I offered to run the group for two sessions for one of the midwifery teams . The last time I’d “led” a group was in the late 90s since those years have slipped by I’ve gained courage knowledge and insight into how normal birth can actually be .
I agreed to be there with a student and was told there’d be about 8 couples so approx 16 people. I arrived with lots of things to handout and felt nervous but excited as I love meeting new people. In fact there were 14 couples
The staff at the children’s centre where the group was held were amazing – they’d set up drinks and snacks in the middle of the room and it was a friendly relaxed atmosphere.
The people arrived- “future parents” all excited about learning but at the same time doubting their own abilities – my job was to make them leave the group feeling and thinking differently than when they came. I really wanted to give them a thirst to seek out more information .
I promised them all I’d do my best to give evidence based advice and that I’d back it up with written evidence so they could read about it afterwards . I also gave out mum and baby care plans that have information in about signs and symptoms of illness , postnatal recovery , investigations , discharge planning and what midwives check for after the birth – I did this as sometimes these documents are rarely looked at by parents until they go home and I wanted them to see in advance their packages of care to make it all more real and current.
I put my phone on silent and on the table upside down the first thing someone said to me was “Skin To Skin Switches on babies brains?”
– so I then launched into the benefits of skin to skin and they were hooked.
I made sure I stopped every 8-10 minutes to allow questions and gave out post-it notes for questions – we laughed together practising breathing techniques and we also became emotional when we all discussed mental health issues and I talked about my own experience of post-natal depression . Putting myself in the spotlight was quite tough but I just knew that if I said it they’d accept it’s existence- in some small way this might just break the stigma around mental health.
The group were soon bonding and the characters surfaced – “Jenny you do realise next week England are playing ?” …..but hang on this is your first baby ? but then I said let’s have a plan and make the class earlier – I kept thinking that it’s good to be flexible in all matters around birth so why not times of the group?
We all chatted and laughed -I learnt about their hopes for birth. My aspiration was that in some way I had helped to dissolve their fears and turn them into courage for labour and an ability to believe in their bodies – my parting quote for week one was “no-one knows how any of you will give birth but we don’t worry about other mammals giving birth – you need to read up what I’ve given you, feel your own strength by recognising how amazing the human body is and give yourselves the best chance for a normal birth . A positive mind is a true gift ”
Week two -arrived and I was so thrilled that everyone had arrived- in the back of my mind perhaps my conscience was telling me that only half the group would arrive – they wanted more – and so did I .
We recapped on the first week and they all excitedly told me how nice it was to read the care plans and think about their babies – we then talked about One Born Every Minute as there was a Hypnobirth on this particular week and they were all really amazed but also said that the birth had backed up what I talked about the week before i.e. believing in their abilities (never thought I’d be discussing OBEM ! Then skin to skin came up and some had asked their parents about it and really researched the subject (proud!) – we staged a mini production called “I need skin to skin” in which another health professional enters the room after the woman has given birth and tries to move the baby – I really felt amazed by their power and passion for skin to skin – my little signs around the place on post it notes, my phone cover and even mini stickers had worked !
We revisited breathing and all had a huge attack of hysterical laughter – but I liked this very much as I imagined them breathing in labour and recalling the laughs they had with me.
Eventually it was time to prepare to close the group – I asked for post-it notes with anything on they felt relevant and this was the result
The best part was at the end when they all came to hug me and tell me that they were ready – I felt like a proud mother hen sending her chicks out into the world – and I knew they’d all be fine
I’d like to thank Student Midwife Gemma Whiteside for coming to the first group with me and being such a great student ( she was off that week and revising for exams = commitment!) Also the staff at The Children’s Centre – you know who you are ( turns out one of these lovely ladies is pregnant and she only told me at the end of the second week !)
Thank you to all the nameless couples who I laughed with, learnt from and bonded with – I know you are all going to be amazing in labour and even more wonderful as parents
Today I’m up full of vim and vigour and decided it’s about time I explained my passion for skin to skin contact for babies. I was lucky enough to hear Dr Nils Bergman talk just over 6 years ago . I have always promoted skin to skin contact at birth as I am aware and fully conversant in The Ten Steps To Successful BreastFeeding by UNICEF . I am a fully fledged Key Trainer in BreastFeeding support – if anyone is having concerns or difficulties with BreastFeeding my first words are always skin to skin : )
I was however guilty of perhaps promoting skin to skin more for women who were keen to breastfeed and wonder now how many opportunities were missed because of my somewhat blinkered approach . As Sheena Byrom states regularly ” we are all learning ” (continually ) and if we don’t learn or stop learning we don’t develop, our gift to inspire is lost and the world will remain static – the quote by Gandhi “Be The Change You Wish To See In The World” helps me daily . I use the current tense as my journey is not a destination it is a pilgrimage to a nirvana (a state of blissful egolessness) where mothers will know all the benefits of skin to skin contact and be courageous enough to say they will be having skin to skin contact not “I’d like it” “if it’s possible” ” I’d like to try ” etc
Back to Dr Bergman – the moment you hear something that changes everything in your mind is described as a “lightbulb moment ” and that my friends is exactly what happened to me but first I had to test this theory and consolidate the evidence Nils had presented . Strangely enough within two days I was at work and with a woman who was having a Caesarean section for twins – the neonatal unit was closed. There were concerns about neonatal hypoglycaemia and hypothermia so I chatted to the mother about skin to skin contact and showed her the evidence that Nils had presented (women like to see facts so bear this in mind if you are ever trying to explain anything) she asked me to start skin to skin as soon as possible after her babies were born. The following is from my reflective piece that was written and sent to the North West Infant feeding coordinator
‘I facilitated skin to skin contact for both babies by fashioning a kangaroo system with a large soft cotton blanket . The blood sugars of the babies rose from an average of 6.1 to an average of 8.5 . The temperatures stayed normal and one of the twins that had some tachypnoea and grunting developed a normal respiratory pattern – the paediatrician had never seen this and was amazed . Both twins were prone but I never left the room so was able to continually observe their temperature respiration and heart rate . The woman had chosen to feed artificially – but it was incredible to see one twin crawling up her chest . She really enjoyed the experience and her partner and the twins grandmother took lots of photographs . I did not weigh the twins for a while and not until they were both settled this took less than one minute – skin to skin contact was just over 3 hours in total’
From that moment on I became a skin to skin addict and I was shouting from the rooftops about the benefits , the happiness it gave woman and stability it gave babies – so I started to look at skin to skin in different settings , promoting skin to skin regardless of type of feeding and networking with women staff and organisations.
Believe me when I say it’s not been easy and it won’t be – I’ve got myself into trouble at work for writing on a blank wall in theatre directly above the WHO checklist board “IS THE BABY IN SKIN TO SKIN” in large black letter with a huge heart on either side. I’m not saying you should all rush out and do that . What matters is raising the profile of skin to skin and with lots of support from my managers, colleagues and friends at work we are all making a difference within the NHS for babies to have a better start . All I’m saying is SO CAN YOU ! I put ‘skin to skin’ in tiny writing everywhere and I feel a bit like a skin to skin brainwasher staff say ‘ skin to skin’ to me all the time and I use it as a greeting or a way of saying good bye – it’s become my ‘high five’
Now onto twitter – TWITTER ! – initially I tweeted about my bears Billy & Bessie – which were bought to help a friend with severe depression. As most midwives know my ‘inner midwife’ tempted to peek at other midwifery related tweets and then I started thinking whether I could promote skin to skin globally by ‘harping on’ about it like I do at work and JennyTheM which was initially meant to mean Jenny the Mother – now means mother Midwife and Maven (with thanks to @Twidmife )
Twitter is the fastest way of seeing what’s happening in the world – whether it’s health , news , research , information and it’s got MASSIVE implications as it’s NOW ! I regularly go into work in the morning and tell a colleague about some news I’ve seen on twitter before I’ve even read a newspaper or heard the radio so please find your passion and tweet, enjoy, share and inspire
I’d especially like to say that I’ve gained courage from twitter and that the indomitable Sheena Byrom is always helping on my beautiful scenic pilgrimage to learn every day . Sheena has promoted the twitter buddy system and if you don’t follow her please do – also Florence Wilcock from Kingston hospital a truly family centred obstetrician who is spreading the skin to skin word within the team at her trust . The heads of midwifery that I follow and the student midwives who amaze me and are so 21st C modern kind and passionate , Anna Byrom at UCLAN for giving me a fantastic opportunity to present with music dance and laughter Jennifer Hicken (Great NorthMum) for inspiring me and believing in skin to skin and the people who are not NHS staff such as Annie McNamara, Ray Wilkins, Jo Platt and Duncan Richardson (for hedgehog info and moth phobia therapy) – you all keep me going make me smile and encourage skin to skin to ‘go viral ‘ ….. If there’s anyone I’ve missed please think this every single tweet I’ve read has affected me in a positive way and is helping all babies get #skinToSkin so tweet on tweeters : )