Saturday, 4 February 2012

Dublin Birth Gathering

You know those times when things seem magical? Or even magickal? (stop rolling your eyes and go with it), like Christmas Eve when you go to bed and you just KNOW Santa is on his way, or when you're looking out at a starry sky and thinking everything's all right with the world?

Well I had that, on a recent Saturday afternoon.

I was invited to join a Facebook group, Dublin Birth Gathering. I had no idea what it was all about, but I recognised some of the members from the Home Birth Association. A few enquiries told me it was open to anyone interested in improving the maternity system: midwives, student midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors, AIMS Chair; Krysia Byrne, Cuidiu members, La Leche League leaders, you name it. I felt seriously underqualified to be there, as I'm not any of the above, but would like to be all of the above. But I was reassured that I was definitely "on the list", so I went along, homemade carrot cake and two kids in tow.

To say I was awed to be in such a group is a vast understatement. Never have I felt so comfortable in a room with so many people, all smiling and nodding at me as I held, breastfed and played with Noah. Charlie was delighted to have a load of new toys to discover, and then made two new
friends, who kept each other occupied all day. At times I was so overwhelmed by the sheer acceptance of my mothering that I wanted to cry.

The discussions we had made me want to cry for another reason entirely though. I was dismayed to hear about some pretty awful practices in maternity hospitals up and down the country. Not baby-friendly, not mother-friendly, not family-friendly. Stuff you hope was outlawed in the 1950s is still being "done to" women and children by the men and women in the white coats. Barbaric stuff.

Another thing that became apparent was the lack of standardisation of care, not just from one hospital to another across the country, but even among staff in the same hospitals. Some midwives will stay on after their shifts to help a mother with breastfeeding, while their colleagues will rather offer a bottle of formula. A huge shock for me was that the HSE buys the formula the hospitals use, they use OUR money for this, while still claiming to be promoting breastfeeding. I was under the impression the formula was donated by the companies for free. (Not for nothing was I dubbed "Naieve Niamh" in school.)

Laid-back breastfeeding was a topic we learned about from Lorraine O'Hagan, Senior Lactation Consultant in the National Maternity Hospital. This "new method" of breastfeeding is being spear-headed in NMH as an easier alternative to the traditional "cradle hold" upright position. Laid-back is as it says, the mother sits resting back, at about 45 degrees to the bed, propped up on pillows, while the newborn does the "breast crawl" to the nipple, which is handily shaped like a bulls-eye anyway. The baby bobs its head, finds the nipple and latches on itself, with a little help from mama if needed. I'm still wincing at the information that this is easier for some babies who have had forceps/ventouse extractions, who may have neck/head soreness. The babies born to mothers who had pethidine may not have so easy a time of it either, as they will be drowsy. Mairead Murphy, Lactation Consultant had so much wisdom and practical knowledge, bringing everything back to the "mother and baby dance", which nature has created as a perfect pairing. It should be all about allowing the natural hormonally-driven instincts to kick in, beginning a breastfeeding relationship between the two.

What I got from the day was a really strong sense that we need to educate women BEFORE they become pregnant, about labour and birth. They are not seen as natural processes any more. There is such a culture of fear about these normal functions of the body, and women are looking for the drugs and the obstetricians to "help" them get through these "ordeals". If women could embrace these functions, their lack of fear would allow their endorphins to kick in, there would be less pain, less interventions, less problems, less drowsy babies, less problems breastfeeding, less traumatised mothers etc. It's a vicious circle.

Women need to hear positive, natural birth stories, and give themselves time to get their heads around this. It's a kind of enlightenment, letting go of the social norm, the fear, and embracing this rite of passage. I honestly think some women are a small step away from requesting a general anaesthetic in labour. Of course the HSE have to do their bit too, putting on more midwives (maybe saving 200 euros a crate and NOT buying the formula), opening more birth centres (look up the Alakura House - Ireland's first birth centre opening soon), facilitating more homebirths (ha! they're doing the opposite), so women have the right to choose where and how they feel most comfortable giving birth. After all, it's our constitutional right.

So the birth gathering was a meeting place for like-minded people to share stories and experiences. People travelled from all over the country to be there, staying in hotels, arranging babysitters, cooking food, taking time off work. There are birth gatherings happening in Cork and Galway too. I for one was inspired and delighted to meet so many positive people, they are the future of the maternity services, and the future is bright.

NB: If you have had a difficult birth, feel like you/your baby were not treated with due respect, please don't suffer in silence. These things can go around in your head for years, and affect your mothering.
Please contact AIMS (Association for the improvements in maternity services) where someone
will be able to listen to you and support you. It a voluntary organisation run by mothers many of whom had a difficult birth themselves. or


  1. Couldn't agree more Niamh! As I prepare for my homebirth next month it amazes me how ignorant otherwise educated and sensible women choose to remain. I had a friend who just had her first and while she was pregnant it was clear she was terrified of the whole prospect of birth. I lent her my copy of Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, as I'd always found all the positive stories so empowering and inspiring. She took one look at the pictures in it and couldn't read it. It's all very well to try and educate women, but so many of them choose to remain ignorant. Doctors are the new priests, whatever they say is gospel and they couldn't possibly be wrong. I'm tired of people telling me how brave I am, when looking at the statistics in this country, clearly the normal risk women blindly choosing a hospital are the brave ones. :/

  2. Sounds great- AIMS do great work. Lot of work to be done in Ireland. Scary to see/hear some.of what is happening to women who are accept as ok-big education gap. Caitriona

  3. Hi Niamh, this is a really lovely post, we just had the 1st galway birth gathering today and it was a great success, we need lots more people like you to share your story.

  4. Hi Niamh, I'm gutted I didn't know about this Dublin birth gathering, would've LOVED to have been there. Make sure you post when the next one is on!!! Would like to attend if that's okay.



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