our work, pregnancy, reflections

Mentoring from the Heart

Supriya and I are now three weeks into a year long journey that will lead to us becoming certified childbirth educators with Birthing from Within and although we have already dived in deep, I feel I am still just scratching the surface.

Rather than using the term educator, which could imply an old-school paradigm of teacher and student, we are encouraged to use the word mentor, which describes a person with experience and understanding who guides others to find their own wisdom and direction.

As you may know, if you’ve read some of read my previous posts, such as this one, Pam England’s (founder of BfW) work has been a great source of inspiration for our work with pregnant women and their partners.

What I love about the BfW approach is that it takes a completely different angle than conventional childbirth education, using a variety of creative and experiential tools to enable parents to access their inner knowing as well of making sense of the various information, opinions and decisions they may encounter through the childbearing year.

As someone who holds creativity and spirituality deep in the core of my daily life, I resonate with the use of art, archetype, story and metaphor that makes this practice so unique.

What is more, the course is causing me to explore and question my own stories and assumptions about birth which is a challenging but necessary process.

I look forward to the unfolding of inspiration and insights over the coming months as we add depth and richness to this rewarding work.

events, our work

New Spaces & New Faces

This weekend saw us christening a new space for our pregnant mamas’ circle, which we are very excited about.

We are extremely grateful to those families, particularly Veronica and Andrea, who generously hosted the group at their homes these last months.

Now we have use of the beautiful, bright room at the Casa de Povo in Barril de Alva, where we have plenty of space to move around and expand into.

If you are interested in joining our fortnightly pregnancy circle, give us a shout.

The other exciting event of the weekend was the first in a series of screenings around Portugal of the feature length documentary Why Not Home?, which we helped to organise as part of our involvement in the home birth movement, Uma Mãe Nasceu.

Mike & Grace Delivery

The screening took place with a small crowd in the small town of Tábua and was met with interest and enthusiasm. The next one we hope will be to an audience of midwifery students at Coimbra University, which has the potential to be quite an eye-opener for those training within the hospital system who don’t often get to witness physiological birth.

The film is particularly interesting because it looks at medical professionals who work in obstetrics in a hospital environment but have chosen to give birth at home. For Portugal, a country where doctors are very much put on a pedestal, the idea that the professionals themselves acknowledge that a hospital may not be the ideal choice for every woman’s birthplace is somewhat controversial. Hence this feels like an important film to bring into the public arena.

It was a pleasure to meet the group of people who attended the screening and for me, rounded off a day that reflected so much of what I love about working with birth: Connecting with individuals at a transitional point in their lives and bringing awareness and positive change in this field to our communities.

Babywearing, motherhood, postpartum, reviews

How and why I wore my babies

Before you read about my experiences of babywearing, take a look at these amazing images depicting Portuguese women in the earlier 20th Century carrying their babies.

portugal-babywearing

I loved using baby carriers to hold my babies close while on the move or at home, when they were little and needed cuddles while enabling me to keep my hands free.

By carrying my children I felt connected to women all over the world, through the ages and in different cultures who have done the same. It seemed the most natural way to move from place to place with a young baby as I was able to smell him, feel his body against mine, listen to his sounds, talk to him. He could see what I could see and be involved in my interactions with the world. I knew straight away when he was hungry and could also feed him while in the carrier if necessary. He didn’t need to cry to get my attention and he could sleep cuddled up against my body, where he felt safe and relaxed, not to mention soothed by my movements and heartbeat, which resembled what he felt in the womb. Continue reading “How and why I wore my babies”

baby, birth, breastfeeding, motherhood, postpartum

The amazing benefits of Skin-to-skin: Investing in your long-term wellbeing

There is nothing more beautiful than holding your bare baby against your skin in the magical moments after birth.

For some years now, the practice skin-to-skin contact, immediately or as soon as possible after birth, has been found to be beneficial to both mum and baby.

Newborn skin to skin

However, here in Portugal, it is still common practice for the pediatrician to take the baby away for medical checks in the first crucial minutes  or hours after birth. Here, I am going to explain why asserting your right to spend the first hour of life skin-to-skin with your baby is an investment in the long-term health and wellbeing of both of you.

You may want to discuss your preferences with your caregivers during your prenatal appointments so that they know how important it is to you that you have an uninterrupted hour of skin-to-skin time immediately after birth. Your partner, doula or birth companion will need to assert your wish to have this skin-to-skin period at the birth when you, the mother, may not feel like speaking up.

Skin-to-skin, or Kangaroo Care (KC) as it is known specifically when the baby is in an upright chest-to-chest position with the parent, is not just something nice to do with your newborn. There are many important and tangible health benefits for both mother and baby.

Continue reading “The amazing benefits of Skin-to-skin: Investing in your long-term wellbeing”

our work

What is a doula anyway?

Although the word ‘doula’ dates back to Ancient Greece, it is relatively new to the English and Portuguese language, but what does it actually mean?

Below is a (not exhaustive) list of some of the aspects of the role of a doula in this day and age, which I recently wrote for the Uma Mãe Nasceu website…

Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning servant or handmaiden. It has become the term used for someone who takes care of a woman during labour and birth and in the early days and weeks with a new baby.

These days, when we live in less close-knit communities than in the past, women are often choosing to hire someone to fulfill the role of a birth companion that might once have been taken by a grandmother, aunt or other experienced woman in the community.

doula-hug

Reassuring presence
A doula is often, but not always, a woman. She will have a positive perspective on birth and mothering either through her own experiences or by attending other women. Her role is to provide emotional and practical support to a mother, her partner and family throughout pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Continue reading “What is a doula anyway?”

birth, labour, reflections

Leave the clock behind

As a pregnant woman, surrounded by a birth culture that is obsessed with monitoring the progress of labour, it is hard not to focus on how long labour has lasted and how long and frequent your contractions are.

Yet it appears to me that the habit of ‘watching the clock’ from the first rhythmic twinges of early labour can make the process seem long, drawn out and eventually exhausting.

timing-contractions

Every woman’s labour is different to the next and the effacement and dilation of the cervix can happen in fits and starts rather than along a predictable curve, so even if you are closely timing your labour it doesn’t mean you know how far you’ve come or how far you have to go, which is ultimately what all women long to know.

In the world of birth, you hear a lot about long labours, fatigue and lack of progress, which then lead to interventions such as the use of synthetic oxytocin to speed up the labour or epidural anasthesia to enable a mother, who has been labouring for many hours, to rest .

But what if our image and expectations of labour were different? What if, instead of watching the clock or the smartphone app to time contractions, a woman in the early stirrings of labour set her mind on some other absorbing task? Continue reading “Leave the clock behind”

birth, labour, pregnancy, reflections

Why trust in birth?

Diving into Pam England’s latest book, Ancient Map for Modern Birth, I was faced with a section on the notion of trust in the realm of pregnancy, birth and post-partum, which urged me to unpick the phrase ‘I Trust in Birth’ – the name for our doula service.

The words ‘I Trust in Birth’ surfaced, as an affirmation for myself as an embryonic doula, in a session with a pregnant couple preparing for the arrival of their first child. The phrase encapsulated the faith in myself and other women to be able to give birth in their own natural way, given the right preparation and environment. My friend, who was my doula at my first two births, had embodied that unswerving trust in my ability to birth and I found it contagious. In both births, the staunch belief that she held in me helped me navigate some tricky twists and turns in events where I otherwise might have faltered. Continue reading “Why trust in birth?”

birth, reflections

The gift of witnessing unassisted birth

It occurred to me recently, after watching the videos below, how valuable and educational it is to be able to witness unassisted birth.

For mothers and fathers to be, their children, and medical professionals to see what birth looks like when nobody intervenes in any way is a gift in helping us to understand what birth can be in its natural form, uncontrolled or influenced by outside forces.

newborn-kiss

The decision to birth without the presence of a midwife or other medical professional is a very personal one, which only a small percentage of women in ‘developed’ countries consciously take.
My second child was born without a midwife present, although it wasn’t exactly premeditated. I considered the option of calling ‘them’ but it never felt like the appropriate time to allow a stranger into my birthspace – as having a homebirth with the UK National Health Service at the time would have meant that I would not have met the midwife who was sent out to my home on that early March night. And the second stage of labour, when the contractions accelerated massively in intensity and frequency, thrust me very quickly into natural pushing, which resulted in the sudden arrival of my baby boy. Continue reading “The gift of witnessing unassisted birth”

events, groups

Talking about Home Birth

On Saturday, Supriya and I helped organise the first of many (hopefully) home birth meetups in Coimbra for Uma Mãe Nasceu.

To our joy, the event was well attended with around 25 participants including midwives, doulas, parents and interested folk.

IMG_4593

We watched a short film showing four births in different contexts, which gave rise to some interesting discussion about the different dynamics that develop around labour and a birthing woman.

In the near future, we are planning to organise more meetings like this one to bring people together around the topic of home birth and how to make it more accessible in Portugal. We are hatching some plans to take the topic to different cities so we can connect with others who are passionate about this subject.

groups, our work, pregnancy

Pregnancy Circle

gaiagoddess

We have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a circle of beautiful pregnant mamas right in the heart of our rural community.

You know what it’s like when you set an intention for a new project and then the universe seems to send opportunities flowing in the direction you want to go? Well it has felt a bit like that for me and Supriya.

Having been dreaming and scheming about coming together to work with birth and pregnancy in central Portugal, a few months ago, we committed to this exciting collaborative process.

No sooner had we sealed this agreement, doors started opening to allow us to engage with this rewarding work.

The fortnightly pregnancy circle is one of those doors.

The meetings are held in a cozy home setting and include some or all of the following elements:

~ Sharing circle – checking in, how we are feeling and what is happening in our lives

~ Yoga / Movement, led by Supriya, who trained with Birthlight

~ Birth Stories – a chance to share and process previous birth experiences in a supportive environment

~ Creative exercises – we use simple art and writing exercises, inspired by Birthing from Within, to access unconscious beliefs and fears around pregnancy, birth and parenthood

~ Deep relaxation – each session ends with a guided relaxation to allow for integration and rest

Currently, we are running this group in the Coja area of Arganil. If you’d like to know more about what we offer, you can read about our birth doula service or our birth preparation courses. Or if you are interested in joining the pregnancy circle or setting up a similar group in your area, get in touch.