Allowing a pregnancy to progress naturally is what a so-called ‘active birth’ is all about. Jessica Bailey Ackerman speaks to expert Karen Wilmot who’s hosting workshops in Doha this month.
When I first heard the words ‘active birth’ I figured that surely all births are active? Yet since meeting Karen Wimot, a qualified midwife, prenatal yoga instructor and clinic hypnotherapist, I’ve come to understand this type of birthing strategy is so much more than just going to the hospital and being told to ‘push’. In fact, it’s a term used to describe a birth that is allowed to progress naturally by encouraging women to follow their instinctive urges and needs.
Karen has been working in women’s health for two decades and she now runs workshops all over the Gulf where she teaches pregnant women and their partners about what to expect when they’re expecting. More specifically, what happens to the woman’s body during labour and what sensations they can expect to feel.
In the workshops, Karen runs through the various positions that facilitate natural progress in labour, breathing techniques, passive pushing and even how to use active imagery to get your mind and body working together in harmony in preparation for labour. She also teaches participants how to connect more deeply with their unborn baby and how a partner can assist every step of the way. On top of all that, she even goes into the value of rest and rhythm in labour and birth, as well as how to navigate the hospital system including understanding when interventions may be necessary and when to avoid them.
It’s all about tackling predetermined ideas and fears that pregnant women may have, says Karen. ‘We cannot eradicate fear but we can explore it and in doing so we can turn that fear into understanding,’ she explains.
‘Fear is directly related to pain in childbirth so we learn about the Fear-Tension-Pain triangle, which is a negative cycle. We teach women to avoid it, what to do if they experience it, how to recognise it, but most importantly how to move into, and stay in, a positive cycle of understanding, relaxation, release using a combination of body, mind and breathing techniques.’
The concept of active birth appeared after the era of ‘Twilight Sleep’ in the early 19th Century when women were given a dose of scopolamine and morphine to cause a state of clouded consciousness and complete forgetfulness. Initially, it was thought of as a great way to give birth pain-free and to help you forget the experience, however, the negative implications to mother and baby led to the abandonment of this method.
This newfound movement is instead founded on the principle of the Hippocratic Oath ‘First do nothing’ to provide a natural alternative to pain control without the negative side effects of drugs. It also teaches you to only use medical interventions when absolutely necessary.
To explain more clearly, Karen tells me the story of a woman who had an epidural but experienced a traumatic birth which doctors would only describe as ‘difficult’ because medically she was fine. The woman had described ‘severe pain, severe exhaustion, severe psychological distress.’
She went on to say, ‘When I held my baby in my arms, her little body and beautiful features were seen through my eyes but could not be felt by my heart because of the shock, anger and pain that still jarred me.’
The problem was that she had no control over her experience and nobody listening to or respecting her feelings. She needed so much more from her doctors and in her own words, she now says, ‘If you take my gorgeous, healthy baby out of this story, giving birth was the worst physical and emotional experience I have ever had. It was devastating.’
Karen, referring to this story, explains, ‘It seems that she was not prepared or informed. That she, like so many thousands of women around the world, put her faith and trust into her doctor and a hospital system that delivers hundreds of babies every month and therefore, surely it will be a good experience.’
Instead, active birth aims to inform women so they do not have to endure experiences beyond their control and understanding. ‘We believe that birth is a life event and not an illness that needs to be cured,’ says Karen. ‘Pregnancy is a time of profound physical and mental change. The experience of giving birth is intricately linked with the transition to motherhood and should be honoured as such.’
On a more positive note, one woman who took part in the active birth workshops said, ‘We had an amazing labour – less than four hours from the very first un-painful contraction to [our daughter’s] arrival, completely natural (which I was not expecting to achieve) and with me up and about straight after.’
All anyone needs to take part in the active birth workshops is an open mind and a willingness to learn. So once you learn the skills you need and practice them diligently, you’ll be able to use them effectively when you do go into labour.
Active Birth workshops in Doha take place on September 19 and October 31.
To register just email email@example.com with the subject ‘ACTIVE BIRTH DOHA’ or call +968 9790 7059. Prices are QR350 for one-to-one online consultations, QR750 for a group of four couples or more, or QR1,250 for private tuition in your home. Visit www.pregnantinoman.com
Being pregnant in a foreign country can be an adventure in itself, but just because you are away from home you can still get the birth you want.
ExpatsExpecting, is a course founded by Karen, that is based on a culmination of her own expat experience working as a midwife in the Middle East and around the world, to provide mothers-to-be with the necessary skills and tools to guide them through challenging experiences. The ExpatsExpecting Birth Kit is a solution to get the birth you want, regardless of where you are in the world. Although it is aimed at expats, any woman, anywhere in the world will benefit from this step-by-step, common sense approach to preparing for childbirth.Karen is looking for a core group of women in their first trimester, who are eager to take part in the market research team and build up to the official launch.
If that applies to you and you are interested in the project contact Karen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org