An amazingly powerful thing….,

Some weeks ago I facilitated a healing space for women who had experience of abortion. The idea grew from reading a ritual in the book Conscious Conception, which describes a talking circle in which both men and women are invited to come and share, through talking, their experience of abortion. The circle begins with some songs to create a sense of unity, and ends with singing, but the heart of it is the sharing of people’s stories. Most powerfully, after everyone who has a story to tell has shared their experience, the ritual goes right back to the start and everyone is invited to tell their story again. The author describes just how much deeper, richer and fuller the second tellings are. People feel more able to connect, they allow themselves more fully to feel their emotions and to discover what lies within them, the second time around. The author suggests that people place power objects in the centre of the circle, the most powerful of all being a box of tissues. It will be much used.

tissues
Since reading about the ceremony I had felt drawn to holding such a ceremony for women I knew who had had abortions. I knew there were at least two close friends who still felt some trauma from their experiences. And as I started to mention the idea to people, other women started coming forward saying they thought they would benefit from the ceremony too.

For months I had planned this, thinking I would follow the directions in the book. A simple talking circle, with a box of tissues, what could be more simple and yet powerful?conscious conception
But something seemed lacking to me. The body.

In South America there is a ritual that is still practiced today for women who have recently had a baby. Rather poetically, it is called ‘closing the bones’. It is so simple, and so powerful, and is as much needed by most women on this side of the oceans as there. But here, women don’t have it – instead they are left to continue experiencing an emotional, energetic and often very physical sense of openness after the birth.  Unlike their foremothers, they no longer have a culture of being  bound with cloth postnatally; no cultural traditions to help them come back to centre and strength.

In my role as an holistic midwife I had done this ceremony with several postnatal women over many years, even to women who had given birth decades ago, and in every instance the woman had found it to be incredibly powerful and healing. It is a simple ritual at its heart: give the woman some time and space to consciously process the experience, keep her warm, then a ŵrap her up tightly in long bits of cloth with the attention on closing the open energy she had to have to have a baby.

That’s the simplest form. the full ritual involves a hot bath or steam with healing herbs, the woman being kept very very warm at all times, perhaps some massage, perhaps a chance for her to tell her story, and the cloth closing.
As any woman who has any experience of pregnancy will know, being pregnant, even if only for a short while, involves an opening on the deepest level of both the body and psyche. Thus it follows that however a pregnancy ends, be it with a live or stillbirth, miscarriage or termination, it is always appropriate to follow it by an energetic closing.

And through such attention to her physical body, a woman’s heart and mind can process, grieve anything that may need to be mourned, heal and move on (there’s usually something to grieve, even when a woman’s had a totally rocking birth… like one’s sense of independence and a time of being responsible for only oneself).

I found this example of the kind of thing I’m talking about:


So that’s what we did in the end – an abortion closing of the bones ceremony. The women who partook said it was extremely powerful and healing, and much needed, even nearly two decades after the fact.

One man joined us, and all there found his presence deeply supportive.

We all mourned the fact that such acknowledging and healing rituals are not more commonly done in this part of the world. There is immense power in being witnessed in your pain and grief. And it is an immense honour to witness it.

We all wanted women and men, everywhere, to start doing such ceremonies for each other.

So, here follows instructions for how to have an abortion closing of the bones ceremony. It can be done just for one person, with at least two people in attendance like in the video or, with a bit of imagination and a bigger group, for several people at once. We had a group of about eight people supporting two women.

Please feel free to change this in any way that suits your personal circumstances, but most importantly please, please talk about this, share this blog, ask for this if you yourself are the one who needs it, or offer it to the others if you know, or even suspect, it would do them good.

Recipe for closing the bones

Ingredients

At least one strong long piece of cloth. Six or seven is ideal

A warm room

A hot bath

Friends, at least two

Warm cups of tea

Lovely healing herbs

Warm massage oils

Towels and blankets you don’t mind getting oil on

Some appropriate songs, if singing is your bag (we used the incredibly powerful Gaelic mourning song ‘Nahey’, which you can learn from the great CD ‘Singing the Cycles of Our Lives’ (the pink one!)
Preparation
Prepare a room so it is warm and lovely. Run a bath and fill it with beautiful petals and herbs. (Note that many petals stain enamel baths, so do be careful here.) Gather together the support people and the person or people receiving healing in the lovely room. Invoke the presence of family and friends who can’t be there.

Begin by asking those receiving healing to tell their story. Have tissues ready. And an awareness that you may be about to witness the deepest sorrow, accompanied by the strongest wails and even roars of anger and the most grief you’ve ever seen in your life. Do not try to stop this. Do not give tissues. Simply have the box nearby, feel ready to hug her or rock and sway her if it feels right, but the strongest thing you can do is simply to hold the woman in your loving attention so that she feels able and supported to express the depths of her emotions about this that she has never been able to do before. No one has ever asked her before.

Once she has told her story and grieved in any way she needs to, lead her in darkness to the still-warm bath and leave her in it, or perhaps stay with her a while caressing or massaging her, as she desires. Make sure she has water or tea to drink. It is most powerful if you do leave her alone, if possible in darkness, for some time. To let her know you are still there, you can be standing outside the door of the bathroom, singing, giving her your full love and support with your voices and yet the space for her to process in whatever way she needs in the sanctity and safety and privacy of the bath.

After twenty minutes or so collect her, with an awareness that she might feel dizzy and faint when she stands. Help her if she needs, dry her and bring her to the warm room, where you have made her a nice cosy nest to lie down on. Allow her to lie still in silence for ten minutes or so covered in many blankets so she gets really hot. Heat is a very important part of the whole process and mustn’t be left out. Whatever you do, make sure all rooms in the house she might go in or through are warm. Then, using warmed massage oils, give her a gorgeous massage using long, smooth strokes.

Allow her to dry any excess oil off and to get dressed. Arrange the cloths on the floor (see the video below for an illustration). She then lies down lengthways across the cloths. Two people sit either side of her feet and, starting at her feet, cross the piece of cloth beneath her feet tightly across her body by taking hold of one end and passing it to the other person. The two of you then pull hard so that her experience is that her body is being squeezed. Hold this tension for some time, then let it go and move up her body, crossing over the next cloth which is beneath her legs so that higher up her legs have the same experience. Do not be afraid to pull too hard, she will tell you if it is too much. In this way, work all the way up her body, paying special attention to the area around her pelvis. Stay here for a long time, pulling hard and long. Then move up to her chest and shoulders. Do not omit to do her head.

Then begin to unwrap her from the head down, perhaps singing.Iinvite her to lie there for as long as she needs, and when she’s ready to join the circle again to start by singing the song, so you know to help her up.

And that’s it. It may sound simple. It is. But my, how powerful. When we did it It took five hours. It was a pretty mega experience for all of us there.

Feel free to add in other elements, change things, do it for more than one person if, like me, you have the facilities to have two baths run at once (in my case, one being a big paddling pool!). Or perhaps you have friends who are willing to share a bath together. Birth pools are good too. You know yourself and your friends best, so trust yourself to know what’s right for them. Or you could ask what they would prefer.

Depending on the scale of your ceremony, you may want to have an assistant helping you. It’s a bit like being at a birth really: the bath needs kept warm, there is tea to make, cloths to lay out, massages to give… If you’re just doing it for one woman, two people to do everything is fine, but in my experience holding the space for two women, I needed an assistant. He did an amazing job at fixing the hose, running the baths, keeping them warm when it turned out the stories I thought would take 20 minutes to tell took an hour, boiling the kettle, pouring the tea, drumming while we did the wrapping.

Or you could do it yourself, like in this video: (no idea what she’s doing with the spoon! Or how to do that beautiful belly binding thing at the end):

I wish you and your friends, sisters and community a beautiful, healing time.

Thanks to Bex and the other teachers who have shared with me their  closing of the bones ceremonies.

Om Shanti

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An amazing success story of courage

It takes courage to do something different. It also takes courage to do the same as everyone else, when what everyone else is doing hurts you inside.

Three years ago I qualified as a midwife. It had been the culmination of over a decade of aspiration, thought, study and dreaming. But now I had my official number that said I could legally use the title ‘midwife’, the journey was just beginning – how was I going to put these skills and passions to use, to best support women and families in the ways that felt right to me?

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Working in the NHS was one option. Working solo, as an independent midwife was another. But what I really yearned for was a mix of the two: to be able to work for women in ‘the system’, for free, as NHS midwives do, but to be able to do so with the support of amazing colleagues, and the support of an institution and governance system that really put the care of women and babies at its heart, without other priorities and requirements pulling at its sleeves and sometimes grasping the reigns.

So when I heard about Neighbourhood Midwives, a not-for-profit social enterprise that was run on non-hierarchical grounds and was set up by some independent midwives, I was intrigued. It got better: it was going to have the very best up-to-date research as the focus of all its guidelines, but also a healthy respect for the very best traditions from midwifery’s past . And even better: it was going to provide the best of both worlds by securing NHS contracts to offer free care, but every woman would have the attention of  her own midwife who would look after her throughout pregnancy, birth and for 6 weeks beyond, something long known to lead to happier mums and births, and, amazingly, it was going to allow me, a recently qualified midwife with relatively little experience, support and guidance and a chance to  be involved at an organisational level, to contribute to guidelines, to the direction of the company. Of course, I jumped at the chance, even choosing to live many hours from my dear beloved partner to come down to London to join the team and to be on call 24/7 for the women who choose us.

And women do – women from all sorts of backgrounds (London is much more cosmopolitan than Newcastle was!), women having their second babies, their first babies, having twins. Women choosing hospital births, home births, or just making their mind up on the day… Some women choosing to have us just to care for them postnatally, but most wanting us to be there beside them for everything.

I’ve now been with the team for 6 months. There are 14 of us – several of them being midwives that I have long looked up to for their immense skill. Surely these midwives must have some of the best birth statistics in the UK – midwives who have looked after hundreds of women with barely a caesarean, midwives who have been with women through night after night of long labour, and are still able to get up the next day, feed their children and do yet another full day of travelling around, assessing tongue ties, helping new mums struggling with feeding, offering words of comfort to anxious new mums… midwives who offer the kind of care that every woman and baby should have, and do some from their hearts. What an honour to work beside them.

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And the women we care for seem just as chuffed as I am. Here are some of the comments from our recent survey:

Throughout my experience with Neighbourhood Midwives I have been overwhelmed by every individual that I have met.  Sharing the last 20 weeks of my pregnancy with the team has been an absolute pleasure and has brought me immense peace of mind. 

Thanks for being lovely.

I am planning to write a long and glowing testimonial the very second my baby allows me more than two minutes at the computer…

Fantastic organisation. Sally was amazing! She was so supportive and helped give us the confidence and reassurance we needed in those important first few weeks. We actually really miss her! It made such a difference to have a smiling, genuine and up beat person come into the house and say positive things at a time when you feel at your worst with sleep deprivation and in pain post c-section.

Thank you very much for your lovely support, always.

and of course, my favourite…
 
Can I recommend Julie for a payrise? 
 
(No, sadly you can’t – we all earn the same, even the founders and directors. That’s part of what non-hierarchical means…)

And I haven’t left out any negative reviews, I promise.

So, where now? Neighbourhood Midwives is a year old. One year: longer than the time it takes to make a baby and bring them into the world. We have been fortunate to care for well over 100 women and their families. We still want to get an NHS contract so as to offer our care for free for many, many women and babies. We’ve come far – but have a long way to go.

So here’s to the next year, and the year after that, and the one after that… To respectful partnerships between women and their chosen caregivers, to loving, peaceful, beautiful births, to getting up in the middle of the night and creeping quietly up staircases and into bedrooms and bathrooms, to watching the strength and joy in a woman’s eyes when she says ‘I did it! I can’t believe I did
it!’, to calm, contented babies, to partners who inspire, love, adore and clean, and to all the wonders that can’t yet be forseen…

Happy birthday, Neighbourhood Midwives.

NM greenwich launf r&s

moving

Hi

For anyone reading who doesn’t know this.. this is the Singing Midwife blog. Welcome! Here I post links to songs about making, carrying, having and life with babies. I’m Julie, a midwife with a love of singing and storytelling, and I’ve just been on the road raising money for the Independent Midwifery Trust with my Singing Midwife show. The tour took in a variety of venues, from a gig in the old Scottish trawler The Boy John, now spending its days in a Welsh boatyard

boy john

to an NHS birth centre in Birmingham

halcyon birth centre

and raised over £1600 to try to help independent midwives secure insurance so they can continue to practice.

The most thrilling bit for me was bringing information and ideas about positive birth, the fact that women are able to make their own choices about every aspect of their midwifery care, and discussing why having a midwife you know and trust matters so much to people who’d never considered these issues before . Whilst a lot of the people who came to see the show were experienced and knowledgeable in these matters, some folk had just come along for an evening’s entertainment. Shining a light on these questions in a format which was enjoyable, thought provoking and stimulating for them was undoubtedly the highlight for me.

And learning new songs. Did you know that the American singer songwriter Ani di Franco has several songs extolling the virtues of midwives? Or that Woody Guthrie has a tune called ‘I was born’ about the universality of the birth experience? Or that Madness have a cover of a calypso tune about  who’s the daddy? Neither did I – thanks so much to everyone who taught me about more amazing songs about the journey through pregnancy and parenthood… There’s definitely more than enough material for another show in the future.

woody guthre

And what is it about Paul Simon and all those songs about difficult relationships with his children? Fact or fiction?

Another thing I love about song is that it allows us to capture and share some of the most primal, and sometimes painful, experiences. Grief, adoption, miscarriage, postnatal depression… song is such an appropriate vehicle for the deepest of human experiences. Poetry and story, too.

And then there’s the wonderful point that songs can be used for great education. Like the song about different ways to turn a breech baby – since singing that song at a gig less than a week ago, someone’s already got in touch asking for details, since a friend of their’s has just found out their baby’s breech and was told they’d have to have a caesarean section (er, remember that song about informed choice? yes yes yes, no no no. And that a woman has the right to choose what happens to her and her baby? If not, check out the concept of informed choice in maternity care, and the great book ‘Am I Allowed’ by the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services)

am i allowed

And then there’s also the curious thing about how open to interpretation songs are, and how many people, myself included, will happily sing along to a song, and not really have any clue what they’re singing about. For example: for some years now I’ve known the folk song ‘The Shearing’s Not For You’. I say ‘know’, when really I’d heard it at a folk club once. I picked up the  refrain pretty much immediately:

‘Oh the shearing’s not for you my bonny lassio’

shearing

And was more than happy to sing along. What a lovely tune, I thought. I evidently didn’t really pay any attention to many of the other words, or the story the song’s telling. That didn’t stop me from thinking I knew the song…

And then, some months later, I suddenly thought

‘Hang on a minute!! The shearing’s not for you…  I can only think of one reason why a woman would be advised not to take part in the shearing….. Don’t all midwives know to advise farming women not to hang out with sheep, cos they can pick up toxoplasmosis, which can harm the baby. Why on earth didn’t I think of that before?’

And indeed, listening to the song now, it is absolutely clear that that is exactly what the song’s about. Not a happy story, it’s true. But how on earth did I miss that?

 

One thing’s for sure…. songs can be very very moving

The Singing Midwife Tour

So, by now you probably know that I’m going on tour. Hooray!

I’m going to be singing all manner of songs which are in any way slightly related to the work of a midwife – songs about babies being made on the roof of a park shed, about picking blueberries in a Tennessee hippy commune, about how dads feel after being up all night (yet again)… I’ll also be  sharing some stories from a millenia rich history of myths and legends to do with birth. And sex.

I’m doing it to raise money for the independent midwives can stay legal. With the pending new EU legislation that means insurance will be mandatory for all health professionals, and the fact that no insurance company would insure us (go figure), we’ve had to raise £72,000 to set up an insurance scheme which will allow us to continue practising.  All the money I raise will go into the new charity being set up to help deal with this issue.

It’s all rather strange really, especially as a new report JUST OUT confirms that what independent midwives do is, really and truly, offer the best kind of care possible to women and babies. And that’s for *all* women, regardless of their ‘risk’ status.

Here’s yesterday’s article in The Independent about it:

Maternity survey shows one-to-one care from the same midwife is safer – and cheaper

What can I say?!!!!

So, I’m hitting the road. In case you haven’t already, please watch my video and check out my crowdfunder pageand donate to the cause… I need to raise a good few hundred squid to make this thing happen.

And to give you a taste of what’s to come, here’s that song about the blueberries (and a link to explain why on God’s earth it’s got anything to do with midwifery...)

You can check out the tour dates and buy tickets here

turn on your tv set….

Ah, the power of TV…

tv

I don’t know about you, but I spent nearly every waking hour as a child watching the box (it was either that or playing with my dollies, or pretending to be on TOTP). It was my main point of reference, it kept me amused, entertained, and potentially slightly informed.

I grew up, left home, moved into student accomodation where that was no TV, and have never owned a set since…

But this Thursday, March 21st, I’ll be glued to a box somewhere, as ITV airs a pilot documentary called Home Delivery.

home delivery

Featuring ex-kissogram Virginia Howes, it’s the first TV show ever made to focus on independent midwifery, and comes in the wake of all those dreadful TV birth documentaries that have jammed the airwaves over the last few years.

If enough people watch it, they are planning to commission a series. So…

please

on Thursday at 9pm, turn all the tellies in your house on to ITV! And maybe tell all your pals to do the same

lots of tvs

and, even, maybe, consider actually watching it (it’s going to be *great*)

The programme comes at a particularly apt time, as independent midwives like myself have less than 2 months left to campaign to get affordable insurance… or we’ll become illegal (for more on this, please check out the campaign)

save our midwife

Well, now I’ve said all that, I guess it’s time for a song. Here’s a blast from the past with some early 1980s BBC kids telly – perhaps you remember this fantastic theme tune. Talk about subversion….

Can you dig it?

Yesterday, in the Newcastle snow, a group of women took spades, forks and trowels and started digging a Mamagarden.

The Mamagarden…before digging (it is snowing, honest)

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Digging (extra marks if you can spot the woman in early labour)

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Après diggin (where did all those weeds go?!)

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Based in the west end of Newcastle, The Mamagarden is a community garden project where women of all ages can come and learn about and grow herbs that are beneficial for women and babies’ health. Herbs like raspberry leaf, sage, motherwort, lady’s mantle, fennel, shepherd’s purse, cinnamon, and black cohosh. We’re growing a Mamagarden so as to serve our community’s mind, body and soul: mind – by providing focused, enjoyable, meaningful activity, community, beauty and learning opportunities, body – because the herbs are so health-promoting, and being outside working is so good for us, and soul – because being outside, with people, is a basic human need.My hope is that local mamas may have less postnatal depression with the Mamagarden around.

In the long term, I hope the Mamagarden will become a place for families to visit, for children to grow up in, knowing the smell of earth and how seeds grow, for midwives and doulas to come and study, for people to feel empowered about taking control of their own healthcare.

A place of growth.

St John’s Wort, a herb often used in the treatment of depression, and also a great nerve soother st john's wort

Scouring the internet for an appropriate song to celebrate, communicate and commemorate this great day, I came across The Garden Song by Arlo Guthrie. I couldn’t resist posting it here, given that Arlo Guthrie is a particular novelty love of mine (the flat I used to live in in Glasgow still says Guthrie on the doorbell – a throwback to the brief time when I used to perform as a wig-wearin’ novelty country-singin’ act called  JD Guthrie. JD was great. I’ve still got the wig. But that’s another blog post entirely…)

Good ol’ Arlo.  Check out that sun tan. Check out that hair (surely not a wig). Check out the Alice’s Restaurant-esque comedy pseudo-political dialogue in the middle. Check out the hippy couple in the audience with the newborn baby.

All together now! Inch by inch, row by row..

If you’d like to get involved in the Mamagarden, please get in touch

the wild, Geordie women

You probably haven’t noticed, but yesterday in the heart of the capital of the North East, a group of Wild, Geordie women came out into the spring sunshine and sang and danced.

The first flash mob I’ve ever taken part in, the dance was part of a global day of action called One Billion Rising

Here’s what the campaign website said:

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.*

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION

*2003 UNIFEM report entitled “Not A Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women,” or 2008, the UNITE To End Violence Against Women Campaign, initiated by UN Secretary-General’s Office

one billion rising

All over the world, from Taiwan to the Phillipines, from Philadelphia to New Delhi, from Byron Bay to Manchester, women were dancing. It felt truly great to be a part of it – and to have spent the week teaching the routine to pregnant women and mamas with their babes in slings around them, and to be dancing together.

Did it work?

If only it was that simple. Whilst I was dancing away, a couple of young guys walked by. I smiled at them, and continued my dancing and singing. One of them chose to respond. How? By chanting, in time to the music, ‘Rape! Rape!’

I was so angry and shocked, I lost my place in the dance routine. Not to mention temporarily loosing my faith in humankind. I nearly turned around to the nearby coppers and reported them, but I knew that the moment I turned around, those lads (I can’t bring myself to call them men) would have scarpered…

until the violence stops

Meanwhile, on VDay +1 (aka today) the postman brought me a copy of the book When Survivors Give Birth, Understanding and healing the effects of early sexual abuse on childbearing women, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus.

survivors

Now I don’t know this for a fact, but I don’t think the 1-in-3 chance that the woman she’s caring for has experienced sexual abuse is really in the heads of most midwives as they do a vaginal exam, or wiggle a baby’s head around whilst palpating. It should be. I’ll never forget watching a short play by the fantastic midwifery drama group Progress Theatre. If my memory serves me, their short, silence piece featured simply a woman dressed in black having white cut-outs of hands placed on all the parts of her body that midwives routinely touch…

hands

Basically, everywhere.

Midwives have such an enormous potential to exacerbate the trauma that survivors have experienced – or not. As so beautifully illustrated in the last of the six scenarios in the film Orgasmic Birth, midwifery can be sensitive and appropriate, and birth can be a deeply healing experience for women who’ve experienced abuse.

That’s what I love so much about working so closely with women in my midwifery practice – in the context of having just one midwife who they see throughout their pregnancy and who intends to be at the birth, and who has no allegiance to anyone other than the woman, women often disclose things about themselves and their pasts that they haven’t told other caregivers. It’s so vitally important, that to be able to serve women adequately, midwives know exactly what is at stake for each individual… but, understandably, such discolsures often only come in the context of a trusting relationship.

Anyway, would I dance again next year? To tell the truth, much as I loved it, and especially the teaching, my experience on the day made me feel that I want to be working on the inclusion of men in such things in the future.

An all-male dance routine for VDay, with men stepping up to the mark and making a song and dance about it? real men danceI’m there.

 

Ella’s song…

So, it’s nearly Imbolc, festival of midwives, spring and new life.

At this time when the light returns to the evening skies, let’s take a moment to think about what kind of future, what kind of world we want to live in.

A future of freedom, peace and beauty?

Here, in full, is a letter explaining the current situation that an internationally respected and much-loved British midwife is facing. Please see the bottom for action you can take to support Becky – and if you live in London, please consider going along to her hearing.

Also at the bottom is a rocking freedom song, first taught to me years ago by Eileen Penman in the fantastic Edinburgh women’s choir Wildfire and sung here by Sweet Honey in the Rock. A proper, great, rousing, soul-stirring, fire-in-the-belly lighting, torch bearing, future-defining freedom song.

JUSTICE FOR MIDWIFE BECKY REED

WITCH HUNT OF ONE OF THE UK’S MOST RESPECTED MIDWIVES

From 1997 to 2009 the Albany Midwifery Practice offered a unique midwifery service to the women and families of Peckham, South London.  The Practice was evaluated several times with excellent results. The outcomes for the women were recognised as outstanding, including over the first ten years a perinatal mortality rate, for an all-risk caseload, of 4.9 per 1000. This compared with a local perinatal mortality rate of 11.4 per 1000, and a national perinatal mortality rate of 7.9 per 1000 (The 2000 Women Study, 2008). The Albany midwives offered continuity of carer and choice of place of birth to the women, and the Practice achieved the highest home birth rate in the country within the NHS.

Following an adverse outcome at a home birth in September 2009, King’s suspended Becky from duty, even though representatives of King’s subsequently told the Lambeth Health Scrutiny Committee that they had ‘no concerns in relation to individual midwives’ and had offered all of them jobs following the termination of the Albany Practice. In December 2009, King’s Healthcare Trust terminated the contract of the Practice without consultation, citing ‘safety reasons’, based on inaccurate data and statistics that have been challenged by several experts including Alison MacFarlane, Professor of Perinatal Health at City University, London.

The unexpected closure of the Practice prompted a range of protests, including a large march and rally in London in March 2010. The ‘Reclaiming Birth’ march was called by the Albany Mums Group both to protest the closure of their valued local midwifery practice and to push for better, more women-centred approaches to childbirth.

Becky Reed was the only midwife to have been with the Albany Practice since its inception. A very experienced and internationally respected midwife, she has written extensively about the Albany model of care and is currently co-editor of the well-respected academic journal, MIDIRS Midwifery Digest.

In January 2010 Becky was referred, without her knowledge, to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) by the Head of Midwifery at King’s, Katie Yiannouzis. The referral cited seven cases, spanning a period of over three years, dating back to July 2006.  Becky was primary midwife in only two of the cases.  Katie Yiannouzis had been Becky’s midwifery supervisor until February 2009 and had raised no concerns with Becky about her practice.

In September 2010, following an Interim Order hearing, Becky was given a Conditions of Practice order by the NMC, requiring her to undertake 450 hours of supervised practice (the maximum). She successfully completed this at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, and in April 2011 an Interim Order Review hearing took place where, on the basis of reports from her supervised practice and many testimonials from women and practitioners, the Conditions of Practice were revoked in their entirety and she was deemed fit to practise.

Unbelievably, the NMC investigation continues.

In March 2012 Becky was sent draft charges by the NMC relating to five cases out of the original seven (two of the cases had been mysteriously dropped). In three of the remaining five cases, Becky was the second midwife.  The primary midwives have not been referred to the NMC. N.B. In the two cases for which Becky was primary midwife, she has successfully completed supervised practice (and been deemed fit to practise by the NMC itself).

On 20 December 2012 Becky was given notice of an NMC hearing which is scheduled to commence at 9 am on Monday 11th March 2013 and continue until Friday 22 March. For each of the cases the charges are introduced as follows: When providing care for Mother XX and baby you: failed to comply with or practice within the Kings College Hospital Clinical protocols in labour and / or nationally recognised clinical guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and / or National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

The Midwives Rules (Rule 5) direct the midwife to ‘work in partnership with the woman and her family, providing safe, compassionate care’. Clinical guidelines, therefore, should be considered an important aid to clinical decision-making, but not as rules to be followed in every case.

There is no question that the public needs protection should there be midwives who are dangerous and negligent. This investigation, however, is nothing to do with protection of the public, but symptomatic of an entrenched medicalised and rule bound culture at the NMC. Becky is certainly not the first woman-centred, skilled and dedicated midwife to undergo bullying and victimisation. For Becky, one of the UK’s most respected midwives, to be treated in this way constitutes an attack on midwifery autonomy.  If she is ultimately sanctioned, it will make it more difficult in the future for midwives to confidently support women’s birth choices.

It will be obvious on reading this that the NMC, which was described last July as ‘failing at every level’ by its own regulator, has completely mishandled this case. For Becky, this process has lasted for well over three years – she and her family have suffered both financially and emotionally. We, Becky’s support group, will be asking (if you live in the UK) whether you could spare some time to come along to a session of the hearing during the 2 weeks commencing 11th March. Visible support will indicate the strength of feeling women and midwives have about Becky’s mistreatment, as well as highlight the wider issues raised by Becky’s case.

If you are able to come along, you will need to book your place online at http://www.nmc-uk.org/Hearings/Attending-a-hearing/#emailbooking. We would be grateful if you could also email Vicky at thebirthiwant@gmail.com with details of the day/time you book so we can ensure every session is covered.

We also plan to hold a peaceful protest gathering outside the NMC offices at the Old Bailey during the 2 weeks, probably on the first day. We will send further details of this nearer the time.

Please email messages of support to thebirthiwant@gmail.com or post them at the Facebook site Justice for Midwife Becky Reed http://www.facebook.com/JusticeForBeckyReed

If you would like further information please email Vicky at  thebirthiwant@gmail.com, or Sarah at sd889759@gmail.com

With best wishes

Sarah Davies, Vicky Garner, Nadine Edwards (Vice Chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services- AIMS), Beverley Beech ( Chair of AIMS) and members of the Justice for Becky Reed group.

lambykins!

So, the snow has hardly been a moment gone, in fact it’s still lying in lumps of hard, crisp gatherings of ice on the hills and higher places, and what’s coming up soon but Imbolc, Celtic festival of the beginning of spring and of the lactation of ewes

it's not only ewes who start to produce milk before their babies are born... pregnant women can start to express milk from about 34 weeks on - which can be very handy to have in the freezer if breastfeeding doesn't get off to a great start

it’s not only ewes who start to produce milk before their babies are born… pregnant women can start to express milk from about 34 weeks on – which can be very handy to have in the freezer if breastfeeding doesn’t get off to a great start

Imbolc, directly translated as ‘in the belly’, is the festival of St Brigid, or Bride, as she was known in pre-Christian Ireland. In pre-Christian belief, there were in fact three sisters called Bride, each of whom was holy  and had a special gift. One of the sisters was a midwife and healer. When this triple-aspected goddess was re-invented as St Brigid, she kept her midwife’s role. Some say Brigid was the midwife to Mary, all that time ago in the little stable. How she got from Ireland to Bethlehem, I don’t know. Boat and donkey, I guess.

A Saint Brigid's Cross

A Saint Brigid’s Cross

Many of the pre- or non-Christian goddess figures had three aspects. When Bride made her transformation to the singular and Christian, we are told that she was born in a doorway and was brought up on the milk of a cow from the gods. I find that interesting – doorways are what are called ‘liminal’ spaces – the spaces in between. Like the night of Hallowe’en, when the veil between this and the other world is thin, Brigid, patron saint of midwives, herself came into this world in the space between

That space where birthing mothers go.

the space between

the space between

Anyway, enough of that chat. Here’s a link to a song which expresses the transcendence of birth, perhaps better than any song I’ve yet come across      http://www.seizetheday.org/music.cfm?albumID=4&trackID=51

And check out that sax solo!

Happy Imbolc, everyone