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 Birth Choices: your birth partner

The mountain of choices and decisions that face a newly pregnant woman can seem insurmountable. So it is not surprising that the choice of who will be there to support the mother during the birth can be overlooked. Many women assume that their partner will be there and is the best choice and give it no further thought. In fact there are lots of choices and the final decision could be one of the most important of the whole birthing process and needs consideration.

A fearful, jittery and unsure birth partner may not make the best advocate or birth supporter. Somebody who is forceful in their opinions and likely to override the birthing mother may also not be ideal. It may help when starting to consider birth partners to talk to other mothers about what they found useful during the birth and the kind of support and help that they needed.

Everyone is different, however, and one woman’s perfect partner is another woman’s nightmare! So maybe the best place to start is with yourself.

What kind of person are you?

Are you strong-minded? Do you value advocacy and support? Are you looking for an objective but knowledgeable voice during your labour? Are you happy to just go along with whatever advice your health professional gives you? Or do you feel more comfortable being left to your own devices? Do you value hands on support or hands off and mind-your-own-business support?

All these questions are valuable when considering your choice of birth partner. Once you have given thought to the kind of support you may want during labour you can then start looking for the perfect match. Sometimes this will be your partner, sometimes it won’t, sometimes it will be another person in addition to your partner. To go into labour assuming you already have the best choice of birth partner may be to overlook a great deal of wonderful people who could make a fantastic difference to your experience of birth.

What will the birth partner do?

Once you have visualised your birth partner and the personal attributes she will ideally have, it is then worth considering what you want her to do. Do you want somebody to come to antenatal appointments with you? Are you thinking that you want somebody with shared values and ideas but only need support at the birth? Do you envisage the supporter being part of your child’s life in some capacity afterwards?

You may think it is vital that your birth partner is experienced in some forms of natural techniques such as massage, aromatherapy, relaxation, hypnotherapy or acupuncture. It may be important to you that your birth partner has given birth naturally herself, or given birth at home, or breastfed her children. You may think it more important that she is an experienced supporter and that you are able to talk to some of the women she has supported. The answers to all these questions and clarification of these points could lead you in the direction of your ideal birth partner.

Place of Birth

This is another important consideration. If you have decided on your place of birth then you need to know the views of your birth partner, and whether they can fully support your birth choice. You may have a friend who is perfect but anti-home birth, or a relative who is not comfortable coming into a hospital with you. If they are not comfortable with this choice (or any others) then you need to know if they can advocate and support you fully during your birth. The very last thing you need is to feel undermined or unsupported.

So, what are your choices?

The father

Most women expect the father to be present during the birth and many fathers feel the same way.

For centuries birth has been ‘women’s business’ and the question of the father being present at birth would not have been entertained. Why has there been such a radical change? Michel Odent says that for the first time in history healthy, pregnant women are now expected to leave their homes and go to a large hospital to be attended by strangers during their births and the extended family has largely been reduced to the nuclear family so there are no female family members to assist or support during birth. Odent tells us that during the 60’s and 70’s theoreticians thought that the participation of fathers during the birth would be positive. It would strengthen ties between couples, reduce divorce rates and make birth easier as the woman would have a familiar face with her. Caesarean rates would drop as a result. I don’t think we need to examine these too closely or dig out any statistics to know that none of these things have come to pass.

There is lots of discussion about this among midwives who have experienced the difference between a wholly female birth and one with a male, including the father, present Having personally been a supporter during both kinds of birth I can vouch for the fact that the birth room consisting entirely of women seems to be calmer, have less words, be ‘earthier’ in some way and you can almost smell the female hormones in the air. The women, often, seem to be freer to express their needs and are less inhibited.

However, fathers being present is the norm now and many mothers and fathers are reticent to admit their reluctance at this prospect. In the case where both parents want the father to support during the birth, I think it is really worth considering having a second birth partner.

Pros

  • You know him well! You know his views and opinions, his strengths and weaknesses.

  • He has an emotional link to you and your baby that nobody else shares.

  • He normally doesn’t charge!

  • Many are happy to learn new skills such as massage and relaxation.

  • It is an amazing shared experience that you will never forget, or tire of discussing.

Cons

  • He has an emotional link to you and your baby – this sometimes colours his ability to advocate for you. It is virtually impossible for him to remain objective.

  • Many midwives recognise the presence of the father changes the behaviour of the mother and inhibits her. She can be preoccupied with him.

  • Sometimes, he doesn’t want to be there but feels unable to say no.

  • Usually, the father has never attended a birth before so the whole experience is totally new.

Friend or Relative

Once you clarified the ideal personal attributes you may find a person pops straight into your mind. Or you may not have had to think very hard at all before knowing the ideal person. You may know somebody who fulfils your criteria already.

If you have found the ideal birth partner is a friend or relative, don’t be shy about asking them! In my experience most women who have given birth themselves would jump at the chance to support another woman. They are also often very intuitive during the birthing process.

You may have taken some kind of course during your pregnancy – antenatal classes, pregnancy yoga or hypno-birthing – and found a natural affinity with the practitioner running the course. Most are very happy to be birth supporters for women who have attended their courses, and are used to being asked. If you have no friend or relative who is suitable, but know an ‘acquaintance’ like this who you think might be a good birth partner – then again, don’t be afraid to ask. Most women are flattered to be considered and will take the role very seriously.

Pros

  • You already know this person so don’t have to go through the ‘getting to know you’ stage of the relationship

  • This kind of birth support is normally free!

  • You will know the persons views and ethos around birth, and therefore know that they will support you as necessary.

  • They are normally quite happy to learn and practise massage, and endlessly discuss what you want your birth to be like.

  • Often they can play a part in your child’s life afterwards, if that is something you are looking for.

Cons

  • Often they have no prior birth support experience, so may not be the best advocate.

  • The mother can sometimes unexpectedly feel inhibited during the birth by the presence of a friend or relative.

  • They could say no, think about how you would feel if they did.

Doula

A doula is a ‘professional birth supporter’ who believes in ‘mothering the mother‘. If you know other mothers, ask around for a recommendation. Otherwise, you can find local doulas through Doula UK. Once you have a list of two or three local doulas you can arrange to meet them to discuss your requirements, get an idea of their views and see if they are a good ‘fit’ for you.

Pros

  • Most are mothers themselves.

  • A doula will be an experienced birth partner, who has supported women through a variety of different births.

  • They tend to remain calm and unflappable!

  • Many doulas have other useful birth skills such as aromatherapy and massage or hypnotherapy.

  • They are objective and can often advocate well. They are experienced at communicating your needs to health professionals, which means you can focus on birthing and not talking!

Cons

  • They cost money. Trainees cost no more than £200 but qualified doulas are usually more. Think in the range of £500 for antenatal visits, birth support and postnatal visits.

  • They won’t play an ongoing role in your child’s life, usually.

  • You won’t know them beforehand, though you do get to know them through antenatal visits.

Independent midwives

It may seem strange to mention independent midwives in an article about birth supporters, but some women do opt to hire one while continuing with NHS care. In this case the midwife becomes more of a doula, but an incredibly experienced and knowledgeable one. A woman opting for a home birth may opt out of NHS care with an independent midwife and not feel the need for any other birth supporter.

Pros

  • Experienced midwives who have attended lots of births.

  • All of the positives associated with a doula.

Cons

  • Expensive option, if you just want a doula. They tend to charge in the region of £2,500+ per birth.

  • Can be difficult to find. Thanks to overbearing government regulation, independent midwifery is a dying breed.

  • All of the cons of doulas.

Is it really important?

Choosing a friend or doula need not take away the role from the father. Women can have two birth partners in all hospitals and birth centres, and of course are free to have any number of people in their home. So you may decide to hire a doula who will advocate and look after both parents which then releases the father from the responsibility of advocacy in a field he may have limited knowledge about. This usually reduces his anxiety levels (and the mothers!) and allows him to spend his time looking after the mother. The mother won’t be left alone while he nips to the toilet, to get something to eat or make a phone call – all of these things which couples often haven’t thought about.

If the couple decide that the father won’t be present at the birth he can still support. He can be nearby, keep family informed of progress, fetch and carry, look after siblings, make sure there is enough food, fill up and empty birth pools and come straight in to meet the new baby and share this wonderful new experience and first precious moments.

Something I have learned during five years of teaching antenatal classes is that the vast majority of women don’t consider the importance of the choice of birth partner before they are in labour. The birth partner is such a vital part of the birth process that this decision deserves a great deal of thought.

A positive, supportive, intuitive and experienced birth supporter can make a huge difference to the process of labour. A woman will never regret spending time and energy finding the ideal birth partner.

 

Further Information:

Doula UK 0871 433 3103 http://www.doula.org.uk

Independent midwives 0845 4600 105 http://www.independentmidwives.org.uk

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We all know that labour is painful, that birth hurts and that we all scream all the way through it in a terrified daze.  Don’t we?

This seems to be the given wisdom at the moment.  Where does that wisdom come from?

Current view of birth.

Well, lets step back a little bit.  Traditionally, by the time a woman had reached child-bearing age she would have assisted at many other labours and births.  She would consider birth a normal part of life and there would be no great mystery surrounding it.  Most women would have been present during births and known that for most women it is manageable, normal and everything turns out well.  They would also have seen that sometimes it doesn’t turn out well, and that would also be considered as a normal variation.

Now, the typical western woman reaches child-bearing age having never attended, assisted or even seen another woman give birth.  Many woman have rarely even held a newborn baby, and babies and children tend to be at the peripheral of their life.  Bearing this in mind, is it any wonder that the average woman in the UK approaches her first birth unsure of what is going to happen, what the experience is like or how she will cope?  Birth is no longer a normal part of life for women, it is shrouded in mystery.

So, the experience of birth is no longer present.  What has replaced this?  Sadly, it is probably media depictions of birth.  We all know how these look.  A screaming woman, a hapless partner, a general air of panic.  Don’t worry though, they are normally saved by the hero health professional on his/her white charger.  Birth is now an agony that women need saving from.  This view of birth is all that most little girls ever know, and this continues through puberty into adulthood.  By the time that most women are pregnant the only thing they think they know about birth is that it will be really painful.  It must be, look how strong the pain relief is!

Of course, this is not helped by the fact that the second the little blue line pops up a whole plethora of women suddenly appear with their ‘horror’ stories.  And boy, do they make sure the newly pregnant woman get’s the ‘no holds barred’ version of the story!  I wish women would consider a little more carefully about this, and that women with positive and fantastic stories told them more.

Why is birth painful?

Why would something as necessary to human survival as birth be so painful that we couldn’t cope with it?  Does that make any sense at all?  Just ponder that question for a second.  It just doesn’t make sense.  So, why do so many women experience birth as too difficult to cope with?  Let’s look at the factors that impact on labour and birth.

Hormones

How do birth hormones work?  There are three main hormones at play during a labour.  They work together to make the birth as efficient as possible.  They are:

  1. Oxytocin.  The ‘hormone of love’.  This is the real driving force behind labour.  The more oxytocin that is produced the more effective the contractions are, the more efficient the uterus is.  Oxytocin is inhibited when Adrenalin is produced.
  2. Adrenalin.  If the womans body produces adrenalin during the first stage of labour it will stop or reduce the production of oxytocin which will mean she will have a ‘stop and start’ labour and labour may be slow and long.  It’s vital during second stage though.
  3. Endorphines.  These are the body’s own natural pain relief.  Endorphines build up and up through labour so that at the point of birth the woman has huge levels in her body.  This, combined with huge levels of oxytocin, ensure the mother is ready to meet and fall in love with her baby.  They also act as a memory suppressant postnatally.

Oxytocin is produced in large quantities when love-making.  The same environment that will allow a woman to orgasm during sex is the same environment that will be conducive to an efficient birth.  There are not too many women who could orgasm in a brightly lit, sterile room with a number of people watching and monitoring progress and a whole ward able to hear her.

Adrenalin is produced when a woman feels observed, when people talk to her, when she meets someone new, when she is in an unfamiliar environment, when she can hear other labouring women and knows they can hear her.  Adrenalin is normally produced at the start of 2nd stage to give the mother the energy she needs to push the baby out.  Before that, it cripples the progress of labour.

Endorphines build up gradually so that at each point in labour the mothers body is ‘just about’ coping with labour.  If the mum starts to worry about coping and becomes stuck in the pain-tension-fear cycle (see below) then this can inhibit the production and effectiveness of the endorphines.  A woman is more likely to worry about future coping ability if the labour seems long and the contractions are ineffective which is why the interplay between oxytocin and adrenalin is so important.

Unfortunately, as you can see, the environment the majority of women are placed in to give birth is not going to assist the delicate hormonal balance necessary for a quick and ‘copeable’ labour.  In fact, I would go so far as to say the environment actively hampers the possibility of a normal and easy to cope with labour.

Why can’t we afford the same respect and birthing environment to a human labouring woman as we recognise as vital for any other mammal?

Pain – Fear – Tension Cycle

If something feels painful this is often followed by fear.  The natural reaction to fear is to tense up, which unfortunately heightens the experience of pain.  This can then become cyclical, and develop into a downward spiral where the fear and tension actually make the pain worse and inhibits the endorphines which can lead to the pain being too difficult to manage.

If a mother is tense because she has just had a 20 minute bumpy car drive through traffic to go to a large birth unit where she doesn’t know anybody then she is likely to be tense.  This will mean that any contractions she has will feel more painful and difficult to cope with.  Combined with the effect of adrenalin on the oxytocin production, this can mean that a mother arrives at the birth unit already overwhelmed with pain and asking for pain relief before she is even through the door.

Already she is in the cycle, and her hormonal balance has been disrupted.  Often this continues right through to the birth, where the hormones haven’t been able to work as normal and the mother then needs further assistance to birth her baby.  No wonder we all think birth is so difficult!

Make a positive change: allow yourself the optimal birth experience.

Thinking about all of the above, I hope it becomes clear that birth is not too painful to cope with unless we make it too painful to cope with.

So, how can you turn things around and allow yourself to birth normally without intervention or the necessity of pain relief?

Firstly, try to find women who have birthed normally and found birth easy to cope with.  Maybe attend home birth groups or just find friends who have found birth manageable, exhilarating and awesome.  Wallow in their stories.  Read positive birth stories online.  Go to pregnancy yoga, aquanatal, antenatal relaxation classes.  Download positive pregnancy relaxations and visualisations and make it your business to listen to them every single day.  Ignore the negative and allow the positive, coping, strong woman to come to the fore.  Indulge her.  Over the 9 months allow yourself to believe to your very core that your body is capable – more than capable! – of birthing your baby.

Secondly, take action.  The biggest intervention you will make into your birth is choosing where you give birth and who will be your birth attendant.  These two choices will make the biggest difference to your birth than anything else put together.  Ask yourself why you are considering going into hospital.  Find out about home birth.  Home birth is normal and is safer than a hospital birth for every ‘low-risk’ pregnancy, and most ‘high risk’ women.  Talk to women who have given birth at home, read up on it and allow it to become normal in your mind.

If you are unable to birth at home, consider a birth centre instead.  Birthing in a stand alone birth centre is going to create the nearest chances of a normal birth to home, a birth centre in a hospital is the next best choice.  The option that is least likely to produce a normal, manageable birth is one that takes place in a consultant unit.  This should be the last choice, only to be used when medically necessary.

I have to go to a consultant unit!  How can I have a normal birth?

If you weigh up all the information and decide to go to a consultant unit, or have medical reasons for choosing a this option then don’t despair.  You can still maximise your chances of a normal and healthy birth.  You can do everything you can to ensure you are part of the minority of women who give birth normally in this environment.

How?  There are lots of ideas.  Keep in your mind the ideal environment for birth (or sex if that’s easier to envisage!) and create that environment in your birth room.  Your birth room is yours.  You can move furniture around, put on music, bring any equipment or special items and food and clothing or whatever you need to help to create the ideal birth environment for you.

Ask for your midwife to keep her voice low, and keep at a discreet distance.  Write a good birth plan that outlines what you need to birth well, get your birth partner on board and up to speed so that they can be your advocate which will leave you freed up to birth.

Some women have even put a blanket over their head to keep the ‘outside world’ out, or used headphones with relaxations or music to ‘zone out’.  Close your eyes and you can be in your own little world.

Perhaps most important, be aware of the impact that the journey to your birth unit and settling in will have on the birth.  It may start to feel difficult to cope with, the labour could stop or contractions get less frequent.  Set up your birth room, settle down and allow yourself to relax and feel at home.  It could take a couple of hours before your body feels safe and ready to start birthing effectively again.  Don’t worry about this.  It’s a normal physiological response to moving into a strange place during birth.

Visualisations and relaxations are perhaps even more important when you are birthing away from a familiar environment.  If you know you are going to a birth centre or hospital then practise doing your relaxations and visualisations all the way through the pregnancy so that when you arrive you are able to immediately counter the pain-fear-tension cycle and allow yourself to start labouring again more quickly.

Pain and Labour

I am hoping that this will provide you with a new perspective on pain and labour.  A new understanding of how the labouring body works, and why we have to help rather than hinder.

If we can understand how everything works and respect the environment that any labouring mammal needs to feel safe and birth easily then we can maybe banish the myth that human labour and birth is too painful for us to cope with.

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Did anybody catch the new TV series ‘Out of My Depth’?  It featured Amanda Holden ‘training’ to be a midwife and was another programme that needed lots of cushions thrown at it.

The basic premise is this:

Amanda Holden trains with student midwives. After a month of intensive on-the-job training, her mentor must decide if Amanda has learnt enough to join the delivery room team.

Oh, well… five whole weeks?  That’s Ok then.  Who knew you could be trained to be a midwife in only five weeks?  Probably only if you have a camera crew trailing along. 

A pregnant woman actually volunteered to have Amanda as her ‘lead’ (haha) midwife.  I can only assume that the side effects of this decision were not laid out clearly.  (the side effects unfolded for us all to see)

How did her birth go?  Cue image of woman lying on the bed screaming in agony, cut to midwife outside in the corridor “she’s asked for an epidural, which I think is the best decision.  She’s lost control and this will help her gain back that control”.  Next, image of Amanda Holden zooming to hospital in her chauffer-driven Merc fresh from an overnight flight back from ‘work commitments’ in the US.

Oh, how could anything possibly go wrong, you may be wondering.  What a fantastic, supportive, empowering set up.  Surely this is a normal birth waiting to happen.

Despite screaming in agony without a single helpful idea from the midwife for managing her labour (i.e. stand up, move around, have a bath, have a massage, relax, GET RID OF THE FECKING CAMERA CREW!!!) the woman did get to 8cm dilated before Amanda Holden got on the scene.

Then she was given her epidural and the baby’s heart rate dropped and didn’t recover.  Amanda Holden and camera crew then took up full-time residence in the birth room (as opposed to intermittant filming of screaming) and what on earth do you think happened then?

The woman’s very clever body sussed out that all was not right.  There were strange people in the room and thousands, if not millions, of people were watching.  She stopped dilating.  Totally understandable reaction to 1. an epidural and 2. a celebrity and camera crew suddenly appearing.

What happened?  Did her midwife act as her advocate?  Boot out the camera crew and Amanda?  Close the blinds, start massage and put on some soothing music?  Of course not!  She was wheeled off to theatre and given a very graphic ventouse – all captured on film (of course).

Why oh why do we think it’s Ok to mess with birth like this?  What an experience for that woman, what a lesson to learn for all pregnant or young women watching, what a welcome for that baby.

Sometimes…. I despair.

 

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I have spent a fair while compiling a shop at amazon that contains only items personally tried and tested or recommended by trusted NAPfriends.

Please check it out, and let me know if you have any more recommendations for products or books that other Natural, Attached Parents might find useful.

Please visit the NAPshop from the menu above.

 

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Q: I am 37 weeks pregnant.  I had a Caesarean birth with my first child due to Pre-eclampsia and am hoping for a vaginal birth with my second.  Do you have any tips?pregnant mother

Firstly I must point you in the direction of the very informative homebirth website which has a page specifically about Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC).  Although it is a homebirth website, the information is equally as valid for a hospital birth.

An interesting fact is that VBAC is stastically safer for mum and baby than an elective caesarean, especially in a situation like this where the initial caesarean was performed for something like PE where there was no problem with the birth canal or pelvis which may recur.  (though something like this actually happening is vanishingly rare in the developed world anyway).

I don’t know if you have considered a home VBAC.  Information on the homebirth website specifically related to a HBAC is interesting and presents all current research.  I think that if you are considering a HBAC then due to patchy support from the NHS midwives, you may have much more success with an independent midwife.

An independent midwife or experienced doula would be a fantastic idea whether you are intending to birth at home or hospital.  Support from an objective, experienced advocate could make the difference between a repeat caesarean and a VBAC.  Even a supportive and well informed partner will be consumed by their own emotions and concerns, whereas a more objective advocate who knows you and your wishes well can advocate much more successfully often.

Apart from these points any tips on achieving a vaginal birth are the same for any woman about to give birth.

Any kind of induction is likely to lead to more intervention and a Caesarean.  Think really hard about this, and what you will do if you are offered one.

Environment is a huge factor.  If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in hospital then it will affect the progress of labour.  You may also feel uncomfortable or unsafe opting for a homebirth and feel like you are stuck.  Giving birth in hospital – it is important to remember that your birth room is your room.  Move furniture around, close curtains, turn off lights, put on music, bring balls and bags and mats and whatever will make you feel like you own this room and this environment.

Practise relaxations and visualisations.  Being able to ‘zone out’ and go into yourself will be really important.  It will also allow you to break the pain-fear-tension cycle which is vital if you are at all anxious about the birth.  Gradual body relaxations are good, especially simple ones that don’t have a long and complicated ‘script’ to follow.  Visualising the cervix and birth canal ‘opening’ up will help.

Of course you will be doing your pelvic floor exercises regularly (ahem) but during the third trimester you should be practising releasing the pelvic floor and visualising the pelvic floor relaxing and opening, instead of doing the tensing or holding in type of exercise.

Think seriously about accepting continuous foetal monitoring.  It is more likely to lead to increased intervention and a caesarean.  As you are opting for a VBAC you should have a midwife with you continually – one to one care – so continuous monitoring should not be necessary.  Regular intermittant monitoring should suffice unless a problem arises.  Again, this might be something you feel unable to push for without an experienced advocate to do that for you.

The more medical pain relief you have (epidural, pethedine etc) the more likely you are to need more interventions and an assisted birth.  Using water, relaxations and massage can really help here.

Practise massage beforehand with your partner so you don’t feel like a couple of eejit’s when you get into the birth room.  Or choose a doula/ independent midwife who is also an experienced masseuse and won’t feel like an eejit!  🙂

Overall, try not to be too anxious.  Try to relax, and believe that your body is capable of birthing your baby and give yourself everything you need to achieve this.  A supportive birth partner, an experienced advocate, a homely environment and minimal interruption to the delicate birthing process are all things that can help you get the birth you want!

Good luck.

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Another day, another study.  This one comes fromDad and Daughter the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The headline information is that ‘Fathers want more time with their children too.  Probably not something anyone with young children will be surprised about.

This is a quantitive yougov survey of 4,500 parents as part of the EHRC’s wider  ‘Working Better’ policy initiative which is aiming to explore ways of matching employers and employees expectations.

Dads’ working life

Unsurprising fact of the day: 6 in 10 fathers work more than 40hrs a week.  Bearing this in mind it is hardly surprising that over half then go on to say that they spend too much time at work and 4 in 10 fathers say they spend too little time with their children.

Almost half of dads believed that flexible working was available to them, but only 30% were taking up this option.   Flexible working in this survey meant flexi-time, staggered start and finish times and working from home.  Only 20% of dads believed that the option of part time working was open to them.  Tease these figures out a little more and some discrepancies appear.  Fathers in the financial and business or public sectors were more likely to be able to work flexibly than fathers in manufacturing, retail, construction and transport.

Inequality

Another area where external inequality rears it’s ugly head is in ‘Meeting Aspirations’.  The survey posed the question:

‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that your current [work] arrangements cause tension or stress in your family’.

The number of fathers who agreed or strongly agreed:

  • 21% of all fathers
  • 31% of ethnic minority fathers
  • 31% of fathers earning under £15,000 per year
  • 33% of fathers with a disabled child or children

So, for around a third of families where the father is from an ethnic minority, on a low income or with a disabled child the working arrangements cause tension and stress.  The report doesn’t focus in too much detail on this but gives evidence from other studies that shows that in large part this is due to financial pressure.  Fathers with a disabled child are more likely to be working part time and fathers from ethnic minorities are more likely to be on a low income.

Paternity Leave

At present every father is entitled to two weeks paternity leave, paid at the rate of £123.06 per week and 13 weeks of unpaid leave.  Perhaps it is no great shock to realise that 45% of fathers didn’t take the paternity leave.  And 66% of those fathers would have liked to have taken paternity leave.  The most common reason for not taking it was financial.

The report goes on to talk about aiming to have a transferrable maternity/paternity leave of one year so that in theory both parents could take six months leave, or the mother nine months and father three months or whatever variation they liked.  Apparently this is under consultation at the moment and may come in in 2011 but only if the mother returns to work.

So, if a family have opted for this and then decide that the best thing for their child is for one or both parents to raise the baby, I can seem to see what the situation would be.  Would they have to pay all the money back?  Another barrier to women being at home with their babies?  Another barrier to men sharing the raising of their children?

Where fathers and mothers differ

I have to say this made me laugh a little.  The survey asked if primary responsibility for childcare was shared between the mother and father.  31% of fathers said that it was compared to 14% of mothers.  The report considers whether fathers with shared responsibility would be more likely to answer a survey like this, but concludes that as these figures reflect previous study findings then it is just a discrepancy.

I wonder if it is a poorly worded question, and if they had asked ‘is childcare equally shared’ then they would have had a clearer picture.  Parents can take equal responsibility for childcare even if they decide together that one parent will do the majority of it.  And maybe the question posed isn’t clear enough in this.

Report Policy Recommendations

The report concludes that policy-makers should:

  • Introduce policy changes that enable dads to take up paternity and parental leave
  • Make paternity and parental leave longer, better paid and more flexible
  • Target fathers with a publicity drive to increase awareness of flexible working rights
  • Subsidise employers to enable them to offer flexible working

The missing conclusion

I don’t think anyone will be taken aback by this report.  We know that the families in the UK have the longest working hours in Europe and low levels of overall satisfaction and contentment with life.

I am saddened that it is being used in some of the press as a stick to beat mothers with (surprise surprise).  ‘See it’s not just you whining women, dad’s want to spend time with their kids too – spare a thought for them’ seems to be the tone of a number of media reports.

Something that seems to be repeatedly highlighted but never mentioned in these surveys is that people are under huge financial pressure and this leads to difficulties in family life.  Women want to work less, men want to work less but you have to be brave to go for it when the cost of basic living is so extraordinarily high.  And you have to be a very strong family unit to weather the financial storm that seems to accompany a more reasonable and enjoyable family life.

I would have liked to see recommendations that reflected the fact that children do better when raised by their parents (not academically necessarily, but holistically).  I would like to see an acknowledgement that a lot of parents would like to raise their children themselves and a commitment to policies that relieve the financial barriers that currently prevent many families from realising this aim.

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A mother of a 1 week old baby reported to me recently that she has been told by her health professional that she seems to have separation anxiety.

Pardon?

I could hardly believe my ears.  Apparently, a mother of a newborn wanting to spend all of her time with her baby is now a problem.  A problem that needs to be reported to the mother, to undermine her natural instincts, and apparently then needs to be resolved.

Of course, the classic rod and back myth was thrown in for good measure too.  Leaving this new mother unsure about whether what she was feeling was normal.

This makes me so furious.  Of course it is normal to want to be with your new baby, to be overwhelmed with love and anxiety.  Especially a mere week after the birth.  This is the normal stage of getting to know your baby, getting used to these new heightened crazy, overwhelming emotions that are flooding you and getting used to this new responsibility which is all-consuming.

How dare anybody, let alone a trusted health professional, make a woman feel as if these reactions are abnormal!  It beggars belief.

If only we as a society could recognise and value the journey this woman is going through, affirming her as a new mother and caregiver of a new member of our community then her experience of these amazing early days could be so different.

She isn’t being neurotic, she isn’t being over-sensitive, she isn’t being over-protective.

She is learning about her new baby, being the exact right amount of protective and taking responsibility for the new little person she is overwhelmingly in love with.  Undermining her at this stage could be so damaging it is scary.

Hopefully, with support of more empathetic and caring people this new mother will be able to ignore the advice and warnings of the misunderstood health visitor but I worry about all the new mothers who are not surrounded by empathetic and caring people.

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