Are you judging my birth choices?

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New generation of birthing units

An overdue post! I’ve actually got quite a few posts to write up on various subjects (progress on the nursery, my pregnancy updates – am 34 weeks now! – and some reflections on pregnancy buying) but let’s start with this one as it’s a bit grittier. I love gritty topics.

I am generally discovering that I’m not immune to the parent / pregnancy / labour / birth / [insert any word ever] judginess that is rife on the internet and in real life. When people are really judgmental and nasty about the choices that you make or want to make, well, it HURTS. I think this gets worse the more personal the judgement is – and what is more personal than how you choose to give birth to your child? Which brings me onto my current post topic, and my current dilemma.

We went on a tour around our chosen Hospital the other day. Like many hospitals, it’s been set up with a midwife-led unit (MLU) and a consultant led unit / labour ward (CLU). During the tour, there was a lot of emphasis on having a natural birth in the MLU and how the CLU ‘should’ be kept free for the complicated/difficult/dangerous births. Obviously, though, being on the MLU means no doctors/anaesthetists so gas and air and maybe pethidine (there were conflicting responses on the pethidine question) is available. For more pain relief, a transfer (across reception, into the lift) to the CLU would be required.

We walked around the newly opened, very nice MLU and then around the CLU – this was then followed up with a Q&A session with one of the head midwives. I asked a question about their approach to mobile epidurals and received a rather bad-tempered, snappy response. Questions about transferring from the MLU to the CLU etc were shut down. Generally, the message was that, barring any medical issues/limitations, “women (should?) want a natural birth in a MLU”. At least, that was the message that I heard quite loudly. And, to be honest, it isn’t the message that I want to hear.

Let me be clear: I would LOVE to have a straight-forward natural birth. I would love to be able to deal with the pain, put my hypno-birthing training to the test and pass with flying colours. But birth, like life generally, doesn’t always go according to plan. There may be complications, bub may not want to come out. Or, heaven forbid, I may not be able to deal with the pain. If any of the above happens, I want the option of choosing pain relief for myself. Because, guess what, not all women DO want a natural birth in a MLU. We are, God forbid, all different.

What all women do want (I hope) is to be empowered and informed enough to make the choices they want. I know exactly what I want. I would like to start off with as little intervention as possible; gas and air; possibly try a birthing pool. But, if at ANY point, I decide I would like an epidural then I would like an epidural. I don’t want anything else (we have done research into all the options and things like pethidine aren’t going to work for me) and, importantly, I don’t want to be argued with. I want to feel that those around me are supporting the decisions that I’m making and respect my right to choose the birth that I want.

Which brings me back to my current issue with our Hospital. I did not get the impression that women are REALLY free to choose whatever they want. I got the impression that MLU-led natural births are what I’m expected to want, and I will have to argue for any deviation to that ‘norm’ that isn’t due to medical need.

Not to put too fine a point on it but: screw that. If I’m struggling in labour and decide I’d like an epidural, I will go ballistic if I’m ‘encouraged’ against it. It’s MY CHOICE.

However, I also know ‘me’. If, in that crucial, vulnerable, stressful, difficult moment, I am given the impression that someone, anyone, thinks I’m failing at birth because of the choices I am making, it’ll hurt. Because things like that hurt. It’ll stay with me, I’ll remember it, I’ll internalise it. Yes, my husband will be there and can advocate on my behalf but he’ll be stressed too and, importantly, he cannot control how other people act.

So, I’m taking steps to try and have the birth that I want:

  • On Saturday, we’re going to visit the other hospital near where we live so I can assess their attitudes and see if I feel more comfortable there
  • Arrange to speak to the midwives and explain my concerns. See if I can write something up on my preferences that make my issues clear.
  • Explore option of a doula.
  • If none of the above get me anywhere, check out nearby private maternity options.

I have no pre-conceived notions of what birth is going to be like because I’ve never given birth before. What I do want is to ensure that I feel as comfortable, relaxed and supported as possible. That’s what everyone woman should feel like going into labour, through labour and out the other side.

Mummuddlingthrough
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my petit canard

F*** the guilt, ladies

Scared baby against crazy mother

I often see comments and posts about how being a Mum means you feel guilty all the time. As a Mum-to-be, I found that intriguing yet, even without being a Mum, I understood the sentiment. I was also heartened to see that there’s a real ‘push’ against making Mums feel guilty in the parenting blogosphere – a movement away from judging and denouncing and more toward being supportive and inclusive.

That’s awesome. But why is it necessary in the first place? What is it about being a Mum that means we have to accept being under the spotlight and prepared (and ready) to justify our parenting decisions, whether they’re related to how we give birth, where our child sleeps, whether we breastfeed or not, or anything else (that has absolutely zero to do with anyone else in the entire world). The reality seems to be that you’re going to feel shit no matter what you do because, whatever decision you do make, there will be people who do it Differently and then you’ll either feel guilty or they’ll try and make you feel guilty, and it’s a whole mess of judgey pants and guilty pants, and you have to roll your eyes and ignore it if you can.

But there’s something quite important about this guilt – it’s actually not about being a Mum; it’s about being a woman. Women are brought up primed to feel guilty. We are taught to internalise everything, to look at our own behaviour, to see what WE can change or do differently/better. Men are not taught this. Men are taught that they can be confident, that they can be in control, that being assertive is awesome (assertive isn’t even a word men have to use, it’s just ‘being a man’), and they don’t have to worry about labels like “bossy” or “feisty”.

Let’s take one of the most extreme, horrendous examples of this: sexual assault and rape. Women are told to be careful; don’t drink too much; don’t wear short skirts; don’t flirt. Men are told…well, what exactly are men told? Nothing much. The focus has historically been on women to consider their actions rather than on men to just, y’know, not rape. Happily, things *are* changing and we’re taking steps away from the vomit-inducing “don’t get too drunk on a night out, ladies” to messages like the awesome Tea and Consent video from Thames Valley Police. Consent is everything but it has absolutely NOT been the overriding focus in cases of rape and sexual violence – women have been the focus.

I’m using this example to show that we live in a society that will blame a woman for something terrible happening to her because of someone else’s horrific actions – an extreme example but an important one. And women will take this blame; they will blame other women; they will accept that status quo because we are socially conditioned to do so. We grow up being expected to judge other women on everything because we are judged in turn. We grow up unsure, insecure, always examining our own actions, afraid. And then, when we become Mums, all of that insecurity, that fear, is magnified a million times because, if we make mistakes, we aren’t just harming ourselves, we’re harming the little person or little people that we want to protect more than anything in the whole world. That, to us, is unforgivable. We worry that we will fail those little people, no matter how much we love them because we are always responsible, it’s always our fault and we should always do better.

This was really brought home to me during a recent #matexp twitter chat. One sentiment, which blew my mind, was from women who felt as though they had ‘failed’ at giving birth. The reasons for this feeling of failure varied hugely but, oh my god, can we take a moment to consider how insane that is? These are women who have managed to successfully give birth to their babies and yet they feel as though what they did wasn’t quite good enough. I haven’t given birth yet and I’m really quite scared (er, petrified!) of it. To me, any woman who has managed to give birth to her baby – IN WHATEVER WAY THAT HAPPENED – is a freakin’ rockstar. It breaks my heart that they, themselves, don’t feel that way because of these ridiculous and impossible pressures and standards that society places on women – especially when it comes to pregnancy and parenting. This is where we need to push back, to be more assertive, and to tell the world to stop effing judging and start supporting each and every mother and the choices that she makes.

Birth is the most visceral example but there’s breastfeeding, sleeping, weaning, using dummies…the list goes on and on. Every decision that you make will be one that you make fearing that someone will think you’re a damn idiot for making it. But this all stems from our insecurities, our conditioning, our expectation that we will be judged and should judge others – it’s a really shit, anti-feminist self-fulfilling prophecy. If I decide not to give my kid a dummy and I shout really loudly about it then hopefully others will agree with me and no one will tell me that I’m a bad Mum because, as I haven’t been allowed to feel confident in the decisions that I make my entire life, I really don’t want anyone to tell me I’m a bad Mum and, if anyone else does something differently (like, er, give their kid a dummy) that will make me feel like one because they’ve made a different decision to me and what does that say about me and OH MY GOD THE SKY IS FALLING IN.

Seriously f*** that. It’s time for ALL of us to feel confident in what we’re doing with our own bloody children and supporting other Mums in their choices, even if they’re different from ours. If my mate wants to have an elective caesarian and I’m all about my natural birth then that’s freaking awesome and I can’t wait to meet her afterward and toast to how awesome we both are over a well-deserved glass of Prosecco. As is clear in this post, there is a wider, social sickness of condemning and undermining women that we can’t expect to fight all on our own – but we’re starting with the little things, the parental support networks, the confidence-building (our own and others), the empathy and understanding. Hopefully from that, other things with flow.

Vive la difference.

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Mummuddlingthrough
The Twinkle Diaries

Stop expecting women to suffer

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I was chatting to a co-worker yesterday about morning sickness and hyperemesis. She’s had two kids and suffered with both of hers. She mentioned how she felt dismissed a lot of the time because the baby was healthy. This really struck a chord with me because I had very similar experiences. When I was at my worst with HG, I would often have conversations – with health care people and just people generally – that went something like this:

Me: I can’t eat, am losing weight, throwing up 24/7. I’m really suffering.
Them: Oh, but I’ve heard that severe morning sickness doesn’t affect the baby.

GREAT?! I mean obviously I’m really happy that HG hasn’t affected my baby. But, since becoming pregnant, I haven’t been reduced to just a vessel to house my baby. I’m still a fully functioning, adult human being and, when I was suffering, it was simply not enough to be told I should be grateful that my baby wasn’t.

To be clear: I would not have minded the comments if I had felt that the same level of care/concern was being given to me also. But I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt as though I should suck it up and stop being such a wimp. Why? Because of this idea that suffering from morning sickness is NATURAL.

I’m actually beginning to really dislike the word ‘natural’ when it comes to pregnancy. There are lots of things in this world that are natural but are also really shit. Cancer, viruses, tsunamis. That doesn’t mean we go “OH HEY THIS IS NATURAL, JUST DEAL WITH IT”. Yet this is what we do with extreme morning sickness. There are drugs that are totally safe to take for HG yet the stigma around pregnant women taking medication is still really pervasive (at my first attempt at getting medication, the comment “Have you not heard of thalidomide?” was dropped). The general consensus appears to be that women should just suffer through it because pregnancy is natural ergo everything related to pregnancy is natural, so JUST DEAL WITH IT, WHINING WOMEN. People get so (hypocritically) worked up about pregnant women doing anything that could potentially harm their unborn baby. But women have the right to not be harmed either. I have the right to be able to continue living my life without having to stop everything for two months of it so I can vomit constantly, be unable to eat or walk around and lose 10kg. “It usually only lasts till 12 weeks” is not a reasonable response. It shouldn’t be happening at all.

No one knows why morning sickness occurs. We should know why. More research is needed but it doesn’t happen because people are too shit scared of sounding like they don’t mind putting babies’ lives at risk. And, obviously, I’m not advocating that – but what I am advocating is remembering that, for every baby, there is a mother there too who needs support and has the right to not suffer. If you think I’m exaggerating then have a read of this report by Pregnancy Sickness Support and BPAS suggesting that around 15-20% of women with HG terminate their pregnancies. This is completely catastrophic. No woman should have to terminate a wanted pregnancy because they feel so unsupported and alone in their suffering that they cannot continue.

This mindset toward pregnant women affects everything, I’m just using HG as an example because it’s relevant to me right now. But what about giving birth? Or breastfeeding? Women are pressured to continue breastfeeding not matter what – even if they’re bleeding and in terrible pain and their babies are losing weight. Of course, breastfeeding is the best course of action (duh) but only if it’s working. If it’s not working then it should be completely acceptable to explore other options that DO work for mum and baby without mum being made to feel like she’s not putting baby first. And it’s up to each woman to decide what works and what doesn’t, and damn all the haters.

There needs to be a sea change in our approach to pregnancy as the pendulum has swung too far away from supporting women. There is something inherently, nastily sexist about this – as if women’s lives are more expendable and we should be expected to suffer more. If there was a condition that affected men as commonly as it did women (HG affects around 1-3% of pregnancies – that’s at least 10,000 women every year in the UK), there would be far, far more support in place. And no man would be made to feel guilty for simply not wanting to suffer. I’m not sure how to effect this change but it needs to happen yesterday.

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