This post originally appeared on The Green Parent as part of their 2016 writing competition.
It wasn’t until I became pregnant that I realised I would make choices that would raise eyebrows. I was aware that I sometimes did things a little differently, but as soon as I was planning to have my first child my decisions were put in the spotlight. The single most important thing I learned throughout pregnancy, birth and the first months of my baby’s life is trust. To trust my instincts, to trust my body and to trust my baby. That’s what natural parenting means to me. I heard the phrase “You are the expert of your own body and your own baby” when I was pregnant and amid the plethora of advice it resonated with me. It was only when I started to put this advice into practice that I realised how challenging (but also rewarding!) it can be.
On the face of it, it seems simple. A cliché even. It begs the question “Why do we have to remind women to have trust in themselves if it’s meant to be so natural?” Many birth educators talk about the lack of confidence women today have in their bodies and their own intuition. The website positive birth stories asserts that “The innate ability of each woman to give birth guided by her body’s wisdom, with trusted attendants, in soft private spaces, has been largely taken over by the international billion dollar high-tech low-touch obstetrics industry”. Although there are many positives about our maternity care system in the UK, with the over-reliance on technology and rigid procedures, it’s easy to see why women doubt themselves. It seemed at every turn I was given an opportunity to give my body a ‘helping hand’ by way of drugs or interventions, despite no indication that it was necessary or beneficial to my individual situation.
In order to learn about birth, I attended two antenatal sessions. One was offered by the NHS and the other was run by a local birth charity. In both sessions they used an acronym to help empowered decision making during the birth. The acronym we learned at the active birth workshop was BRAIN (Looking at the benefits and risks of any interventions, considering the alternative, trusting your intuition and considering what happens if you do nothing). The NHS workshop used the same acronym but without the ‘I’ for intuition – making it BRAN. For me, this omission pretty much sums up the difference between these two approaches to antenatal education.
I learned that it’s not always easy to assert your wishes and stand your ground, especially as medical professionals reel off the risks of your chosen birth plan and offer seemingly innocuous standard interventions. It must be even more difficult if you don’t have support around you. I was lucky that I had people who completely understood my position and were ready to advocate for me. It can also wear you down if you have to justify your decisions to friends and family. Some people think you are judging them or that you are acting superior, when in reality all you are doing is questioning conventional wisdom to do what is right for you. Reflecting back on my journey to parenthood, these are the positive things that happened as a result of adopting the philosophy of trust during my pregnancy, birth and beyond:
Pregnancy and Birth
I had the confidence to refuse offers of the first stage of induction, the cervical ‘sweep’. Having this procedure is now commonplace and routinely offered, but as midwife and researcher Sara Wickham states this procedure isn’t “benign” and may have adverse effects on the course of your labour. So in the end, my baby was born when he was ready, ten days ‘overdue’ and a healthy baby boy.
It was in learning about the physiology and the hormones of birth that I realised I could trust my body to deliver pain relieving hormones during labour but only if I felt relaxed and comfortable. And I knew this was a big but! I imagined being in hospital surrounded by unfamiliar faces, bleeping machines and bright lights and knew this was the exact opposite of what I needed to relax. There was the option of the midwife-led birthing centre that offers a more ‘home-from-home’ environment, but with limited rooms there was every chance I could end up in the attached hospital. Also, I was concerned that even in the birth centre that I would experience what is known as a ‘cascade of interventions’ and be powerless to stop it. So I took a leap of faith…and opted for a homebirth. Although there were post-birth complications that unfortunately meant a stay in hospital, the actual birth was very quick and easy and I still attribute this to trusting my body to labour without interference.
In the face of so much advice on breastfeeding (which is often conflicting) your inner wisdom can get lost. One piece of advice that sticks in my head was the paediatric doctor who suggested I should be trying to wait 2-3 hours between feeds. Anyone who has tried telling a newborn that they haven’t waited the ‘allotted’ time before their next feed will know this advice is ridiculous! So I learned to feed on demand – which at the beginning was completely exhausting but I wouldn’t change it. On the road to getting feeding established I also battled with my fair share of breastfeeding problems but with lots of cups of tea, cushions to get comfortable and support from friends and family, I am still breastfeeding at nine months.
Weaning and Beyond
When I started baby-led weaning I constantly had my heart in my mouth, each mealtime a source of anxiety over the possibility of my wee one choking. But slowly things have become more relaxed as I watch him learn to chew and bite small chunks of food he can manage. After reading the brilliantly common sense book “My child won’t eat!” by Carlos Gonzales, I don’t worry about whether or not my baby eats solids. As long as I continue to offer, I trust that he will eat when he’s hungry. Although I go back to work soon, I’m interested in the idea of self-weaning from breastfeeding. It seems more natural than stopping at the arbitrary age of one just because babies can then safely have cow’s milk. I’ve already had comments that breastfeeding a toddler would be “weird” so I’ll prepare for more raised eyebrows! I appreciate it can be difficult for others if you do something that challenges their assumptions, that’s just human nature. But I’m starting to find that if you explain your reasons for doing something people are generally receptive to hearing what you have to say and those who matter will support rather than denigrate you.