I am always interested in the ways in which women are changed by motherhood, the power that comes from the birth process and the variety of choices that are available. I am hoping for a revolution in the way we share our birth and motherhood experiences with one another. The only way to do this is to have honest conversations with other mothers.

Motherhood is far more interesting than we have been led to believe. I would like to live in a time where birth is respected, where motherhood is not seen as a shackle, or a convenient place for blame. Motherhood does not mash us into any predetermined mold. While some moms swear and stomp around when it suits them, others are regularly sacrificing themselves at the feet of “the good mother” image.

We all yearn to see how other women manage to shape their kids into decent people and still have time and energy left over to do things that are only for themselves. I am writing the book I wish I could find when I was faced with my first pregnancy, when I first understood the pressure we put on women. When it first became obvious that mothers are quietly expected to be the keepers of the future without ever needing to be recharged. When I noticed that just being needed was supposed to be enough to sustain us. When women would scoff when I told them I liked staying home with the kids, like I was somehow betraying womankind if I really did like to bake bread and smell baby hair.

My main interest for this project is to record the voices of women as they tell of their birth and motherhood experiences. So far I have interviewed twenty women and five men. The men are included because their voices are suspiciously absent in my research and I believe (and have irrefutable proof) that men are just as awestruck and changed by birth as women.

I started asking the women I knew what their births were like and I was stunned to learn that underneath a layer of almost boring quantifiable data, there was an entirely different and far more interesting story, mainly comprised of fleeting thoughts, new conclusions, scents, sleep deprived illusions and new roles for the whole family.

I interviewed a woman who have given birth at home and then went traveling around the country in a VW van with her husband and infant daughter, living off the land on very little money and loving every minute of it. Her husband was amazing, talked of the birth with tears in his eyes and gave me a warm thanks and genuine bear hug for asking him about his feelings.

Another woman had the most technological birth I could imagine, and planned it every step of the way, even down to sexing out the sperm and watching as the doctor lifted the baby out of an abdominal incision.

One woman chose to have a homebirth and got tangled in a doctor/midwife power struggle that ended up with the police arriving at her door to “take custody of the fetus”. All ends well, fortunately, the Mama went on to have a successful and healthy homebirth despite the doctor and his naysaying minions.

I gave birth to my daughter at home. I also gave birth to a ten-pound son, also at home, but this time in a birthing tub. He was floated into the world in a truly amazing and peaceful way. Both experiences changed and healed me. Birth taught me very important lessons about myself. It produced a high that has not worn off, it gave me power I could not have known in any other way. It gave me direction that I never had before.

Birth and motherhood have changed all of the women I have spoken too. All struggle to retain selfhood while raising decent people and sifting through the deluge of unsolicited advice and well meaning quips. They are all beautiful, funny and perfect as themselves, even though they are incredibly diverse and absolutely unique.

There are many days when I feel like I am on the brink, as though I could not possibly fit all the things I want to accomplish into a life of spills and extended nursing. Then I think about all the women who have let me into their world, allowed me a glimpse of their intimate family life, and then I relax. I know I am not alone. I know it is hard for other women too. I know that the world is full of other moms and they manage in the face of obstacles I can only imagine. We can support each other. We do this though honesty, by sharing our stories with other women. There is real power in knowing that there are a lot of others, just like us, trying to manage grace in the most graceless moments, sometimes managing, other times not, and that it is all OK. It turns out there is no good mother stamp, and that is such a relief.

This is mostly about my wife. I have used the name Sarah. It’s not her real name. It is also about our daughter, Jane. That’s not real either. The story and the times and all other details are correct. I wrote it just over a week after the birth. A good few years ago now. It’s personal, but I think it fits in this nodeshell.

Sarah was 11 days beyond her expected delivery date, and getting ready to hit the next person who asked why the baby hadn't come yet. Even my work contacts were phoning up to ask whether it was a boy or a girl.

At last, however, it started while we were drinking a cup of coffee in bed on Sunday morning: the first contraction was much stronger than the strongest Braxton Hicks to date. Five minutes later she had another. And another. I knew it was finally happening, and called the midwife. Sarah still was not convinced until she went to the loo, and passed a bloody motion. The midwife--Val--wanted to speak to Sarah (who was still on the loo). Our sense of decorum vanished at that point, and I am not sure we have recovered it yet.

Val said we should see how things developed over the next couple of hours. Because it was a first birth, we all thought there would be plenty of time to get things ready: fill the birthing pool, clear away the washing up from last night's barbecue: that kind of thing.

So we both had showers, and I attached the TENS machine to Sarah's back. It helped with the contractions, which had quickly built up to the point where she could not take any food or drink.

About an hour later, it was obvious that things were going a lot faster than anyone expected. The contractions were coming so hard and fast that Sarah barely had time to recover from one before the next had started. I started filling the birthing pool--during a 'dry run' we had timed it to about 2 hours.

I tried to call Val again just before 10, but pressed the wrong memory button, and ended up speaking to my mother. I didn't want to worry her, so tried to have a mundane chat about things while Sarah was crawling up the wall in the corner, desperate for some support. Eventually I got through to Val who said she would be across as soon as possible.

Sarah, meanwhile, was on all fours in the bedroom breathing hard, just about coping, and insisting that I shouldn't touch her. I offered what support I could, staying with her and asking her to think about the cervix opening up to let the baby out.

Meanwhile, I was trying to make sure the pool was filling up with hot water, as Sarah was going to need it as soon as it was ready. Sarah kept on insisting that I should time the contractions, so that Val would know just how frequent they were. I felt it was pretty obvious that labour was well established, and there were better things to do, but I timed them anyway, just to keep Sarah slightly less desperate.

Val arrived at about 11.00. I saw her car arrive, but knew there was another contraction on the way, so left the door on the latch and called down to Val where we were. She came straight up. By now there were just a few seconds respite between each contraction and Sarah was crying out for some kind of pain relief.

Val checked the pool while a strong contraction passed; then I was able to go downstairs and start doing a few chores while Val assessed the situation. By 11:30 she was able to do an internal, and we were all surprised--and very relieved--to learn that Sarah was fully dilated.

Val phoned the local hospital to say that Sarah was in labour, and may or may not come in quite soon.

By about 12:00 the pool was virtually ready. We had hired a birthing pool, because Sarah had found water-based ante-natal classes so relaxing, and we had read that warm, deep water is one of the best forms of pain relief available to labouring women. We had no fixed views on actually giving birth in the water.

It was all we could do to get Sarah downstairs: by now it was clear that there was no way we were going to get her to hospital, so we prepared for a home birth--one of Val's specialities.

Val took the TENS machine off, and Sarah got into the water. She stopped asking for any other pain relief immediately. Whether that was the water, or the fact that the first stage had ended, we can't tell. Whatever the reason, it made all our lives easier.

In Val's notes, she says Sarah, "continues to cope amazingly well--very self-contained, moaning during contractions."

Val notes the baby is fine at this point as well.

We had been seeing Val and her partner, Caroline (Yes, that’s the Caroline Flint), throughout the ante-natal period. Caroline operates an independent midwifery practice in the area, and run the UK’s first private birthing centre in Tooting. The continuity of care ensured that Val knew both Sarah and me, and that Sarah had grown to like and trust Val to care for her during this most intimate and intense experience.

By now, Sarah allowed me to touch her, and I was able to mop her neck and brow with ice-cubes wrapped in a flannel, and feed her the odd teaspoon of honey to keep up her strength.

By 2 o'clock, Sarah had been pushing hard for two hours, and felt as if nothing was happening.

Caroline had arrived by now--Val thought the baby would be out by about 1 o'clock. Val ruptured the membranes, hoping this would speed things up a bit, but, unfortunately, the baby seemed to come down a little at the start of each contraction, but no further, even though Sarah was pushing hard for a minute or so each time.

So we tried using gravity to help a bit: Sarah stood up in the pool and leaned on me with one leg on the edge of the pool.

It helped, but not enough, so Sarah got out of the pool and I supported Sarah in a squatting position--thanks to another Val, our Active Birth teacher for that one--while Sarah pushed. That helped a lot more. Both Caroline and Val could see the head just about crowning, and Sarah and I could touch the head when we felt for it.

Sarah was now feeling very tired after about 3 hours of pushing. Val thought the uterus was not helping enough, so gave her some homeopathic pills–caulophyllum--to increase the strength of the contractions. I can't say if it helped, but she had about 3 doses of it.

The second stage had been very long because the baby was not coming down straight: her head was at a bit of an angle. Now, however, it was clear--to Val at least--that Sarah's perineum had started to hold up progress, so she massaged the area with almond oil, and applied hot compresses to make it stretch more easily.

Sarah was now very tired indeed, and finding it hard to push any more. The word episiotomy was mentioned, and Sarah was ready for anything. Val and I suggested she try another two contractions, and then we would think about a cut (Val never thought that would be necessary, but would have obeyed Sarah had she asked for it).

Out she popped. All in one contraction, at 15:14.

After the birth

We were all a little astonished. She was purple and smeared with blood, but as we watched, she started crying and turned pink before our eyes. I noticed that she was a little girl, but she seemed to lie there for an age, while I kept thinking and saying, "I want to pick her up!"

Val took some photographs of little Jane, lying on the floor, then picked her up and handed her to Sarah for a cuddle.

I can't remember much about the next few minutes: I had a little cry; Jane had a little feed. The cord stopped pulsating, and Val clamped it. I cut it--it took four attempts with surgical scissors--and we enjoyed ourselves.

Meanwhile, Val was preparing for the third stage, and asked Sarah to sit on a bedpan. About half an hour after Jane was born, Val asked Sarah to give a few more pushes to expel the placenta. Sarah was still very tired, but could manage a few more pushes, and out it came. Some blood spilled on the floor, but it was all well-protected with pads and waterproofs. Then Val made sure the placenta was all there, showed Sarah and me (though I was too busy cuddling Jane to take any notice, and Sarah couldn't see much without her glasses) the two sides, as well as the membranes.

After another few minutes Sarah and Jane got into the bath for a clean up: Val checked and weighed Jane (7 lb 0 oz) and we went downstairs for a rest and a bite to eat.

We are now converts to home births. Jane got Apgar scale scores of 9 and 10. Sarah was over 35, and it was her first pregnancy. Because the second stage went on for so long, a hospital birth would almost certainly have involved an episiotomy and forceps. As it was, with massage and hot compresses, Sarah got away with a small second degree tear, which has now virtually healed, ten days after the birth. And Jane? she is so contented and happy, I cannot think of a nicer way into this world.

with Rebecca,
Maggie was a baby,
and I went in for my checkup,
I was six days overdue.
and when the doctor.
checked me,
he broke my waters.
like they just they - they broke on the uh examining table.
so I had to go straight to the hospital.
and I remember calling my husband at work and saying to him.
I'm in the doctor's office and I gotta go straight to the hospital my water broke.
and he goes oka:y.
and I go so you got to come,
he said,
you want me to come,
I said Ye:s.
I want you to come,
he was so shocked he didn't realize what was going on.
so I went into the hospital,
and even though my waters broke I wasn't in la:bor.
and they,
induce you after a while because,
if your waters breaking you get an infection,
if your not ah - you know if you don't have the baby soon.
Dereck and I ah started playing Scrabble,
and ah they put the drip on me to induce me to start the labor,
were playing Scrabble,
I get a seven letter word,
I go out,
I get this magnificent points.
and at that ph - that exact point that I went out,
the labor started.
and it came on.
with an epidural it comes on.
sorry not with an epidural with a drip,
it comes on really hard.
So the pains were unbelievable.
and not to be to graphic

so what sorry,
go on continue.

ya not to be to graphic but,
what they used to do when I had Maggie is that they would give you an enema,
so they would clear your system out,
which they hadn't with Rebecca,
and so,
I was.
in a mess,
and the doctor was there,
it was very embarrassing,
and eh not for you know they didn't care I guess it happens all the time,
but I felt very embarrassed.
and the pains were unbelievable,
and after about the third pain,
if not the second I screamed,
I want an epidural.
give me an epidural.
because I'd gone in planning,
to have an epidural.
like because I just wasn't I just wasn't,
going to go through that again.
and they brought somebody in he was a student,
and they were teaching him how to give epidurals,
and he gave it to me,
and I started to,
faint pass out,
ah my blood pressure was dropping really badly,
and so they had to put oxygen on,
so the whole thing was a little traumatic.

sounds terrible

with her it was was scary,
like the whole thing was pretty scary with her.
and ah - ah she was born.
I went in in the morning after my doctors appointment and she was born at 6:15 that afternoon.
she was just so incredible,
and I I asked them again that I wanted to have her immediately,
ah to breast feed her.
and ah she ah she just grabbed on,
and fed very quickly.
which is unusual cuz,
your my milk wasn't really in,
your milk doesn't come in right away.
but there is ah the idea of of nursing was just a natural,
with some babies that's a real problem,
it was real natural with her.
and ah,
and that was it,
with Rebecca.
so it was it was actually,
the most trying,
of thee a of the births because,
you know all these things were going wrong,
the pain from the needle.
and the needle didn't really take so I was still having the contractions,
and ah it wasn't it wasn't great.

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