Wild Birth

Life as a birth keeper

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Menopause and Me.

This is my story.  I totally get that it may not be like this for other women.  I believe in the power of stories, which is why I want to tell this one.

This is me on Saturday 15th April, 2017.  Two days after my 53rd birthday, preparing to spend an evening drinking wine, laughing with friends and dancing our fucking socks off to loud, live rock.

Three years ago I was recovering from the urgent hysterectomy I'd had to have that February, following a winter of almost constant bleeding.  It stopped the night I held my daughter and son-in-law as they birthed my gorgeous butterball of a grandson, and waited until I had encapsulated his placenta for her, and with permission buried a small piece under my tree, where my babies' placentas are, before returning with vengeance. (I like to tincture the leaves of that tree.  I recon they will have sucked water up from that rich root soil, which will contain the essence of all of us...what a powerful healing that could be.  Bit of Crone wisdom for y'all, right there)

I didn't want to have a hysterectomy.  All my life I that was the one operation I didn't want to have.  My mum had one, when she was 22, 23 years before I was born (work that one out)  and I thought it was so cruel to take away such a precious and magical part of a woman.  When I was a nurse in the '80s and 90's we hysterectomized women left right and centre. The youngest I saw was 25.  Nobody was going to do that to me.   Until they had to, of course. 

August 2013,  I'm going on holiday to Devon, and worrying about a placenta not yet due,which was bound to arrive whilst I was on my holiday.(It did)  It got me to thinking about tincturing my menstrual blood for my menopause, for jewellery, to honour the deep, impossibly magical, synchronous mystery of my blood cycle, which I could not imagine life without.  She was due, there would be one of  the deepest tidal swells in the world and a full moon.  I packed my tincturing kit.

But she didn't come.  I laughed at the irony...late because of the holiday maybe.  The lovely days crept by and I agonised over the thought that she had left me.  Left me without the chance to say goodbye, without a last exploration of her muddy depths, or magical heralding dream (fireworks in the night, the hot, sweet dragon's breath, warm soft grass on my feet, soaked with blood, stained-glass windows blazing beauty with a midnight sun) That dream last year, of a spectacular, majestic sailing ship on a red sea...that ship has sailed...preparing me for the loss of her. more about menstrual dreaming here

Tide out, clear skies, we went down to the beach in the sunshine and looked out to the blue timelessness and played like a kids in rock pools with shells.  Later we returned to our hotel and behind the old Victorian bricks and the sunny net curtains waving in the breeze we made hot and sweaty love, my safe place...on our holidays after all.  How would love be without her? 'and the dry stone, no sound of water..' knowing I am no longer fertile?  Desirable? Desiring? Dry, old? What lies ahead for this body that has loved and lost and lived and borne and suckled five babies?   After sleep, we went back down to the beach, now under 10 foot of angry slate grey ocean below lowering clouds and a blood red gold sunset, and she came to me suddenly one last normal time.  And I did get her into my tincture bottle, under the full moon through the window glass and old tiles on the shelf, sounds of the late night pub below. Human life, cells dividing all the time. Time.

Back home, two weeks later on a glorious September morning, I was on the floor cutting out designs when I thought I had spilled my coffee. My legs were hot, wet, soaked. It was my blood. They finally stopped it in December, in hospital, as yet another bag of some kind soul's blood dripped into my arm.  And she had to go. So did my ovaries. More about my experience here

Straight after the operation, back home, I could feel the hormonal difference.  My dreams were quiet, my upper body flushed, and my head ached.  After a month or so, the headaches went, and three of nana's 'power surges' a day became my new normal.  As my body healed I gave thanks for my habits of weight training and good food in the last few years, this helped me to get back to myself.

 You'll never be able to weight train again said my surgeon.  I returned to extremely gentle exercise 6 months later.  Three years on and I'm slinging heaver lumps of metal around that gym than ever before...but I have learned to listen to my body, and to be careful with her.  If I do that, and feed her well, she lets me dance through the night, stack torches on the rack at bonfire time, ride on a ZX9 at 150 miles an hour round the M25 at 3am with the other fucking lunatics, swim for hours in freezing sunny Devon coves with my crazy children, and dream new dreams.  She is calm now, without the glorious drama on the high seas of hormones, but she is deep.  I am still exploring the hidden depths now my ship is in harbour.  I'm climbing those cliffs, and loving my new view.

And do we still make hot, sweaty love? 

What a journey that was. Is. I couldn't lose my love life, I just couldn't, but  I could feel that nerves had been cut.  There was no pathway for my feelings to be felt.  I would grow them again with time, with utter determination to not say goodbye to this part of me. The urgency of keeping this part of my life pressed like a weight.  We got back to that at six weeks on my gentle, subtle, desperate insistence, just like years before, after the babies...six weeks...always the magical date.  'Am I hurting you?' Just like back then. No, no, I'm fine.  So much to delicately negotiate in both our psyches, I couldn't be delicate with my body, it would just have to cope, which it did, and does.  It isn't the same, my body has been through so much, too much, but it's deep, so deep to have such history.  My feeling sensations is returning, my desire is returning.

So my secret is caring for my body, determination, belief in the power of the female, purchase a good vaginal moisturiser, or coconut oil which tastes nicer, and have at least 5 orgasms a week by yourself or with help, whether you need them or not, and soon you will.  Read this book eat well and exercise. Find help from a holistic practitioner if you need.  With love, to Crones and Crones-to-be. Your body shows your life history and this makes you truly beautiful xxx

Jil Wild Manning
Fertility & Maternity Reflexologist
Doula UK recognised Birth Doula

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Breastfeeding Intelligence. Preparation for breastfeeding.

This all sounds very nice, but why do you need to prepare for breastfeeding?  It comes naturally, right?

So yes, lactation follows the birth of a baby, or strictly speaking, the birth of the placenta (the drop in placental progesterone following the birth of the placenta allows a rise in prolactin which triggers milk production in quantity)  Following birth, the vast majority of term healthy babies will demonstrate a series of breastfeeding behaviours designed to help them find and latch onto their mother's breast, just like any little baby mammal...and their parents don't do antenatal classes to learn it, so why do humans need to?

The short answer to that is intrinsic in the difference between us and other mammals; namely, that large, overdeveloped neocortex, or 'new brain' of ours, the one that gets us into so much trouble, the one which enables us to be conscious of our own existence, and to think about things.  Other mammalian mothers' brains and behaviour with regards to birth and breastfeeding is instinctive, and without the intrusion of hers or anyone else's 'thinking brain'. For humans, breastfeeding is both a learned and an instinctive behaviour, for babies as well as for mothers.

Did stone-age woman and her partner attend Saturday morning 'how-to' classes with other expectant parents for information, tea and cake?

They (probably) did not.

They absorbed the information of how breastfeeding works in much the same way as hearing people learn language; by growing up surrounded by it all the time, every day, and they had the huge advantage over us in that they lived in a breastfeeding culture.   Before the invention of artificial feeding, everyone was breastfed as a baby and small child...maybe not all the time by their own mother, but exclusively breastfed just the same.  Women would very probably have shared the feeding of their babies with other women, and the survival of our species, until a relatively very short time ago, depended and in fact, thrived upon this extremely successful biological function.

In an incredibly short space of time in the length of human history, our highly developed brain has taken us on a wild and crazy magic carpet ride resulting in the creation of art, civilisation, war, cities, technology, medicine, space travel, religion, cultural beliefs, money, patriarchal values, artificial milk, and advertising.  Add to this the destruction of tribe, community, extended family, and the loss of female autonomy and traditional knowledge and wisdom in reproductive matters.  Add in the loss of understanding of the basic needs of a mother and her baby to be together with a priority on their respective healthy physiological functioning.

We put our trust in the medical community, and in cleverly advertised life-styles and societal norms, rather than in our bodies, instincts, and biological norms. We have thoroughly, completely, subtly and blatantly assimilated artificial feeding of babies into our idea of what is culturally normal, and in doing so, we have lost much of what would support breastfeeding mothers and their babies.  We have lost the idea that breastfeeding is normal.  We have lost the knowledge about how a breastfed baby behaves, how breastfeeding works, how frequently babies want to feed, how to know that they're getting enough milk, about the fact that they absolutely expect to be in someone's arms, or worn on someone's body most of the time. More from me on our prevalent culture here

Advertisers, media, friends, family and the medical profession who connect with mothers can subtly or blatantly question her ability to feed the small human that she has just spent 9 months miraculously growing and maintaining inside her body.  Breastfeeding as a biological function is far more successful than pregnancy, and why wouldn't it be...nature is not going to invest so much energy in growing a person, and safely birthing them, only to shrug her shoulders and say 'ah well, she couldn't feed her baby, she didn't make enough milk' or 'her milk wasn't good enough'. No.  Nature in her wisdom is going to make sure that her milk is a living, dynamic, adaptable, tasty complete nutrition with immunological factors, cancer-killing cells and other remarkable properties, delivered in a way that in itself is nurturing and contributes to social and emotional health and brain development. And, Mother Nature has also ensured that milk can easily be produced by mums who are busy with other children, busy with life, maybe stressed, and who have neither the time nor inclination to worry about 'eating healthily'.

So how come everyone knows someone who couldn't make enough milk to feed their baby?

A tiny proportion of women will not make any or enough milk, and for specific reasons having to do with pathologies related to her breasts themselves, or the endocrine system which governs milk production. Retained placenta can inhibit the production of milk. A Caesarean section or a large blood loss can delay the milk coming in, but the milk will come.  A lot of the women who didn't have enough milk probably did have enough to begin with, and probably could have made enough if they and the people around them had understood the way breastfeeding works, on a demand and supply basis.  If they had known that the fact that their baby wanted to go to the breast frequently was normal new born behaviour, and not an indication that their baby wasn't thriving on the breastmilk.  If they had known the importance of regular frequent feeding or pumping if not feeding in the first two weeks.

  The reason that so many women give up breastfeeding because of a perceived lack of milk or doubted the quality of it and its ability to nourish their babies, is because these women were failed.

They were not properly supported. It's because of a lack of the basic understanding and knowledge of how breastfeeding works, and what has to happen and when, to ensure that it can do it's miraculous thing.  Because breastfeeding is not bottle feeding only with breasts.  Because babies need to learn to breastfeed too, and any interruption in the form of dummies, nipple shields or artificial teats in the first six weeks or so, can set some babies back really severely so they can't empty the breast properly next feed. Which, unless mum takes appropriate action, impacts the milk supply.

The learned part for the parents is a bit like learning to drive.  You've sat there watching your mum drive when you were a kid...maybe she even let you drive her truck around the field a few times...you know what to do.  So do you just book your test and wing it?  Or do you take a few lessons to make sure that you know what you didn't know you needed to know when the time comes?  So that you can concentrate on passing your driving test on the day, rather than trying to cram in new intellectual knowledge at a time when you want to be focussing your energy on doing what you need to do. 

That's why you need to prepare before birth for breastfeeding your baby.

Check out my website BreastfeedingIntelligence.co.uk like the Facebook Page for course dates. Or get in touch at breastfeedingintelligence@outlook.com to discuss one to one courses in your own home at a time and date that suits you.
Jil Wild Manning
Fertility & Maternity Reflexologist
Doula UK recognised Birth Doula

Friday, 9 December 2016

Works do

I volunteer in a breastfeeding drop-in clinic in our local hospital and as a 'thank you' we have a volunteers' Christmas dinner each year in the hospital restaurant.  I actually like the food at the hospital, which I had as an inpatient some years ago, and obviously at the dinners that I've attended at Christmas, and I like the head chef, Gary, who just oozes professional pride and confidence as well as looking a tad fierce.  His loyal staff all work beyond their normal hours on the volunteers' dinner night, and we are waited upon by them, and the chairman of the Trust comes round to all the tables with wine. Everyone dresses up, there are crackers and a little quiz for each table to break the ice, because we all work in different areas of the hospital.

I sat with a pleasant bunch who were all a decade or two older than me, and as is usual at this do, we all asked each where we volunteered and what we did. A couple of the women worked in the orthopaedic office, one on the ward, and another in A&E. One collected a long-service award for 5 years, and another for 10. Mine is a unique role among the volunteers, and one for which I have had a 16 week specialist training.

 As is always the way when a group of women are together, and the subject of birth, motherhood and breastfeeding comes up...all the personal stories come out, and the women were fascinated by the fact that we actually have a clinic to support breastfeeding mothers.  After the personal stories came the opinions. 

"It's so hard for mothers to make enough milk, I mean, they have to rest for long periods and eat very well every day or that milk just won't be made." 

"It was impossibly hard, very painful, just impossible. I don't see how anyone could do it"

"What really revolts me is when mothers are still feeding their children at four and five, I think it's disgusting actually"

And all this before the first course. (Filo pastry wrapped around brie and cranberry, with seasonal vegetables) Nice, ordinary, good people, and all of them grandmothers. All of them at that stage in life where they might traditionally be expected to be a fount of knowledge and wisdom in the realms of family life and parenting.  All of them with their own stories, all of them unequipped to support a member of their tribe through the common challenges that arise for mothers who are feeding babies in the biologically normal way. It would be nice to just let them get on with their out of date beliefs and their Christmas dinner, but I am perfectly placed to answer these points and why wouldn't I? Deep breath, big smile, nice as pie, here I go...

"Mmm, yours is a very common belief that women do not easily make milk, but so interesting to reflect that over the course of human history very few mothers would have rested, but would have been working hard, on a sparse diet, and yet, producing wonderful milk ensuring the survival of our species.  It just causes me to wonder who might profit by our mess of negative cultural conditioning around breastfeeding and the abilities of a woman's body to nourish the entire human being she just grew in her body without any help?"

A genuinely sweet lady, with that look of 'oh god why did I start this' on her face. I don't want to spend the evening educating people, but the opportunities are few and far between, and working in clinic has taught me to get the salient points across succinctly so fuck it I'm just gonna say it.
To the poor lady who found no one to support her:

"Challenges like the ones you suffered not uncommon because we've lost our way culturally and forgotten our mammalian natures. Nature's design was that care of new mothers and the nurturing of our young would be a top priority for everyone, we would grow up with breastfeeding happening all around us, all the time.  There would be a wealth of knowledge and support on tap to overcome any of the common challenges before they become problems."

And to the really sweet, devoted grandmother who volunteers as a counsellor: (I still get shocked that otherwise lovely people can be so negative and frankly, horrid, about something so pure and beautiful as a breastfeeding mum and child. Christ knows, it sometimes feels like there's not much that's pure and beautiful left in this world.)

"That's so interesting that some of us humans do experience a strong visceral reaction to seeing children being nurtured naturally. I'm genuinely shocked by the reality that some people would be less perturbed by the sight of a child carrying an AK-47 than by seeing him being nurtured and held and loved at his mother's breast. Not to mention receiving a mini-immunisation along with all the other wonders that we haven't discovered yet.   The World Health Organisation recommendation concurs with breastfeeding older children. It's so interesting to ponder on why we are so keen for our children to grow up and away from that special bonding time way before nature intended.  I always ask the question, who benefits from this? Because it sure ain't the mothers, or the babies, or our species."

Mince pie any one?

You can read about last year's dinner here :Among the Grandmothers

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