Specialist butch pregnancy wear from Butchbaby & Co – Good Bye Maternity, Hello Alternity!

I spend a lot of time thinking about pregnancy and birth, often through a queer lens, so I was pretty excited to hear about US-based Butchbaby & Co, a new enterprise between Vanessa Newman & Michelle Janayea, with the tagline “Don’t change, just because your body does.
The first ever alternity wear for pregnant masculine, transgender, and queer individuals.”
recite-yz6boi

Their philosophy is that “Comfort is essential. Not a luxury. Pregnancy can be scary for anyone. But when you don’t fit the prototype for average, feminine woman, the experience can be less accommodating and even scarier. Butchbaby & Co. is designed to provide holistic comfort to one’s clothing and one’s lifestyle throughout the pregnancy experience. We strongly believe no individual’s identity should change just because their body does.”

I’m not butch myself, but I recognise there are going to be people who present masculine of centre, or who are just straight up masculine, who are gonna need clothes to wear during pregnancy. It makes me so happy that these two are making the clothes they want, not only for themselves but for people like them. And I really like the shifting of ‘maternity wear’ to ‘alternity wear’ – the kind of language hacks I want to see more of to shatter the idea that pregnancy is inherently womanly or feminine!

The expected due date (ha!) for the first collection is autumn 2015, and they are are planning an initial line of 8 items, comprising of:

  • Nursing T-shirt
  • Oxford button-up
  • Jeans
  • Pullover sweater
  • Zip-up hoodie
  • Sweatpants
  • Boxer briefs
  • Nursing sports bra

They are just starting out, so you can subscribe to updates through their website at http://butchbaby.co/. I am excited to see how their baby grows!

If breast milk is best for babies… isn’t cow’s milk best for calves?!

As midwives, we promote the idea that breast milk is the best, most perfect food for babies. We support women/parents who have given birth to breastfeed, because breast milk provides exactly the right nutritional content – from the richer, super-concentrated colostrum when the baby is first born, to a later, more plentiful milk supply which both hydrates and nourishes depending on what the baby needs.

We support breastfeeding, because if a baby can’t be breastfed the alternative (with the exception of finding donor breast milk) is to feed the baby on formula milk, which is made from cow’s milk. This use of cow’s milk for babies isn’t what I am questioning here – it is imperative to ensure the baby is fed, and if the woman/parent either does not want to breastfeed or is unable to do so, then cow’s milk-based formula is a way do this. But as midwives we recognise that from an all-things-being-equal perspective, breast milk is better for the baby than cow’s milk because it is made especially for a growing human baby.

Excellent patch by Scum Sisters for sale at Etsy

Excellent patch by Scum Sisters for sale at Etsy

The thing that I find very weird, which seems almost too obvious to say, is…

In the same way human breast milk is perfectly composed to meet the needs of a growing human baby, cow’s milk is perfectly composed to help a baby calf grow into an adult cow! And yet in the West at least is is completely commonplace for adults to consume cows milk. It is considered weirder, in my experience at least, to try and avoid cow’s milk.

I think about this literally every time I think about breastfeeding, and I wonder if other, non-vegan midwives either don’t see the connection, or employ some kind of cognitive dissonance to put it out their minds. We are adults whose bodies have already grown, able to make our own choices (unlike the babies who may be fed cow’s milk based formula) but the overwhelming majority is choosing to drink cow’s milk, this liquid food perfectly composed to grow baby calves into cows. And yet there is uproar when breast milk is offered up for adult consumption, be it as ice cream or just as-is for perceived health benefits (warning for whorephobia) even though in both these cases, consent appears to be given from those producing the breastmilk!

I’ve been vegan before, and have just gone vegan again. Partly to free up some headspace when offering breastfeeding support (joke) but also because being vegetarian but not vegan always feels a bit inconsistent in terms of the animal welfare reasons I have for being vegetarian, and I tended to deal with it by just not thinking about where dairy comes from. The Veganuary campaign gave me the push to go from my long-term vegetarianism back into veganism.

And if you wanna buy the patch in the picture? Here’s the link!

“Je suis une étudiante sage-femme” – adding midwifery-related language to my French vocabulary.

Last week I looked after a French-speaking woman who had been admitted into hospital early in her pregnancy. She didn’t speak much English, and her French-speaking partner spoke some English but couldn’t stay with her. I am so glad that when her partner told me she didn’t speak English, that I asked them what language they did speak. I am no longer completely fluent but I still have a high level of conversational French, so I could say – “I speak French. Would you like me to speak in French to you?” to which she said yes and smiled.

We do have mechanisms in place in the NHS for getting interpreters for those in our care who don’t speak English (or who speak a little but need someone to interpret the medical language that goes along with midwifery care). We can either use Language Line – a confidential telephone service whereby the interpreter is on the other end of the phone and it is passed between the health care worker and the person receiving care – or an interpreter can be booked to attend appointments, or to explain procedures for limited amounts of time, or to be present once labour is established. Interpreters through either/both of these channels are completely essential and I have no jumped-up ideas about taking over from them!

But whether on the phone or in the room, these interpreters cannot be here all the time. So when we do our observation rounds to see how the people in our care are doing, or when we respond to one of them pressing a buzzer, if they don’t speak English and we don’t speak their language then in the immediate term it’s harder for us to understand what they are saying and for them to make themselves understood.

And I realised that something I can do, as someone who can already speak French, is to learn the midwifery-related language in French too so that on the occasions where I am caring for a French-speaker who doesn’t speak English, I can make sure that at the times an interpreter is not present, that they can understand what we are saying and that they are understood. It may not come in useful often  – this is only the second time I have looked after a French-speaking woman who didn’t speak English (and the first time was when I was training in the community so we had booked an interpreter for every appointment she had with us) but on the occasions it does come in useful it will be invaluable.

10000 hours to become a good midwife?

Learning to be a midwife is really hard. I had been warned the second year of training was difficult but I don’t think I realised what people meant until placement began only days after the exam we had been studying for for the last 8 weeks, and suddenly there was shift work to contend with whilst meeting new people, learning new systems, and applying our 8 weeks of 2nd year teaching on high risk pregnancy into actually caring for people. I am struggling to understand how other midwifery students are enjoying this experience, and it is really hard to feel like I don’t completely suck, as I wonder how it’s possible for me to be trying so hard to be good at this whilst still making so many mistakes and still knowing so little.

But then today I remembered the idea that it takes 10000 hours of practice to become truly good at something. And it made me feel slightly better about how much I still have to learn even though I am already half way through my first placement of my second year. If I count up all the hours of midwifery practice I have had since the start of my course, I’ve clocked up 635. Even if I add in all the time spent studying in and out of university (an extra 1050 hours), that’s still only 1685 hours. 1685/10000 – that’s less than a fifth of the way there. I won’t hit the 10000 hour mark until I have not only finished my degree but been practicing as a qualified midwife for a few years.

Giving myself that as a timescale makes me feel less like I have to be brilliant at this right now, and more like every hour I spend trying to be better is taking me closer to the point where I can actually do this.

Which is a comforting thought when I find myself thinking several times a shift that I just *can’t* do this.

No diet talk for me, I’m being good.

CONTENT NOTE: Discussion of how diet talk is harmful.

No Diet Talk badge designed by Natalie at definatalie.com

No Diet Talk badge designed by Natalie at definatalie.com

The level of diet/weightloss talk from staff in maternity care is so high that my friend who has already qualified as a midwife *warned* me about it before I started. And when I say diet talk I don’t mean advising women we care for to diet (although that is a whole other blog post coming soon – and certainly influenced by a midwife’s own views on dieting and body positivity) but workers talking about their own diets and weightloss projects. Slimming world. Weight watchers. Being “good”. Being “bad”. Obsessions with weight that extend to telling people how much weight they have lost and weighing themselves at work. Asking others about their BMI. Talking about specific events in the future they want to lose weight for so they look ‘beautiful’, and others weighing in to advise how they can do that whilst still enjoying food over Christmas.

Then when the food comes out at lunchtime it’s a chorus of whether everyone is being “good” or “bad” in their choices. Saying “ooh that looks healthy” in a congratulatory tone. Looking forward to Friday when the consensus seems to be that you are allowed a treat that day. Telling us how many calories are in a given item.

I cannot tell you how many calories are in my lunch, and if I could, I wouldn’t. Because I think it’s a terrible combination of tedious and potentially triggering.

Diet talk is potentially triggering because some people are trying to resist dieting. Perhaps through recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating, and/or because they don’t like giving that much headspace every day to how they can take up less and less space in the world. It is harder not to think about when the people around you are trying to engage you in conversation about it. It gets me down because this seeming compulsion for diet/weight loss talk isn’t anything new, and I wasn’t surprised when I recognised it in a midwifery setting. It’s happened in all the mostly female workplaces I’ve worked in and it seems to be the default topic when women are together and want something to talk about. I feel like I am conspicuously absent from these discussions but it’s hard to go further and challenge people or change the subject, especially when I’m working somewhere new and concerned about the impression I am making.

I am body positive and fat positive, and I recognise an individual’s right to change their body if they want to. I am skeptical about how effective most diets are, but I wouldn’t try to stop someone from embarking on one. I also recognise that we are all products of the anti-fat, size conscious society we are living in, whether we have started actively deconstructing the way this affects our thoughts and actions or not! What I object to is the way the diet is performed to an often captive audience that has not consented.

Whilst I might not be able to influence my wider environment, this blog is a “no diet talk” space. Natalie of Definatalie.com put it well when she said “The way I see it, 99.9999999% of the world around me is a space where diet talk is not only normal but an insidious disease festering inside the relationships between women folk that masquerades as bonding”. She made the copyright-free badge I’ve put in my sidebar, which shows my commitment to keeping diet talk out, and to flagging any references to diet talk in terms of wider discussion with a content note.

I figure there are much more interesting things to talk about anyway.

Enough is enough.

Midwives at the picket line for the NHS strike for fair pay, 24th November 2014

Midwives at the picket line for the NHS strike for fair pay, 24th November 2014

This Monday, on the first day of my hospital placement, I joined the picket line from 7-11am to highlight the need for fair pay for NHS staff. The industrial action then continues for the rest of this week, as NHS staff will be working to rule, which means taking all allocated breaks and not doing any unpaid overtime.

This week of action is in protest of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to grant a 1% pay rise to NHS staff as advised by an independent pay review, meaning that staff pay is essentially falling when inflation is taken into account. There is more background information in this guardian article if you haven’t heard much about it – I feel like it’s been massively under-reported.

This strike followed on from the initial strike on the 13th October 2015, which was the first time since its inception 133 years ago that the Royal College of Midwives voted in favour of strike action. This has been framed by the press as a sign that things must be bad, if even the moderate midwives who consider their job a true vocation, are striking. I have never considered myself, or the other radical midwives I know as “moderate”, but perhaps we are an unrepresentative sample!

I joined the picket line as a student member of one of the main unions, not only because any pay rise that is won following this industrial action will benefit me once I qualify, but because to cross the picket line felt too much like undermining the action my fellow workers – both symbolically, and literally as the presence of students providing extra pairs of hands to help out and diminishes the impact of the four hour strike.

My placement was in a non-essential service (unions negotiate with health trusts to establish which services are deemed essential, to ensure for example that ambulances can answer emergency 999 calls and that women going into labour are provided with care for themselves and their baby) and students are not included in the minimum numbers needed for areas for the hospital to run safely, so supporting the strike was a realistic option for me. Some will have found themselves unable to strike because they were working in an essential service, but for others in positions similar to me I wonder what it would take to make them strike next time? How can we support each other to make that leap? If all NHS staff in non-essential services went on strike next time, think how much more quickly this pay dispute could be resolved!

The midwives in the photo at the top of the post were my strike buddies for the duration of the picket line, and whilst I don’t imagine any of us relish the thought of another strike, I will give my support to another one – and another one – if that’s what it takes to secure fair pay for NHS staff.

 

On looking after myself so I can look after others.

One of the things I am conscious of, as I train to be a midwife, is how I can make sure I am taking care of myself. So that this process is sustainable, and so I can have the energy to care for other people.

I have taken a few big steps to take better care of myself since starting my training. I have moved into a house with a fellow student midwife where together we have created a little sanctuary of calm to study and retreat after placement. I left a relationship that with hindsight was somewhat toxic, to instead focus on a relationship that is nurturing, loving and fulfilling. And then there are all the little steps. The taking time to relax, making time for interests outside of midwifery, the eating well but still treating myself, the women-only swimming sessions when my timetable permits. The strong friendships built up over years and the newer friendships since starting my training, all of which allow me to feel heard, cared for and supported. The radical midwives meetings I go to once a month to spend time around the table with other likeminded midwives and remind myself why I am doing this.

Skullcap

Last week was my final week of teaching before we begin our eight week hospital placement, and it included an exam. I had been revising steadily, but really concentrated my efforts in the week leading up to it. I gave myself the night off on Monday, as one of my friends is a medical herbalist who runs these monthly experiential herb tasting sessions. The aim is to allow us to really get to know herbs, so we can begin to use them to look after ourselves and those we care about as an alternative to the industrial-capitalist framework healthcare has been built up around. (I should perhaps add: this use of herbs is something I am interested in in my personal life, not my professional life)

In these sessions we explore a herb through our senses, without initially knowing which herb is is. We start the session by doing some exercises to help us really feel like we were in our bodies, and then a pot of tea is brewed up using the herb.  And then we smell it and taste it, all the while thinking about what it makes us think of, how it affects us, if we like it, what we think it might be useful for. After this exploration, the herb is revealed, and then we try it in other forms (like a tincture) and read up about it. The herb was skullcap (pictured), and when I had tasted it I felt like I had taken a step back from the situation, without losing my focus, which is fitting as skullcap is useful for calming the nervous system without sedating. I realised that this evening, after all the studying I had been doing, was the first time in a while I had really felt like I was in my body and it was a very welcome feeling.

On Tuesday morning, the day before the exam, I got hit by a car as I was biking into university. I was waiting at the top of a hill on a side street, indicating that I wanted to turn right, when a car came from my left and turned across my side of the road and straight into me. The middle of the bumper hit my front wheel (buckling on impact) and hit my left thigh, and I fell off – luckily falling away from the car. The driver stopped, and alternated between saying that she didn’t see me, and that I was on her side of the road. We swapped details and I carried my bike the 15 minute walk home, as the wheel would no longer turn. I got home, put arnica on my injuries, and my housemate made me a huge mug of sugary tea. I tried to study but it became apparent I would need to take the day off.

On the morning of the exam I realised that despite the point of impact being my thigh, I must have braced my arms as I held on to the handlebars as the car hit me, as my shoulders and collarbones were achingly sore, with bruises forming despite the lack of contact. I took painkillers, did some final revision and then sat the exam. Then I went for drinks with the other student midwives and talked about anything but the exam.

The next morning was the first time in many weeks that I felt like the pressure was off, so I went for a full body massage. I had originally booked this in before the collision, thinking it would be a relaxing treat, but it ended up being more than that. It became a way of helping to physically work the trauma, the tension of the collision out of my body. I have read that after deers experience a trauma, like a run-in with a predator, they go back to their families and they shake shake shake and discharge the trauma from their bodies. This felt like that. It is maybe going a little far to suggest that cars are the predators and cyclists are the prey, but when you have been caught in the headlights it certainly seems that way. We finished off the massage with some reiki, and I was encouraged not to think, to quieten my mind and just accept the healing energy.

And it worked. As I sit here on the eve of my hospital placement, despite the events of last week, I feel ready for this next challenge.