On International Women’s Day I wanted to talk a little bit about a woman who has been a huge inspiration to me, and has been instrumental in my surviving the transition to motherhood.
I first met Gilly when my daughter was 12 weeks old. I started going to a baby massage class that she ran, the only class that I really attended, and definitely the only one I kept going back to. I didn’t keep going because I was desperate to learn how to massage my baby, though it was one of the few things that seemed to help chill her out, but I kept going because it was pretty much the only place in those days where I felt safe, where I felt like I was actually doing a good job, where I felt that the way I was looking after my daughter was the right thing, and that everything was going to be OK. And even though there was a huge range of different mums with their different babies there, I’m pretty certain that all of us felt that way during those precious few hours on a Tuesday afternoon. Gilly does something magical, and so rare it seems amongst people who work with new mothers. She never offered advice, she never told you what to do or how to feel, she empowered you to feel that you were the expert in yourself, and your baby, and that you can make the right choices for yourself. That was some pretty powerful stuff at a time when I felt like I was totally floundering, all the time!
I was very sad when my baby grew too big for her classes, and I didn’t get my weekly dose of reassurance. When my daughter was around 18 months old I found myself really struggling again, particularly replaying the terrible struggles I had in the early days and finding it quite hard to come to terms with. I contacted Gilly, and she was hugely supportive once again. We had a series of one to one birth art sessions, a process I found incredibly helpful and healing. After a few weeks I felt like I was back on top of things again and started moving forward.
When I found I was pregnant with my second baby, Gilly was the second person I told, after my husband! Another role she has is as a doula, and seeing as she was so important in helping me feel able to even think of a second baby, there was nobody else I wanted to be with me at the birth. After my experience with my first birth I was certain that a doula would make a huge difference to how I felt about this upcoming birth.
I get pretty fed up with all the judgement that seems to go around constantly about exactly how women give birth. About whether you are weak if you have an epidural, or less of a woman if you have a Caesarian. It’s all nonsense. Birth is individual and unpredictable, just like babies are after they arrive too, and birthing a baby safely is important. I also firmly believe that a woman’s experience of birth is absolutely crucial, so saying that “the only thing that matters is a healthy baby” is also complete garbage. Birth is an experience that a woman will live over and over again, that will stay with them forever, and will have a massive impact on how they feel about themselves and their baby. I know too many people who have had post traumatic stress disorder following a particularly difficult birth to know how important it was to them. I think instead of judging a woman for how she gives birth, we should be spending more time judging the support systems that are failing women repeatedly at the moment. I believe that all women deserve to feel respected, supported, listened to, comforted and safe during their labour and birth, however the baby is born, and I think that repeatedly that isn’t how women feel. It’s the same as I hear all the time from women about breastfeeding; rather than judging women who need to bottle feed their baby, we should put that judgement on the often woeful support services that don’t empower women to feed their babies in the way that they want, whatever that is!
I knew, that by having Gilly at my birth, that whatever happened, I would feel respected, supported, listened to, comforted and safe. I knew that she would help me achieve whatever was necessary for the safe arrival of my baby, whilst always putting my beliefs and values, my choices, my well being at the centre of that. Surely all women should feel confident about that when the give birth. If I were to make only one change to the provision of maternity care in this country, it would be to make it possible for all pregnant women to at least meet with some doulas, talk to them and decide for themselves whether they felt that would be a positive step towards achieving the birth they want. It has been shown that having a doula reduces the level of medical pain relief used, the level of interventions, and the level of Caesarian deliveries, and whilst I don’t think that in themselves those figures are important, I think that that does reflect that lots of women do aim to avoid those things in labour, and that doulas make a significant contribution to making that happen.
So I went on to have a birth, with Gilly by my side, which was everything I had wanted, dreamed about, and she helped to ensure I felt more confident in my choices, confident in my ability to look after my baby, and confident in my ability to be a good mother. And she does the same thing for hundreds of other mothers, helping guide them through a potentially difficult and painful, confusing and isolating experience, offering the support that is so vital. She helps them realise that they are able to be a good mother, and that it won’t always be easy and they won’t always get it right, but that they will learn and grow and somehow, it will all be ok. She is a huge inspiration to me, and I am so thankful to call her a friend.