Friday, 16 December 2016

“A modern Nativity the old fashioned way” (aka “Ostentatious Over-Sharings of a Smug Git”)

Day 17 (Saturday 17th December 2016)

17 thousand solar cells on the wings of Solar Impulse 2
enabled it to achieve its record making fossil-fuel-free flight
around the globe. It has a wider wingspan than a Boeing 747.
The journey started on 9th March 2015 and was completed on
26th July 2016 when it arrived back in Abu Dhabi.

We have reached the weekend and, even though I suspect that you have a busy day ahead of you, I hope you find time to read today's post and perhaps catch up on ones that you have missed or merit a re-read. I am sure you will agree with me that the blogs so far have been extraordinary; today's is no exception. Jo Mortimer, one of the UK's leading recruitment experts, specialising in administrative and office roles is a Divisional Leader at the highly regarded Angela Mortimer Group. Jo can be found on Twitter, her handle is @J0Mortimer. Jo has a 1st class degree in Psychology from Cambridge and has retained an interest in questioning the world and the people around her. She is well-travelled and engaging company. A Buddhist, she practices Taoist Tai Chi. She has an excellent voice (singing folk and as part of a capella group). Jo is a feminist, as you will be able to tell from her post.

Jo has written a very personal post influenced by a significant high during her past 12 months: the birth of her daughter. She also, deliberately, raises a number of topics that are not often discussed or even are considered taboo in our western society.


“A modern Nativity the old fashioned way”
(aka “Ostentatious Over-Sharings of a Smug Git”)

Around this time last year, an eagerly anticipated event came upon us – the birth of our daughter.

It was beautiful, though not in conventional Hollywood terms. Like all newborns, her grey skin was more “Shaun of the Dead” than “Casa Blanca”. I’ll spare you the analysis of bodily fluids in the birthing pool.

Image: Shaun of the Dead, Dir: Edgar Wright, 2004

But the process of giving birth really was beautiful – one of the greatest highs of my life. Not just the “phew it’s all over and we have a baby” bit, the whole experience. And that’s an unusual thing for a woman to say.


At this point, I get on my feminist high horse.

In modern history, patriarchal society has, I contend, embraced an image of the weak and helpless woman, feeling faint in a corset and heels (this is not a bygone era – remember Nicola Thorp, the receptionist sent home from PwC earlier this year for not wearing heels?). Such delicate and lovely creatures cannot be expected to do, well, hard labour.

Image sourced from

Enter the men in white coats with their trusty sidekick, technology.
“Lie on your back my dear while we strap you to this recording device, give you pain relief rendering you immobile and then inevitably have to cut you in some way to wrench the poor grey specimen out of you.”

This is the prevailing model of first world childbirth, talked about by new mothers ad nauseam. The competition for top horror story makes “Rosemary’s Baby” look like “Toy Story 2”.

Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski, 1968
And women with a positive birth story can hardly speak up at these coffee meets. Rule number 1 of the playground: when you’re making new friends, try not to be the smug git. So women with positive birth stories remain the silent. This does all women a disservice.

It takes courage to step outside the prevailing paradigm. I came under pressure from the well-meaning family to have a hospital birth. This was motivated by loving concern for our welfare, and in the context of the modern norm is understandable.

But taking control of your choices is key to ensuring that you feel relaxed and comfortable, and that you have the best chance of a gentle, natural birth. Our mammalian cousin, the household cat, is renowned for shunning birthing baskets meticulously prepared by owners, favouring instead the solitude of the garden hedge.

Image source:

The “hypnobirthing” movement, championed by Marie Mongan amongst others, sounds whacky but has at its heart a simple physiological fact: as with all mammals, if the mother is relaxed, the muscles of the womb will contract easily. If the mother is tense and fearful, the muscles of the womb will not want to contract. They will fight to remain closed to delay the birth until the mother feels safe and secure – ‘out of the lion’s den’. This is likely to result in an extended and painful labour.

I decided to create a ‘birthing nest’ in the front room of our house. My husband surpassed himself with birth pool logistics (getting an inflatable Jacuzzi filled with water that remains at a stable 37 degrees isn’t as easy as it sounds), a perfect playlist (Max Richter’s “Sleep” amongst others) and a veritable shrine of candles. Oxytocin, the hormone associated with love and relaxation, was flowing and the birthing goddess was ready to emerge!

And she’d been training.

Realising the importance of a relaxed mind, I repeatedly listened to a man (Phil Parker) telling me in deliciously rhythmic tones that I was going to be “amazed by the easy…simple…and natural process of giving birth”.

Image source:
I also tried pre-natal yoga, which gave my pregnant body some vocabulary to move with. For some years, I’ve ‘played’ Taoist Tai ChiÔ (, a powerful tool for improving physical and psychological health. Tai Chi teaches how to ‘let go’ in body as well as mind. The Chinese have the concept of ‘yin’ force (the opposite of the ‘yang’ force), associated with the empty, yielding, the ‘hollow’. It is the essence of feminine strength, the heart of natural birth.

The second stage of labour (commonly referred to as the ‘pushing’ phase) was long, because hypnobirthing teaches not to ‘push’. In breathing through contractions (and don’t get me wrong, this was not a quiet experience - there were many noises coming out of my mouth that choir girls have no use for), the baby gently moves down. If the modern hospital birth scenario is akin to relieving yourself at work as quickly as possible to avoid breaking wind in a board meeting, this was akin to a relaxed Sunday morning experience with plenty of time to read the weekend supplements.

Image source:
Our baby was born gently into the water, did not cry and was calm and alert during her first moments outside the womb. I also got off very lightly from the experience (apart from several months of urinary incontinence, which virtually all new mothers suffer from (why does nobody talk about this?)). There was no inflammation to the lower spine, and the wonderful post-natal massage therapist @beccyhands said she wished she could show my lower back to a room of medics to demonstrate the benefits of a gentle birth without intervention.

In her brilliant book, “Birthing From Within”, Pam England explains how in some cultures childbirth for women is held in the same regard as going to war is for men: it is an intense and high risk experience from which you hope to emerge bloody and victorious, shrouded in honour.

The nature of war is that you don’t always emerge victorious. Giving birth is challenging.  It’s bloody.  It’s perhaps our closest shave with death. Many have a tougher experience than I; and if I give birth again, I may not have such good fortune.

If things do go wrong, thank goodness for the amazing staff of the NHS. The Juniper Community Midwives were outstanding in the home care they provided and I felt in very safe hands. Had things gone wrong, we were lucky enough to have King’s College Hospital a short ride away.

Image source:

As it was, we did not need a hospital bed, and the baby did not need to be exposed to the increased infection risk from being outside the home. Many of us in our jobs feel we need to be ‘busy’ and ‘doing’ as much as we can in order to be effective. The community midwives understood that the less they intervened, the more effectively they were supporting us.

So as with any battle, the reality of giving birth is likely to surprise. But let this not stop us from training for the big day, eagerly anticipating it and visualising a positive experience. And whilst I’m not advocating medals, for the sake of future mothers, let’s not shy away from talking about our beautiful victorious experiences. I dare say our men folk would!

No comments:

Post a Comment