Meet the midwives
When it comes to pregnancy and birth, midwives have seen it all. So what secrets, asks Lizzie Catt, will they pass on to their daughters?
"Do hypnobirthing - the difference it makes it incredible"
Lesley Gilchrist is a practising midwife, founder of Bespoke Birthing and author of The Bump, Birth and Baby Bible. She appeared in the first series of One Born Every Minute, and is mum to Frankie, seven and Ruairidh, four.
I'd tell my daughter to trust her body. It's phenomenal what an embryo has to do to become a human, so to become pregnant and carry a baby to term is an incredible job. But we seem to think that's the easy bit and the hard bit is the labour. We spend so much time planning, working and worrying up to 38 weeks, that women don't have the time to marvel at their bodies and what they're managing to achieve in pregnancy.
I'd warn her that giving birth is exhausting. Your only job is to recover and feed your baby – so let family and friends worry about everything else. It's no wonder women end up with postnatal depression when they're expected to start caring for the baby as soon as he's born – be sent home and carry on.
I'd advise Frankie to hire an independent midwife who she feels a bond with, and who understands her; they're expensive but most will work out a payment plan.
And she should educate herself – not just reading the odd book but speaking to midwives, obstetricians, looking at the latest research. Knowledge is power and if she understands what's actually happening to her in birth – not to be judgemental about her care, but so she feels comfortable and safe with that care – then she will labour well.
And if forceps or a caesarean are needed, she'll know that's just how it was supposed to be and she did everything she could and got the birth that she needed. Women shouldn't think it's a 'shame' if, for example, they need a forceps delivery.
I would tell her to do hypnobirthing – the difference it makes is incredible. Women having their first babies will walk into delivery suites and not even look like they're in labour. They'll say their labour was painful, but that they felt in control of the situation. It's not so much about the teacher but the practice you do yourself. It's about having control over your birth experience rather than how you give birth – feeling calm and empowered.
"Every birth and every baby is different"
Becky Rutherford became a midwife in 2006. She is mum to two daughters, Seren, seven and Stella, four.
When my girls are having babies, I’ll tell them it’s important not to be afraid. My mum had all her children at home and would tell us about how she didn’t have any pain relief, how my dad would be going in and out smoking a fag! She actually made it sound quite nice.
When I was training as a midwife I started to think birth could be scary. But by the time I had my girls, I wasn’t afraid – I just thought, ‘I’m going to be like my mum.’ And I was.
I’d say, don’t buy a home Doppler heart monitor. It sounds bossy, but you pick up placenta noise and all sorts, it can be hard to find the baby’s heartbeat without training, and you can get worried when there’s nothing wrong. This is what your midwife is for – they’d rather see you all the time than have you sat at home worrying.
I’d tell them not to feel bad if they don’t have the birth they imagined. Even if you need to have help, your body got your baby out. You did it. You grew that baby into a human being – it’s amazing! You may have had a problem at the end and, actually, that probably wasn’t your fault because you were asked to lie on your back or you had your waters broken – something was done. Every birth is different; don’t regret anything.
If my girls have an expectation of what their babies will be like, they’ll probably be in for a surprise! It’s better to teach them as you go along. And I’d say, don’t expect them all to be the same. Seren loved breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, and Stella hated both – they made her really uncomfortable. She just didn’t need that kind of contact and was happier on her own. To this day, they couldn’t be more different.
I’ll tell them that becoming a mum isn’t something that happens overnight. Even now, a lot of the time I still feel like I’m the cool babysitter - like somebody’s about to give me a tenner and tell me to go home! It’s organic – it grows. You learn together. It’s a really special thing and you do get better at it.
"Read as much as possible - understanding labour is important"
Clemmie Hooper is mum to Anya, seven and Marnie, four. She’s been a midwife for nearly ten years, and blogs at Gas And Air.
I’d encourage my daughters to read as much as possible and educate themselves about birth – understanding labour is so important. People fear the unknown, but labour needn’t be unknown. I’d give them a pile of the best resources – Ina May Gaskin definitely, and possibly a book on hypnobirthing as it’s one of the best tools women can self-teach, and I hope they’ll look at the positive birth stories on my blog. I’m planning to write a guide to pregnancy, so hopefully they’ll read that!
I can’t tell my daughters, ‘Don’t have an epidural,’ because they may want a hospital birth if that’s where they feel safe. Women labour best where they are most comfortable. But I would also say, ‘Find out as much as you can about your options and what services are available where you’re living.’
I’ll tell them it’s Ok if they don’t feel that love straight away. It does come, and it’s amazing when it does, but it’s not always immediate. With my second, I lifted her out and said, ‘There you are! I’ve been waiting to meet you!’ With my first, I didn’t instantly recognise her as part of me. It was more like, ‘You look like my father-in-law!’
I had Anya when I was 23, so I would be a hypocrite if one of my daughters came to me at a similar age and said, ‘I love my boyfriend and we’re going to have a baby,’ and I didn’t approve. Simon and I made it work because we were happy. We knew we wanted to be together for ever and didn’t have many expectations of what our life should be like.
I look after women who are 40, who’ve been with their partner for years and have a great life, a nice amount of money – and having a baby just throws them! As long as you have an education, you’ll be Ok.
I think it’s great trying to breastfeed, but I’d tell my daughters not to beat themselves up about any of the choices that they make. There’s more to motherhood than being amazing at breastfeeding. Just get the right support and ask for help – I’m always impressed when women admit that they’re having a hard time. I would always say to my daughters, ‘It’s Ok if you feel that you’re rubbish at this.’
"Always take help when it's offered"
Louise George began working as a midwife in 2005. She is mum to Jessica, three, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and Sophie, 17 months. Louise blogs at Little Hearts Big Love.
The biggest thing I’ve learned, and that I would pass on to my daughters, is how strong women are in labour. I’m sure lots of us – me included – certainly didn’t feel it at the time, but from the outside, you feel quite in awe. My mum told me, yes, labour is intense, it’s very hard work, but focus on the positive – it’s what you were designed to do.
It’s good to be surrounded by people you love and trust during labour. I was my twin’s birth partner for her first birth and her midwife for the second, and it was really wonderful. My mum was in the house for my second, looking after Jessica, and my twin was with me, as well as my husband. Delivering my grandchildren would be quite magical.
All mums worry about their baby’s health, but I would tell my girls that finding there’s something wrong doesn’t mean you won’t have happy times too. We learned at the 20-week scan that Jessica had a congenital heart defect, and she had in utero surgery at 28 weeks.
It was a terrifying time, but I spent a lot of my pregnancy just enjoying the moment because I didn’t know if that would be all the time I had with her. Even though there was a long road ahead, the moment she was born and I heard her cry was 100 per cent the most joyous moment of my life.
If you have family and friends to support you, let them. I’m the youngest of nine, so some of my nieces and nephews had babies before me. In many ways, having a big family was a blessing because I got space to rest. Don’t be afraid to take help when it’s offered.