Today, I am interviewing a doula about home births and other birth related issues. Franklin’s birth was far from ideal, and I hope that the next one will go a little a lot better! There are many things I’d like to change. Some, I have no influence over. I would like my waters not to break for as long as possible, for instance. But there are some aspects I can influence; for example, I plan on going to a birthing center to avoid the stressful hospital environment. To make sure I make the best possible choices, I am talking about my options with a lot of women, and one of them is Ellie.
Joanna Steven: Thank you for talking with me today! Please tell me more about yourself, and why you chose to work with women who want to give birth at home.
Ellie: Great to be talking with you. Why I work with birth started with my own experiences – with my first birth I had a very traumatic birth in a general hospital in which the usual ‘cascade of intervention’ ensued. I suffered an unwanted episiotomy, vacuum extraction, broken tailbone, narrowly missed a c-section and had secondary and primary post-partum hemorrhages as a result.
When we were looking to conceive our second baby I just knew that there had to be a different way, a different experience. So, coming from a family where homebirth was the norm (I had thought it wasn’t an option previously because of “risk categories”) I just went back to my roots and started researching and immersing myself in what normal birth is and what it looks like. I started to pull apart my first birth experience after getting hold of my hospital records and realised that ultimately, so much of the drama had been created by the medical establishment simply treating me like a number and not a unique birthing woman doing a process we are so built for.
Subsequently, I ended up having my second baby at home. It was thoroughly amazing and this all led me to want to work with birth, to support other women and families in this profound experience. It’s like a switch went off inside and I just realized that I couldn’t not work with birth. There was no other choice. Really, it all begins with birth (actually, pre-conception as you know), but yes, gentle birth is fundamental to us as mothers, families, societies….
I believe that women have the right to birth with whomever and wherever they choose, it is a basic human right. I have seen and felt with my last 2 children birthed at home (surrounded by siblings etc) just how important support and continuity of care is to a woman and her family in the birthing and mothering phase of life so I just knew that I wanted to be of service to this… To women being empowered and honoured like the true goddesses they are, doing what they are designed to do. Birth is a physiological process, most of the time it works absolutely beautifully and there is nothing more incredible than seeing a woman and her family birth their baby and exclaim “I did it!!”.
I then went on to train as a doula and have been attending home births for a few years, but every birth is so different and so many lessons are learnt. It’s such an honour and a privilege to be present.
Joanna Steven: Often, people fear bad things will happen and that it’s safer to be in a hospital. What would you tell them?
Ellie: To begin with, I believe that it’s not that incredibly safe in hospitals. By this, I mean that the medical establishment most always looks at birth from a fear or risk perspective. They don’t know how to support normal, natural birth because they hardly ever see it in there. I think that most healthy women with a fairly normal pregnancy (and this all can be debated on many levels) are safer at home in an environment which supports the natural flow of the birth process.
It’s been said so often but really, the same hormones at play in birth are those involved in love making – oxytocin. Oxytocin doesn’t flow when one is expected to be vulnerable and birth in front of strangers in a foreign environment. Could you have sex with six people watching in a cold white room? Nature is perfect and so are women’s bodies. We just need to get out of our brains in birth and into the body, whilst being supported and with loving people holding our space. Not hurried, not harassed, just supported.
Generally midwives and people who support birth at home are well versed in the ways of normal, physiological birth and they trust it. Not just that, birth at home is a situation in which the woman is at the very centre of the experience, not paperwork, liability, time limits like in hospital etc etc etc… The medical establishment tends to be waiting right there for an avenue to intervene. One intervention leads to another…
There are many studies which state that home birth is as safe, if not safer than hospital birth. Yes, there are times where help from the hospital is needed but these are emergency situations and fairly rare. I feel that too often women are told that they needed an “emergency Cesarean” when really this emergency was created by the hospital as in the usual “cascade of intervention” which is so very common these days.
So, if someone was worried about bad things happening, I would suggest that they identify just what these “bad things” are and how they would be managed in a home scenario and also in a hospital scenario. Once you identify your fears about the process and really study them you can work out whether it could be something that could be handled at home also. I feel like I would still want to be surrounded by people who viewed birth as a normal event not a medical emergency and who had the skills and trust in birth necessary to cover most of these issues.
Joanna Steven: Are there tips/advice you would give mothers to prepare their body for birth? Foods, exercise, meditation, etc?
Ellie: There are many ways a woman can prepare for birth. Outside of having a a really good support team and giving careful consideration to the place of birth, exercise is obviously important. Yoga is absolutely wonderful for preparing for birth. Yoga is a way in which a woman can really get into her body and form a deeper connection with her body and baby of course. Apart from the physical aspects, breath and practicing directed breathing is a fantastic way of preparing. It is incredibly powerful, being able to send breath to the areas of discomfort and to the baby in the birth process. Yoga is great on so many levels, physical stretching and easing of discomforts, breath work and meditation… all brilliant!
Another thing that cannot be overlooked is diet! It’s so huge. It affects how you feel, it builds your baby and breastmilk afterwards. I am a big fan of good nutrition in pre-conception, birth and beyond. It’s really foundational. I’m very into a plant-based wholefoods (high-raw) diet myself purely because I’ve seen and felt such good results from it but every body is different. Every woman, every baby, every birth…all different, all unique.
Having a Blessing Way is another beautiful thing to do, an honouring of the mother and blessing the way for the path ahead. I recommend this to every woman preparing to dance this sacred dance: the ceremony of birth.
Other really wonderful things to do are getting out in nature… Sinking your hands into the earth, playing in water, connecting to the creative elements, the Mama Earth which sustains us. Listen to beautiful birth stories, not horror stories, journal and dream, sing to you belly, make love (the same stuff which gets the baby in, gets the baby out right?) slow down, be mindful and just really be present and in it. Above all, connect with your baby and never forget that you’re a team, you’re doing this together. No body else really matters. Your body knows just what to do and your baby knows how to be born…. Deep down, we as women, really do know what to do in birth and later in parenting, we just have to trust our instincts and let go and surrender to the mystery. What will be will be.
Joanna Steven: Ellie, thank you for sharing all this with us! Is there anything you would like to add?
Ellie: I think Joanna, that ultimately, I’d just like to say that homebirth is a valid, beautiful choice. It isn’t something that only “brave” women do or crunchy-patchouli wearing mama’s (though I am partial to a dab here and there ;).
Homebirth is for real women, real families, who are informed and are taking on the responsibility of bringing their babies into the world in a gentle, peaceful and loving way. I also want to stress that birth isn’t about obstetricians or even midwives… It’s about women. Women taking back their power and trust in birth and completely owning their experiences rather than handing them over to those who “know best”.
I think one can connect with oneself and baby and become one’s own care-provider, if you will. Then in the journey of pregnancy and birth, this provides a strong foundation for women to fully embrace motherhood and also instills the strength and freedom to care, heal and be self-sufficient in the growing-up of one’s family. It can be challenging to swim against the tide but the benefits are just so worth it. Birth is truly the beginning of healthy, empowered mamas and fathers, healthy families and society as a whole. It’s the beginning of everything important and sacred. We must reclaim our births. It’s not a medical emergency, it’s a physiological process… Know it, so you can trust it.
For more information I would recommend The Joyous Birth Network: http://www.joyousbirth.info/
As well as reading materials such as:
– Any of Ina May Gaskin’s books – Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Birth Matters and of course Spiritual Midwifery
– Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah J Buckley
– The Down To Earth Birth Book by Jenny Blyth is an incredible book which covers everything one needs to know about a self-directed, empowered birth experience.
Also this site is excellent. I know the writer and she is extremly knowledgeable. She debunks lots of myths regarding childbirth as well as provides a huge amount of info: http://midwifethinking.com/