A LONG OLD STORY ABOUT ME...
'Irish Rugby-Playing Birthkeeper'
My mother line and I are Irish. We come from farming backgrounds of large and happy families. My matriarchal line is steeped in respect for the role of the mother, with an astounding female presence at every corner. My mother was one of 10 children: 7 girls and 3 boys. Each sister was supported and coached through their pregnancies and births, and in certain situations feeding nieces and nephews with their breasts was shared.
I was born in 80's Dublin, Ireland, across the road from the beach with the freedom to run wild with my siblings and friends. We moved to London (Teddington) in my teens and since then I have lived all-around the globe, currently living in East Northamptonshire, UK. I have lived in Barry whilst studying at Cardiff University; Bristol whilst working in a local Hotel; Wimbledon whilst working in insurance finance; New Zealand whilst working in the film industry; Olney whilst working in IT and Midwifery; and finally at peace in Northamptonshire as a birthkeeping Doula.
My background prior to having children was in the IT industry in London's bustling Farringdon and Holborn. Rugby is my sport and I played for many years for Kingston University, Rosslyn Park... and reserving my summer-play for our London Irish sevens side. I attribute part of my absolute adoration and bond with strong, funny and sociable women to my days dedicated to rugby. Descendent from a father who played for the all-great and powerful Leinster rugby club, I had to do my bit!
After my first child, Orla, was born in 2012, being a dedicated birthkeeper was my calling. I studied Midwifery for almost 3 years in Bedfordshire before leaving pre-qualification to become a Doula in 2017. The role of a Doula was always more appropriately suited to the level of care, attention and education that I wished to provide the women and birthing people who seek my support. I foresaw that NHS midwifery would also struggle to contain my tenacious and unapologetic birth activism!
I trained with the Developing Doulas in Cambridge, by the Doula matriarch herself: Maddie McMahon. Since then, my education has been sculpted by writers and birthkeeper powerhouses such as: Kemi Johnson (@KemiBirthJoyJohnson), Dr Sara Wickham, Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) UK, Dr Rachel Reed, Molly O'Brien, Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent MD, and so so many more. If you're talking about physiological birth and how it WORKS then you are a part of my core values. I am also a qualified Hypnobirthing practitioner through varied methods, the most recent being via Sophie Fletcher of the Mindful Mamma mindfulness approach in 2020.
My antenatal preparation education proves to families that pregnant bodies know exactly what to do and when to do it. Nurturing confidence and fire in women and families to be able to identify when the system is leading them down a harmful path, with the knowledge of options and choices that put them in control of their birth planning process. Having worked for the NHS maternity services for some years, and continually witnessing the postcode lottery 'scheme' applied to UK hospital trusts: I feel a heavy responsibility (shared by other ex-practitioners) to expose and improve the maternity service for all. See our work at AIMS UK to learn how organised and intellectual approaches to making changes results in positive action. And more recently, my work with But Not Maternity alongside Abbi Leibert, and my local client Holly Avis, petitioning for the relaxing and cessation of Covid-related restrictions imposed on the maternity services.
My approach to pregnancy and childbirth? This can be whatever my clients want it to be, as my role is to support them according to their own needs and desires, directed by them. However, my love and respect for the physiological process of childbearing and the early years can be infectious to those wishing to learn more. Breastfeeding and chestfeeding are my specialist areas during antenatal education and the postpartum period, so for those needing an extra warm hug of reassurance and science around why things may be tough starting out; I am here. Other methods of infant feeding and parenting require many strong hugs also, for which I am equally brilliant at.
My first birth was via induction of labour with no complications, other than a very slow to start and maintain breastfeeding experience that ended after a few weeks of very little support and the onset of postnatal depression. The education that I received in the time between this birth and my second birth in 2019, broke my heart because I could see the ways in which I had been failed by my support network and health professionals at the time. I truly do wish I had had a Doula. And despite my superior knowledge of childbirth and breastfeeding this second time around, I knew I must have a Doula to support me too. This loving care was provided by my peer, teacher, mentor and sister in birth: Verina Henchy. Reading through my text message chats with her through my pregnancy and postnatal period I am amazed how easy it was for me to forget all I had learnt in the past, and fondly note Verina's simple "you know the answer to this, don't you Julie Ann..." responses. Constantly reminding my that I had the power, I had the knowledge, I knew what to do. We doubt ourselves so much during these vulnerable stages of motherhood.
My second birth was a liberating, healing, pain-free and powerful experience at home, after growing baby Malachy for 43 weeks he arrived in perfect form, all 10lb 1oz of him. I could hear my ancestors and all of the women I had helped in my 6 years bithkeeping experience, whispering in my ear and reassuring me along the way.
Have a chat with me. We have a lot to share with each other!
Services for other birthworkers
As a side to my physical work as a professional birthkeeper, companion and educator, I also keep my IT skills alive by providing inspiration and musings to other selfless birthworkers across the virtual world under the handle 'Birthy Media'. Private Midwives, Doulas, Lactation Consultants and Pregnancy Therapists are amongst my client base. Finding an experienced birthworker to convey your voice through social media and branding is invaluable in our 'industry'.
A portfolio of some of my work which I have permission to share, can be found @birthymedia on Instagram.