Life has changed dramatically for so many of us since the start of the pandemic caused by COVID 19. Lockdown has meant a time for reflecting as well as living a totally different way of life for so many of us.
This has brought with it many positive as well as negative aspects that have possibly enabled some of us to revaluate our lives and what is and what is not important to us.
Because of this fact, many of us have had time to think about what really makes us content in life and for some this has been challenging as well as being fruitful.
I have discovered through my counselling and psychotherapy services, that I am talking to people with many needs and they are not all not necessarily related to childbirth and pregnancy issues.
Therefore, I have extended my services to include counselling and psychotherapy for people with all needs such as depression, anxiety, weight loss, general family issues and couple counselling to name just a few.
Because of the COVID restrictions, I am still using online resources and telephone calls. I am able to see people face to face if this is what they would prefer and this can be safely achieved observing the social distancing and hygiene issues.
Life begins with birth this is true, but along the way, the river of life has many twists and turns and I can help you navigate them when the going gets rough.
Sisterhood is described as being a strong feeling of friendship and support among women who are involved in a shared activity or event. This ethos has been prevalent to all women at some times in their lives but never more so now with the world being in a state of total change.
This philosophy has never been more relevant than it is now with the world being in the midst of a pandemic. We are living in a world where so much has changed overnight but one thing that has not changed, is the fact that women are still becoming pregnant and giving birth.
It will be a worrying time if you are pregnant or have recently had a baby but rest assured that the midwifery and obstetric profession will be doing their very utmost to support you through this anxious time.
How to access information:
There are many websites for accessing information which will give you well balanced information and advice, such as the NHS website www.nhs.co.uk and www.nct.org.uk. Your local midwife will also be keeping you informed of the current situation and how you can best protect yourself and your unborn baby and family from infection and keep well.
You may find that you have to change or alter your birth plans slightly in order to protect yourself and your baby and if you are giving birth in hospital you will be looked after by professionals who will be wearing personal protection equipment, which although slightly alarming will not compromise the care and compassion and advice given to you by your midwife.
You and your baby will be safe and it will be an experience that is unique to you and although each and every birth is different to every woman, the process of giving birth is one that is shared with the whole sisterhood of women the world over.
Be strong and brave – you are not alone.
Your midwife is also part of the sisterhood. The meaning of midwife is ‘being with woman’
Currently I am available for counselling, talking or just discussing any anxieties that you will undoubtedly have. I am counselling via telephone, email, SKYPE or WhatsApp or Face Time/Messenger.
I was reading some posts on a counselling web site the other day and I came across a comment from a fellow counsellor. They noted that many more people are coming for counselling because of feeling anxious, depressed, not motivated, insecure and with no confidence in their own abilities to live an independent life.
I have noticed this is my own practice and at the moment it tends to be that the most affected age group is people between the ages of 30 and 40.
Mental health or lack of it is certainly on the increase with more people coming forward for counselling and treatment. But is it on the increase…or is it because people have become more aware?
Have we enabled people to recognise the symptoms themselves and not be afraid to reach out for help? Or have we enabled our off spring to not cope with disappointment, rejection or loss? Or is it because the style of parenting we now use is very different to parenting in the 1940’s, 1950’s.
Parenting styles in the 1940’s – 1950’s appeared to be brutal to say the least. In this era, babies were left in prams in the garden so they couldn’t be heard crying. They were kept in play pens like caged animals, kept on a rigorous feeding routine of 4 hourly feeds with a drink of water in between. And they were held out over a potty at regular intervals in an attempt to toilet train them from the age of 6 months!!
This was just the tip of the iceberg and children really were believed to not be seen or heard. How scary for babies and children this must have been. No cuddling was allowed and mothers were certainly not allowed to kiss their male babies for risk of making them ‘soft’ and having too many feelings that were considered inappropriate for a male.
The point that the counsellor was trying to make, was why in this day and age when parenting styles allegedly are more responsive to the child’s needs, is there so much insecurity, depression and anxiety and an inability to cope with life in general. When in the past, mental health problems were not so prevalent from an early age and people more or less just appeared to get on with life.
Reported cases of mental health were not so high five decades ago but this could have been for many reasons. Mental ill health was not recognised and talked about. People were reluctant to confess to mental ill health for fear of losing jobs, children, homes etcetera. In the past, it was seen as a weakness if you said you were sad or scared or not able to cope with life and you just struggled on until either physical illness or a mental illness stopped you in your tracks and maybe then you gave yourself permission to ask for help.
But was this way of parenting really so detrimental to the child’s development and have our ways of parenting now contributed to the rise in mental ill health, with parents providing instant gratification for every need and solving all their children’s problems instead of enabling them to problem solve for themselves and deal with disappointments and failures.
Or have our generation and product of the parenting on the 1950’s, over compensated with our parenting styles thus producing a generation of children unable to cope with life’s demands.
I am not saying either style is right or wrong. A blended, common sense approach is needed towards parenting. But an approach that has love and communication as its foundation to enable a child to reach his or her full potential.
It will be interesting to see the results in the next 50 years, of the research studies on parenting now.
Some of you reading this post will be pregnant and will be giving birth soon.
For some, this may be your first pregnancy.
I always think that maybe writing a few things down, for instance, about what you would like for pain relief or what positions you might like to adopt whilst giving birth may be useful.
Maybe some of you have thought about a waterbirth after reading how relaxing and soothing it can be?
Writing a birth plan is a good way of making you feel in control. However, you should be aware that your midwife may advise that what-ever you have written it is not necessarily a given.
For example, you may write that you do not want any pain relief.
My own advice would be to have an open mind and see how you feel on the day and not be disappointed in yourself if you do find that you need something to support you through the labour.
I remember with my third baby thinking I could manage without any pain relief. I was wrong and was eventually given some much needed Pethidine. Of course, this may not suit everyone but for me I’m happy to report that all went well and I was in a relatively relaxed state when the baby appeared not long after.
For others of you, this might be your second or third baby.
Of course,this doesn’t mean that you won’t be anxious. It is perfectly normal to feel apprehensive about forthcoming births. Perhaps, you had a difficult labour previously and are worried that this might happen again or you are contemplating whether to have a vaginal birth as you had a caesarean section before.
All these anxieties and more can be discussed with your midwife.
As part of my service, I can assist and support you with any worries or concerns that you may have and help you write a birth plan that is going to be useful to you.
If you have had a previous traumatic birth event I am able to discuss this with you and help you think of ways that will be useful towards your next birth.
I can also, of course, discuss all your pain relief options with you.
All labours and births are different for every woman and it is best not to compare yourself to other women but listen to your own body and trust in it to do what it is meant to.
“Giving birth is not a matter of success or failure, of beating records or putting on a splendid performance but of giving oneself, mind and body to a creative experience in which, literally love is made flesh” (Kitzinger 1987).
When I was a midwife working on the Delivery Suite, I had to work some night shifts to ensure that the ward was covered for twenty four hours. This is usual for all nurses and midwives.
We also had to work Christmas and New Year and we usually tried to be fair to each other to ensure that we all had some of the holiday off with our own family and friends.
I have to say that sometimes, as well as being excruciatingly busy, there was always a lovely festive atmosphere in the unit and we would all bring in non- alcoholic drinks and nibbles to snack on. This was of course in between births, completing paper work and clearing up.
Babies born on Christmas Day were given a small, wrapped present and babies born on Christmas Eve were given a stocking to leave at the end of the cot which was filled by whoever was on the night shift.
All Christmas Day babies and babies born on New Year’s Eve, were, with their parents’ permission, photographed and published in the local newspapers. This seemed to add to the festive atmosphere and feeling of excitement and joy.
One New Year’s Eve, not long after I had qualified as a midwife, I volunteered to work the night shift on New Year’s Eve. I was not really looking forward to this. Night shifts were always difficult.
We are not meant to be awake at three in the morning making decisions about people’s lives, communicating and just generally functioning as you would in the day.
However, I must admit I was excited about the prospect of maybe delivering the first baby of the new year and seeing the baby and mother in the newspaper.
Delivery suite was eerily quiet when I arrived on the shift but there was just one woman in labour who had had a baby previously, so there would be a good chance that she would have her baby before I went off shift at eight in the morning. Women who have had a baby before tend to have quicker labours and births the second time around so I was pretty sure that this would be the case with this woman.
Of course, there is always exception to the rule and this doesn’t always happen. Mercifully, this did happen in this case and the woman went on to give birth to her baby at two minutes past midnight, which was definitely the first baby of the new- year.
I was so excited and in my naivety and enthusiasm completely forgot about the woman being physically and emotionally drained after the birth and as soon as the placenta had been delivered my first response was:
“Congratulations. Would you like your photograph taken for the papers”?
I can’t write what she told me to do but it wasn’t,
“Oh yes I’d really like that – thanks”.
I felt rather deflated after that response and that was lesson learnt.
Not everyone wants to be in the paper especially the next day after giving birth.
It is a fundamental human right that women give birth in a place that is safe and where help is at hand to assist.
We are fortunate in this country that the maternity and midwifery services available for all women are excellent, safe and accessible.
So, why did a homeless woman give birth before Christmas outside Trinity College in Cambridge to twins who were pre-term by about 11 weeks?
The age of viability is 24 weeks. Therefore, not only were these twins extremely early but they would be of a small birth weight and only able to make a few gasps of breath on their own before help would have been needed from the medical team. Fortunately, passers-by went to the mother’s assistance, an ambulance was called which enabled a transfer of the woman into the maternity hospital.
It is believed that the mother and babies are well. A crowd fundraising page has now been set up to support the family financially. This is of course, great and demonstrates the compassion and care that the general public show to people in dire need.
But, should this really be necessary in this day and age?
We are allegedly a developed country with all the facilities that this brings. And these facilites should be available to all and no one should have to live, give birth and die on the streets.
We, in my view appear to be returning to Victorian times.
More than anything, this country needs an honest government who really do serve the needs of all its people.
Whether we are religious or not, many of us will be familiar with the Christmas story of a mother who gave birth to her child in poverty, seeking refuge in of all places, a stable.
Not a lot appears to have changed.
What do you think? Please leave me a comment on this post or any of my previous posts.
A considerable amount of work and research has been done on how men also can suffer fromPostnatal Depression.
Like the reasons for women, it is multifactorial. Caring and supporting a partner through labour and birth can be extremely difficult for men who don’t like to see their partners suffering and in pain. They often feel helpless and try to ‘fix it’. But labour and birth are not like that. Men have their own release of male hormones in response to this. Adrenaline, testosterone to name a couple.
After the birth, there is exhaustion for them too, coupled with broken nights, worry about work, the future, guilt at watching their partners struggle with breast feeding, plus healing from the birth, all contributing to a lowering of mood in the days and weeks that follow. The treatment for this is of course, first recognising the depression and for help with this there is a self-assessment tool on the NHS website, NHS choices. www.nhs.uk. The National Childbirth Trust also have a lot of useful information on their website too. www.nct.org.uk Talking Therapies is another great way of getting back on track as well as having a discussion with a General Practitioner (GP) who may prescribe a short course of anti-depressants if necessary. The main thing is owning the sad feelings and not feeling guilty that you too (men) could be suffering from postnatal depression.
Beyond Birth Counselling offers services for partners as well.
The first mother mentioned in the Bible is, of course, Eve.
Genesis 3:20 says,
“The man called his wife’s name *Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”
Most of us know the rest of the story. Eve ate the apple from the forbidden tree, before giving it to her husband.
God was angry and cursed both of them saying that there would always be enmity between them. Childbirth and labour would be painful for the woman, the earth would not yield good crops and that all men and women would die.
I often reflect on the women that I have cared for over the years, both as a midwife and now as a counsellor offering therapy for depression and anxiety during the childbirth process. One thing that is very obvious to me, is that women undergo an enormous change to become mothers and this involves physical as well as emotional and psychological changes.
So, what is motherhood?
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as: “The State of being a mother”
Perhaps a fuller definition would be to describe… A Mother is a very much revered status that can bring much joy, fulfilment and laughter.
A Mother can also bring a great deal of pain, sadness, frustration and exhaustion.
A Mother’s role is multi-factoral and she is perceived as the nurturer, the teacher, the nurse, a source of comfort and a friend.
A Mother should be supportive, patient and consistent. Along with all these qualities, a Mother should love her child unconditionally.
Obviously, a Mother’s job is no easy task. There’s more…
There are no days off.
A Mother must be able to remain calm under any circumstances. Especially with smaller children. Patience is a trait that every mother must have.
AMother has many other perceived roles to fulfil.
Cleaner, bread winner, laundry specialist, chef, lover, friend, daughter, sister and so on.
No wonder it is a hard job and why so many women feel sad following a birth.
Not only do they have to adapt to a new and demanding role, they often have to lose some of their old lives and selves. In short, it is possible to lose sight of who they once were.
The other phenonomen that I have observed not only in myself but other women and mothers I have cared for, is how raw their feelings can be following birth and how much emotional pain can be felt for other people. I want to quote Annie Lennox who sums Motherhood up beautifully and succinctly.
“Motherhood was the great equaliser for me; I started to identify with everybody….as a mother, you have that impulse to wish that no child should ever be hurt, or abused, or go hungry, or not have opportunities in life”.
Perhaps this is also the kind of pain that ‘God’ refers to in Genesis in the bible, who knows.
I think that it is OK to feel different after giving birth and it’s OK to feel sad for a while.
It’s only when that sadness goes on and on and there is no joy, that maybe counselling and therapy or just talking to someone is necessary.
J.D. Salinger in the book Catcher in the Rye suggests that “Mothers are all slightly insane”. I agree that some women and mothers are possibly aat risk of losing their minds, but at the same time are finding them.
I was watching an interesting programme on BBC 2 last night, ‘The Baby has landed’. It was a documentary following six very different couples, during the later stages of pregnancy, the birth and then the time following the birth which as commonly known as the postnatal period.
It was striking to note how the different couples on the programme were coping and adapting to having a new baby and a new addition to a family.
My heart went out to all of them but the one couple that struck me the most was the couple having their first baby after a long labour resulting in a caesarean section for the birth. As is the norm now, they were home after a couple of days and settling back into life with a loving extended family.
Initially, as is fairly common, all was well. As time went on however, the baby became unsettled. Mum and dad became increasingly tired with broken nights sleep and then a downward spiral into the mum feeling that she was failing because she could not settle the baby. The grandmother was supportive and the partner was trying to be but he too was beginning to feel that he was doing it wrong and all this against a backdrop of advice, from well- meaning relatives.
The mum was doing all the right things, but it was easy to see that she was becoming too hard on herself and forgetting that not only had she been through labour, but had, had a major operation for the birth. I think women underestimate just how difficult those early weeks can be.
The Mother now had another life to care for as well as herself.
The baby is growing even after day 1 and will be demanding more food but also, babies cry for all kinds of other reasons such as loneliness and need reassurance. They have been so used to being in the womb for 9 months and now they are having to adapt to a new environment. That is why skin to skin contact is so important. It actually physically affects the baby’s heart rate and breathing. It calms and soothes the baby and they are a perfect temperature close to your body. You don’t have to be breast feeding to do this and Dads can do it too.
Another couple had just had their fifth baby handled it well. Mum and Dad were back running guides and scouts after a week after the birth. It made me feel tired just watching the activity within the household. I was also a bit sad because every woman is different post birth and yet they measure their progress alongside, other women who make it look so easy. The women who make it look easy tend to be in the minority, but the woman with her fifth baby said that she liked to keep busy to stop her wanting to have another baby!This could be a trick played by the levels of Oxytocinon (necessary for bonding) in the body. The levels are so high for some women after giving birth, that they can make you believe that having another baby would be a good idea.
Also, it is this cocktail of hormones or lack of them, in particular Progesterone and emotions post birth that can contribute to some women developing post-natal depression.
Postnatal depression (PND) is the most common perinatal mental health disorder women experience in the first year after having a baby. Between 10% and 20% of women have depression and anxiety in pregnancy and after birth. PND is an illness and will get better in time. The reasons for this are multifactorial and the symptoms are many and varied.
There are lots of excellent websites that explain PND and perinatal health disorders. One being the NCT.org.uk/ and the NHS website who have a self- assessment depression screening tool that you can complete if you are not sure that this is what you are suffering from.
New mothers need to care for themselves as well as their baby and it is common sense to delegate as many of the household chores as is possible and use a good 2 weeks to rest and recuperate.
In the old days (not so long ago) the 2 weeks following the birth was known as the ‘lying in period’. Women were kept in bed and only allowed to look after the baby and themselves. This of course, contributed to a higher risk of developing a thrombosis (blood clot) or chest infection because the clotting factors in the blood become thicker and it takes a while for the blood to return to pre-pregnancy state.
Nowadays, postnatal exercises are encouraged including gentle walking and if there are any other risk factors for a blood clot, then medication and anti-embolic stockings (like flight socks) are advised.
One thing that all my experience has taught me is that every single woman is unique and experiences birth differently to the woman next to her. Yes, the physicality is broadly the same but your feelings, emotions and perceptions of pain are very unique to you and your situation.
Not long after I had qualified as a midwife, a woman turned up unannounced on the delivery suite saying that she knew that she would be going into labour in a few hours. This was an odd thing for a start for someone to say. Usually women would come in reporting having had irregular contractions or their waters breaking or some other symptom that might herald the start of labour.
This woman was from a family of travellers who had just arrived in the area and she was having her fourth child. She wasn’t distressed or appear to be in pain but I led her into a delivery room anyway because I just felt that she would have benefitted from some privacy. Her partner had left her at the door and she did not want him with her at this stage.
In the room, I introduced myself to her and asked her consent to carry out all the usual routine observations for a woman coming into the delivery suite in labour. She gave her consent but then looked me straight in the eye and said very firmly but politely:
“Yes, but I would like to tell you how I would like things to be – First of all, I am not in labour yet so you don’t need to examine me internally to find out – in fact you won’t need to do that at all because I can tell you when I am going to birth my baby. I would like to go for a walk when you have checked me and the babies heart beat and then I will come back when I know that I am going to give birth. On asking her what she would like for pain relief, she laughed and said ‘nothing – I have a yellow flannel that I will put over my face and that will be enough’. And when I have given birth, I want you to wash me and the baby straight away and put us in clean clothes, tidy the room so there’s no blood or mess and clean sheets on the bed. Then you can get my husband to come in to see me”.
I must admit to feeling a little anxious about this because usually, when a woman is in labour and having her fourth baby, it is not wise to let them go too far away in case they birth their baby in the car park or in the road. However, I reasoned that Mrs A was not in labour, her waters hadn’t broken and all was well with her so I could see no reason to keep her in a delivery room waiting for labour to commence. I felt instinctively that she was a woman who knew her own body extremely well, having had three previous births all without complication. Also, we used to encourage women to go home and await events as it was far better for reducing their anxiety levels to be in their own environment.
It’s a known well researched fact, that women labour better where they feel safest and that coming into a hospital environment increases their anxiety levels which are already increased due to the release of adrenaline in response to the pain of the contractions. The body is finely tuned however, so that endorphins are released in response to pain which helps ease it and oxytocinon which brings on labour and continues to stimulate the womb until birth and after with the bonding and attachment process. There is a great web site explaining this: Childbirthconnection.org/maternity-care/role-of-hormones/
She promised that she would not go far only around the hospital grounds and to the local shops and that she would come back as soon as she knew that she was going to give birth.
Two hours later, she did indeed come back looking a little flushed but calm. The first thing that she did on going into the delivery room was produce the yellow flannel which I put cold water on. She sat on the bed, put the flannel over her face and told me that she was going to give birth. Which she did – fortunately I did have time to prepare the room for a birth and managed to put on a pair of gloves.
The birth was effortless with no fuss and she produced a healthy baby within 15 minutes of being back in the room. I carried out no internal examination to confirm that the cervix was fully dilated but I did manage to listen to the baby’s heart beat which was normal. After the birth of the placenta she and the baby were washed and dressed as instructed. The room tidied, a clean sheet put on the bed, cup of tea supplied. Her husband came back into the room to find his wife looking like the queen, propped up against clean pillows and clean sheets.
He was so proud of her and so grateful to me and my care it made me feel very humble, especially as he had bought me a small box of chocolates which they could probably ill afford.
For me, this birth demonstrates how important that element of self-belief is in ourselves and the enormous trust that is placed in a relationship between woman and midwife.
You will probably remember from my last post that evidence has shown that one in four women experience some form of mental illness during the perinatal period (this relates to the period of time before and after the birth) (Howard et al, 2018). Most common mental health disorders are depression (11%) and anxiety (15%), but eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress are also seen.
These figures, though, do not always accurately reflect the true number of women who suffer, because a great number of mental ill health cases still do not get reported by the women themselves due to the stigma attached to them and the fear that women will be judged as being poor mothers who are unable to cope.
So, what exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to an unknown situation and many psychologists believe it is to be expected to be anxious about the unknown. However, it is the persons reaction to the stress response that needs to be addressed in order that it does not become all-consuming and colours an experience which otherwise should be an exciting and joyful time. In other words, it is a feeling most people experience at various points in their lives but when it is constant and overwhelming and out of proportion to the situation then something needs to be done to address the anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease…
…like a worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time and it usually passes once the situation is over. Anxiety can also cause a myriad of physical and mental symptoms although not everyone will experience all of the symptoms all of the time. I do not intend to list all the symptoms here or how to manage your anxiety. There are plenty of web sites where you can do this, for example…
Useful websites for symptoms of anxiety and how to help your self are: http://www.nhs.uk/ and http://www.mind.org.uk/
Talking therapies such as counselling are beneficial. Talking through your concerns with a counsellor and therapist will help you cope with whatever is causing you to have anxious thoughts.
Pregnancy and childbirth is a time of great anxiety for some women and some of the anxiety can be expected. Your body is in an altered state physiologically so its common sense to expect your emotions and psychological health to be altered. Every woman is different and will have a different anxiety relating to herself, the baby, the labour, how they will cope and so on.
I remember one of my pregnancies feeling terrified that every time the post person delivered a letter or a parcel that it was a bomb! (This being in the 1970’s when the IRA were setting off bombs in England). Why they would want to blow me up I don’t know, but all that I do know is that I had the fear. Fortunately, I was able to tell myself that it was because I was pregnant and feeling protective of my unborn baby.
I have counselled a number of pregnant women in the past who have presented to me, saying that they are just frightened, and they could not articulate the reason why.
One woman in particular, was however able to explain that there was no way that she could give birth to her baby – the very thought of it made her physically vomit. She displayed all the signs and symptoms of sheer panic at the thought of going through labour and childbirth.
After further discussion and talking to her we decided, together, that she had a mental health condition called Tokophobia . A rare specific phobia with an overwhelming, debilitating fear of childbirth. So much so that in some instances (not in this case) women have been known to request a termination, avoid getting pregnant or as in this case opt for a caesarean section for the birth. This mental health condition can be managed if identified and as in this case a lot of work was done with myself, the clinical psychology team and the obstetrician who supported her request for a caesarean section. Other plans were put into place to support the woman, who was able to have a positive birth experience with a good outcome.
According to the literature and articles written on mental health in Pregnancy and Childbearing, it is very common for women to experience mental ill health for the first time. This is due to many reasons, but mainly it is because women feel vulnerable and anxious about what changes the pregnancy is having on them physically as well as emotionally.
Just the very physiological changes in how your body functions when pregnant is enormous and not to be taken lightly or dismissed. Therefore, it follows that some alteration in mental health follows for some women.
When I had my children in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, you weren’t allowed to display any signs of being depressed or anxious and if you did, then the thoughts that you tried to express would be very quickly dismissed with comments such as: “Nonsense, rubbish, what’s wrong with you – you should be happy you’re not ill, you’re just having a baby etc. etc.”
As for trying to talk through your birth experience then,that too,was another big taboo.
I remember trying to explain to a dear Aunt who was a Health Visitor and Midwife, how traumatized and shell shocked I felt after giving birth to my third child. Which incidentally, was classed as a ’normal vaginal birth’ with no intervention, but to me felt like I had been run over by a bus. I also felt overawed by the whole experience, even though I had given birth twice before. When I tried to express this to my Aunt her words were: “Never mind. It’s over. Don’t think about it any- more. Read a book and take a couple of Codeine!’
Women were also afraid to express that they might be depressed because of the fear of having the baby removed from their care or judged as being poor mothers or simply not coping with the demands of motherhood.
When I read these words back, I feel that I could almost write a thesis, un-picking how powerfully negative they are and how unhelpful it is for women to have to hear these Kafkaesque phrases trotted out by well-meaning people including some health professionals.
Just the very hormonal changes in a woman’s body alone is enough to upset the equilibrium. Add to the mix recovering from being pregnant, the labour and birth and then a few weeks of broken nights and constant demands being made, it is no wonder that some women may feel ‘down or depressed’ following the birth.
Thank goodness attitudes are now shifting to mental health. Midwives and other health professionals over the past decade have really moved the subject into the public arena and there is much more openness about the subject than there ever was before.
In the past, the emphasis had always been on ensuring that women and babies survived child-bearing which is of course the primary concern. But when you consider that maternal suicide is the fifth most common cause of women’s deaths during pregnancy and remains the leading cause of death in the first year after birth (MBRRACE, 2018) then the care and support for women with mental ill health in pregnancy and afterwards is essential and not an optional extra.
It is also essential that we continue to talk to each other and share our feelings and not be frightened to say to your doctor, health visitor, midwife or family when you are struggling with anxiety, depression or negative thoughts about your birth experience.
Remember it’s OK to not be OK and there is an abundance of help and support out there.
As we come to the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9th – 15th October) a time when 60 charities and groups work together to raise awareness of key issues that affect people who have lost a baby, I thought it would be appropriate to reiterate the importance of knowing how your baby moves. How monitoring the usual pattern of your baby’s movements is important in preventing a possible baby loss.
Although there is no one answer to what contributes to losing a baby, there is a great deal of research being carried out into the possible ways to prevent or at least reduce the incidents of a baby loss.
As you are probably aware by now, reading all the literature and discussing your baby’s movements with your midwife, you can usually feel movements at around 20 weeks of pregnancy or before if you have had previous pregnancies. A baby is considered viable (that is capable of life outside the womb) from about 24 weeks completed pregnancy.
You will find that your midwife will give you a leaflet explaining how to keep an eye on your baby’s movements when you are 24 weeks pregnant or before in some NHS trusts. You can also access this information at Your baby’s movements
At every contact with your midwife or doctor, they will ask you if you are feeling the baby move and if it’s following its usual pattern of movement. Some of you may find this a strange question initially but observing and feeling your baby move is a good indication of how healthy and well the baby is in the womb. If a baby becomes unwell in the womb due to some infection or reduction in the function of the placenta, the first sign is a reduction, a change in baby’s movements or no baby movements at all.
You will get to know the pattern of your baby’s movements from about 26-28 weeks of pregnancy. Midwives and Obstetricians will ask you never to ignore any change or reduction in the baby’s movements and to contact your local hospital as soon as note any difference.
It is also not recommended that you buy a device called a Doppler for listening to the baby’s heartbeat yourself – you may be listening to your own heartbeat and be falsely reassured. Please do not also listen to ‘old wives’ tales about what a reduction in the baby’s movement’s means. Some women have told me many times that their well-meaning relatives have told them that a reduction in the baby’s movement’s means that labour is imminent, or that the baby has changed position for example. None of these or similar stories are true and a healthy baby will move vigorously even when you are in labour.
The midwives do not mind how many times you telephone in for advice about your baby’s movements or how many times you go into the maternity unit for a monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat.
This is when you can take a proactive approach to ensuring that your baby is born well and healthy by listening to your body and instincts and observing your baby’s movements.
Rosemary A Harris.