The Naked Doula: “We’ve lost this ultimate trust for women giving birth”

Naked Doula Fearless Birth Book

by Lorna White |
Published on

Bringing life into this world is a journey filled with anticipation, joy, and often, apprehension. In the midst of this transformative experience, having the right support and guidance can make all the difference. Enter Emma Armstrong, affectionately known as The Naked Doula, who is on a mission to empower expectant mothers embarking on the incredible path of childbirth.

In her debut book, The Fearless Birth Book, Emma has shared all her insights, personal anecdotes, and invaluable advice drawn from her years of experience as a doula and hypnobirthing expert. As you’d expect, with Emma also being a very talented illustrator, the book is full of fabulous drawings to make her easy-to-digest advice even easier to absorb.

“I want people to come away from my book feeling like they have self trust and feel confident in their decisions around their birth.”

The Fearless Birth Book, Naked DoulaThe Fearless Birth Book, Naked Doula, Amazon
Price: $25.21

Dealing with trauma in pregnancy

Emma admits she’s always had an interest in childbirth, originally wanting to be a midwife in her school days. Although her midwifery dreams never came to fruition, she fell pregnant in 2019 with her son, Charlie at a time when her mum fell very poorly.

“I was completely traumatised when she passed away thinking, how am I going to possibly birth without my mum?”

Knowing she needed to get in a better headspace to welcome her baby, she started to learn more about focussing on her mindset to look after herself and baby which first sparked her interest in hypnobirthing, leading her to her doula training.

“I honestly believe if my mum hadn't passed away when she did, I don't know if The Naked Doula would exist. I obviously miss my mum dearly, but I just really see it's such a gift because I get to really help and inspire so many people, and she's such a massive part of that.”

The impact of trauma both on mum and baby during pregnancy is something Emma speaks about a lot in the book, but she firmly believes that whatever feelings you’re experiencing right now in your pregnancy, it’s important to allow yourself to feel those emotions and not to bury them.

Instead, Emma suggests trying to connect with other mums that may be going through what you’re going through and reaching out to your midwife and seeing if they can point you in the direction of support.

“We often feel so guilty for feeling sad, and, especially because Charlie was in my belly, I thought, he's going to be so affected by this. But, actually, if you allow yourself to sit with it, you do heal a lot faster. Grief never goes away. But it definitely gets more manageable. You can really alchemise those emotions.”

Adapting to life as mum

Emma Armstrong Naked Doula
©Emma Armstrong

Not only did Emma have to quickly adapt to life without her mum, but she also had to simultaneously transition into mum, an identity change many of us struggle with.

“Pregnancy is actually a perfect opportunity to really look at yourself. What really brings you joy? What doesn't bring you joy? What makes you happy? What makes you sad?”

Emma says thinking about your answers to these questions and connecting with your own awareness during pregnancy will allow you to have a better connection with your baby once they arrive, as well as boosting your confidence when giving birth.

“You’ll go into that birth room absolutely knowing yourself and trusting your intuition and feelings. For me it's really about connecting with yourself during pregnancy. The more that you can do that, the more that you're going to be able to deal with the transition into motherhood.”

Advice for women worried about giving birth

The Fearless Birth Book Naked Doula
©Naked Doula

And if you are feeling nervous or apprehensive about the birth experience, Emma has some very wise words for you when it comes to your pain threshold. “Pain thresholds actually don't exist. It’s actually in our mind.”

“How we react to pain is a complete programming.” Says Emma. “This is why mindset is so important because, you really need to understand how you feel about pain and how you react.”

Emma knows better than anyone how every birth is different, and whether your baby is in the wrong position or there’s an external factor causing difficulties, it’s all about staying calm and remaining in control.

“Just stop panicking for a second and look at the situation you're in. What can you adjust? What can you change? Because most of the time, it's not you. Maybe there's bright lights, maybe there's someone pissing you off.”

As well as changing external factors, it’s important to remind yourself how powerful your brain can be when it comes to telling yourself what you can’t and can’t deal with.

“Saying to yourself, ‘I'm just gonna get an epidural because, I don't deal with pain very well’ It's like you've already told yourself that’s what is going to happen, so your brain’s confirmation bias is going to continue feeding you that narrative, until you change the narrative. And then when you're in the birth room, it's going to really fucking push that narrative and it will feel painful and affirm what you already think. It’s just a big mind game.”

Dealing with health anxiety in pregnancy and labour

What's going on in our brains is anxiety. The stress and the worry about going to the hospital, the worry about seeing the doctor, the thoughts of induction, all these things, absolutely link into how we're going to be feeling pain. However, it also links into what we're feeling in pregnancy right now. If you're having health anxiety, but you're also finding yourself with reflux, headaches, nausea, a lot of the time, some are down to hormonal imbalance. But a lot of them are actually absolutely manageable and can be gotten rid of through things like hypnosis.”

According to Emma, it’s the same in childbirth. “If we're feeling worried, that fear is going to make it hurt because our body is in danger mode. The way to overcome the health anxiety, is to go back to something I talk about in the book about reframing and looking at the facts and myths or the good, the bad and ugly? What's going on in your head? What health anxiety do you have? Is it that they’re going to tell you to have an induction or that your baby's gonna die. Or you might have lost a previous baby. Stop for a second. Ask yourself, why do I feel like this? And that is really just about taking the time to delve in and reassure yourself.”

Learning to trust yourself in labour and have the confidence to speak up

Naked Doula book
©Naked Doula

The running theme throughout Emma’s book is all about trusting your own feelings and intuition throughout your labour, something she is a huge advocate of. In the book, she empowers women to ask more questions and have the confidence to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.

“We are programmed and conditioned to never question a doctor. But actually, we've lost this ultimate trust for women giving birth, which is bizarre.” Emma’s advice is to assert yourself early by starting conversations, writing your notes and asking for things to be added to your record.

“It doesn't have to ever be a rude conversation. We want to create a good supportive connection with healthy conversations. So starting early is really important and knowing the right questions to ask which is why I put some questions in the book.”

Choosing a birth partner

We know when you’re in the midst of labour, it can be hard to advocate for yourself and remember these things, which is why birth partners and birth plans are so important.

“ I think half the time birth partners just feel very useless, especially men, they feel like they're just not needed, but they are, they are needed, they are protecting our oxytocin. It's important for birth partners to be really great advocates, understand the birth plan, make sure that you've had these conversations, and that they know the brain acronym.”

While many of us will have our partner next to us when giving birth, we know this isn’t always the case, and we know when it comes to choosing who you want with you when you welcome your baby can be a very difficult decision. Should you go with a close friend? A member of your family? According to Emma, it’s not necessarily about who is supporting you through birth, but how they make you feel.

“It's great having questions like can you do this? Can you be this? And of course, we need someone who's going to be assertive and speak up when needed, but ultimately, how does that person make you feel? What is your initial gut feeling? Does that person make you feel safe? Do you trust that person? Can you rely on that person?”

Creating a visual birth plan

The Naked Doula Fearless Birth Book
©The Naked Doula

Whoever you choose as your birth partner, the one thing they need to familiarise themselves with, apart from your hospital bag, is your birth plan. Although we know birth often doesn’t go exactly how you planned it, having a clear idea of what path you want to take during labour can really help put you, your birth partner and your midwives at ease.

You might be thinking, nobody will have time to read an essay while I’m in labour, which is why Emma suggests using a visual birth plan instead.

“What you need to keep in mind is that that person who's supporting you, that midwife, that doctor, whoever is in that room, in that instance, are they really going to take the time to stand there when you get in and read a five page birth plan? No, probably not.”

Emma swears by using her visual birth plan, something her clients find really helpful. “Using visuals is a really good way to get the attention of a midwife or doctor easily enough for them to be able to understand exactly what you want and need even in an emergency situation.”

And it’s not just the lead up to birth and labour that Emma covers, she’s also here to support mums through those early months of motherhood too, and she wants to assure mums that there’s no pressure to do anything in those early weeks after giving birth. “This is a time for you to just completely let go and not give a shit and just hide away with your baby and allow yourself to feel how you feel and lower your expectations.”

The Fearless Birth Book (The Naked Doula): Find Your Power, Influence Your Birth is out May 2, 2024

Lorna White is the Senior Digital Writer for Mother&Baby. After running the Yours magazine website, specialising in content about caring for kids and grandchildren, Lorna brought her expertise to Mother&Baby in 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics from potty training and nutrition to baby names and early development and has a wide range of experienced medical experts and professionals at her fingertips. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her two young sisters, dog walking and enjoying the outdoors with her family.

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