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Birth Choices Change. Period.

How my Period this month answers the issue which worries so many pregnant women; how do you plan and stick to your birth choices?

I’d intended to write this piece on Thursday evening. But it wasn’t right to write it until now, and here’s why.

On Thursday morning, I cried on the way to Whitstable, singing along to Like a Prayer (Madonna’s 60th birthday, remember?). And again on the way home, thanks to Aretha Franklin’s hymn to the thrill of the bad boy - not because the Queen of Soul had died, but because it activated a yearning for the history of my own life. Back home in the evening I cried again. This time watching the Pope console the child of a dead, atheist, father. The Holy Father gave this vulnerable little ball of emotions faith that his father, a good man, was under the protection of God (who, for the record, I don’t believe in). My face held rigid, my chest stiff, my grief for MY mother, who died 13 yrs ago this month, was raw again.

I’m not usually a crier. So once I’d dried up the flow, I recognised this as a clear sign of the imminent arrival of my Period. The crest of the hormonal ebb & flow that punctuates my female life. A blessing and a curse (which is how we called it growing up, a misogyny so insidious that it wasn’t until I was fizzing towards my teens that my mother adapted her vernacular).

I did know it was coming, of course. But it wasn’t until the explosion of Thursday’s tear-bomb that I recognised the mounting, barely suppressed frustration & fury, the feeding frenzy and the shift in perception for what they were. Sure as eggs is eggs (unfertilised ones), I started bleeding on Friday morning, accompanied by back ache, a vague head ache, cramps & an overall sense of lethargy.

So what did I do? I dialled everything back, and gave myself a break. I gave in to eating utter shite (McDonald’s to be specific, and to my children’s complete joy). I dropped about 10 things off my to-do list. I toe-punted my running shoes under the shelf, tucked my freshly laundered running kit back in the drawer. I hit Saino’s, bought a bottle of chilled white and a packet of dark chocolate digestives and assumed the position on the sofa, where I remained, unselfconsciously wrapped in the comfiest of duds, until this morning.

This morning I feel much better. My uterine winter has passed, and there’s spring in my step. Physically, I feel strong again & robust. Mentally, I’m back in control. Sound emotional regulation has returned. Frankly, I’m back on it. And I’m ready to write this blog.

Does that mean the decision I made to let go and dial back – in the grip of the menstrual hormonal load – was wrong? Absolutely not.

Would I have made the same decisions, had I been in a follicular phase? Probably not. I would almost definitely have gone for a run.

Does it make me a weaker person, to change my plans in response to my body? Have I failed, by writing this blog 3 days later than planned?

And how does this relate to this recurring question (one that came up several times in Wednesday’s Workshop); How do you plan and stick to your birth choices?

My answer is; That Is The WRONG Question.

The question is invariably asked because women want to avoid analgesia & intervention. But it's just not helpful. It’s far more helpful to ask ‘how I can avoid suffering?

What my Period this month illustrates is that sometimes the context of our bodies requires us to change tack. When the hormones are high, when the body is powerful, sticking to your choices may increase your discomfort, your suffering. Rather than 'sticking to the plan', the skill we should seek is to recognise our need, and be kind to ourselves.

Pain and suffering are closely associated – but they are not the same. Many women tell me they are fearful of the pain. In fact, when they examine their fear closely, it’s more likely to be – quite reasonably – a fear of suffering that triggers anxiety. Women fear feeling out of control as they labour, at the mercy of their bodies, helpless. Analgesia and intervention become the focal point, because they represent exactly those fears – decisions made in panic and pain, impotence & indignity.

Hypnobirthing (and I think the name is a hopeless misnomer) is popular because it has a reputation for replacing medical management with ‘natural’ coping techniques. And for good reason. When you are empowered to re-framed your model of what Good Birth looks like, armed with a healthy respect for the Power of Oxytocin, a mastery of focus and control and a Birth Partner prepared to Protect & Serve at your disposal, you are indeed acing your opportunity to have a Good Birth experience.

As important as those active skills, though, is learning to listen to yourself. The reality is that birth can be unpredictable. The hormonal load is heavy and can change your perception. Labours can be long & tiring. Babies can become distressed. Different women experience labour with varying intensity – and some women find it painful. The skill is not in avoiding intervention, but in taking informed, measured action when YOU need it. It’s in understanding yourself, trusting your birth attendants, and having the knowledge to make informed decisions. It’s in understanding your vulnerabilities, and having the confidence to pause, listen to yourself, tune into your birth partner and make the right decision for the moment. Without judgement. Attaching yourself to the idea that Good Births follow particular physiological paths will inhibit you as surely as an epidural might.

To end this (longer than planned) blog, I want to reflect on the three women who last week described their births to me as ‘BEAUTIFUL’ and ‘INTENSE’. All 3 women, separately, used these exact words. And each had a different birth. One was a planned home birth – a third and final child. The second was a planned caesarean birth. The third described her second, unplanned caesarean. All three women described their births as beautiful and intense. ALL THREE.

The joyful experience of a Good Birth is not in the physiology of it, but in your ability to do all you need to do practically and physically, to engage with it emotionally as a positive experience.

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