BRA Birth Experts Talk! Interview #1 Cass McNamara

braexpertCass McNamaracassheadshotIFP_9438_pp

Mother of 3 great, big grown boys aged 22/21/15, Midwife, SOM, Inventor of the CUB and CEO at Birthsparks Ltd. Lives in Ayrshire, Scotland.


I was always interested in births and babies, as a small child I remember trying to warm eggs out of the fridge to try to make them hatch! If there was a pregnant or baby anything nearby then that’s where I would be. Not surprisingly this led to the profession of midwifery that I have been happily involved in since 1996. I have never failed to be fascinated by pregnancy and birth and while I now run my company Birthsparks that manufactures the Comfortable Upright Birth (CUB) support I am still a practising midwife and Supervisor of Midwives (SOM) in Ayrshire and Arran. It is really important to me to maintain my skills as a midwife and apart from that the withdrawal symptoms of not being around pregnant women or babies would be terrible, I really am an addict.

My day to day work revolves around managing my company Birthsparks, but one or two days each month I work on midwifery supervision issues in Ayrshire and Arran. This can involve meeting with midwives or mothers who feel they need support or advice on practice or around a concern they have. The primary focus of midwifery supervision is to protect the public by ensuring that individual midwives and services are the best they can be. This has many aspects to it but it can also be very challenging; although rewarding when I know that I have supported someone to get the service they need from the NHS. I became a SOM because I want all mothers to have the very best maternity care possible and being a SOM can influence this for mothers and Midwives. I also practice as an Independent Midwife (self-employed) each year to maintain all of my skills. This involves providing all ante natal, labour and birth midwifery care as well as postnatal care. This can either be for mothers choosing a home birth or hospital birth and in effect they become my employer during this time. However as Birthsparks has grown and CUB is now used worldwide I am finding it increasingly difficult to  continue to do this, as much as I love it!

I think the most important piece of advice I could give any pregnant woman would be to remember that pregnancy is not an abnormal medical condition that needs ‘cured’ and to really think about what you want, what really matters to you and then find out as much as you can. Also the following

“You are amazing, you can do this, whatever your ‘this’ turns out to be, believe in yourself”    

The most important piece of advice I would give a new mum….goodness there is so much I would want them to know but mostly the following:

“remember you totally rock, you grew that baby and no one else could have ever have given life to your baby but you, your fantastic and should know it”.           

“Try not to over analyse or rationalise everything, keep your baby close, hold, nurture, comfort as much as possible and allow yourself time to recover and to learn”                                                                           

“You won’t have all the answers, but you don’t need them all at once anyway, your baby will teach you the things that really matter when they matter”


Cass’ Tips for childbirth: let it happen, quiet, calm, low voices, dim lights, minimal number of people…no nervous, frightened ‘spectators’ who are there for their own desire to see a birth rather than to whole heartedly support you. Move around in any position you choose that you find comfortable. Try to avoid sitting on or lying on a bed on your back. Learn about upright positions for birth, use a CUB J or at least watch the CUB animation so that you know why it is important

My personal birth philosophy is to just let your body do what it is supposed to do and let birth happen so switch off your brain and let your uterus do the work! You can prepare for this by understanding how your body works, keeping mobile, calm and by having genuine support. Birth is not a voluntary process so cannot really be controlled, any more than you can control a period or the menopause! But where you give birth and the support you have and how well you understand how birth works can have a huge impact.

I think that women need to prepare for birth in one way or another. This can be in organised groups or classes, from other women or just finding out things as an individual; women all over the world learn about and prepare for birth in many different ways but the experience of giving birth is so unique to each mother that no matter where or what you learn your experience will ultimately be reflected in your feelings about it afterwards. Preparation can help to make those feelings be more positive because you understand more about how your birth unfolded and you had the knowledge to influence what happened, even if things didn’t turn out the way you planned. If I had my way all 16 year old school children would need to do an antenatal course as part of the curriculum as understanding about birth is almost non-existent and pregnancy should not be the time to learn all of this as a first go! It should be a time of reinforcement and revision to establish and increase knowledge (Rant over..).

Getting back to work and working around your family is no doubt a huge challenge and it is hard! But what may be helpful is:

Finding a way of working around your children’s needs. When my youngest was born I went back to work as a midwife in the NHS when he was 10 weeks old. I arranged to work ‘twilight’ shifts (alas without the RPatz element) this meant working from 8pm until 4 am on a night shift while my husband was at home. Finding a job that you can be flexible with if your own job can’t help may make returning to work easier. Your employer has an obligation to support you in finding more flexible ways of working if possible.

Accept as much help from your family as they offer but don’t take them for granted! It can cause a lot of problems if they suddenly say they can’t do what you had expected them to.

Try to have a ‘plan B’ in place for those times you just can’t leave them or your childcare lets you down, this really helps reduce stress levels!

If you are breastfeeding and returning to work your employer should provide a secure place for you to store expressed milk, I used to boob feed when at home and they had expressed boob milk when I was at work.

I have always worked around my family; in fact I am still doing it now! 23 years on so it can be done, just be creative in finding ways that work for you and your family.

Give yourself a break, you don’t need to do or have it all.

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