By Catherine Bell
Catherine Bell is The Birth Cartographer. The second edition of her book THE BIRTH MAP: boldly going where no birth plan has gone before is out September 2018. You can read more about her at: www.bellabirth.org.
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
― Maya Angelou
Is there a piece of advice that you wish your pre-Mother-self had received?
Were there things you bought or were given that you never used?
I remember how fixated I was on baby ‘necessities’. It helped make things real.
We were given a cot, which we sanded back and painstakingly spent hours with. That cot signified a making of space, a preparing for a new person into our well-established coupledom. One of the few new things we bought was a pram. This one was reversible. I would touch it, admire it, imagine myself pushing my baby proudly down the street. I chose it, so I could still see my baby as I walked.
We set up a change table. I laid out the little clothes. I packed my hospital bag, carefully choosing baby’s first outfit. I had little booties, long in my waiting-for-motherhood possession. I would gaze at these items, imagining my baby.
I would cut articles and ideas out of magazines (this was pre-pinterest, when scissors and glue were required). I was going to be a Great Mum. The Best Mum. EVER!
I planned to breastfeed for about a year, as I had been breastfeed for 14 months (alongside my twin), and it did not occur to me to do otherwise. I took this for granted.
I attended my hospital provided antenatal classes and all my antenatal appointments, dutifully checking off each test and requirement as they arose. Not always understanding why, or feeling I had enough time to consider things, but trusting the process.
My ‘last hurrah’ was to head off to The Kimberley for a month or so to help my friend with her PhD field work, followed closely by a couple of weeks on a UNESCO student exchange to Japan.
I wrote a birth plan, which basically said “I want a natural birth”. At the last minute I added ‘physiological third stage’, because I happened to learn the default was an injection of synthetic oxytocin.
It was a blissful and beautiful pregnancy. A very special time.
I am now nearing my 12th Anniversary of Motherhood. I have four children now.
The cot was mostly used to store the unfolded washing. For a time it was side-cared to our bed, and saw a little use. By the time number three was born, we no longer had the cot. I hope whoever has it now finds it useful!
The pram was wonderful, and hangs in the shed now…a little worse for wear, but it has seen some happy trails. I much prefer my carrier these days.
I recently found my folder of cut out articles. I never did revisit them. I was too busy Being a Mum. But I was surprised at the sheer volume of formula adverts littering the pages. I don’t remember ‘seeing’ them as I collected them…I was going to breastfeed, so they did not grab my attention I guess.
And as for breastfeeding: After a few hurdles at the start, we powered onto that year mark…and then beyond and through a second pregnancy, to tandem feeding. My first baby had her last feed when she was a bit over 4. Thanks to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, I learned so much. About me, About babies. About Breastfeeding.
The antenatal classes were…adequate…better than nothing…but I know now that independent classes are much more informative.
I am glad I took the time to have my last hurrah. I sensed Motherhood would change me. And those trips were a letting go.
I have changed. I have grown. I feel I have found myself. I am coming into my Full Moon Phase of life, a guiding light for my children, a beacon and focal point. Always they will be able to look to me and feel comfort.
A real turning point came as my first baby approached 12 months old. I had been doing all the ‘right’ things, and it wasn’t really working. Most of it just didn’t make sense, and seemed to go against my instinct. It was about this time that I stumbled upon ‘Night-time Parenting’ by Sears. I found an old copy in the tip shop, how could someone part with this gem! In the pages of this book I found the information that confirmed that my instinct was intact! The book gave me permission, as it were, to follow my instinct. It explained why my baby woke, wanted to breastfeed beyond one and why cosleeping was the path for us. If there was one thing I wish I had known: it was about cosleeping!
Two very awesome resources (in addition to Night-time Parenting): McKenna’s Breastfeeding and co-sleeping and the Kathy Dettwyler article on the natural age of weaning. These two resources appealed to my scientific brain. They just made sense.
I also discovered Michel Odent. In ‘The Face of Birth’, he spoke about Scientific versus Technological Birth. Oh how this spoke to me! YES! Science: biology, normal biology, natural, evolution, primal. Technology: interventions, interferences, interruptions, interactions, interrogations!
I also realised the severe inadequacy of Birth Plans, and that relying on your care provider alone to inform you was at best folly and at worst a recipe for trauma. My second birth had a more detailed plan, but still very much relied on luck rather than good management. By the time I had my Third, the power of hindsight, experience, education and networking saw a through and awesome birth plan. What was happening was an evolution. Now longer a plan, what I had was a Map. It revealed the landscape, the possible detours and pathways, and was a game changer! With my fourth pregnancy, I started using the term Birth Map, and found that conversations were enriched. Rather than being shut down or dismissed, this simple change from ‘plan’ to ‘map’ opened up new pathways. The key was in The Questions. As others used my book to support their own birth preparations, it became apparent that birth maps were great for women, their partners and the care providers. It was facilitating communication and allowing for truly informed decisions.
Looking back, with the power of Hindsight, on The Journey into Motherhood, the change, the transition, I feel a desire to support others through their transition. I want to make sure they never say “I wish someone had told me!” Knowing all your options is important. Understanding normal biology (scientific birthing) is important. And being able to Own your Journey.
Informed birth preparation is the key to do this.
Staying at home is the obvious choice for full autonomy, and transfer plans are an important aspect of a well prepared homebirth. Even a planned caesarean benefits from Informed Birth Preparation. Informed Decisions are documented, for various scenarios. It is the equivalent of an Advance Care Directive.
As more midwives witness ‘Informed Birth’, they will be better able to support unprepared women toward an informed and empowering birth.
As more and more woman use Informed Birth Preparation to create Birth Maps, and encourage others to do so, we will see a shift. The power will be returned to the women. The System may still be Insurance-driven, but the women will no longer take it lying down.