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  1. Nobody really knows the origin or meaning behind Sheela-Na-Gig figures. They've been discovered all over Europe, usually in places like churches and castles.

    There's a theory that some may have been used as 'birthing stones' by women in labour... Perhaps for visualisation and affirmation!

    Maybe I could make some...


  2. For the next twenty years the seaside town of Ilfracombe will play host to 'Verity', Damien Hirst's 70 foot statue of a pregnant woman brandishing a sword. Half her torso is presented in an anatomical style revealing her sleeping baby within. Verity, meaning 'truth' in Italian, represents a  “modern allegory of truth and justice."



    The local council has received 100 plus complaints from local residents, brandishing the statue outrageous, immoral, bizarre, obscene, offensive, disgusting, distasteful, embarrassing, grotesque, disrespectful, insensitive, inappropriate, a monstrosity, tasteless, ugly, vulgar and not in good taste.

    How divorced are we as a society from the realities of being human?! My favourite comment on Verity, on a Facebook thread, simply says:

    "She is a fertility Goddess. Oh we forgot about her. We thought cars were more important. She is awesome."

    Verity reminds me of something written in a Guardian article I was sent by a friend and former client yesterday. Frances Harrison, on the relationship between being a mother and war correspondant, contemplates how:

    "As a mother, I found it harder to fathom the extraordinary cruelty otherwise gentle people are capable of in wars. At night in Sri Lanka, I would sit under the ceiling fan and rock my tiny baby to sleep in my arms, haunted by the stories I reported by day: tales of torture, mass graves and the agony of the missing fighters' mothers who never received a corpse to mourn. Both sides reeled out casualty statistics like cricket scores, forgetting the people they talked about were once someone's baby, loved and protected. It made it hard to get excited about the military hardware side of war – it didn't matter much if it was a T56 or AK-47 that did the killing. In the male-dominated world of foreign reporting I never admitted it, but motherhood did bring a new perspective to the story."

    Verity also reminds me that as childbearing women we are powerful, amazing and strong. How striking is the contrast between this and the mainstream perception of pregnant women as delicate, vulnerable and stupid? Similar to Marianne Williamson's poem:

    "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?..."

  3. In the year 2009/2010, 8.3% of women giving birth at Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske) had an elective caesarean section (NHS Information Centre).

    The reasons for choosing a caesarean are varied. For those experiencing a 'low risk' pregnancy and labour, intervention-free, vaginal birth is normally the most advantageous way for a baby to be born (Enkin 2000).

    For those who require help - for either physical or unresolved psychological reasons, scheduled caesarean birth from 39 weeks can also be a low risk option, according to Dr Anthony Falconer, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology President:

    "Recent advances in medical science have made the procedure much safer and for most women the complications of this operation are low" (press statement 2011).

    Pregnant women should be offered evidence-based information and support to enable them to make informed decisions about childbirth.

    Recently updated NICE guidelines state that women who haven't had any problems in their pregnancy, having a first, planned caesarean birth, may be at an increased risk of experiencing the following, compared to if they had a planned vaginal birth:

      - baby admitted to neonatal intensive care: 13.9% vs 6.3%
      - hysterectomy caused by postpartum haemorrhage: 0.03% vs 0.01%
      - cardiac arrest: 0.19% vs 0.03%
      - longer hospital stay: 3.96 days vs 2.56 days

    (Nice clinical guideline 132, published November 2011)


    Location  Type
    Births per year

    Normal birth rate* Induction rate

    Caesarean rate

    Instrumental delivery rate Epidural available? Birth pool provided?
    Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske) Consultant-led 3700 38.5% 22.4% 22.2% 13.5% Yes No
    Penrice Birthing Centre Midwifery-led 350 95.9% <2%     No Yes
    Helston Birth Unit Midwifery-led 60 >91%       No Yes
    St Mary's Hospital (Isles of Scilly) Midwifery-led 4         No No
    Homebirth Midwifery-led 182         No No buy/hire

    *A normal birth is one that avoids the following, according to the Maternity Care Working Party:

    • induction of labour (with prostaglandins, oxytocics or ARM)
    • epidural or spinal
    • general anaesthetic
    • forceps or ventouse
    • caesarean section
    • episiotomy

    The table doesn't cover local data on the intervention rates (induction, instrumental delivery, caesarean etc) of births that transferred into hospital from a midwifery-led setting.
    However, recent data from all NHS trusts in England found that women planning a birth in a freestanding MLU experienced a 17% intervention rate, and women planning a homebirth experienced a 10% intervention rate (compared to those who planned a hospital birth, who experienced an average 40% intervention rate).

    2011 data provided by Birth Choice UK, Dr Foster Health and the Birthplace in England study

  5. A large study published in 2011 compared death and injury rates for the babies of 64,538 low risk women giving birth in a variety of settings in England between April 2008 and April 2010.

    The women planned births either at home or in midwifery-led birth units (like Penrice / Helston) or in consultant-led hospitals (like Treliske).

    • Birth was found to be very safe with over 99% of babies having good outcomes wherever their mothers planned to give birth

    • For women not expecting their first baby, there was no difference in outcomes wherever they planned to give birth

    • For first time mothers, births planned at hospital were safe for babies 99.57% of the time, and births planned at home were safe for babies 99.07% of the time. The authors state this small difference is unexplained, but asserted that homebirth is still safe for first time mothers

    • It's also interesting to note that women planning a hospital birth experienced a 40% medical intervention rate (e.g caesarean, forceps, ventouse) compared to those who planned births at a freestanding midwifery-led unit (17%) and those who planned a homebirth (10%)


    Treliske labour wardResearch link:

    Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study BMJ 2011;343:d7400

  6. 'Active Birth' posters adorn many a labour room wall. Labouring women are featured in standing, squatting and kneeling positions. The idea is that lying down flat on your back is counterproductive to the normal birth process.

    Few women instinctively choose this position if they are confident and informed about birth physiology... But despite many improvements in most areas in recent decades (particularly since the 1993 government report Changing Childbirth), the bed still plays a central role in many hospital births, and is a powerful psychological trigger for encouraging a passive, 'patient' mindset.

    The concept of Active Birth doesn't just mean walking around in labour and giving birth off of your back. It most importantly means that the woman is in control of her own labour, assisted by her birth partner and midwife as her advocates. This means being enabled to make fully informed choices, having time and space to labour on her own terms, and in whatever way feels right, no matter how she has her baby.

    Many of us birthworkers in Cornwall have been trained by Active Birth founder Janet Balaskas. Active birth principles are interwoven within my Cornwall hypnobirthing classes

    A rally led by Janet Balaskas 30 years ago paved the way for women to choose active birth to bear their children.

    "The head obstetrician at the hospital said active birth was animalistic behaviour, and that humans were not animals and should lie down to give birth," 

    BBC World Service speaks to the founder of the movement:

    Active Birth hypnobirthing in Cornwall

    Click here to visit the article featuring Active Birth founder Janet Balaskas

    Left: Sharon (Nature's Mother) at Helston Birth Unit in west Cornwall