By Sophie Brigstocke
My father, who became a farmer in his retirement, has a beautiful herd of Ruby Red Devon Cattle and there is something so special about being around them.
Several years ago, when the herd was managed by someone else, I witnessed one of the first-time heifers calving. She was out in her field, surrounded by her cow friends and her labour started calmly and beautifully. My daughter and I sat and watched as it unfolded, her contractions coming increasingly regularly. Suddenly, the herdsman arrived on a quad bike, decided that she wasn’t birthing quickly enough and transferred her to a calving pen. Once in there her labour slowed down and he decided that she needed further assistance. The calf was pulled out and the farm workers congratulated themselves on having saved a calf.
The next day, when turning this new mother and her baby back out into the field, the cow turned on the three men and attacked them. My Dad was one of those men. He was lucky to get away with only a broken neck. This cow was utterly furious with what had happened to her and according to the farm workers she was never the same again. Do we blame the cow for attacking the farm workers and my Dad – or do we look at what happened to her and learn?
We have had a lot of conversations on the farm since that day. I’ve shared a lot about physiological birth with my family and they know how passionate I am about supporting people (and other mammals!) to have the best possible birth experiences. Now, on the farm, we have a watch and wait policy. There is trust that these beautiful creatures instinctively know how to birth their babies. Very occasionally intervention is required however, this is done as calmly as possible with minimum noise and fuss. The cows are respected and I cannot tell you the difference in atmosphere. It is a joy to be around.
The amazing thing is how people on the farm have changed. The men who grew up in farming communities where things were always done in a particular way have rethought their approach to supporting cows when calving. Rather than rushing in to “fix” and “rescue” the cows, they are far more considerate of the environment and keeping things calm and peaceful. They are supporting physiological birth. The cows like and trust their care providers – they allow them to come close, to scratch their necks and bellies – they know their voices.
How many of us know and trust our care providers? How many of us feel truly listened to and respected in our choices? And what happens to us if and when we aren’t supported in a respectful, compassionate way? When I shared this story with the midwife Kemi Johnson, she said that as humans we would be far more likely to turn on ourselves rather than our so-called protectors. Rather than getting angry, pushing and shouting, after an unnecessarily interventionalist birth we would be more likely to self-blame and tell ourselves that we had failed. It is no great surprise that perinatal mental ill-health is as common as it is given the number of people whose births are interfered with when it’s not necessary.
We don’t fail. We are failed by a system that doesn’t trust us, our instincts and our choices. It is interesting that the World Health Organisation suggests that 10-15% of births might need some form of intervention and our caesarean rates are soaring well over double those numbers. Triple, in many cases. It is also interesting that before birth became so medicalised the WHO stated that only 5-10% births needed medical support. Supporting physiological birth works.
This is not a blog to damn the medical profession. This is a piece to highlight the importance of physiological birth – to bring our focus back to how our bodies naturally birth, to recognise just how we are hugely capable IF we are supported in the right environment. So many people are losing their innate belief in the power of the birthing body. We need to reclaim it. People experiencing physiological birth often feel really empowered and positive. It can have real impact on the way they bond and connect with their new babies, on feeding and on how they recover and experience the fourth trimester. It goes so far beyond the “day” of birthing.
This week on the Nurturing Birth podcast I talk to Nurturing Birth doula and mentor Simone Dyer about her journey into doulaing. I was particularly taken with a phrase she used when talking about the need for validation as a birth supporter
“We often rob people of their lessons.”
What are we robbing people of when we rush in to fix and control? What is possible when we are present and witness?
If you are inspired to become a doula and support women and people to have the best possible birthing experience then check out the dates of our upcoming doula courses. We will be scheduling more dates soon so do come and let us know if you have any particular requests. If you would like to chat about taking a doula course when don’t hesitate to reach out to me on the Nurturing Birth number – 07305 044482 or by email on [email protected] I always love chatting to people who are on the cusp of starting their doula journey.
Have a great week