Last week I had the absolute privilege of attending a workshop with Dr Sarah Buckley.As luck would have it Annie a colleague had forwarded an email about it a few months back, and I booked it within minutes.Someone like Sarah is rare gem and a shining light in the gloom of medicalised birth, so I was sure that once word spread it would be booked up.
I give out Sarah’s article on ecstatic birth after all of my classes as I view it as essential reading for mothers to be. Her articles also pop up rather frequently on the Mindful Mamma facebook page! Our Mindful Mamma classes focus on the mind body connection, the need for mums to understand why they have to dampen down their neo-cortex during birth, and how to do it.Sarah’s work is crucial to this and this workshop a great opportunity to sharpen our message to mothers.
Sarah’s take home message was that a woman during birth needs to feel
A simple message, but one that gets lost in the morass of information that women are subjected to during their prenatal period.This message was the golden thread that bound her three sections together, ‘the safety and logic of normal birth’ ‘the impact to interventions’ and ‘the hour after birth and postnatal period’.
Her comparisons with animals, and her references to our mammalian instincts and old brain reminded me of the book that I sometimes share in classes by Desmond Morris, some may not be aware that he wrote a book called ‘Babywatching’, many years ago after observing human and animal behaviours during birth and early parenthood. Fortunately this accessible book has been republished.
His view was there are two p’s that are important for birth, not pain and pushing but position and place! He talks of horses, 90% of which give birth in the dead of night, when they know that they are unobserved.It was the place aspect, which came across so strongly in Sarah’s presentation, not just the physical space, what’s in it, how it looks, is it light, dark, but also a sense of the sanctity of that space.
Sarah spent a lot of time discussing the role of hormones – this is something we also spend time teaching, specifically in relation to our unconscious responses to the environment.These unconscious responses are triggered by instinctual reactions to our environment and our very basic survival functions that rest within our old brain.
When birthing we are actually more alert because we are more vulnerable, and so it is crucial that the sounds, voices, lights are kept to a minimum, so mum feels totally private, safe and unobserved.
The section on intervention, made me feel overwhelmed with sadness.The evidence to support normal birth and the benefits of uninterrupted birth to our children as well as to humanity is so compelling that, when weighed up with the incredible risks of some pharmaceutical and physiological interventions, I for one find it hard to believe that we are still having to shout so loudly about normal birth and its link to the psychological and physical wellbeing of mother and baby.
Sarah twice put up this quote by the Dutch obstetrician G. Loosterman and invited reflection on the last words, “do no harm” which of course are fundamental to any doctors commitment to care.
“Spontaneous labour in a normal woman is an event marked by a number of processes so complicated and so perfectly attuned to each other that any interference will only detract from the optimal character. The only thing required from the bystanders is that they show respect for this awe-inspiring process by complying with the first rule of medicine–nil nocere [do no harm].”
Her final section on post-birth was longer than I expected but which gave her the time to emphasis how important this period is. She spent a lot of time focusing on the cord and why it is so important to leave the cord until it has stopped pulsating. In fact Sarah had what’s known as a Lotus Birth with her children where you leave the cord attached to the placenta, even after the placenta has birthed, until it drops off naturally. I would urge anyone who is thinking of their options after birth to read the chapter in her book ‘Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering’ or her article on lotus birth. It makes complete sense, and dispels any concerns about the purported ‘risks’, that mothers sometimes ask me about, such as it increases jaundice.
I cannot even begin to go into the detail or do Sarah’s observations justice in this blog, but I would urge anyone expecting a baby to read her book, it is an important book, a very important book as she is a thoughtful and enquiring physician whose aim is to do no harm.We are at a tipping point with birth and Sarah describes birth how it’s meant to be.Babies should be born into this world with love not violence.Our attachment to each other, to our baby, the absolute joy of birth is important, it’s natures design.This complex exchange of hormones isn’t accidental these hormones actually have, paradoxically, a very simple purpose, which is to anchor the fundamental requirements of life and successful evolution – attachment and love – deeply in our brains.
Many thanks to Patrick Houser at Fathers to Be for organizing this wonderful event and to Janet Balaskas and her team at The Active Birth Centre for hosting it.Especially thanks to Sarah for coming over to the UK and her incredibly patient daughter Maia (who sat quietly and played the whole afternoon!) to share her work with us all.