own list of books to buy for a close friend who is pregnant. I came away from reading it with a warm glow of positivity about my own ability to be a parent. It’s already become one of my favourite birth-related books. Just make sure you get the most up-to-date edition!
You can buy a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th edition) here (£) or through this link instead.
(£) means that I will get a small fee if you buy something through this link. You can use the plain link if you prefer. It doesn’t affect what I think of you… or the book.
Got any other breastfeeding / feeding support books to recommend? Please let me know in the comments below!
What would you want for your friend?
I use the term ‘friend’ very broadly here. If you are reading this, then it’s you! Without sounding like a megalomaniac evil dictator of weird, I care about your pregnancy and birth experiences. Even if you won’t have any personally. Having people on the planet who are happy is in everyone’s interests, so supporting a good start in life is a selfish endeavour well worth pursing 😉
*Cue a mental picture of everyone in the world holding hands and skipping round a tree.*
Ms Friend of Birth Geek’s Birth Preferences
Psychologists are going to have a field day with this one. Wanting to shape what someone else does? No! That’s bad! You shouldn’t want to change other people!
I don’t. But I’d lie if I didn’t say that I don’t care about what my friends do. I desire for my friends to be happy (although I’ll support them when they are sad). And that’s the same for Ms Friend of Birth Geek. So here’s how I’d like her story to go:
Ms Friend of Birth Geek’s story
I don’t give a toss where she gives birth
so long as that’s where she wants to be.*
I don’t care how she gives birth
because it’s her choice.
I want her to have all the information she needs
to make her own decisions.
I’d like her to have whatever support she requires
with loving care around her, or next door, or there virtually as she pleases.
Skilled, respectful medical care should be available to her
if she or the baby feel its need.**
I’d love for her to know about evidence-based birth
as a tool in her decision-making toolbox.
Ms Friend of Birth Geek has made friends with her intuition
and takes the space to trust its wisdom.
Ms Friend of Birth Geek is able to take responsibility
because that shows she has the self-esteem to be confident in her choices.
Ms Friend of Birth Geek is ridiculously excited about giving birth
Excited! She has no fear and is looking forward to giving birth and the years afterwards.
Ms Friend of Birth Geek, her partner (if any) and baby feel happy with any outcome of birth
because they had the support and trust they needed to feel ownership of any twists and turns on the way.
Everyone involved in the birth has someone who can hear their story, if they wish to tell it
so that experiences are not held in, a family is appreciated and that Ms Friend of Birth Geek’s triumphs are shared with others to inspire and inform their own journeys.
The family has the practical and emotional support it needs
Soups brought round, a listening ear, arms to hug the baby and their parents, acknowledgement from friends and the community that a transition has taken place… or being left in peace, as they prefer.
Ms Friend of Birth Geek knows that there are people who love her
even if it’s just a random lady off the internet.
*And also how much more fun would it be for the Midwife to be in a tent halfway up a mountain, or in a suite at the Ritz?
**This is not against Unassisted Birth for those who make that choice (see point one). I wish for everyone, no matter where they are in the world, to have access to trustworthy, skilled medical back up if they wish to use it. For too many families, this is currently not even an option.
Thanks to Irina Patrascu for the background image.
What do you wish for for your friends’ births (even if they are friends you have not yet met)? Please let me know in the comments below.