The Rose and Her Thorns - The Birth Gathering 2022 - By Beth Russell
If you follow me on social media you are probably already aware that I went on the most wonderful Birth Gather last weekend. I was going to get around to writing a blog about it, however the lovely Beth from @birth.ology, who I was lucky enough to meet meet and chat with that weekend, beat me to it and wrote an absolute dream of blog all about it. So instead of reinventing the wheel I asked Beth if she would be happy to feature as a guest blog spot here! Thankfully she agreed, so here I am sharing her words on this wonderful, transformative and powerful gathering. Firstly, a bit about Beth before we begin. She is a Norfolk based midwife with a passion for human rights in birth who provides person centred care throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. Beth is totally obsessed with physiology and how women/birthing people bodies and their babies work together. She teaches hypnobirthing, provide midwifery support in person in Norfolk as well as online, and also works on the advice line and is an associate trainer with Birthrights. Beth says her mission is to ensure everyone she supports feels held, empowered and informed to have the birth that’s right for them, whether that’s a homebirth, caesarean birth, induced birth or a freebirth!
"It is no secret that the birth world is quaking, fracturing at the seams… and with it sways the future of midwifery, risking the rite of passage of all who birth or are affected by birth. Simply put, every last one of us. This weekend we dove deep into the cracks of this quaking world, we cried and grieved but we also laughed, hugged and danced, finding joy in the sorrow and inching towards a better future.
As I arrived on the land, I knew I’d made the right choice in coming. It had been a hectic week, my head chaotic and whirling with the million things I yet needed to do. My mind fit to burst with the conundrum of it all… I had decided not to come. Then found myself packing to go in spite of myself. As we pulled up to the field, I felt calm and I felt good. Of course it had been the right decision (in spite of the 8.5 hour drive to get there!).
The opening ceremony revealed a group of incredible people from all over the country (and beyond!). We each spoke a few words and found one another reflected in the familiar strangers across the room. As rain poured outside we drank tea and began to know one another, quickly becoming comfortable in a way that only birthy folk seem to!
By the following morning, firm bonds had been made. A group of us filled our bellies with delicious hot porridge then set out for a morning dip in the sea. Slipping and sliding down the rocks, we eventually made it to the sand and ran into the salty waves to wake ourselves for the day ahead. Oh my, if every day could start that way! After a sketchy scrabble back up to the rocks, we made our way to the main marquee for the first session of the day.
Throughout the morning we explored how we can reclaim authentic midwifery as this crisis threatens to consume us. How can we come back to the root of being “with” (mid) “woman” (wife)? Evony Lynch has been a midwife inside and out of the system for many years. She spoke with such eloquence about the joy and heartbreak of NHS midwifery and the challenges in carving a way outside of this. As Evony spoke I felt seen in so many ways. It is not we who are at fault, not our knowledge or skills that are out of place, but the system that fails to celebrate these skills and fails to recognise the subtleties and nuances that influence all types of birth. If knowledge was openly shared, intuition and empirical evidence respected, and women/birthing people trusted to make the choices that were right for them, I’m quite sure the picture of birth would be entirely different.
Next, the incredible Joy Horner explored the dimensions of shamanic midwifery, considering the inextricable link between birth and death. She investigated the importance for those who work within birth to become aquatinted with it’s link to death, recognising their strengths to be drawn upon when supporting people at these times. Both are rites of passage which mark and transform all whom they touch. Both deserve reverence, respect and autonomy from the individual experiencing that rite of passage. Joy explored this and so much more in her session. What an honour it was to have the opportunity to learn from her! She is a midwife (now birth keeper) that I have looked up to for a long time; her knowledge and wisdom alongside her capacity for kindness, compassion and excellent humour is unparalleled. We need more Joy in this world! Following this session, grief bubbled through for many, met with space and kindness in abundance. It was clear this weekend would be quite a journey for us all!
The wonderful James had made an incredible lunch - the sun graced us with her presence for a brief moment before the rain thundered down once more. The weather somehow mirrored the experience of the day, anger and grief raining down matched by joy and hope as the strong emotions were released and given somewhere safe to land. Beya gave a beautiful space for exactly this by holding a circle where all who wanted to could debrief on things that were coming up for them. Meanwhile others had the opportunity to adorn themselves with the (wonderful smelling) artwork of Seema, learning how to use henna.
After an equally delicious supper we met back in the yurt for a meditation with rose tea led by Sarka and Emily. The rose was almost intoxicating, the perfect way to end this incredible day. The magic (and meditation) continued with a spontaneous intuitive dance session with Lara before a hot sauna and one of the most peaceful nights sleep I’ve had in a while (despite a leaking tent and hammering rain!).
The morning brought another beautiful swim - the waves were strong and wild, reminding me in many ways of birth. Birth is both beautiful and powerful, but like the sea deserves respect. Walking into the waves without preparation (learning to swim) and awareness of my individual needs (to be able to touch the bottom and keep my head above water) would not be wise. Yet approaching it with respect, knowing my unique needs and feeling comfortable with the ‘risk’ I am taking by entering it’s depths meant I could experience the moment for all it’s beauty. (After all, no choice in life is without risk).
The final day of the gathering brought a fantastic session on twin birth by doula and twin parent Sarah. Exploring birth with medical complexities, greater risk and a very real threat of mortality helped to bring home the importance of care being centred on the individual and most importantly truly listening the the pregnant person. My eyes were opened to lessons about twin birth that I had never been exposed to in university or clinical practice. We are never the finished article. Women/birthing people and other birth workers will continue to teach me until I leave this earth!
Next we had the opportunity to learn from Lux, a traditional midwife from Brazil. Learning as an apprentice she has built and honed her midwifery skills over time, beginning to attend births alone only in this past year. What a wonderful way to become a midwife, I have so often wondered what it would be like if we learned this way in the UK. Her understanding of the intricacies of birth was so clear. I could have listened to her speak for hours, she brought such a calmness to the room as she spoke. Her husband also brought some beautiful, hand carved wooden pinards which we used to listen to lovely Katie’s little one.
The final session was with the dream team Evony and Joy, discussing birth support skills (featuring Joy’s incredible pelvis pants!). Between nuggets of midwifery goodness from these two wise women and some great discussions, one of the tiniest members of the audience beautifully demonstrated the birth of a footling breech through the pelvis! Seeing children immersed in the birth world throughout the weekend was a definite high, it was a reminder of how this knowledge always used to be passed down. Perhaps this is something we will continue to reclaim in years to come. Birth is ours, and it is everyones. Yet we seem to know so little about it until it is staring at us out of the two red lines on a pregnancy test.
As the weekend drew to a close, we gathered in the yurt for a closing ceremony. We went around the packed room and each said a little about our experience. The magic of the bubble we had created throughout the weekend was palpable. Many of us had started the weekend with aching hearts, feeling a little lost, our hope dwindling. Whilst it is incredibly clear that we have a long way to go, this weekend has filled my cup up to the brim. It was the tonic I didn’t realise I needed! Looking around the room at all of those incredible humans, I know there is better yet to come. With these wise, passionate, humble humans out there in the birth world, the future of birth is brighter than I had dared to believe when I left my home on Friday."
You can find Beth on Facebook and Instagram (@birth.ology) and her website is www.birthology.uk