In the early 1990’s I was lucky enough to be a community midwife, supporting women to have home births. When one of the women I was caring for, Helen, told me she was planning a water birth at home, I was both excited and fearful. You see I had never seen a waterbirth, let alone facilitate one, and so off I went to speak to my supervisor of midwives. With support and adequate education I felt more confident when Helen went into labour, and with a trusted colleague I helped as Helen’s baby was born calmly into warm water, in the candle lit living room of his parent’s home. This photograph was taken sometime after the birth, after I checked to see if any stitches were needed! Happy, happy, memories for all of us….
Several years later when I was working in the same organisation, but in the obstetric unit as a senior midwife, I became aware of midwives feeling unable to facilitate water birth on the main delivery suite, as the pool was being used for storage! In addition to that, one particular midwife who didn’t approve of this mode of birth, was creating barriers for other midwives to use the pool, which was causing distress. After giving them support, several enthusiastic and passionate midwives (Joanne and Katriona leading) went on to develop their skills in the use of water for labour and birth, organising study days and developing flexible guidance. There was significant change after this, and water became an option for labouring women using our service. Today, women using East Lancashire Hospitals maternity service have 9 water-pools to choose from, women are actively encouraged to use them, and the water birth rate is 15% in the overall service, and 40% in birth centres!
So why I am telling you all this? Well, last year the fabulous Milli Hill put out a call for waterbirth stories, via social media channels. Milli was editing a book, and wanted positive experiences of waterbirth to be shared to help and inspire others. I contacted staff at the same maternity unit mentioned above, and shared the request with local mothers too, via our Facebook page. Two individuals responded, and I have mentioned them below!
I’m in Australia at the moment, and after the exciting and much awaited publication of Milli’s book ‘Waterbirth: stories to inspire and inform’ this month, Milli offered to send me a copy to review! I read the book from cover to cover in a couple of hours, and I loved it. Apart from feeling totally in awe of the women who shared their positive tales, I learnt lots.
This title of this blog post Feeling the power & tasting the satisfaction: a circle full of water is taken from Milli's introductory chapter and epilogue, and the last sentence of ‘Lisa's story’ (Lisa Hassan Scott page 25). This book gripped me from the beginning; it is full of stories of the power of birthing women, of personal emotions, and of relationships between birth partners, parents, and health professionals.
After a short but revealing and well written introduction to the book, Milli tells two of her own birth stories. This helps to put the reader in the picture from the beginning, and brings perspective as to why Milli decided to produce the book. It’s the first time we read the word ROAR, music to my ears, and used several times in other birth stories too!
I loved the inspiring quotes at beginning of each chapter…I’ll definitely use them in my work.
The stories are varied, from around the world, and include accounts of personal water births from researchers, siblings, doctors, stay home mums, dads, midwives, birth activists, and doulas. Some of the births were in hospital or birth centres, and some at home. Midwives who featured in the stories included those that are independent (private) and others working for the NHS, and whilst some mothers experienced barriers to their choices from staff, most stories are complementary of the empowering approach of their care-givers. Confirming my own experience and knowledge, it was the attitude of maternity care staff that seemed to have the greatest impact on a positive birth experience. An example of this was when a mother had a breech vaginal birth after a previous Caesarean section (VBAC) at home, and after her baby had been born the emergency services were called, and both mother and baby were transferred to hospital. Jenn found the whole experience enormously empowering and positive... and excited to do it again (Page 61)! It seems from her words that the way Jenn was treated, and her choices facilitated, that made the difference.
Many mothers used the term 'sacred space' to describe the protective element of the birth pool. I found this enlightening as I had only thought about the other more commonly described benefits that water brings to a laboring women; ability to move, warmth, natural element, pain relief, and body weight disappearing. These too were highlighted by the authors of the chapters, but the circular structure of the pool, and being almost ‘untouchable’ to others seemed to have an impact on reducing fear. Some of the stories included accounts of a previous traumatic birth, and the space and structure of the pool seemed to give them the power to have the birth they wanted second or third time round.
Some of the mothers used hypnosis in addition to the water, and one used the shower instead of a pool, and another a standard bath, which worked perfectly for them. I read stories of breech water birth, twin water birth, and water birth after three previous Caesarean sections. Another interesting observation I made was that several of the babies where born in their ‘caul’, which means the membrane sac around the baby in utero was still intact and protecting the baby throughout the birth process. A sure sign of minimal intervention.
For me, there was personal satisfaction and humble pride in holding this book in my hands, and reading the two stories from our local maternity service, where I used to work. Both babies had been born in Blackburn Birth Centre, an establishment I helped to develop in 209-2010. One of the mothers, Rachel Barber, mentioned the fact that a student doctor had been present. Now isn’t that the way forward?
Whilst all the stories are inspiring and reassuring, Diane Garland's lovely account of a mother getting in the water-pool with her young frightened daughter made my heart sing. However, Diane was baffled when the young mum texted and Facebook-ed her friends following the birth, and states that she doesn’t understand ‘young people’s fascination with social media!’
I would like to tell Diane I’m not that young!
So Milli, thank you so much for editing this amazing little book. I will be recommending it to all my friends, colleagues, pregnant family members, student midwives (a MUST read), midwives and doctors. What a gem. I hope it becomes part of the suggested toolkit for women and their partners to believe in birth as a natural social event, instead of a medical illness. Bravo!
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