It Takes a Compassionate Village to Birth a Child

I often write and consult on the importance of understanding the different role players in birth and choosing your birth team wisely. However, a talk by Margaret Hefferman, has blown the concept into a new orbit of importance for me.

Hefferman discussed an experiment on productivity by a biologist called William Muir. The experiment, in which a group of so-called ‘average’ chickens were pitched against the egg-production abilities of a “super chicken” flock, resulted in a flourishing ‘average’ flock. And the ‘super flock’? All but three were pecked to death by the end of the experiment.

Although a rather crude comparison, I couldn’t help but see the close resemblance the ‘super flock’ bore to the current birth & medicine landscape, in which many seem to think that success, can only be achieved by suppressing the effectiveness of the others (including the mom herself!) in birth. There seems to be an unwillingness amongst some birth professions and institutions to cooperate, collaborate and work together as a birth team when it comes to providing mothers with the best perinatal care possible. The result? Confusion, hostility, dysfunction, emotional trauma and disappointment.

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In my experience modern-day birth can be categorized by two schools of authoritarian (or “super chicken”) thought:

The first is where the “perfect birth” can only be achieved by selecting a birth authority and giving that authority all the power to manage your birth. With no team members to balance them, these ‘authoritarians’ sometimes give in to ulterior motives (fear, time money, the need to always be a superstar or know best), which lead them to make choices that are not always necessary and wanted by the mother. Add to that the fact that the definition of a perfect birth is subjective and you have a recipe for disaster.

The second is where the power of birth is taken back by the mother, or at least she made to think that she has the power (hello “mommy super chicken” *wink *), who is offered a menu of birth options by a permissive birth team. The team often fails to help the mother interpret information in the context of her own personal situation and she is left to weigh benefits and risks without a proper scale. The permissive team often also fails to prepare the mother for the randomness that can sometimes be nature and birth.

Both these approaches fail the mother and her baby. In both instances mothers are also often left, without any explanation or support, to process choices that are sometimes needed but not wanted or choices that did not have the desired outcome.

Since the birth of my first child, I have believed that, as with raising a child, a mother and baby’s physical and emotional well-being in birth is largely dependent on the impact of individuals and groups who play a role in that birth. Birth should therefore, in my humble opinion, be an outstanding collaboration between nature, birth partners and birth professionals with empowered mothers right at the center of it – a compassionate birth village where birth professionals, advise, encourage, recommend, and help where appropriate and needed.

The bricks of such village (OBG, midwife, doula, birth photographer, hospital staff, hospital etc.) is however not nearly as important as the mortar holding it together, which should be identified by a high degree of social sensitivity, compassion and trust – for each other, but most importantly for the birthing mother.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m not naïve enough to think that the ideal Birth Village will spring up overnight. I am however leaving you with five 6 tips to get you going in the right direction when choosing your birth team:

  1. Work from the standpoint that as long as they are all qualified to uphold safety and integrity standards in birth, you should get to choose who your birth team consist of. No one team member / institution should have the power to refuse other team members, without good reason, if they are uniquely qualified for their chosen role and you want them on your birth team.
  1. When you choose healthcare providers and birth professionals, look for individuals who are authoritative in their field but not authoritarian in their approach. You want people who can advise and help you without making you powerless. People who help you to make your own informed choices and not drive their own birth agenda.
  1. Steer clear of permissive healthcare providers who provide you with a ‘birth menu’ of options but no guidance on how to interpret the options in relation to your unique situation or on how to prepare for the randomness that is sometimes birth.
  1. Look for individuals with a high level of social sensitivity and compassion, but also the ability to take the lead when needed, without wanting to run the show. You want confident, but compassionate team players on your team – not lone super stars.
  1. Your birth team’s recommendations and actions should be free from any motives other than your and your baby’s emotional and physical well-being. It should be about your needs and wants. They should therefore also only intervene when truly appropriate and necessary. This is where pre-established trust between you and your entire birth team plays an important role.
  1. It is clear that putting together the right birth team for you and establishing trust is important. I would argue that such trust can only be established face to face and be strengthened as teams work together. How to make that happen in the current time-is-money, super-chickens- only system is beyond me (some team brainstorming might be required!), but I think a starting point is for you to request a team briefing before and a de-briefing session after a birth.

Apart from birth photography I offer birth mentoring as well.  Learn more about the value of having me as your birth mentor

Finally – A Practical and Pretty Home Grown Baby Bag!

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I met Danica and Ryno a year ago for their winter maternity shoot.  We had so much fun despite Danica initially only doing the maternity shoot because Ryno wanted one! From the get-go I knew that their little Dawid was going to be only lucky and happy baby. Shortly after I capture the birth of their beautiful baby boy at Mediclinic Paarl.  Even though Danica lives in Hermanus we have been friends ever since.Cape-Town-Birth-Photographer-Love-Alda-Dawid-Birth-AnnouncementShortly after Dawid’s birth, Danica, who is an esteemed wedding planner, launched Jan Pierewiet.  It didn’t take long for myself and Danica to find synergies between our brands and our shared needs as mothers.  We collaborated to bring mothers the ultimate luxury designer baby bag!

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The locally manufactured bags are made from 100% bovine leather, and the perfect fusion between practical and pretty. Sporting enough pockets and compartments, the bags also include an easy-wipe changing mat, as well as an extra Love Alda drawstring bag for extra clothes or nappies.  The bags are currently available in hazelnut and pista pecan. You can order yours from the online Love Alda store. Love Alda Birth Photography clients automatically receive a R200 discount on these beauties!

My Birth Worker Prayer

This is my birth worker prayer: that we will love, support, advise, educate and serve, but that we will never lose our sense of wonder and respect for the miracle & mystery that is birth. May there always be the gentle back and forth rocking between logic and science, imagination and heart. May we always celebrate birth. With love, Alda x Feel free to share if you agree!

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Love Alda & Carmien Collaborate on Cup of Comfort for Mothers

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Take one birth photographer & mentor who herself suffered through draining nausea and heartburn during all three her pregnancies, a client of hers who is also a brand custodian at Carmien Rooibos Tea,  a friendship and the brewing and simmering of some mamma inspired ideas and you are bound to end up with something really special and comforting!

I’m so proud to be launching the NEW Carmien Mamma Tea in collaboration with Carmien Rooibos. Carmien Mamma Tea has especially been formulated to help mammas with nausea, heartburn and lactation challenges associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Only the best ingredients are used in every teabag, with great care taken to ensure safety and maximum efficiency from every cup. It is conveniently packaged in tagless teabags for easy steeping and drinking. Carmien Mamma Tea was designed and blended for mommies by mommies. A Cup of comfort from bump to breastfeeding and beyond.

I’m excited to announce that moving forward each one of her birth photography & mentoring clients will receive a complimentary pack of Carmien Mamma Tea, before and after birth.

PURCHASE YOUR CARMIEN MAMMA TEA HERE

Carmien Mamma Tea

 

Carmien Morning Mamma

Carmien Morning Mamma has especially been formulated to assist mommy-to-be with nausea and heartburn associated with pregnancy.

Ingredients and their health benefits:

Rooibos – Contains natural anti-oxidants which help prevent cancer and combating free radical damage in cells. Rooibos alleviates allergies – astma, hay-fever, eczema. Rooibos has anti-spasmodic qualities and alleviates colic and stomach cramps in babies. Rooibos replaces essential minerals, iron, potassium, zinc and sodium. Rooibos is soothing on the nervous system – excellent for hyperactive children. Rooibos is naturally caffeine free and safe to drink during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Ginger  – helps with morning sickness, circulation stimulant, anti-septic, relieve spasms

Marshmallow root  – Ease with digestion and nausea, helps heartburn

Cherry-Orange Flavour – for added freshness to ease and sooth nausea and heartburn

Carmien Nursing Mamma

Carmien Nursing Mamma has especially been formulated to stimulate and increase milk production in breastfeeding mommies.

Ingredients and their health benefits:

Rooibos – Contains natural anti-oxidants which help prevent cancer and combating free radical damage in cells. Rooibos alleviates allergies – astma, hay-fever, eczema. Rooibos has anti-spasmodic qualities and alleviates colic and stomach cramps in babies. Rooibos replaces essential minerals, iron, potassium, zinc and sodium. Rooibos is soothing on the nervous system – excellent for hyperactive children. Rooibos is naturally caffeine free and safe to drink during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Fennel – Helps with digestion, anti-septic, treat colic and stimulate lactation (also used in Gripe Water to help relieve colic and other gastrointestinal ailments and discomforts of infants)

Aniseed – anti-septic properties, relieves colic in babies and increases milk production in breastfeeding mothers (also used in Gripe Water to help relieve colic and other gastrointestinal ailments and discomforts of infants)

Fenugreek – Excellent for stimulating and increasing milk production in breastfeeding mothers

Vanilla Flavour – adding a delicate taste to create an easy drinking cup of rooibos

To discuss your birth needs in person with Alda over a cup of comfort visit www.aldasmith.com

Is the Perfect Birth a Myth?

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As mother of three, birth photographer and mentor I have seen pretty much all kinds of births – hospital and home births, water births and induced births, natural births and c-sections – and whilst I understand why a natural birth with minimal interventions are viewed by most as the ‘trophy birth’ (I wished it for myself), I do often wonder if the perfect birth might be a myth. Beautiful? Absolutely!  Empowering? Definitely!  But perfect? Mmmmmm.

I’m sorry if I’m bursting your bubble, but trust me, you might thank me later. Before you burn me at the stake however, let me clarify by saying that whilst I do not believe in promoting a perfect birth (who gets to define what perfect means?), I absolutely believe in the importance of a positive, optimized and compassionate birth experience.

You see, whilst a gift and privilege, becoming a parent in itself is challenging and I see how promoting the idea of a ‘perfect birth’ (however you want to define that) just puts unnecessary stress on already overwhelmed parents and more often than not ends in disappointment. Becoming a parent is more important than how you become one – that is a fact. That being said, this truth is often unfortunately abused by medical experts to coerce women into choices driven by fear and ignoring the importance of the birth journey would be irresponsible in itself. I’ve experienced this first hand when I suffered severe post-natal depression after a traumatic birth experience. Your birth experience may not be perfect, but it matters. Very much so.  It may not be as important as becoming a parent, but it is nevertheless important. It feeds into your emotional wellbeing in birth and (as we all know) your physical wellbeing is heavily intertwined with that of your emotional.

The truth is that, contrary to biased information often given to mothers, Mother Nature is, for the most part, on the side of the labouring mother – that is until she is not. And here lies the heart of the problem for me – a mother’s birth experience should not become less important because she ‘deviates’ from what is viewed as ‘perfect’ or ‘normal’. Stigmas, pressure and choice-bashing do little in terms of promoting the importance of the birth experience and the making of empowered choices and instead creates an illusion that leads to disappointment, shamefulness, uncertainty and resentment. Instead of telling mothers what perfection or disappointment in birth looks like society should inform, empower, support and promote birth ownership and the notion of choices with compassion. Because becoming a parent requires courage in different forms and shapes.

I’ve come to know birth as this perfect miracle that happens in an imperfect world with imperfect systems. You can and must put serious thought and planning into your birth experience, but your ultimate goal should be to find and own the beauty of your birth, no matter the small imperfections. To feel proud of yourself for ‘surviving’ another soul splintering off yours, no matter how that happened. Yes natural births are beautiful, but I have experienced and captured beautiful c-sections as well. Like parenthood, the only kind of perfect birth for you must be your own – and for that to be true you need to own your birth, make empowered choices, be respected for those choices and ultimately find the beauty in your unique experience no matter the small imperfections. Finding the beauty does, however, not mean not grieving the disappointments.   Disappointments in birth are, like in life, unavoidable and feelings of sadness about this should always be validated.  This is where a compassionate birth team should also play a big role in helping a mother come to terms through compassionate de-briefing, counselling and other initiatives.  Finding the beauty does however mean not getting lost in disappointment.

I want to end by offering you a compromise – it’s the least I can do after bashing your dreams of a perfect birth *wink*: Instead of aiming for the perfect birth, why not work towards an optimized, empowered, compassionate and positive birth experience ? One that you will love regardless.

I define a positive birth experience as follows:

  1. One where nature is respected for her power to both heal & hurt in birth and her energy channeled for the greater good in birth by you and your birth team (much like using wind to generate power) – even when it comes to births where interventions are needed
  2. One where you get to make empowered choices that are respected by your birth team 
  3. One where you are treated with compassion – where you feel heard and loved when you are at your most vulnerable, before during and after birth
  4. One where you minimise disappointments and are allowed to grieve the ones that do happen without losing the ability to find the beauty amongst the small imperfections
  5. One where you and your birth team celebrate you becoming a parent through the perfect miracle that is birth

To love something does not always mean that it is perfect.  We can often love ‘in spite’ of. So I would like to encourage you today to love your birth, no matter what. To feel like the brave, powerful mama bear that you are and to wear your birth stripes (or scars) with pride!

If you found this helpful, why don’t you help me to empower others by sharing this post?  You can also leave a comment below and tell me how you would define ‘a perfect birth’.

PS: As mother of three and birth professional I want to help you work towards a positive, optimised birth for you and your baby. So join me for my free ante-natal video series, At the Heart of Birth by registering at www.aldasmith.com/freecourse.

 

At The Heart of Birth Ante-natal Online Course: Three FREE Videos

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Photo Above: Veronique Photography

Why do some mothers have wonderfully positive and empowering births whilst others feel disappointed, confused and even bereft? Why does there seem to be so many don’ts and not enough do’s when it comes to optimising birth for me and my baby?  Why do I feel so confused, in the dark and even pressured instead of clear and confident about my birth choices?  

The reality is that every woman deserves compassion in birth with a gentle balance between her clinical and emotional well-being.  Every woman should be empowered to make informed choices with a resolve to be mindful of those choices. Instead women are often bombarded with birth stigmas, pressured into decisions, frowned upon for their choices, given biased information if any and encouraged to strive for the perfect birth instead of a positive one.

Join me, Alda Smith, birth photographer, birth mentor, mother of three, Carmien Birth Professional of Choice and communication specialist for a short (and free) video series titled At the Heart of Birth.  In these three free videos, you are going to discover what a compassionate, positive, optimised & pro-choice birth is so that you can work towards achieving an optimised birth for you and your baby.  No stigmas. No choice-bashing. No Pressure.  Just a whole lot of empowerment and compassion in the comfort of your own home!

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Your free mini online ante-natal course will consist of:

Video 1: The Compassionate Birth

Video 2: Knowledge is Power

Video 3: Aiming for a Positive Birth – not a Perfect One

If you haven’t registered for the free mini course yet you can do so here.  The course will start at the end of November and I look forward to spending some time with you on this.

PS: I’m incredibly passionate about this and have an enormous amount of empathy for mothers who do not experience compassion in birth. Please help me to empower others by sharing this opportunity. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the compassion of birth by leaving comments below.  I will be sure to check each and every comment.

Your Birth – Your Space

It’s strange.  When we get married we often obsess about the venue details.  What it must look like. The atmosphere.  Our children’s birthday parties?  Where it is and how it looks are important to us – well at least if you are a Pinterest Mom that is *wink*.  Why does so little though go into our birth environments – the space in which a new life will begin and where we will be stepping into parenthood?

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How we got here is a topic I am continuously researching and I think there are many cultural, historical and other contributing factors which I won’t bore you with, but I think it is safe to say that the medicalization of birth initially played a big role (albeit unintentionally).  Whilst medicine in itself saves lives on daily basis, I think the heart of the birth environment, over time, got lost in a series of protocols, procedures, policies and practices that are rooted in a culture of business and not a culture of medicine. 

It’s important not to throw the baby out of with the bath water here (which sadly also happens when guilt is used to influence our choices – this in itself is not respectful of choice in birth).  Many procedures and policies have solid safety and clinical foundations.  But I do see many instances where greed, ignorance, selfishness and a refusal to change hide behind so-called ‘safety & privacy’ measures whist it infringes on those very rights it claims to protect. This gives medicine a bad name and irks me – as a mother, but also as a birth professional who has a holistic approach to birth and the utmost respect for medicine, physiological birth and the humanities, as well as how they interlace with one another.

Soapbox moment & history lesson over and back to your birth space options and choices:

There should in my opinion be no wrong or right choices when it comes to your birth environment. I myself was born in a nunnery and gave birth 3 times and 2 different general hospitals.

Here is what I think does matter when it comes to choosing your birth space:

 

1.    That you are given options when it comes to your birth space with consideration to both your clinical and physical needs.

2.    That both the pros and cons of the options are discussed with you so that you can make an informed choice.

3.    That you decide what is important to you and base your choices on that.

4.    That you feel heard & respected in your choices as far as possible.

 

WHERE?

In terms of location you have the following options:

1.    A general hospital with maternity unit (e.g. Mediclinics, Life, Netcare)

2.    A maternity clinic or hospital (e.g. Genesis Clinic in Johannesburg and Origin Clinic in Cape Town)

3.    An active birthing unit

4.    Home

When considering your birth location you need to think of neonatal (care of your baby) and post-natal care as well and not just of the birth itself.

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BIRTH EQUIPMENT?

It’s a good idea to find out what your location of choice offers in terms of birth equipment and to know what sort of delivery support you want in the room.  There might even be items that you do not want in the room because you feel they might inhibit you.  If your location does not offer you what you need it may be rented from a reputable company such as Birth Options.

Equipment considerations include but are not limited to:

1.    Birth pools

2.    Birth stools

3.    Birth balls

4.    Yoga mats

5.    Birth beds

ATMOSPHERE?

Some atmosphere choices to consider include:

1.    Lighting:

–       candles provide beautiful soft light but some hospitals do not allow them in proximity to oxygen tanks (if you use them make sure you have enough fresh air as they can lower the level
oxygen levels in the room)

–       dimmed lights can be a good alternative to harsh florescent lights

–       when you have a professional birth photographer on your team you might want to make sure that she does not use a pop-up flash (I don’t even use speedlight flashes but I am a natural light
photographer)

2.    Sound:

–       some people prefer a silent birth so that the ‘thinking’ part of the brain is not engaged

–       you might want music

–       you might want to listen to your birth affirmations

–       you might prefer idle conversation or you might not

3.    Other:

–       Clothes (hospital gowns or own clothes)

–       Fragrance (you might want aromatherapy as a form of pain management)

–       Privacy

–       Your birth team (midwife, doula, OBG, birth photographer etc.) has a presence in your birth space and it is important that they hold the birth space for you in a manner that you desire

Again there is no right or wrong here.  Birth should be a celebration of a new life and parenthood and your environment should honor that celebration.

I’ve only touched the surface here.  For an in depth understanding of the birth environment and other maternal matters, as well as your own free Birth Preference e-Book, please register at www.lovealda.com/celebratebirth

If you are a birth professional (birth photographer, OBG, nurse, doula, midwife, hospital experience manager) who wants to learn more about creating the ideal birth space and experience for your birthing mothers feel free to register at www.aldasmith.com/nurturing You will receive 3 free infographics for birth companion education upon registering. 

PS: I’d love to hear what is important to you when it comes to the birth space.  Why don’t you let me know by commenting now?  And if you think this article was helpful, it would mean the world if you could help me empower others by sharing it!

PPS: Join me, Alda Smith, as I and other birth professionals guide you towards optimising your birth experience. No stigmas. No choice-bashing. No Pressure. Just a whole lot of empowerment and compassion in the comfort of your own home!

This article was first published on the Carmien Kiddies Blog.

Baby Bump Milestone Fun & Freebies

I loved reading weekly updates on my baby’s development when I was pregnant.  The most amazing fact to me was that my baby had a heartbeat when only the size of a pomegranate seed. Wow! Baby having a ‘tail’ also freaked me out slightly and I sort of looked forward to week 8 for this reason!  Week 12 was the ultimate milestone for me with all three of my pregnancies as this was usually when my severe nausea would ease off (I weighed less in my first 3 months of pregnancy than I did before I fell pregnant due to excruciating nausea).

Below a beautiful Baby Bump Milestone Chart which you can cut out and paste in your diary; print out and put on your fridge or paste in your baby book (if you have time to keep one!)

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I’d love to hear which pregnancy milestone you are at and what your experiencing at the moment.  So if you have a minute, leave a message in the comment box!  O yes, and if you haven’t collected your free Baby Bump Milestone stickers yet make sure you do here.

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Free Love Alda Monthly Onesie Stickers

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Capturing the birth of a baby for parents is more than a profession for me.  As a mother of three it truly means something to me.  Making life-long friends is often a perk to what I do & seeing babies’ whose birth I captured reach their milestones (and sometimes even photographing those milestones) gives me so much joy.  The photo of Su-Alet was taken shorthly before her first birthday just as she started to walk.

The Love Alda Monthly Onesie sticker template gift is may way of encouraging you to celebrate your baby’s milestones. These memories are what we parents are about.  Drink them in.  Capture them.  Celebrate them.

To collect your stickers (and or loads of other maternal comforts) register at www.lovealda.com/onesie-stickers   When you confirm your subscription the template will be emailed to you.

PS:  If you like this freebie why not share it with friends?  Or share some mile stone story in the comments below with our parent community.

PPS: Please help me to serve you better by completing this quick questionnaire  It should not take more than 5 mins and if you leave your email address at the end I will send you a Babygroup Discount Voucher x 

NEWORN PHOTO SHOOT SESSION 101

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Newborns change so much and so fast in the first couple of weeks after birth.  As parents we want to capture our babies’ delicate features as they unfold like flower petals in front of our eyes so that we can treasure this incredible time forever.

By the same token, the first couple of weeks of life with a newborn can be a mixed bag of recovery, discovery, adaptation and wonder and braving a newborn shoot in this sensitive time can be daunting (even with my background I found my son’s nerve-wrecking and tiring with aching breasts and a sore c-section wound!)

As birth photographer & storyteller I am a firm believer that capturing memories of this special time should not distract from the memories itself.  I also understand that all mothers do not feel ‘photo-friendly’ in those first days which is why many opt for newborn photo’s only and even that can be challenge.  I myself was one of those moms who opted for newborn images only and I regret not having had some of those precious, natural moments between my newborn and myself captured.

Here are some tips to make sure you end up with positive and timeless ties to this special time:

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