I read a really fantastic post today by Cambridge-based Doula trainer Maddie McMahon today about clock-watching, number crunching, and how it ought to be left out of the birth space. http://maddiemcmahon.com/2012/04/29/living-loving-by-numbers/ . You know when someone just writes down so precisely what you feel in your gut but haven't found the words to say them so succinctly yourself. Well Maddie absolutely nailed it for me with this piece.
Whilst I was away on holiday recently I wrote a little something on the topic of clocks in the birth-room. It was actually a piece on how you could make a hospital birth a gentler, less clinical experience. One of the ideas I wrote down was that maybe if there is a clock in the room, you could request it be placed flat or removed from mum's sight. Watching the clock whilst labouring, is as Maddie puts it, like trying to time yourself reaching an orgasm - kinda anathaema to just going for it, non? Birth time is a bit more like the melting clocks time of Salvador Dali
We have come to trust clock-watching and number crunching as a religion in their own right - we think they tell us everything we need to know and yet they don't tell us everything - and in fact they can be misleading.
Imagine you are really getting into the swing and starting to feel really safe and opening up nicely. You're surrounded by kind people who you feel an affinity with. Things are intense, and it's taking all your effort to stay in the zone.
In walks bossy, rude man/woman. He/She swirls into the room and thinks a(nother?) vaginal examination would help to establish where things are at. Before he/she walked in you were 7 cms dilated. Suddenly, faced with this person you don't feel comfortable with AT ALL, surprise surprise, you go back to 3cms. Upon being told you are now only 3cms, you feel pretty despondent!
You and others start to talk about this annoying state of affairs. Maybe you're feeling tired and starting to secretly panic. You think of the hours it took to get you to 7cm's and how it will take you ages to get back up to that number. What you don't realise is that if you feel safe enough very quickly again and your fight-or-flight adrenaline hormones are no longer needed, you can open right back up again
Think how quickly you freeze if you are caught out whilst having sex, or a poo, or some other bodily function that requires total relaxation for you to let go with it.
Its the same with birth. Your baby is born via one of your body's many..... sphincters! (collapses in a giggle fit) Yes indeedy.
According to Wiki,
"A sphincter is an anatomical structure, a circular muscle that normally maintains constriction of a natural body passage or orifice and which relaxes as required by normal physiological functioning. Sphincters are found in many animals; there are over 50 types in the human body, some microscopically small, in particular the millions of precapillary sphincters.
All sphincters are shy. They don't like it if they are being watched too closely. Your fanny is no different. If some stranger puts their fingers up your fanny you sure as hell as not going to feel too relaxed about this, unless you are into some weird kinky stuff. Whatever floats your boat, baby, but here, for the purposes of talking birth stuff, let's assume we are not talking about THAT kind of finger action. No maam.
Now, if someone asked to finger your rectum whilst you had a poo, you would probably tell them where to get off right? And yet somehow, we find it hard to refuse vaginal examinations. There is an expectation, a pressure that we'll go along with them. Throughout pregnancy as well. I have refused them myself and received a rather curt, sniffy reply. Guess what? I can live with it.
I love this midwife's take on why we ought to leave well alone unless we have a genuine concern.
Can you just say "No thanks"? Um, yep. Absolutely. If it feels unnecessary, you could write this into your birth plan. You have the right to decide if anyone can enter your body or not. In an emergency case, then yes, being able to feel baby's exact position is really useful and life-saving. In that case, your midwife ought to ask you really nicely, and tell you exactly what is going on. And of course, you'd most likely, and wisely say "Go for it".
But in non-emergency scenarios there are other ways of seeing how mother is doing besides measuring in cms and fingers and minutes and bleeps on a machine. The machines are actually there to cover the hospitals ass as much as save her own. A busy midwife, through no fault of her own, covering several rooms at once, may not have time to look for other signs.
Some of the older ways of knowing are becoming lost. They're just as reliable and are in danger of becoming extinct if we don't keep them alive and use them in our practice.
Mostly what we need for birth is to feel safe, relaxed, unobserved, free to move as we wish, freedom from ticks and tocks and bleeps and numbers. A mother herself has little need for this information. She needs to stay in her space, to moan and groan and be as mammal as possible.
So if at all possible, hide the clocks. Leave her internals well alone if you can and watch her with your eyes, and heart. Listen to her deeply.
She'll love you forever for it.
I was deeply honoured to be awarded a Versatile Blogger award from Home Ed writer Ross Mountney - look out for my next blogpost, in which I will be nominating my own 15 favourite versatile bloggers....