A few days after I documented yoga instructor and doula Harriet Came teaching pre-natal yoga I attended a special evening event she hosts once or twice a month.
I watched as she guided a large group, all couples in their third-trimester of pregnancy, in a workshop on birthing support and yoga practices for labour.
The workshop was hosted in the evening at The Shala and lit primarily with candles. The large attic room was filled with soft music, nervous men and their heavily pregnant partners.
Harriet discussed the labour experience, oxytocin, postures and partner support. One could describe the workshop as a mini-doula training experience, it was holistically and sensitively approached.
After my own busy day it was soothing and inspiring to watch and quietly document the process Harriet led her clients through.
Afterwards I discussed some of the workshop and Harriets opinions on birthing with her, here is some of what she had to say:
What would you say best contributes to a happy pregnancy and confident birth?
In point form, I believe the following are the some of the most important factors:
- Taking it seriously but not too seriously
- Using it as permission to be soft, to nurture, nest, take care of yourself and not feel guilty about it
- Good diet
- Regular (non strenuous) exercise
- Tissue salt program
- Great support network
- Supportive partner
- Reading enough but not too much
- Believing in yourself
- Staying away from negativity
- Letting go
- Having a supportive and experienced birthing team
Society, usually via advertising/media, puts a lot of pressure on women to maintain a sassy, effortless, young identity and the iconic mother figure. This leaves no space for leaking breasts, stretch marks and exhaustion. How do these polished notions of women influence a mother’s experience/choices about birthing as well as her experience as a new mother? Have you noticed issues here for the women you’ve worked alongside?
This is a great question, and issues that I have to deal with on a daily basis in the industry that I work in, and as a 40 something mother myself.
I think it’s incredibly hard for a woman now. I think there are many things that come into play.
Firstly the media: We see so many celebrities/female roles models in the media having these perfect transitions into motherhood… the photo shoots, the seemingly effortless morphing back into their pre-birth weight, the movies, the magazines, the internet etc etc. So much of what we see is hype and photoshopping.
I don’t believe that there’s a woman, who, at some point, hasn’t wept at great length over breastfeeding, who hasn’t lost herself completely and felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, who hasn’t realised that she will never truly be alone again and had moments of “what the fuck have I done”.
We live in a world where often the truth is completely glossed over in order for things to look more beautiful and, for a lot of women, the journey into motherhood is a complete shock.
This quest for perfection influences us without a doubt: sometimes in a good way, sometimes negatively.
On the positive side, women are very switched onto a healthy way of life during pregnancy. Pre-natal diet and exercise is well researched now, pregnancy apps that give us such an incredible visual journey through the 9 months are encouraging and insightful, different natural birthing techniques, superb pain relief during birth, information on post natal recovery… all these things that can make a real, positive difference to a pregnancy and a successful and fulfilling birth.
But, I think on the downside, women now want it all because we see so many other women in media who appear to have it.
We want the perfect bump and a body to match. We want a beautiful family, we want to birth idyllically, we want to breastfeed, we want to have successful marriages, we want to have a career, we want to have a strong network of friends, we want the good body, the beautiful skin, the kids that eat broccoli and don’t watch TV, we want to eat organically, we want the best schools and the 4×4’s…
My experience is that you can’t have it all without something giving… and my advice (mainly anecdotal I hasten to add) is to be true to yourself, to let go a little and to realise that so much of what was important pre-kids, really isn’t anymore.
I work very hard to create this support network through my post natal classes, whastapp groups amongst students, an address book of professionals to supply to my students, regular tea parties/forums for a local support and community, great websites/blogs that give a real and encouraging insight into motherhood and life with kids.
Many of us are having our children late in life; I did myself and I’d say well over 50% of my students are in their mid to late 30’s. In the first 6 months of last year I had 4 news mums having their first child in their early and mid 40’s (fabulous to witness something wanted and waited for so much). As a result, women have a lifestyle that is more affluent, more selfish, more sorted (emotionally and financially) than the younger mums and I often see them struggle in the beginning as they realise that the spontaneity and glamour of their ‘selfish’ life is being replaced by nappies, sleepless nights, leaking breasts, marital strife and pureed butternut squash.
Of course as women, they adapt and cope, but it’s definitely a shift in society and culture since our parents parented and something that I don’t think many of us are aware of or expecting.
After meeting a number of South African doulas and midwives I’ve been surprised at how very differently each approaches her profession.
Hence our conversation gave me a new perspective. Your approach struck me as kind of go-between in that you focus a lot on your clients having a pro-active experience which is influenced by the kind of person they are to start with.
My attitude is simple. I’d love for every birth that I go to to be natural, drug free, 5 hours long, candlelit and peaceful! But it’s not about me. It’s about the mother and the father and the kind of birth that they want.
I guess I’m not really ‘pro’ anything, or, perhaps, I’m ‘pro’ everything!
I’m supportive of all kinds of birth, as long as the parents recognise what they want to work towards and make informed choices as they go through their pregnancy to try and achieve that.
As a result of this approach I support all types of birth happily and with no judgement, whatever they are; natural, caesarean, drug free, medicated, epidurals, hypnobirthing, home births.
I have helped clients make decisions to have elective Caesareans (for whatever reason), and I’ve helped clients go from wanting an elective Caesarean to choosing and preparing for a drug free vaginal birth.
As long as they are happy with the choices they make for their birth, I’m happy, and I feel that I’m doing my job.
Some births don’t quite go according to the wishes of the parents, and at that point, my job is to help make the birth as peaceful and fulfilling as I can do and support a couple as they make the transition into parenthood.
A birth day is the most magical, intense, fulfilling and extraordinary day of a mothers (and fathers) life.
The day that one gets to meet ones child for the first time and breathe in that intoxicating love is irreplaceable. This is why I tell my clients that the most important things they can do is to make decisions around their birth according to what they want. I ask them to try not to listen to judgement or opinion, and to employ a support team (Obstetrician, midwife, doula etc.) that they trust implicitly to help them prepare themselves and hopefully achieve the birth that they wish for.
A last quote I liked from Harriet…..
Being pregnant and becoming a mum is not always glamorous or beautiful. Birthing (particularly naturally) certainly is not. It is raw, challenging, exhausting, instinctive (often primal) and at times not always intensely fulfilling. For me, it’s about understanding your needs as a woman and mother, blocking out the negativity, and then drawing on a real, truthful yet positive information sources or support systems of which there are many!
A few weeks after attending this event at The Shala I was present at the labour and birth of one of her clients, also a friend of mine. It was the first time I had the honour of witnessing birth as well as the responsibilities of the different people present during a birth. What an experience! More on this later…
Harriet, thank you for sharing your insights and having me present during your classes. More on what Harriet does here.