When you don't know a lot about birth except for what you've seen in the media or heard from well-meaning friends and relatives, it can seem big and scary at first.
I love working with clients who are keen to explore what a positive birth means for them, what the hurdles along the way might look like and how we can work through them together.
Even when Covid stopped me from being present in person to support clients in labour, Meg's story shows how the work we do together during pregnancy is invaluable. It is not just the pain coping strategies but also the more profound work of knowing what is important to you and advocating for it.
I value Meg's strength and determination and the support from her partner to get the information they needed to make decisions as individuals in the face of typical systemic behaviour.
Meg's Birth Story
When I first found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to soak in as much information as possible. I'm a control freak by nature and from what little I already knew, pregnancy and birth were so unpredictable.
Thank you so much to Meg and her family for sharing their story.
If heading into your birth confidently knowing how to advocate for yourself sounds like your jam, send me a message and we can get started with a package of prenatal sessions.
Free resources to get you on your way to a better birth:
10 Questions to Ask Your Care Provider
What is Informed Consent?
5 Birth Planning Tips
"I'm looking for a doula who is familiar with hypnobirthing" is a very common comment I see in many groups on social networks and get asked by potential clients. So am I familiar with hypnobirthing?
Heck yes I am! Here's a little info around my personal and professional experience:
Way back in 2006 when I was pregnant with my daughter, I took part in a self-hypnosis trial with Dr Allan Cyna (Consultant Anaesthetist) at the Women's & Children's Hospital in North Adelaide. We had 3 in-person hypnotherapy group sessions with Dr Cyna as well as CDs to take home and listen to. I remember very clearly how calm and relaxed I felt during my labour, to the point I was falling asleep in between contractions. I had been induced with gels and the OB breaking my waters so was a little apprehensive about it all but it was very straight forward. I then went on to use those skills during my next two births at home - one of which was 19 hours long!
Many of my doula clients have undertaken group hypnotherapy or calmbirth classes with one of the many providers here in Adelaide. As with all my clients, we talk about what they want for their birth. This includes any particular techniques they may have learnt or terminology they want used, for example using the word 'surges' instead of contractions'.
I have sat in on client's private hypnobirthing classes and gone through the learning with them and practiced the breathing and soft-touch techniques. I know for one particular client, these skills became essential during her 50 hour VBAC!
For further professional training, I have undertaken studies with the HypnoDoula course.
So yes, I am familiar with hypnobirthing and would love to support you through your pregnancy, labour and birth as your doula!
Read below for one of my client's hypnobirthing stories from January 2021.
Kate's hypnobirth with Elemental Beginnings
We first met Kelly in 2018 when we hired her as a Doula for the birth of our first son. From our very first meeting with her we felt incredibly comfortable and relaxed in her presence and we knew straight away she was exactly the type of support person we wanted and needed at the birth.
Kelly helped us clarify our birth preferences by making sure we understood the birthing process so we could make informed choices throughout. For our first baby we opted for a home birth, and Kelly supported us through 20 hours of labour at home before I was ultimately transferred to hospital due to some complications. She was a huge support to both myself and my husband throughout the long labour. I think he was particularly grateful to have an extra support person to tag team with. I was also grateful to have Kelly's support postpartum and she helped me navigate my disappointment that the birth had not gone exactly the way I had hoped.
When we found out I was pregnant with my second son in May last year, the first thing my husband said to me was "we will definitely get Kelly again won't we?". It really wasn't a question for either of us as we couldn't imagine doing it without her. We greeted Kelly back into our lives as a friend and once again, she helped us feel calm and supported in the lead up to the birth.
This time around we decided for a hospital birth from the outset. My labour progressed slowly and was manageable throughout the day. My husband was in regular contact with Kelly to keep her updated and we both felt reassured knowing she was ready and waiting for us when we needed her. Later that evening when things had progressed we asked her to come over. She arrived at our home, her usual unphased and calm self, using a soft voice and gentle touch. I used a TENS machine and utilised my learned hypnobirthing skills to remain 'in the zone', while Kelly and my husband supported me through each contraction.
Around an hour later I decided it was time to go to the hospital and Kelly rode with us (squeezed in the back of our car between two baby seats), offering words of support where needed, but just as much comfort in her silence. On arrival at the hospital ER, my husband dropped us at the door and left to park the car. I remember thinking how I would have been left alone at that time had we not had Kelly with us. I was so grateful to have her there, guiding me through admission and responding to some of the questions on my behalf so that I could remain focused on my labour and breathing.
It was a long walk from the emergency room to birthing and assessment, and Kelly was with me every step of the way, helping me block everything else out as I breathed through each contraction. I chose to walk as it felt the right thing to do at the time, so Kelly was left to fend off multiple offers of wheelchairs from concerned nurses and hospital staff as we walked the long corridors together. It felt so reassuring to know she was in my corner, helping me to trust my instincts and encouraging me to 'walk my baby out'.
My husband was already in the birthing suite waiting for us when we arrived. Kelly straight away raised the bed to the highest height so I could continue to stand and lean against it while she placed her hands on my hips and back for gentle support. Her experience means she know exactly the right things to do to help in the moment, with very little communication needed, meaning I could remain 'in the zone' for labour.
Soon after I decided to get into the bath and spent the next little while in the water in silence, breathing through each contraction and feeling my baby move down. Kelly continued to provide subtle support - whether it was occasionally wafting peppermint oil under my nose to help with nausea or placing an extra towel under my head, or gently reminding my husband to hit replay on the hypnobirthing affirmations track playing in the background.
Only two hours after arriving at the hospital, I breathed into my final contraction and pushed out my baby. The birth was exactly what I had hoped... A calm and beautifully supported experience.
Kelly's support did not end once our baby was born. She helped me breathe through the birth of my placenta and helped me with my first post-birth shower. I also required some minor stitches so she came with me to the room next door while my husband remained with our baby. I was more scared of the stitches than I had been at any time during my labour and for the first time needed pain relief. As I breathed in the gas deeply and squeezed her hand tightly, she offered continuous words of encouragement and support throughout the procedure. I was so incredibly grateful for her kind and caring presence during that time.
After such a beautiful birth, our baby experienced some unexpected breathing complications and ended up in neonatal special care for 12 days. This was an incredibly stressful and upsetting time for us but once again, Kelly was a continuous support for me throughout with texts and phone calls, offering a level of empathy and understanding I would not otherwise have had.
We are forever grateful for the friendship and support Kelly has provided to our family. If you are thinking about hiring a Doula, I cannot recommend Kelly enough. She is calm, kind, patient, genuine, knowledgeable and understanding - the perfect person to support you throughout your pregnancy and birth.
Thank you Kelly!
You might also like to read more about Kate's other birth from her husband Simon's perspective.
Why knowing how you want to feel during childbirth is more important than what type of birth you want.
Vanessa and her family hired me to support them for the birth of their second baby with a planned VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean).
As part of my prenatal visits with clients, I talk a lot about birth preferences. Birth preferences include what I call "checkbox items". You know, like the boxes you might tick on a form or birth plan template:
However, the birth preferences I want my clients to really focus and work on are how they want to feel during labour and birth and how they want to be treated. Feelings that are important to my clients often include phrases such as calm, respected, not pressured, informed etc.
We can't control (but can influence) how our bodies and our babies work during childbirth but we do have control over our actions and role. We can think about how we want the maternity provider we have chosen to treat us. We can determine the level of responsibility we are ready to claim in decision making and the actions we are willing to take to achieve these goals.
Because when the unpredictability of birth kicks in and clients have to adjust their checkbox items, we can still focus on these feelings and their values.
How can I change my checkbox items from a VBAC to a repeat caesarean while still feeling informed of what is happening to me and my baby, while still feeling respected, while keeping the environment calm and not rushed?
That’s where the magic lays in a positive birth.
"HOW the birth is conducted might be just as important as WHAT you do.... Positive communication and interactions throughout the birthing process significantly affect the woman’s experience, which in turn can affect both her mental and physical health, as well as her relationship with her baby postnatally."
Click here to read the whole article related to the above quote about the
importance of the language used by care providers in birth.
In Vanessa's own words
"I was worried (in fact, super scared) that I would have another birth where I walked away feeling like I didn’t have a very nice birthing experience. Hiring Kelly meant that I could work through many scenarios and know that I could put my mental health first and have others ‘checking in’ on my mental health. So as the birth didn’t end up being as I had planned, I came away from the birth this time in love with my new little human.
The most helpful thing was having someone who knows the system on my side. It was like having a very strong emotional pole to hold onto and to feel grounded the whole time. This was important for me as it meant I could be confident in my choices throughout the process. She was a sounding board throughout the birth.
I found the hospital system and birthing classes just gave a general overview of the birthing process but nothing was customised to me and my birthing situation (what happened the first time). This time around, with Kelly’s help, I felt like I had more knowledge so was able to ask deeper questions and research more to ensure I was happy with what was going on around me.
She was a great support for my partner who felt he had a better understanding of my situation too with both my physical and emotional needs. It’s great to have a professional person to looking out for me mentally and emotionally.
Although my birth didn’t go quite as planned (I was hoping for a VBAC but ended up with a RCS) I came away from the birth in my baby love bubble, something I didn’t experience first time round.
Because of this, Kelly is worth her weight in gold."
Vanessa & Baby Jett - Happy Valley
Do Dads Dig Doulas?
During pregnancy and birth, one of the biggest decisions you will need to make is who you are going to have supporting you and present in your birth space. That decision includes the possibility of hiring a doula to provide information, resources, physical comfort and emotional well-being.
Often it is the mums-to-be from around Adelaide who will contact me first. We'll have a bit of a chat and then they'll take some time to discuss it with their partner. Sometimes I'll have a chat with the other parent at the same time and often their questions or concerns centre around what role a doula will play. Will I take over their role? Why do they need a doula if they have a midwife or obstetrician taking care of them? Why should we invest in a doula when I can support my wife myself?
To help answer these great questions, I thought it might be best to hear from those I have worked with so you can get first-hand information. I sent out some interview type questions for Dads to answer to hopefully make things easy for them.
Thanks to Simon for being the first Dad to share his thoughts on hiring Elemental Beginnings as their doula.
1. What were your honest thoughts when Kate first mentioned hiring a doula?
My first thoughts were very positive. I knew a bit about Doulas before we looked further into it.
I knew that Doulas are quite simply an added set of safe hands who have a lot of experience and knowledge with birth, labouring and after birth care. I knew that having a Doula present before/during and after the birth of our son was always going to be valuable source for us.
2. If you had any initial questions or concerns about working with a doula, what were they?
I had no concerns at all. We had an instant connection with Kelly so I (we) knew it was the right thing to do.
3. Could you talk a little about our work together, both during the birth and before and after, from a partner's perspective?
Reassurance was the key. This was the first time I was involved in the birth of a child. I was nervous but with all our preparation I was fairly confident. I was nervous that I was going to do or say the wrong thing, especially in labour. Kelly was gentle, and her presence was always felt. She knew when to be involved and when to step back. Her subtle guidance just reassured me that I too was doing a good job.
4. If your birth didn't quite go to plan, how did having me there or our prenatal sessions make a difference for you?
Our plan/preference was to have a home birth, surrounded by love and support instead of machines, bright lights and interference. The labour was very long (24 hours) and our son was a little stuck by the end of it. My wife’s heart rate was getting higher and higher so the midwives called an ambulance. We always knew that our ‘plan’ might not go perfectly so we were prepared for the hospital.
Having Kelly there, especially after the call was made to go to hospital, made me feel comfortable knowing that this is something that can happen and that everything was going to be ok. She reassured me that this was normal procedure and our midwives had my wife and son's health as their top priority - something that can be forgotten about in the heat of the moment.
5. How would you explain a doula to your best mate?
A Doula is someone who has a lot of experience in childbirth, someone who offers knowledge, comfort and ongoing support with child birth and after care.
6. What is your advice to other dads and partners who may be considering hiring me, now that you've experienced birth with a doula?
My advice is do it. It is a guarantee that someone will be working with you. Someone who has experience, a safe set of hands, and someone who will help you have a memorable and empowering birthing experience.
If you would like to talk to Simon further about his child's birth, he has kindly offered for me to pass on his email address. Just get in contact with me and I can forward you his details. Just click the button below and pop in your details.
Prepare for an easier fourth trimester with these 25 Secrets From A Postnatal Doula!
Kelly Harper is the owner of Elemental Beginnings Doula & Placenta Services in Adelaide. She provides sleep consultancy, placenta encapsulation and doula services to families during pregnancy, birth and in their fourth trimester.