10 Apr

ME time!

There’s no doubt that becoming a mother is a transformational experience. Initially absorbed in your new baby, obsessing over feeding or nappies or sleep, spending more time with new friends who are also new parents, evolving into a family instead of a couple: so many new things, so many changes. Some of us rail against it, fighting to get back to a long-lost ‘normal;’ others let it flow over us, knowing they won’t be small for very long. But all of us are fundamentally changed by the experience, whether we intended that to happen, or not.

One mother’s sense of lost identity is another mother’s sense of growth. We might mourn our freedom, high heels, spontaneous nights out, spare cash, hot cups of tea and the chance to finish a thought. And becoming a mother changes the way you are in your existing roles: you’re a different daughter, once you’re a mother. You’re a different wife or girlfriend. You’re a different sister, and a different friend.

For some people, going back to work renews one’s identity. For me, it brought it home to me how meaningless my work really was – and this despite working in the social compliance industry, which really does do a certain amount of good in the world. But paying to leave my baby with someone who didn’t love him as much as I do never felt right; trekking into Reading on a train with a hundred other miserable faces didn’t fill me with joy; the pressure to achieve miracles in a job that was both too easy and too hard was soul destroying. In the end I had to admit that I didn’t want my old identity back, I wanted to create a new one.

Maternity leave felt like a limbo between one state and the next: not enough time to adjust, and the looming return to work with its tantalising promise of a return to my old, easy life. Except it didn’t give me that, because all the mothering remained to be done outside my working hours, and I was still a different person in all my relationships, except my working relationships where motherhood seemed to count for nothing.

A few weeks after my return to work, I answered an ad in the NCT newsletter to train as a Breastfeeding Counsellor, not realising at the time that this was where my new identity would finally make sense. It’s now eight years since I sent that email, and I can barely recognise my pre-pregnancy self in the me that I am now.

Working in breastfeeding support appeals to my contrary nature (it’s controversial), my social and political conscience (breastfeeding is undervalued – and feminist), and my desire to do something good in the world. I like to be busy and it certainly meets that need. There’s a lot of interesting science stuff to know about. And with the addition of my work as a postnatal doula and other small related roles, I’ve been able to scrape a self-employed living at it, so I no longer have to answer to an employer. Nothing could make me happier.

My training with NCT and my ongoing reflective practice have helped me to develop empathy, listening skills, and a love of working with people instead of spreadsheets and schedules. I feel like a bigger person, a nicer person, and a person with more going on in her world than ever before. My whole life is so varied, and full of people; and for me, life since becoming a mother is glorious technicolour compared with the grey I can remember from before.

Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.

08 Apr

Book review: The Roar Behind The Silence, edited by Sheena Byrom and Soo Downes

The first impression I had of The Roar Behind The Silence was that it is so densely packed: 50 chapters contributed by midwives, researchers, parents, obstetricians, doulas, antenatal teachers and one eloquent anaesthetist, covering such a huge range of thought: many different perspectives on why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care.

Surely this ought to be a no-brainer. The implication that kindness, compassion and respect matter is right there in the word “care,” but it’s very clear from some of these stories that in our risk-averse culture, mothers are sometimes dehumanised in the baby production system. This is ground that has been covered by many authors, but Roar comes at a time when compassionate care is right in the headlines, a time when it is really important to agree on what this means, and how to make it happen.

The book is divided into three main sections. First, stories and persepctives from maternity care, including Mel Scott’s harrowing stillbirth story, and obstetrician Alison Barrett’s understanding of where the midwife stands from the consultant’s perspective. Next, principles and theories underpinning current practice and possible new ways of working. And finally Making it happen: solutions from around the world – both in terms of global experience, and different approaches to practice. This last section is probably the most useful and informative, setting the bar much higher than a healthy baby as the only valued outcome.

Most of the chapters are short and the book could be read in an ad hoc way; however I found most of the contributions compelling, and read it straight through, making a few notes. I was struck by the prevalence of social media in many of the chapters, as a way to share experience and compassion with colleagues and other interested parties; though it might also be worth acknowledging the downside of potential for kneejerk reactions in such a public space.

I particularly enjoyed the two contributions from anaesthetist Robin Youngson, who perfectly summarises the impact of relationships – good and bad – and the importance of kindness in all aspects of care. Which should, as I said, be a no-brainer.

I’m hoping to talk to co-editor Sheena Byrom for our next episode of Sprogcast, and looking forward to asking her how she chose and organised the contributions.

Disclosure: Mark very kindly sent me a copy of this book!