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Happy International Mother’s Day to all the mamas celebrating around the world. You. Are. Amazing.
One mama with an extra reason to celebrate is Susie Verrill, journalist, founder of My Milo and Me, mama to the adorable Milo and girlfriend to Olympic, World, European & Commonwealth Champion long jumper Greg Rutherford. Earlier this year Susie and Greg announced that they are expecting their second baby this summer.
Last week Susie posted on Instagram, asking if any of her followers had any birthing and postnatal advice. Milo arrived via vaginal delivery, aided with forceps, but this time around Susie is booked in for a cesarean section. When we spotted the post, we immediately thought of our amazing friends, Beccy Hands and Alexis Strickland.
A doula and a midwife respectively, Beccy and Alexis are also co-founders of The Mother Box. With a combined 25 years of experience working with women throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, the duo have created gift boxes packed with information, top tips and the best products for new mamas and mums-to-be. The Mother Box also offer antenatal, hypnobirthing and postnatal courses and the boxes have been designed to prepare you completely for birth and then support you through those early days and weeks as you get to know your baby and adapt yourself to your new role as a mother.
We invited Susie to pick Alexis and Beccy’s expert brains as she prepares for baby number two. Read her interview with the duo below…
Susie, bump and Milo
SUSIE VERRILL: Firstly, well done on creating a website which blasts any mum-fears out the water, I came away feeling like I could take on motherhood with gusto! What’s the one thing you think is most important for mums (particularly first timers) to know?
Beccy Hands & Alexis Stickland: That there is no such thing as a perfect birth! Birth can be incredibly calm, beautiful and empowering, but it can also be unpredictable, and we can’t plan it. We can, however, arm ourselves with tools and information and a kick ass team around us to make us feel supported and nurtured whichever way our birth decides to present itself to us – that’s where the perfection is!
A woman should feel so supported that she feels like she can take on the world! She should feel safe, and unconditionally supported. When she feels this, she will be able to approach birth with a positive mental attitude that will help her to navigate her birth and will give her the best possible start.
One of our favourite quotes is by the amazing midwife Ina May Gaskin and she says “If a women doesn’t look like a goddess during labour, someone isn’t treating her right”. We think it’s a quote all birth workers should keep in mind when working with a labouring woman.
SV: It’s brilliant that you offer courses alongside The Mother Boxes (especially including fantastic post birth help such as the massage for mum, baby cues and self-healing; what do you think really aids a mum’s recovery when they’ve just been through labour?
AS: Rest! Always Rest! We have such a societal pressure in the west to jump back up, into our skinny jeans and prove to the world that we are nailing it at motherhood, even when often we are unraveling inside! It’s crazy! In so many other cultures women go to bed with their baby and are fed, massaged and generally cared for. One of our ladies who observed a ‘lying in period’ said ‘’I have never felt so looked after, I feel like a postnatal goddess’’.
Often, it’s hard for us to completely take to bed because we don’t have family close by to help. But getting any rest in, in any way you can is so important.
Food is another big thing; make sure you are eating well. You need to nourish your body with enough food and water so that you have the strength to nurture baby. Again, get people to bring food, get your partner to batch cook for you at the weekends and prepare food in the evening for the next day. You can’t go wrong with lots of chopped up veg and a tub of hummus if you need a quick healthy snack.
Lastly bodywork, a massage, osteopathy, acupuncture, reflexology – anything that will gently support your body as it changes from incubator to food and comfort provider. It’s tough looking after a newborn and it’s important our bodies feel well nourished and nurtured. In Beccy’s work with post-natal women, she works on realigning the body postnatally, something that is offered in many other cultures as part of your standard maternity care.
SV: I think a positive frame of mind is hugely beneficial prior to going in to labour; what would you recommend to someone who might be feeling anxious?
BH & AS: We absolutely agree about facing birth with a positive mindset. There is nothing like hearing others’ birth horror stories or remembering that scary episode of One Born Every Minute to set your adrenaline pumping, your anxieties soaring and your lovely birthing oxytocin and endorphins running for the hills. It’s natural to face new experiences with a sprinkling of trepidation. Over the past 12 years we have worked with hundreds of couples, and have birthed 5 babies between us. We totally get it and understand the nerves and excitement as you approach the big day. Acknowledging and understanding those feelings is very important. We are both very passionate about comforting that anxiety and have seen the benefits of hypnobirthing time and time again so highly recommend booking onto a course as part of your birth preparation. We also like to talk to our couples about writing a plan A, B and C for their births, that way they have mentally prepared for different scenarios and are disempowering the fear of the unknown. For example, plan A may be thinking about a home birth, if that is something you desire, Plan B may be considering if for some reason out of your control you had to be transferred into the hospital, what would you need to take, who would be with you etc, and plan C may be if it ended up as a caesarean section, who would you take into theatre with you and what would you need afterwards as you recover from surgery. We cannot know exactly how our birth story will unfold but we can prepare ourselves for whatever may lie ahead and look forward to the magic of the first moment we meet our brand new tiny human.
SV: For those that don’t really know, how do home births differ to those done in hospital? Are there many plus points / negatives?
BH & AS: We are big fans of hospital and home births and both can be wonderful. We think when trying to decide, the main question to ask yourself is ‘where will YOU feel most safe and comfortable’. There’s no point opting for a homebirth if you find having doctors around you comforting and will be worrying, equally if hospitals aren’t your thing, and you get white coat hypertension, then home will be your best bet. We know that oxytocin is our friend in labour and makes labour progress smoothly, and this is produced best when we feel calm and safe – wherever that may be.
SV: What first made you decide to join forces and create The Mother Box?
BH: Alexis and I met on Instagram, which we jokingly refer to as Tinder for mums! We had both worked as a doula and midwife for years, and when I moved to Brighton, we met for a coffee and had one of those hilarious meet ups where we probably could have talked for three months straight. We were completely on the same page, in terms of our approach to supporting women and our skill set really complemented each other. Over the next few meetings we talked about setting up workshops to support women in the postnatal period, which is a time we feel that a lot of help and support falls away and leaves women feeling very lost and overwhelmed.
As a doula, I had spent years putting together care packs for women to use during labour and after birth. I found there wasn’t much commercially available so I often made my own balms and bath salts for them. During one conversation, it transpired that Alexis and I both had the same idea, to make nurturing gift boxes to really nourish new mothers and mothers-to-be. We wanted them to be easily available, for friends and loved ones to buy, and in turn for lots and lots of women to feel nurtured and nourished in their pregnancies and postnatal period. We decided that each box would be accompanied by a supporting booklet, that would not only introduce and explain how to use all the goodies in the box, but would be packed full of tips and tricks we had learnt over the years supporting women, to make pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period that little bit easier. So over coffee and a fair few glasses of gin & tonic, The Mother Box was born!
SV: I found hypnobirthing to be an essential tool for me during labour and I see you mention it on The Mother Box site; is it something you’re seeing more of? Do you think it’s a good thing to try out?
BH & AS: We highly recommend hypnobirthing and are currently planning a workshop covering hypnobirthing and partner massage essentials. We’ll be running it this summer in Brighton. We both used a hypnobirthing toolbox when we had our own babies and think it says a lot that so many midwives and doulas learn and practice hypnobirthing techniques as they prepare for birth. Hypnobirthing is often misunderstood. Please don’t be misled by the name as it is simply about teaching couples calming and adrenaline busting skills that will make them feel more relaxed and in control as they approach birth and on the day. Courses may differ slightly but generally they will cover a similar format of using information and knowledge, relaxation scripts, visualization, massage and breathing techniques to prepare you for a positive and empowering birthing experience.
SV: How do you feel about the whole c-section / natural birth debate. Since mentioning I’m electing for a c-section I’ve had a lot of women get in touch to say they really want to push for one but don’t feel supported by their midwife / medical network. Just wondered if you have any advice / thoughts?
BH & AS: We're really sad to hear that there are lots of women out there feeling unsupported and this really shouldn't be the case. The set protocol for a maternal request for an elective caesarean section on the NHS, is that after a chat with their midwife, a woman should then be offered a referral to a healthcare professional with expertise in perinatal anxiety support. We would advise that women accept this, for two reasons.
Firstly, a lot of fears and worries do resolve with talking therapies and whilst we absolutely stand by the fact that all women should have the right to choose how they birth their babies - we also acknowledge that a caesarean section is not an easy option and the recovery is often a lot harder than that of a vaginal delivery (there are exceptions of course). We also believe that it is about making informed choices, and we feel that you can only really be fully informed once you have worked with somebody to find the root of your anxiety and been given an opportunity to work on this together.
Secondly, if you accept the referral (and after talking through with the therapist) you still do not wish to birth vaginally, then it is easier to make that request for the elective caesarean section. This is not the call of the midwife, but would have to be approved by an obstetrician. In our experience we have worked with women who have requested an elective section for many different reasons and in each instance we have tried to support these women to get the outcome of their choice. In some cases anxiety was resolved and the women decided to opt for vaginal delivery and in others, they chose the section. Essentially it is very important for a women to feel that she has the right to choose and to feel supported in her choice. If you are a women feeling unsupported, then ask to be referred to the perinatal anxiety support therapist and they will be able to help you.
The Brand New Mother Box
Image credit: @luxmumma
SV: If money was no object, what one item would you add to your own post-birth Mother Boxes?
BH: A housekeeper and private chef! I think the best gift you can give a new mum (apart from our boxes obviously) is the gift of rest and food! If we could fit them in our Mother Boxes we would! Maybe a personal cheerleader too – I don’t think new mums get told enough what an awesome job they are doing!
SV: What snippet of advice would you give to someone looking to train to become a midwife / doula?
BH: Talk to other doulas about the day-to-day logistics of being a doula. It is a wonderful job, and the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, but it can be tricky to fit around your life. You are essentially ‘on call’ for quite long periods of time, and commit to being away from home for unknown lengths of time. Knowing what to expect and being prepared is the best way to cope.
One other bit of advice I would give is to debrief your own birth first! It’s important that you support your client in THEIR choices without judgment or imposing your own views on them. This is a lot easier after you have debriefed your own birth so that you don’t go in with any unknown triggers.
AS: When I was 20 and in the middle of my first degree I decided I wanted, no, needed to embark on my midwifery training. I could not shake it off and despite the risk of sounding mushy, it truly was my calling. People always assumed it was because I ‘love’ babies (my maternal streak is fierce) but it was actually because I wanted to work with women. I wanted to be there, by their side, supporting them, safeguarding them, caring for them and empowering them as they journeyed through the most pivotal, vulnerable and incredible experience of their lives. It was not easy, doing two degrees back-to-back was not my plan financially or emotionally but it’s what I had to do to get to where I needed to be. I am so grateful I had the chance to do it and could not imagine myself doing anything else. These days it is almost impossible to shadow a midwife on a hospital ward so if you are considering it, get in touch with a local antenatal teacher, go and spend some time volunteering with pregnant and postnatal women, and if you feel like it feeds your soul, go for it. Midwifery is not for those who want to make serious bucks but it’s the most rewarding career I could have hoped for and I still pinch myself when I think of how lucky I am to love what I do so deeply.
SV: How did you guys find giving birth? Does it have an impact on how you help other women?
BH: With my first baby, I planned for a home water birth and after keeping me waiting for two weeks post my estimated due date, my labour started in the early hours of the morning. After a very long labour, I seemed to be stuck at 8cm and had to transfer into hospital. We discovered baby was back-to-back and I was exhausted and had stopped contracting so I had an epidural and the hormone drip to start up contractions again. After a lovely sleep, I had the energy to push and with the help of a ventouse baby Ella was born, with a wonderfully amusing cone head. It was far from my birth plan, but I was lucky to have a great birth team supporting me. With my second, baby was thankfully in a very good position and I had a wonderfully calm and pretty easy home water birth. I think having experienced both a labour that didn’t go to plan and one that did, definitely helps me to be very balanced in my approach to supporting women during and after birth.
AS: Birth has massively impacted the way I work with women as a midwife and antenatal educator. I have even more admiration and respect for how incredible and strong we are as a sex. Who run the world… !!
I have had the joy of three wonderful births. Saying that only one went to ‘plan’ so that definitely influences the way I talk about preparing for birth and bending your ideas and preferences of what your birth story may look like.
My first baby, Toby, was an unplanned homebirth with no pain relief whatsoever. I’m still a bit surprised that I managed to birth a 9Ib 3 baby on my bedroom floor with nothing but mental strength and deep breathing to get me through! With my second, Ivy, I planned for a lovely home birth, inflatable birthing pool at the ready, and then Ivy and my body decided that 36 weeks seemed like a good time to get things started, which meant I needed to go into my local hospital as this is considered slightly premature. I was happy though and felt like I was in the right place for us. With Wilf, I was ready for anything and actually gave up on having a plan but really just surrounded myself with supportive and amazing friends and family to help with my other two when the day arrived and funnily that was the only time things went exactly to plan. Born on his due date at 10pm after a 2 hour labour, in the birthing pool at Sussex Hospital and then discharged home at 5am straight from the labour ward. When my older children woke in the morning Dan and I were in our bed cuddling baby Wilfred and my daughter thought my ‘bagina doors’ had magically opened in the night and our baby had just popped out.
SV: What are your hopes and aims for The Mother Box over the next year or so?
BH & AS: We’ve got a lot of new boxes lined up for release this year, which we are really excited about! All boxes are made to support parents in their journey with their new families and a lot we hope will fill gaps in the care available out there at the moment. As well as working on these we are hoping to roll out more workshops and courses for both birth and postnatal preparation in the Brighton and London areas.
With thanks to Susie Verrill, Beccy Hands and Alexis Stickland.