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

Enjoy a Maternal Cup of Comfort with Love Alda

Maternal-Cup-of-Comfort-TimelineAs a mother of three myself and a birth photographer and mentor, I would like nothing more than to provide you with support and empathy during your maternal journey.  It is with this in mind that I provide birth mentoring over and above birth photography.  It is also the main motivation behind the Maternal Cup of Comfort Closed Facebook Group which you get access to when you become a Love Alda client.  The group is a closed group of parents who, like you and I, know how gloriously wonderful and yet overwhelming pregnancy, birth & parenting are.  Here we share experience, knowledge and stories.

I would like to gain an even better understanding of your needs.  Please help me develop your ideal maternal cup of comfort by completing the survey below. You do not have to be a current Love Alda client to participate.  Participation in anonymous.  Please note that I am working on the assumption that the safety of your baby is the most important aspect in all of this and the questions posed are over and above this fact. To receive more updates from Love Alda as well as your own Birth Preference e-Book Gift subscribe at www.lovealda.com/celebratebirth Thank you!

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Our Love Story | Malan’s Birth | Mediclinic Panorama, Cape Town

The birth of Rohan & Carmen Kitshoff’s son was beautiful.

Love takes on many forms: a supporting, loving husband trying to absorb his wife’s pain, a mother braving her fears, a family waiting in anticipation for a first-born. Love is tears of joy – an instant recognition between parent and child. Love is a celebration of life. It touches everyone in close proximity to it.

Malan your birth is a testimony to the love between your parents, as well as the love they share for you. May you grow up to recognise it, feel it and to pass it on to others.

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Love Builds a Family | Anke’s Birth | Mediclinic Panorama, Cape Town

There are so many beautiful details to Anke’s birth and I hope that one day she will be able to share in them when she watches this. Her mama’s delight at hearing she is a girl (her gender was a surprise to all including her grandparents) and her daddy’s stoic pride is something to behold. Then there is the fact that the same doctor (Dr. La Grange on the left) who helped Anke’s mama (one of twins) into this world, were there to assist Dr. Venter with the birth of Anke. And the moment Anke’s mama is reunited with her after being in post-op – her joy and awe is contagious!

Watch their videographic story here:

 

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All Love Alda Birth clients receive a VIP client starter kit which includes beautiful tags for your birth bags and suitcases.  I’m always super thrilled to see clients use these little gifts!

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You Are Ours | Remo’s Birth | Netcare Christiaan Barnard, Cape Town

I met Lisa for coffee to discuss her birth.  At the time this beautiful mama was deciding on whether she wanted to have a natural birth.  We talked through all the positives and negatives and immediately clicked.

A while later I met Lyndsay, her partner at their complimentary maternity shoot. I loved capturing their maternal journey and enjoyed this young, vibrant and trendy couple’s company tremendously.  We chatted about different business ideas they had and Lyndsay, who is very health consious even convinced me to stop drinking Coca-Cola when I’m stressed out!

In the end Lisa had an incredibly intense but beautiful natural birth and Lyndsay got to help catch their son Remo.  Watch their story and then we can start at the beginning!

I loved everything about Lisa and Lyndsay’s maternity shoot in Newlands Forest – from the luminous light, to the temporary tattoos Lisa decorated her baby bump with.

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Our Beautiful Life | Lucie’s Birth | Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, Cape Town

I met Christelle, Tron and their two lively boys at Elandsbaai for their maternity shoot. We (my three kids, hubby and I) were at a family wedding at Muisbosskerm the day before and made a small detour to the sleepy seaside village on our way back where we met the Van Wyks.

Although the the weather was not playing along, I had so much fun with this vibrant and energetic family of four (soon to be five) on the quiet beach. No one took themselves too seriously and the boys were so excited about their new baby sister’s eminent arrival.  They were delighted that they could share her name (a secret at that stage) with me by writing it with chalk on the road! And so capturing their journey to meeting Lucie, the first princess to the family, began!

Please note:  All content shared with family’s permission, but copyright protected.  So feel free to share the love but note that you are not allowed to reproduce or publish without the photographer and parents’ permission.

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New Vincent Pallotti Labour Ward proudly displays Love Alda Birth Photography

The very first hospital birth that I photographed was at Vincent Pallotti Hospital, Life Healthcare in Pinelands, Cape Town. I have photographed many beautiful birth stories (both natural and c-section) there since and two of my own three children were born there.  It is therefore a huge honor for me to have some of my birth photography permanently and prominently featured in the newly renovated Magnolia Ward!

Love-Alda-at-VP-1All of the photo’s feature birth stories that actually unfolded at Vincent Pallotti Hospital under the care of its wonderful maternal care staff, gynaecologists and private midwives & doulas.  The newly renovated ward recently opened its doors again to much excitement after a long interim stay in the Acacia Ward downstairs.

Love-Alda-at-VP-2I want to thank the parents featured in these birth stories for the privilege of being part of their birth experience and also for allowing me to share some of their precious memories with other mommies and daddies!

Love Alda Framed Birth Photo Boxes can be ordered as part of all Love Alda Birth Packages.  For bookings contact me at [email protected]

Love Alda Birth Photography is also featured in doctors’ rooms across the Western Cape.  The one below is from Dr. Jacky Searle’s rooms.

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Healthcare & the Arts: Humanising Birth

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Finally the postman had an A4 envelope with DO NOT BEND on the front in his hand. My Medicine & the Arts Certificate from UCT! I recently completed a course on the subject matter and as birth photographer am so excited about the possibilities this new field holds for future healthcare students, but also students of the humanities (including artists, writers etc.)

For me Medicine and the Humanities is about integration. It encourages an integrated observation, interpretation and response to the health and wellbeing of people.

An integrated observation meaning that the body, mind and soul are observed through various disciplines, using various tools (including but not limited to technology and science).

An integrated interpretation meaning that we gain knowledge or insight into a patient or person by interpreting and in some instances ‘humanising’ raw information /data presented by that patient within an integrated context (this is where other factors like socio-economics, culture, religion, age, demographics etc. all play a role).

An integrated response meaning that we express our insight in an integrated manner using once again various disciplines – focusing on perhaps on the most relevant.

Here is my practical example as birth photographer: When a mother requests me to photograph her birth there are various things I have to observe: how she feels about birth & her body, what her health care provider says about her physical abilities to give birth, what her partner feels, cultural beliefs in terms of the process. As birth photographer I should understand how to interpret this information in a manner that will allow me to capture the parents’ unique journey whilst holding the birth space with empathy, understanding and respect for both the healthcare but also human aspects of birth and what it means for those particular parents.

I think Dr. Bernard Lown summarises it well in “The lost art of Healing” when he says: “…caring without science is a well-intentioned kindness, but not medicine. …Science without caring empties medicine of healing…”

Opposition between Science and Humanities in Medicine is dangerous. As a mother I know how traumatic medical intervention during birth can be and the scarring that can occur when there is a complete disregard for the emotional journey birth holds.  At the same time I have often been incredibly grateful for the option in risky and life-threatening situations.  Collaboration is needed without minimising the importance of both knowledges.  It should never become an ‘either or’ situation.

As birth photographer I often find myself within the birth space, observing the delicate balancing act between the safety and physical wellbeing of a mother and her baby on the one side and their spiritual or emotional wellbeing on the other. Unfortunately it often boils down to an either or situation, but imagine if the two could be integrated effectively? Progress has been made in this regard: “gentle C-sections”; alternative pain management; allowing SABPA accredited birth photographers to capture birth memories; encouraging skin to skin; allowing doulas into the labour wards AND theatre and delayed cord-clamping; empowering parents with information and allowing them to make choices and encouraging and respecting (as far as possible) parents’ birth plans are but a couple examples where medicine and the humanities are being integrated effectively, but more can be done to move away from the view that birth is always just a ‘medical condition or procedure’ and embrace the emotional and very natural aspects of the birth journey.

It’s only the beginning! I can’t wait to see what this field will look like in 5 years’ time!

 

Life is Beautiful | Zak’s Birth | Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, Cape Town

Louise is a trauma nurse and friend second to none. Her husband, Vic, is a paramedic. They see and work with people when they are at their most vulnerable. Help them. Hold their hands. They are very special people indeed and witnessing the moment they fell in love with their first-born, Zak, surrounded by medical friends and even family (Louise’s mom is a nurse too), was breathtaking.

Capturing Zak’s birth re-affirmed to me that life is indeed very beautiful and it is moments of connection and love like these that we want to remember and share forever.  Thank you to Louise and Vic for allowing me to share their beautiful birth story.

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Love Alda Moments of Birth |Caputring a Story of Connection & Love

Love Alda Birth Photography is not just about capturing the moment of birth, but rather the many moments of connection and love that will tell your baby’s birth story one day.  There are so many beautiful moments that I actually don’t know where to start.  So for now I will publish a couple and update them when appropriate.  To capture your moments of birth email me at [email protected]

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