Friday, January 15th, 2016

Since these #myNCTstory stories started to appear I have been intending to write mine but wasn’t sure where to begin…so I decided to go all the way back – over 27 years ago.

Unintentionally pregnant and single my sister recommended I attend an NCT course and I booked it, low income reduction applied, not really knowing what it was. My friend Annie, who lived in the flat upstairs agreed to be one of my two female birth partners and she also came to the course with me. We didn’t take it very seriously (sorry Lindsay) and I think my total disbelief that I would soon be a mother created my slightly hysterical attitude. I wouldn’t have liked to have us in one of my courses!

In February 1989 my son Jami was born and the connections I had made in the course started to pay dividends. My family were thankfully incredibly supportive but the day-to-day challenges with my new baby were mostly shared with some of the women I had met in my NCT classes – Gill and Nikki (both midwives) and Pat (who went on to become an NCT breastfeeding counsellor). Long empty days were saved by having new friends nearby who were in a similar situation – “we are all single parents in the daytime” they would say, and “at least you don’t have someone coming home expecting dinner and messing up bedtime” they laughed. My situation wasn’t one I would recommend but with their support and friendship (plus other friends and family – you know who you are) I made it through.

It wasn’t until several months later that Pat, who had become very involved in the local NCT branch, dragged me along to a meeting. I offered to help at a Home Birth Study Day the branch was hosting and it was that day that changed everything. The subject matter was so fascinating. While we there someone suggested that I would make a great antenatal teacher (I think not I replied) and then another bright spark said it would help me keep my skills up to date if I took on the role of branch secretary! With fantastic support with babysitting so that I could attend meetings I suddenly found myself in a whole new world – very different from the jobbing actor/temporary secretary that I had been before. Everyone was so welcoming and seemed to cross a wide spectrum of backgrounds – our branch was Lewisham & Greenwich and ranged from affluent Blackheath to deprived areas like Deptford. A real mixed bag. Surrounded by strong passionate women I began to seriously consider the antenatal teacher training.

So, when Jami was 3 years old and at nursery half days I started my NCT training. It was amazing! Having dropped out of university in 1979 at 19, and after only one year, I was suddenly discovering that I had a brain that worked quite well and that learning was something I now really enjoyed and was ready for. The subject matter was engrossing and I felt as if I had found my passion at last.

The next few years were a bit of a blur – I qualified with lots of local branch support with childcare and books. I started teaching classes, moved out of London to Farnham in Surrey and then – with some additional training – became an NCT Assessor. Meanwhile my friend Annie, remember the birth partner at the beginning, had given birth to three children of her own and was now about to start her own NCT Antenatal training journey! Continuing to learn from the women I assessed and the on-going CPD NCT offered I found myself contemplating training to become a Tutor. It would be another 10 years before I finally took the plunge and haven’t looked back since. I now teach and tutor for NCT – antenatal classes, yoga for pregnancy and mother & baby yoga. It’s been a challenging and exciting journey. Good times and bad times. Hard work and fulfillment. Waves of press criticism from time to time and ‘NCT hate’. I can’t say I have enjoyed every minute because there have been times when walking away would have been my preference…but those times passed and here I am, 27 years later, still part of the NCT and proud of what it, and I, have achieved.

So this is for all the fantastic women (and men) that I have worked with and supported over the years – it is you who have made it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
From pregnancy to postnatal – a major transition

Like incalculable women before me it is with some trepidation that I make the transition from pregnancy into the postnatal period. Pregnancy is something I know really well and is the source of fulfilment and satisfaction. Pregnancy is a time that I love and find so immensely rewarding that I can’t imagine how the postnatal period will even begin to compare. ‘It’s going to be really tough’ I have been told. ‘It’s nothing like pregnancy, once there are babies involved things will never be the same again’ ‘It’s completely unpredictable, your plans will all go out of the window’. Such doom and gloom almost puts me off…

You see I do have a choice in all of this as I myself am not actually pregnant!

I have been a NCT Yoga for Pregnancy teacher for many years now and my confidence in what I do is strong and my passion greater than ever before. I feel that my work makes a real difference to the women I work with both while they are attending the classes and also for their birth experiences. Expanding my practice into the postnatal period with Mother and Baby Yoga almost feels like starting from scratch. Why would I want to make such a transition? Why would I want to step beyond what works well and is enjoyed by so many women during their pregnancies? Why don’t I just set up another Yoga for Pregnancy class if I want to work more? These were just some of the questions that family, friends and colleagues asked me (and believe me I asked myself the same things, plus so much more!)

It feels a bit like when I started offering hypnobirthing classes with Natal Hypnotherapy. At that time my sense was that a piece of my ‘pregnancy puzzle’ was missing and incorporating this hypnobirthing approach into my work made it complete. And now it feels like my ‘yoga puzzle’ is incomplete. Women come to classes, have their babies, come back to visit for ‘show & tell’ or to one of our social coffee mornings and then they move on to Baby Massage, Postnatal Yoga and any number of other offerings within their local community. I was asked more times than I can count whether I did postnatal yoga classes for mother and baby – the answer was a resounding ‘no’.

That has now changed – a training course with Birthlight and some additional study with NCT Relax & Stretch with Baby means that I now feel ready and willing to make my own personal transition. I am not leaving Pregnancy Yoga behind however, just adding another thread to my loom. As Doran & Hornibrook (2013) explain women seem to hugely benefit from the group support and experiences that both pregnancy and postnatal yoga offer and to be able to combine the two, being able to walk alongside women for longer as they make their own journeys felt like a gift I could not ignore. How fantastic it is to be able to offer women protected time to share with their babies where they can interact and play at the same time as gently stretching their body after the birth. Pregnancy works on opening and making space for the baby to grow whereas Relax & Stretch with Baby works on ‘closing’ and reclaiming the body once more. Women also get the opportunity to spend quiet relaxing time with their baby as well as sharing songs and rhymes – what could be better?

Things will never be the same again – but I wouldn’t expect them to be. There will be challenges, frustrations together with sheer joy and delight. I can’t wait…

NCT Relax & Stretch with Baby is at Holt Village Hall, The Street, Holt, Wiltshire and if you are not local to Holt you can find pregnancy and postnatal courses in your own local area on the main NCT website: NCT Course Finder – enjoy!

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Top Ten Tips to help women during labour & birth…

“So what were the things that helped your through the birth of your baby?” – it is a question I often ask the women I have worked with during their pregnancies as it is too easy to assume that these things are the same for everyone, static and un-changing – whereas they are, of course, dynamic and variable – just as labour and birth are.

So I posted the question on my Facebook page and in various other social media groups that I belong to in order to elicit responses from women who would be willing to share – not exactly unbiased research but useful feedback for me to reflect upon.

What fabulous responses I got! Why am I surprised…women do love to share their birth experiences after all. And while there were many common threads to the replies there were also some differences which are worth considering.

I have enjoyed collating this Top Ten Tips and I hope you will enjoy reading it and sharing it with anyone you think might be interested in reading it. In my role as a childbirth educator at Holistic Birth Prep I want to do what it says on the tin – help women and their partners prepare, holistically, for birth…so here goes!

1. Within Woman – this covers a multitude of tools that women used…breathing, visualisation, hypnobirthing, Natal Hypnotherapy, yoga – all of them were mentioned over and over again. Sometimes they were the only thing women used and other times they were used alongside other ideas mentioned below. Women talked about feeling mentally prepared, having confidence in themselves and having a strong belief system. Almost every response (and there were about 50 in total) mentioned some sort of technique to maintain focus and calm. ‘Horse Lips’ or ‘Horse Breathing’ came up a few times as did sleeping/resting between contractions. These ideas come from a self-selecting group which maybe makes this an expected set of answers, but nonetheless it is heartening to hear how many women used the techniques I spend so much time promoting/teaching.
2. Midwife Support – the right kind. Good midwives who listen to you, let you just ‘get on with it’, encouraging you rather than putting you down. The importance of the midwife trusting the process was key to many women, although opposing views were expressed about whether vaginal examinations help or hinder. For women whose labour progressed rapidly it seemed to me that the most important message is for the midwife to believe her rather than assume she just wasn’t coping and therefore needed help.
3. Birth Partner Support – whether this was a husband, mother, doula or friend. Supporters were mostly there to offer encouragement and reassurance. Some women were grateful from more specific hands on help – be it massage, reiki or specific acupressure or chiropractic techniques. For other women their birth partner became their spokesperson, liaising with health professionals and being fully involved in the decision-making process.
4. Meeting my baby – this was expressed in a variety of ways such as knowing they would soon meet their baby, that contractions were just steps bringing their baby closer and that the pains were good pains with a positive outcome of a baby. Such an important mindset to keep hold of.
5. Environment – this did not come as a surprise to me…knowing what I know about birthing hormones and how they are influenced by the environment a woman is labouring in. Sometimes women mentioned a calm atmosphere whatever was happening around them and others were more specific about being at home where they felt safe and comfortable, or at their local unit where they felt well looked after and cared for.
6. Water – water pools get a huge thumbs up! Whether used just during labour or for the birth itself there were strong positive feelings about being in water. It is so great that our local units are both supportive of women using water during labour – with 3 pools now in Guildford and hopefully more coming to add to the one currently in Frimley. Women also mentioned keeping hydrated and frequent toilet visits to ensure full bladders didn’t impact of their descending baby, as well as a lovely description of having warm water poured over the back from a measuring jug – priceless!
7. Positions – many women talked about moving around and changing positions. Not getting stuck in one place and being helped to get comfortable. Birthing Balls played a part as well and women were grateful when these were available in the hospital setting as well as at home.
8. Classes – many different classes were mentioned as useful preparation for labour and birth. Not surprisingly (as I had asked the question in the first place) my classes were given praise (Natal Hypnotherapy, Yoga, NCT, Refreshers) alongside other NCT courses, pregnancy yoga classes and hypnosis sessions. The information these offered was important to some women and their partners, as well as the opportunity to learn practical skills and discuss issues. All good stuff…
9. Drugs etc – the biggest votes were for TENs machines and Gas & Air, both of which women found helpful. For other women stronger drugs, epidurals and even general anaesthetics were what got them through. A great reminder that there are many ways for babies to be born and how lucky we are to have the more medical support when it is needed.
10. Bits and pieces – and so the very specific things that women highlighted as well because even if one woman mentioned them they have value and importance: Blessingway Beads, the 999 Call Centre and a book: Ina May Gaskins Guide to Childbirth

I hope you have enjoyed reading all these ideas and I am sure that you have plenty more of your own to add which I would be really happy to hear about – who knows, perhaps next year there will have to be a Top Twenty Tips instead!

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
The Birth Women Want

Listening to this week’s Woman’s Hour hosted by Kirsty Allsopp, had challenged me to reflect on the work that I do with pregnant women and their partners. My personal belief is that women are designed to birth babies and how they do this can have a profound impact on their postnatal health – physical and mental – as well as their future fertility and birthing options. The assertion that the only thing that matters is healthy babies and healthy mothers is, for me, too simplistic and talking to women who have experienced birth trauma confirms this view for me. Towards the end of the broadcast it was words spoken by Rebecca Schiller from Birthrights who summarised this best for me as she stated that women wanted ‘positive experiences that set them up for motherhood’. I couldn’t agree more.

Ms Allsopp, on the other hand, is following a ‘personal journey’ which seems to be driven by her own experience of having an unplanned caesarean, rather than the straightforward vaginal birth she had ‘hoped for’. Perhaps this experience was less than positive and has left her with some unfinished business which she now seems to want to take up with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Her perception seems to be that NCT classes do not prepare women adequately for complications during labour and birth which led to a programme that tried to be balanced but, perhaps due to her interviewing inexperience, to me felt clumsy and unsatisfying.

As an NCT teacher of 20 years experience I can quite honestly say that I have never taught an antenatal course that has not given parents an opportunity to explore the challenges and complications that they may face. These may be during pregnancy, during labour and birth, or indeed after their babies have been born. How much time is spent on these topics and how they are discussed depends primarily on the group needs. It may be that there is a focus on recovery after difficult births, or how a partner may experience the birth of their baby by caesarean/forceps/ventouse or how a woman may feel after having an unexpected assisted birth. Some groups like facts and figures, others prefer birth stories or visual images. Sometimes it is the risks and benefits that are uppermost in people’s minds and on other occasions they just want to talk about how to avoid complications. I take my lead from them as they are adult learners who will learn best if they are able to take ownership of their learning. It may be that they engage fully in these topics or that they switch off because they just don’t want to hear it. All I can do is give them the opportunities to explore and the rest is up to them.

Even during my NCT Yoga for Pregnancy classes there can be the opportunity to explore complex situations either through the birth stories women themselves tell or by way of a discussion topic at the start of a session. Women and their partners can also contact me between sessions or after a course is over to ask more questions or explore their options should their circumstances change. So understandably I feel a little affronted at the suggestion that ‘we’ are not doing our job properly!

Having said this it could also be argued that by talking about interventions and caesareans we are making them more likely to happen – they are becoming to be seen as ‘normal’ (whatever that means) and therefore they are more easily accepted than physiology would suggest is necessary. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the caesarean section rate should be between 10-15% and it could be argued that in the developed world this figure should be even lower. In the UK it is currently hovering around 25% of all births.

So for me there is also room for courses that don’t focus on the things that ‘might go wrong’ and instead enable women, and their partners, to prepare in a more positive way for their births. With my Natal Hypnotherapy Workshops we focus on the outcome that couples would like to achieve. This does not mean whether they want a waterbirth or a homebirth, but rather how they want to be feeling about the way their baby enters the world. It might be that they are aiming for ‘a calm, confident birth experience’ or ‘a relaxed and positive birth’. With this shift in focus it is possible to prepare for anything that happens. There is no plan, just a whole range of skills and techniques, using breathing and birth hypnosis as the core preparation, working towards the desired outcome. Sometimes nature has very different ideas about the arrival of a baby, caesarean births and other assistance is there for these situations. My hope is that whatever happens the woman is left with a positive experience that does indeed set her up for motherhood.

I am not suggesting that this works for everyone I have worked with but I can honestly say that it does more times than not and the birth stories bear this out.
I want women to enter motherhood feeling empowered, confident and positive. Yes, healthy babies and healthy mothers matter – but there is so much more to good postnatal mental and physical health than that. This is what some of the speakers on Woman’s Hour were trying to say – I am just not sure that Kirsty Allsopp was ready to hear it.

(The views expressed in this blog are my own personal views)

Saturday, April 20th, 2013
Second time around

This week has been spent mostly working on a case study assignment for an NCT Yoga for Pregnancy training module that I have been taking with the University of Worcester. This aim of this has been to enhance my Pregnancy Yoga classes as well as improve my own yoga practice. The NCT Yoga for Pregnancy classes I teach each Thursday evening in Ash, Surrey, comprise a mixture of first-time mothers and those who already have one or more children. Having run these sessions for 7 years now many of the second-timers attended when they were pregnant first time round as well (and one has even been 3 times now…you know who you are!)

My curiosity was roused by these women who were on their second pregnancies. Getting to a class at 7.30pm in the evening could often prove challenging and I wanted to know why they came and what these sessions offered them. Talking to them about their experiences and reflecting on the part I played in their pregnancies and birth gave me a great insight into this group of pregnant women and an excellent focus for my case study assignment.

So what did I discover? Well, first and foremost (almost without exception) was the desire, and need, to do something for themselves and a time to focus on their new baby. The evidence is that women expecting their second baby spend significantly less time preparing for, and thinking about, this pregnancy. For many of the women I spoke to this was the only chance they had each week to focus on their current pregnancy and to have some ‘time out’ to connect with their baby and prepare for birth. With first pregnancies every waking hour is seemingly spent charting the progress of a baby’s development and making plans for their arrival. First time round women read books and magazines, attend classes, go ‘baby’ shopping, surf the internet, join online forums and listen to hypnotherapy CDs. But it is evident that once you have a child already everything changes. Time is precious and current children take priority. Sometimes it is only when women find time to join something like my Yoga for Pregnancy classes that they finally stop and contemplate this new life growing inside. For that reason alone the sessions I run offer an invaluable oasis in their busy lives. A time for reflection.

And there is more…this time childbirth is not ‘the unknown’ that they were perhaps so fearful of with their first babies. Although a few of the women in my sessions have had planned caesareans first time round, most have experienced labour and have either given birth vaginally (often after facing challenges during labour) or had emergency caesarean births. For these women a common theme is a desire to have ‘a more positive experience’ this time. They want to remain in control, use their breathing more effectively and to approach labour with a calm confidence that perhaps eluded them previously. During the classes I encourage everyone to think about working with the intensity of labour and birth and we explore movement, breathing, positions, visualisations and affirmations to enhance their experience. Yoga poses build strength and stamina and long relaxations aid good sleep – creating a sense of calm and building confidence. Women suggested that the classes either built their sense of trust and belief in their ability to give birth, or – for those who had positive first births – reminded them of what they already knew.

The best thing of all has been the stories these women tell after they have had their babies. The vast majority of them have the positive birth that they have longed for. They have enjoyed the time spent in classes and are then able to use what they have learned when the time comes to have their babies. Now I know that second labours are often more straightforward than first labours. But I believe that women having a second or subsequent baby have been overlooked and it gives me enormous satisfaction to know that I can play a small part in changing that. It is both fulfilling and a privilege to work with these women at such a special time in their lives. So if you are expecting your second, third, fourth, fifth baby – do try to find something that will give you the opportunity to focus on this baby and prepare for their arrival. I know it’s hard – but it is so valuable and you will be so pleased that you did.