“Have you woken up feeling like you haven’t slept at all?” asks Melinda Webb, a Chinese medicine practitioner, Doula, Calmbirth educator, mentor and owner of The Birthing Webb in Sydney’s Rozelle...
If you’re a mother, the answer will no doubt be a resounding yes. “Are there days when your body aches? You feel fatigued and no matter what you do, nothing changes? You feel that coffee will bring you to life, and it does for a short time, however, you quickly feel heavy, and foggy in the head,” she continues. That’s a yes from us again. It’s helping women change their energy – or Qi as she now calls it – that inspired a move into not only Chinese medicine but work as a doula. At her clinic, The Birthing Webb, she specialises in working with women and families from preconception to postnatal and beyond.
Ultimately, she strives to restore her client’s balance – both emotionally and physically. Here we dive deeper into labour, find out why more about acupuncture and the role of a doula.
Go to www.melindawebb.com.au
Talk us through how you started working as a doctor of Chinese medicine?
After having my second child, I realised the busy world of career and mothering was really tough. My husband Andy was a stay-at-home father, and my role was to be hands-on in a career that seemed to never shut down. I finished work on Friday, went into labour on Saturday, birthed Sunday and returned back to work within a week. It wasn’t until the daily routine of feeding, seeing clients working with staff and trying to juggle a newborn came to an abrupt halt. My adrenal glands had given in – my body shut down. I’d already had acupuncture to fall pregnant with my second child, so it made sense to return back to a medicine that I knew worked. Through acupuncture, I rebuilt my mind and body after feeling both emotionally and physically exhausted.
How can Chinese medicine change our life?
Working on your energy or Qi as we call it, is what will make the difference to your life. It’s what will help you to wake up refreshed, bounce out of bed and feel like you have clarity. Acupuncture brings back balance, both emotionally and physically.
Learning to connect, slow, and understand how your body reacts to diet and lifestyle can be the beginning of something great. This is the foundation of Chinese medicine, getting back to the root problem.
What’s the training and criteria for becoming a Doula?
Training to become a doula requires letting go of all the baggage you carry from your past experiences, ensuring you enter with a clear mind. I mentor doulas, sharing knowledge on how to make it a successful career and what is required to hold the space for another family welcoming in their baby. I trained back in 2008 at the Australian Doula College with Renee Adair. Doula training carries on for years, as each birth teaches you something new.
What does a doula typically do? How might a mother to benefit from having one?
A doula has the clients’ best interests at heart. They are there to provide calm and confidence. It’s like having an expert with knowledge, knowing how the birth process unfolds, and how the female body works through each stage. A doula will also work alongside other care providers. Listening is important, it can be active listening, reading cues, facial images and just being observant to a women’s needs. Not interrupting her, just listening and watching, providing care for both her and her partner. The number one criteria for being a doula is knowing it’s not your story, it’s their journey, you are there to guide, listen and support their choices, not change them. It’s being there for both the mother and birthing partner.
“ In Chinese medicine, it is called “mother warming” - settling the body, hormonally, physically and emotionally ”
Take us through how a doula supports a woman before, during and after birth…
Preparing someone for labour – physically, mentally and emotionally – is how my work with Chinese medicine, breath and birth education all fit into one. I call it “relaxing into labour.” Settling the body, allowing the wonderful hormone oxytocin, the hormone of love to kick start labour! It’s important also to work with the partner, to ensure they have all they need prior, so the adjustment phase is easier.
During labour, it is about holding the space, providing the right environment for calm, ensuring the mother feels safe and their environment feels private. Slowing things down, breathing, getting back into the body, staying in the present moment. Providing the body with sustenance, using acupressure, massage and other tools for labour.
After birth, it is important to check how both the mother and partner are. Caring and nurturing continues into the postnatal phase. In Chinese medicine, it is called “mother warming” – settling the body, hormonally, physically and emotionally. I attend to clients in their home or they come into the clinic. Treating the whole family is important because having a baby changes everyone. A combination of acupuncture, herbs and moxa, which warms the body restoring the energy. It is important to nurture both mother and partner in this stage, as they are a team, both should be getting sleep, nourishing food and time to settle into parenthood.
Often, once a woman has a baby, the focus moves away from her and onto the baby - yet she needs more support than ever before. Have you found this with your clients and how can we change this?
Women need to allow for community, it can be as simple as handing over tasks to someone else. Instead of gifts, I suggest clients organise with family or friends to help with prepared meals. Once a month in the clinic I offer the “Circle of Being” – a small gathering of mother’s who may be due soon or have recently had their first, second or third baby, it provides an opportunity to sit and talk about life. I also offer a debriefing session for new parents, to sit and talk about their birth experience, how they are settling in and suggest ways to make the transition to be easier.
What advice do you have for partners, how can they help the mother more?
They are as important as the mother. When teaching childbirth classes or refresher classes for parents who already have children, I always ask how they see themselves in the role of the caregiver. It’s important to have the parents on the same page in what they consider important, what values they uphold and how they can allow their partner to relax and take some of the parenting or daily tasks on board. During labour, it’s best to ask less and be an active listener, observing. A gentle touch, reassuring words and memories they have shared together are great ways of keeping the bond together.
Can you share any memorable birth stories with us?
I began working as a doula in 2008 and have done many births. Every birth is memorable as the courage and bond between mother and baby at birth stays etched in your mind. I have attended births where people have done hypnobirthing and the room is filled with peace and quiet. Sometimes I get called out in the wee hours of the morning to attend a birth with people I have not met and there can be some friction between mother and the birthing partner, or there is a single mum who requires the support. Every birth is different, for some families I have been there for their first child, the second and even their third – no birth is the same.
My first birth role was to support the children of a mother who was giving birth at home. I recall the four-year-old girl running upstairs to grab her goggles and put on her bathers so she could share the birth pool with mum. It took some time to coax this little girl out of the pool allowing her mum to continue birthing her little sister. Her brother who was six, spent the evening with me on the couch watching his mother, when the time came, he slowly slipped into the birthing pool and was there to catch his new baby sister. He then handed her to his mother.
In 2017, you became a Calmbirth educator - talk us through some of the key learnings from the classes and how do they benefit individuals/couples?
Calmbirth gets you in the right headspace, you become in touch with yourself; you learn what is happening for both you and your baby during your labour; and it is where you learn to exchange fear for trust. Providing tools and techniques for birthing partners, that carry on through into parenthood. Everyone has a different vision, and sometimes that vision isn’t apparent until after attending a class. The classes are hands-on workshops where you learn about the stages of labour, how to work through as a team, and for the birthing partner, there is plenty of great tips to learn. Being a Doula, I share stories of how I have worked with clients in different situations, these are real stories that include what to do whilst at home, how to transition to your birthing place and the flow from then until the birth unfolds, including all procedures that may or may not occur. It is like having an insider view.
When a birth doesn’t go to plan - for example, premature labour or emergency c-section many women feel guilty they didn’t have a ‘calmbirth’- what’s your expert advice?
“You cannot change the wind, however, you can change your sails.” Sometimes you think you’re heading somewhere and then the course changes abruptly. The important thing to remember is that everyone arrived safely on the journey. There is no right or wrong way to welcome your baby into the world. They say “comparison is the thief of joy” – don’t compare your birth to someone else’s. They say change is the only constant thing in life, how you deal with change is up to you!
“ Calmbirth gets you in the right headspace - you become in touch with yourself, you learn what is happening for both you and your baby during your labour, and it is where you learn to exchange fear for trust ”
Talk us through how acupuncture has improved the wellbeing of your clients?
Acupuncture works in many ways. It has a therapeutic and physical effect. You’re working with the mind-body and our body knows how to heal itself. Taking the body into a state of relaxation or calm, moving from the sympathetic nervous system, where the adrenaline is running high, sleep is lousy, and you don’t wake to feel refreshed. Acupuncture slows the mind-body, placing you back into your body, you gain a greater sense of awareness, you gain clarity. Taking you from the flight-fight mode of a fast pace to the relaxation of the parasympathetic nervous system, where your body can heal.
Watching a client move through a traumatic situation, and seeing how treatment can change them from when they arrived, leaving, they can look like a different person, as they have relaxed into their body, and removed the experience or shock the carried in with them. A client came in with Bell’s palsy and after four weeks her face had gone from having paralysis to looking completely normal.
How do you help your clients recover from a traumatic birth?
Get them to write their story, listening to how they feel, giving them the space to let them be themselves. We all have a different story and no one should be judged. A traumatic birth is no different from a miscarriage, the loss impacts everyone involved. Having acupuncture for loss and trauma helps the grieving process. It helps mothers and their partners cope through the waves that come and go, the challenges that can occur in everyday situations. Being a good listener can sometimes the perfect form of care.
How would you describe the postpartum phase and what women go through during this phase?
This is a hard time and many women feel isolated and lonely. A women changes – not only her body but also her mind. Learning about you and your new baby, going from your own rhythm to a shared rhythm. The baby isn’t yet an individual entity, they are still one with their mother. There is a new unspoken language and bonding, a connection, for life is forged in that postpartum phase.
Finally, what are your top birthing tips?
Preparation is the key, your body has wonderful tools for you to use, all built-in.
– Your body is a chemist shop – it has its own pharmaceuticals in the form of hormones.
– Your breath is your brains’ remote control – correct breathing can place you into a state of relaxation, combining that with the hormones you have in your body you have the perfect dose required to birth.
– Swimming against the current you get tired, go with the flow and it will get you there. This goes with listening to your body, each contraction gets you closer to meeting your baby. See each contraction as a wave, and let it move you through.