Just back from the NCT Conference 2014, #babblelive. It was fabulous. Really inspiring to meet so many wonderful childbirth and postnatal educators and experts. Thanks everyone for all your support. I’m really feeling the love!
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Do you remember when you were a child, playing with your Barbie Doll and thinking about what life would be like when you were Grown Up?
Well, d’you know what? Real women don’t look like that.
What do women actually look like? Do we even know?
Like almost every other male painter in the last 500 years, when Titian painted breasts he took where the nipple is on the male torso (somewhere near the armpit) and he plonked a spherical mound behind it. Breasts don’t look like this. The nipples normally hang considerably further south. Really, I have to conclude that all these male painters never actually saw what women looked like without their corsets on, unless they were lying flat on their backs.
Of course, these days we have cameras. They give us a far more accurate image of the female physique. Not.
On the one hand, we see photos of giraffe-like supermodels, with their tiny, pointy breasts. Of course, you don’t look like them. You’ve just had a baby. Most of these women are too starved to ovulate. Then there are porn stars. These women have large, round breasts. They also have very short arms and legs, and long torsos. So, when they stick their bottoms out, hold their stomachs in, inflate their rib cages and throw their shoulders back, their breasts look high-slung and perky. You won’t look like them either because you have to breathe out as well as in, round your shoulders and walk around doing normal human tasks. You look like a normal human being.
My point is that well before women ever think about having a baby or growing older, most of us are concerned that our breasts are either Not Big Enough or Very Droopy.
With no realistic images of the natural female form, we’re all convinced that we’re freaks. And so girls go out and get themselves surgically remodelled, sliced open, stuffed with silicone and stitched up to meet some surgeon’s idea of aesthetic perfection. Think about it – how freaky is that? It’s such a shame, because no matter how small your breasts are, you’ll get your own natural breast enlargement when you fall pregnant. Three days after you’ve given birth, you’ll have the most fantastic breasts. They’ll be round, pert and disproportionately enormous. The reason why men find this attractive is that deep in their psyche they’ve clocked that this is the image of a fertile woman who can feed their offspring. Being sexy is meant to be linked to reproduction. (Of course, at this point, sex will be the last thing on your mind!) So many women struggle with their altered body image after they’ve given birth, because the ideal we have of womanhood just isn’t very womanly. We think we’re meant to be thin, angular, uplifted, tight, flat and tanned. Now our bodies have done this most INCREDIBLE thing that women’s bodies do, and we’re dimpled, streaky, wobbly, large, round and soft.
Why do we spend so much time being unhappy with the way that we look? Everyone does it. Those supermodels there feel too gawky, too tall and too flat chested. The glamour girls are fretting about their short legs. It’s time to start celebrating women in all the many shapes that we are. And to start valuing our bodies for more than the way that they look – for the amazing things they can do.
This is an edited extract from The Food of Love: your formula for successful breastfeeding, recycled into a more Upworthy format. Buy the book here!
The midwife in this chapter is a portrait of Mary Cronk.
(1) I am indebted to the work of Dr Sarah Buckley and her ebook Ecstatic Birth: Nature’s Hormonal Blueprint for Labor for this synopsis of the hormonal interactions of birth. I have simplified things slightly. High levels of beta-endorphin, produced in response to stress or severe pain, also has the ability to quell contractions. I couldn’t fit that bit in.
(2) The word ‘monkey’ has proved contentious with readers. Please see my post ‘The Monkey thing’ for an explanation of where I’m coming from.
(3) Mayes Midwifery, p 351
(4) See the work of Robbie Davis-Floyd who has reclaimed the phrase ‘the oldest profession’ for midwifery. (No, prostitution is not the oldest profession: it’s the oldest capitalist exploitation. Humanity predates capitalism, and will hopefully outlive it too.)
(5) Mayes Midwifery ibid. p 351
(6) ‘Maternal hormone protects baby’s brain during birth’ New Scientist 15 December 2006
(7) ‘Lunar cycles and birth rates: from a full Moon to a first quarter Moon effect’Arthur Charpentier, PhD France, CREM-Université Rennes
(8) “I learned what is simple with my very first experience of childbirth as a medical student in 1953. At that time, a midwife had nothing to do. She was spending her life knitting. So, she was knitting when she was waiting for the baby, knitting when waiting for the placenta, knitting when there was no woman in labor. She had nothing else to do. In that respect, I realized the value of this traditional attitude.
“Some scientists at Cambridge University in the UK explored the philological responses to a repetitive task. As an example of a repetitive task, they studied the task of knitting. When you are doing a repetitive task like knitting, you reduce your level of adrenaline. And that is the key to an easy birth – when the level of adrenaline of the midwife is low, because she is contagious. That helps the woman in labor to also be in a state of relaxation… and finally the birth is easier.” Michel Odent in interview Rediscovering the Best Environment for an Easy Birth
(9) ‘The purple line as a measure of labour progress: a longitudinal study’Ashley Shepherd et al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth Vol 10, p 54, 2010.
(10) The ‘rest and be thankful’ stage is described by Denis Walsh in the chapter ‘Rhythms in the second stage of labour’ in Evidence and Skills for Normal Labour and Birth, Routledge 2007.
(11) This phrase, and the description of the baby’s descent are inspired by Gloria LeMay’s article ‘Pushing for First-Time Moms’. This pattern of pushing could be typical of primagravida mothers – women who haven’t had a baby before. A subsequent birth is likely to be more rapid.
(13) This is a description of the fetus ejection reflex, as identified by Michel Odent. I’ve had two. They exist.
page 238 (14) This baby has a nuchal cord, (the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck). I was struck by the similiarity between the ‘somersault manouvre’ to free a nuchal cord and the movements that a mother would make to grasp her own baby at birth.
(15) ‘Effect of timing of umbilical cord clamping of term infants on maternal and neonatal outcomes’ McDonald, S and Middleton, P, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 2, 2008.
(16) Ecstatic Birth: Nature’s Hormonal Blueprint for Labor ibid.
(17) Breast Crawl: a scientific overview, breastcrawl.org, January 2013.
Two of my favourite concepts: ‘breastfeeding’ and ‘festival’. I’m opening the show on Saturday 17th of August, and I may have a sneak preview of my new book Bump! too. Plus the excellent Hollie McNish is doing a spoken word gig in the evening. Anyone who lives anywhere near Ulverston, Cumbria, see you there.
I received an enchantingly anonymous email from, let’s call them NannyBlog.org, this morning. (Some details have been changed slightly).
We spend a lot of time researching articles before we sit down to write them and as we are researching we take note of sites that we would like to share the article with when we are done. As we were writing “Ten Reasons We’ve Just Made Up About Why Kids Should Sleep in Their Own Beds That Have No Basis In Fact” and posted it here: (http://www.nannyblog.org/ten-reasons-we-made-up-why-kids-
Thank you for your time!
This annoyed me a lot, so I will share with you, my readers a completely different blog post.
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