Saturday, February 27, 2010

How amazing is this?

How does an intelligent, active woman who has experienced lots of freedoms and is highly respected for her employed work, change (overnight) into a mother who is satisfied with being just that: a mother?

And why is it that some new mothers don't quite find that place of satisfaction in the role, and long for the day when they can hand the mother role over to someone 'more qualified' in a purpose-built facility?

This amazing phenomenon is a metamorphosis that takes place under natural, physiological cues, and the result is a mother who is so focused on her new baby that she doesn't miss the late nights with friends, or the cafe culture of her previous job, or the mental stimulation of a challenging business meeting.

I assert that:
  • Every baby needs a mother.
  • There is no better mother than the one who gave birth to the baby, in almost every situation.
  • Mothering is a demanding, challenging role, whether the role is filled by the biological mother or a substitute.

The amazing, awe-inspiring truth is that in God's created world both a mother and a child are the beautiful new creatures who emerge out of the coccoon of pregnancy. She takes her child into her arms and into her heart, and she recognises the uniqueness of her place in the life of that little one. Call it attachment, bonding, maternal instinct: it's one of the miracles that happens at birth.

As with birthing, there is no safer way, or more staisfying way, to be a mother than to find and follow the time-tested normal physiological path. As with birthing, our society today offers many alternatives that did not exist, or that existed to a lesser degree, in previous generations. As with birthing, most of us will at some stage fall short of some imagined ideal. That's life! And as with the rest of life, coming to terms with 'good enough', and doing our best with what we have, is a very reasonable goal.

A couple of days ago I was writing about families in communities - the supports and protection within communities that enable new mothers to find their feet, 'put down roots', and become resillient as individuals, and as families.

Today's new mothers have options for connecting with others that their mothers, and previous generations would not have imagined. Easy access to the Internet has opened up chat rooms, blogs, email, VOIP telephone connections, Skype with a webcam, all those *friends* on Facebook, and whatever you call your Twitter crowd. It's a generation of connectedness. How could anyone be lonely? There's a lot of self-analysis, informing the world of how you feel about the minutae - it's old fashioned navel gazing.

The mothers of today's new mothers (I'm one of them) had the radio or the 'box' to keep us company, if we chose. The background in homes included morning chat shows, the soapies, mostly from the USA: in all a recipe for domestic mindlessness. We had most of the other time-saving 'mod cons' that our mothers did not have. But if we wanted to speak to another person we had to be there in person, except for phone calls.  And there were no cordless phones or mobile phones. There was no virtual community.

I was living in Michigan, USA, when our first three children were born. We bought a house in a town called Haslett, which is near East Lansing. We had one car, which Noel usually drove to the university, so I must have had a lot of time at home. I don't recall being lonely, or dissatisfied in any way. The work of being a mother filled my life as long as the babies were small, and the next pregnancy followed once the breastfeeding demands on my body were reduced.

My own mother had been a great model for me to follow, and I am sure that being second of seven children prepared me in special ways for motherhood. But most of mothering is instinctual, going much deeper than the learning either in childhood, or from books or classes.

We know from laboratory animal work that the hormones of birth and breastfeeding set us up for mothering.  Babies and young children require an enormous investment on the part of the mother firstly, and then on the part of the father, family, and community, in order to successfully negotiate the often hazardous terrain of childhood.   Although there is no simple 'one size fits all' to this, the protection and support of a strong mother-baby bond sets up a family in a way that cannot be artificially immitated.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Families within communities

When a baby is born a family changes and develops. Today I am reflecting on the development of families within communities. How does a young mother, bringing her first child into her world, form linkages with other mothers in her community? How does a father make this transition?

The focus of midwifery is the mother-baby as a unit within a family. The midwife's scope of practice spans the pregnancy, birth, establishing breastfeeding and early parenting. We midwives often declare that, in the absence of complications these processes are normal, natural, physiological: that BIRTH IS NOT AN ILLNESS. We often point to the obvious similarities between the human mother and other mammalian mothers. No farmer would allow anyone to prod and poke the cows when they have separated themselves from the herd in preparation for giving birth. The farmer keeps a respectful distance, as do the other cows.

Lessons abound in nature.

As the simple drawing of trees suggest, today I am taking a lesson from trees.

Let's imagine the nuclear family unit, mother, father and children, as a tree. Some trees grow up in close proximity to others of their kind, while some are isolated. There is no one pattern that is right for all.

Families exist within communities, some are close and others more spread out.

A seedling tree - a new family - takes time to become strong. It sends down roots, and puts out branches and leaves.

Let's think about the roots of a tree/family. A young tree can be vulnerable to natural forces, as well as unnatural. It takes time and support for that tree to establish. In a garden we may put a stake next to a young tree, and possibly even a protective barrier around it. The tree will not thrive just by being propped up or protected. It has a lot of work to do itself, doing the work of a tree: its roots taking nourishment and water from the soil, and its green leaves photosynthesing light into plant energy.

A young family, similarly, has work of its own to do. The young family will not become strong merely by being placed in a supportive community with protection from difficulties.

Often after a storm we see trees that have been uprooted - destroyed in an instant. The huge canopy, and the system of limbs coming from the trunk can no longer be sustained. On the other hand a tree that has a tap root that penetrates deep into the soil is more able to withstand wind, storm, and drought.

In the tree/family analogy, that deep tap root could stand for strong values and standards that give resillience and a continuous supply of nourishment. A family that is secure in its beliefs, with clear principles to follow is able to stay whole in difficult times. Life's storms take many different forms; they may include illness or financial hardship or psychological threats. The family with good foundations, like the tree with strong, deep roots, comes through unharmed.

So, the question is, how does a new family establish roots in their community?

Monday, February 22, 2010


For details of this program, link here.
Next Program: Monday 22 February 2010 at 9:35pm
Next Program's panellists

* Malcolm Turnbull - former Liberal leader
* Tanya Plibersek - Minister for Housing and Status of Women
* Mungo MacCallum - political commentator
* John Roskam - Institute of Public Affairs
* Jane Caro - social commentator

You can read questions submitted, and send your own question to the program.

My question could be put to several of the panellists, to answer from a social, political, or women's issues point of view. In maternity care throughout history the midwife has been the primary care provider who works with the woman. The government's new legislation is now set to give the medical profession veto power over which women can use midwifery services, potentially strangling private midwifery, and driving homebirth underground. Should this so called 'reform' be acceptable?

NOT ONE MENTION OF MATERNITY ISSUES, DESPITE HUNDREDS OF QUESTIONS BEING ASKED! Minister Plibersek looked unwell, and had a nasty cough - she should have stayed at home. A lot of time was given to Malcolm Turnbull; thinly disguised attempts to get him to speak against his replacement leader of the Opposition, and reignite the carbon debate. The show was not worth watching.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A birth story in pictures

Thanks to the family whose beautiful pictures tell the story eloquently.


Please note that midwives and other registered health professionals are not permitted to use testimonials to advertise our services.

Monday, February 01, 2010

what's in a midwife's bag?

A midwife sent a message to her colleagues who are members of a national email list, asking for people with experience to provide her a list of helpful herbal tinctures which may come in handy at a birth.

There were various responses, which can broadly be categorised into those who 'do' and those who 'don't'. Since I'm in the 'don't' group, I'll share my comments here. Readers are welcome to share your thoughts on the topic too.

  • Can I ask why a midwife would take herbal tinctures? If birth is not an illness, why do some midwives come along with a bag of 'medications', even if they are herbal or homeopathic or natural? 
  • Of course a lot of my clients use natural remedies, and in most cases I don't see any harm in them. But there are times when I ask a woman to stop looking for remedies - whether naturopathic, or even a tub of water - and get on with the job.
  • Midwifery is about being 'with woman' rather than being a therapist of any kind.
  • Herbals can have alkaloids and other substances that have very real effects on the function of the human body. Many mainstream drugs were herbals once upon a time.  Unless the product is well tested for its potency and dose rate, it could cause unintended harm.
  • Other 'natural' therapies, including homeopathy, may have a placebo effect, without having a direct medicinal effect.

My thinking on this topic has been influenced by Maggie Banks in Home Birth Bound: mending the broken weave, Chapter 9. She describes 3 traditions of healing: the scientific, the heroic, and the wise woman tradition. Of course life is not black and white in any situation, and as a midwife there will be times when I use the scientific (as in collecting cord blood and administering anti-D to a Rhesus negative mother), and times when I reach (in a small way) for the heroic modalities (such as vitamin B6 supplement for fluid retention); but underpinning it all is the wise woman tradition - the knowledge and skill of working in harmony with normal physiological processes.

I will not attempt to present the case for those who 'do' use alternative medicines as part of midwifery practice.  It's a complex and fascinating field of study.  Some midwives have studied aromatherapy, homeopathy, reiki, herbal medicine, crystals, meditation, and various physical therapies (to mention just a few).  At the end of the day the midwife's skill is in promoting health and harmonising her own life with that of the labouring woman, with the intention of supporting and protecting wellness in birth.