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A MOTHER’S BLESSING

“Just as a tree grows
best when rooted firmly in the earth, so can a pregnant mother feel strong and capable when supported by a
sisterhood of nurturing
friends.”

April Lussier

A Mother’s Blessing, or a Blessing Way, is an intimate gathering for a pregnant woman and her closest female friends and family members, to celebrate her transition into motherhood. Unlike a baby shower, which is often about showering the baby with gifts, a mother’s blessing is about honouring the mother; celebrating her and her journey. It is an opportunity to shower her with love and well wishes, but most importantly nourish her with support that will continue through her fourth trimester. 

WHAT TO EXPECT

Evolving from a traditional Navajo Ceremony, the spiritual intention behind this shared space is to honour the expectant mother, celebrate sisterhood and welcome a new baby to earth.

As the tradition has evolved, so have the activities involved, but would mostly include:

  • Offering words of support for the new mother and baby. 
  • Pampering the mother throughout the day.
  • Celebrating her body with belly painting.
  • Sharing positive birth experiences.
  • Providing a dish for the freezer to help during those weeks after birth. It may be the organiser of the ceremony invites guests to start a meal train in support of the new family post-birth. 
  • Crafting dreamcatchers together to hold the group’s hopes and wishes. 
  • Bringing an object of significance to add to the centre alter. Perhaps a crystal, flowers or a candle.
  • Weaving flower crowns together to wear throughout the ceremony and take home with them afterwards.
  • Writing or illustrating affirmations onto stones.

THE RED THREAD

One of the most significant rituals that takes place during a mother’s blessing is the tying of the red thread. A ball of hemp/string is passed around the group and tied around each of the women’s wrists. The thread joins all the women together, representing the lineage of ancestors that came before them; the matriarchal line. The thread will be worn in support of the pregnant mother, until her baby arrives earth-side, when the thread can be removed. 

THE BIRTHING NECKLACE

Each guest is asked to bring along a bead to be included on the birthing necklace. Each bead symbolises womanhood and transformation and represents the guests wishes for the mother and baby in labour and birth. During the ceremony the beads are strung together, the necklace to be hung in the birth space to give strength and focus during her labour. 

THE CANDLE

Another wonderful keepsake for the guests and symbol of support for the expectant mother is a blessingway candle. Each woman will be gifted a candle to take home with them at the end of the ceremony, which they will light when labour begins. They can leave the candle to burn throughout the duration of labour, sending their collective well wishes for both mother and baby.

There are many ways to mark the day and each ceremony is individual to the woman herself. Some women choose to only include some of these activities, whilst others incorporate many more. The magic of joining together to show up for the expectant mother is that you get to send her on her path to motherhood surrounded with the support of loving friends. 

Have you ever attended a mother’s blessing ceremony? Share your experiences in the comments.

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POSITIVE BIRTH STORIES: ELLIE

FIRST TIME MUM, BIRTH CENTRE, VAGINAL BIRTH

During her pregnancy Ellie invested time in preparing for her birth, enrolling on a hypnobirthing course, which led to her feeling confident and excited to birth her baby. Since becoming a mum, Ellie has trained and a Hypnobirthing and Antenatal Teacher to share her wisdom and encourage others to take control of their birth. You can find out more about her and her amazing courses here.

Below, she shares the story of her daughter’s arrival at 39 weeks.

“Since doing my hypnobirthing course, I felt confident heading into my birth. I even felt quite excited. I finished work and started maternity leave 2 weeks before my official “due date” and had spent the past week washing baby clothes, folding and putting them away (and re-folding and re-putting away – god knows why?!), batch cooking and general tidying and pottering. 

I woke up on April 6th 2016 to a message in my NCT WhatsApp chat, that the second baby of the group had been born overnight. My feelings of happiness for my friend were quickly overshadowed by jealousy and intense impatience. When was my baby going to come out? Looking back – this was crazy, I was still a week from my due date! (With the hindsight of both of my birth experience, impatience is definitely one of my signs that something is afoot – baby is having ideas.)

I went about my day as normal, pottering away and cooking the final few meals to put in the freezer. The only thing that I had noticed that day was that my Braxton hicks had completely stopped. I had been having quite a lot of Braxton hicks in the week prior to this day, but I hadn’t felt any all day. This only made me think that things had slowed down and I would be waiting sometime before my baby made their appearance. Little did I know!

OUT FOR DINNER

That evening we went to meet my friend and her partner for dinner. As soon as I got out of the car, I felt a twinge. I ignored it. A few minutes later I felt another. I ignored that one too. These twinges continued, coming every few minutes and I continued to ignore them and carried on with my dinner and catching up with my friend. I didn’t let on to anyone what I was feeling and carried on chatting away and munching on my Nandos. 

About an hour into the meal things felt to have ramped up a bit and the sensations felt more like tightenings now. I also had the distinct feeling that I was going to poo myself. However, whenever I went to the toilet nothing happened. I eventually told Joe what I was feeling and he suggested we go home. But I hadn’t had pudding yet so I wasn’t leaving! We leisurely finished our meal and said goodbye to our pals and drove home.

FINDING COMFORT

Once home, I got into bed hoping that I would fall asleep. However, my surges were still coming fairly frequently (between 3 and 4 minutes). They were also getting more intense so I decided to get out of bed and spend some time on my birth ball, bouncing on it and then kneeling on the floor and leaning over it. 

I found the bath absolutely amazing! The feeling of the warm water was incredibly comforting…

It had now been about 4 – 5 hours of experiencing surges which had been fairly frequent from the start. Their duration was getting longer and the intensity continued to gradually increase. I decided I wanted a bath and Joe ran one for me. I found the bath absolutely amazing! The feeling of the warm water was incredibly comforting and I felt completely relaxed with just candles for light and joe stroking my arms when I was experiencing a surge. I started using my breathing techniques with each surge which I also found incredibly soothing.

Sometime later, Joe rang the birth centre to let them know that I was experiencing surges and thought I was in labour. I spoke to the midwife who listened to me breathe through one of my surges. She asked me if I felt I was handling the sensations and I told her that I was. The breathing and the bath were helping me through each surge. So she advised us to stay at home. Fine by me!

I continued to relax in the bath but after some time I started feeling like I wanted to move around so I went back into my bedroom to bounce on my birth ball and listen to my hypnobirthing relaxations. Joe had lit some candles in the bedroom and turned the lights down really low so it felt lovely and calm. 

Over the next couple of hours, my surges started to get a bit closer together. I was having one every 3 minutes (almost on the dot) and they were lasting for just under a minute. I started to get a bit worried about getting to the birth centre on time! I remember being told that this is when we should ideally head to the birth centre, so Joe called in again. Again, I spoke to the midwife who asked what the surges felt like. I explained that I was handling them fine with my breathing techniques and going between the bath and my bedroom to bounce on the birth ball. The midwife told me that I would ‘know’ when to come in and to try to stay at home for as long as possible. So I continued to do my thing, relaxing in the bath until I felt the urge to get up and move around.

HEADING TO THE BIRTH CENTRE

By about 4.30am, I decided I wanted to go to the birth centre. So Joe called again to say that we intended on coming in and they agreed that this was sensible since we had already called twice before. I got dressed and Joe called my mum to ask her to drive over (she was my second birth partner).

The car journey was peaceful driving through Bristol in the dead of night. We saw a fox cross the road ahead of us just after we set off from home and for some reason, I took this as a positive omen. 

We got to the birth centre at 5.50am and we were showed to our gorgeous room. Cossham Birth Centre is incredible. I call it the “baby hotel” because that’s exactly what it feels like. Our room was beautifully spacious with dim lighting, a double bed, a gorgeous pool and an en-suite bathroom. As soon as I got into the room, I had the urge to take my clothes off and walk around, stopping and swaying and leaning on Joe when I felt a surge. 

My midwife asked me if she could do a vaginal examination and I politely declined. I asked if I could get into the birth pool and the midwife told me that I couldn’t unless she could examine me to confirm that I was in established labour (grrrr!). I still didn’t want an examination so we filled the pool up a little bit so that it felt like a bath and I continued to breath through my surges.

I kept feeling like I needed to do a poo so I spent some time in the toilet. Whilst I was sat there, I felt the sensations change to an incredible pressure inside bearing down on my bum. This caught me off guard and I called for the midwife who came in to check on me. She asked again to perform an examination and this time I agreed as I really wanted to be in the pool. 

Sometimes dilation happens like that – very gradually and then all of a sudden just snaps back like an elastic band. 

She told me that I was 5cm dilated. I remember feeling quite disappointed at this. I had been experiencing sensations for about 11 hours at this point and they felt to be getting really intense. I had hoped I would be further along. 

The midwife suggested that I try walking around which could break my waters which she told me could help ease the feeling of pressure I was feeling. She also offered me some paracetamol (even though I had asked in my birth preferences not to be offered any pain relief unless I asked for it – second grrrrr!). Despite this, I took them. Looking back I’m not even sure why, as I had been handling the sensations fine with my breathing alone. 

I continued to pace the room leaning on Joe for support until, fairly soon after, my waters went. At this stage everything ramped up very quickly. I felt I needed to stop moving and get settled somewhere. I wanted to be upright so I decided to kneel on the bed leaning over the back of it. I was feeling the urge to push. 

My midwife asked to examine me again and, reluctantly, I agreed. She told me I was 10cm and that baby would be here very soon! She also explained that sometimes dilation happens like that – very gradually and then all of a sudden just snaps back like an elastic band. 

TRANSITION

I got back into my position on the bed (since we wouldn’t have time now to fill the pool up). With each surge, I felt my body instinctively moving the baby down. During this second stage, I could feel my baby’s head moving back and forth. With each surge I felt them move right down but then, the wave would pass and the baby’s head would retreat back inside. I found this incredibly difficult and it was then that I started to feel myself coming out of my relaxed state. I started exclaiming that I couldn’t do it. But with the next surge, my baby’s head was born and on the next, the rest of her followed.

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My proudest achievement.

Poppy was born at 7.50am (just 2 hours after arriving at the birth centre) on 7th April 2016 to two delighted parents and an ecstatic grandmother.

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My proudest achievement. I was left feeling like Superwoman and like I could do absolutely anything and I genuinely believe that, had you asked me to, in that moment I could have.” 

Do you have a positive birth experience that you would like to share?

If so, pop an email over to info@theintuitivedoula.co.uk, I’d love to hear from you.

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POSITIVE BIRTH STORIES: MY FIRST BIRTH

FIRST TIME MUM, WATER BIRTH, VAGINAL BIRTH

Join me as I share my first birth experience. I feel so fortunate to have achieved the birth that I wanted, but now refrain from saying how ‘lucky’ I was and instead acknowledge the time and effort I put into educating myself during pregnancy. I worked hard to achieve my positive birth experience. I knew what I wanted, explored my options and informed myself so that I was prepared in the event that things didn’t go to ‘plan’. Read my full story below.

“I was 6 days overdue. Although I tried not to hang everything on the due date, as it came and went I immediately felt impatient and more eager than ever for things to get going. I tried everything to get labour going – long walks, bouncing on my birthing ball, sex.. but nothing worked! On the 5th day, my partner, Jack, made me an extremely hot curry for dinner. I have no idea if the baby was always planning to make an appearance the following day, but its nice to think that he got things moving!

That night (around 12.30am) I woke with a dull ache at the bottom of my back, which felt very much like period pains. By 2am it felt like a surge of pain and I was sure I was experiencing contractions, so I woke Jack. We started timing my contractions from this point and they were only lasting about 30 seconds, but coming quite regularly (between 3-4 minutes). We spoke to a midwife at the hospital, but decided to stay at home for a little while longer.

TRANSFERRING TO HOSPITAL

By 8am my contractions were regular and lasting a minute each. It was important to me that I laboured at home for as long as possible. I felt comfortable there and the last thing I wanted was to be sent home from the hospital for not being in established labour. I felt as little travelling as possible was best to keep my labour moving. We finally headed to the hospital at 10.30am and at this point I was already grateful to have my mum there as an additional birth partner – Jack drove, whilst she sat in the back of the car with me and massaged my back the whole way to the hospital. I remember feeling a rush of excitement as we left the house to go to the hospital. It was actually happening! The journey to the hospital was about 25 minutes and throughout I just fixated on my breath, going inward and tuning into my body, instead of worrying or thinking about the journey.

Three generations emerging.. grandmother, mother, daughter on her way.

Upon arrival at the hospital I was asked if I wanted a VE. At this point I was intrigued to know how far along I was, so consented to being examined. I was told I was 5cm dilated. This was the first and last VE I had during my labour, I didn’t feel it was necessary to at any other point.

I wanted to be left to labour on my own with my chosen birth partners during the first stage.

I was adamant I wanted an unmedicated birth, with the exception of gas & air, so made it clear to my midwife that I didn’t want to be offered any pain relief. They moved me to the birth suite at around 12.30pm, where I waited for the birth pool to be prepared. During this time I laboured bent over the bed, moving with each contraction. My midwife popped in and introduced herself properly at this point, but I had stated on my birth plan that I wanted to be left to labour on my own with just my chosen birth partners during the first stage, which she totally respected, leaving us well alone and just coming in occasionally to listen in to the baby’s heartbeat. I hated this every time! I really didn’t want my tummy being touched during labour. At the time, despite all the prep that I had done, I was not aware I could decline this. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have consented as it made me so uncomfortable. Always remember you don’t have to consent to anything you don’t want to do. Your body, your choice. 

GETTING IN THE POOL

Just before I got into the pool I made the decision to start using gas & air.  Up until now I had used breathing techniques and massage to cope with my surges. I requested the room be made as dark as possible as I was feeling extremely sensitive to bright lights. I felt grateful they made this happen, closing all curtains and turning off the lights, leaving only the lights from the birthing pool to light the room. As I got into the water, I felt so relaxed. I was drifting in and out of consciousness, in between contractions, sitting up in the water. After I had been in the water for an hour or so (timings become a bit blurry by this point), my midwife asked me to get out of the water to empty my bladder. This is where I suddenly felt the urge to push. I think getting up and out of the water encouraged baby to move down further. Shortly after getting back into the pool, my waters broke and all contractions blurred into one. I remember thinking that I was never going to get the baby out.. ah transition!

This was the hardest part and the only time throughout that I had a negative thought. It felt like I was pushing forever! Every time I felt baby’s head move down with a contraction, it would go back up again when I stopped pushing! 

At 5.10pm our baby was born and immediately placed onto my chest. I was in awe of my body and this tiny person that had just arrived earth-side. Jack was sat behind me, leaning over my shoulder, when he announced to me that we had a baby girl. I couldn’t believe it; I was overwhelmed, grateful and so proud of us both.

After delaying for as long as the hospital would allow, Jack cut the cord and I moved out of the water quite quickly after for the third stage. It was here, on the bed, where Elba – our new baby girl – fed from me for the first time. She was amazing, latching straight away! Breastfeeding was everything I imagined it would be. I felt that instant bond between us.”

Do you have a positive birth experience that you would like to share?

If so pop an email over to info@theintuitivedoula.co.uk, I’d love to hear from you.

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BIRTHING AT HOME

There are many benefits to birthing at home, but it is still often seen as a controversial choice. 

Despite many believing it’s the more risky choice, birthing at home completely supports the physiology of birth. Those that choose to birth at home have a much higher chance of achieving a natural, physiological birth with much less chance of medical intervention. According to a systematic review and meta-analyses by The Lancet (2018) the outcomes for babies being birthed at home (by those who intended to birth at home) showed no difference to those birthed in a hospital setting and for the mother, the outcomes were improved in a home birth setting. 

It is apparent that intervention in birth leads to more intervention, and you could say that the transfer from your home into the hospital is the first intervention for most birthing people. To leave your home, a place where you are familiar, safe and unobserved, to enter into a bright, sterile hospital surrounded by strangers is disturbing the process, no matter how smooth the transition goes. 

BENEFITS OF A HOME BIRTH

You have the undivided attention of your community/independent midwife as unlike in a birth centre or labour ward, you are the only birthing person around. 

Partners can become more involved; being at home gives you the opportunity to be more intimate (which supports the physiology of birth) as your home enables you to have more privacy. 

Should you choose to, you are free to have siblings assist your birth.

You have the freedom to move about your home, exploring different rooms, finding comfort on the bed, in the bath, in a pool, etc. Being in your own home means you have the freedom to alter the birthing space, creating the perfect environment to support a physiological birth. 

You are at much less risk of infection as your body has already built up a tolerance to the bacteria in your home, creating antibodies to protect you and your baby.

You’re free to eat and drink whatever and whenever you choose during and immediately after labour. 

You have choice who you welcome into your birthing space. In the hospital, people (health professionals, hospital staff) are free to come in and out without warning, interrupting the natural flow of labour. 

It is much less stressful than the logistics of travelling to hospital, worrying about traffic, sorting parking, finding the labour ward, waiting around in Triage, being told you “aren’t far enough along” only to be sent home to do it all over again in a couple of hours. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone that goes to hospital to birth their baby, but it is very common. 

PLANNING YOUR HOME BIRTH

PREPARING THE PERFECT SPACE

There are a few simple things you can do to support and protect your hormones during labour, to ensure your labour progresses as it should. 

Oxytocin (the love hormone) is what makes your uterus contract. When oxytocin is released in abundance, you will experience longer, stronger and more effective surges. It is important to protect the environment in which you are birthing because oxytocin is a shy hormone. If at any point you do not feel safe, protected, undisturbed or unobserved, your oxytocin production can be effected and in-turn, your body will produce heightened levels of adrenaline, causing labour to stall. This is our bodies way of protecting us from harm whilst birthing our babies. 

Things to consider when preparing your birthing space:

  • Lighting – Low lighting encourages privacy, encouraging you to feel safe and unobserved.
  • Temperature – Warmth supports the production of oxytocin.
  • Smell – Scented candles/essential oils in a diffuser can enhance a feeling of calm.
  • Music – What sounds help you to relax?
  • Water – Being immersed in water can calm us. Perhaps the use of a pool or bath.
  • Who are you welcoming into your space? Do they bring the right energy? 
RELIEF & RELAXATION

Below I have created a list of comfort measures to support you during your home birth. These are not all essential but will help you to cope with the process of labour:

  • Hot water bottle for early labour
  • TENS machine
  • Positive Affirmations to stick around your birthing space
  • Create a playlist that will help you feel calm and focused
  • Candles or fairy lights
  • Food & drinks prepared ready when you need
  • Birth ball to keep active and help labour progress
  • Essential oils to use in a diffuser, in the bath or in a massage oil
  • Other complementary therapies; herbal/homeopathic remedies
  • Flannel or ice pack
  • Birth pool and accessories
  • Lip balm
PRACTICAL THINGS FOR YOUR HOME BIRTH

Once again, these aren’t essentials just practical tools to assist your labour.

  • Plastic sheeting to protect floors, sofa and beds
  • Soft coverings such as old sheets or towels
  • Extra old towels 
  • Bin bags for rubbish and washing
  • Flannels and hair ties
  • Container (bowl or bucket) in case you are sick
  • A straw for your drink 
  • Food/drinks for partner/midwives/doula
  • Camera 
  • Maternity notes and birth plan to hand to midwife upon arrival
  • Packed Birth Bag – in case you need to transfer

POST-BIRTH NEEDS

Consider things that you may need as soon as baby arrives. 

  • Blanket for you and baby
  • Post-birth food and drink to restore energy levels
  • A change of clothes ready to put on after a bath/shower
  • Clothing for baby 
  • Nappies
  • Cotton wool
  • Maternity pads
  • Large comfortable underwear

In the UK home birth is an option for all, including those with more complex pregnancies. It is important that you choose to birth where you feel safe and you can make that choice by researching and informing yourself, basing your decision on facts.

Are you planning a home birth? If there is anything else you’d like to know, if so please feel free to leave me a comment below.

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POSITIVE BIRTH STORIES: KIM

FIRST TIME MUM, BIRTH CENTRE, VAGINAL BIRTH

Kim is a first time mum who had her baby in the Birthing Centre at 40+5 weeks. During pregnancy she had planned to have an elective cesarean, but after using hypnobirthing she completely changed her attitude towards birth and went on to have a gentle, water birth with the support of her husband. Her words at the end covered me in goosebumps, as I can relate to that same feeling of meeting my babies for the first time.

“At 5 days overdue I was beginning to feel a little fed up with being pregnant… feeling massive and uncomfortable! The past few weeks had been 30 degrees plus so life was hot! Finally, on Saturday evening, I went in to latent labour. I had a backache that was helped with a hot water bottle but struggled to sleep as waves of sensation were beginning in my lower tummy and surging round to my back and distracting me. The feeling was coming regularly every 5 minutes or so. My baby was extremely active and having a good wiggle about! However, despite feeling surges, they weren’t particularly painful, more like an ‘intensity’ and though I couldn’t sleep much, I didn’t feel pain or panic. I used my rainbow relaxation hypnobirthing track to get some decent rest and managed to doze a little.

The surges continued through the night but the intensity and frequency didn’t really change so the next morning I called the hospital and they agreed that it sounded like early labour – they advised me to call back in when things had progressed a little more. Annoyingly, the surges actually eased off and disappeared for a few hours that morning and I was dreading a false start. However, a little walk to the coffee shop seemed to get things going again. I could feel a lot of pressure from the baby so walking home again was comically slow! The surges came back with more intensity by the evening, beginning at 5 minute intervals again, and the hypnobirthing calm breathing I had learnt really had a chance to help.

I still wouldn’t describe it as painful at this point but did have to use my focus to breathe through the surges of intensity. We were expecting a long process, so tried to distract ourselves by watching TV, I even made a muesli from scratch so our cupboards were well stocked!

As the surges became stronger and I needed to focus more on the breathing and relaxation strategies I decided to have a bath, which instantly relieved some of the pressure I was feeling. Craig timed my surges and rather suddenly we found they were coming less than 3 minutes apart! Craig called the hospital and they said to come on in. Luckily there was no traffic at this time of night so the journey only took just over 10 minutes, but I had 5 or 6 contractions on the way – which were less comfortable in the car! Sitting down definitely increased the intensity so I decided to walk around to the birth suite rather than take a wheelchair so getting from the car park to the room took as long again! I think staying mobile was one of the main factors in keeping things moving and helping my baby along. 

“My body totally took over
and I could feel the natural expulsive reflex kick in.”

Our room on the Mendip Birth Suite at Southmead had been prepared fantastically well – low level lighting, relaxing music on, fairy lights around the room (which I only noticed after the birth!) Our midwife was amazing and I think a little surprised to discover I was already 5cm dilated as at this point I was calm and relaxed- I had to focus and breathe through the contractions but they were still manageable. The midwife filled the pool and as soon as I got in, things really began to speed along. Almost immediately I entered the ‘transition’ phase and at this point began to struggle quite a bit more. My body totally took over and I could feel the natural expulsive reflex kick in – it was an utterly overwhelming feeling to feel your body taking charge regardless of the psychological need to stop it happening! Certainly at this point I found it much harder to focus on the breathing techniques, but Craig really came in to his role at this point and supported me with encouragement and touch. He was a great advocate for me and discussed pain relief, which I was of course too late for by now, so I only had gas and air. Craig kept reminding me how to breathe it for the best effects and the sound of the air through the pipe was great at helping me slow down the breath again.

I had some surges where I could distinctly feel the baby come down and then go back up – the midwife explained everything that was happening and reassured me this was ok and was in fact helpful for my body. When the baby eventually crowned and her head was out I could feel her looking around the pool, the most surreal and fantastical moment of the whole birth – a feeling I will never forget, and then with the next surge she was born in the birth pool. She came straight to my chest and I burst in to tears.

From our arrival at hospital the birthing process had been less than 3 hours and I had only been in the birthing phase about an hour and a half, most of the time in the pool. We had not even had time to put the Stephen Halpern relaxation music on or the rainbow relaxation track! From the re instigation of the surges on Sunday evening my active labour had been only 10 hours. I have no doubt that my calm approach had helped things progress quickly and the breathing techniques made the surges far less ‘painful’ through most of the process. I could not deny the overwhelm of the birthing phase but am amazed at how my body just knew what to at this point and how quickly the whole process was over and how well I had been able to cope with the majority of the birth.

“We knew each other already!”

Meeting Eadie for the first time was the best experience of my life – from that very first second of looking in her eyes, I could see another soul looking back at me. Not a baby, but a human spirit. That was not something I had expected – we knew each other already! 

(Another important note – Craig had been helping me with perineal massage over the previous weeks and the midwife was astounded to report that I had only grazes with no tears and no need for stitches. So though it was not sexy, I would definitely recommend this practice as well ladies!)”

If you had a positive birth experience that you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you. Please send your story and any pictures you’d like to include to info@theintuitivedoula.co.uk.