About Postpartum, Healing and Aromatherapy

my journey of conscious uncoupling from nhs midwifery Apr 05, 2024

One of my clients recently posted the most beautiful photo of her and her brand new baby enjoying their first sunrise together. The baby was only about three hours old at the time and I’ll always remember that sunrise as a special sunrise too. 

I saw it through the same window she did.

These first few hours with her new baby she shared with her husband, her toddler, her photographer and me. I never take these moments for granted, the sacred space among the members of a family who have only just ushered in a new life. 

Image taken at the home of @elly.birthmagic by @maireadlucyphotography (Instagram handles)

In the last eight months I have come to understand the landscape of birth anew. Having no foot in registered midwifery has granted me certain freedoms. I write this blog for instance without having to worry about my midwifery registration (read my post titled  ‘The Stitch and Bitch Saga’ to see how easy it is to fall on the wrong side of the guardians of the Profession). Most importantly I can offer my expertise as an aromatherapist and massage therapist in the intrapartum and immediate postpartum space and I have had the great privilege of supporting a small number of my package clients in that way. Those clients had in common that they wanted zero interventions and in choosing full birth autonomy they have taught me a lot!

First and foremost I have learned that the spectrum of birth physiology is far wider than what I was taught to be ‘normal’. Normal in my old world meant that there were no ‘risk factors’ present and that the pregnancy and birth were moving along within a narrowly defined framework. 

As a registrant I often wondered:

‘What if we just forgot about these guidelines? What would birth look like then?’

The suspicion that the foundations of the obstetric empire, and midwifery along with it, were built on sand had been knocking at the very back of my mind right from the very start of my midwifery journey. I developed a blindspot through the conditioning that I received through my initiation into the midwifery community and I simply wasn’t ready for the answers that inevitably reveal themselves when you ask the right questions. 

Why would there be a ‘due date’?

Has the landslide increase in induction of labour rates made birth safer?

How did we figure out how to measure ‘labour progress’?

Where is birth safest?

Who owns birth?

Who makes the most money from birth?

One of the realisations that has illuminated my understanding of the history of childbirth immensely was that at no point was it made any safer by obstetric interventions. In fact the opposite has been true. For the majority of women obstetric meddling, regardless of whether it is performed by obstetricians or midwives, makes it less safe overall. This is evidenced by modern studies around birth at home as well as by historical data. Midwifery before regulation and before barber surgeons showed up on the scene was something entirely different to what it became once medical colleges became established and once the arena of childbirth had been discovered as a potential for massive income streams. 

If obstetrics were to be reserved only for when labours are truly obstructed and for pregnancies that are complicated by a genuine pregnancy complication, it wouldn’t be a very lucrative business at all and I have come to believe that overall pregnancy outcomes would be improved. I think that routine interventions cause harm overall but I also think that our ability to perform caesarean sections or to perform complicated surgeries on newborn babies who have been diagnosed with a significant congenital anomaly via foetal anomaly scans can be life-saving for the minority of women and babies who are affected by those genuine complications. 

This is where the whole thing becomes so nuanced and on balance I can see how those families who see the benefits and protective elements of primal birth physiology and who want a total hands off approach from industrial maternity institutions are walking into the lion’s den. They are getting the highly unlikely but potentially massive benefit of detecting a baby who truly needs help and in return they have a chance of upwards of 50% of having their labours induced and they are suffering the consequences of that. More than a third of women walk away with trauma, postnatal depression or PTSD. We don’t know for sure what the long term effects of the industrial maternity dogma and the resulting fractures in early attachment physiology are. I am not the only one who suspects that the origins of ‘modern’ diseases such as depression, ADHD and other sensory issues in children are rooted, at least in part, in our pregnancy and birth practices. As I see it, society as a whole has never been as disconnected from its roots and that produces lots of customers for the medical industrial complex.

People are keen for the pharmaceuticals that are being dispensed at a rate that has allowed for the creation of a multi billion dollar industry. And why wouldn't you? That's what our culture is. It takes a lot of de-conditioning, curiosity and trust in yourself to get off that particular hamsterwheel. 

Here's an example:

I am currently spending some resting time as my Easter break this year includes an update for my immune system. 

I’ve a chest infection. 

So does Gerald and three days into responding to our symptoms with hydration, rest and applied aromatherapy we’ve already been asked if we got ‘something for it’. ‘Something’ - of course - refering to an antibiotic. 

The answer is that neither of us would dream of it, we trust that our bodies can heal spontaneously and we are grateful for the resource of antibiotics should our conditions deteriorate or fail to show signs of improvement within the next few days. We’ve both been improving day by day and we also know that for now the only thing to do, truly, is rest and stay well fed and hydrated. I am fairly optimistic that by Monday I will feel ready to resume my daily business but I would be prepare to postpone my clinics if I had to. For two reasons:

One: I work with pregnant women and I don't want to pass them any bugs

Two: I simply love myself too much to ignore my body's cues for rest

From experience I know that a little residual tickle in my chest and throat is ‘normal’ to linger for a couple of weeks. Recovery takes time and fin my observation even if I was taking an antibiotic at this stage, feeling fully recovered takes just the same amount of time with antibiotics as it does without. And even if it takes a little bit longer, the difference is that when you support your body in healing you don't damage your microbiome by throwing an antibiotic at every single infection. It also means that when you do need antibiotics they’ll actually work.

That's worth a slight inconvenience for me. 

We don't take paracetamol either, we just let the temperature do its job. Elevated heat is part of our defence mechanism and you can safely observe your temperature without interfering. Obviously I am not a doctor and I would suggest you use anything I write here as an account of my experience. It is not medical advice so use it at your own discretion and always refer to a qualified medic if you are in doubt.

I am telling you this because I draw parallels to pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

Recently I had communication with a client who was diagnosed with 'mastitis' and was now taking an antibiotic. To me what she was describing sounded like a hefty dose of engorgement rather than mastitis. Just to be sure, I checked in with a friend of mine who is a lactation consultant and without prompting she shared that she was concerned about the overuse of antibiotics (which transfer to your baby via breastmilk) and also anti-reflux medicines. The woman who I had been communicating with had no temperature and both breasts were effected. Mastitis often effects one breast and even one area of a breast. Those areas are quite often shaped in triangular wedges. Personally I don't think it is that important to make the right 'diagnosis' and I am no longer in the business of making any diagnoses'. If you are committed to trying to avoid an antibiotic, you can resolve severe engorgement and most cases of mastitis holistically. The independent midwife whose approach I used to be able to witness by proxy through working in an aromatherapy shop in Germany would have suggested rest, aromatherapy compresses and upping the breastfeeding support. She might have suggested a compress with jojoba oil, marigold oil lavender and rose. I also remember her telling me that she rarely has to refer women to the doctor for antibiotics even with mastitis as long as they were prepared to stay in bed with the baby glued to them. This of course requires support from a dedicated partner and family. The German midwife also said that it was rare that women who understood postpartum as a time of rest with the baby rarely had any breastfeeding issues at all. So far I share this observation. Those clients of mine who pre-planned a meal-train, rest an undisturbed field in the minutes and hours immediately after birth haven't had any issues with feeding their babies.

None!

In the medical arena, even in your own home, you may need an advocate to protect this space for you. Even in your home midwives will want to weigh the baby, give Vitamin K, I've even heard of babies getting arm- and foodbands applied 'in case of a transfer' and then there's the new obsession of maternity staff: hatting your healthy newborn. All of these actions represent many seemingly minor interruptions to the mama-baby and they add up to potentially being significant enough to impact your longer term experience of postpartum and parenting altogether.

They also impact your experience of birthing your placenta. I wonder how many 'retained placentae' there would be if we let go of your timelines in hospital.

Warm compresses can also help you with afterpains. When your womb shrinks back to normal size after birth you continue to experience surges and those can be painful. I usually suggest a mix of lavender and clary sage in jojoba oil applied to your spleen 6 pressure point as well as a compress on your belly with the same essential oils.

And, again, rest. 

In modern industrial environments afterpains will be treated with paracetamol. 

Perhaps there’s a connection between our initiation into the medical realm at birth and our willingness to resort to pharmaceuticals first and not last? Are we conditioned at birth and by birth? 

Does this practice of getting up and getting on with it after having had a baby condition us into functioning through illnesses by dulling down symptoms with pharmaceuticals and showing up to work and all of our other commitments?

Would we love each other more if we showed ourselves love during times of healing?

Maybe, maybe not.

But just like with my and Gerald's chest infection this week, simplicity can be the answer if you choose it and technology is available if you need it.

Take the time to lovingly tend to yourself and see how that feels. 

Thankfully women are re-discovering this for their postpartum experience and this seems to occur more and more intentionally. 

These women have taught me that, in essence, pregnancy, birth and postpartum are simple:

Create the optimal conditions in your body for you and your baby to thrive and (if you are planning your pregnancy) start before you conceive.

Be pregnant.

Line up a reliable support network.

Give birth.

Nurture yourself and your baby and keep doing that until you feel ready to leave the house and share your baby with others.

Like many simple things in these modern times, this may not be easy to implement, particularly if you are intending to do it from within the technocratic model of medicine.

Mostly women are expected to be ‘up on their feet’ not just by medical staff but by their family and friends. Particularly after a caesarean section I find this expectation unfathomable.

You have made the biggest transition a human can make.

You are now a mother.

And you have had major surgery to your abdomen.

Rest!

Love on yourself.

Get foot rubs with rose oil, there are therapists out there who will come to your home like I do. 

I can also offer you support with cooking if this something you'd want.

To conclude I will say this:

The technocratic model is there for you, it is easy to access and you can strike lucky and find compassionate staff who have time and will listen to your birth plans. You can also be less lucky and fall into the category of women who found their experiences deeply traumatising. 

If you know from the outset that you'd like something different, start exploring. There are many modalities out there that can help you with planning your pregnancy your way. You can access homepaths, osteopaths, chiropracters, aromatherapists, nutritionists, private blood testing and scans. 

There always are various ways of doing things. 

Send me an email to [email protected]  to join the waitlist for my upcoming workshop about 'Aromatherapy in late pregnancy and early parenting'. I am planning it for the end of may. Details will follow.

Would you like more of my writing? You can! I have written a book called¬†'7 Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Hear Before Giving Birth: The New Midwife‚Äôs R.O.A.D. To Birth‚ĄĘ Hypnobirth System'.¬†

It offers perspective on common misperceptions about pregnancy, birth and risk and it gives you my R.O.A.D. To Birth hypnobirth system that my clients have used for years. It shows you how to Recognise and Release your Fears, Overcome obstacles, Accept what you can't control and Do the work. 

Get The Book

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