This week Florence and I saw the film Embrace, made by photographer Taryn Brumfitt (see photo above) and the Body Image Movement. In it she described her hate-relationship with her body, particularly after she birthed three babies in a relatively short time. Having shared a couple of photographs of herself on social media, she decided to further explore the subject of body image in a documentary, after the images went viral. The response was incredible – many people congratulating her for her courage, many sharing personal stories of pain, despair and self-loathing, and some “trolls” giving her unwarranted and deeply unpleasant feedback. During the film I nearly cheered out loud when, having had her breasts criticized, prodded and poked by a Hollywood plastic surgeon, Taryn decided that her boobs should actually be given a Hollywood star of fame, for providing over 4000 meals (you don’t want to google “Taryn’s boobs!) She met some inspiring people along the way, including Jade Beall, whose work we have long admired, a photographer who relishes and celebrates real women’s bodies. Jade’s images of mothers and breastfeeding are stunning and
make me want to strip my clothes off and run straight to her studio!!!! Let’s be showing women these photographs, not the unattainable, photoshopped images in the magazines in which the celebrities don’t even recognize themselves!
I hope that new mums aren’t in a hurry to reclaim their pre-pregnancy bodies. Some of you will remember the spotlight shone on Princess Catherine after the birth of her babies. To focus on Kate being back in shape just a day after giving birth was shameful. I was delighted that Kate didn’t hide her post-pregnancy bump when she emerged from the Lindo, though many people were very surprised that it existed! Our media is so swamped with stories and photos of celebrities back in their Size 6 jeans and wearing their Jimmy Choos on a night out just a couple of weeks after the birth that we have totally lost any sense of perspective – of course a woman who isn’t wearing several layers of Spanx or similar supportive garments is going to have a lovely soft pot-belly for a while. Given that I had an emergency caesarean mine took quite some time to settle and it did feel like a strange unknown. What I didn’t know at the time, but am just blown away by now, is that my body had put down specific fat stores for breastfeeding that would only be burnt effectively by feeding, not by exercise. Amazing! I have to admit that nobody warned me that my body wouldn’t pop back after birth, but it makes utter sense that if your body spent nine months growing a human being, that it is probably going to take at least that amount of time to return to a vaguely familiar form and perhaps that shouldn’t be our main focus – maybe we should devote our attention and time to our newborn and give ourselves a bit of a break where perfect bodies are concerned. Walking and fresh air is great for the postnatal Mum, once the initial couple of weeks or more have passed, for endorphin and oxytocin production particularly, but do we really need to do more than that?
The splendid anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger coined a phrase “babymoon” to mean a time immediately after birth when the parents hunker down and spend time getting to know their baby. In fact, it is believed that fathers find the transition to fatherhood far easier if they do spend two weeks minimum at home after the birth. In many cultures, the birth mother has always been encouraged to spend 40 days and nights at home with her baby, handing over all responsibility for the home, work, other children etc to the rest of the family/community. And a doula would, no doubt, have been one of the experienced women of the village – a woman who could come and sit with the mother, answer the questions, support the feeding and offer practical and emotional support. It saddens me that we have moved away from this so much. I see far too many women who are isolated, unsupported (once their partner returns to work), struggling to do too much in the belief that they should be able to do it all. They are exhausted, which is understandable given that they are doing the most important and most challenging job of their lifetime (caring for a newborn) whilst sleep deprived. We need to nurture and support our postnatal women. We have much higher rates of postnatal depression than in those communities where the “lying in” period is encouraged. One of my great go-to doctors for all things pregnancy, birth and postnatal, Sarah Buckley, recommends that no new mother should get out of her pyjamas in the first couple of weeks after birth, because if she is dressed she will feel like doing too much! And, I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment. One mother I supported to breastfeed her second baby described how, with her first, she had given birth and come home one day and done the weekly shop in Sainsbury’s the next. It was not entirely surprising that the breastfeeding relationship had been a difficult one. I hope new parents will close the doors, shut away the visitors and enjoy as much skin to skin contact with their new baby as possible, sleeping when he sleeps, being fed nourishing meals provided for them by loving family or their doula and allowing time to do its healing after the pregnancy and birth. Surely time spent fixating on getting our “perfect” bodies back is time lost from enjoying our new babies?
So, if you can, get yourself to a screening of Embrace, or explore the Body Image Movement – it’s time to turn things around!
To find doula, feeding or other support in the postnatal days visit www.nurturingbirthdirectory.com
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Archives for January 2017
Isn’t it devastating that this country STILL can’t provide women with the most basic of requirements when it comes to having a baby? It’s nearly a year on from the National Maternity Review which highlighted the importance of continuity of care for women in labour. A further report, release this week, by the NCT and National Federation of Women’s Institutes demonstrates that the situation is as bad as ever, saying that 88% of women who were interviewed declared that they were not supported by someone they had met prior to their birth. Further to that many women were found to have suffered due to systemic staff shortages and restricted choices. Women want a known, named midwife to be with them during the birth of their child or children for safety, reassurance and confidence – is it really that difficult? Whilst we may have moved on in many positive ways since the Call the Midwife days, a show based on the reality of midwifery provision back in the 1950’s, there is a huge yearning for the familiarity of a Sister Julienne, Patsy, Barbara, Trixie, or even Nurse Crane!
Sadly it does seem to be a major challenge. South West London has been selected as one of the pioneer trusts for making positive changes to maternity provision based on Baroness Cumberledge’s recommendations in the Maternity Review last year and I am privileged to be sitting on the Continuity of Care workstream. It is an amazing opportunity to hear firsthand how maternity provision works in a range of different hospitals and trusts, plus the challenges and obstacles faced by the Heads of Midwifery who are charged with the responsibility of creating working models of maternity provision. These impressive women have consistently aimed to increase continuity of care and talk with nostalgia of times past when they were part of community teams delivering a much more women-centred care to their clients. With a national shortage of midwife numbers, huge financial pressures and increased demand for services it seems their challenge is nigh-on impossible. However, we are excited to have the opportunity to put many great heads together and see what can be created, which might be rolled out across the country once the pilot phase is complete.
In the short term it seems that doulas could be an answer to this difficult conundrum. Although non-medical, the familiarity of a doula through pregnancy and birth might lead to increased feelings of safety, confidence and relaxation for women. A doula may well have worked with a midwife before and be able to reassure the woman she is supporting. A doula will have helped her client negotiate the landscape of maternity provision in advance of birth so that the woman feels more familiar with her birthplace choice and some of the personnel there. A doula will bring a familiar voice, knowledge of a woman’s preferences, expectations and fears, and be able to advocate for her if necessary. Doulas are there to provide essential emotional, practical and information support – a bridge across unfamiliar waters to a new and strange land.
For more information about doulas go to Nurturing Birth
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Call the Midwife is back this Sunday 22nd January – hooray!!!
Nurturing Birth is disappointed to hear that Independent Midwives at IMUK have been prevented from supporting their clients due to the NMC opinion that there is insufficient indemnity insurance in place. Whilst the IMUK and NMC work towards resolving this issue, which we hope will be a swift process, we would encourage anyone who would like more information on the subject to read the following statements:
AIMS – scroll down the home page
Our thoughts are with the women and families whose plans for birth with an Independent Midwife have been disrupted. As doulas and doula educators our main aim is to support women’s choice and this announcement seems to be a step backwards, especially in relation to the latest National Maternity Review, which highlights the importance of continuity of care.
If you are pregnant, and have been advised by your midwife that she is unable to support you then we hope you have been signposted towards different options. Many doulas have volunteered to offer their support to women in this situation. It is essential to say that a doula is NOT a medical practitioner and therefore would not be able to replace a midwife in a medical capacity. However, she may be able to offer invaluable emotional, practical and information support, helping you to navigate through the available options. Most doulas will have a good knowledge of the local area and provision.
We will follow the situation closely and hope it is resolved swiftly. We are available if anyone wants to discuss the issue further. Contact us or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – @nurturing_birth