Nurturing Birth Owner and Doula Course Facilitator, Sophie Brigstocke, shares a story which has influenced her doula practice
This week I was so thrilled to make it back to my Somerset home, a working farm, and arrived half way through calving season. 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 quadbike, made a decision that she wasn’t birthing quickly enough and decided to “transfer” her to a calving pen. Once in there her labour slowed down and it was 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 lucky to get away with only a broken neck. This cow was utterly furious with what had happened to her and according to the farmworkers she was never the same again. Do we blame the cow for attacking the farmworkers 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 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 intrinsically 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. 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? The midwife Kemi Johnson, when I shared this story with her, 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 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 who don’t experience the birth they wished for.
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 the ideal rate of caesareans is 10-15%, however our caesarean rates in the UK are soaring well over double those numbers. It is also interesting that before birth became so medicalised the WHO stated that only 5-10% births needed medical support.
This is not a blog to damn the medical profession. This is a piece to highlight the importance of physiology – 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 person’s 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.
Just yesterday I stood quietly and watched another first-time mother labour and birth her calf into the straw. Within moments of birthing she was on her feet nuzzling and licking her beautiful newborn, stimulating him to breathe. Within half an hour this beautiful new baby took his first tentative steps, being watched lovingly by his new mum and found his way to her udder to feed. It was a very far cry from that birth I observed all those years ago and I felt a huge sense of relief.
If you want to explore the notion of physiological birth more then do join Sophie, Kemi and other passionate birth-workers in the “Physiological Birth Club Room” on Clubhouse on Tuesdays at 8pm and Saturday at 5pm (UK time). If you need an invitation to join Clubhouse then do email us with your telephone number – email@example.com
If you would like to know more about becoming a doula with Nurturing Birth then why not come and join one of our Dreaming of Being a Doula workshops?