Inspired by support
It was having doula support myself that inspired me to become a doula. At that time I wasn't well versed in how doulas worked, I just knew I wanted the reassurance of a familiar and experienced person during the unknown. Someone who was there for me, on my team.
And both times, in different cities, with different doulas, the quiet magic of my doulas' belief in both birth and me had a transformative effect on the birth process. Fear melted away and focus stayed.
What is the value of 'being'?
I wasn't a savvy doula shopper - I was a lucky mama to find two authentic birth keepers. But my two doulas worked in quite different ways and I was taking things as they came with no formalised agreements. Looking back one gave more antenatal support and one gave more postnatal support. Both were fantastic during labour. One charged three times the fee of the other. The bottom line is that doulas are hired for their 'being' not their 'doing'. The influence of deep calm and confidence sitting quietly can have a priceless effect on your hormones during labour - something I have found out from personal experience. But as a new mother you can be very sensitive and it is helpful to know what to expect from this new person who can quickly become close to you.
Unwrapping the package
Now that I am working as a doula myself and have seen the role from the other side, I know that every doula has their 'birth package'. Some have several flexible packages to choose from, some stick to a single formula that fits into their life. Most doulas have some other professional hats, often within the pregnancy and birth field, but sometimes outside it. Having been both client and doula, I have some tips for those considering hiring a doula to help make sure that you have a valuable experience of doula support.
I wish you much joy in your journey with the doula for you!
If you have any further questions about choosing and hiring a doula you can ask them in the comments below!
If you are interested in working with me as your birth doula, you can contact me to arrange a free phone consultation.
What is hypnobirthing?
It is word medicine for birth.
It is a set of keys to your own birthing wisdom.
It is simply accessing the power of the mind-body connection.
It is as safe and easy as breathing, as daydreaming, as reading and listening.
It is for all kinds of births and all kinds of mothers.
It is free from ideology and filled with empowerment.
It is pleasurable to practise.
It is you and your baby working together.
It is you and your partner working together.
It is a modern map to your ancient birthing instincts.
It is scientific, rooted in physiology.
It can be learned in person, on your own, in groups, online - you can learn however you like.
It is an umbrella term for using relaxation, visualisation, breathing and self-hypnosis to prepare for birth.
It is a toolkit of techniques that are totally down to earth but that may have out-of-this-world effects.
It is used and supported by midwives and doulas.
It is win-win; it is impossible to fail at and you will take what you need from it.
It is a gift to birthing women from Mother Nature, interpreted by different teachers and methods.
It brings physical and emotional benefits for pregnancy as well as birth.
It is calmness, it is courage, it is confidence, it is self-compassion.
Is this what you are looking for?
If you are pregnant and looking for reassurance, confidence and trusty skills for birth, you can prepare with The Calm Birth School hypnobirthing either online or in a group or private course.
If you love the sound of following The Calm Birth School's bonus-packed 4-week video course, but would also like personal guidance from me, I have good news for you! If you sign up through my link, I am offering you a 60 minute pregnancy coaching session (via video call) as a joining bonus.
Just contact me when you have completed your sign-up and we will schedule your session.
Every woman is different, every set of parents are different, every pregnancy is different and so is every baby.
What you need won't necessarily be what your best friend or sister needed.
Pregnancy can be a time when women feel generalised, when people's opinions become intrusive and when suddenly there seem to be a whole lot of rules that you are being told to live by for 9 months (spoiler alert - it doesn't stop at birth).
If you are given the time, space and respect, you will discover how you want to prepare for birth and motherhood, how you want to plan to give birth and how you want to be supported during the first weeks of motherhood.
Your life so far has brought you to the verge of motherhood and that is the only qualification that you need.
One of the options that you have for antenatal preparation is pregnancy coaching. This isn't yet as common as going to group antenatal courses, but may be offered by doulas, hypnobirthing practitioners, private antenatal teachers or other pregnancy and birth professionals. Pregnancy coaching may be offered as a series of video or audio calls, or face-to-face. During pregnancy coaching you aren't 'taught' how to prepare for your baby. You discover how you want to prepare for your birth experience and are provided the resources, discussion, information and suggestions to support that process.
Pregnancy coaching might be brilliant for you if you are struggling to find time to attend an antenatal course because you are working, or because you already have other children. The thought of attending group antenatal classes might bring you out in a cold sweat! Or you might feel that antenatal sessions that are entirely tailored to you are a more effective way of preparing for your individual birth experience. Or you may be attending an antenatal course but want the time and attention to explore your pregnancy experience and birth preparation further.
In maternity systems where you may rarely see the same medical professional twice and appointment times are curtailed, building a relationship with trusted person can become a real cornerstone of confidence during pregnancy and the postnatal period. Knowing that you have plenty of time to explore your feelings or discuss your research can bring calm and happiness to your months of being a walking, human-growing miracle!
There is a hormone, oxytocin, that I sometimes call 'birth fuel'. It also gets called the love hormone. It creates contractions and is essential for a smooth labour and birth. Some of the things that promote oxytocin in the body, which we release throughout our lives in lower amounts, include privacy, warmth, feeling lovingly supported, being listened to, being spoken to encouragingly and feeling safe. The positive personal attention of pregnancy coaching brings all these things to antenatal preparation, to get those oxytocin boosts calming and restoring you.
There is no right or wrong way to prepare for birth or give birth. But there will be a way that is right for you. There will be decisions you need to make or knowledge you want to be secure in. But you can continue to be yourself throughout pregnancy - and motherhood. It sounds so obvious but it can be so easily lost sight of as we feel we should be spending our time at nursery rhyme groups.
A client of mine once got told she should 'take one for the team' and go to a baby music class that just wasn't her bag. We receive so many messages, some much subtler and so more dangerous than this, that once we are pregnant we should start doing things the way the professionals want us to, that we should be behaving, being 'good'.
In fact, pregnancy, birth and motherhood are times of personal transformation that do not follow a pre-planned route. You might not need bunnies and pastel colours, you might need to feel more grown-up and powerful than you ever have before.
Pregnancy coaching with me is a totally you-centred service. My sessions with each mother (partners are welcome on the calls) are individual and don't follow a set format. I also describe this service as 'distance doulaing'.
You may wish to work on understanding and dissolving particular birth related anxieties, or you may want to talk about how to get ready for the actual arrival of the b-a-b-y. You may want a neutral sounding board for your birth plan whilst family and friends are all telling you what to do from the sidelines. You may need to schedule quality, effective antenatal preparation between your meetings with your own clients! You may want to curl up on the sofa in your pyjamas after your duracell toddler has gone to bed and take some mental space for birth preparation with your feet up.
You can find out more about pregnancy coaching with me here
Is there a way that you have been made to feel you should conform during pregnancy or as a new mother? Let me know in the comments below.
How can I get my body back after having a baby?
Is this a question that you are asking yourself? Or that you think you should be asking yourself?
I had my youngest child in July 2015 so at the time of writing I consider myself a relatively new mother. The pregnancy and birth are fresh in my mind, I'm still breastfeeding and we wake up with two children's feet in our faces some mornings.
Ok, most mornings.
Recently, I lost around a dress size and starting wearing clothes I had put away when I was about 4 months' pregnant. This felt quite liberating. I felt as if I was edging back to a place where my 'mummy' identity wasn't something I wore 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But I am still a mother 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whether engaged in looking after my children or working on something else. My body has still carried two children and is still providing nutritious and comforting milk for one. My body might have just started fitting into clothes that I wore before having children but it will always look and feel different after the amazing journey that it has been on - and I wouldn't want to change that.
When we become pregnant and get a visible bump it can seem as if our body starts to inhabit a public space and that feels uncomfortable. People ask you how 'far along' you are, make predictions as to whether you are having a boy or a girl and sometimes touch your bump without asking. Or after asking. But they probably wouldn't have rubbed your tummy before that bump made an appearance.
People not living inside your skin will have opinions about what you can or cannot safely eat, drink and do. I craved shellfish during my first pregnancy and remember hiding to eat an oyster at a wedding reception. You may get comments about how 'neat' or 'huge' your bump is. In fact, get ready for a whole load of personal remarks. Because after the baby comes they doesn't stop!
Over the past few years I have really noticed the language with which our bodies are described once we have birthed our babies. Women become elastic bands that 'ping' or 'snap' back into 'shape'. Which shape? A human shape or some kind of stencil?
Your own abdomen becomes a 'baby belly' or a 'mum tum', that needs to be 'banished' or 'lost' or 'targeted' as if you are waging a military operation against part of your own torso. Which is a useful body part that houses many vital organs and has just generously accommodated a growing human. The heavierness or largerness or softerness of your own body gets called 'baby weight'.
Your body may be in the process of doing some shape-shifting or changing - so is your life. They both still belong to you. Your body is your body, every part of it. It doesn't need to be blitzed, blasted, subtracted or mislaid.
But it may need permission to receive a little bit of the TLC you probably lavish on the person it got busy making.
In my case, the care that my body needed was to get some good nourishment and not be flogged through exhaustion by eating copious amounts of refined sugar. That five-hours-of-sleep-and-five-pieces-of-cake trap. Whilst I thought about my body critically, the sugar kept going in. So I wondered how I would want other women to talk to themselves after having gone through the immense journey of having a baby. And thought I would try using the same words on myself.
I stood in front of the mirror when I passed it and smiled at myself and said "Thank you, beautiful body, for everything that you have done. You are amazing for growing a baby. Now it is your time, now it is your turn to be cared for."
I also went to a homeopath that I love (if you are in London and looking for a homeopath, try Tracy Karkut-Law) and the mixture of kind thoughts from myself and care from someone else enabled me to break up with my saccharine frenemy and enjoy all the other wonderful food on offer instead.
Walking into my local coffee shop the other day the barista said "It is amazing how much you have shrunk, it is as if it never happened". To which I thought ...that is just like that person that rubbed my tummy without asking in a hospital lift that time... And ever since I have been wondering for the however-many-it-is time why is it that people make personal remarks about our bodies as we go through our motherhood journey?
I also thought...I am so glad that the whopping great big tumbling toddler in the buggy next to me happened, I would never want that story to be shrunk... And I felt very self conscious and just wanted to get my flat white and run. Cross to be made to feel self-conscious as I bumbled through one of my precious mornings with my son, too.
I didn't want to 'shrink', I wanted to bounce up out of bed in the morning, get excited about what was in season and eat scrumptious nourishing food with my children.
Try noticing the language that people are using towards you and your beautiful body - journalists or health professionals or your friends and family or strangers or your own inner monologue. Switch on your analytical ears. Is it appreciative, admiring, grateful, encouraging? Is it affirming that your body is yours and deserves love and care or that it needs to be retrieved, 'got back' from an unspecified location and shrunk, blitzed, banished and bootcamped?
If you found this post because you are googling how to get your body back (did it get lost in a search engine?) then I owe you an apology for the misleading title - but I wanted to tell you this: your body is amazing, it is beautiful and it's waiting to hear it from you.
All together now: "Thank you beautiful body, you have done the most incredible job. Now it is your time, now it is your turn for some tender loving care".
If you were speaking to your body the way you'd speak to your best friend, what would you say? Let me know in the comments.
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I am often asked what a doula is, and it got me thinking.
Being a doula is personal and variable and so the answers that I came up with were about 'who' rather than 'what' the doula might be. Here are some of them.
A doula is someone chosen by you who will support your choices for your pregnancy and birth.
A doula believes in the positive power of birth and in your power to birth positively.
A doula brings peace, calm and confidence to your birth space because she trusts birth and trusts women's wonderful bodies.
A doula shows you your strength and brings you reassurance whether birth is smooth or complicated, joyful or challenging. It may be both.
A doula will speak words of encouragement, or fill you with encouragement silently.
A doula will put you first throughout your birth journey - you are her guiding star. Your needs are her map.
A doula supports your partner too, helping them to be there for you without anxiety, focussed on you and the baby who is arriving.
A doula knows it is a privilege to be with a birthing woman and she wants to see you treated like a queen in labour.
A doula will not suit everyone. She will suit the mothers she is meant to serve. Meet as many doulas as you need to find the one who makes you feel safe, happy and understood.
A doula is an expert in connection, she is not a clinical expert. A doula understands what the birthing body needs and knows how to tend the heart of the birthing mother. All roles have their own wisdom.
A doula will help you to surf the intensity of birth. A doula will help to relax and let birth happen.
A doula is there just for you. She cares about your baby and may adore babies but she is there for you.
A doula can give you good information so you can make choices that feel right for you. She is not an advisor, she is upholding your right to choose.
A doula might massage you, bring you drinks, breathe with you, show you ways to be comfortable, run you baths, take you to hospital, set you up at home, hold your hand, pack your bag, light your candles, make your snacks, say your affirmations. She might do none of those things. What do you think you would like your doula to do?
A doula gets to know you before your baby is born and waits for your baby to arrive. She will be with you throughout labour. You will always have a loving, trusted face in the room.
A doula will be where you need her to be. By your side, or waiting out of sight but still attuned to you. You will know what you need.
A doula understands your birth story. She has lived it with you. She will listen to you when you want to tell it, or tell it over.
A doula is part of a community of people passionate about birth and parenthood. You are tapping into a groundswell of birth wisdom through her.
A doula is not 'qualified' although she may have learned much. What would make you feel she is qualified to be your doula?
A doula can come in as many variations as humans do. A doula is not necessarily a mother, although through your journey with them they will be mothering the mother in you.
A doula has been drawn to her work. She knows that you and your baby's birth are part of the deep magic of this world.
Who is a doula? I'd love to read your answers to that question in the comments.
Are you expecting a baby? Would you like to have a doula? You can start looking for your doula at www.doula.org.uk or find a doula who has done the BirthBliss training here.
Thank you for reading my blog. I am Olivia Southey, a hypnobirthing teacher and doula based in London and on the worldwide web. I became passionate about pregnancy and birth after having my first child and now see it as connected to so many important areas of life. I write about birth, motherhood, women's awesomeness, women's health and the mind-body connection. I'd love to stay in touch with you so you get my new articles via email:
Tackling a taboo...
We aren't supposed to talk about p*in in hypnobirthing, right?
But we extol the virtues of hypnosis as safe, effective pain relief. Then we don't mention the dreaded 'P' word again and use lots of euphemisms like 'intensity' and 'discomfort'. That doesn't quite add up. You will need effective natural pain relief for something that...isn't painful? I think that there is an element of confusion in women preparing with hypnobirthing that isn't serving them and reduces the true efficacy of the techniques.
Once someone has had their baby and they talk about whether or not it was painful and how much so and at what points, the discussions seem to become a lot more honest. Because they are the other side of labour looking back we become normal again and discuss pain and how they perceived it practically. Sometimes I think that we can get scared of scaring women if we are open about labour pain.
Is it possible to prepare for pain?
Of course the biggest issue with this is that pain is such a variable, shifting, personal creature. We do not experience the surges, or rushes, or contractions, or whichever word feels best to you in the same way as the next birthing woman. You can read my totally subjective, personal reflections on labour pain here.
Before birth, women can get stuck between two camps. One insists that birth is excruciating and that tackling this with drugs is a no-brainer. The other won't admit that birth can be painful and focuses instead on ecstatic surrender or stories of painless birth. From the first camp you might hear the dreadful phrase 'you don't get a medal' bandied about. I have heard this said to a mother during an intense phase of labour. And no, you don't get a shiny piece of silver or gold but that has sweet f-all to do with it. Your pain relief choices affect your experience of labour physically, emotionally and hormonally - not all choices are right for all women. So it does matter because your birth experience will matter to you both in the moment and for years to come. You and everything you think and feel matters.
How not to become a cross ostrich
When women are preparing to give birth pain is not great to think about. I certainly stuck to reading Ina May Gaskin (who changed my life but didn't prepare me for painful contractions) and telling everyone who would listen that birth didn't have to be painful when I was pregnant for the first time. When it did get painful I was pissed off! But breathing and visualisations helped me to ride through the pain, to dig deep and to birth my baby with a huge sense of empowerment that still makes me well up nearly 5 years later. And of course it isn't necessarily painful - women who report painfree labours are not lying.
I would love to see those of us working with women as they prepare for birth start to take back 'pain' and de-fang it. We can't claim to prevent pain in birth and there are reasons why we might not want to if we could. Pain has positive purpose during the birth process, triggering the release of those magical endorphins and guiding a birthing mother's movement and positions. What we can do is work to prevent excessive pain that is being exacerbated by fear, tension or unsympathetic environmental factors (I include unhelpful people in these).
So how can we embrace pain in hypnobirthing?
Some of my favourite helpful ideas/questions when addressing pain are:
What is the aim here?
If hypnobirthing of all styles takes pain back into the fold what might that achieve? Well, on a personal level I am hoping that as I talk to local mothers in the parks, playgrounds and markets I never hear someone say that hypnobirthing failed for them, or that they failed at it, because they had a painful labour.
Let's make a purposeful peace with pain and get cracking on making sure feelings of failure are eliminated from birth.
What do you feel we could achieve by reclaiming pain? Do you agree that we should? I'd love to know in the comments below.
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I am Olivia Southey and I teach hypnobirthing in group and private workshops in London and beyond and support mothers throughout their birth journey as a doula.
If you would like to prepare for birth using grounded, realistic and effective hypnobirthing techniques, take a look at how I work with my clients
As a birthing mother I have benefited so much from the transformative effects of hypnosis and deep relaxation that after the birth of my first child I decided to train to teach them. My motivation was to hear my friends and peers having the kind of empowering experiences of birth that I know are possible. Not a single type of birth, but births in which any medical interventions were either truly necessary or truly wanted, in which the mother is respected and supported by any other people that she has chosen to have in the birth room with her.
Am I hypnobirthing ‘right’?
But once I was teaching hypnobirthing and also preparing for my second child’s birth, which was to be a home birth under the care of my local NHS homebirth midwives, I was interested to notice myself having some real moments of doubt. There was a little worried voice saying things like ‘you know you don’t recognise yourself in those really quiet videos’ and ‘remember how you got angry when your contractions were painful’ and ‘maybe you aren’t doing it right, even though you are meant to be teaching it’.
Sweaty, scary primal woman
Because – hands up – I am a loud, sweaty, probably scary primal woman when my babies are coming down that miraculous birth canal. I have shouted ‘GET OOOOOUT’ at both my baby and my husband. I have had a real flash of rage at the intensity of my contractions, and I have vocalised away at the top of my lungs without a thought for the neighbours. Vocalising is a great euphemism for growling, mooing, yelling and breathing like a steam engine. Not your typical home-hypno-water birth video.
So how do I know that I am using hypnosis and relaxation on a profound and effective level?
It is not because I have birthed two babies without medical pain relief, although that did make me wonder. I am no stoic about pain in ordinary situations and have deployed my hypnobirthing techniques in deadly earnest every time I have had to have a blood test during pregnancy.
It is because I felt a kind of wordless trust in my body as the births unfolded. Because whilst I rode the emotional rollercoaster of birth, there was a still point inside me that kept calm beyond the sensations and moments of self-doubt. Even whilst unleashing some spectacular ‘vocalising’ I was able to relax and let my body surrender to the opening process – my arms, hands and fingers were soft as they draped over the birth ball, I breathed deeper and deeper, and followed my instincts moment by moment.
During my son’s birth in July 2015, these instincts were to keep moving, to keep upright. I couldn’t countenance sitting still or lying down. My birth ball was my angel. I sat and gently bounced, I circled, I knelt and swayed my upper body on it, I rested my head on it, waited and listened to music on it between my contractions. I leant against cupboards and rocked, I walked around the room, savouring the quiet (once you are a mother I wonder whether you literally have to be in labour for no-one to dare to disturb you), and finally gave birth on all fours on the floor beside the bed.
Birth dance, birth trance
I had not expected to move so constantly; it really was a birth dance of simple movements repeated over and over and over again. This repetition creates its own kind of trance, supporting the hypnotic state that you are taking yourself into with visualisation and breathing techniques. .
During birth preparation we tend to listen to hypnosis tracks lying down comfortably. There are benefits to this, as mothers can get used to slipping into a hypnotic state with increasing ease. You can let go totally without having to hold yourself up, and you can rest. But it is easy to start to associate hypnosis with lying still, and women can feel concerned that they won’t be able to reach such deep states of trust and relaxation during the activity of birth.
It is not an overstatement to say that I found the deep hypnosis I was in whilst swaying and circling and walking around my birth-room a revelation. It has made a deep impact on how I now approach preparing for birth with hypnosis, and has made it clear that each mother’s hypnobirth can look and sound completely different.
Preparing for an active hypnobirth
For those of you exploring preparing for birth with hypnobirthing, my take-away tips for using active hypnosis are:
If you are looking for an honest, flexible and effective way of preparing for birth, take a look at how you can work with me or contact me to book your free 30 min consultation.
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