I came to the birth world through psychology. After my third child was born happily at home, I decided to write a home birth book and also to do some research into mothers’ experience of birth at home and in hospital. I couldn’t believe home birth was as dangerous as it was made out to be. As it turned out the book, Childbirth Unmasked, was published in 1993, five years before being awarded my MPhil for the research – I wrote most of the book while waiting for ethical committee permission to go ahead with the field research.
If women could cope with birth so much better at home – and much the evidence seems to point this way – then I surmised it must be something to do with hormones. Studying psychology as an undergraduate hormones had meant ‘behaviour’ for me. In fact my first brush with anything medical had been a course I’d taken in my second year entitled the Physiological Basis of Behaviour. I’d also come across mothering hormones in another module on child development.
It seemed to me that the biggest difference between the way womens’ bodies worked in labour at home or in hospital could be owed to differences in stress hormone secretion. I’d had my first baby in the 1980s and had gone to NHS midwife led antenatal classes and learnt to relax and breathe through contractions. Relaxation for labour worked, despite a very fierce induced labour.
I homed in on hormones for my reading and angled the questions in the structured interview for mothers around stress and perception of control – because stress hormones are secreted in circumstances of helplessness, hopelessness and loss of control. I also did a lot of reading trying to find out how birth worked, I thought I ought to know before writing a book on the subject. But, much to my surprise, there was practically nothing in the textbooks on how womens’ bodies work in birth, just descriptions of what happened and when.
So began my long journey into a better understanding of the physiology of labour. On the way I encountered midwifery and birth politics. I edited Midwifery Matters, the magazine of the Association of Radical Midwives, for nearly 20 years, leaving to devote my time to researching more about positions for labour and birth. Dynamic Positions in Birth was published by Pinter and Martin in 2014. And this journey eventually turned me into a furniture designer and, hopefully, a businesswoman! Time will tell.