Born Free

born_freeSara O’Reilly
Time Out, Sell Out: Active, 1989

Despite the medical profession’s resistance, a holistic approach to natural childbirth is breaking fertile ground in South Woodford. An immaculate conception! Sara O’Reilly thinks so.

Obstetrics has been making news recently, with exponents of less interventionist care, like Wendy Savage, Pauline Bousquet and community midwife Gilly Rosser, getting a hard time of it. The medical establishment still, despite noises to the contrary, likes to turn the birth of a child into an organised, sanitised affair over which the professionals, rather than the mother, have ultimate control.

So it’s intriguing to learn that there is what amounts to a quiet revolution going on over in South Woodford. Last September, Dr Gowri Motha, a gynaecologist at Whips Cross Hospital, set up the Jeyrani Health Centre which specialises in providing gynaecological counselling and advice on infertility and natural childbirth, alongside treatment for more general physical, emotional and stress-related complaints.

I spent a day at the centre, talking to a number of the therapists and to Dr Motha herself and sampling the treatments that make up the centre’s pregnancy care programme. The atmosphere in the spacious flat is relaxed and friendly and it comes as no surprise to learn that, rather than beating a hasty exit after their appointments, clients tend to sit about and chat in the comfortable sitting-room that passes for a waiting-room.

The first step if you join the programme is a gynaecological consultation to assess whether you are a likely candidate for a natural birth. Obviously if you’re clearly going to need a Caesarean section it would be pointless to prepare you for a natural birth (although that is not to say that you wouldn’t benefit from some of the complementary therapies).

Assuming that you are suitable, therapy starts at around 18 to 20 weeks with a diagnostic osteopathy consultation. As osteopath Neil Patel points out, pregnant women can be very satisfying to treat because the progesterone produced in pregnancy makes you particularly responsive to manipulation of the soft tissue and joint. You may find that your pregnancy is a good time to sort out a long-term problem. Or you may require no more than advice, perhaps on how to lift correctly, or on altering your posture to take your bump into account. Women who experience a considerable increase in breast size during pregnancy sometimes find that it leads to chronic back pain – and it comes as a surprise to some that wearing a bra with broad, supportive straps can go a long way towards alleviating the problem.

The treatments include reflexology, the Metamorphic Technique and aromatherapy. Reflexology entails massaging the feet to detect and break down blockages in corresponding parts of the body to relieve stress and restore energy balance. Mary Martin told me that she has treated patients with all manner of problems, from tinnitus to infertility, but she makes no extravagant claims for her discipline. She simply points out that tension seems to lie at the root of many ailments -and few would deny the power of massage to release tension.

The Metamorphic Technique also concentrates on the feet, although hands and head may be massaged too. In this instance it takes the form of delicate stroking, rather than manipulation, and the aim is to create an environment in which the body can fulfil its own potential rather than treatment of particular symptoms. Practitioners like Helen Chittic see themselves not as healers but as catalysts clearing the way for change and growth.

I had expected aromatherapy to involve heady, and possibly headache-inducing aromas so it came as a relief to be massaged by Anne Marie Joyeux with fragrant rather than pungent essential oils. The technique is said to lower blood pressure, reduce swelling due to fluid retention and, like the other treatments, to promote deep relaxation. A face massage is particularly soothing since it doesn’t involve the element of masochism that seems to be inherent in body massage -and the lingering scent of rose, geranium and lavender is an added bonus. Your aftersmell may be different since the combination of oils is individually tailored to your particular requirements.

These treatments are backed up by a course of self-hypnosis intended to help you control pain during labour. Counsellor Reine Le Gall, who treats a wide variety of problems ranging from phobias to compulsive behaviour like overeating or smoking, says the majority of women approach labour expecting pain – and we tend to get what we expect. Her thinking is borne out by a community midwife I know who finds that women are less likely to ask for pain-relief during a home confinement than they are in hospital, where it is impossible not to regard yourself as a patient, however positive your attitude. So you will be taught the skill of self-hypnosis {and like any skill it requires practice, so be prepared for ‘homework’) to enable you to enter a state of deep relaxation. While you are in this state during the sessions Reine will ‘reprogramme’ you to expect a smooth and pain-free birth; she will also suggest that you will find it easy to co-operate with the midwife and follow her instructions. Reine finds it particularly rewarding when clients who have previously had difficult deliveries write to tell her of a speedier and more pleasant experience using self-hypnosis.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Jeyrani is the way it seems to dovetail with traditional medicine. Many of its clients are GP referrals, and Gowri Motha has recently introduced not only a birthing pool but a pyramid to Whips Cross Hospital. Her low-key approach, coupled with the respect that her years in mainstream gynaecological practice command, are powerful weapons in the battle to bring together the holistic and traditional medical approaches. Some of her therapists are working with pregnant women in the hospital on a voluntary basis; already reflexology has proved to have a rapid effect in reducing high blood pressure and there are other research programmes underway. The efficacy of complementary medicine is generating interest at the hospital but it comes as no surprise to Gowri Motha. For years she has practiced aromatherapy and reflexology informally on pregnant friends and has noticed that they seemed subsequently to find childbirth rather less traumatic than we are led to expect.

There are no facilities for delivering babies at Jeyrani – but a purpose-built birthing unit is the next item on Dr Motha’s agenda. Given her success to date, not only in establishing a thriving clinic but in integrating her ideas with those of a sceptical National Health Service, it seems more than likely that her plans will come to fruition.

Time Out, Sell Out: Active, 1989

back to Press Cuttings