Saturday, April 14, 2012

protecting and enhancing the chance of a natural birth

Today I received a message from a midwife who has read some of my blog thoughts, who has asked me:
What do you think are the most important rules for protecting and enhancing the chance of a natural birth?
Where do I begin?

Perhaps there are no rules.

Rules tend to exclude some, and anyone who has been with woman will know that when a woman discovers her own strength, she seeks to organise her life so that she will not be denied that potential when she is at the peak of her labour. Perhaps the only 'rule' is an active decision making process that has the wellbeing of mother and baby at its centre.

There is no safer or more satisfying, fulfilling way for most women to give birth than to proceed as far as they reasonably can without medical or surgical assistance. Years ago, when I was experiencing my own intellectual awakening to the wonderful potential of our bodies in bearing, birthing, and nurturing our babies, I read some reports on birthing from the UK Health Department. One of the messages these reports promoted was that women want the 3C's: choice, control, and continuity.

Yes, I agreed!

So I worked hard to promote choice, control, and continuity in maternity care. But as I explored my own practice, and the midwifery literature, I have had to re-think each of the 3C's.

Choice is very limited. There is really only one choice: to promote health and intentionally work in harmony with the natural processes - this is what I call 'Plan A'. Any other notion of choice has little connection with reality.

Control must be relinquished. The only way most women can progress without medical assistance in the most demanding part of labour is when they surrender the neo-cortical thinking, relinquishing mind control to the powerful hormonally mediated intuitive processes within their bodies.

Continuity is an ideal that cannot be guaranteed. I mean real continuity of carer, with the midwife primary carer who is personally committed to the individual woman and who forms a partnership based on reciprocity and trust with that woman. This is the way I try to work, and with a very small caseload, I have been privileged to attend almost every birth that I have been booked for. But it is idealistic. I have been blessed with a robust body and good health. I won't labour this point. I recognise that mainstream publicly funded maternity services will need to trade off some of the idealism of continuity for the realism of sustainability.

So, dear reader, what rules are there to protect and enhance a woman's birthing potential?

The parallel of healthy natural birth and breastfeeding is obvious to me. In both, the midwife's role is to protect, promote and support the physiological processes, and when an intervention is made, to restore normality, restore to the mother her own body's health-affirming prerogative, as soon as possible. This requires education, skill, personal will power, intelligent action and much more. It's not a matter of sitting back and letting nature take its course, because we know that the natural course often leads to chaos. It's a matter of knowing and intentionally guiding at times. That's midwifery. It's a matter of the midwife-woman partnership having an intention to work with 'Plan A', and knowing when to move to 'Plan B'.

Thankyou for your comments

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