Sunday 10 August 2014

"Friends for Life V Knitted Vaginas" - Richard Godwin's Vitriolic Article

Note: All views are my own personal opinions, and not those of any organisations which I represent. 

As an Antenatal Teacher and Doula, I am proud that I get to support people on their journey through childbirth and into parenthood. Over the last year, I have probably supported around 150 women and couples on their journey, and met around 150 new babies, either a few weeks after their birth, or some, immediately after birth when I have had the privilege of sharing their birth experience with them.

So, having studied for so many years to become an Antenatal Teacher with the National Childbirth Trust, spent many hours facilitating NCT courses, witnessing births, talking to women about their experiences, and sharing views with health professionals on maternity services, I like to think that I know a fair amount about having babies and being a new parent.

However, I happen to do quite a bit of work for the National Childbirth Trust, which I know conjures up negative images for some. Many people have NCT Practitioner's all lumped in the same boat, as people who know nothing about birth, rave about breastfeeding, and knit our own yoghurt (how does one knit their own yoghurt anyway??)

Well, those who know me, will know that I am probably one of the least "woo woo" people going. In my classes, I deal in facts, research and most importantly choice for women, support for partner's and confidence for parenting. Most of those who attend my classes review them in a positive light (hey, you can't please everyone) and 99% of my own class attendees report back that I give them unbiased, honest and realistic information. That's why I get so annoyed when I read negative reviews of NCT classes, which assume that all NCT teacher's are the same. I also get annoyed when I read articles in the press which seek to threaten the livelihood of NCT practitioner's based on a historic preconception of the NCT, and the writer's own biases and experiences. You may well be aware how I blogged a response when Kirsty Allsopp caused a storm on twitter regarding comments made about the NCT.

Well, now someone else is seeking to make money off of the back of the NCT - Richard Godwin, and also essentially "Mumsnet Bumpfest" which features a host of speaker's - some qualified to be taking the stage, and some not so much perhaps. Richard Godwin is a "new parent" and advertises himself as "a special kind of c***" on his twitter feed. Enough said perhaps - especially as it seems he can't bear to think about vaginas  - whether knitted or real, in the context of childbirth.

A senior writer for the Evening Standard (heaven help journalism), this week Richard Godwin wrote an article berating NCT Antenatal Classes, and portraying birth as violent, and a medical event which requires scientific help and as many men there as possible. Clearly Richard is basing the article on his own experiences of birth, because in the births I have attended as a Doula, many of them were not a violent occasion, and most of them happened without a doctor present and without medical science playing a part. Still as one colleague of mine succinctly put it, can you imagine an article in the Daily Mail headlined ""I gave birth and it was all quite straightforward!" - it probably doesn't make for juicy reading.

In an article which I suppose Richard presumed to be "tongue in cheek" and "Blokey" - what he actually achieves is to suggest that women can't do childbirth on their own, and they need a man to come and "save them" during it. He also suggests that the information given out at NCT classes has no bearing on what happens in the hospital and that NCT classes are "worse than useless". Cheers Rich, I'm glad I slog my guts out two to three times a week facilitating classes which are seemingly of no value to people!! I'm sure many of my own class attendees would refute that opinion. It's interesting that Richard formed this opinion having not attended the whole class - perhaps the information he was looking for occurred later in the course.

Here are my own responses to some of Richard's comments, based on my own classes, which may be different to those Richard experienced. You can read the original article here.

1) The NCT is a registered charity, not a private organisation/company. Fees paid for classes go back into the charity - the money is certainly not lining the pockets of those facilitating classes.

2) There are no knitted vaginas in my class. Truth is though, I can understand why there might be in some classes. Even though they have got this far in life, most grown-ups can't handle a picture of a real vagina attached to a women, It freaks them out. Some of the pictures I make available as an option for my clients to look at will attest to that. In the absence of the real thing, some teacher's may choose to use a substitute to demonstrate how childbirth happens.

3) Although granted, some of my clients are middle class, many more are not, they are simply all people, having a baby at the same time, and class doesn't really come into it. Well I certainly don't divide them into "upper/middle/lower" class anymore, especially as the BBC's new class test says that it's a bit more complicated than just a three tier system.

4) "N for natural" - not in my classes. Picture the scene, you ask a woman what her birth plan is... I'm pretty sure that ninety five percent of women are going to tell you that they want their birth to be quick and relatively painless, and they want to remain lucid and in control. Rarely would I have a woman tell me that she wants every intervention under the sun, every pain relief option possible, and she wants to be laid on a bed, strapped to a monitor and have the baby forcibly removed from her. Is this what women want? Most women in my classes certainly don't. I do talk about natural childbirth. However, I also cover assisted birth and caesarean birth as an option in my courses. The amount of women grimacing and crossing their legs at the talk of episiotomies, caesarean incisions and epidural needles in my class would suggest to me that these options are not the first choice for many women.

5) NCT teacher's do not want to keep medical professionals at arms length. Many of us work closely and maintain links with Midwives and Doctors. Midwives are trained medical professionals and feature predominantly in childbirth at most births. Doctor's and science have their place in the birthplace, but they do not control most births. Even in the Consultant Led Unit, most of the care is delivered by midwives. Men may think that medical science is necessary for childbirth, but it really isn't.

6) NCT teacher's don't have an "agenda" for childbirth - well I certainly don't in my classes. I want to support all women in their birth choices and as a Doula have supported parents through everything from planned caesarean births to homebirths. I believe in women's choice, and although I may not always agree with a woman's choice, it is not my role to try and talk her out of her choices, rather, I give parents information to make their own decisions based on all of the available information.

7) Yes, more women used to die in childbirth years ago, due to poor sanitation, higher levels of poverty, and women catching diseases in hospitals. Nowadays, the mortality rates in hospitals are caused by things like contracting diseases in hospital, human error, complications due to caesarean operations, sepsis, thrombosis, and other medical conditions. The rates of women dying at home during childbirth, or during childbirth with just a midwife present are a lot lower than those in hospital. Plus, a previous article Richard wrote said either was pretty much fine.... hypocrisy!!

8) General vagueness - would people like NCT teacher's to be more specific about exactly how tiresome and how painful childbirth can be? Do you want to hear that it might be a three day stint? Most of my clients don't. Do people want me to tell them every single thing that could ever go wrong with every single pregnancy, childbirth and baby related condition, just on the off chance that it might affect someone in the class? When you are catering to the masses, there is a certain amount of "vagueness" that can ensue. Plus, whilst some want every tibit of info, others don't want to hear the warts and all answer - it is hard to cater for everyone.

9) "Instructor's" (or practitioners/facilitators as we prefer to be called) have to have given birth themselves in most cases, thereby ensuring they have probably attended at least their own birth. many others such as myself act as Doula's, or attend women in birth in other roles. NCT Antenatal Teacher's who teach Signature courses have attended a university higher education course with a Diploma or Degree attached to it, so they are extremely qualified to deliver antenatal education, and have gone to university to further their careers like many other professions, and unlike some other organisations which offer antenatal classes.

10) Us practitioner's use both " Brain" and "Brian" as mnemonics  - they are interchangeable, and some people remember one, some the other.

11) It's not "unscientific dumbassery" to imagine that you can control your hormone levels with relaxations such as a foot-rub. Producing Oxytocin happens when you are relaxed, a foot rub is relaxing for some people, for others it's reading a book, watching tv, spending time with their partner - there is lots of research on the hormone Oxytocin. It's the same as saying we can't control adrenaline levels - we can, as we don't walk around in a permanent state of stress and nervousness.

12) It is a shame when parents feel that anything but a natural birth is a failure. In my classes we discuss all of the pros and cons of issues like pain relief, birth choices etc. It doesn't change my life whether a person accept drugs during labour - as long as they are happy with the choice they made.

13) - A good birth or a bad birth is not down to "luck" most of the time - it's down to the choices women make - much evidence attests to this. Often one intervention leads to another. Often a method of pain relief may have an effect on the birth, as may a midwife or doctor and their own beliefs and practices as well as the birth partner's beliefs and experiences. It is not down to luck.

14) "Trust the professionals" Placing your blind trust in anyone in any situation is not always a good idea. It may shock some to hear this, but some health professionals may put hospital policy, or the interests of the hospital in front of women's choice. Birth is a litigious beast, and some professionals may sometimes put their own best interests first, or may not wish to honour a woman's choice for fear of being sued, or ...just in case... shocking I know.... By all means trust professionals, but also ask whose interests they are honouring in some situations.

15) "breastfeeding is lovely"  is it? Is that why we do it - because it's lovely? Or is it because it is in the baby's best interests. Newborns cause sleeplessness, but this is not a reason to give up breastfeeding, especially as there are so many benefits as opposed to formula.

BTW Richard - research shows that a scented candle will do "diddly squat" for some women - perhaps do your research next time before writing such a vitriolic article, which only aims to advertise Mumsnet Bumpfest (how much was the Evening Standard paid for this) and which sets to berate a charity which supports over 100,000 parents each year. It looks like money really is what keeps bad journalism afloat.

As I said before, don't believe everything you read in the news. Us NCT Practitioner's aren't all bad. Lots of us really care passionately about helping parents at such a crucial time in their lives, and not just about how many people we can shock with our knitted vagina's, and breasts!!!

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