Yesterday I had my 28 week midwife appointment. All was well, aside from the fact that, unsurprisingly, I was measuring large for my date – My bump was measuring at 35 weeks as opposed to the 28 weeks I am.
This wasn’t news to me – Unlike with Ava, I haven’t put weight on anywhere else this time around (I’m a lot more active and my appetite hasn’t been as huge) but I measured large with Ava all the way through my pregnancy and knew I had a very good sized bump this time around too. Given my previous pregnancy, which was healthy and uncomplicated, followed by a pretty straightforward birth, you might deduce that this was therefore ‘normal’ for me. Just as it is seems normal for me to have pretty big babies, too.
Interestingly, in light of some recent discussions I’ve been having at yoga and with friends, what happened instead was the assumption that maybe, just maybe, something was up. That I should go in today for further prodding, a possibly scan and then a chat with a consultant which would, I was told, possibly lead to being told that a homebirth wasn’t optimal for me just in case there were possible complications from possibly having a high amount of amniotic fluid. That’s a lot of possibles, and lot of worse case scenarios.
How we think and deal with birth in this country seems very much in line with how we think and deal with children – as if they are a problem to be remedied, fixed and controlled. I am very grateful for the NHS and can’t imagine living in a country where the kind of healthcare your receive depends on your finances. I have had some great experiences with doctors and midwives, and some awful ones too. And I understand that the NHS is in principle an Utilitarian entity which has, by its nature, to have a kind of ‘one size fits all’ model.
But the problem is, as women, we don’t often realise that we are able at any point to say, ‘No thanks, I’m not going to do that’ – our bodies and our babies are treated like national property and we are told things using language such as ‘not allowed’ and ‘have to’. We assume that we must listen and follow the advice of professionals who must know more about our bodies than we do, who are trained to deal with all the ‘just in case’ scenarios that occasionally present themselves, even though, as my friend pointed out last night, antenatal care is not a legal requirement.
It didn’t even occur to me to argue or protest when I was told I probably shouldn’t have a homebirth with Ava, just in case she was very big and just in case that led to problems like shoulder dystopia and other complications. It didn’t occur to me to tell the nurse who came into my room after I had given birth to Ava that perhaps she shouldn’t shove Ava’s sleeping head onto my breast and attempt to force her to feed. (The first time since Ava was born that I’d heard her cry – scream, actually).
But this time is very different. I am a very different person, with very different thoughts and ideas on most things, none more so than parenting and birth. And I made the decision early on, after experiencing firsthand the awesome power that comes from mind and body working together to birth a baby, that I was not going to have a ‘just in case’ pregnancy or birth. That I was going to think of everything in a different kind of language, with different expectations. I was not going to use words like ‘pain’ or ‘complications’ or anything else that only serves to train your mind into thinking that your body does not have the most natural ability to carry and give birth to a baby.
As Ina May Gaskin points out in her guide to childbirth, the state of a woman’s mind and attitude towards birth can greatly affect her labour – halting it altogether in stressful circumstances. It’s only been in our relatively recent history that the the role and power of mind has been disregarded when it comes to birthing babies.
I think this is changing, and for the better too. The incredible results that things like hypnobirthing prove is that the calmer, more relaxed and comfortable a women is, the less interfered with she is, the more likely she is to have a good experience of labour and birth. In much the same way that statistics show the impressively high rates of ‘normal’ or natural, unassisted births that happen at home as opposed to in hospital. It’s not hard to see why. As my yoga teacher pointed out, the Amish, with their culture of a hands-off approach to pregnancy and labour, have famously low rates of complications (The Amish culture fascinates me, and this article is very interesting)
At ‘The Farm’, where Ina May and her fellow midwifes work, the rate of assisted delivery and caeserean is between 1 and 2% compared to the 30% rate you find in American hospitals. A huge, horrifying difference. And for the past few decades, people have been paying attention. Just three years after my first and only birthing experience, where I used various hypnobirthing techniques that were not particularly well known, I see posters and talk of natal hypnotherapy and hypnobirthing everywhere.
After much discussion, and some reassuring words from my friend who is also a doula, I decided that it would be completely against my current thinking to go in today. Part of me is still comforted by being a part of that process, by letting the NHS, or anyone in positions of power, tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. But I have to recognise this in me and actively, consciously make decisions based on my instincts and my own research. Given the circumstances, all of which point towards there being nothing wrong whatsoever, going in today would simply serve to cause me unnecessary stress, possibly putting the idea in my head that I might not be ‘able’ to birth in the way I want to. (After a thorough prodding of my tummy yesterday my midwife told me that I had none of the symptoms people with too much amniotic fluid have, but that she should maybe send me in anyway…’just in case’)
I feel like this is part of a bigger process I’m going through in which I’m very much trying to ‘deschool’ myself, and be conscious of the thoughts that creep in purely due to habit. Howard and I often find ourselves talking for hours in the evening about unschooling or parenting in general and I find this really helpful. Talking about this process helps to move it along and bring to light all of those ‘just in case’ thoughts that I have been taught to live by, whether in school or otherwise.
If we are choosing to live somewhat outside of such a system, whether that is school or otherwise, then we have to do so consciously. It helps to be around others who are going through the same thought processes, and those who already have and can provide reassurance and guidance. I find myself often writing to my dear friend who is also convinced that unschooling is the way forward, and it is great to have that constant dialogue going on, where we can discuss the things we see our daughters doing and learning, where we can exchange our forming ideas of why we feel uncomfortable with school.
The older I get, the more I read and the more I experience in a mindful way, the less I want to be part of any system that is so based on such a ‘one size fits all’ idea. That may well be the way the world generally works, or certainly, the way it works in our culture. But it comes down to whether or not I see it as my job to prepare Ava for the world as it is, or for the world as it could be, as she should be able to shape it to be. None of my parenting decisions so far have been based on the former ‘tough love’ idea that she must be ready for the world as it is, and armoured up to deal with it. Aside from the fact that reality is whatever we expect it to be, whatever we shape it to be, I want Ava to believe that the world she inhabits is one which is directly affected by her actions and her intentions, and that she does have a great deal of power to change it for the better.
I can see our lives, so influenced now by the need for real freedom, changing in ways I can’t yet even imagine. And birthing, which is such an essential part of it, is a good place to begin to realise your own rights as an individual, your own freedom within a world that does its very best, at any given opportunity, to tell you how to live and how to think and how to feel.
For me, unschooling is the ultimate and most essential way of living. There is simply no way I could do anything else now. Ava’s freedom is too important to me, and I know that her life will be wildly different to mine because she won’t attend school, because she won’t be ‘taught’ anything, but will carry on living and learning as she has been so far – on her own terms. I hope that with her, I can learn how to do that too.