As a therapist in private practice, my focus is on supporting the women I meet to reach their highest potential. This can be in an emotional, physical or psychological way. Being empowered is not about being stroppy or argumentative, or submissive and passive, but about celebrating our uniqueness and strength. I use my skills and knowledge to support and assist women so that they feel empowered to ask for what they need clearly and confidently during pregnancy and birth.
Each woman who comes and works with me chooses to commit to this without knowing what the birth will feel like, how long it will take, how she will cope and recover, and how she will parent her new baby. She is willing to lean on her partner or family for love and support, but she knows that ultimately this is her journey. In birth this is how it has always been. It is only in the last 200 years, with increased scrutiny and medicalisation, that women have been undermined by a system that grows ever more powerful. The women I have the privilege to meet in pregnancy tell me months after the birth how proud they are of their coping skills. It may be that they remembered being able to stay calm in a worrying time, it may be how they managed their bodies during the birth, it may be the way they greeted their babies and related to their partners.
It is a known fact that ‘feeling’ and ‘experiencing’ are protective against depression and anxiety, so the emphasis I place is on the journey to birth, not just the end result. This is in contrast to the medical model, which seeks to protect mothers from feeling and encourages them to be disconnected and numb. There are complex reasons for this strategy.
I meet women in a number of different settings. When I am on a shift, I am allocated randomly to take over from another midwife the care of a woman unknown to me. This is the most difficult moment to meet her for the first time, and it can be hard to empower her. It may not be appropriate at all, and the timing may not fit. She may be reacting to medications and interventions, and relationship building may be secondary to what she needs. Her family may be feeling tired and overwhelmed. My attention is on adjusting to the person I am there to be with and being flexible to react to her uniqueness without judgement. If she seems open to being supported, that’s what I can do. If it’s her fifth baby and she wants to sleep or otherwise manage in her own way, that’s perfect too.
At other times, I am a woman’s first point of contact in labour. We can adjust to each other and I gain a sense of who she is. Even if she gives birth 10 minutes later, we can establish a relationship and I can support her.
Finally, I meet some mothers when I attend their home births, and these women tend to be strong and comfortable. Some are more independent and feisty than others, and the support they receive from their partners, friends, sisters, doulas will also influence them a great deal.
Feeling empowered is far more difficult in the confines of a hospital. However, there are some wonderful midwives, care assistants and students who are kind, gentle and supportive. It is important for me to be aware of those who enable and those who disable. It may be something they have learned in their job role, or an intrinsic attitude that they have anyway.
Empowerment is something we don’t automatically associate positively with pregnancy and birth. It’s often frowned upon, in fact. But for the women I meet I see how crucial it is to their coping, their experience and their physical and mental health, and the effects are lifelong for partners and parents. Get support, and get empowered!
Eleanor Copp supports families across the UK, currently online. relaxedparenting.co.uk 07929 857 608
Find out more
Inducing Labour: Making Informed Decisions by Sara Wickham, Birthmoon Creations
The Life-changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect with the Calm and Happy You by Dominique Antiglio, Yellow Kite
Photo: João Paulo de Souza Oliveira
First published in Issue 56 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.