Elle and I awoke with heavy hearts this morning. We fear that our new conservative government will have devastating consequences, not just for us personally but for the maternity services we support women to navigate.
An already broken maternity system is likely to disintegrate further, with women’s needs and voices being silenced by Tory austerity and a society that does not value us. We anticipate more birth trauma and increased rates of infant and maternal mortality, particularly among black women who are still five times more likely to die in birth than white women.
It is easy to feel like all hope is lost, but as Anna and Elsa sing… “some things never change”. As women our strength and resilience lies deep within within our bones and that will never change. When we feel lost and afraid, we can always lean on our sisters and hold each other up, no government will ever take that away from us. Now more than ever we need to recognise the power in sisterhood and solidarity, and continue to fight together.
If today’s news has taught us anything, it’s that our work as birth keepers is perhaps more important than it has ever been. We will continue to defend women’s human rights, continue to provide accessible, holistic support and education and most importantly continue to build sisterhood between women. There is so much work to be done but together we will thrive despite a government that does not wish to see us rise.
This time 5 years ago I had just given birth to my youngest baby! Elle and I don’t often talk about our own experiences but the birth of my youngest taught me so much about the support I needed (and what I missed out on!) as a birthing mother and it was a huge part of my journey into doulaing so it feels right to share. If you fancy reading on you might want to get comfy with a cuppa as it’s a long one!
Going back to the night before, I was 40+4 weeks pregnant and beginning to wonder if labour was beginning. It was a Friday evening and I was just clearing up the spaghetti from dinner that my almost 2 year old had strewn across the table and floor when I felt the first twinges. As I wiped over the mucky high chair I remember suddenly being aware of a heaviness low down in my bump but as quick as I’d noticed it, it has stopped again.
Was this the start? Not wanting to get too excited I carried on getting Theo cleaned up and ready for bed. 20 minutes later though…more cramps and this pattern carried on throughout his bedtime. Having experienced a long prodromal labour in my last pregnancy I figured I had a couple more days at least until I would be holding a new baby in my arms so after texting my doula to give her a heads up, I went to bed to try and have an early night.
I lay in bed listening to my hypnobirthing tracks but sleep didn’t come. Instead the cramps built into more regular, stronger surges. I was definitely in labour! After tossing and turning for a couple of hours I couldn’t ignore it any longer, the surges needed my attention so I decided to get up, put my TENS on and head downstairs. Entering the living room I instantly felt relaxed and calm. The pool was up, the lights were low… this was my birth room, this was where I would meet my baby.
Throughout the night I rested on a makeshift floor bed dozing and watching Netflix as the surges gradually got more intense and regular. I bounced on my birth ball and breathed through every sensation, riding each wave until the peak passed. As they got stronger I remember going more within, no longer able to focus on what was going on around me in between each contraction, Labour Land was calling me and it was where I wanted to be. As surges built I needed to reach up, grabbing on to my birth partners neck and as the peak approached I would sink down into a deep squat, feeling the sensation spread over my bump and down my thighs, surrendering to the power within my body. Occasionally fear would get the better of me and I would tense as I felt another one starting… “Oh no not another one! Not yet!” Those were tough, but when I allowed myself to be curious and welcome the sensations it felt so different, intense and sometimes painful but not more than I could handle.
The early morning approached and I knew it was time to call my doula and get in the pool. She told us she was on her way and I relaxed deeper, knowing my chosen support would be here with me soon. When she arrived however, she had her young son with her! I remember being in the pool and looking up after a surge had passed and wondering why this little boy was in my birth space. Uninvited, intruding, not what I had expected at all. Seeing that I was very much in established labour, she suggested calling the midwives and left to find childcare.
Theo woke up around this time and was the perfect little birth partner. He pottered around with his bowl of grapes, watching his Very Hungry Caterpillar DVD and occasionally toddling over to me to stroke my shoulders and head. They were such special moments. I carried on following my body, listening to my birth partner on the phone… “Yes, contractions are maybe 6 minutes apart”, I heard him tell the midwives. I knew they were much closer together than that. There was barely time for me to catch my breath in between but I was so deep within that I didn’t want to vocalise and engage in his discussion.
By the time the midwife arrived and my doula returned I was bearing down, intermittently and involuntarily. I didn’t need anybody to do, I was doing it all by myself but looking back, I really needed someone to hold my space. I was in my labour bubble but I felt alone, not supported and held. The midwives were doing their notes, occasionally bothering me to check I definitely didn’t want any vaginal examinations, my doula was taking pictures, my birth partner was being dad to our toddler… I knew I could do it alone but I wanted to feel that they were with me. Making sense of these feelings though and finding the right words felt beyond me, I had surrendered and my body and baby had all of my attention.
Around 11am I felt the familiar sensations of his head beginning to crown, then the frustrating feeling of him going back inside! He felt so close but so far. I kept trying to trust my body though and the relief when his head was born was incredible. Sadly, this is the point where things began to go awry…
The midwives suggested I sit back so I could pick him up once his body was born and like a good girl I did as I was told. The next two contractions came and went and he hadn’t budged. I wasn’t worried but before I knew what was happening the midwives’ fear filled the space and without warning or explanation I was being dragged out of the pool. The next couple of minutes were a bit of a chaotic blur. As I got out of the pool he was born into the midwife’s arms, his cord cut immediately. An ambulance was called and cancelled and I remember feeling like a forgotten, empty vessel, having no idea if my baby was ok. There was absolutely nobody holding space for us and it was not what I had ever imagined would happen.
As quick as the chaos had started, it was over and he was in my arms searching for my breast. I had a physiological third strange and birthed my placenta ~15minutes after he was born. Theo tentatively approached, meeting his baby brother for the first time and surrounded by my two boys I felt more grounded again, rediscovering my centre as our new family life began.
Reflecting back on this birth now I’m a doula brings up so much and highlights what I believe are so important to remember when supporting a birthing woman. There is no doubt that it has shaped the doula I am today.
When Elle or I arrive at a birth we come ready to be present with the birthing woman in every way. We leave any baggage at home and have childcare plans for our childcare plans so we can serve her wholeheartedly.
When we are in the birth space we trust the birthing woman unreservedly. We don’t need to tell her which positions she should adopt or to intrude in any way without her permission. Her intuition is going to guide her better than anyone else, she is the ultimate baby monitor and knows what her body and baby needs.
In the birth room we are not always doing but we are always holding space for the woman and her baby. We are aware of when it’s right to sit back and crochet and when she might want us by her side. We know how to sit on our hands without making a woman feel ignored and abandoned. We are all about meeting her wherever she is at and serving her however she needs us to.
When we are with women we are mindful of our mission to support them to birth in their power. We believe all birthing women have innate wisdom and strength and should always be held at the centre of our work as birth keepers with unconditional positive regard, trust and reverence. Birthing mothers are magic!
Elle and I were shocked and saddened this week to hear the news that One to One Midwives have gone into administration. It’s a huge blow for birthing women and our hearts break for the midwives involved and most of all for the women whose birth plans now feel completely up in the air.
It is great to see women rising up and demanding change, creating petitions and sharing their outrage that yet another women-centred service has been forced to close it’s doors. However, I can’t help but feel like it won’t be enough to create any real, lasting change for women. The closure of services like One to One highlights a much wider issue around women’s services.
Why aren’t women a priority?
Albany Midwives, Neighbourhood Midwives, the drawn out difficulties for independent midwifery, One to One… services like these that really serve birthing women in a holistic and woman-centred way have always been and will aways be at risk. The closure of One to One is another example of how the NHS does not place any significant value on models of care that are proven to improve outcomes for women and their babies.
Should it be enough for trusts that following a birth everyone still has a pulse and nobody gets sued? The overall physical and emotional well-being of a mother and her baby don’t seem to be valued at all. Certainly not enough for the NHS to invest in services that recognise the importance and undeniable benefits of holistic models of care.
What about the woman left feeling traumatised after a birth full of unnecessary intervention? Then the resulting upset of the mother-baby dyad and the impact of that disruption on bonding, breastfeeding and the long term wellbeing of both the woman and her child? It’s a story we hear over and over because the system does not work.
What if things were different?
Imagine a world where all women birth in power and not fear and it’s not surprising that the state doesn’t want to support organisations and services that put women at the centre of their birthing experiences.
When we birth in power, we feel powerful! We feel capable of anything and no longer willing to be good girls. We dissent and take what we need because we see our countless strengths and recognise our worth. And by protecting the bond we have with our babies, we are able to pass this wisdom and power on to the next generation. Would a nation of powerful women be able to fit into our current patriarchal society?
Who does it serve when women birth in captivity and in oppressive environments that centre obstetric models of “care”? It’s certainly not women, ignoring our needs in an effort to keep us docile and compliant. And it works so well!
But what can we do?
The cost to the system of listening to our outrage and responding to our petitions might be too great. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change birth for ourselves. What would happen if we stopped asking our oppressors to change the system and instead started to take back our power in birth? Real change will come from women living and birthing in power despite oppressive systems of care because it’s our birth rite.
Asserting our human right to birth however we choose to, only accepting interventions that we want, listening to our intuition over and above policies and procedures every step of the way, autonomous pregnancies and free birthing knowing that we are the ultimate knowledge when it comes to our bodies and our babies. Women supporting women rather than relying on a system that does not serve us.
What are Greater Manchester Doulas CIC doing?
We will continue to serve women across Greater Manchester, supporting them to realise their innate power and wisdom by protecting their human rights, providing holistic support and education, and building sisterhood between women.
If you have been affected by the closure of One to One, we’re here for you. As doulas we aren’t substitutes for midwives. While we can’t replace the support you had from your One to One midwife, we do offer an additional layer of support that might help you to navigate this difficult time. Whether you want birth doula support, or want some help reimagining and preparing for your birth with our HoldingSpace service, please get in touch. We can offer long term payment plans, and have funding available if our fees are prohibitive. Know that we see you, we care and we’re so sorry that the rug has been pulled out from beneath you.
When women first get in touch with us, they often have their own ideas about what a doula is, and does and the kind of people we are. Sometimes women expect a strong and forceful protector of the birth space, a “force to be reckoned with”, a fierce advocate who will take control if things go awry. Then they meet us…
Whilst I absolutely consider myself to be a strong woman, and my role is often about advocacy and protecting a birthing woman’s sacred space, the energy we bring as doulas is not fierce or forceful. We are gentle and calm and peaceful.
For some time, I wondered if I needed to find that fiery defender within me, to be a better doula, to better serve the women I work with. But along the way, I have realised that my gentle presence IS my strength. My feminine expressions: empathy, warmth, compassion, gentleness, intuition, patience, vulnerability… these are the very things that make me a strong female and shape the doula that I am.
I am embracing my femininity and appreciating its power more and more. As doulas we support and protect and advocate with a soft, feminine energy, rather than a harsher, masculine approach. By recognising and celebrating our feminine qualities, and our identities as women, we simultaneously honour the power of the labouring women we serve.
Our gentle presence at births supports the flow of oxytocin, the powerful hormone that women need in bucket loads to birth their babies. In order for physiological birth to happen, a birthing woman must feel safe and secure; as doulas we are a barometer of normality, communicating through being calm and peaceful that all is ok and that she is safe and supported.
We see the power and strength within the women that we work with and trust that they know what they need. As your doulas, we support you to own your experiences, speak your truth and advocate for yourself – we know that at times, that might mean looking to us to communicate your needs and wishes with others but we would never decide what those needs were for you.
Our culture continually encourages us to denigrate our femininity, but as doulas we see the power in the female body, in you as a birthing woman, in the women all over the world who are birthing with you. Through our gentle presence, we support you to reconnect with your true power, because owning your feminine potential can be life changing!