For the past three days I have been at the MAMA conference in Troon, Scotland surrounded by women (and a few men) who are totally dedicated to making birth better, for many reasons. Some of the comments and activity were shared via Twitter
The atmosphere in the Marine Hotel’s conference rooms felt like a full and busy bee hive, buzzing and happy! The positivity and energy was palpable. I attend many conferences on childbirth, and this one was exceptional.
I met so many people I immediately connected with, I learned lots, and I laughed and cried. The emotion at times was overwhelming as I listened to how childbirth was being marginalized, even though I knew it already. One of the wonderful doulas I met, the lovely Mars Lord (she helped me deliver a Twitter lesson!) has written a fabulous reflective blog of the event, and has summarised it beautifully.
They really made me think.
Since time began women (and mammals) have relied on the efficient release of natural oxytocin to give birth and to breast feed their babies. Oxytocin is also released by men (and women) during sex and is described by Michel as the ‘hormone of love’. Both Michel and Kerstin have studied the positive effects of oxytocin and it’s crucial role in our existence. Kerstin states that oxytocin can reduce pain, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. They clearly raise concern that as birth is increasingly disturbed by intervention in labour, pharmacological drugs and unnecessary Caesarean section the production of natural oxytocin is weakened. One of the consequences of this Michel says is that women are becoming less able to birth their babies. He warns that globally we are at the ‘bottom of the abyss’, in other words we are as bad as we can get. The authors also claim that as oxytocin is necessary for bonding and attachment of mother and infant, this is affected too.
It certainly makes sense to me. Fear and loss of control were the main reasons women came to me during my time working as a consultant midwife, and I hear it constantly from the young women I talk to. Sadly, our society increasingly believes that childbirth is laden with risk, and as a hospital procedure. This is a worrying trend, and the reasons are complex and too many to write here. I will say though that I am not alone in being convinced that TV programmes such as One Born Every Minute aired in the UK and USA are contributing to the situation. For anyone interested, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the highlighting the issues.
This is a great pity.
I certainly will be taking the oxytocin message with me when I talk to midwives, doulas and doctors, for the sake of love, of positive childbirth, of parenting and of basic human existence. And I need to pursue the opportunity to increase awareness among the women and men I communicate with. We can’t stay at the bottom of the abyss.
Oh, and I met the midwife who influenced my career from the early 1980s, Ina May Gaskin. Ina May is a one off, and it was an honour to be in her company for several meals and chat to her and her husband Steve. Ina May is a world class midwifery leader, and her predicted inspirational talk at the end of the conference provided further confirmation that birth really matters, and there is much to be done. As a real 'groupie' of Ina May and the proud owner of her first book Spiritual Midwifery (and perhaps the first edition!), I was blown away when she turned to me on the last day and quietly said 'can I have a signed copy of your book Catching Babies?' Wow. What do you think about that? #neverthoughtitwouldhappen
Photgraph courtesy of Severns Jones Photography