Rest and be thankful

Not long ago, I saw a brilliant example of a mum instinctively using relaxation, rhythm and ritual (what Penny Simkin calls the '3 Rs of Childbirth') to cope with the strong sensations of labour. Anyone who came in the room while she was having a surge would have been forgiven for thinking that she was 'not coping', as she used all of her body and voice to show just how hard she was working. However, as soon as each contraction was over, and the muscles of her uterus relaxed, she blinked and smiled around the room and said, 'It is lovely though, the rest you get in between, it is wonderful.' She then appeared to be in a state of total bliss until the next surge came and the hard work started all over again.

Initially, to me and her birth partners, this dramatic shift between intense discomfort and absolute rest was pretty funny to observe. It was a total and immediate change, and the first time it happened, we all (including mum) got the giggles. But when she was still making this transition, with every surge, 8 hours later, it was less funny and more awe-inspiring. By drawing on her apparently natural ability to live in the moment, and, I'm sure, a wealth of juicy endorphins, she was able to feel her rest periods as keenly as her contractions, with apparently no fear of what was going to happen next. It was incredible to watch, and a great example of how you don't have to birth silently to be coping well.

Writing on Mindful Birth, Nancy Bardacke breaks down the time spent with the uterus contracting compared to the time available to rest in labour. A widely-accepted (if imperfect) definition of active labour is when a woman is having three contractions every ten minutes, with each contraction lasting a minute, and with this pattern happening for over an hour. This, in theory, means that in a text-book first stage of labour, there are seven minutes available out of every ten to rest. In an hour, that would give us a potential 42 minutes of rest! I appreciate that, in reality, it's not that simple. But it's certainly interesting to consider. 

This mum was an absolute trooper, and I was delighted when I came in the next evening and found out that, after all that work, she'd had an uncomplicated birth about an hour after handover. I wish I could bottle what she had - a kind of eau de mindfulness - and pitch it to mum's across Yorkshire. Unfortunately, I'm neither scientist nor magician. So the rest of us will just have to put in a little work, and try to master what she did naturally through regular practice in the lead up to our births!


I'm not sure anymore what this blog post - intended as my first - was originally meant to be about. Something to do with women and midwives needing to be brave or similar, I'm sure I'll get round to writing it eventually. The thing is, as I sat down at my computer, I got distracted by the fact that I couldn't think of a single catchy umbrella term for people like me who are 'into' pregnancy and birth. Like 'foodies' or 'twitchers', but to describe those of us who basically live for oxytocin. 

'Birth enthusiasts' is already in circulation and a recognised genre (according to one online book store), but it's a bit dreary. When I typed 'birthophile' into Google, it autocorrected to 'burritophile', making me think it's not really a thing.

I then spent a considerable amount of time trying to invent a term myself.  A quick look at some Collins 'birth' synonyms for inspiration threw up only: birthing, childbirth, delivery (something else altogether), accouchement (romantic but decidedly un-catchy), parturition (which reminds me of sheep) and nativity (nativists is, sadly, already a thing). 'Birthivists' is out there, but its meaning seems to be more political than the catch-all term I'm after. 

An hour on, tiring of the ambitious task I'd set myself, I started cruising the entries for the 2016 International Association of Professional Birth Photographers Image of the Year competition.  A brilliant decision that introduced me to some sensational shots of childbirth and, in particular, the work of globe-trotting doula Angela Gallo, who is at least 100% radical (if I have gained one thing from my ARM membership, it is the right to use the word 'radical' freely and with relish).

In Angela's blog on natural birth in the hospital setting, she writes, 'if you are a birth nerd like me...'  And there it was, the term I'd been looking for: BIRTH NERD. It's even works as a hashtag. 

Keen to explore just why this term was so pleasing, I did a bit more research into its meaning. 'Birth' we've already covered... but 'nerd'? 

The first, kindly, definition of 'nerd' that I found on-line was, 'A single-minded expert in a particular technical field'. Single-minded? Maybe sometimes. And expert? I'd like to think so. A less generous definition, and one we might be reluctant to identify with, was this: 'A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious'. But, if we take a moment to think about it, proponents of natural birth are regularly subjected to ridicule and contempt. Even those of us who have a well-developed understanding of the benefits of timely medical intervention when it is needed. Think, for example, of Melissa Kite's delightful assertion, 'Natural birth enthusiasts need C-sectioning' (she blogs for the Daily Mail, I'll say no more). But do we really lack social skills? Anyone who's ever sat down to dinner with a bunch of would probably say so (we have absolutely no appreciation of when it's appropriate to talk about placentas). And are we boringly studious? Well, yes, because we have to be. We have to know our stuff if we are going to defend natural birth in a culture which is increasingly medicalised. We have to use science to convince people that we're not just a bunch of hippies, skipping around wooded glades, waiting for the woman spirit of the forest to come to deliver our babies. We - midwives, doulas, hypnobirthing teachers - have to be birth nerds if anyone is going to take us seriously. 

So, Angela, thank you for introducing me to this delightful phrase. I now know that I am Julia: midwife, hypnobirthing teacher and #birthnerd. I shall be using the term liberally.