The birth story of Relax Into Birth

People often ask me how I came to be a doula and how Relax Into Birth was started. I always say it started with my son. Here is our birth story, for without Leonardo, I would never have birthed my programme.

180 turnaround: From elective caesarean in hospital to home birth with an independent midwife

228412_10150241778321061_7199639_nWhen I found out I was pregnant, the very first thought I had was; “I want a caesarean.” I know, it sounds crazy coming from a birthworker, a doula, an oxytocin junkie – but there it was. In my mind, there was no way my baby was coming out of there… I wanted to plan the day and be in control of when I had my baby. Also, that was how we had babies in my family; via caesarean. I was the first of four children, all born via caesarean. I was breech and stubborn even in utero, but I could not ignore the signs that came my way, derailing my plans of an elective caesarean.

The first sign: Two men telling me to have a vaginal birth

So, I told my husband, Jeremy about my plan of action:  an intentional caesarean in hospital. He frowned a little… and said disapprovingly, “Charlene, millions of women have given birth before you – what is wrong with you? You have to try.” To say I was irritated is an understatement… And so, I tried my doctor, Doctor Douglas Dumbrill at Vincent Pallotti Hospital, surely he would listen? He said the same, only a bit different; “Charlene, if you want a caesarean, then you need to go to that hospital over there (motioning with his hands in a southerly direction). I will not just give you a caesarean without a medical reason.” He added that I should go home, think about it, do more research on the topic and come back with questions.

262311_10150296375601061_5773358_nNow, here were two men telling me to have a vaginal birth! And did they have vaginas they were willing to have a baby move through? No… I mean, what does a girl have to do to get a caesarean in this town? As I was to learn, not much! Dr Dumbrill’s response was incredibly rare – and I will be forever grateful to him, as my path would have never cumulated in the birthwork I now know and love.

Our caesarean rate in South Africa is reaching 90% in the private sector. This figure is frightening, considering that the WHO recommends only 15% for a country’s caesarean rate. I also learnt that our medical aid would not pay for a elective caesarean without a medical reason. So… somehow I had to get over myself – get over my fear of vaginal birth – and give it a go.

The second sign: Alzheimer’s and birth stories in Botswana

I laid the subject to rest for a while as we prepared to go on holiday to Botswana. There we stayed with Jeremy’s family, which included his Aunty Em, who was living with Alzheimer’s. My pregnant belly was showing and every time she saw it she would tell me the birth stories of her two sons, who are now in their fifties. She was living in the UK when she was pregnant and her gynaecologist was also a hypnotherapist.

She remembered doctor’s visits where apart from the checks on baby, he would help her prepare mentally through relaxation techniques and visualisations. She described their subsequent births as wonderful, empowering, relaxing and even painless experiences – “and if there was pain, I don’t remember it,” she said. She remembered that while in labour, near transition, her gynae guided her through a visualisation of being on a beach, while pushing her boys out. “And if he left the room and stopped talking, it would make my labour painful.”

She told me this story almost daily. She would see my belly, touch my belly, ask me how far along I was and if I was expecting a boy or a girl, and then launch into her birth stories, so that for the week that we stayed in Botswana it became a daily ritual. And after the third time of hearing this story, I knew there must be something to using hypnosis for birth and so when we got back to Cape Town, I googled the words hypnosis and birth and came across the term hypnobirthing, which I never even knew existed.

The third sign: Hypnobirthing course near home

Even more synchronous, was that there was a hypnobirthing course in my area and so, I enrolled and dragged my willing husband along with me. I gained so much from the course and it, it helped empower me with the information I needed to regain trust in my body, in my uterus and learnt that I could actually birth my baby vaginally, my body could actually do such a thing!

The fourth sign: Accosting my midwife outside her practice

The course set me on a path of investigating my options. I learnt that I could have a gynae-led birth at hospital under the care of hospital midwives, but that my gynae would only come at the end when I was pushing and not be there at all during my labour, except to check my dilation once in a while if it wasn’t an ungodly hour. Also, I couldn’t be sure which midwife would be on duty that day – a dragon or Mother Teresa; you could never be sure – and you’d get who was on the roster for that day or night or ungodly hour. I also learnt about the option of hiring independent midwives. In Cape Town we have only a handful of independent midwives and to get one for your birth you have to book yesterday already. They are able to attend homebirths with gynae or government hospital back-up, and also attend hospital births where they have permission to work.

I drove through to the Birth Options Midwifery Team practice and waited outside before it opened one morning. The first to arrive was Midwife Angela Wakeford, who was fumbling with keys to open the door, when I came up the path behind her, telling her I desperately needed to have a vaginal birth, because my medical aid wouldn’t pay for an elective caesarean without a medical reason and that I knew I needed an independent midwife to help me achieve that – all before she even opened the front door to the practice. She looked at me quizzically and motioned to the door and said, “Let me just open the door and then we can chat, ok?” I knew she would be my midwife… and she was, dear Angela Wakeford – and what and amazing midwife she is.

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From elective caesarean section in hospital to a home waterbirth

We were still planning to have a hospital birth, but as the weeks of my pregnancy went by, I knew that I needed to be at home as it was a space that would be most conducive to my labour. I had learnt about fear and its impact on my uterus during labour – and I wanted to stay out of survival mode and away from fight, flight or freeze. I knew home would be my best bet.  We chose to have a homebirth and hired a birth pool in case our baby was to be a waterbaby.

relaxingduringsurgesOn September 18, 2011 I felt odd. I knew our baby was close to arriving as it was one day before our official due date. I started having surges at 6pm that evening, just as Jeremy was going to gym. I knew I should tell him to stay, but thought it might be a false alarm, so instead I decided to wash the dishes. If it was labour starting, I couldn’t have the midwives come to an untidy flat! As the surges continued for the next forty minutes, I knew I needed to call him to come home. He didn’t answer his phone – as one does when your wife is in possible labour – and so I called the gym and they called him over the intercom; “Mr Jeremy West, please proceed to reception, your wife is in labour.”

I called Angela to tell her my labour had started and she told me to rest if I could and to stay in touch. Jeremy rushed home with one energy bar in hand for me and we started getting the place ready. We shuffled things around in the bedroom, lighting tea lights and the Himalayan salt lamp and inflating the birth pool. I spent some time on the birth ball, but just couldn’t get into a rhythm and so moved to the bathroom, where I lit another candle and sat myself down on the loo. At some point, around 21h30, Jeremy asked me to hold the hosepipe (which trailed from the kitchen sink into the bedroom) into the birth pool, so that it wouldn’t snake all over the room and wet everything. I asked if he was crazy – I was in labour! I could not move from here! I didn’t move from the loo and the hosepipe did snake through the room, wetting everything!

At about 22h00 things starting heating up and getting more intense and so Jeremy called and told the Angela things were moving and that she should start making her way to us. By 23h00 she arrived with trainee midwife, doula and homoeopath, Keryn White, who held my hand and told me I was doing beautifully. I remember her gentle voice, supportive hand and warm smile. Angela checked my dilation at half-past midnight and told me I was fully dilated and that if I wanted to, we could move to the pool to birth my baby there.

Arrival on his due date: Waterbirth at 02h24, 19 September 2011

fewminutesafterbirthLeonardo came swimming out into our lives after five hours of active labour at 02h24. I remember his face coming up out of the water towards me – eyes wide open, soft to to the touch, covered momentarily in white vernix, which washed off in the water quickly. He didn’t cry, but his eyes moved very observantly around the room, alert and awake. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen, looking at me, looking at Jeremy as I was the one who wailed; My baby! My baby! You have come, my baby!

Angela, who was wearing a headlamp because it was so dark in the room, remembers Leonardo following her headlamp with his eyes and that she had to turn it off! I am so thankful for Angela’s faith in me and for holding the space with Keryn so beautifully. I got more than what I had set out to gain; from a planned elective caesarean to a home water birth.

A story of transformation

311927_10150379797286061_1912836996_nMy birth was truly the most transforming, most empowering thing I have ever done. Leonardo gave me the gift of his birth and it was to change my life completely. Before his birth I worked as a freelance journalist, writing for women’s monthly magazines, including The Oprah Magazine, Fairlady, Longevity and currently, Life Healthcare Magazine. After his birth, I went on to become a Hypnobirthing Childbirth Educator, Hypnotherapist (Essex Institute) and WOMBS Doula and I have never looked back. I created my own hypnobirthing and other relaxation techniques course; Relax Into Birth, which also focused on empowering birth partners for the big day, giving them tools to support the mother through labour and birth.

551166_10151130535526061_1219085074_nThis work has given me so much and taught me so much about myself, birth and life. Birth is deep in my heart and I believe I was called to do this work and share what I have learnt with as many women as I can. My birth story and working as a doula has taught me about resilience, flexibility, sacrifice and love and at the most basic level; that women have birth options, that women can trust their bodies and take their power back to birth their babies in the way they want to – free from fear. Birth is a non-medical event, it is about family and intimacy and bonding. It is about power and surrender and letting go. It is about transformation and empowerment and flow. It is about moving through what you never imagined could be possible. Birth is life. Life starts with birth.

The power of each surge

Flows through me

Like water.

Washing off my skin,

Taking my breath away,

Bringing forth life… And

Opening me up.

Stripping away the layers and layers

Of holding back

I leave my body

Surrendering and merging with my baby’s soul

Hovering around me.

Come my love I say…

It’s time. Let’s emerge together…

As a baby is born

A mother is born also.
-By Charlene Yared West 

It’s your ONE BIRTH. Choose your birth team wisely!

It’s essential you choose your birth team with utmost care, empowering yourself with information, educating yourself on the birth landscape you find yourself in.

You don’t get to do it all over again. You don’t get a retake… You only get to do this birth once, so that even if it ends up in a caesarean section, you will have peace in your heart, because you know you tried and exhausted all avenues.

I wish you joy and a sense of empowerment and confidence as you prepare to meet your baby!

Check out http://www.relaxintobirth.com for more info on doula care, pre and postnatal pampering, products and the Relax Into Birth course, which includes Hypnobirthing techniques for labour and birth and caesarean section.

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Surrender

The power of each surge
Flows through me
Like water.
Washing off my skin,
Taking my breath away,
Bringing forth life… And
Opening me up.
Stripping away the layers and layers
Of holding back
I leave my body
Surrendering and merging with my baby’s soul
Hovering around me.
Come my love I say…
It’s time. Let’s emerge together…

As a baby is born
A mother is born also.

Words and photo by Charlene Yared West.

Pregnancy Awareness Week at one of the best hospitals in town, Life Vincent Pallotti!

Pregnancy Awareness Week takes place annually and this year’s theme was about empowering parents for their journey to birth. I was there representing Relax Into Birth, talking about doula care and relaxation techniques. Many thanks to Sister Lindsay Donnachie, Carline and Vaughanine for arranging such an inspiring event.

Sister Lindsay Donnachie opening the day's Pregnancy Event.

Sister Lindsay Donnachie opening the day’s Pregnancy Event.

Sister Donnachie reminded women about their invisible bejeweled crowns on their heads and that no matter how their births turned out – or what turn they took, natural or caesarean, that they would still, no matter what, be the queen of their own births. She emphasised that what really mattered was how the mother viewed her birth and that in order to have a positive experience, she needed to empower herself with information and to know her options. She welcomed all attendees and speakers to the event.

Sister Donnachie reminding mothers to wear their invisible crowns.

Sister Donnachie reminding mothers to wear their invisible crowns.

Sister Emma Numanoglu of Breastfeeding Matters was first up and is a lactation consultant extraordinairre. Her talk focused on debunking myths around the subject of breastfeeding. Emma’s heart and soul is in her teaching and consulting and those who have been touched by her kindness can attest to that. Nothing is too big or too small – Emma will help you! Did you know that you don’t have to cut out any major food groups while breastfeeding? You don’t have to go gluten free or dairy free (unless medically indicated)! And, did you know there is science behind the use of cabbage leaves for sore, engorged breasts? Also that Jungle Juice is not helpful for anything except a sugar overload and does not help with supply issues… only a good latch can ensure that baby is getting milk… and milk being extracted from the breast helps to increase milk supply. Emma shared these titbits with us and more…

Emma Nummanoglu presenting a breastfeeding talk

Sister Emma Numanoglu presenting a breastfeeding talk.

Next up was Dr Jacky Searle. One of the most gentle, aware and intuitive doctors in Cape Town, her talk focused on choice and birth. She made attendees aware of the choices available in pregnancy and birth and how to navigate the landscape of those choices in Cape Town and within the limitations of medical aids. Practical and always so encouraging, Dr Searle empowers women daily in her work life and beyond. Births with this fine doctor are always Beautiful.

Dr Jacky Searle presenting a talk on choices in the birthing landscape

Dr Jacky Searle presenting a talk on choices in the birthing landscape.

I was next in line and my talk was entitled “Empowering women through doula care and relaxation techniques”. Doula care is often misunderstood and so my talk opened with an explanation of the doula role through pregnancy and birth and how it differs from that of a midwife. I also shared some tools for relaxation, excerpted from the Relax Into Birth course.

Attendees trying out some Relax into Birth breathing techniques.

Attendees trying out some Relax into Birth breathing techniques.

Next up was Liesl Hansen from Johnson and Johnson, who spoke about the benefits of massage in pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period in her talk; “The first touch of love.” When it came to baby massage, she handed out dolls for the parents to practice on, which was just so much fun and so informative! Who doesn’t love a good massage and these parents left feeling equipped to give their babies some extra tlc through massage. She was assisted by Lisa Townend of Holistic Baby – Baby Massage Classes, a certified infant massage instructor.

Liesl Hansen and Lisa Townsend share their learnings around baby massage techniques.

Liesl Hansen and Lisa Townend share their learnings around baby massage techniques.

Last but not least, Jenny Spiro of Nurture One delivered a very interesting talk entitled “Start out right… And sleep tight.” She emphasised the importance of catching the sleep wave to assist your baby to sleep as best as possible. She also showed parents a very clever way of using the amazing Nurture One nesting pillow to put baby to sleep. The pillow cleverly mimics a womb-like environment and gives newborns much comfort.

Jenny Spiro shares info around baby sleep methods to help new parents also get more sleep!

Jenny Spiro shares info around baby sleep methods to help new parents also get more sleep!

Here are some other pics from Saturday’s fun event:-)

Emma Nummanoglu, Lindsay Donnachie and me

And here’s one of my son and I; my inspiration to do this work in the first place… Dearest Leonardo… Funny face selfie 😍:

See you at the next pregnancy event! Wishing you a wonderful birthing day, no matter what turn it takes ❤️❤️

Celebrating my doula sister, Gayle Friedman

As birthworkers, we just cannot do this work without someone just there for us, waiting in the wings. Gayle is my mentor and friend and I have learnt so much from her. Here’s ten reasons why I am thankful to Gayle (I’m sure there are more than 10!):

1. JUST BEING THERE: I know that no matter what we have going on in our respective lives, I can count on Gayle to be there for me if I call her.

2. DEBRIEFING: In the caring profession we forget that we as birthworkers also need to debrief… And we talk and walk each other through birth stories, tough times and good times. My husband was grateful as he no longer needed to listen to my birth stories… Now he says; “just call Gayle!”

3. NOURISHMENT: I know that she would just show up with a flask of tea and something healthy to eat if I find myself at a long birth 😁

4. BACKUP: If two births take place simultaneously, which happens, but very rarely, we know we have reliable back up in each other and we match each other in skillsets and tricks!

5. LEARNING: They say you can’t teach and old dog new tricks… I disagree! We learn from each other constantly and live through each birth the other takes on and support each other through each birth too with tips or a fresh perspective.

6. LAUGHING: Let’s face it, as rewarding as this work can be, it is also a little stressful… Ok a lot (LOL😂) and I must admit sometimes after long birth, we are the only people (besides other birthworkers) who understand just what we’ve been through… And that’s where the 3am hysterical laughter comes in… 😁

7. SPACE-HOLDING: Just as we are highly skilled at holding the space for mothers, fathers and babies, we also hold the space for one another. Sometimes the doula also needs doulaing!

8. TIME IS JUST A NUMBER: No matter the time, we chat just about at any time, anywhere when we need to or want to. It helps to know that no time is off limits. We do know how important sleep is though!

9. SHARING OF IDEAS: Gayle and I are on the WOMBS committee and it helps to share ideas with each other and also apply them to our own partnership and businesses.

10. EARL GREY TEA: The sweet aroma of bergamot Earl Grey tea and chatting to my birth buddy.

😊🤗😊

Doula dads for the win!

It really is the parents who make this course what it is… One dad at the January course held at Birth Options in Plumstead, shared that one of the exercises we did made him feel more empathy and compassion for what his wife was going to face in labour.

“It made me realise what she might experience and how I can perhaps help her – as best I can,” he said. Dads do not have to be helpless on labour day and that’s why Relax Into Birth provides birth companions aka dads and partners with a toolkit to become doula dads, who feel more at ease in the birth space.

I love seeing lightbulb moments for dads come to life when they suddenly feel more empowered to fully embrace what the experience holds in store.

#relaxintobirth #empoweringbirthsandnewparents #charleneyaredwest

Birth Options Midwifery Team Statistics 2017

I’m about to share the the latest statistics from 2017 for the Birth Options Midwifery team – and they are unbelievably good!

The team is comprised of Glynnis Garrod, Susan Lees, Angela Wakeford and Bernice Jehring Down.

Birth Options Independent midwives can attend both home and hospital births at Vincent Pallotti and Melomed Tokai with gynae/ obstetrician backup at those allocated hospitals. Ayla Nowell of Birthing Naturally, another wonderful independent midwife, has back up support from Vincent Pallotti and Constantiaberg Mediclinic. So women have the option of birthing at home with the support of Independent Midwives (with gynae back up support in case of emergency) as well as to birth at these allocated hospitals under the care of an independent midwife (with gynae back up support in case of emergency). We also have traditional midwives in Cape Town, who use various government hospitals for back up support. It pays to know your options and that you have choices available to you!

It says a lot about these doctors at those hospitals (Vincent Pallotti and Melomed Tokai) and their view on promoting a natural approach to birth, where caesareans are only called for when necessary. This is a rare breed of doctor in South Africa and should be taken into account when choosing your care provider/back up gynae.

Independent midwives specialise in normal, low risk pregnancies and birth and will do all within their capacity to help you have the most positive birth experience, whether that is a natural, vaginal birth or a necessary Caesarean in the end.

Without an independent midwife, you will have hospital midwives attend to you in private hospitals. Hospital midwives change shift, so you might have multiple midwives for the duration of your labour and birth time. Hospital midwives are also not allowed to deliver babies, (but sometimes they do as a baby may come quickly!:-)) as that role falls to your obstetrician, who is called to come in when you are near being fully dilated. Many hospital midwives are underappreciated for their hard work and loving care of mothers in labour, and burn out can be a very real challenge facing all birth workers.

My wish is for women in South Africa to start seeing independent midwifery care and doula care for Pregnancy and birth to be the norm, so that we can also lower our exorbitant rate of 90% caesareans in the private sector… Of which most were likely not necessary… and, to choose their doctors and hospitals more carefully too. You only have your one birth, so make choices that will facilitate a good birth experience without regret in the end.

So, without much ado, here are the fabulous stats from Birth Options.

Birth Options Midwifery Team Statistics 01/01/17 – 31/12/17

  • Total number of clients: 147
  • Total no Caesarian Section 21/147 = 14%
  • Number of clients who labored with the Team = 136
  • Spontaneous Vaginal Birth 115/136 = 84.5%
  • Kiwi Ventuse Delivery 4/136 = 3%
  • Emergency Caesarian Section 16/136 = 12 %
  • VBAC 7/10 = 70 %
  • Primigravida (first birth) 55/136 = 40 %
  • Waterbirth 15/136 = 11% (many more labored in water)
  • Epidural12/136 = 9%
  • Episiotomy 14/136 = 10%
  • Induction of Labour 15/136 = 11 %
  • PPH 500-1000ml 9/136 = 6.5% (post partum haemorrhage)
  • PPH over 1000 ml 3/136 = 2 % (from a retained placenta)
  • Third degree Tear 1/136 = 0.7 %
  • Neonatal Unit Admission at Birth: 2/136 = 1.5 % (1x 34 weeks, 1x signs of sepsis)
  • Births @ Life Vincent Pallotti 73/136 = 53.5%
  • Births @ Melomed Tokai 29/136 = 21 %
  • Home Births 34/136 = 25 %
  • Transfer to hospital from home birth 3/34 = 9 %
  • 7 births not with the team – care taken over by back up Obstetrician: X3 persistent Breech Position after 37 weeks for elective c/s, 1x 37week early labour with breech position, 1x 31week premature labour breech position, 1x previous Caesarian Section, Term, SROM with meconium, unfavorable cervix, baby weighed 4.6 kg, X1 transfer from homebirth in labour for c/s ( CPD) to Christian Barnard Hospital – care handed over to Gynae as we don’t have an SLA there ( prior arrangement )

So there you have it. In a world where unnecessareans are on the rise, it helps to know your options and who will support you in your preferences.

And remember, no matter what turn your birth takes, there are no unnatural births. ❤️

Milk matters needs donor milk!

26805278_10156258026698217_2254134964824244377_nPlease help….Milk Matters’ donor milk stocks are terribly low and right now they do not have enough milk to pasteurise on Monday to meet their current prescriptions, and nothing yet to pasteurise on Tuesday. They were feeding 46 babies (orders still coming in!) at 11 hospitals on Friday, plus over the weekend, and no reduction in demand is expected next week. If you have milk in excess of your own baby’s needs, please consider donating it – it can save babies lives!
#donormilk #milkmatters #savingbabies

Meet Christa Bussack

bty

Here I am pictured with Christa Bussack … a little tired, an hour or two after midnight, but still looking fresh (maybe a bit too optimistic?!) 😀 Even through the early morning hours, Christa maintains her sense of humour and effervescence in the maternity ward.

If you have stayed over at Vincent Pallotti, you will know her kind face and voice and her bubbly giggle… She is one of the nurses whose focus is to help mothers adjust to life with a newborn and breastfeeding. I am always happy to see her on the floor, because I know my client will be in loving hands  Christa has been at VPH since the year 2000. 

“Mothers always seek help in various areas when it comes to mothering, as they are beginning to experience a newfound love for their child. Mothering comes as an instinct, but guidance is still needed, as each mother is unique. No case is the same,” she says. “I have a passion for helping new moms, as there was a lack of guidance and help in my own personal experience as a young mother. It all comes down to giving the mothers the best support possible and to help them enjoy a positive start to motherhood, which will filter through into the time they are home.” Christa is also a proud mother of four kids, all who have already completed Matric level. She also has four grandchildren and counting. So, next time you see Christa on the night shift, say hi! #relaxintobirth #charleneyaredwest #empoweringbirthandnewparents