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 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 like the Facebook Page for course dates. Or get in touch at 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
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