Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Speaking for birth

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

"How can I speak for birth?"

That was my question, back when I first felt called to do birth work. To advocate for birth. Natural birth. Birth as she has always been for millions of years. Generation after generation. Nothing weird or hippy. Nothing worthy. Just the miracle of biology which is birth. Donkeys, goats, dolphins and cats do it: nothing weird there. That's all I wish for women, is to experience the magic of life, the wonder of birth. But we have been told that birth is dangerous, uncertain, not to be trusted. And that birthing like animals is beneath us. We need to be saved from that.

But the opposite is true. Natural birth gave me back to myself. It was a revelation to me. And it has become a large part of my life's work. I truly want to help more women share this most fundamental and natural of experiences, because in our medicalised birthing world this is not an inevitability, but a rarity.

I started to mentor childbirth classes but came up against a sticking point: for me, natural birth is the greatest gift, but I'm not allowed to say that. I'm not allowed to say that because people do not want to hear it. I have to pretend that it's all OK. That one thing is much the same as another, so that mothers do not feel judged if they "try" and "fail". And the chances of this are high in most hospital births, especially with epidurals and inductions and the cascade of interventions which follow. C-sections are running at 20 -30%. C-section is NOT a failure. But it spells the end of a natural birth, and a challenge to fight for subsequent ones. And that makes me feel very, very sad for the mother. You see, we're there... I want to speak for birth, but I do not want to upset those who cannot, did not, have her. My heart weeps for all those who wanted her but could not. For the second time mum who feels that her previous dreams of a natural birth were just naivety. That is what inspires me to write and talk about it more. But it also makes me bite my tongue. I must not be seen to be foisting my strange natural birthing beliefs on others, to be judging them when they choose differently.

It is a great challenge. Because most women don't want to hear. Or they don't believe you. Or they think you were just lucky. Or mad to even try. Or they think to birth outside of a hospital setting is nice in theory, but not in practice. And whilst my soul calls out to them clear and loud, my voice stutters and stumbles.

Mother, mother, I want to say. I know you are scared. I know you cannot begin to believe how birth might be and if you can birth your baby. I know the gnawing, overhanging sense of the unknown and the uncontrollable which keeps you awake at night and haunts your days. I know that death and danger camp close to your door. But I know that life is there too. With birth as her herald. She is majestic. She is the crashing waves, the tiger's roar, the monkey who clings to her baby. She is in your every cell. She is you. You are her. There is nothing that you need to know: simply surrender yourself to her dance as she shakes your baby free.

You can do it... but you do not know this. And neither do most of the staff in any hospital. And this is the problem. They go by clock time, by the beep beep of the monitor, the change of shift, the spectre of insurance payouts, by what they see not what you feel. They do not understand labour time, they do not trust their hands and heart, your body and your strength. In the fear of death, of the uncontrollable, they extinguish the possibility of the miracle of birth. 

You, dear one, must go within, deep within, to find your core, your tiger roar, your power, your steel. You must hold tight to this as the waves of birth wash through your body. In the light, the noise, the fear of an unsafe public birthplace you might be washed away. You need the freedom to keen and groan and sway with the winds of birth. To hear your birth song, the song in your heart that you never knew was there, which you begin to sing aloud as your baby descends.

Through these Gates of Fear and Doubt, Surrender and Exultation, you, dear mother, walk to meet your baby. This is the testing ground of your courage. Believe in yourself. Surround yourself with others who believe in you. Believe in birth too. You can do it. And when you do it, then you will truly know your own power. 

More on birth from Dreaming Aloud?
For a post on wonderful links to the hot topic of sex after birth
Last month's extremely popular carnival post: Why home birth rocks

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Natural Parenting Advocacy by Example — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her blog, Twitter and Facebook as her natural parenting soapbox.
  • You Catch More Flies With Honey — When it comes to natural parenting advice, Kate of The Guavalicious Life believes you catch more flies with honey.
  • From the Heart — Patti at Jazzy Mama searches her heart for an appropriate response when she learns that someone she respects wants his baby to cry-it-out.
  • I Offer the Truth — Amy at Innate Wholeness shares the hard truths to inspire parents in making changes and fully appreciating the parenting experience.
  • Advocating or Just Opinionated?Momma Jorje discusses how to draw the line between advocating compassionately and being just plain opinionated. It can be quite a fine line.
  • Compassionate Advocacy — Mamapoekie of Authentic Parenting writes about how to discuss topics you are passionate about with people who don't share your views.
  • Heiny Helpers: Sharing Cloth Love — Heiny Helpers is guest posting on Natural Parents Network to share how they are providing cloth diapers and cloth diapering support to low income families.
  • Struggling with Advocacy — April of McApril still struggles to determine how strongly she should advocate for her causes, but still loves to show her love for her parenting choices to those who would like to listen.
  • Compassionate Advocacy Through Blogging (AKA –Why I Blog) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how both blogging and day-to-day life give her opportunities to compassionately advocate for natural parenting practices.
  • A Letter to *Those* Parents — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares how to write an informed yet respectful reply to those parents — you know, the ones who don't parent the way you do.
  • Why I Am Not A Homebirth Advocate — Olivia at Write About Birth is coming out: she is a homebirth mom, but not a homebirth advocate. One size does not fit all – but choice is something we can all advocate for!
  • Why I Open My Big Mouth — Wolfmother from Fabulous Mama Chronicles reflects on why she is passionate about sharing parenting resources.
  • Watching and Wearing — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life advocates the joys of babywearing simply by living life in a small college town.
  • Compassionate Advocacy . . . That's The Way I Do It — Amyables at Toddler in Tow describes how she's learned to forsake judgment and channel her social energy to spread the "good news" of natural parenting through interaction and shared experiences.
  • Compelling without repelling — Lauren at Hobo Mama cringes when she thinks of the obnoxious way she used to berate people into seeing her point of view.
  • I Am the Change — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro describes a recent awakening where she realized exactly how to advocate for natural parenting.
  • Public Displays of CompassionThe Accidental Natural Mama recounts an emotional trip to the grocery store and the importance of staying calm and compassionate in the storm of toddler emotions.
  • I will not hide behind my persona — Suzi Leigh at Attached at the Boob discusses the benefits of being honest and compassionate on the internet.
  • Choosing My Words — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares why she started her blog and why she continues to blog despite an increasingly hectic schedule.
  • Honour the Child :: Compassionate Advocacy in the Classroom — Lori at Beneath the Rowan Tree shares her experience of being a gentle and compassionate parent — with other people's children — as a classroom volunteer in her daughter's senior kindergarten room.
  • Inspired by the Great Divide (and Hoping to Inspire) — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis shares her thoughts on navigating the "great divide" through gently teaching and being teachable.
  • Introverted Advocacy — CatholicMommy at Working to be Worthy shares how she advocates for gentle parenting, even though she is about as introverted as one can be.
  • The Three R's of Effective and Gentle Advocacy — Ana at Pandamoly explains how "The Three R's" can yield consistent results and endless inspiration to those in need of some change.
  • Passionate and Compassionate: How do We do It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the importance of understanding your motivation for advocacy.
  • Sharing the love — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about how she shares the love and spreads the word.
  • What Frank Said — Nada at miniMOMist has a good friend named Frank. She uses his famous saying to demonstrate how much natural parenting has benefited her and her family.
  • Baby Sling Carriers Make Great Compassionate Advocacy Tools — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shared her babywearing knowledge — and her sling — with a new mom.
  • Everyday Superheroes — Who needs Superman when we have a community of compassionate advocates?! Dionna at Code Name: Mama believes that our community of gentle bloggers are the true superheroes.
  • Words of advice: compassionately advocating for my parenting choices — MrsH at Fleeting Moments waits to give advice until she's been asked, resulting in fewer advocacy moments but very high responsiveness from parents all over the spectrum of parenting approaches.
  • Peaceful Parenting — Peaceful parenting shows at Living Peacefully with Children with an atypical comment from a stranger.
  • Speaking for birth — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud soul-searches about how she can advocate for natural birth without causing offense.
  • Gentle is as Gentle Does — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how she is gently advocating her parenting style.
  • Walking on Air — Rachael at The Variegated Life wants you to know that she has no idea what she's doing — and it's a gift.
  • Parenting with my head, my heart, and my gut — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares her thoughts on being a compassionate advocate of natural parenting as a blogger.
  • At Peace With the World — Megan at Ichigo Means Strawberry talks about being an advocate for peaceful parenting at 10,000 feet.
  • Putting a public face on "holistic" — Being public about her convictions is a must for Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama, but it takes some delicacy.
  • Just Be; Just Do. — Amy at Anktangle believes strongly about her parenting methods, and also that the way to get people to take notice is to simply live her life and parent the best she knows how.
  • One Parent at a Time... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that advocating for Natural Parenting is best accomplished by walking the walk.
  • Self-compassion — We're great at caring for and supporting others —from our kiddos to other mamas — but Lisa at Gems of Delight shares a post about treating ourselves with that same sense of compassion.
  • Using Montessori Principles to Advocate Natural Parenting — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how she uses Montessori principles to be a compassionate advocate for natural parenting.
  • Advocacy? Me? — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers that by "just doing her thing," she may be advocating for natural parenting.
  • Feeding by Example — Mama Mo at Attached at the Nip shares her experience of being the first one of her generation to parent.
  • Compassionate Consumerism — Erica at ChildOrganics encourages her children to be compassionate consumers and discusses the benefits of buying local and fair trade products.
  • The Importance of Advocating Compassionately — Kristen at Adventures in Mommyhood acts as a compassionate advocate by sharing information with many in the hopes of reaching a few.
  • Some Thoughts on Gentle Discipline — Darcel at The Mahogany Way shares her thoughts and some tips on Gentle Discipline.
  • Compassionate Advocacy: Sharing Resources, Spreading the Love — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle shares how her passion for making natural choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting have supported others in Dominica and beyond.
  • A journey to compassion and connection — Jessica at Instead of Institutions shares her journey from know-it-all to authentic advocacy.
  • Advocacy Through Openness, Respect, and Understanding — Melissa at The New Mommy Files describes her view on belief, and how it has shaped the way she advocates for gentle parenting choices.
  • Why I'm not an advocate for Natural Parenting — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog delivers the shocking news that, after 10 years of being a mum, she is NOT an advocate for natural parenting!
  • Natural Love Creates Natural Happiness — A picture is worth a thousand words, but how about a smile, or a giggle, or a gaze? Jessica at Cloth Diapering Mama’s kids are extremely social and their natural happiness is very obvious.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy — Even in the progressive SF Bay Area, Lily at Witch Mom finds she must defend some of her parenting choices.
  • A Tale of Four Milky Mamas — In this post The ArtsyMama shares how she has found ways to repay her childhood friend for the gift of milk.
  • don't tell me what to do — Pecky at benny and bex demonstrates compassionate advocacy through leading by example.


  1. This is just exquisite - thank you so much for putting voice to something I feel myself. I worked for my natural birth with months of preparation, of fostering a belief in myself and the process of birth *against medical advice*. It was the most empowering time of my life, the opportunity given to me to be strong in myself and to know the Wise Woman I was seeking was right there inside me. Such a beautiful post; keep being an advocate for natural birth, no matter what because the world needs it...

  2. Thank you Rachelle.

    Just came across this post by another Carnival participant which may chime with many who wanted a different birth experience than the one they had http://www.authenticparenting.info/2011/04/authentic-parent-inauthentic-birth.html

  3. This is so poetic and beautiful. As I'm looking toward my own birthing time, I resonated so strongly with your message at the end and want to cry, "Yes!"

    I also hear you on the difficulty of advocating for natural birth without alienating those who don't understand or who were unable to have what they desired. I think your voice must come through, though, passionate and compassionate as it is.

  4. Lucy, this gave me chills! If only the right person could share exactly this message with every pregnant woman...

  5. LOVE! I am feeling so inspired after reading! Coming up on my due date soon, and i totally needed that reassurance! I'm going to be a tiger-roaring, monkey clinging, natural birthing mama! :) Thank you!

  6. in my country, hospital births are considered "natural" (normal/CS). you will be hard pressed to find a midwife who will attend to you at your home. and there is some sort of "classification" - if you choose to give birth with a midwife, it means you don't have money - generalizations that we really have difficulty overcoming. i only know of 1 person who gave birth at home in my country and she is a foreigner. all my other friends who attempted to birth naturally at home ended up in the hospital. we are a hospital culture and i honestly don't know how we can overcome it... plus we have doctors who promote CS and tell moms, hey you can schedule your birth around your social life! ok, i'm rambling

  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Jenny, homebirth is v unusual in Ireland too, about 1% of births. Only 14 home birth midwives for a population of 4 million. We have a C section rate of about 30%. Hospital birth is normal. Epidural is totally normal - in a hospital ante natal class I attended 17 out of 19 second time mums were PLANNING to have an epidural. What I am talking of is not normal here, far from it - hence why I find it such a challenge teaching antenatal classes here, as what I believe is so different to the expectations and realities of most mothers here.

  8. Beautiful post Lucy!

    I find this such a conflicting subject along with you - it was only after my birth experience that I began to explore the beauty of natural birth and begin to become an advocate for it (and I still haven't had the experience of a totally natural birth!).

    We need more stories. I don't even know if it's that women don't want to hear - I think they don't know that they want to hear! :)

    We've been so terribly ingrained to believe that we need help - even someone like me, who totally desired a natural birth - I still couldn't accept the idea of a home birth for my first - what if something went wrong? (and I experienced interventions that I didn't want...)

    That is the constant, nagging question - because what could or has gone wrong is often the loudest voice we hear - in the media, from our friends, from our families...it's too loud.

    But the gentle voice of 'you can do this' is starting to make itself heard...it's gathering power...I truly believe it will prevail. Keep sharing your positive stories - keep sharing your beautiful encouragement - it's working! It truly is working...

  9. Oh Lucy, this is so beautiful. I'm just teary eyed reading it. And I'm sorry you are not allowed to shout the wonders of natural birth from the rooftops, how tragic that natural birth is being covered up.

  10. What a beautiful invitation to natural birth. It is the fear that keeps us from the potential of this beauty. "Something might go wrong," becomes, "What if something goes wrong?" becomes, "Looking for something to go wrong," and leaving no space for something to go right.

    Beautiful story! Love it.

  11. Brilliant. I love your writing style! Your community is fortunate to have a compassionate advocate speaking truth to them, even if it needs to be set in passive terms to avoid offense. Thanks for making a positive difference in the world.

    As an aside, I studied at NUI Galway for a semester in 2005 and count it among the best experiences of my life. Beautiful country!

  12. This is a beautiful piece of truth, I am facing similar challenges as I do my Doula training preparation. I guess my main worry is that it will be hard to help/reach the people who would perhaps benefit the most from natural birth, not just well heeled middle class ladies who are already in that zone.... I want to help women who are disempowered or perhaps just don't have anyone in their lives who advocates natural birth-chemistry as opposed to just being encouraged to get through their births by simply being drugged up to the eyeballs. I also don't want to be preachy, I guess I just think "oh, if you only knew how great it CAN be!". Ditto for midwives and GP's as many of them seem clueless to the possibilities. I think they are perhaps just so blinkered sometimes by sheer bombardment of information leaflets and drug company propaganda, so it has just become the norm to manage births in such a way. Of course, in order to sell pharmaceuticals, you have to first sell the THREAT before you can sell the CURE. The threat is pedalled and pushed and becomes a giant monster that casts a shadow over birthing so that everyone is scared of it. And people really are blinkered and they fear this natural phenomena based on a few incidents where natural birth went wrong, not taking into account that we are not all invincible creatures, nor should we be. We are not robots, things sometimes go wrong, as they do in nature. Technology can be useful but we do over-use it, simply to justify budgets and the machines that go ping!!!
    I love this carnival of natural parenting thing that you are co-ordinating Lucy, it is a wonderful resource and a fantastic talking/thinking point. Thank you! Will print off and link to it for all my mama friends.

  13. Thank you all for the appreciation!

    MF, before I get undue praise, I just contribute to the Carnival of Natural Parenting, I don't co ordinate it! Praise goes to Code Name Mama and Hobo Mama for that.

  14. It's so hard as a mom who did not have the birth I prepared for. Same hospital as countless friends who did, same midwifery group, but I came in after 24 hours of prodromal labor, already exhausted, and at a time that the staff was maxed out. After another 24 hours of intensifying contractions and only at 5cm dilated, we chose the intervention route: pitocin and epidural. Thank goodness that was all we needed. It took another 12 hours during which my body literally spasm'd and shook from the exhaustion. But she was born healthy - 23 days after the due date that my OB/GYN had established prior to me switching to the midwifery group. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I wish having another baby were a possibility for us, I'd love to try a homebirth!

  15. If you are leading a childbirth education class, perhaps the best approach could be to divide it into sections. For instance, "if you want a natural birth in a hospital", how can you make it happen? You can mention staying home for longer before going to a hospital, avoid inductions, get second opinions, labor in different positions, etc. Then you can offer equally objective information for those who want an epidural or are keeping an open mind. And for potential homebirthers, talk about interviewing midwives, being treated with respect in case of a transfer, or perhaps even unassisted birth!

  16. Thanks Write about Birth that is a really good idea and would help a lot I think. My training, with Birthing from Within, divides up in a different way, but I think this might be a more helpful approach. I have not taught any classes since the birth of my second child, and swore I never would again. I feel as though I am in preparation again, but maybe approaching it from a slightly different angle, from what I feel confident, and unique in this area for offering- a creative, integrated approach, that way I am not in direct competition with anyone else and feel I am not having to be or do anything which does not best serve me, or the mothers who approach me... watch this space...

  17. Incredible post Lucy, I feel you totally. I have had two magical birth experiences and want to sing on rooftops about how wonderful birth is, how magical, amazing, wild and free it feels, how joyful it is to prepare for the journey, tuning in to our body and baby...the most Divine experience ever!

    I do share often about my birth experiences, I feel it's important to give another side to the birthing story even if people do say things about 'being lucky' or 'it won't work for me' It's okay...at least it's somewhere in the subconscious.

    My favourite book on birthing is Hypnobirthing and I lend that out to every expectant friend - they then have a choice if they want to read it and how much they want to take on board. One part of the books says something like (and I have to paraphrase because a friend has a copy right now!) we birth as we live our lives...if we are open to new possibilities, proactive, making conscious choices etc then that is how we will birth. I think this is something to think of...We need more opportunities in the whole of our lives to celebrate our body, listen to our inner voices, be powerful and take courageous steps out of our comfort zone into new realms of living!! Then beautiful birthing would be natural again and all other medical interventions relegated to the emergency necessity that we will only need in 1% of cases!

    Phew! I was not planning to go on for so long! Thanks again for a wonderful post.

  18. Great CarNatPar post! The language you use is beautiful and dream-like. I feel the passion and love for birth in your words. I am also passionate about natural birth. I have had four glorious, delicious homebirths and some of my friends have had other kinds of birth experiences. I honor all of them. I believe that all women deserve to be empowered about their birth. And since we all grow our babies naturally, we can find a way to feel all births are natural because from our bodies come our beloved babies.

    <3 <3 <3 And thank you for your beautiful words. I'll be passing along your blog to a few friends who can find healing here.

  19. "You can do it ... but you do not know this."

    Before giving birth, as before running my first marathon, I didn't worry about the pain or the difficulty that I expected to encounter. I just worried about not knowing how the whole thing was going to go. I wonder if that's the more frightening part for many women: not fear of pain, but fear of not knowing.

  20. Hey Rachael, I totally agree.

    Thank you Zoie and Terri.

  21. Very beautiful and true. I want to encourage my friend who is planning to have a baby to consider natural birth, but I fear that she won't be open to the message. I had a natural birth in hospital after transferring from a birth center, but I will plan for a home birth next time.

  22. Hi Lucy
    I know this is an old post but this beautiful piece arrived in my inbox via your Happy Womb project. It's gorgeous, and articulates many of my views far better and more poetically than i could, but it brings tears to my eye.

    I had my beautiful boy last October. We planned a homebirth, seeing its benefits as much as you probably do. I read Ina May and similar, practised yoga, walked, rested and meditated daily, had a beautiful connection with my baby and wasn't scared of birth.

    We declined induction at term +10 days, when you're persuaded to have one. We reluctantly changed our mind 2 days later as the amniotic fluid was reducing quickly without my waters having broken. I'd had contractions that had built up then disappeared for 2 nights running.

    I was induced the next afternoon. Our doula wasn't allowed to stay and my husband strongly advised to go home as we were told it was highly unlikely anything would happen until the next night. By the time he left, I was having noticeable contractions; I was told this was normal following induction and that they'd wear probably off soon.

    To cut it short, I spent the night in a room alone, contractions getting stronger and closer together, me trying to manage them with the breathing techniques and active birth positions I'd learnt, trying to massage my own back, but staff not taking me seriously. When they did, after about 7 hours, they monitored my baby's heartbeat and he was in distress. he continued to be so and just over an hour later he was delivered by Csection after I was told that he probably wouldnt have made it if not got out right then (tests done after he was born suggested this was probably true).

    It was the other end of the spectrum from the natural birth we believed in and, as you say, challenges the possibility of ever having a natural birth. I am completely converted to your message re:natural birth and tried to have it, but didn't.

    Mine isn't a happy womb; of course I'm overjoyed with my baby boy but when I scan my body I "feel" a numbness, a void, in that space. Luckily I physically healed well and quickly; some professionals said that maybe the yoga etc I did regularly helped me do so. Maybe they just said that to console me! I'm now starting to do some healing work around my feeling of being defeminised, of not having birthed my baby myself, of my body not doing what it is designed for. I've recently been helped to realise (from working with a Birthing From Within practitioner) that I did still have a labour and a birth journey; I still experienced many of the things you did. Time has also been a healer in that 8 months has given opportunity for other things we planned to do to work out, things like breastfeeding, babywearing, using cloth nappies, attachment parenting, babyled weaning.

    I know this is a really long comment and if you don't want to publish/comment, I'm not expecting it. If you do, perhaps it will ring true for some other readers who didn't have the natural births that you and centuries of women have managed to have. Jealousy's not a pretty emotion but I can't deny that I feel it. I know your feeling of not being able to say what you want to say about natural birth...an example being that whenever I tell my story people respond with "but at least you were both safe and well". Of course that's the most important thing but few people understand what we felt about birth, and what we lost.

    I just wanted to answer you as a mama who totally believes what you do, but couldn't have it and perhaps never will. Thank you for being such a strong voice for the natural birth & parenting world.

    Mo <3



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