Friday, 25 November 2011

The Fitzherbert Arms, Swynnerton (Circular Walk)

In which I wave cheerily at the pub where I had my first job, see yet more interesting fungi I am unable to identify, and think about the latest UK gubbins around childbirth choices.

Ordnance Survey Number: Explorer 258
Distance: 3.5 miles approx
Time: 100 mins

Rating: Moderate (numerous stiles to be crossed, and map reading to be done)

I had a rubbish week last week. The Chap was ill, and ran a 38-39 degree temperature for 3 days. I'd rather forgotten how 24 hour being a parent is - now I get woken up a maximum of once a night or not at all, I rather feel that the time after 8pm until I go to bed is 'time off'. Lies! The Chap was a very sad little fellow, and refused to sleep at all unless he was on a person for two of the three nights he was ill. This meant I pulled a half-nighter (lasted until 3am on Saturday morning, when I had to go and turf the ChapDad out of bed before I died), and with a little more preparation, an all-nighter (11.30pm - 5am). There was then some wazzockry on Sunday night once he was well but had a disrupted sleep pattern. Pale shadows of our former selves, my husband and I discussed it and decided it was time to admit that the job had got too big for two knackered people. I left the ChapDad to sleep, while I ran away up the country to spend a few days with my parents in Staffordshire.
Glamour, thy name is rambling.

After two naps and a full night's sleep (thank you Mummy for dealing with the 2.30am feed request), I decided I was awake enough to try for a walk with my Daddy. He was a little concerned that he would be required to produce a quantity of feminist thinking; I let him off that bit.

And fair enough, really, because what's been on my mind is childbirth (as the news has announced both the recommendation for allowing women to have elective caesarians, and a new report has made some claims regarding the safety of first time home births). There's really a tolerance level for the number of times one can use the words 'vaginal delivery' to your father. I think one is really the optimum number. Bless 'im, I was 38 weeks at Christmas last year, and the combination of them visiting plus me being booked for a homebirth left him quite jittery. Fortunately, The Chap arrived 40 weeks to the day and appeared well into January, when everyone had left and festivities had quietened down.
The beauty of the Fitz's car park

We started at The Fitzherbert Arms pub, where I worked, a couple of months before leaving the late nights and potential vomit to opt to be an early morning cleaner instead. I had to clear out trucker's toilets in the newer job, but it was quiet and no-one felt the need to comment on me being 'built for comfort, not for speed'. The charmers.

Unidentified fungus #1

Standing with your back to the Alison Bar, leave the car park and turn right down Early Lane. Continue to the end of the road and then head straight on down the green lane, where we found the first of our unidentified fungus for this walk.

The green lane finishes and you emerge into a field. We were pleased by the portly fellow indicated on the sign, so I took a picture of the matching portly fellow I had with me.

Cross diagonally over the first, second and third fields, where we found the second and third of our unidentified fungi. At the end of the field, cross over the A519, taking care as you descend down a pretty steep & nasty bank - I did it by holding onto the signpost and going down the side of the path rather than the main, slightly muddied route.

Unidentified fungus #2
Unidentified fungus #3

Once you have survived the descent and got onto the path, turn left and follow the field boundary. My father identified a pair of partridges as they flew away from us, and then pointed out a couple of badger sets, which one of his friends had been heard to leap up and down near, crying 'Get up, lazy bones*! It's half past ten!'. Sadly, the badgers, being nocturnal, were unlikely to comply.
Too big for rabbit,
too small for badger...

*The shouter is a grown, middle-aged man and did not shout 'lazy bones', but I have been struck by modesty and am paraphrasing more politely.

We then passed another hole, and stood for a little while discussing if it was for a rabbit (too big) or a badger (too small). Moving on past the tree roots where the burrow was found, we saw the clue to the owner: a pile of feathers suggested that a fox was at work in the area.

So yes, as I mentioned, I had a homebirth for my first child. The thing is, the route the that decision was an interesting one. When I had my 10 week visit from a midwife, I was totally of the "I've never had a baby before, I have no idea what I'm doing! Send me to hospital! Bring me a consultant!". Four weeks later, we went for four days in Haworth in Yorkshire, home of a number of sobering headstones of the sort you don't wish to see while 14 weeks pregnant:

The inscription reads "In memory of  Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph and Mary Leeming
of Keighley, who died August 20th 1855 in the 6th year of her age. Also eleven infants
 of theirs, also two infants of theirs, also of Sarah Elizabeth their daughter who died
December 16th 1862 in the 2nd Year of her age, also of an infant of theirs, also of Fred
 their sonwho died November 19th 1869 in the 4th year of his age.".
 My heart goes out to Joseph and Mary Leeming of Keighley....
Which, if nothing else, makes me incredibly grateful to live in an age where a) I can choose when I want to be pregnant, and b) we understand the importance of clean water (Haworth had one of the worst mortality rates in the country due to a number of factors, no small part being that their water supply was coming through the graveyard before getting to the standpipes).

We also popped across to Leeds to see one of James' University friends, whose second child was around a month old at the time. His wife, who hadn't enjoyed the birth of her first child in hospital, had had a home water birth. She delivered what was a quite fearsome polemic on how women need to educate themselves about childbirth (after all, you don't get in a car and expect to drive it straight away), thrust a copy of Childbirth Without Fear into my hand, while keeping Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby firmly on the bookshelf ("We've got that copy trapped on the bookshelf so it won't fall into any unsuspecting hands!"). I went away and read it, and started to think...

Buryhurst Pit
Continue to the end of the field, where we excited a number of large dogs in kennels. While we had been on holiday in August, the Chap had burst into tears and screamed when a large dog had barked at him, but fortunately  he was asleep by this point - I don't think he would have enjoyed it too much. Cross over a stile next to the kennels, and turn immediately left and cross over a second stile to go up a slightly wooded path. This then widens to a not enormously attractive, but functional path that leads you back to the A519. Cross over this and take the path to the left along the field boundary, go over the stile at the end and turn right down the green lane. This will take you past the Buryhurst Pit ("Oo, it's a marl pit." said my father. I grunted ignorantly, but apparently it's an area where clay has been removed, and has then filled up with water. So there you go.), and an industrial estate that appears to be a storage area for, among other things, caravans, buses, a broken doll's house, a boat registered in Southampton (and impressively lost) and the transporters for the North Staffordshire Racer Pigeon Federation. This path then goes on for a fair way, and at the end it got pretty muddy, with Daddy powering ahead while I took things a little slower for fear of falling and doing The Chap a mischief.

Because doing the Chap a mischief is not something I have wanted to do, so I did a lot of research into home births before making my choice. A report has come out today in The Telegraph  saying that home births for first time mothers are more likely to lead to complications to the baby, and that is something you have to take into account when planning a home birth. It was something we talked about a lot - if the baby dies and we're at home, we will blame ourselves for having a home birth, regardless of whether or not he would have died in hospital as well. Yet, for all the scaremongering in this report, tucked away beneath the scroll down and beyond the golden third paragraph is the sentence

"The researchers stressed that giving birth [at home] is generally very safe as 250 babies suffered complications from the 64,538 births in the study."

So, while that is terrible for the 500 parents who had to deal with the complications, the risks are still very, very low. Yet at the same time, I heard someone on the radio saying that an elective caesarian was a better choice because if you deliver vaginally there is 'danger of prolapse', but the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health says :

There have been many studies trying to find out which is the safest way to have a baby. At this time, there is no proof that having a C-section is safer or protects against future problems with leaking urine or stool, or uterine prolapse. Because there are more medical risks for women who have a C-section compared to women who have a vaginal birth, vaginal birth is safer.

Also, there's a lot of hoo-hah about how you give birth (no-one gives you a medal), but it is hard to express to someone who hasn't done it how vulnerable you feel post-childbirth. You have just gone through a major physical event. If you're going to run a marathon, you train and prepare for it, they give you a start date and time, you do it, and then you take time out to recover. Childbirth is an effort I think it would be fair to equate with a marathon, but instead of a nice, clear start date you get a five week window, in which your marathon can start at any time. Sometimes you feel you have been taken up to the starting line, only to be told that it's all off and you can go back home. And once you've finally done it, there's no time to recover - you are then woken up every three hours or so for at least three months. Add to that being awash with hormones trying to sort out the fact you're not pregnant and the sudden reality of your life having changed forever (again, you can be told about it all you like, but the way it feels...). It's tough. It's really, really tough.

I may have had a homebirth - and I would recommend it, the experience of childbirth was amazing. I had been worried about feeling out of control, but my main memories of it are a sense of doing something that was really hard work physically, but doing it really well. Upon being told I as 8 centimetres dilated, I remember wanting to argue to my midwife and say "Are you sure? I thought this should hurt more?". I very clearly remember thinking "Actually, I don't need any of you here at all, I could do this all on my own like a cat in a cupboard.". It wasn't really painful - apart from crowning, which lead to me to say something akin to 'Gosh, gosh, goshity gosh'.

But I digress. Homebirth was great for me, but an elective caesarian might be great for someone else. But, as The Guardian noted, "Malcolm Griffiths, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Luton and Dunstable hospital, who chaired the guidelines committee, said: "Caesarean section is major surgery. It is about as major as hysterectomy, after which you go home and do nothing for six weeks and some employers won't expect you back for six months. After a caesarean we send a lady home after two days and say 'here's a baby to look after as well'."

I am pro choice for whatever a woman feels is right for her. But what is the most important thing is that women are educated fully about childbirth so they are able to make informed decisions, and as things stand at the moment, the free antenatal education I received was very poor indeed (3 hours from our local NHS), and had I relied on that I think my experience of birth would have been very, very different.

Anyway, walking. You finally appear out on Cotes Lane - the man on the sign pointing back the way we had come looked considerably trimmer than the one we had seen at the start of our walk. Sadly, neither of us had become that markedly slimmer in the time it had taken us to do our walk, and I will still be relying on Big Pants to fit me into my dress for The Godmother's wedding in 4 weeks time.

Turn left, up a precipitous set of steps and go over a stile that is angled sloping backwards, making it a bit unnerving to cross, particularly if you have a small Chap strapped to your front. He had just woken up, and did not look wholly impressed.

St Mary's Church, Swynnerton
Cross the field, go over your final stile into a strip of woodland and turn left. Go through a metal kissing gate and follow the path straight across the field and then along the field boundary until you pop out beside the cricket club. Follow the path along the side of the grounds until you come out onto Park View. Cross the road and continue forward up an alley that will lead you onto a pavement alongside the unclassified road through Swynnerton. Turn left and follow the pavement, waving happily at Lord Stafford's mansion and the local Anglican and Catholic Churches on the other side of the road until you round the corner and find yourself back at the Fitzherbert Arms. And you haven't had to use the phrase 'vaginal delivery' to your father once.

Things I learnt

  • What a marl pit is. I should have known that, having lived in Staffordshire for many years. Most things are to do with pots there. It sort of took the gloss off Chinese museums filled with Ming dynasty vases, because I was so sick of looking at pots in museums here. Always love a handsome Tang Dynasty camel, mark you.
  • Almost everyone gets a little bit messed up after childbirth. I had friends who regretted being induced which led to C-Section, or regretted getting to the pushing stage and then needing an episiotomy, or regretted not having a contraction at all when they had to have a C-section due to pre-eclampsia. I still wish I hadn't had to go into hospital to get stitched up - it was my treatment there that means I get mild panicky flashbacks that sent me to get some therapy. But put it this way - a new person comes into the world, and they either come out through your fu-fu, or it has to be cut out of you. As amazing as that experience is, it will be a bit of a shock.
  • As much as I may bitch about stuff, I haven't had to bury 17 children as the Leemings had to. I don't know how you do that and stay sane. There's nothing I can say about how the thought of that experience makes me feel. It's too big. There are no words.


  1. Ha! I woke up to the home birth news this morning. Very interesting...not sure why they have decided that after so much evidence that suggests the contrary and I wonder who sponsored the research. I completely agree with you about reading up on the whole birth thing. Having a child is a massive thing to do and so many people play such a passive role and just go with the flow then wonder why they feel out of control and things don't go the way they wanted.

  2. I should point out that the 'shouter' is a recently retired headmaster. He did not use the words 'lazy bones' but, in keeping with his position in society, he did not use language that would make a fair maiden blush. The 'leaping up and down' was a bit of a token effort, too.