I’m really excited today to introduce you to Noble Savage. She is a woman I really admire for her viewpoints and passion. Noble Savage is starting out as a doula, and I was thrilled when she agreed to share with you what it was that led her to that decision.
I hope you’ll find her story as inspiring as I do.
I didn’t know what a doula was until my daughter was already several months old. I was researching slings online and stumbled across a parenting site where women were discussing home birth. I watched a few of the slide shows of these women’s births and found myself absolutely riveted. More than one had me in tears, of both joy (because they looked so lovely and peaceful) and of sadness (that I hadn’t had that kind of experience). They talked of birth pools and doulas and of feeling calm and powerful. I was envious, and curious too. What difference could a doula have made to my own birth?
While I had aimed for a drug-free water birth at my local birth centre with midwives and thought I was well-prepared, it turned out I was anything but. I figured that filling out a birth plan I’d printed from Baby Centre and reading ‘The Rough Guide to Pregnancy’ and ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ was all I needed to have a baby without drugs or intervention.
As it turned out, I was not prepared at all for the intensity of labour and let the fear overtake me shortly after I arrived at the birth centre experiencing back labour. As another contraction ripped through me and I struggled to prevent myself from spiralling out of control with panic and pain, I vividly remember looking desperately at both my husband and the midwife, who I’d never met before that night, hoping one or both of them would reach out and do something,Â anything.
I wanted to be told I was doing well, what I could expect to happen next or that I should try x or y to alleviate the contractions. In short, I wanted someone to take charge, to recognise that I was rowing away from my desired birth experience and throw me a lifeline to bring me back to shore. I needed a kind, firm hand on my back, unwavering and compassionate eye contact and an assurance that what I was feeling was normal and would be short-lived.
Instead, I got a panicked, helpless look from my husband and an indifferent, distant vibe from the midwife who seemed more interested in writing notes in my chart than giving me any tips or reassurance. In the end I had pethidine, an episiotomy and a ventouse delivery for my 9lb. baby girl after 2.5 hours of pushing. For weeks afterwards I was exhausted, sore, shaken and sad; not exactly the great experience I’d hoped for.
Breastfeeding did not start well and I got conflicting (and sometimes horrible) advice from various midwives and health visitors. When I look back at how many obstacles I faced in breastfeeding, I am amazed that we ended up pulling through and having a successful nursing relationship for 17 months.
The main reason I succeeded (other than my notorious stubborn streak) is because I knew how to track down the correct information on the Internet. Being the first of my friends to have a baby and not having been breastfed myself, I had no women in my life to turn to for personal advice. Instead, I watched YouTube videos demonstrating correct latch and searched for articles on low supply and sore nipples on theÂ La Leche League andÂ Kellymom websites.
I had anÂ NCT breastfeeding adviser come to my home to assist me and finally, after about four weeks, things sorted themselves out; I could finally stop crying and screaming into my clenched fist during incredibly painful latch issues resulting from two bouts of mastitis, exacerbated by my health visitor’s advice to give formula top-ups or skip one feed a day to “give [my]self a break.”
It was only after I started devouring information on best practice for successful breastfeeding on various websites and reading books about normal birth — including Shelia Kitzinger’s ‘Birth Crisis’, Janet Balaskas’ ‘Active Birth’ and ‘ — that I began to realise how little practical information I’d actually known going into the life-changing, physically and emotionally trying event that is having a baby.
How many women, I wondered, don’t have access to the resources or partner support that I had? How many women think their bodies failed them, like I did, think that birth is a cruel joke played at their expense? How many women are given bad advice that sabotages their milk supply, leading them to think they simply couldn’t make enough for their babies? For every woman who kicks up a fuss about being told to cover up or get out while feeding her baby in public, how many slink away silently or go sit on a dirty toilet, embarrassment flooding their cheeks?
For every woman who knows breastfeeding is her right, how many internalise the message that breastfeeding is shameful, inconvenient, unimportant or selfish and decide to quit? For every woman with enough education, support and money to hire an independent midwife, baby nurse and lactation consultant, how many more have to accept conveyor-belt care on NHS maternity wards, extreme sleep deprivation and insufficient advice from health visitors?
Please join us again tomorrow as Noble Savage shares her second birth experience with the assistance of a doula and how this gave her the drive to empower other women in this, the most beautiful of journeys.