Earlier this month I attended a screening of MicroBirth – this film highlights the importance of the way in which a baby is colonised by its mother’s bacteria during and after birth, and emerging research into the impact of this on the baby’s future health. Something that is almost incomprehensible in its complexity of function in the body and possible future ramifications for long-term health, and that has been unwittingly tampered with by so many common practices in our culture during childbearing and the early postnatal period. At the same time it is amazingly simple: a mother gives birth and instinctively picks her baby up, cuddling her precious newborn against her skin and helping her baby find the way to the breast. When birth is undisturbed, the microbes take care of themselves.
There is a fantastically comprehensive summary of the research in this area by Midwife Thinking here, along with many useful practical suggestions for applying the findings of this emerging field during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
What many of us watching the film were wondering afterwards, was how to take on board this information when we have experienced a less straightforward birth. My eldest child was born by caesarean a decade ago and I had never heard of the microbiome or the need to ‘seed’ the baby with the mother’s bacteria. There are several things I could and would have done to mitigate the effects of my daughter’s birth on her microbiome, had I known what I know now. Scientific discoveries advance constantly, and we never know when we may be faced with new information that calls into question decisions and choices made years earlier.
I am reminded of the quote by Maya Angelou – ‘I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.’ This is surely all that we can ask of ourselves. But it can be incredibly painful to confront the gap between our past knowledge, and our current knowledge. The pain of regret can cloud our vision, interfering with our ability to learn from experience and put our new knowledge to good use. When we are able to bring mindful awareness to our regrets, rather than avoiding or trying to suppress these feelings, we can hold them in clear-seeing and self-compassion. This allows us to move beyond the pain and sadness, able to respond more skilfully to use the wisdom we have gained.