A New Birth Experience For Both of Us { Birth and Baby Photography}

I was a little apprehensive about attending my first birth in a NHS hospital in England- Leeds General Infirmary.  But as it turned out, even hospital birth in England can be a deeply lovely experience.  Contrary to propaganda, the NHS has modern equipment and training. One of the major roles I had when working with expecting American families, or families from other countries, was explaining how giving birth in the NHS works.  YES, it’s really midwives and not doctors/nurses who attend your birth.  NO they aren’t dangerous. I enjoyed telling them about gas and air and “have you considered water labor or waterbirth?  Because it’s a real option at the hospital!”  I told them that YES, you can get an epidural if you want.  NO you will likely not get a private room after birth unless you are very ill. YES there will be a midwife to look after you at home for about 2 weeks after.  Unfortunately, there are no private hospital options for giving birth in Yorkshire, so it’s NHS or private/independent home-based midwives, and because midwifery has been so maligned in the USA, not as many expats go for that option even when insurance will pay for it and they are planning a hospital birth.

My first hospital birth in UK was with a mum from Belarus with an amazing career and life that brought her to asking me, a fellow expat, to accompany her in a huge moment- her first baby and learning to be a mum in a foreign country.

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Demonstrating the effects of gas and air

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Teatime is a critical hospital ritual that is never skipped and always welcomed

 

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These first facial expressions that flash across a baby’s face become familiar to all who care for her and love her

 

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The final speed of this birth surprised us all, including the midwife who was grappling with the new touchscreen charting system. Between puffs of gas, my client casually reported the ring of fire; I wasn’t sure what my doula scope was in a NHS hospital (is removing a sheet and looking at the perineum a clinical thing?) so we all sat there for a further few minutes until the screen tap-tapping was done and someone thought to have a look and found half of the babe’s head already out. Well done Mum!

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I was invited to come back and do some postpartum doula work. Postpartum doula care is hard for me to offer, because I can’t cook, but the reality is that I am there to listen and let the mother indulge in what she wants to do in that moment. I was able to watch my client grow into an incredible mother and watch this little nugget bloom into a smart and cheeky tot who is so loved.

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They were still breastfeeding at 1 year – a goal the client didn’t know she wanted to meet until she was there. Which is often the case! Ensuring my clients are happy and satisfied with their personal breastfeeding journey is my main priority.

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RCM Campaign for Normal Birth and the Media Misrepresentation

I’m sitting here on an inflatable air mattress in an empty house in Maryland where I’ve slept for the past few weeks, bored, thinking wistfully about my two years apprenticing with independent midwives in England. That positive experience was immediately juxtaposed with the shocking “welcome back to America” I received by attending an Evidence Based Birth seminar addressing what to do for our clients and their providers when we observe our clients not receiving safe, evidence-based care, which according to statistics is the majority of the time in the majority of situations in USA hospitals.  One of the things we talked about was the Ellis Prayer Method, in which the partner uses a long prayer to distract the care team from performing unnecessary, unconsented intervention (most usually immediate cord clamping.)  Saying “I do not consent” does not work in the USA anymore, apparently.

This is what happens when we abandon the principles of Normal Birth, after tearing down the institution of midwifery.

Of course “normal” can be “unhealthy.”  I’ve always thought that “Healthy Birth” was a better tag line for the Royal College of Midwives’ 12-year-long campaign because an emergency cesarean birth after a long induction is quite abnormal, but healthy- if it was all truly justified.  “Healthy” implies a healthy baby and healthy mother- also mentally healthy- which is a natural result of striving for the most supported and normally-progressing birth possible. But the RCM, because of some feedback, is now wanting to call it “Physiological Birth.”  To a birthing person, this might sound less emotionally loaded than “Normal” or “Natural” and thus easier to attain, more medical, and technically safer, but to me it sounds an incredible and even loftier goal than “Normal”!

A “Physiological Birth” is intervention-free.  Powered by mother’s hormones and muscles alone. Not assisted by episiotomy or instruments.

In the resulting media misunderstanding of the Campaign for Normal Birth, the word “normal” is continuously being conflated with “natural” as if the two are interchangeable.  Which they are certainly not.

But does James Titcombe, author of the Guardian article that set the media abuzz, realize that the Campaign for Normal Birth had already been rebranded as the Better Births Initiative and is now aiming for this Physiological Birth, and that nothing regarding the evidence basis of midwifery care will actually change?

Yes, it seems that the UK now has their very own Dr. Amy, Skeptical O.B.  James Titcombe experienced the loss of his newborn son due to failures of communication, collaboration, and training in a particular NHS hospital system, Morecambe Bay, that led to the Kirkup Report. This report highlighted a realization that midwives are constantly being bullied, intimidated and suppressed, and are often unable to provide appropriate care because of personalities, overwork, and lack of a support network.  Nothing that much to do with a “cult of natural birth at all costs.”  But Titcombe, after writing a book about his tragedy and receiving an OBE after his work as a National Advisor on Patient Safety, Culture & Quality for the Care Quality Commission (NHS watchdog), has not stopped there. Encouraged by the media storm surrounding the RCM’s “rebranding” of their day-to-day, now he is coming for the entire institution of UK midwifery itself and the women who dare to be proud of their Normal Births, playing out currently on Twitter with words like “radicalised” and “cult.”

I cordially invite you to come to the United States to see what happens when intervention and anti-midwifery sentiment is the norm, Mr. Titcombe.

Come, watch our babies die at a rate (5.8/1000) higher to UK babies (3.7/1000).

Come, watch our mothers die at a rate over twice that of UK mothers.

Come, watch our women speak of birth trauma and birth rape due to a culture that does not allow for informed consent and refusal of intervention. Nothing to do with being forced to have a “natural birth,” because they very much did not have natural birth – birth trauma is experienced because of the way in which the care itself was provided, not the type of care. Poor information-giving, social support and counseling for new mothers does appear to be a serious problem, according to the words of the families responding to your Tweets with tales of their lingering birth trauma.

This is not only to do with the oldness, fatness or Blackness of our women, which is what the USA media likes to blame these statistics on.  This has to do with our high rate of interventions in childbirth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has ADMITTED this.  We spend the greatest amount of money on maternity care in the world yet our maternal mortality rate is 26.4/100,000.

The majority of US births involve epidurals.  The majority of US births involve synthetic oxytocin. 32% of US births are by cesarean section.  91% of US women birth with obstetricians in hospitals.

Only around 8 percent of women are attended by midwives in American hospitals.  Only .9% of American women birth at home. Our maternity care system is driven by obstetricians, interventions, insurance regulations, fear, and profit.

But look at all of our women and babies who are dying.

Our neonatal early-onset GBS infection rate is .23/1000 where yours are .57/1000 ( about 1/2 of 1 percent greater).  This is AFTER most American women are screened for GBS and then given loads of intrapartum antibiotics.  That’s millions of dollars spent, the unknown sequelae of antibiotics, and new antibiotic-resistant GBS strains for 1/2 of 1 percent of reduced risk?

We don’t even get home visits from midwives.  We are sent home a few hours after birth and not seen again for six weeks.

James Titcombe, this is what you are advocating for.  This is what will happen when you attack midwifery principles and equate high-intervention medical care with safety and superiority.

In my two years of experience with the independent midwives and as a doula in NHS hospitals, I was so impressed at how easily the necessary medical interventions were obtained, as and when the need arose, and with consent and explanation.  Yes, even most of the births I presided over with the “fringe” and “anti-interventionist” independent midwives required at least one serious medical intervention, which they received quickly with consent. I saw many births that needed lots of intervention that felt normal. They were healthy.

This was a result of one-on-one care.

How do you propose to provide the proven, worldwide-documented safety of one-on-one continuity of carer (caseloading) when you are upholding, provoking, and sanctioning the bullying and intimidation of midwives, at a time when they are leaving the profession in droves already?

I was so proud of your NHS maternity care system even though yes, it does need continual work, improvement, and introspection. If what I saw in the UK made me swell with pride and hope for you, what do you think my native (USA) maternity care system looks like? It looks like a battlefield in comparison.  Women here can have the police and Child Protective Services called on them when they refuse certain perinatal interventions, some of which you do not even have in the UK.  Is this your idea of improvement? Because I see the writing on your health service’s wall.

When you treat midwives with autonomy and respect, give them all of the tools they need, PAY THEM, and not overburden them by normalizing intervention and consultation on all women while reducing the workforce, they will provide wonderful care. What you propose turns birth into even more of a conveyor belt, which will do nothing but spit out damaged women and babies and absolutely destroy the NHS. I am very sorry your son died, but come and speak to some American families who received all of the interventions and attention available to them, and their babies still died. What is the excuse for that? Who can they blame?  Come speak to some families whose mothers and/or babies died BECAUSE of unnecessary intervention. Come speak to some families who did not have access to maternity care or to midwives at all-because it’s not easy or feasible to be a midwife, or even an obstetrician, in many parts of this country- and their mothers or babies died. What will you say to them when this happens in your idea of an improved maternity care system?

What is your end goal when using words like “radicalised” “ideology” and “cult?”  Do you think this language will improve the performance of midwifery, which has always been driven by understanding and protecting the science of physiological birth processes and will always be?

And why does one male voice get to rise up and speak for the voices of thousands of midwives and women, on either side of this “debate”?  It’s interesting that many women are chiming in on Twitter saying “Finally, thank you for saying this.”  Where were their voices before?

Perhaps a society that is not supporting and listening to women is the only problem here. 

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  • Anonymous - This blog is highly offensive and misleading. The author clearly has a limited knowledge of the Kirkup report. I doubt they have even read it. Blogs like this, fuelled by ideology and dripping with nasty sentiment towards Mr Titcombe are part of the problem with midwifery. Factual accuracy is important and everyone reading this needs to do some googling…ReplyCancel

    • nikki - Sorry you are offended, Anonymous from Brent, UK! I did read the Kirkup report, and in its long list of recommendations for the wider NHS, starting on page 188, nowhere does Kirkup say we should dismantle midwifery and the maintenance of physiological birth as default. Rather, he recommends an overhaul of the oversight, whistleblowing, incident reporting, supervisory and training processes. I see you also have used the dog whistle “ideology.” Science is not ‘ideology.’ It is fact, and the science of physiological birth won’t change no matter how many doctors we throw at it. Midwives and clinicians receiving the proper training, support, supervision, teamwork, and maintenance of clinical skills should absolutely change and improve, but chasing down individual midwives on Twitter won’t do anything to further that effort will it???ReplyCancel

Independent Midwives vs. NMC Trial Fundraiser #savethemidwife

There’s been a lot going on in the midwifery scene in the UK. 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is the regulatory body that registers midwives. All midwives in the UK, whether private, independent, or NHS, must be “on the register” in order to practice as and call themselves a midwife.

In January 2017, the NMC suddenly and immediately withdrew the ability of independent midwives, who I am apprenticing with, to attend births. They could continue to provide antenatal and postnatal care (“postnatal” commencing the moment the placenta is birthed) but as soon as someone was “in labour,” an independent midwife could not be anywhere near or provide even verbal support. Independent midwives could not even plan to transfer their clients to hospital care and accompany them as doulas.  All this was over a baseless complaint (made by a private midwifery company, a “business competitor”) about the suitability of the indemnity insurance carried by all independent midwives. This insurance was designed especially for independent midwives in the wake of a 2014 EU law requiring midwives to be insured; prior to this, IMs did not carry insurance. That decision had also threatened the future of independent midwifery without any precedent of catastrophic claims or dangerous practice, so here we are again in territory that is familiar to independent midwives worldwide.

As you can imagine, this was a crushing and dangerous acute development for all of my midwives’ clients and for at least 80 other independent midwives and hundreds of families, with knock-on effects for affected NHS hospital trusts and then all the midwives employed there, as the NMC’s backtracking clarifications of what a “midwife” could and could not legally do began to also restrict NHS midwives (technically unable to attend their families’, friends’ and co-workers’ births, for example.)  The UK is in the middle of a critical midwife shortage proven to be causing poor outcomes as it is; losing even one safely-practicing midwife now is a step backward and leaves mothers and babies at risk rather than “protecting the public” as the NMC claims.

Some local NHS trusts have graciously lent a hand to the Independent Midwives working in their areas to offer contract arrangements that would insure the IMs while allowing them to fully support their own clients as IMs out of hospital; we are lucky that Airedale NHS Foundation Trust has picked up the Yorkshire Storks, for example.  The majority of Trusts have not provided any support, and this is by no means an ideal, permanent, or sustainable solution. Independent Midwives are still in the middle of a huge crisis; but there is light!

A few Independent Midwives hoisted up their trousers and brought a case against the NMC, which was recently granted a full trial!  But this is expensive!

There is a GoFundMe to help pay for the costs associated with what is likely to be a long judicial process, which was halfway funded within a month!

https://www.gofundme.com/Independent-Midwifery-Fighting-Fund

As a birth photographer, I love when the first weight is done as a ceremony with the family looking on as a care provider weighs the baby with a hanging scale.  As a needleworker, I especially love when the scale is aesthetically pleasing!

That’s why I decided to do my part to support the midwives who have supported me for the past two years by making weighing slings to fundraise for the IM/NMC trial. As I will be leaving the UK very soon I will not be here to celebrate with the IMs when they are restored to justice and full independent practice, but I will be thinking of them with every stitch!  Each sling is $50/£35 which is a bargain!  I have test washed my prototypes and so far, so good.

Order yours now!

2017 IAPBP Image of the Year Competition Entries

I have chosen these two images to submit forward to the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers annual photo competition. The theme of my entries is ‘DIY Birth.’

The first image is submitted under the “Details” category and is of a cord burning ceremony. This image is special to me because it was the first cord burning I have ever photographed, and I was able to use a beautiful piece of pottery hand-thrown just for the purpose of cord burning, which I won from my placenta encapsulation certifying body, APPA.

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The moment itself was also special, because for the first time, I missed the birth of this child by 30 minutes after having been called out just 1 hour before- when I entered the home, my client was still sitting on the blanket she birthed on in the middle of her front room, placenta still in situ, and the midwife wasn’t there yet either. The baby’s father had laid the blanket down just in the nick of time and made the catch, and then answered the door. Legend!

Cord burning is a way to honor the separation of mother and child in a mindful way. It takes about ten minutes, and is done by holding two candles up to the cord while twisting and pulling, with a bowl or box or plate to catch the wax and shield the baby from the heat. In this way the cord is cauterized and needs no clamping or tying.

The second image is right in-your-face, no pun intended. In the “Birth” category obviously.

baby crowning

That is my hand there you see in the corner, poised to make the catch. When I arrived to the house, a little curl of this baby’s white hair was already visible, and the mother was laboring just so comfortably that she had no idea she was about to birth. We decided on keeping the last moments of the birth calm and sacred rather than panicking and fumbling with a phone to get a midwife or the ambulance to come out, so it was decided that I’d preside over the birth. At the last minute, she changed positions and the father was able to receive the baby into his hands, which is what I had been hoping would happen for this family all along. Everything happened as it was supposed to. I was just proud of myself that I thought to take a picture in that moment!

There is lots more to write about each of these births, but now thousands, maybe millions, of people get just a peek into these births too.

I didn’t submit to this competition last year and regretted it; even though there are around 600 entries from all the industry leaders to compete with, just knowing that the following people will lay eyes on two of my images made during some of my unforgettable moments of 2016 is thrilling enough:

Ricki Lake, Actress, Producer & Emmy Award winning Host.
Abby Epstein, Producer and Director of The Business of Being Born
Catherine Pearson, Women & Parents Senior Reporter, The Huffington Post
Penny Simkin, Birth Educator, Counselor and Author.  Co-founder of DONA International and PATTCh
Jan Tritten, founder and editor-in-chief of Midwifery Today Magazine
Peggy Vincent, Midwife and Author of author Baby Catcher, Midwife: A Calling and Midwife: A Journey
Stuart Fischbein, OBGYN, Author and Birth Activist specializing in breech, twin and VBAC births
Lena Hyde, Photographer, Creator Design Aglow
Kristen Lewis, Photojournalist & Mentor
Darren Mattock, Founder of Becoming Dad
Dawn Thompson, Founder and President of Improving Birth, an advocacy organization
Molly Flanagan, Photographer and Founder of The Define School for photographers
Peggy O’Mara, Editor and Publisher of peggyomara.com and former owner of Mothering Magazine
Jenna Shouldice, Photographer specializing in women’s issues
Rebecca Dekker, Founder Evidence Based Birth
Twyla Jones, Photographer
Heather Dessinger, founder of Mommypotamus.com
Michele Anderson, Photographer
Jill Krause, Founder of Baby Rabies
Christina Beckett, Photographer
Marijke Thoen, Photographer and 2016 grand prize winner in the IAPBP photo contest
Lyndsay Stradtner, founder of the IAPBP, Mentor and Birth Photographer

Aurora Photography and Birth Photography

During this past Winter Solstice week (2016) I was able to take my family on a huge bucket-list trip of mine- to the Arctic Circle to go aurora hunting. I chose Kiruna in the Swedish Lapland as our base and could not have been happier. It doesn’t look like much on paper but it was such a beautiful and tidy little town with tons to do, and each house decorated humbly and cozily with a paper advent star hanging in each window. I invited a fellow photographer along who is a whiz at landscapes, as my husband and child could not care less about aurora, especially as it involves sitting in the cold and dark and just waiting.  It was great to have some company out there in the snow! Check him out: Shots by Shinobi

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Aurora photography and birth photography have a lot in common: the unpredictability, being completely at the whim of nature, the patience required to be “on call” and expectant at night, driving somewhere fast, operating a camera in the dark, at extreme settings and mounted in awkward positions, and the sudden emotion and excitement when it is finally happening, and to be able to fully experience it while having to move and change settings quickly to photograph the activity around you.  Aurora photography is actually extremely challenging!  I was in my element!  And I am addicted!

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For example, I had no idea how fast auroras move or how bright they can get. I thought the typical videos of aurora you see are sped-up time lapses of long exposures, and that in reality they are dim and imperceptibly moving, so when the sky (figuratively, but literally) suddenly exploded before us after we’d spent many hours lolling around in sub-zero wind, I was physically and mentally frozen in place and just left my settings as they were for the dark, so I actually had to reduce the exposure on some of my images!  Active aurora really is bright as the moon and shimmers quickly like reflections on water. It was actually pretty alarming the first time it started to happen. I am not sure why the videos I took look choppy- I had to cut the audio off the first clip as I was shrieking too much!

We were told by our dogsled guide the next day that it was the best aurora of the season.  We were so lucky to get active aurora every night of the trip and I am still on my high! It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. Birth still is the most amazing thing…but stereotypically “beautiful” might be arguable! Furthermore, as it was during the Winter Solstice, the sun never rises at that time but produces a pink glow for a few hours, kaamos, that was just as beautiful as the aurora. It became a habit just to look at the sky for hours. It may be dark in the Arctic Circle, but the auroras and hygge of the holiday season are so rewarding that the darkness and cold is worth it!

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Birth Center Design Influence

Hello dear readers!  Yes, I am still here, in England, loving my experiences as a doula and student midwife and being kept so busy that I don’t have time to blog!  I’ve also been trying a different social media platform (Instagram), which you can see in the feed above my blog posts. I like it for its speed and immediacy, but I prefer collecting birth stories all in one place and discussing the aspects of birth that I learned about during that particular experience, as there’s always something new to learn. My New Year’s Resolution, as it seems to be every year, is to blog more!  (Ha ha.)  I have a huge backlog of beautiful births to tell you about.

But first!  Back in 2012 I posted a blog about the German hospitals that I would be working in, and the various unique aspects that made them theoretically more pleasant to birth in.  I got a lot of feedback about some of the gadgets in the photos, namely the ceiling-mounted sling and the gymnastic rack mounted on the wall, on which a laboring person can hang, step, or tie a sling onto for leverage.

german birth tools

One inquiry in particular was from a woman who was in the process of establishing and designing a new birth center in Pasadena, California. She was intrigued by the wooden wall rack, and wrote to ask me what they are called and what are the design specifications. I knew that the Turnhalle (gymnastics hall) that my daughter attended also had big versions of these mounted to their walls for the kids to climb and hang on, so I asked around at the hospital and at gymnastics for the particulars of these racks.  They are called “wall bars” or “stall bars” or Sprossenwand and you can use them for anything.  I inspected how big they were and how they were mounted to the wall and then reported back to the birth center designer.  We found out that these simple wooden racks are quite expensive!

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I received a message that the Del Mar Birth Center had been completed and opened, and hey, they got a set of wall bars installed!  I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of this birth center and completely envious of the families who get to birth there. What a job well done to Ms. Delia Camp and crew on making this a reality, especially knowing how huge of a task starting a birth center is.   Check out the photo tour and see if you can spot the wall bars:

Photo Tour of Del Mar Birth Center

And now whenever I wonder if anyone reads this blog of mine or when I’m wobbling after a tough experience that makes the status quo seem too big to go up against, I can rest assured that I’ve helped make a difference somewhere 🙂

 

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  • Anonymous -  The stall ladder was in demand this Christmas Eve for yet another special delivery! Thanks so much for helping us to make this happen 😊 We would never have known about this useful option without your blogpost. Even the site visitors from the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers had never seen a stall ladder in use here in the USA prior to our site visit back in 2014. ReplyCancel

Still busy! Busier!

These past few months have been busy in terms of my midwifery learning and growing. The UK has a very active, very busy birth community.  Midwives are common..they are in every delivery ward in the UK as they take the place of our labor & delivery nurses like they did in Germany- they fully conduct the normal births. The birth culture here is a little more progressive than ours in the USA; midwives are normal, mainstream, integral and ingrained in the system (though still manage to be underpaid, overworked and marginalized??), the guidelines for births are more evidence-based and reasonable-and are still more thought of as GUIDELINES rather than LAWS of nature- and maternal choice and informed consent is a stronger construct, though it still has far to go in the UK too.

NHS midwifery is in a weird state here. They absolutely rely on midwives for birth: hospital midwives, community midwives (these are the ones who go out to home births and do home visits), supervisors of midwives, on and on. There are approximately 60,000 of them but they acknowledge that they need thousands more in order to “fix” the system they’ve stuck themselves with due to budget cuts and shortfalls.

Hannah online

There are extremely limited places in the midwifery programs at universities like York, Leeds and Bradford. The places are competitive and won by interview; some extremely motivated prospective midwifery students apply and apply and apply again until they finally get in after many years of waiting and doing odd birth-related jobs and study to make themselves more appealing.  The programs themselves are only three years long and plunge the student midwives directly into clinical care and working long shifts alongside their studies.  They also must complete placements in different areas of midwifery such as community or independent midwifery.  It’s an amazing system that I often find myself envious of, but when talking to midwifery students here, they are equally amazed by and envious of the process I am going through. All are amazed that homebirth midwifery is outright illegal or impossible in nearly half of my nation, and many realize how little they actually know about homebirth or birth in general when I explain the long process of apprenticeship in qualifying to practice alone as a CPM. I’ve been at this for three years now; still haven’t actually caught a baby, still haven’t charted, haven’t even performed a vaginal exam. Due to the laws and insurance regulations in the UK, I am not allowed to do any of those things under supervision. But I’m okay with that, because that’s the easy science part of midwifery. The learning I am interested in is the art of midwifery:  the day-to-day management of clients, time, and self.  Developing intuition. Doing as little as possible while being as safe as possible. With these midwives, I’ve learned that you routinely have to do nothing at a birth.  But the amount of mental and emotional work they put in antenatally is incredible- and that’s what I need to know.
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In a talk about independent midwifery that I presented with one of my preceptors at Teesside University a few months ago, I asked the third-year midwifery students we were speaking to, who were ready to graduate and work as registered midwives, if any of them had ever seen a physiological birth that didn’t involve even an IV cannula.  One or two out of about 20 raised their hands. I asked if any of them had ever observed a home birth. The same two raised their hands, one being a young man who asked great questions. (I told him he’d be the next Mark Harris.) The rest looked wide-eyed and incredulous, as I explained how I had been studying as long as they had and had never performed any internal exam, and my preceptor, a practicing independent midwife, added that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d performed one on a client. It was just never necessary. I explained how the last home birth (a VBAC) I attended only involved: a Doppler, two or three “inco pads” (chux), two cord clamps and a pair of scissors, two or three pairs of gloves, and a syringe for drawing a sample of cord blood for blood typing. That was it. The students couldn’t imagine it.  I’ve been told that “unlearning” all the unnecessary stuff and letting go of fear  has been the biggest challenge for any NHS-trained midwife when they go independent.

So this is the state of midwifery education in the UK: medicalized, institutionalized, cranked out specifically to perform in the overburdened, increasingly risk-averse NHS system. There are only about 100 independent midwives in the UK- these are midwives, all university-trained in the same three-year system, who have stepped out of the NHS system and are performing a midwifery that is homebirth- and family-oriented and much closer to the homebirth midwifery that Americans are used to. They perform great midwifery— they are even more hands-off compared to the things I’ve been taught in a CPM program.

A lot of this is enabled by the fact that they are legal- they need only carry indemnity insurance for each client- and are somewhat integrated into the system. If they need stuff like blood tubes and blood spot forms, they go to their local “trust” (hospital system) and get it.  They freely obtain and carry crucial oxytocic drugs and even Entonox (inhaled nitrous oxide + oxygen for pain relief). Their clients can step easily in and out of the NHS system to get what they need and avoid what they don’t-for free. Transfers to hospital are seamless and easily facilitated. There is less fear, less defensive practice. The only drawback is that it is private midwifery- so the clients bear the burden of paying the midwifery fees of around 4000 pounds, which is still not really enough to be sustainable for an independent midwife unless she has a partner or other income. Independent clients and midwives both will tell you it’s totally worth it.

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So I’ve been taking advantage of the active midwifery culture here by going to lots of study days and birth circles and independent midwifery meetings- while I’m not busy as a birth doula or photographer right now, I’m filling my time learning from experts about men at birth, waterbirth, perinatal mental health, bereavement, and more. I even conducted a placenta printing workshop in an arts space that was incredible- I showed moms (and their children!) how easy it is to create beauty from their births themselves.

I feel absolutely spoiled and indulged and that I am not missing out on what I could be doing in the USA at all.

Placenta Printing Workshop

placentaworkshopOne of the Yorkshire Storks midwives, Claire Harbottle, is also an artist, naturally with a focus on motherhood experiences. She ran a great little “maternity hub” in an arts space that focused on bringing mothers and all kinds of birth professionals and birth-interested together to explore and share knowledge surrounding the childbearing year in an art-focused way. It’s a departure from the facebook groups, polite playgroups and sterile waiting rooms where we tend to share motherhood experiences now- participating in art gets us “juicy” and more open about things, I think.  Claire asked me to demonstrate placenta printing for a group of moms who happened to still have their placentas in their freezer- maybe they were still pretty new, maybe the mother wanted to do something meaningful with it for years but couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

Not that I’m a placenta print expert, but I do love to demonstrate, and I also like to push boundaries.  Because the placentas were not going to be consumed, I felt free to expand my printing mediums to thick acrylics, watercolors in tubes, and metallics.  I was even supplied with a beautiful “demo placenta” to show the techniques on, so everyone could jump in and do it themselves. I was so excited about the metallic paint results that I’ve bought food safe metallic cake paint to do prints with for my encapsulation clients!

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I must mention another very special printing participant- an 8-year-old whose mum, a midwife, kept her (and her older brother’s) placenta all these years waiting for that special moment, which turned out to be this workshop. She jumped right in and slayed placenta art on her very first try:

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How cool is that?

Although I had never considered doing show-and-tell on placenta printing, as it isn’t really “my knowledge” to impart, being able to bring moms in all different stages of motherhood together to marvel at their placentas without any negativity or squeamishness was even better than the printing part, if I’m honest!  I wish all mothers were given a better chance to really look at this underappreciated organ that protected them and their babies. After all, when the placenta doesn’t work as it should, even on a microscopic level, it’s dangerous and sometimes fatal, and only then do we pay attention to it and give it any importance.  That doesn’t seem right to me!

Here’s the results of the workshop:

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From amazing birth to chubby baby [Family Photography]

I so enjoy being invited back into a doula family’s life to photograph them again.  Remember his birth? He was such a tiny guy, a little less than 6 pounds!  Check him out a few months later!

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This baby is well-loved by his bigger brother and sisters! He fits right in and the kids fought over who would hold him or be closest to him during our quick shoot. I miss running into him around post! bedheadbirth_0337

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