The business of birthing

I’ve been following a series of tweets from Kirstie Allsopp (@KirstieMAllsopp) today inviting comments on NCT’s attitude towards c-sections and bottle feeding. The National Childbirth Trust is well known for having a “natural birthing” focus, but it seems that many women feel that they have been presented with a rose-tinted view of birth and subsequently feel like they’ve not “done it properly” when this isn’t the reality they are faced with during labour and birth. About a quarter of all births in the UK are Caesarean sections and this doesn’t seem to be reflected in the NCT offerings.

As I could have predicted, these tweets to Kirstie have sparked me to think about my own birth experience and the attitude of my NCT leader in preparing me for Elliot’s arrival.

Before my rant reasoned argument begins, I should place a disclaimer here: obviously these views are all my own and I am only talking about my own experience with the NCT two years ago.

Through my NCT classes in October and November 2010 we met an amazing group of friends who we are still very much in touch with today. I love the fact that my son has friends that he has known since before they were all born! This was certainly the best aspect of the classes I attended and I know I’m not on my own in feeling that these friends of mine and I are forever bonded by experiencing that tough first year together. I love them all so much (that’s probably another blog post in itself!)

However, I do feel very strongly that we were not adequately prepared for the traumatic birth that some of us experienced. In no way do I think it is possible for one teacher to cover all the various aspects and possibilities of birthing within one course but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that we were actually actively dissuaded from inductions or c-sections, when in reality a large percentage of women (myself included) do not have any options when all is said and done – I mean you can hardly refuse an emergency c-section can you? The clue is in the name!!

During the classes, we were given talks about the various stages of labour, lots of talks about how we can recognise what stage we are in (I can still see the cut out cartoon faces that we had to match up with the various stages!)

We also had detailed information about breast feeding (no bottles, which I can’t help thinking is actually harder to get right, no?!), and one particularly interesting night was spent looking inside nappies that had been smeared with marmite, pesto, or korma sauce to illustrate the progression of our soon-to-be newborn’s bowel movements.

I very clearly remember being told that we should “do everything we can to avoid being induced”, to which we all naively nodded like school children and then went home feeling a little bit confused and hopeful we wouldn’t have to worry about it.

The following week the anti-induction message continued, and the statistics of how being induced greatly increases your chances of having a medicalised birth (i.e. a forceps, ventouse or cesarean section) were discussed so the advice was still to “do everything we can” to avoid it.

Needless to say, and to be honest rather predictably for me, I ended up at 41 weeks thinking I’d already gone against the advice of my NCT tutor as I’d failed to go into labour naturally.

Resigning myself to the prospect of being induced, I then spent 20 hours in labour – actually doing really well – before I then had the second anti-NCT thought of this whole birthing experience, which was whether to have an epidural or not. I clearly remember struggling with this decision whilst completely exhausted and upset, before (thankfully?) the decision was taken out of my hands as an emergency cesarean was deemed necessary.

Of course once my beautiful son was born and was safe and well (Apgars of 10 and 10 thank you very much!) I quickly forgot about the NCT message and pushed it to the back of mind.

Today, having noticed the number of mums who are in the same boat, makes me more than a little cross. Don’t even get me started on the breast vs bottle debate which I can’t begin to cover here.

Now this is my own experience. I continue to recommend the NCT to pregnant friends as a good way to meet people and learn the basics of childcare but I do tell them to take everything with a pinch of salt so to speak.

It may not be the ethos of the NCT, or perhaps its just some of their group leaders that choose to promote an anti-medicalised labour?, but at whatever level the course outlines are agreed there needs to be an agreement to listen to the weight of evidence that implies that women do not feel adequately supported currently and address this to improve the offering.

Surely no matter how their babies are born it is the health of the mother (both mentally and physically) that should be the ultimate focus of any organisation wanting to support women and their partners through this life changing time?

Ok, rant over….

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P.S. If you’d like to read Kirstie’s blog on this issue, and the responses, you can find it here. (I especially like the Dara O’Briain NCT video at the end)

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2 thoughts on “The business of birthing

  1. Interesting blog P. My NCT leader was actually really balanced throughout and always said that the main thing was to have a healthy baby, whatever way he or she ended up arriving. She didn’t have any non-medicalised birth agenda, though I have spoken to others with similar experiences to yours. I did have one midwife tell me (during a 30-ish week check up) that I would feel “much more proud of myself” if I gave birth naturally without an epidural – she had asked me about pain relief and I had told her that I was definitely considering an epidural. She was very keen to put me off it. I’m glad I ignored her! 🙂

  2. Very thought provoking, indeed. I didn’t do any NCT courses – one as they seemed very expensive and two as I was about to move. I did the free one day course (which was about 2 1/2 hours long) and with the reading I did as well was plenty of preparation. It had never occured to me that I’d have an emergency C Section (although that was how me and my brother were born!) but when the time came to decide it was a no-brainer. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I came across this “proud of yourself” attitude. I’ve found that in my new area NCT mums and dads can be cliquey and it’s a bit off-putting when you are trying to make new friends. I’m sure each group is different. I think the best advice is indeed “pinch of salt” and trust your insticts. Thanks for these blogs, Phillipa. They are really making me re-think a lot of my experiences through your own.

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