If you are a mum-to-be in Ireland, you probably heard of “GentleBirth” already. If not, don’t worry, it’s not too late!
Pregnancy is a very special time in the life of a woman, and so are the first few days back home with a baby. I love to capture those moments with my camera, trying to show the bound between the mother-to-be and her bump and then her new baby (without forgetting the partner!). However, birth usually sounds like a scary transition, and we hear a lot of horror stories. It doesn’t have to be that way!
GentleBirth is a programme involving ‘brain training’ – it replaces the negative cultural perceptions that we often have about birth with positive associations so that you approach the birth brimming with confidence, only looking forward to meeting your baby. This is accomplished using a combination of techniques based on hypnosis, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy and sports psychology. GentleBirth also involves being informed about the birth process and maternity care, so that you can make the best decisions for you and your baby on the big day.
I met Melanie, who is a GentleBirth Instructor and also a trained doula at the informal GentleBirth meet-up she hosts once a month at the Northwood Costa Coffee in Santry, Dublin.
I then asked her a few questions for you, mothers-to-be, visiting my website.
Tell us a little bit about your children Melanie…
I have a girl aged 5 and a boy aged 2 1/2. They are very different personalities – my daughter is a real leader whereas my son is more laid back. A good combination!
Did you use GentleBirth yourself during your pregnancies?
Yes, I was lucky enough to discover GentleBirth while pregnant with my daughter. It really helped me to have a more positive pregnancy. I had a previous pregnancy loss and listening to the GentleBirth tracks really helped to banish fear and keep me focused on a positive outcome. The great thing about the tracks is that while they prepare you for birth, they also make pregnancy more enjoyable and have you looking forward to the birth, rather than fearing it.
Would you say that birth was a positive experience for you? If so, do you think it would have been very different if you hadn’t discover GentleBirth before?
I have had two fantastic birth experiences. I delivered my daughter about 3 hours after arriving at hospital, after labouring at home all day, for about 17 hours. My son was born after I was induced at 42.5 weeks of pregnancy and shot into the world after a couple of hours! I think they would have been very different experiences had I not been using GentleBirth – I wouldn’t have had the confidence to stay at home on my first until I was in good active labour had I not been using the programme. Waiting to go to hospital until I was ready for a delivery room helped keep interventions to a minimum. Birthing my daughter was an incredible experience – I went to a very instinctive place and just got on with the job. All the midwives had to do really was catch the baby! The programme really helped me towards the end of my next pregnancy when it went on so long – it helped me to stay calm and positive during the final days. It also helped me to stay relaxed when I went in for induction – I had booked a homebirth so a hospital induction was probably my worst nightmare and yet I couldn’t believe how calm I was and how well it all went. That’s the beauty of GentleBirth – it gives you the best shot at the birth you want, but if things go off course a little, it also gives you the tools to make informed decisions and have the best birth for you in the circumstances.
What made you want to become a GentleBirth instructor?
I found myself doing a lot of online support of other women using the programmme and it just seemed to be a natural progression to train and teach it. I’m so passionate about it – birth is a peak life experience so you want it to be as good as it can be. What I love about GentleBirth is that it’s not about having one type of birth – it’s about having the best birth for you. And that’s different for all of us. I love that I get to help women to have birth experiences they can remember with joy. I really enjoy teaching the workshops because I feel that all of the elements together – the brain training, the ‘birth toolkit’ of comfort measures we teach, teaching couples how to navigate the system – really give my clients the best possible odds of an empowering birth. It’s amazing to see the transformation in the couples by the end of the workshop – they leave thinking ‘bring it on!’.
As a doula, can you assist women in labour in all hospitals in Dublin or only home births? How early in their pregnancy should they contact you?
Thankfully, all of the Dublin hospitals now allow doulas in to support women as an additional birth supporter to their birth partner. Although only the Coombe has adopted this stance as policy, if you are attending the Rotunda or the National Maternity Hospital, you can write to the Head of Midwifery there and state your intention to have a doula and have this approved. I generally do two antenatal visits with women before they are full term so around 30 weeks would be a good time for us to do the first of these meetings. The main issue with booking doulas in Ireland is that many doulas only take a few clients a year. This means that doulas can get booked up so it’s good to start looking for a doula as soon as you think you are interested in one!
We say that every pregnancy, every birth is different. Would you say that every woman can benefit from GentleBirth and/or the support of a doula?
I don’t think any programme is for everyone – I am sure there are some women that the programme does not resonate with. The exciting thing about GentleBirth, though, is the breadth of it – it encompasses mindfulness, hypnosis, cognitive behaviour therapy, sports psychology… so the vast majority of women will find tools there that they will enjoy using. I have rarely heard anyone say they didn’t instantly relax listening to the GentleBirth hypnosis tracks. As regards doula support, I think any woman who has a doula will benefit from it. Research shows that continuous support in labour improves outcomes – less Caesareans, less request for pain relief, more positive birth experiences. Having someone with you in labour who knows the terrain and can reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal is all that a lot of women need. However supportive your partner is, he/she can’t provide the same comfort as a doula as you know that they don’t know birth – likewise, your doula cannot support you in the same way as your partner. She knows birth, but she doesn’t know you as your partner does. For most women, the combination of their partner, a doula and a supportive caregiver is the perfect birth support team. Midwives are of course hugely supportive, but Irish maternity services are severely understaffed and many women find that they are left alone with their partner for large portions of their labour, which can be frightening. This is why more and more Irish women are turning to doulas.
What is the most rewarding element of your work?
Hearing of women’s positive birth experiences and knowing that I have been a part of that. Sometimes the most satisfying stories are not the perfect births, but the ones where things took an unexpected turn and the mother and her partner were able to draw on internal resources and knowledge to stay calm and make informed decisions. That can be extremely empowering, even if things don’t go entirely to plan. Knowing I’ve had a small part to play in that empowerment is hugely rewarding.
Did you get any professional pictures taken of your pregnancy bump or your babies?
No – and it’s something I regret. Definitely on the ‘to do’ list if there’s another baby!
Find more info about Melanie, GentleBirth and the workshops on www.birthtobaby.ie
Also, don’t forget to like her Facebook page for regular updates (including the meet-ups): https://www.facebook.com/BirthToBaby
Photos taken in Griffth Park, Drumcondra, Dublin, on a very cold February morning :)