Elisabeth Grover
07794351958

Category: Birth and Beyond

Why Do I Need Antenatal Education?

Like many others, I have been spending time in quiet reflection while watching the news, observing the events as they unfold in front of me. I am particularly interested in how we cope with the various setbacks and the impact that this has on our mental health.

The big family celebrations – 21st birthday’s, graduations, engagements, baby showers, weddings – all postponed. The family holiday (a big focus in my annual calendar) and getting together as a group with friends are no more.

What has also dawned on me is the amount of money we spend on these events, often without thinking about it. It certainly all adds up. The value we place on the big life events and the desire to control every little detail. The right venue for the wedding, the best photographer to capture the event. The party for the young graduate or the best hotel restaurant booked for the happy couple’s engagement. It’s a ‘Right Of Passage’ after all.

It seems that we have a ‘Holiday Budget’, a ‘Wedding Budget’ and even a ‘Baby Budget’ but does it include the money spent on antenatal education?

As a doula, I love seeing birthing couples blossom with confidence once they have been educated in the physiology of birth and the mental preparation for the event. This education offers the birthing parent options at every fork in the road, the freedom to make positive decisions and support with the options taken whilst deciding what’s best for them. Having someone walking alongside them on their journey can be so powerful and life-affirming.

Talking about positive birth and the self-confidence that having a good experience can bring is so important. Regardless of how you have your baby, whether it be caesarean section birth, a birth with intervention or physiological birth at home, there are many factors that add up to creating a positive birth. How you feel about the way you were treated and spoken to, whether you were included in the decision-making, treated with respect and your partner included in the process. Some of these aspects may not have crossed your mind.

It’s something I’d like you to think about it for a moment.

There are lots of classes that you can attend, in person and online and there are a plethora of books you can read. I can recommend my favourites but my point is that these books are MY favourite and they may not resonate with your point of view. The antenatal teachers all have a slightly different slant and emphasis and it’s important you find the one for you. There are podcasts and audiobooks so you can listen and absorb the information as you walk in nature or catch up on the news. My advice is to find a voice that resonates and immerse yourself in the key messages that your teacher brings.

It may be a different course or book that your friends are following but that’s fine. we’re all very different. Perhaps you can think of it as good practice for parenting in the early years. Your friends may differ greatly in their opinions and you find yourself either defending your position or sitting quietly nodding whilst absorbing the subtle messages. Keep the faith in your abilities as a parent – you are doing your best and that’s good enough.

So what is my take-home message today? It’s a simple one today. Prepare a budget for your baby and include good-quality antenatal education in that budget. Find a teacher who resonates with your ethos and values and immerse yourself with positive messages about how birth and the early days work. That way you can make decisions based on evidence and your intuition when the time comes. A big family party or a fun baby shower will bring happiness for a period of time in your life but the birth of your baby is in a different league. Let’s do what we can to create the best birth possible, one you can look back on with pride and joy and a brimful of confidence about just how amazing you are.

If I can help you to find the right antenatal education for you, or you’d like to hear about our bespoke antenatal packages at St. Albans Doulas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can find us on stalbansdoulas@gmail.com and Liz: 07794351958.

A Silent Retreat

Last Sunday, I decided to devote a day to silence creating my own ‘Silent Retreat’. I had been drawn to using silence as a tool in the past but I never got round to booking a retreat. Life always seemed to get in the way. I had many conversations with Ruth from Mindful Pathway about the conscious use of silence as part of mindfulness practice and she had written a blog post for me (click here).  I felt that this was a perfect time to try a retreat with a view to recommending to my pregnant families in the future. As this is ‘Written in the Time of Covid’ (paraphrased courtesy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez), this retreat was taken at home.

Set the Date

I decided to spend a Sunday in silence as I felt that there were likely to be fewer distractions available for me. I know how easily distracted I am and this is something that causes me great frustration. One of the reasons I started a daily meditation practice was to learn how to live more mindfully in my day-to-day existence. I felt that by removing a form of communication could help with promoting a calm state. I am also not on-call at the moment and that fact helped me to decide on the day. When I am on-call I am very aware that I can be pulled away from the present moment at any time and my phone is always by my side. So last Sunday seemed like a good day for me to practice.

Talk to those around you

I am currently living at home with my husband, two children and my son’s partner. I explained to my family that I would be silent for the day and requested that they ask me questions only if needed. My children are adults now so, apart from laughing at another of mum’s hair-brained ideas, they respected the desire and the reason why.

It was nice to take the opportunity to talk about why I felt the need to spend a day without talking. The Covid times have slowed everything down in our home and I have really enjoyed this peaceful pace of life. My distracted brain really struggles with focus and so I felt that creating mental space in a period of twenty-four hours would help me to clarify what is important to me. During pregnancy, this delicious white space in your day could help you to work through your thoughts and feelings about birth and early parenthood.

Gather your Equipment

I thought about what I would need for a day of silence and I settled on a few things:

My journal
Watercolour paints and paper
Candles
Incense sticks
Aromatherapy oils
Blankets
Hot water bottle
Herbal teas
Required reading for my journey – Transformed by Birth by Britta Bushnall

Advising my pregnant clients on what to take on their silent retreat, I would suggest similar things to these with the inclusion of a couple of large pieces of A3 paper, glue, magazines and pregnancy/birth/family pictures. This retreat is a perfect time to create your vision boards. A vision board for your labour and birth and one for how you would like your life to be after your baby is born. The time spent in quiet contemplation is very precious and finding images and words that resonate with your thoughts at the current time can be healing.

Just Do it!

So the day began. I wrote ‘Silence’ on my hand and arm to remind me but it wasn’t long before I got into the mindset. I’m lucky in that I have ‘Bumble’ my little therapy room in the garden, so I spent the day cosying up in my room with my blankets, cushions and hot water bottle. All very hygge! I lit my candle and I started writing my journal. The rest of the day I spent in silence, painting, reading, writing and meditating. It was simple and blissful.

My challenge came at night when I reentered the house but by that time my family had got used to my silence. I found the general noise quite challenging and I reflected on whether I would become more sensitive to noise pollution once I ventured out into our noisy world again.

 

My advice to you is to create a silent retreat in your home one weekend. You can do it alone or with your partner but make sure you don’t compromise your time. Be selfish.  Perhaps you’d like to create a purpose such as ‘preparing for birth’ or ‘preparing for parenthood’ and collect some items that will help the day run smoothly. Or maybe you’d like the day to take a free-flowing form. If you feel that a day is too long, perhaps you could devote a morning to silence. The practice has got to fit in with your life and if a morning works for you then try a few hours.

If I can help you to create a silent retreat in your life, please contact me at stalbansdoulas@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been on a silent retreat or if you’ve been tempted to create one at home. Let’s talk about silence!

St Albans Doulas is a team of experienced birth workers supporting pregnant people and couples in the Herts, Beds, Bucks and Greater London area. If you are looking for evidence-based antenatal education and a mindful companion for your pregnancy and birth, get in touch to find out how we can help.

A Quiet Labour

In the previous post, I talked about creating a quiet nine months by embracing positive introvert qualities. Today I am continuing along the theme whilst focusing on labour and birth.

In my experience of birthing four children, I found my introverted nature offered me a gentle self-confidence and an ability to dig deep into my soul when it really mattered. These are qualities that I still use in my daily life twenty-five years later. The very nature of my introversion helped me to prioritise my time and I found reading books on the anatomy and physiology of birth, mindful breathing exercises along with the spirituality of becoming a parent helped me to make sense of the changes that were unfolding inside my body and mind. Perhaps the most important lesson was to remove the pressure on my partner to behave in a way that he found very challenging.

Let me explain that last sentence. Since lockdown, and the news that women may have to birth without their partners present, I feel myself getting frustrated with the assumption that women are unable to have a positive experience without a partner.  As a doula, I know that it is beneficial to have a birth partner who is fully engaged and able to support physically and emotionally in labour. The research will back this up.  My frustration lies with never talking about the partners who can’t be ‘that person’.  For some, both male and female, birth can be extremely stressful and they are simply not able to draw upon the inner qualities that are required. My husband was that person.

I am conscious that there is so much pressure on partners to step up and be the strong, confident one during birth. They often bring their own baggage to the experience – stories they’ve heard from friends, films they have watched, the language that is used in birth and it can be very difficult for some partners to cope. My husband is someone for whom medical procedures cause a great deal of stress and I knew after my firstborn that when I have subsequent babies, I would be birthing alone.

He was physically present but, because we were at home, he was able to sit quietly on the sofa while I laboured in the living room using breathing techniques and other self-soothing measures. This may appear odd to some but I accepted the situation fully, and I put myself in the best possible position for bringing our children into the world.

How can I do this?

With positive birth planning and evidence-based education, I believe that the birthing person can acquire a deep inner confidence, fully appreciating that birthing requires a quiet, calm frame of mind with rhythmic breathing and ritual. Perfect for someone who has spent time reading positive books and educating themselves about the processes and the birthing hormones and how the human body is incredible.

Just like animals take themselves off to a quiet space away from the noise and hustle and bustle of their surroundings, a birthing person can do the same. They feel safe and allow their hormones to flow freely. These hormones contain natural pain relievers and, if encouraged to flow, can help to create a rhythm allowing the birthing person to cope with the strong sensations and the physical demands of labour.

Birth is a Sensual Experience

Remembering to anchor yourself in the senses that perhaps you wrote about in your Birth Story. A soft blanket, a pillow that smells of home, aromatherapy oils placed on a tissue on the radiator, gentle music in the background, a dimly lit room with minimal talking. These are all ‘Introvert Go-To’s’ in a birthing toolbox!

If your partner is comfortable within the birthing room, they could be given the task of protecting your birth space. This can be a vital role for them to play. Making sure that the talking is kept to a minimum in the room and absolutely no chit-chat! The lights are low and you are focused and strong. Just by being in the room, they can play a role, without adding pressure on them to perform outside of their comfort zone.

After Birth

The Golden Hour, where baby and parent spend time skin-to-skin enjoying the smells of birth and learning how each other feel against the bare body. Allowing the time to flow freely without interruption, mindfully, recognising the importance of this precious time. Introducing your baby to your microbiome and encouraging their microbiome to flourish by not wiping them clean before cuddling. This is a great time to allow baby to snuggle into your breast and the smells and sounds that make up their new family. Again, dimmed lights, quiet atmosphere with minimal talking. An introvert’s dream.

Take-Home Message

So, my take-home message to you today is this. If for whatever reason you can’t have your partner by your side, don’t panic. You can do this! Prepare yourself with the best antenatal education you can find, read your books, hire a doula to coach you to a confident mindset, and then trust your body.

If you have a positive and willing partner, then plan what they can do to protect the space you are birthing in. Talk to them, explain what you’d like. Explain what you don’t want too! Most importantly, remember to remain flexible. Hiring a doula in order to help your partner too. Having someone by their side supporting them so that they can support you is a vital role.

If you’d like to talk about how St. Albans Doulas can help you to find a confident and happy place in your mind, before, during, and after your birth please get in touch at stalbansdoulas@gmail.com.

Beautifully illustrated by local artist Olivia Braylin of Bear Paw Designs. You can find Olivia on Instagram @Olivia.Braylin.

A Quiet Nine Months

When I was pregnant and spending hours travelling to and from Kings Hospital where I worked, I spent time thinking about the changes I was about to face in my life. I reflected on my beliefs and values as I was about to find my feet as a parent and I came to the realisation that my introverted nature and the quiet confidence it gave me, really suited pregnancy and birth.

I read books and articles about birthing and trusting your body along with those about the qualities of introverts and found this content intriguing. It offered me comfort when making sense of how I viewed the world around me, especially at a time when I was bringing a new little person into it. I spent time reflecting on the positive qualities that introverts can bring to a situation and in particular, pregnancy. In this two-part series, I discuss some of the ways that I feel you can prepare your body and mind using the positive characteristics of quiet, solitude, creativity and inner-confidence.

I always felt that we live in a world that suits extroverts and wondered how (and why) the education system appeared to focus on groups and sharing activities while the quieter students in class listened while silently taking everything in. Life can be challenging for children who feel they have to adapt and conform to a world that enjoys noise and busyness.

Fast forward to adulthood and the same issues arise. Workplaces are filled with open-plan offices and people encouraged to attend team-building exercises and ‘share with the group’. But what about those who are quietly getting on with their work, perhaps not joining in vocally, feeling uncomfortable at the need to adapt.

I remember watching the TED talk by Susan Cain, which inspired me. It described people similar to me and I started to feel proud to be introverted. From the TED talk came an equally inspiring book called ‘Quiet’ and articles that spoke about the need to take a look at introverts and how they work. Rather than being seen as shy or perhaps standoffish, introverts need lots of time alone to decompress from the noisy world. The rich, inner life of an introvert doesn’t need lots of entertainment (unless it’s the quiet, bookish kind) and they can be very happy left alone with their thoughts.

Below I describe some ideas for you to try in your quiet time, ideas that will help you to create ‘A Quiet Nine Months’.

Take Time Out to Recharge

I appreciate that this is probably easier to do at the time of writing, during the Covid-19 pandemic when you are being forced to stay home, but perhaps you may be at home with small children. This situation makes it harder to take time away. My advice is to carve out time whenever you can and this is advice for those who have children, those who work silly hours and those who don’t. This is advice for everyone.

Make it a priority as you would make it a priority to see a friend. Aim for three times a day five minutes each. If you can make these mindful times a little longer, great. These little breaks are so good for you. I am telling you from years of experience bringing up four children but recognising the value in quiet time for mental health.

Create a Vision for Your Birth

Whatever this vision looks like to you. During your quiet time, read positive pregnancy stories and write the story of your birth as you wish it to be. Make it a sensual experience with a scented candle or some oils sprinkled on the page and sit and write. I talked about creating a little altar in your room in my last post, perhaps you could retreat to this to take time out.

Start from the first surges and talk about where you are and how you feel. Use all the senses to write this story. What can you hear (music, birdsong, nothing at all), or feel (soft pillow to lie against, a comforting blanket to wrap around your shoulders) taste (your favourite snacks). How strong and capable you feel. You have waited a long time for this and you are now ready. You can visualise for a caesarian section birth and birth by induction too. Use this story to inform your Birth Preferences too.

Birth Vision Board

Perhaps you could create a Birth Vision Board. All you need is a large piece of A3 card, some glue and lots of images from the internet and/or magazines if you have any old ones at home. This is your special time so enjoy the process. Lose yourself in Pinterest, finding images than resonate with how you would like your birth to be. If you have a small child with you, perhaps they could do one too. Cutting and sticking can be lots of fun together. Choose words that resonate with you. Affirmations that make you feel strong and capable.

Affirmations

Affirmations are short, personal statements that are written in the present tense with the subject ‘I’ or ‘my’. If you find it hard to write these, search on the internet and choose words and phrases that resonate with you. Once you have printed these off or handwritten some, perhaps you can paint some cards and write your affirmations down on the painted card? Maybe you’d like some stickers surrounding the words or images of you and your partner to make them extra special. You can find some lovely journal stickers on Etsy created from artists throughout Britain. It’s a great way of supporting small one-person businesses.

Virtual Baby Shower

As an introvert, the idea of being centre of attention may not feel like something that resonates but this is about making choices that suit you. A few close friends and some carefully chosen activities over an hour can be a lovely way to create a positive frame of mind. Ask a special friend if they can organise something for you, someone who knows you well and ‘gets’ you. Keep it short with a focus and enjoy the feeling of having a group of people surrounding you as you head towards motherhood.

Perhaps you could ask your friends to be part of a Facebook group for after your baby is born. Whenever you need some shopping or perhaps just a chat, you post in the group and one of your friends can pick it up if they are available. It helps you to feel supported and cared for at a time of isolation.

In my next post, I will talk about how I feel the qualities that many introverts share can help you during your birth and the hours after your baby is born. I will share my favourite books on why introverts rock too! Subscribe to my blog and keep up to date with my posts – reflections from one mother to another.

If I can help you access your inner quiet space through my work as a doula, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. St Albans Doulas is a collective of four experienced birth workers and we’d love to support you in a way that resonates with your way of being in the world. You can find us here  https://stalbansdoulas.com/why-do-i-need-a-virtual-doula/

We can work out your way of receiving positive messages and education, whether than be through text messaging and Whatsapp. Perhaps you enjoy a Zoom conversation or telephone is more for you. We can work around your personal way of communicating to find a way forward. So get in touch with us at stalbansdoulas@gmail.com.

My beautiful illustrations are created by local artist Olivia Braylin. You can find Olivia on Instagram @Olivia.Braylin or email: olivia.braylin@icloud.com.

Your Pregnancy Self-Care Tookit. Updated for Covid-19.

Although this post has been written specifically for the pregnant person in mind, the ideas I talk about can be easily translated for anyone. I have said on a number of occasions when asked how I am, I respond with a pithy statement. As an introvert, I have been preparing for this moment all my life! This isn’t meant to be flippant or insensitive, it is my reality. Time alone is something I relish and I would like to spread some positivity and a little happiness at a time when both appear to be in short supply.

Today, I’d like to share my Top Ten Self-Care practices for pregnancy and beyond.

1. Creating a Safe Space at Home

I felt that this should be number one as you will be spending most of your time there during the current pandemic. This isn’t a post about cleaning and tidying, do not fear! I’m talking about creating an area that is yours, perhaps somewhere where you can retreat to. It may just be a little altar in the corner of the corner of your bedroom with items that hold meaning to you. Pictures, affirmations, crystals. Whatever works for you.

The idea behind having a safe space is that you know it is there and you can go and retreat when you feel like the world is getting to you. I love having candles on my altar and my current favourites are Handmade in Harpenden, Bous and Pure Thoughts.

2. Music

I am a sensory person and I love the idea of filling my five senses in order to creating calm and order in my life. So music is a big part of that. Spotify has been a godsend to me. I have some favourite go-to’s in terms of playlists.

Spotify: Browse: Sleep: Dreamcatcher is a current favourite.

Spotify: Browse: Chill: Breathe is lovely too.

The artist I use in my reflexology practice is Marina Raye and I like ‘Rainbows for Breakfast’. I also use ‘Jessita Reyes’ as the music is quite similar. Margot Reisinger is also good for my treatment room.

 3. Painting


When I am sitting in Bumble, my little garden sanctuary listening to my playlists, I enjoy painting abstracts. This is a peaceful activity and all you really need is some watercolour paper and paints. You certainly don’t need anything expensive to make marks on the paper. It’s the activity that counts.

Maybe you can paint different coloured spots or triangles on the paper?

What colour resonates with you?

How does it feel to let loose with a paintbrush and no one judging the art you produce?

Perhaps you could see if your local art shop is delivering supplies and spend some time enjoying the moment with your paintbrushes.

4.  Aromatherapy

I have talked about my favourite oils in four previous posts (click here) and it goes without saying that I am a big fan of aromatherapy. But you don’t need to invest a lot to start a collection of oils. I am currently enjoying the blends from Holistic Kitchen as I love the quality of the oils, the beautiful branding and the fact that the company is a small UK based business. They have two specifically for pregnancy (Bloom) and birth (Birthing Blend) but there are many others that are equally as lovely. Just check that they are suitable for pregnancy before applying to your skin in a carrier oil.

5. Meditation

I could write an essay about meditation but there are many practitioners out there who are able to write about the subject. Being aware of your senses, as I have described in this post is a mindful approach to meditation. Taking five minutes out of your day, or even twice a day. Setting a reminder on your phone. Find your quiet, comfortable space, check in with your baby, listen to your music and light a candle. Nice deep healing breaths.
I heard an analogy that having these mindful moments in the day is like a runner spending time thinking about their run before the gun goes off. If the runner doesn’t know where they are going, or how fast the pace is, the run will not go well for them. Meditation is like this. Sitting in quiet contemplation alone is pressing that big red reset button. Allowing the thoughts to come in and flow out while you breathe. Make time for meditation today.

6. Reading

There are lots of pregnancy books that I could recommend but this isn’t a post about pregnancy books. Sitting down with a book can be in itself a mindful activity. Perhaps you have a garden where you can sit with your book and listen to the birds? Or smell the flowers? Feel the sun on your face? What kind of book would uplift you at this time? Remember that you are looking to increase the positive hormones at this time and all the things that I talk about in this post are there to help you find a positive, happy, confident mindset before you have your baby.

7. Journaling

I have written many posts on the benefits of journaling. Please click here to visit the old posts if you would like to know more.

8. Walking in Nature

I appreciate that this is more of a challenge than it has been in the past but it’s worth talking about here during these strange times. Getting out for 30 minutes a day is so important for pregnancy for a number of reasons. The exercise helps to keep you fit and healthy and the gentle nature of walking is a great form of exercise for pregnancy. Being outside in the open air can help you to feel connected with nature. Listening to the birds, watching the trees sway in the breeze. Or feeling the rain on your face and the wind in your hair. Remember to choose your times wisely as you don’t want to be out when the paths are busy with lots of people.

9. Boundary Setting

Ah, boundaries….boundaries. Where do we start?

What has happened to WhatsApp? It’s exhausting!

Ping!….message from the antenatal group….Ping!…..message from your mum….Ping!……your friend sends you a funny meme….Ping!….work needs you to look at some documents your manager has sent through. Ping!……..aarrgghh……

Boundary setting requires you to become clear about what you can and can’t do. What you want to do and what you really don’t want in your life. Start with home. Do you want your partner to take more responsibility with the domestic duties – ask them to help but be very clear and specific about what you’re looking for.

Social media. What apps do you have on your phone? Do they need to be there? Can you access them from your laptop during a set time so you aren’t tethered to your phone all day.

Moving onto WhatsApp and Zoom, our two new best friends. How can we socially distance from the content?!  Set boundaries around who you want to hear from and what you want to read. You have choices, you don’t have to listen to everything. Your friends will love you regardless of whether you respond straight away or you take a little time-out from the relationship until this has blown over. If they don’t understand, well….you know the answer.

10. Lastly, find your joy.

There is a lot of negativity in the world at the moment but it doesn’t mean that you have to get bogged down with it. Make space for some of the things that you have read about in this post and disregard the things that don’t work for you. Get really clear on what makes you happy and that will encourage the flow of endorphins, the feel-good hormones.

St Albans Doulas

If I can help you to find your joy then don’t hesitate to get in touch. St Albans Doulas is a collective of experienced birth workers reaching out to those currently pregnant or postpartum in a Facebook Group called ‘Your Virtual Village’. Free to join and full of like-minded people. It’s a pleasure to support our Tribe during these times. You can find out here how we can support you virtually during pregnancy and birth.  We’d love to hear from you www.stalbansdoulas.com.

If you would like more information about the beautiful illustrations, please contact artist Olivia Braylin at olivia.braylin@icloud.com