Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Should a fish be able to climb a tree?

This is a question I have been asking myself today as I sort through a lot of clutter that has been accumulating all over the house.

I never thought we would be the kind of house that would own something so naff as Letterland flashcards. And yet, there they sat on the shelf today, unused, taunting me with their educational-ness, and their shiny-packet-ness. Hated by the kids.

We have ended up with an awful lot of 'educational' stuff over the last few years. Some, panic bought by me, so I felt like I was being a good little home educator, some bought perhaps to impress the inspectors, family members, friends, or in my secret heart, myself. I am struck by what a waste of money so much of this stuff has turned out to be.

It's easy to get sucked into it, even if you think you're not that type. Little catalogues plop onto the doormat, with pages and pages of 'educational' toys, reading books, kits and tools. The premise behind them, is that they are designed to make learning FUN!!!!!! In capital letters. As if children do not naturally want to learn, so we need to sweeten their learning with as many all-singing-all-dancing toys as possible.  

The paranoia about under-stimulating kids can be seen most clearly in places like toys-r-us, early learning centre, and that most evil place of all, mothercare. No toy in these meccas of 'early learning materials' is deemed too plastic, too ugly, to bleepy, too pointless or badly made. The packaging proudly declares its usefulness, showing off its early learning tick-boxes, reassuring anxious parents who don't want their child to get left behind. Even if they are only 9 months old.

Ah, don't get me wrong, I have in my despair, even bought a few of these plastic fantastic toys, thinking they will hold some magic answer to a problem that, actually didn't really exist. Because the truth is this - kids don't need that many toys. They don't need to be entertained every minute of the day. They don't need to be educated every minute of the day.

I'm struck by how insulting it is to children to assume that we must spoonfeed them every morsel of knowledge, and give credit to the toys and learning aids that belongs to the kids themselves.

Who taught us to talk? To walk? Real live people. Can we claim it was really our toys? Or more likely, a variety of real live people, and real live situations. Through watching. Through listening. Through repetition. through a desire to take part, to connect, to join in with those real live people, those real live situations. We learnt to dothese things, and many other skills since, because we wanted to, needed to, were desperate, no matter how many times we fell down and bumped our heads, or used the wrong word, tense, or phrase.

We learnt because we loved our elders and peers, and wanted to interact with them. Because that is instinctive and natural behaviour. It didn't need to be jigged along with all-singing-all-dancing toys.

And so I get to thinking about post babyhood, and what skills are required then. MOstly they just want to be in good company, and play. Generally, little kids are true scientists. We tear our hair out when they start to pull our neatly constructed home apart, getting into every last corner and making the mother of all messes in their wake. They are eager to touch everything, taste everything, try out different combinations of items to see what happens, they experiment and play and play and play. They have great imaginations. They will role-play with the most  simple of objects, whether they relate to the action they are doing or not. A crayon becomes a candle on a pretend birthday cake. A bedsheet becomes an invisibility cloak. Kids will do this whether or not they have a fancy wooden cake set, or a piece of fabric with a Harry Potter branded label sewn into it. They are smart. It is we, who are a bit dumb in this respect.

As kids get older, they pass through the logistical phoney developmental milestone of starting school. I say this, because in real terms, five is not an internationally recognised magical developmental age. It's not scientifically proven to be anything special or different in terms of learning compared to say 4 or 6. It just happens to be the age, that here, in this country, a bunch of people have decided that learning needs to get serious. And so it happens several times down the line, as children enter different schools.

And people get really hung up on this. Forgetting that in fact, term times, school years, bla bla bla, are all invented according to a particular country's outlook, based on economics, based on parents convenience to be able to work. It's all made to look as if school is absolutely serious and necessary in the way that it is structured and what is being taught there. That any deviation from this is an absolute disaster. Any holiday in term time is seen as a 'waste' - oooh but they'll get so behind, they cry! Behind? Behind what? 

I would argue that teaching and learning are two very different things. Just because something is being taught, does not mean it is being learnt. Kids are super smart, creative and clever, but as they get older, it can become harder and harder for this to be recognised. I came across a fantastic quote today:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 
 Albert Einstein

Who says we all have the have the exact same skill-set?

Who says every last kid has to be great at spelling, grammar and mathematical equations? Are we trying to create clones or celebrate individuals?

The tick boxes, the educational toys, the endless teaching of 'skills' are missing a vital point - 

- the world is full of interesting adults who come from different cultures, backgrounds, belief systems, who learn things in different systems where the age-appropriateness is calculated differently 

- when our kids grow up they may choose to live a myriad of different lifestyles, locally to where they grow up, elsewhere in the same country, or abroad - where the rules and ideas are different. Who knows what skills will prove to be genuinely useful in any number of different scenarios? 

- they don't have to learn everything at the exact same time, in the same year as their peers in order to avoid failure in life

- kids deserve more credit for their own learning than we give them. We like to credit everything they learn to ourselves or school, believing we have spoon-fed all their knowledge to them in the curricula we carefully devise for them, (from birth now, it seems)  but in fact, each child is hard-wired to learn and has a hunger to understand how the world works. they would find this stuff out anyway, even if you did not force feed it to them. 

- some of the greatest discoveries humans have made have occured by accident, by experimentation, by messing about, by trying and failing lots of times. That's getting harder and harder to do in a school/ work system that stigmatizes mistakes and failure and doesn't allow for them to occur. A system where there is often only one right answer to everything - so don't bother exporing the 1,000,000 other answers!!!

Learning occurs in different ways, at different times, and one size fits all means a lot of kids are wearing  an education things that doesn't quite fit.

Do we need flashcards to teach children how to spell stuff at age 3? Do they need to have eye-hand co-ordination at age 4? Must they always need to spell their own name by age 5?

We score pretty badly for such a 'developed' nation in academic terms and in happiness ratings. 


After all those years of being educated, what tick-boxes would the kids award to their own time in school? I wonder this about my own home environment, and ask the question of what materials are educational and what are a hindrance? 

A lot of our 'educational' games, are sitting on the shelf, untouched for months. In the meanwhile, the kids are busy, busy, busy.

How do you spell this? Can you help me make a 3D paper model? Let's visit so-and-so today. Let's bake some cookies. Can I do a bit more programming? They are forever making, doing, moving about. 

All five year old kids are curious, they ask endless questions, they are hungry to learn, to know, to pull the world apart and see how it works. Why does this dissappear? Is it simply that they become 'schooled'?

I come back to these video again and again, when I need to be reminded of the different skills that each child has, the different needs, the different journeys we are all on. That we are not all the same, so shouldn't all be educated the same. 

Kids are smarter than all these toys. They are smarter than school. Sure - they will learn a lot of good stuff there, but they'll most likely learn even more interesting stuff later on, in spite of it. Kids learn because they want to know. 

Trusting in kids is not something we're good at, as a society. We think them devious, sneaky, trying to wriggle out of stuff. And I'm just as bad. I get stressy when they want to learn their thing, when I can't own it, or take credit for it.

But kids are not bad. They just have a different agenda from ours. Who is to say this is bad? Who is to say, their agenda isn't more noble than our 'educational' one, devised to teach them what we *think* they should know.

What if the kids really do know better? Can we give up our need to be control freaks and trust in them? Do we need to be in a power struggle with them, one in which we must win, or else?

Or can learning be a more pleasant journey, a mutual exploration, based on trust, friendship and collaboration and experimentation? Are we brave enough to let go of schooly materials, which make us feel better and like some real education is going on here, when education already IS happening?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

What have Polly Darton, Pilau Rice, and Motherfunker got in common?

Me! You know what I only just realised today?

A funny thing, really!

Some of my closest friends do not even know my pet name(s). For years and years, my hubby Pete has been calling me 'Pilau Rice!' Or just Pilau for short.

I literally can't remember a time when he hasn't called me this. When I met him at the age of 18, I felt liberated to be starting a new life away from home, and somehow as I crossed that threshold into my new life, simply calling myself P felt nicer than my actual name - Paula. So P became Pilau, thanks to my man, super organically!

The first time a playful name found me was as a kid. Me, my sister Sandi and my friend Laura (now Lola) formed a pop trio. I was the main singer -Polly Darton - and Sandi ( who spells it Sandy on paper)and Laura were 'The Groovers'. These names still fly with us - 30 years later!!!! Our style could best be described as Vic 'n' Bob meets....um.... Dolly Parton! Thinking about the 'album' we recorded and the giggle fits we had makes me laugh my head off.

And then I remembered that an old boyfriend had decided early on in his life (in primary school I think) that he did not want to be called Geoff (pretty groovy name I think) announcing confidently to his parents he wanted to be called Phil instead. His folks were cool as cucumbers and just said 'sure!'. He still goes by that name today as far as I know.

For years and years, friends have called me P or Pilau or Pilau rice, and when I meet up with my old gang, everyone calls me Pilau. It doesn't even register any more as sounding weird. And yet I don't introduce myself as Pilau to anyone now, it's kinda like a funny in-joke from bygone days that sorta stuck. But I love this pet name. It's so me!

Recently I was messing about with a friend up here in Cambs, and it turns out that her kids and hubby call her Lady Marmalade! And I love this name for her, it's great. She is a groovy mama who likes marmalade. A lot.

I have known other friends to kind of accidentally end up with different nicknames, maybe more than one in their lifetime. Most people I know seem to have a pet name of some sort.

Do you have a sweet or secret nickname dear reader? Have you consciously changed your name? Or done it be depol? Do you really hate your name? If you changed it, what did it mean to shed your old name? Was it liberating?

Maybe you have a bloggy moniker, like me, calling yourself something more exciting than your real name. Motherfunker certainly feels more fun than simply Paula. It helps me to tap into a particular aspect of my personality that I like the most - not the greasy haired, frazzled looking mama I often look like in my real life!!!! Perhaps having an online persona or name is a way of protecting yourself, retaining a little anonymity, saving something of yourself, for, well, you!

What's in a name, dear reader? XxX

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hullaballoola....Paula's a Doula!

What's all the hullaballoola?

I have some exciting news to share - two days ago, I finally got my motherfunkin' backside in gear and submitted my final piece of coursework to earn my Doula certificate - and now I have it!

 How did this happen?

Since attending the workshop part of the course in Brighton last May, I have tried to write my final piece I don't know how many times but each time it somehow felt mediocre, kind of ok but nothing special. I'd write it then leave it lying around for a bit. I'd re-read it and think - 'nah!'


I think the reason is because in my heart I know that my main work right now involves being here for my kiddos and facilitating their learning journey. It's a pretty full-time gig. I chose to do that for them, to be with them, and my commitment to them is 100% The same question kept coming back to me - 'How am I logistically going to find childcare for my bambinos at the drop of a hat?' Birth is a bit, you know, random, generally, so how do I drop everything I'm doing and help another mama 'do the do'? The timing of birth is a science unto itself, and unless a client goes for an elective c-section, how can I know my children will have someone to look after them, care for them, feed them, educate them?

And then I had a realisation. How many clients am I really likely to have? Here, in these marshy flatlands I call home? Maybe two or three a year? Is this really such a big deal? I'll have time to figure things out, no?

So, laid up in bed with a bad back, on day 3, I started to write my coursework. And man, did I enjoy it! I wrote in a frenzy, the words finally tumbling from my heart just as I had always meant to say them. I couldn't write them before, because I hadn't quite figured it out yet. I had to go through months and months of experiences, interaction, thinking deeply and educating myself further. And in doing so, I have worked out.....

....my manifesto! ta-da! And here it is:

   To listen to each mother with my eyes, ears, hands and heart
 To honour, defend, and support her right to find her own strength, her own truths, her own power
To act as a signpost towards information but not to be pushy with my own agenda
  To respect that each woman has her own journey
To recognise that each mother will have different needs and wants
To help the mother to tap into her primitive, monkey brain, whatever setting she births in
by speaking gently, touching gently, acting gently, and thinking gently
 To provide relief for the father/birth partner of the child by allowing them to rest as necessary
-     To acknowledge and respect the laws of oxytocin and adrenaline production – keeping my own adrenaline in check so as to extend a feeling of calm to the mother and father/birth partner, and in turn, the baby
To help the mother to process feelings of joy, elation, tiredness, disappointment – the whole 
gamut of feelings that can follow a birth
To help her feel safe to process the decisions she made, help her to be at peace with her birth and help her 
to self-reflect so she can draw her own conclusions if things might have gone better….
To commit to my own ongoing education about birth 
To help the birthing mother to the best of my ability, to have a truly nurturing birth

And here's my certificate :-)

( Doula-Doula happy dance )

I am one very happy motherfunker, so I am!


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Motherfunker's heroes and heroines : Great teachers: Ina May Gaskin


Laid up on my back today (ouch!) with hubby doing my regular job and lying here with my wireless keyboard I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts throughout the year, celebrating some of my favourite teachers - the people I respect and admire the most, those whose words speak so deeply into my soul that it quietly says amen at every comma and full stop.

In this post I want to talk about one of the most inspiring women in midwifery. I know, I wasn't gonna do anything birthy for a while..... but I LOVE this woman!

Ina May Gaskin started her career as a midwife whilst living the hippie dream. At first, her and her husband were travelling as part of a convoy of buses and trailers, and her and some of the other women were helping one another to have their babies on the road.

In 1971, they collectively decided to buy a huge chunk of land that came up for sale in Tennessee, and it became known as 'The Farm'. Here, women were able to have their babies in more comfortable conditions, giving birth in simple wooden homes, and sometimes even outdoors. There were walkie talkies to communicate between houses, which were dotted around the 1,064 acre plot. When it became apparent that there was something pretty special going on here, the reputation of The Farm as being a safe place to give birth away from the medical dictat of the day, soon meant that more and more women were flocking to this natural birthing 'mecca', where the rules about birth, the secrets and wisdom of birth was at odds with medical fashion.

The women who were welcoming souls in, began to get more and more medical experience, and formed a good relationship with a very kind local doctor, who helped them to become better equipped, helped them form a bridge between the earth wisdom and the best of what the technological world could offer to assist. The Farm was becoming more of a formal birth centre, the lay midwives were becoming trained experts - partly through experience with the women birthing on the Farm, through the stories shared by visiting women from other parts of the world, throgh being invited to attend or speak at lectures first nationally then internationally, and through a greater and greater understanding of obstetric practices and more formalised ways of knowing about birth. The equipment available on site also became more sophisticated - although its use is sensible and used only when deemed necessary and not 'routinely'.

A lot of what they saw happening in the outside world didn't sit right with what they knew from seeing women birthing at the Farm. They could see pretty clearly what helped or hindered a labouring woman. The effect of different people coming in and out of the room, the effect of moving freely or being strapped down. They laughed, massaged, cried, counselled, held hands with, and truly listened to one another, and their own bodies wisdom. They also accompanied a woman to hospital on the very rare occasion she needed it.

Over the years, the Farm has changed a lot. Different women, men and children have come and gone, some have stayed on for many years- but it remains a fascinating and important reminder of what birth can be, and the statistics speak volumes.

In the forty years since the start of its existence The Farm boasts an impressive record for safety and low intervention. The Farm - Birth Stats

From such humble beginnings, Ina May Gaskin has become an icon in the midwifery world, and has been presenting lectures all over the world for decades. She remains wise, humble, unshakeable in her faith in women, unafraid to speak to the highest officials. She was President of the Midwives Alliance of North America from 1996 - 2002, and has been bestowed with many prestigious awards, most notably in recent times the co-winner of the 2011 Right Livelihood Award ( often referred to as the alternative Nobel prize). She is also the only midwife to date to have had a medical term named after her - the Gaskin Manoevre.

This video pretty much encapsulates her ideas in a nutshell:

here she is gives a presentation to members of the Belgian government and other officials, on collecting her Right Livelihood Award in 2011

and below is a video of her teaching a group at the Farm.

If this kinda thing floats your boat, she has a bunch of books too:

Ina May, I'm so grateful for your wisdom, your insight, your faith.

You truly rock!

Xx MF xX

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Motherfunker's scrummy honey, lemon and ginger cake!

Now I'm not much of a baker if we're talking fancy stuff. No ma'am. But I do love a bit of cake, and whilst mucking about the other day, come up with this sticky, gorgeous little beaut! 
So I thought I'd share it with you.


250g butter
250g sugar
250g self raising flour
as close to 250g eggs (slightly over 250 better than under 250)
scooped out contents of half a lemon
rind of one and a half lemons
2 balls of ginger in syrup from jar, finely chopped, with a wee gloop of the syrup 

and either 2 tbsp golden syrup + 1tbs honey
or 3 tbsp honey


Ok, everyone has their own way of chucking together a sponge, and this is no different. You can either cream butter+sugar first, then add the rind and other wet ingredients, then add the eggs/flour alternately till both are incorporated. 

Or, if you have a super-de-dooper mixy uppy thingy of some sort, let the machine/stick blender do its stuff and have it all come together in its own way. If you do it this way I'd add the rind after the mixing or it'll get lost in the cake.

Personally I don't have a swishy wishy machine, so I do it the first way, with a bowl and spoon, and a bit of muscle.

However you do it, just make sure it's all been beaten and mixed up well, taste it to see if you'd prefer it to be a bit more lemony, a bit more gingery or bit more sweet. You can tweak it in whichever direction you like.

I then throw mine into a greased, deep, ceramic tray and bake for about an hour. I have an aga type cooker which cooks at between 160-175c depending on how much I've been opening the top oven and so on, but generally, just keep checking up on it. It cooks really well as a pretty slow bake on a lowish heat.

If you fancy, you can slice it up and make an iced topping or cream filling of some sort but because every surface of my house has already taken a hammering from the tide of kiddy grime, I keep it simple and eat the cake as it is. That and I'm too damn lazy and greedy and want to eat it ASAP!!! You could of course serve it with custard, cream or ice cream as a hot pudding as soon as it comes out the oven.

Let me know how you get on, if you follow this recipe but have your own cheeky little twist, have a yummy icing or glaze idea, or have one of your own kid-friendly recipes you'd like to feature here.

Happy eating!


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Peace, love, faith and healing

Hey lovely people,

Since I wrote my birth post I have been reading and re-reading it, trying to find the judgement in my tone that some of you may have taken the wrong way.

I need to make it absolutely clear that my stance is not to attack any mother's empowered choice. If a woman consents, with eyes wide open, and has not felt bullied in any way - that, to me, is empowerment. If a woman chooses to take drugs to see her through the pain, that is an empowered choice, which she has taken on board, which she takes responsibility for. That is empowerment, and that is a fabulous thing.

I celebrate the fact we can choose, that we have options available to us. I celebrate the fact that medical breakthroughs have saved many babies and mothers that may otherwise have died.

What I do not celebrate, is when a woman feels outnumbered and her wisdom is not given enough voice. When a well informed healthy woman is forced to have a birth she didn't want simply because she felt pressured or outright bullied at a time when she is most vulnerable.

The spirit in which I wrote my birth post was that it was meant to be an invitation to tap into ways to get past barriers, push past blockages, block out unhelpful stimuli, to have a safe, beautiful, transformative and deeply spiritual, connected way of meeting our babies. I wrote to give courage, to fortify and strengthen. I was trying to cut a lot of crap outta our way to bring it all back to us, that we can do it, we are not broken, we are whole. That pretty much mostly what you need is right inside you already and what you most need from those around you, really is love. Love, love, and more love. And faith. It is love that gets the baby in there, and the flow of oxytocin all around in the hearts of those attending to you is potentially more powerful and intoxicating than other medications designed to replicate that. When love energy is all around a mother as she births her baby, it heals everyone in its path, and touches everyone for lifetime. This is true of any type of birth model where the birth attendants are kind and good, and remain sensitive and personal in spite of the volume of mothers they deal with in a day.

Sometimes on top of love, babies need extra medical help to come out safely. I have never denied this. This does not negate or contradict the love aspect of birth. Even a caesarean birth scene has deeply loving humans at the heart of it - the bright lights, gowns and so on pale into insignificance once that beautiful baby is in your arms. However the baby is brought out into the world, it is still your bosom they end up at, your arms, your heart, ultimately. You are the heartbeat, the rhythm, and rock of safety that your baby clings to, remembers, loves.

If our own birth experience leaves us feeling sad or disempowered it is never too late to heal. We can feel disappointment whilst accepting and forgiving ourselves and others too if things didn't quite go as perfectly as we might have liked. There are lessons we can learn from, ways we can help others so they have a better time of it than we did. Love finds a way of soothing and healing us when we surrender to it. Many of us feel regrets about our births, and we live with the imperfections of how life sometimes flows. But peace,love, time and perspective can heal this.

I wish all my readers much peace, love, self-understanding, healing, and joy. I have fucked up many a time, made disempowered choices, and live with regrets and wishes that I had done things differently. I am scrambling around in the dark as much as the next person. But it's ok. I extend the same commitment to peace, love, self understanding, healing and joy to myself too.

I do not write to hurt or make others feel bad. I write to heal.

Xx MF xX

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Caspar BabyPants appreciation society!


I want to share with you some groovy little tunes of someone very funny. 

His name is Caspar Babypants.  Here is one of his CD's.

...here's another:

And another!

Cute, huh?

If you are a little person you are sure to love him. 

Your mamas and papas won't be able to resist having a boogie either!

Click below for his full youtube playlist or just watch these two gorgeous vids.

Hope you love Caspar Babypants too!

Lots of love, Motherfunker XXXXX

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Off your tits in the birth room? Is it possible without drugs?

When I set up this blog I vaguely remember promising to talk about doula and birth stuff and since this here blog was never meant to be a straight up show-and-tell of our home ed journey, I hope you don't mind me straying into that part of my life for this post.

If you'd rather read about my other stuff or are offended by birth talk, you may want to skip this post. I promise there'll be a return to my other home ed stuff soon. Don't go away!


The longer I study, listen, watch and learn about the process of birth, the more mysterious it becomes. I am in awe of this amazing process. Births are a science unto themselves, so it would seem! I have read so many books this last year, watched endless documentaries and birth films, and friends around me have been having babies too. I want to talk a little about some of the conclusions I have drawn so far.

You might want to make a cuppa. I bang on a bit.

Birthing truth number 1:

I think that perhaps the most useful preparation leading up to the birth is *clearing the air* or in other words, getting shit off your chest. Riding the waves of labour are hurdle enough without extra baggage weighing you down. Talking out all your fears, expressing your angers, frustrations, and so on with your partner. Being clear and open with each other about what pisses you off about each other, and trying to get into a peaceful space with them. Birthing energy moves better when two partners are mentally making love, even just on an emotional level, throughout the birth. When both partners are getting psychic with each other, are not fighting each other, the birth energy flows well. When there is antagonism, bitterness, unspoken shit between them, it seems to flow all over the place. Touching, massaging and kissing are all good. But it all has to be done with heart, not perfunctorily, otherwise it's not going to help but will in fact hinder and annoy the birthing mother! If you can't get high off the synergy between you and your partner, you may want some other people at your birth who you feel completely at ease with, who make you laugh, who will help the energy flow well. Sometimes your partner is great but you want the extra company and reassurance of females - in some cultures, birth is a right old party!

Birthing truth number 2:

The more painful you expect birth to be, the more painful it is. You would be totally forgiven for thinking all births are an emergency waiting to happen, painfully screamy dramas, as that's all we ever see on TV and since hospitals make birth so damn hard to do well, a lot of women end up having that kind of birth. And they don't really need to. When a woman is surrounded by other women who have a positive, empowering, gentle experience of birth, they tend to think less in terms of risk. Risk is all when birth is discussed by medical professionals. They view birth solely in these terms and it scares the shit out of women ("Cos they're profesionals, right, so they know best? Don't they?) Women have become so scared of their own bodies, so afraid of their own capabilities, of their strength, of the chemical reactions our amazing bodies are capable of.

Birthing truth number 3:

If we submit to medical protocol, policy, and dictat, often we talk ourselves out of what might have been a beautiful birth. It's just a case of having the right professionals on your side, who have a can-do approach to births outside the ridiculous tick list of 'norms' which they have devised. Any woman who is a deviation from the norm list is basically seen as a nuisance, so if you are in any way different from the norm, you will have to fight for the birth you would like. If you are overdue by their dates (even when you know their dates are bullshit), if you are presenting in a breech position, if you are carrying more than one baby, oh a whole list of conditions which they freak over. And none of these are really *that* freaky. They've just forgotten how to care for idiosyncrasies in the spectrum of women because it's inconvenient to treat women as individuals when they don't fit neatly into their boxes and timescales. They're too busy, too overcrowded, to respect and revere each individual labour as something magic, as having a rhythm and timing that more often than not, is perfectly normal. So many women go under the knife un-necessarily just to keep that conveyor belt labour ward moving along at a pace that suits them. It's not the birthing mother or the midwives fault, they're caught up in it all with an arsenal of drugs and interventions for every slight deviation. If I were birthing on my back whilst sapped to monitors for endless hours I too would be begging for the knife.

How many births could have gone differently if a wise doctor had said "no problem"? If midwives were able to spend more time on the relationship they have with the woman they're helping, time to build up trust, a connection, heart-to-heart, woman-to-woman? Instead of counting birth exclusively in centimeters, numbers, heart rates - birth can also be monitored in emotional terms, by recognising changes in her body and voice to feel her in an intuitive sense rather than with rubber gloves, up the fanny. (Relaxing, huh?)  It is perhaps wiser to notice the effect on the mother when certain people enter the birth space (negatively or positively), what positions she finds comfortable or uncomfortable, allowing her to eat/sleep/move about as freely as possible. Allowing gravity to do its magic instead of insisting that she lay on her back * THE WORST BIRTHING POSITION EVER* for fuck's sake?

Birthing truth number 4:

Did you know that undisturbed birth is generally the safest model? You wouldn't think so huh? The way your doc and the media go on about it. But to be able to do that means either living in an indigenous culture where birth is not feared or talked about exclusively in risk terms, using risk language and risk terminology every step of the way.....or....if you live in western society you will instead need to invest some time boning up on the chemical powerhouse that is actually going on in your body whilst you labour. In undisturbed birth our bodies actually sequence the drugs we need by dispensing them naturally to us, at the right dosage. They are in fact more powerful than any synthetics if we're talking pain relief. But no-one makes a buck out of that, right? So that's why they don't talk too much about that one at your check-ups (what a rude term anyway, who invented that- makes you feel on edge doesn't it, to think you are being "checked up' on?) Ditto it's not exactly promoted at ante natal classes either. Natural birthers are seen as some hardcore freaks, but in fact it is possible for most of us if we open our minds. And because we are scared out of our wits by all the scary tv programmes and negative messages we've been told about birth, we clam up. We clench and feel on edge. And then we really do need the drugs because we are handled in such environments that are too NOISY for all our senses to allow our own drugs to flow. The bright lights, the uniforms, the bleepy machines, being strapped up to monitors, the string of different people, the language used, the intrusion on so many levels, the decor, the food, the feel and smell of hospital - generally are pretty anathema to getting down and dirty and pushing out our babies in a sweaty grunty primal and actually pretty sexual way.

I wonder why we are so prudish about this inevitable fact of birth? We are pushing a baby out of our *vagina* for goodness sake! Good birth is like good sex. The same hormones. It's seen as weird to enjoy the grunting, primal, sensations or relate them to the orgasm that got the baby there in the first place but the sooner we get over this basic animal fact, the sooner we can have more enjoyable births. Birthing your baby in a glorious quiver is not very British though eh? The hospital set up (with the exception of birth pools) is as frigid as it gets, so generally they are a bad place to have a beautiful birth. Unless you fight tooth and nail and lay out a list of demands to guarantee low levels of light, noise, disturbance etc etc.

Birthing truth number 4:

Once you read up, and get some friends on board who also don't fear birth and think its the most awful thing ever, surrounding yourself with positive images, affirmations and so on, you need to leave your brains behind to birth a baby. You need to get into primal monkey 'ug' mode. Cave woman panting, groaning and so on are all part of the deal. You can't be using the rational part of your brain whilst you are birthing or worrying about anyone else. You need to get into your zone, which is pretty powerful actually, and doing this will help you to get "out of it" in a sense. It's amazing how trippy a natural birth at home can feel. You don't need gas and air to be off your tits in the birth arena. You don't need any morphine based drugs, your body produces its own opiates!

This link is great if you are looking to have a natural birth next time round and want to understand what your body is capable of: http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10184

If you want to find out more about a woman's body can really do, here's a great reading list for you.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
Dr Amali Lokugamange: In the heart of the womb
Sarah Buckley's: Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
Sheila Kitzinger: Rediscovering birth
Janet Balaskas: New Active Birth
Dr. Grantly Dick-Read: Birth Without Fear
Tina Cassidy: Birth; a History

Women's bodies are generally not broken and they still work. We are just forgetting because we have been subject to so much fear-mongering and hysteria that we have perpetuated and not questioned for too long. It's about time we reclaimed our body's truths and tapped into what really is and isn't possible.
There are actually only a very small number of women who cannot give birth naturally, safely, and without all the circus of hospital protocol, and for those women, modern technology is in place to help. Technology is not bad in and of itself. The machines that go ping, can be lifesavers, no two ways about it. It just needn't *always* take centre stage. The mother should be at centre stage, generally. Even when birth takes an unexpected turn, there is still room for as many natural elements as possible to be preserved, it doesn't have to be all-out technology central, all the way. It's easy to see the machines as our saviour, and buy into every last techie solution to problems, when sometimes nature is better.

It's time to stop fearing our bodies as we have been taught to, and enjoy them and what they can do!

How do you feel about your birth/s?
Are you a natural birther?
Or maybe you are a midwife or doula and have something to add.
Do you disagree with anything here?
I love to debate this kind of stuff!

Xx MF xX

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Do we need to try so hard to be good mothers?

I have wanted to do a post about this for a while, and here we are.

Before having babies my bookshelves started filling up with titles on education. My insatiable hunger to get to the bottom of the question "What does it mean to be educated?" meant that I was reading more and more titles, pushing the envelope, reading more and more radical ideas. Within a few years I couldn't get enough of the writings of the anti-pedagogues, the John Taylor Gatto's and A.S. Neills and so on.

Unschooling literature was such a fascinating and liberating discovery - throwing away the rulebook, a rebellion against the flawed, one-size-doesn't-fit-all way of learning, seemed like such a wonderful dream. And yet other books, opinions and ideas, as well as real life experiences pulled me in other directions too. The idea of sticking to one or even just a small handful of people's visions and following them prescriptively seemed like too much of a full-stop for me. The problem with people being on pedestals, however wise their sayings and observations might be, is that in order for one person to sit high on a plinth, they must necessarily look down on someone, while the followers must equally be looking up to their leader, but down on the rest of the world too. It's all too easily to insulate yourself from the rest of the world in a bubble of righteousness. Now don't get me wrong - I think both the above guys have made some astonishing observations about the way things are. I agree with a lot of what they have to say.

But I'm not a one-idea utopianist. I believe we all hold pieces to a puzzle with no end. In order for us to make sense of this crazy world, I think we must keep our minds open, our eyes open, our hearts open, and look for the answers by living in real time. And the answers don't always come from the obvious places, from the preachers and evangelisers.

This is where I start to have a problem with the preachers. They say - This is the truth. This is the way. Follow this way. Don't look anywhere else for the answers. Everyone else is doing it wrong. We are doing it right.

And I can't get down with that.

In the same way that I have been building up my collection of books on learning, I have also amassed a pretty large collection of parenting books, hoping that by osmosis perhaps, I would absorb the wisdom of others so much wiser than myself, to become a better mama. I have felt tugged this way and that in the quest to be the best mama to my children. Titles like "Mothering with soul", "Playful parenting", "Attachment parenting" seemed so much like they would hold all the answers to being a graceful and loving mama. And they do - to a point. But when a person starts to disagree with some ideas in a book with a title called Mothering with Soul - one starts to question - must I follow every last idea, opinion, suggestion, to be a soulful mother? Am I bad because I don't agree with this? Such titles can be loaded and dangerous, and can erode a mothers already fragile self-esteem. The AP movement also proclaims itself to be a movement based on 'mothering with soul'. Which camps can rightly claim this trophy? Is it necessarily either? It makes my head hurt! A.S. Neill would argue that his school corrects all the neuroses caused by a child's mother in the first place, therefore providing a release from all that harmful fussing, attention and love.

Being attached to our babies is utterly sensible, wise and loving, but there are so many more subtly prescriptive suggestions in books, or from different parenting movements, sub-movements, and sub-sub-movements, that trying to keep up with them all could strangle the very love out of you as a mother, and in fact cause you to become pretty anxious and full of self-doubt. There is so much underlying judgement, self-righteousness, bitchiness and expectation from so many different camps across the spectrum of the parenting community. Each insisting their way is the one true way. Motherhood is hard enough with the tiredness, the economic and so many other factors without the added pressure of the idealogical battleground.

At one end of the spectrum there are books that say we cannot really call ourselves any kind of mother at all unless we give 150% of ourselves. That we must surrender every bit of our soul, every ounce of our time, mental and soul energy to our offspring, until the two souls are so enmeshed there is no separatedness at all, no gap, only utter co-existance.

In her book 'Momma Zen, Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood', (on extended loan with many thanks to my dear Buddhish friend Viv) Karen Maezen Miller suggests another way of looking at our roles as mothers;

"You don't have to work so hard at this. You don't have to do so much. You don't have to endeavour to be natural, normal and good. It happens by itself when you least expect it. If you are confused about what you should be doing, try this. Stop what you are doing. Take care of what is in front of you, when it is front of you, and the confusion will pass. This is called the effort of no effort. No effort is what powers the universe.

With time your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

Your baby will be ok. "

And as I read those words, I feel a sense of peace. Loving with some sense of detachment no longer seems lazy or soul-less.

 I look out into the garden where a snowy Buddha sits looking out over the garden.

The birds come and feed from the feeding station I am lovingly tending for them. And I think of the birds, and how they would laugh to know that us humans get so caught up in this silly pursuit of trying to be a good mama. They make a lovely nest, feed their babies best they can, then give them a shove out of the nest!!!

Maybe nature is the best teacher of all?