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Birthlight Christmas message 2015

Dear Birthlight - members, friends and friends of friends!

Each year, tinsel and carols announce a time of good will, truce and focus on the ‘love values’ of life. Children take it seriously. In illustrated letters to Father Christmas that I recently saw pinned up at a local school, they remembered to ask for special foods and warm clothes needed by baby Jesus and his parents until the three kings arrived with presents, not forgetting carrots for the donkey! Perhaps they had seen some of the many TV appeals reminding us about the hardships of so many refugee children in Europe and around the world. Or it may be that the Nativity scene, with a baby entering the world in a manger in  bare surroundings under the star of Bethlehem - actually an ‘unattended birth’ - conjures up the true compassion that young children best remind us of as an essential quality of being human.

This Christmas is very special to me as I am about to attend the birth of my first grandchild, a baby girl, in support of my daughter Mary and her partner Patrick, hopefully in our home garden yoga studio. I have had the privilege of watching this baby grow to her ready-to-be-born size and of getting to know her through her responses to her mother’s breathing, her father’s touch and their joint voices. This has taken me right back to a celebration of the sheer miracle of life that bringing a baby into the world invariably is, irrespective of culture, race or creed.  Of course this is what motivates all of us at Birthlight, what inspires midwives through long shifts and what draws more and more doulas to support the birth process. The ongoing success of ‘Call the Midwife’, the social fascination with ‘One Born Every Minute’ and the heralding of celebs’ pregnancies in popular magazines remind us of the wonder of personal experiences of pregnancy and birth. Birth may no longer be as fraught with danger in most of today’s world but it still evokes our vulnerability, and a complexity of emotions belied by the pretence of harnessing and controlling nature.

An unprecedented superabundance of research articles, blogs, clips, books and DVDs now maps the landscape of pregnancy, birth and babyhood for new parents and professionals, with instant access unimaginable a few decades back. Yet eye-contact conveying that the person in the body has been seen - as in the Namaste salute to the spirit in Yoga - a reassuring word or simple touch, are expressions of care we all seek beyond information. Whether in an overcrowded metropolitan hospital or the busy health post of a frontier region, pressures of time management, limited human resources, protocols and policies constrict sensitive and compassionate care. At this time in history, everywhere, community support is called upon to make up for the personalised attention that circles of kin are no longer able to give, or sadly, not there to give when people have been displaced.  Even in areas where traditional forms of care have been made illegal due to pressures of global health policies and goals, new parents are prepared to take risks to retrieve the comforts of cultural ways their ancestors valued, or to re-invent them in new forms.

The vision of Birthlight is one of Infant Joy, after William Blake’s poem, in which every new born can be held and cherished on a loving lap (well, skin-to-skin…). To make this happen takes more than a few medical check-ups before and after birth, wherever and however birth takes place. It requires a circle of friends who can witness and accompany one another’s transformation within their life cycle and bring out the truly awesome dimension of the life changes that are being experienced, particularly for first births. Getting used to becoming a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt or even the friend of a new parent, challenges personal identities. The arrival of a new baby involves anyone, close or remote, in a return to hope and faith in the world, to the joy, love and the promise of life unfolding to its full potential.  Even the births of baby animals touch us in this way. Temporarily, and this is also the message of Christmas, the inevitability of death and the war-mongering madness that looms like an obsolete plague on our fragile planet are held at bay, not forgotten but backstage.

With each Birthlight circle of friends in our community classes, a haven is created for women, new parents, and babies. In these circles they are safe to explore and celebrate their life transforming, to quietly heal old wounds or confront obstacles, to give and receive support in the very physical way it needs to be enacted. This year, more than ever before, all the Birthlight tutors who have trained teachers to create these community-based havens at the grassroots have returned with stunning evaluations confirming that our mission statement applies to a wide range of countries and social environments.  In our quiet, one-baby-at-a-time kind of way, we are sending ripples of positive change through our informal networks.  Even though yoga and baby swimming have become commercialised and sometimes sold as commodities more than as services, we need to keep faith in the spirit of practice and experience that can open the doors of what is possible for new families.

After preparing a large filing box full of relevant articles on the physiology of birth and on the brain-wiring of newborns through sensory integration post birth for review, I have been so overwhelmed by the day to day experiences and imminent joy of welcoming my baby grand-daughter that the box has remained with its lid on.  Unwittingly following Michel Odent’s advice to pregnant women as a grandmother to be, I have been star-gazing. Watching spectacular moon rises during afternoon walks along the Cam river, the busy scene full of university rowing teams and runners has also somehow been a cosmic space where robins, geese, ducks and swans follow the rhythms of mid winter. These walks have also brought end-of-year feelings of gratitude. For the Birthlight office team members, who have been warmly supportive in expressing the Birthlight nurturing ethos through daily interactions, inside and outside our little office. For our Board of Trustees who watch over the steering of Birthlight activities along a steady path. And of course for our many-faceted collective of Birthlight training tutors, who convey shared ideals in ways that are distinctive beyond advanced branding techniques; uniquely personalised and adapted to the cultural needs of each country they go to.  Thank you.

As in the song that Sally and I love to walk, sing and dance, this is a time in the world for ‘sisters to weave and mend’, no less than the fabric of society, through well-supported maternity. To all members and friends of Birthlight, to those who have attended trainings, classes and events over the last year as well as those who will take part in planned 2016 activities, our joint greetings, with tidings of merry festivities and wishes for lasting peace and joy in the New Year.

Peace and Joy!