Our midwife Eirini Vounatsou shares what she’s learnt about birth and motherhood in her nine years as a midwife.
Nelson Mandela said that ‘education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world,’ and it’s so true. Motherhood comes with a lot of opinions, and I see women every day who are confused by all the different information that’s being thrown at them. Unfortunately, sometimes this can really affect a woman and she can end up having a traumatic maternity journey because of it.
Being a midwife is about giving women the tools to make informed choices. The best part of being a midwife, in fact, is empowering women with evidence-based information. But this learning process needs to begin earlier. Anatomy, physiology, breastfeeding and sexual health should all be part of the primary school curriculum.
I want to hear more new mums say, ‘I understand that. I know how to do that. I can do that.’ I want to see them achieving the maternity journey they want, and education is the way to do it.
Women should ask every question they can think of… except what to do next. Questions are the best possible way to help you feel confident and in control of your pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. They’re also the perfect way to build trust and open communication with your midwife or doctor, which is really important for a positive birth experience.
Nothing should be off-limits. If there isn’t someone to ask right there and then, write the questions down and save them up for the next appointment. Women need to be fully informed about all their options. Because, although questions are wonderful, there is one question we cannot answer: 'what should I do?'
Our job is not to tell women what to do with their bodies. Instead, our job is to give every woman all the information she might need so that she can make the decision that’s best for her.
Birth is like travelling. Even if you’re perfectly prepared, something will always go a bit awry. You might forget something. You’ll miss out on something. Or you’ll forget to research enough about that attraction beforehand. But whatever happens, your trip will be unforgettable.
The term 'birth plan' automatically puts a lot of pressure on women. They think, 'This is my plan, and I shouldn’t go right or left.' Instead, I like the terms 'birth wishes' and “birth map”. Because at the end of the day, no matter our plan, the baby is in charge of the final decision.
The ideal birth is the one that makes you feel empowered and puts a healthy baby in your arms. Discussing the alternatives to the plan can avoid a lot of negative thoughts and outcomes. Education is always a part of a positive birth experience as you’re able to stay in control even when it doesn’t follow plan A. I encourage all mums-to-be to be open to your birth experience so that you can enjoy that moment as much as possible, no matter the mode of delivery.
A midwife’s role is to educate and support but not to judge. At the moment, society is not educated or prepared to accommodate - let alone support - breastfeeding women. Breastfeeding still consistently faces a backlash for being too 'sexual' in public spaces. This is particularly true on social media where breastfeeding content is often censored or removed.
Women are not being shown breastfeeding and yet are still made to feel guilty when they choose not to. The pressure to breastfeed is placed on the individual woman rather than society as a whole, and that needs to change.
No mother is better or worse for bottle or breastfeeding her baby. Our lives are full of complex choices, and no more so than right after we’ve given birth. As long as a new mum has all the evidence-based information she needs, she is more than capable of deciding the right way for her to feed her new baby.
Women are so strong, and it’s my job to show them that. I have been at the deliveries of so many babies and I can say that - for sure - every birth is so unique. Every woman is different. But what all women share is that inner strength. I remember watching my auntie breastfeed my cousin and being fascinated by the strength of her body. In fact, that was the moment I realised I wanted to be a midwife.
Even if we have not been able to prevent a traumatic delivery, we need to support women as they reflect on those experiences so that they use it as a stepping stone and a force of strength going forward.
I want all women not just to know but to feel just how amazing they are to bring new life into the world. Because as a midwife, I am really there to observe two births: the baby’s and the mother’s. Women truly are born again when we become mothers.
Eirini is a Tinto expert, midwife and infant feeding specialist. You can contact her for advice by downloading the Tinto app for free.