The Passion and Possibilities in Birth Interivew Series showcases the who's how's and why's of creating a community of support around you as you prepare and create your best birth experience. Intended to inspire you and open you to new and old ideas there are 11 different birth profesisonals sharing their passion and wisdom. We kick off here with experienced independent midwife Janie Al Alawi.
Watch the video or listen to the audio only version below the video. If you are limited for time use the notes underneath to skip to what most interests.
Janie Al Alawi discovered her passion for midwifery during a 4 week placement to the Jessop Hospital for Women during her nursing training that she completed in 1985. It was here she returned to become a 'Jessop girl' with 18 month training to become a midwife. She experienced labour ward and community midwifery before moving to Abu Dhabi in 1990 to the Corniche Hospital. 12 years, 4 different jobs including the busy delivery suite where 100,000 babies were born annually, Janie returned to the Uk to work as a community midwife. where she remained untili 2014. 2014 saw her creating acorn birth services as an independent midwife.
4.10 Janie describes why she loves midwifery so much -"Being a midwife for Janie is not a job it is something in you".
5.41 All about The Pinard.
This is the long trumpet that you see my husband using to listen into my baby's heartbeat, under supervision of Janie. Janie explains why she loves this traditional tool and why it is still useful today even though we have hand held dopplers and technological aids to listen in.
6.40 The difference between working for the NHS and working indpendently.
9.32 All about choice and the mantra " guidelines not tramlines" when arranging your birth plan with your care providers.
10.30 Why you are the expert in your own birth. The importance of communication especially listening to the woman, the mother. REmember 'The customer is always right' is the mindset to cultivate.
12.44 Billy the dog. A midwife's faithful companioni. He remained off screen but present so here is a little picture of the bundle of mischief.
13.30 Why the presentation and interpretation of data is a problem with induction research and what Janie would like to see change ( We mention Sophie Messager who as a scientist and birth educator has also written eloquently on this subject Check out this blog on induction )
15.31 Why sweeps are the bane of Janie's life and her water slide analogy to help you understand and choose.
20.15 As a population we are healthier than ever so why are we having so many more problems? Discussing the need to trust women and their bodies, with a special mention of big babies as an example of how planting fears that weren't there can affect you.
23.30 What Janie would like to see women doing to prepare for the birth of their child- including slowing down in the third trimester particularly. How she sees 'wired babies' when the mother hasn't slowed down, babies reflecting their mothers state of being.
26.40 Janie shares some tales from her travels to other cultures including the Emiratesand Angola where she witnessed the elder traditional midwives working alongside her in the hospital and mothers being looked after round the clockin the postnatal period.
31.44 Discussing easy to implement tips and techniques to support baby into the best position inlabour including using the stairs and the racing start.
33.30 A saddening tale of how quickly traditional skills and home birth/active birth preference were lost in the Emirates as an overmedicalised model took over in this nation which today sees 50% c sectoins. On her first visit she used 1 epidural in 12 years and very low c-section rates so the change is astonishing and quick. Janies mission and passion (one of many!) is to bring back home birth to th Emirates.
40.27 How you speak to a woman in pregnancy and birth will stay with her for life- so be mindful. And a reminder that YOU are superwoman! As Janie describes how she is still excited at every birth after 31 years as a midwife.
43 The heartbreak Janie feels when women are only given one option when there is almost always more choice than that. ( Check out this blog for more skills on how to get offered the choices available )
44 Mary Cronk Exclusive! Midwives on a mission of mercy. Janie shares a story from a trailblazing midwife who has done much to support women's choices in childbirth and to preserve skills such as birthing a breech baby.
You can read about her legacy here .
46 Some women need some help with some labours, BUT this help is the last line not first line as women can do this and have been for 1000s of years.
The Whos, Hows and Whys of creating a community of support around you as you create your best birth experience.
Back when I was first pregnant I was a fairly typical first time mother to be; anxious and excited in equal meassures yet simultaneiously overwhelmed with all the changes to my body and new information to absorb. I did pretty well, discovering hypnobirthing, and pregnancy yoga and utilising my skills as a therpaist to release fears and old cellular memories.
Still with the wisdom of hindsight I thought it could have been so much easier if I had known more what to even look for and include as self care and birth prepraration. Time is precious and I wasted plenty of it on fruitless, frustrating searches in googleland.
In a bid to help you avoid wasting those hours, I have gathered together 11 different birth professionals to chat and share their wisdom. It is my hope that you will feel inspired and confident to ask for what you need to create your best birth experience. I hope that listening to these passionate voices you will find your own voice and joy as you become a mother.
Full Interview List:
Week 3: Awen Clement. Sacred Celebrant
Week 4:( Coming Soon)
Week 5:( Coming Soon)
Week 6:( Coming Soon)
Week 7:( Coming Soon)
Week 8:( Coming Soon)
Week 9:( Coming Soon)
Week 10:( Coming Soon)
Week 11:( Coming Soon)
My youngest boy with his wit, his clear direct communication, and outrageous laughter, surprises me every day. Perhaps this should be no surprise to me, given his birth story which was full of surprise. Here is the story in full for you to enjoy.
For this, my third pregnancy and third home birth, I determined to really take care of me, honouring myself in the most thorough and joyful ways possible. I hired an independent midwife, booked massage, a mother blessing ceremony and carried on with my usual practice of clearing out fears and conditioning if and as they arose
I had the happiest, most relaxed pregnancy of all three. Antenatal appointments were a joy. All my wishes were heard and supported, my questions answered fully. It was all such fun, relaxing in the warm summer sunshine, connecting with my baby and imagining the calm cosy corner of my bedroom, lit only by candles, labour starting in the night whilst others were asleep, my husband joining me first in an atmosphere or quiet sacredness to be joined by my awestruck children and midwife.
HA. I imagine his cheeky grin in the womb as he considered my ideas then went about things his own way. He was on board with the general energy of my vision but not so much the finer (imagined) details.
Surprise number one was the timing. I woke in the early hours of the night with contractions. Knowing I wasn’t in full labour I slept on between the sporadic but insistent tightenings.
However, in the morning a question formed as I shuffled my way through breakfast and getting my two older children ready for school. Will this be a super long labour then because it’s a long time until dark comes back…? As my kids disappeared off to school with my husband I knew different but wasn’t ready to admit it just then.
I felt excited and curious. I think my son was trying to tell me ‘wake up mum, I’m coming now, in the day and sunshine.’ My head was trying to fit this into the dark night time, cosy corner image and largely failing. My minds habit of trying to work things out, to pin everything down was thwarted by the growing energy of labour. I was fading from this rational ordered world and entering the fluid organic energy of birth where the ordinary timing no longer made sense..
Kids safely in school courtesy of my husband I decided lying down resting in bed as he stroked my back would be a good idea. Surprise number two. Enjoyable though it was, it did not work as I thought it would and had in the past, Although good advice from my thinking self it was not what my inner midwife was prescribing for me at that moment. Which was to fulfil my restlessness and head for the toilet…
I threw back the covers and strode, slightly agitated. to the toilet. I had hoped to reexperience the comfort and total pain relief I had from his touch during the birth of my first child… I should know better of course than to try and recreate the past rather than live in the moment.
The toilet was just the job. The toilet was fun. I could hear my mind thinking this is kind of crazy but it felt right. Labouring in our small bathroom I could hold onto the sink with one hand and the bath with the other and focus all my attention on relaxing my body through the now powerful contractions with gentle sighs. Using the sink and bath as counter pressure and letting the instinctive loosening and letting go of being on the toilet happen, really worked for me. Still my mind kept popping in with the suggestion that lying down for a bit would take less effort and be even more restful.
Cue what felt like hours, but was probably like fifteen minutes or even less, (time was totally kooky by now.) of me trying to leave the bathroom. I would get half way down the approximately 5 metre corridor to our bedroom only to go, ‘oh here comes another one’ and to turn round and sit back on the toilet where I felt most comfortable and drawn despite myself. It was as if my feet and body had a mind and consciousness of their own.
Frustrating until I got the message and gave up and succumbed to the toilet position. During one of these contractions I found myself gazing at the bath. Yes, I though,t lets try that. A part of me really did want to lie down just not in the bed. I ran the bath and got in and yes this was good. Warm, cosy, and safe. I felt light and free, peaceful here.
My husband at this point called my midwife, for him he said even if I didn’t want her yet. Though I think he knew it was time even if I wasn’t admitting it still. I was too busy enjoying the water and noticing with interest that I could feel every muscle as it moved inside my body. I breathed and floated and felt my side muscles pulling my cervix up and away. The contractions were strong, powerful and purposeful. (just like my son is now) I was home and relaxed and still slightly in denial that it was day time.
My midwife came, smiling at me she listened silently to my contractions. I felt a change. I felt the end of the contraction change. It went from an outward, expanding pull up of the muscles to a slight bearing down and tucking of my tummy on the very last second of my outbreath.
Now I am a birthworker and my midwife is highly experienced. We both knew where I was up to and what was shortly going to happen. I could feel it beyond the words or rational ideas. My boundaries with normal reality were fluid. I could sense the timeline of where I was and had come through and what was to come in my labour. If I had been asked and capable of answering I could have told you how dilated I was and where I was up to as if I could see with x-ray eyes. My lovely midwife just smiled and listened. Then said ‘Would you like me to go to Tesco and come back in a bit?’’ We sat in silence for a few moments me gazing at her. My slightly vacant smile almost became a giggle. My mind was thinking something like – ‘She knows… She knows if she does that she will miss it. I am sure she knows? why is she saying that? –(She told me later she it was a kind of test to see my response- we know each other well after all our antenatal appointments so strange question though it may sound she knew just what to do and say that was prefect for me to know what I wanted.)
My verbal answer as far as I can remember was to say I want to get out of the bath now. I need the toilet.
I needed it because I was ready to push.
I now realised I was pretty much going to do it all on the toilet, a place I had hardly visited with the other two except for its actual intended use. I sat on the toilet and roared my way through my contractions, surprised by the location I found myself comfortable in, surprised by the volume and pitch of my voice and surprised by the sheer power running through my body. My body responded to this energy. It shuddered, and shook. I hardly knew who or where I was, all that was real was this raw, untamed energy rising and falling within me, coming and going from deep inside, or from some place else. A place known and not known, strange and new yet familiar. A place of pure wordless experience. I knew not if I was it or it was me. I opened up and allowed it in, and through and on. I felt the energy bearing down, pushing my baby down. It thundered. Then it would disappear for a short eternity. To return with even greater intensity. Excitement was growing. I couldn’t have controlled this even if I wanted to but in trust of my body and the process I surrendered totally focused only on relaxing, particularly as I felt so much strong pressure in my bottom, more than ever before. I was astonished by myself in a kind of excited way. Emotions rolled through me. I cried weeping and whimpering like a small child. I allowed myself to do this even as my mind wondered at this oddness. I wanted to laugh too. To throw back my head and howl. And I know I roared at the height of each contraction.
Once my husband tried to touch me to massage me or comfort me and I pushed him away. My midwife understood my needs and gently patted the floor beside her. ‘Come and sit with me.’ She smiled calmly and reassuringly. They sat at arm’s length from me just outside the bathroom smiling their love and encouragement towards me. I loved that they were there, just enjoying with me. My midwife I could tell was happy and in her element.
My midwife gently wondered if it might be time to get off the toilet. I agreed and knelt in front of it instead. Resting my forearms on a stool I was able to drop my head and relax in a new position. The pressure on my bottom was incredible. The contractions were the strongest I had ever felt. My baby felt powerful, a larger than life purposeful presence, yet kind and sweet too.
I felt more emotions coming through. Anger was one. My mind was a little bit in judgment of this as not the correct emotion to be feeling at such a wonderful time. Rather than argue with my mind and try and explain that this judgment is just a story that doesn’t make the anger go away , or try to work out what it meant, I took the anger through a quick NPA process. The anger passed. Impatience came. In an intense moment I shouted out ‘ I want this baby out now’ whilst simultaneously instructing my body to remain relaxed, to have patience. I didn’t add any conscious pushing on top of the work my body was aready doing, though I was tempted at times. My impatience was tempered by my desire to allow him to come in his own time, with the flow of energy.
He and my body responded to my call of ‘NOW please.’ I felt the most amazing sensation of opening in one big flow around his head. I sat upright and held his head as he slipped smoothly out in one go as all of my children have. I was overjoyed, I had done it!
This moment of opening and him flowing through was just the biggest thrill. I can’t really do justice to the sensations with any words. I just opened up effortlessly like magic. My midwife commented too that she saw this happen. It was totally amazing to feel. I sat back laughing, as my husband and midwife wrapped me in our best towels warmed by the radiator.
A quick peek and a knowing grin exchanged with my midwife- A boy!
My 4th or is it 5h or even 6th surprise was a messy one that I was ill prepared for. My other two showed no signs of meconium for a full 24 hours after birth, whereas he came out pooing and popped out more poo every time there was a quiet or clean moment for a few hours to come!
I wanted to move to my bed to rest. We must have been a merry little procession, me the tiger mother holding tightly to her new baby, my husband supporting me, my midwife holding the bowl in case the placenta made an appearance as we trotted down our narrow little corridor to the bed.
This time the bed was bliss. Warm, cosy and filled with morning light. I love my bedroom. When the sun shines it reflects off a throw with sequins on and makes glitter sparkles all over the ceiling and walls. I felt so happy as I laid back and let everyone look after me. My midwife cleaned up the bathroom –I rested and gazed at his puffy newborn eyes, his soft movements of hands and legs grasping at me, as he made cute suckling noises. He fed and slept as we all continued to enjoy his presence.
After an hour or two I felt I might stand up to see if the placenta wanted to come.
In another surprise the placenta wanted me back on the toilet- maybe it didn’t want to be left out of the bathroom party. So off our merry little procession went in reverse. Husband supporting the mother carrying the child. Midwife bringing up the rear with the bowl, supporting us all.
I sat on the toilet and they left me and baby alone for a while. I didn’t actually need the toilet. Instead out of nowhere came an enormous roar and another shuddering, shaking contraction of the same intensity I had experienced giving birth. I didn’t expect that. I could not have controlled or suppressed this if I had wanted to. Whoosh out came my placenta, almost an anti-climax after the energy of the contraction. It slithered, easily out, landed on the toilet rim, even though I had anticipated its arrival and stood up, teetered for a moment and yes you guessed it- plop into the (luckily clean) toilet!
My midwife came to the rescue again. She hauled the placenta with both hands round the cord back over the rim into its rightful new home of my baking bowl. I was extremely impressed at the strength of my cord and size of my placenta.
Back we all went to the bed for the final time where I made us comfortable and my husband finally got to cut the cord. I arranged the limp white and surprisingly small cord in a spiral on his stomach, and entrusted the placenta to the care of my friend who had come to make me smoothies.
My final surprise of the day was his size. Matching his personality, he was a larger than life or than expected 9 lb 6. I should say larger than I expected as my midwife confided in me that she had on her final antenatal appointment a few days earlier predicted 9lb7 which he may well have been if we had been able to weigh him with the meconium inside…
There ends the main story but not the joy. Revelling in my newest baby boy and all his surprises, my heart full, my body spent yet still buzzing with energy I drank in the love of my family and my home. These first few hours meeting a newborn baby are something quite sacred and special and lying in my luxurious bed in the quiet peace, my son draped contentedly over my belly and chest I felt more alive, loved and at home than ever.
See my Birth Confidence page for in formation on my practice for clearing fears.
My independent midwife, Janie Al Alawi, can be found here along with nformation about her services.
For information about The NPA Process and a free Process sheet click here. Its a superb way to stay in flow and let things pass through.
For information on my independent celebrant, Awen Clement for a mother blessing, click here
I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth of my first child. Trawling the internet, ordering books to read and in-depth emotional clearing work. Somehow I still managed to leave some gaps. Some of these gaps are quite funny now- New born poo colour for example…! I actually thought as the thick treacly meconium gave way to bright yellow mush that it was all due to the lovely meal cooked by my husband I’d eaten the night before coming out somehow in my milk. (His African sauce was made with Palm Oil which is bright orange and solid at room temperature, liquid when heated and permanently stains everything it comes into contact with bright yellow.)
Some of the gaps in my knowledge caused me some temporary concern and added stress and I hope that this post will save some of you from the same needless worries that I experienced.
So here goes, in no particular order, I wish that I had known:-
I did kind of know that due dates are just an indication and that there is some question over the accuracy of the 40 week marker in the first place. ( See bottom of post for useful links on gestation length and EDD calculation.) I also knew that most first time mothers give birth at around 41 weeks. I just thought that would be the same for me. So at 38 plus 5 and contemplating the mammoth task of mounting the stairs I felt a wave of despair at the thought I could have another four weeks and how would I cope. It never occurred to me that this – plus the furious house cleaning- could be an indication that I wouldn’t have to wait that long...
At 39 weeks exactly, I waved my parents out of the door on Good Friday Evening and we all joked how they would be back soon enough. I shut the door and felt the first cramps. Oh…! I nearly called them back in but thought, "It’s probably Braxton Hicks, I’ve not had any of those yet…."
Takeaway Number 1: Listen to your body and be prepared.
Those first ‘Braxton Hicks’ were very low down, dull aches across where my uterus would be were I not pregnant. They felt like period pains. I watched the wild thought fly across my awareness that maybe something was wrong. I was expecting big waves of contractions right across my lovely big belly. I think I was forgetting about a gradual progression of labour and expecting to be thrown right into the most intense labour sensations from the get go.
Still I did at least do something right here. I checked out the panicked thoughts, reassured myself that I was all good and as it was nearly 11pm, I went to bed. It was a restless night that felt like one big contraction but I got a decent amount of sleep in between. I woke at 9 am when I could not ignore that I was in labour any longer as they were now close to 5 minutes apart.
Takeaway Number 2: Connect with the sensations in your body and enjoy the knowledge your body is working for you and get rest while you can.
Another one of those fleeting thoughts that had my heart rate racing. I knew to expect a plug shaped piece of tissue. And there was no mistaking the plug when it arrived. It was, well like my bathroom plug same shape and size and quite solid. Despite the name I wasn’t expecting it to be so pluglike. But somehow I hadn't expected a little gush of blood.
I breathed through the panic and my fears of looking stupid and rang my midwife. She was wonderful and suggested I put a pad on and check the amount of blood then call her back. Great advice and as I put the phone down I realised I was not bleeding any more beyond the couple of drops that had spread out on my clothes and looked much more than they actually were. Thanking my mind once more for its extreme caution in wanting to keep me safe I relaxed again.
I will quickly add that you may not get an obvious plug like I did. Some women lose the plug weeks before labour starts and some like me during my second son's birth, never know if they lost it down the toilet without realising or some time in labour as they never see it and there are all kinds of variations in between.
Takeaway Number 3: Slow down and breathe. Ring your midwife and ask even if you feel stupid.
So useful to know! It really does feel like that. Another unexpected surprise. The pressure of the baby taking up the space in your body causes you both to feel like the baby is coming out of your bottom and for you to actually evacuate your bowels for real. So yes both these are great signs that your baby is on the way and good things to know in advance.
Takeaway Number 4: Expect to poo, and know it's a good sign.
I believed that I needed to be examined at least once, found to be the magic ten cm and given permission to push. I knew I was going to follow my body regardless of numbers, I just thought that was the system and I would have to go along with it. I have since learned that I could have said no to the one examination I did have. It was so clear to all around that I was in labour and doing well, an examination wasn’t necessary. I didn't really want one, I just thought I had to.
Here I have to say my midwife was wonderful. She asked permission, asked if I had had one before ( I hadn’t) and was totally gentle so I could hardly feel it. She then pronounced me 8 cm. Although I would have refused had it been clear to me this was an optional intervention, this announcement actually helped dispel the worry that I had called her out too early and was going to look stupid when she said sorry you are not in labour yet!
Finally I want to really stress that vaginal examinations are a choice and you are the one with the power to choose what is right for you. I was aware that they only tell you what is going on in that moment and that can change. I knew that birth is not linear despite the (mostly male created (charts that imply a certain progression per hour. I had heard many anecdotes of women I know personally and their friends or family who had nearly given birth in triage as labour progressed so quickly. I knew all this but at the time did not know I could make my own choice. Some women find them reassuring as I did in this example. Others prefer not to know and there is a danger of feeling discouraged if you have laboured for a while without any corresponding increase in openness. This seeming lack of change on its own does not mean that nothing is happening. Again listening and communicating with your own body will help you decide what you need.
As for me in this birth story, the official confirmation that I was truly in labour and pretty far on was like a load lifted. I got back up and onto my knees on the floor, for the final stages of opening my body. For that 8 cm was moving pretty fast now, I was not on any arbitrary linear timescale. I had no idea what timescale I was on as I was moving deep into the labour trance world and nothing made much sense any more. There was just one more hesitation on my part.
Takeaway Number 5: You have the power to choose what support you need. You can say no to vaginal examinations.
Not if your body is spontaneously pushing even as you concentrate on relaxing deeply and going with the flow of the birthing energy. Try stopping that life force. That kind of pushing is impossible to stop.
Sometimes women are told they must wait until they get to ten centimetres, whereas in some cultures women are told to start pushing from the first contractions and push all the way through labour. I have always been confused by these seeming contradictions and the lack of trust implied in the process and the woman and baby giving birth. (Check the end of the post for more information on pushing before 10 cm) i
In the mean time there I was on my knees, head buried in the couch, swaying, when I felt my body begin to push. "Oh," I thought, "I am only 8 cm? Will I be in trouble? Should I tell her?" I lifted my head just long enough to say tentatively, "my body wants to push now." "You just go with what your body wants to do," my midwife replied gently. AAhh so good. The last worry smoothed away with just those few words. I dropped my head into the sofa again and let everything go.
Takeaway Number 6: Spontaneous Pushing is impossible to stop or control but can feel fantastic. Trust your body.
(A small aside- if you are a community midwife who attended a home birth on Easter Saturday in Handsworth and you recognise this story. Thank you. You were so lovely. You always asked permission, explained and exuded a quiet confidence and respect that was catching. I would love to hear from you if you ever read this- I cannot remember your name.)
I felt my son come right up between my legs during the contraction. As I relaxed into the quiet space I felt him move straight back again. With the next contraction, he surged forwards enthusiastically, then fell back again as it subsided. Now as I write and remember this rhythm I am reminded of the sea, gentle waves that lap the shore and the water trickling back to the ocean. It was exactly like that. It serves a purpose, I believe, to soften and prepare your body. Your baby is also an active partner in the birth and needs to rotate himself into position as he comes out.
My son was gearing up for his final exit where he would shoot accross the pool as I sat up to see him. What I would do differently if I could go back would be to have more patience and really enjoy this part. There was no pain as I floated in my pool. It was a fabulous opportunity to connect with my son, reassure him all was well and to take his time rather than question in my head if that was normal or not.
Takeaway Number 7: Be patient and take your time as you start to crown. A bit of to and fro is normal and may help.
We were so in love with our new son that we didn’t get out of the pool. Unfortunately, the room was colder than we would have liked due to an unforeseen heating problem and I started to feel chilly. The midwives had been filling in their paperwork and hadn’t realised we were getting cold. It was easily rectified with some warm towels, dressing gown and blanket but we came close to needing a transfer for a cold baby.
What I did learn with this experience is just how amazing we women are. I may have been blissfully unaware of the temperature of my serene baby but my body knew differently. As my husband and midwives wrapped us in a bundle I started to sweat. The only comparable heat I have experienced is during a fever. My body became a furnace and heated my baby so fast that my lovely midwife wondered if she had made a mistake taking his temperature. I know, as did my body that she didn’t and my birthing story ended happily with the midwives leaving to sleep as my husband and I remained resting on our sofa enjoying our baby as he took his first feed.
So there you have it. 8 tips from the birth story of my first son. I hope you find them useful. If you have any of your own to share, please comment and let me know.
If you enjoyed a quick glimpse into the birth story of my son you can read the complete story along with 12 other wonderful water birth tales in this book. Click image to buy from Amazon.
Below are links to some articles that you may find useful related to the points raised in this post.
Women's gestation can vary by up to 5 weeks-Article in the Independent
Article on pushing with an anterior cervical lip by Midwife Thinking.
Today I welcome writer and law lecturer Dr Gulara Vincent to the BirthEssence Blog with a guest post about how completing unfinished business helped her transform her birth experience.
‘Unfinished business’ from the past can block your dreams. I learnt this lesson the hard-way through childbirth, and here’s how my journey began.
In November 2012, I was attending a Journey reunion in Birmingham. I was really into the Journey, a method of cellular healing developed by Brandon Bays, and these meetings gave me an opportunity to meet other people who knew this method too. We took turns to swap and give each other some free support. Each meeting had a practitioner who told us about their Journey path: what brought them here and how the Journey transformed their lives. As I sat on a chair listening to the speaker that day, I stroked my belly feeling slight movements of my baby. I was 18 weeks pregnant with a long-awaited baby. The speaker’s voice soothed me, and watching her face framed with long dark hair, I softened in response.
That speaker was Charlotte Kanyi.
I am not going to recount her story here because it’s hers to tell, but it touched me so much that I approached her during the break and started talking about her business. I had seen her business cards on the stalls during every re-union, and even took it home on one or two occasions, but never dared to speak to her before.
‘I have some anxiety around childbirth,’ I said. By then I’d been attending workshops in Stroud to do some ‘birth works’, a process which explored our own birth experience and also explained how birth impacts the child. It was in one of those workshops that the facilitator explained that women who have past sexual trauma may struggle giving birth naturally. The cells remember the invasion and may clamp up in response to the pain caused by a child trying to exit. To me, this was not the time to deal with past sexual trauma. My focus was on delivering my baby into the world, not dwelling on painful memories. It was better left untouched for now, I told myself, even though deep down I was still worried that past trauma can impact my chances of giving birth as naturally as possible.
‘I’d like to have a session before I give birth,’ I said to Charlotte tentatively.
‘If there’s anxiety, it’s best to clear it sooner than later. You don’t want to carry it throughout your pregnancy because the baby is aware of it too,’ she said.
Her words made sense, but I didn’t follow her advice on that day.
Soon enough though, life presented me with plenty more worries. I was classed as ‘high risk’ and a consultant at the Women’s Hospital saw me every two weeks. Each time, he looked for what was wrong. And of course, if you look hard enough, there’s always something to find.
‘Your baby’s head is quite big, and this is a big baby,’ the consultant said every time I met him. ‘You may need to deliver via C-section. And there seems to be too much liquid around the baby. We may need to pass tubes through his nose to make sure that his lungs are free and he can breathe properly.’
The idea of tubes being passed through the nose of my new-born baby was so distressing that I found Charlotte’s card and gave her a call. A few days later, I was sitting on a couch in her front room shaking uncontrollably as an avalanche of memories overwhelmed me. By the end of the session, I felt calmer and more at peace. Miraculously, the next time I saw the consultant, he said that the liquid levels around the baby were normal and there was no need for intervention.
I started seeing Charlotte regularly. Life kept throwing at me opportunities for
distress growth. I was severely traumatised by the intervention of midwives during the induction, and the emergency C-section left me reeling with disappointment. I cried for days after the birth, and all the stress and tension culminated in two painful episodes of mastitis. I worried about everything all the time. The more I worked with Charlotte, the lighter I felt.
A little over a year later, I was pregnant again. This time, I had no second thoughts about diving in at the deep end to clear any ‘unfinished business’ which could impact my pregnancy and delivery. We worked to clear my past sexual trauma; the trauma caused by my son’s birth; fears around speaking up and standing up for myself when I was at the Women’s Hospital – the list went on and on. I remember vividly the first time Charlotte suggested that I could refuse to follow medical advice and even have a homebirth. Horrified at the idea, I gawked at her ready to run for my life. It took one session to clear that fear, and I came to realise that a home birth was the best option for me. I hired a doula and the home birth team at the Women’s Hospital transformed my experience of the last pregnancy and childbirth – there were no invasive scans with consultants looking for faults. Instead, there was a team of gentle loving women who saw natural birth after C-section as absolutely normal and even desirable. I felt like I had a personal cheering squad and their love and support were healing and nourishing.
When the big day arrived and I went into labour on the due date, I had a birthing pool in my front room. The birth team came to support me and my husband was there to hold me in the water. My labour was beautiful, almost ecstatic, and although I ended up having another emergency C-section, the birth experience itself was at the opposite end of the spectrum to my son’s birth; I was calm, confident, supported and in control.
In short, I’m living testament that when we shed off our emotional baggage, our experiences transform. Childbirth is no exception.
Dr Gulara Vincent is a writer, university law lecturer and a Momentum Mentor for Writers. When not writing or teaching, she helps women writers to release their inner fears and emotional blocks so that they can have a successful writing career.
My second son Idrisa at three days old.
This post was first published on 27th July 2015 as a submission for The Birth Story Project where you can still read it and many other inspiring stories.
Calm, Serene and blissful; my first son was born still sleeping into a pool and gave a gentle sigh for his first breath, to a delighted audience of four, myself, my husband and two lovely midwives.
Loud, raucous and exhilarating; my second was born in a hurry on the floor of my shower, crying on arrival for his first breath, to a delighted audience of one, me.
I began to wonder about these hugely contrasting experiences in a similar starting environment. Was it simply their different personalities shaping the way they came into the world? Their birth, their chosen start to life and me a willing co-creative partner. Certainly each entrance was a perfect fit for what each of my children needed and desired to experience. Still, I felt there was more, I felt that there was also a message for me. What I wondered was my side of the bargain? What was the gift for me in their birth stories?
A stark contrast, according to baby me's perception. Born breech, with my mum in the unfortunately all too common recumbent beetle position, pushing against gravity was never going to be easy. My mum and me, we did brilliantly, right until the end when my stuck head needed to be eased out with forceps and I was immediately whisked off to a temporary abode by a sunny window in an incubator.
Gentle as the doctor was in his assistance, I found the experience to be deeply traumatic. Birth and the first hours immediately after are a potent time for imprinting
I constructed my version of reality around an unfriendly universe, separation, and abandonment. Stripped of my power and any say in what happened to me, I felt truly worthless, unheard and unseen. I doubted my ability to complete any task by myself.
Of course this was only a short blip in a happy, loving environment. But my expectations were set: Life is hard, People take over against your will, maybe you couldn't have done it anyway. Better not try.
As free as I became, on the approach to my second son's birth I felt my foundations shaking. I was terrified. I didn't know if I could do it. It didn't matter that I knew consciously that women are made for birth, that it is an entirely natural physiological function performed without drama by every other mammal in the animal kingdom. Or even that I had already done it once. There remained a persistent doubt.
Hold on a minute I hear you question? You've skipped to your second? Shouldn't the terror have come up with the first?
Well it did to a point. But as I have discovered the universe is pretty friendly, especially when you ask for help. During my first pregnancy fears surfaced and were released. I dug deep and cleared out all the blocks and conditioning I could find. I felt confident. I was rewarded by a delightful birth experience. I was on top of the world. I had done it!
So why the extreme terror during my second pregnancy?
The answer was revealed to me in my ongoing growth and transformation as a confident woman that threads through my adult life and two birth stories. My first birth experience was my first opportunity to really embody confidence deeply into my cells. The first visceral, lived in the body proof that I was not worthless and a failure as a woman. That actually I was an amazing and powerful woman.
However, having achieved one birth with assistance, (albeit rather hands off assistance, limited to one respectful and consented to vaginal examination and two giggling midwifes lit up by their head torch peering through the ripples of the pool to tell me of my progress.) I still didn't know if I could do anything on my own.
And I needed a different experience to fulfil that. One I could not foresee or second guess. My second son's birth perfectly met that need and put paid to the remnants of lingering doubt of capabilities as a woman.
I can pinpoint the shift in my being, to the last stages of the birth. At the time I was still, with some delusion, telling myself the labour journey had only just begun. We had planned a water birth for him too and the pool was to be my husband's main responsibility...
"I want the pool and there is no pool" I roared. Dimly aware that trotting off to move furniture and make space for the pool was no longer the best use of my husband's loving support at that moment, I was already too far gone for ordinary communication. But that roar of frustration released my agenda for the pool and something else took over. I knew and finally admitted to myself what my husband was as yet sweetly unaware. This baby was coming right now.
I retreated to the shower with a vague thought; warm water, nice. All my focus and energy was on the task at hand. Just me and my baby, cocooned in the shower cubicle and all else ceased to exist. I was no longer focused outwards, checking externally if what I was doing was correct. I was no longer handing over responsibility blindly to someone I perceived as more qualified and competent than me. Failure wasn't an option. Of course I was not thinking in these terms. I was barely even thinking at all in fact. I was living my experience of birth in communion with my son. And in the crucial final stages I did it alone.
I brought him smoothly round through my legs and sat down laughing in total euphoria at the enormity of the moment and at the expression on my husband's surprised face as he came running to my summons.
I did it alone. No assistance needed. Nothing.
There is still a delighted young girl skipping around inside me going, "Look, look everyone, look at what I did, you didn't know I could do that, did you?" and, "See, see," she says to the doctors who helped me be born, "I can do it after all."
My next step on the road? Well I don't know if there will be a third child or not, but I do know that my exploration of personal confidence is leading me to a place where I am so confident that even though I know I can do it alone, I no longer need to. That place is filled with laughing women in community and support, and in that place I am truly home.
Today I am sharing a small but significant part of my second pregnancy in which I feared my preferred choice of birth place would be taken away from me. I went through stages of denial, panic and terror but I came out the other side with a deeper confidence that shaped the remainder of my pregnancy and ultimately my business.
“Where would you like to give birth?” asked the consultant who was reviewing my blood pressure results.
“Well,” I ventured hesitantly, “I think my baby would like to be born at home.”
“It’s not about where your baby wants to be born,” she replied, looking slightly surprised as I had guessed she might. I was aware that considering the child’s views about his birth place may seem a bit off the wall to some, but it felt important to me and I was already experiencing the fierce mother tiger desire to protect his wishes.
“It’s about where YOU want to give birth,” she continued.
With that something in me finally took root. Some energy powered up through those roots, through my body and out of my mouth.
Just two words. Spoken with utter conviction. Not of the kind where I am trying to convince myself and wondering why the other person is not buying it. Just a simple statement of unconvertible fact.
She responded immediately to my shift in energy. She accepted my answer without further question. Now the discussion was against the backdrop of home birth. I started to breathe again.
Even though I had known all along that was what I really wanted. I had been hesitant as I had been listening too closely to my mind and worrying about getting into conflict with the medical establishment. I was there only to have my home birth plan confirmed, in writing rather than the verbal assurance I already had so as to put my midwives at ease. Having been on a blood pressure cuff for 24 hours that revealed my blood pressure to be entirely normal and even quite good at home and to spike only when the midwives tried to take it, it should have been a formality. But it was not turning out that way. I was so nervous waiting that when they did take my resting pulse it was 134, my bp was 156/107. I knew it was simply irrational panic, I wasn’t in danger and I knew that my birth plan wasn’t in danger either really. But try telling that to my body which was running to the tune of some other programme.
Despite all that, when it counted I found inner strength and confidence was coursing through my veins and speaking through me.
The paper I eventually signed with the Supervisor of midwives described me as a nervous lady. This also surprised me although I could understand on reflection that this was how I had presented myself to them. I was bigging up the whole white coat syndrome to try and appear reasonable and therefore get them on side- (see this great blog that discusses the ways in which reasonable woman syndrome shows up in the maternity care system.)
It surprised me because that was not how I felt inside. This was my second child and second home birth and I was feeling on top of the world. Then with one random high BP reading that refused to come down my world turned temporarily upside down.
Several days of inner work, monitoring, and questioning later and I was back, more confident than ever. And just two weeks later I gave birth at home as planned in the wonderful but definitely unplanned setting of my shower cubicle.
As a child I was not confident. I looked at my peers and thought they had it all together whilst I reddened at any attention and altered my opinions to match what I thought the group would want to hear or would appear cool. As an adult I made some inroads into this but still looked to the more extrovert types for a template of confidence. Then I watched this Ted talk by Brené Brown on Vulnerability and this interview with Sera Beak. I realised that I had confidence all wrong. It wasn’t about eliminating all fear and sailing along permanently sure of yourself. It wasn’t about knowing all the answers in advance. It wasn’t about how I was presenting my outer self to the world either. I didn’t have to look, act or speak any particular way. In fact doing so was no guarantee that I would be feeling confident about myself inside, where it really mattered.
I realised that true confidence was about having the courage to show up as I was in that moment, all of me and my emotions present, whether they be fearful or fantastic. My confidence lay in complete self acceptance and self love, including the nervous, shy and introverted parts of me. It blossomed in my growing trust of the inherent safety of the universe. A universe that was delighted I had found the confidence and inner strength to allow vulnerable and scared if that was my experience.
It wasn’t necessarily any easier. Those last two weeks of my pregnancy were a roller coaster of emotions. But my determination to remain open and surrender to what showed up, along with my equally powerful determination to be true to my soul’s desires and own my truth (which in this case was to birth in a tent decorated with fairly lights and flowers in my garden) meant I got something better than easy. Better even than the tent which didn’t in fact happen! I got what I truly desired; empowered confidence in myself as a woman.
This consciousness I call confidence is not dependent on a particular set of circumstances and external support. It runs deep and allows panic, terror and doubt to run through my system yet remains unchanged below the surface. It is not affected by any stories I may tell myself about my less desirable emotions or challenging situations. And it goes far beyond any external behaviour I may dress myself in.
It shines out from deep inside, its clothes are simply the truth of who I am. All I am doing is lifting the covers off and tuning in to my essence as a woman. This essence trusts in life, for it is life and as such it takes change in its stride. And that is a good thing as we are living in a time of change. And the changes that are needed in the birth arena can only happen when we as women change from the inside out. Or to put it another way when we rediscover and live our inner strength and power as women. This is the journey that was encapsulated in those two simple words, ‘at home,’ and it is the journey of my business.
For more information about how BirthEssence can support you to find your inner confidence and to birth with ease and joy check out the services I offer including 1:1 sessions and luxurious pregnancy massage. I also offer a comprehensive Birth Confidence Package yet to be featured on my website. To be among the first to experience this and for more information drop me a line or call me. I look forward to working with you. x
I love Christmas time and especially the family festivities and sharing of gifts. It is a time that really warms my heart. This year my heart is warmed and positively thrilled to bits with one of my Christmas presents to myself: the new book edited by Milli Hill just published called Water Birth: Stories to inspire and inform. I am ever so excited because the birth of my first child is one of the featured stories. To celebrate my first published piece of writing I have written a post about my personal experience of water birth including some of the details of the birth story that is found in full in the book. I do hope you enjoy reading.
I have always loved water. Holidaying in France as a young child I learnt to swim with the help of my mum in the shallows of a serene lake. I remember feeling so proud, brave and free as I let my feet lift off the sand and float and began to move through the water unaided.
Growing up many happy days were spent playing with my brother and friends in rivers and oceans. We would leap and dive under crashing waves in Wales, daring the surf to catch us as we ran away. We would shout with raucous laughter, racing, chasing and splashing. We would spend hours making damns, creating pools to soak in. We would alternate pushing against the rivers’ currents with allowing ourselves to be carried tranquilly downstream to the sound of accompanying birdsong.
As an adult I am still instantly soothed and relaxed by the trickling sound of a river meandering along its path and the regular rhythm of crashing surf followed by its gentle tinkling return through shells and shingle.
I continued to swim regularly throughout this pregnancy, getting a taste of how I might feel during a water birth. I enjoyed the weightlessness and ease of movement in the water. I even enjoyed the contrast as I climbed back out onto land, the sudden heaviness pulling me down into the earth, solid and stable beneath my feet. I appreciated the strong grounded feeling with a secret inner glee at the delightful memory of the floating freedom, a sense of power and possibility and the connection with my baby, whom I sensed enjoyed these sensations as much as I did.
My reading revealed fascinating history and surprising facts and ultimately allayed any concerns I may have had over safety.
I read of petroglyphs in Egypt depicting births of Pharaohs approximately 8000 years ago and accounts from the oral traditions of indigenous people who gave birth in shallow sea water or pools. There are examples both old and in modern day times right across the globe, from the Maoris to the Indians of Central America to the Hawaiian islands. These are glorious tales of women supporting women using the warm water to aid relaxation and for pain relief, that really warmed my heart.
In the Western world documented water birth is much more recent and until the latter part of the last century very sporadic. Water birth remained largely unknown until the 1970’s and the pioneering work of two obstetricians, Michel Odent in France and Igor Tjarkovsky in Russia.
Igor’s initial interest in water was sparked by a desire to help his premature daughter by immersing her in warm water in order to create an environment akin to the womb that she’d departed two months early. Seeing her rapid progress he went onto develop glass tanks and to experiment with the use of water during childbirth itself.
Michel Odent set up a Birthing Centre in Pithviers which focused on creating a home like environment with minimal intervention. The birthing rooms included baths for relaxation and pain relief. Inevitably as women enjoyed the benefits of the soothing warm water some women didn’t want to get out again and babies started to be born in the water. By 1983 he had attended over 100 of these water births and was able to publish a medical research paper.
From here on in the popularity of water birth blossomed and bloomed. Supportive studies were published demonstrating the safety, women and midwives were vocal supporters and the opportunity to experience a water birth became more accessible and common as word spread. Today most maternity units in the UK are able to offer water birth to their women.
I was also inspired by positive stories on the internet and the birth of a friend’s baby, nearly 10lbs in water with ease and grace and no tearing.
I bit the bullet and bought my own pool that took up the whole of my living room.
And I was also a little bit nervous. And sometimes just a tiny little bit impatient…
But, eventually my turn came. In my living room, gently into the dark waters of my birth pool, my baby boy was born. The atmosphere was serene and still, apart from some urgent clamouring from the midwives to get my husband back in the room before he missed it! He shot out across the pool like a shooting star across the night sky. His body, dimly lit by the head torch carried by the midwife, could be seen curled and glistening through the ripples caused by my undulating body as it arced into position. Lifted out by myself and my husband together in calm tranquillity, he appeared to be still sleep. The only noise was his sudden, surprising intake of breath followed by a deep satisfied sigh of happiness as he nestled against my chest, legs still floating in the water.
This story, my first birth experience is etched into my heart and transformed me deeply. I have loved telling and retelling my story hoping to inspire other women the way I was helped by hearing their positive stories. The telling of personal stories is a weaving of magic that transforms and teaches. The sharing of positive and empowering stories is a powerful support especially in our culture which tends to share the horror stories far too often. Giving birth awakened a passion in me to support other women on their journeys to mother hood and I am delighted and touched that the story of my first son’s birth will be available to more women than I could personally reach with the publication of the book Water Birth: Stories to inspire and inform
This delightful book is a compilation of women’s birth stories covering a wide range of situations – hospital, home, birthcentre, twins… All with the use of water. All the stories are intended, as the title implies, to inspire and inform of the wonderful possibilities of using water in childbirth. It is packed full of information within the stories themselves and in the commentary by Milli Hill who has herself experienced the delights of water birth and whose story also features.
It is my hope that women reading these stories are uplifted and guided into their own power to choose and create their own positive and transformative birth experience. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and would love to hear from you in the comments below.
You can buy ‘Water Birth: Stories to inspire and inform’ from Amazon here:
Water Birth: Stories to inspire and inform
The definitive book on water birth and the source of the historical data quoted is called The Waterbirth Book and is by Janet Balaskas.
For more about water birth and a taste of Milli Hill’s excellent writing click here to read one of her articles for Best Daily . Milli Hill is a freelance writer and weekly columnist for BestDaily.co.uk. She is the founder of the The Positive Birth Movement You can follow her on Twitter: @millihill
The book is also available to buy from wordery and direct from Milli Hill here
In Part 1 I spoke of my journey from unreadiness to readiness, from worry to inner calm, and from obsession over my long, long list of ‘absolute essentials’ to complete before birth should happen, to no worry and no list.
I spoke of my growing ability to rest, relax and allow readiness to be.
I spoke of learning surrender to the unknown and trust as I birthed my child and dropping my to do lists in favour of actually doing, with ease and flow.
In part 2 I am sharing with you how I made this significant transition with relative ease using NPA, a tool I also use in my 1:1 sessions to facilitate powerful transformation. The shift that evening from feeling distinctly NOT ready and worried about how to get everything sorted in time, to going into labour and giving birth from a place of being ready was almost instantaneous, quite surprising and has had long lasting deepening effects on me and my ability to take action.
NPA stands for Non Personal Awareness, a deceptively simple yet enormously effective tool that brings you into harmony and flow with what truly matters to you. It is a short six line process that effortlessly aligns the energy of your experience, releasing blocks and stuckness and allowing into your experience that which you’ve been keeping at bay. Alternatively as Joel Young, the creator and custodian of NPA, taught it to me, “letting the yucky stuff out and letting the yummy stuff in.” He describes non personal awareness as a living, breathing perspective says,
For those intrigued and eager to try it out click here to read more about NPA and download a free worksheet. For those remaining keep reading to discover some of the possibilities of NPA in action with my story of clearing needless worry about being ready and another glimpse into some of the intimate details of the birth of my second child.
On the evening in question having cleaned the bathroom, (Job 1 on the endless list of essential preparations according to the worried, time pressured and desperately nesting version of me.) I’d settled in to a conference call evening of NPA sharing with the NPA Community. The Theme that evening was birth!
During the call I spent an enjoyable hour bringing in the energies of confidence and trust. Throughout my pregnancy these two themes were pretty constant companions and the focus of much of the inner clearing work I was doing to prepare for the arrival of my child. By the night of the 24th June I was feeling confident in my body, I trusted my ability to birth. I had negotiated numerous hurdles and challenges along the way that had all served to help me to consciously choose the circumstances of my birth from an empowered grounded inner strength and to trust in these decisions.
Yet I still wasn’t fully relaxed and enjoying that in-between time of a fully formed baby inside an expectant mother enjoying the last twilight hours of their shared physical existence before the next chapter begins. I was aware of a persistent niggling worry about what I still had to do in order to be ready. Accompanied by an equally insistent murmur in the recesses of my mind about the potential pitfalls of not knowing my midwife. These unhelpful thoughts battled with the deeper sense of trust and confidence I felt when I tuned in. Try as I might, I couldn’t banish them completely and I was restless. I was worried about unknown factors I couldn’t fathom or plan for by their very nebulous unfounded nature, even as I was aware of trust in the universe and in my body.
This background noise and tension was not so loud but was real nonetheless and resided just under the surface of my day to day awareness. I had been doing what most of us have a tendency to do from time to time, pushing it to one side and ignoring it, telling myself I was being daft. As usual the universe had my back and was bringing me answers to my deep prayers almost before I was aware of what I needed.
In this case it brought me help in the form of two NPA ‘cookie cutters’ borrowed from a friend. That’s right, they weren’t even mine initially. Another thing I have learnt. I don’t have to be the one to know or come up with all the answers. The answers will come and will be available if I am listening and remain open. Back to the current story though. As I heard my friend share her experience with the energy of ‘The Unknown’ and ‘Being Ready’ I knew with a strong intuitive hit in my gut that these were ‘mine’ too.
I put the phone down and took both phrases through the NPA words.
First up ‘The Unknown.’
All my fears about not knowing which midwife would be on duty and that something untoward may occur and endanger my birth choices surfaced. Crazy thoughts that giving birth the first time was just a fluke and I would totally fail at it this time. Panic and terror at not knowing what was coming next and whether I could handle it overwhelmed me.
I sat still.
I felt it would last forever. I nearly despaired.
I sat still some more.
I smiled as joy bubbled through the mist. I relaxed as inner peace dispersed the mist. I was at peace with not knowing, not knowing what would happen in my birth experience, when it would start, who would be there, content to wait out the future. It had been perhaps 5 minutes but it could have been hours or a lifetime. I didn’t care.
This shift is simple to write in just a few line. Easy to read fast, gloss over and keep reading. I invite you to read it again and let it sink in. Imagine how it would feel to be living with fear as the backdrop and then imagine the contrast of living from a peaceful place. Really, I invite you to take some time to appreciate the depth of this through my words as I can’t begin to do justice with how transformative for me this change in perspective was at this time. This kind of shift has been my repeated experience with taking time to do inner work with tools such as NPA.
With a greater sense of ease in myself I moved onto NPA cookie cutter number 2 ‘Being Ready.’ This was quieter and more subtle yet with immediate measurable effect.
I stopped thinking about the list.
It was not today’s concern.
This was totally unexpected.
Ironic really. I know how effective this tool is. It was a cookie cutter on ‘being ready’ right?
So I shift into a place of being ready and what happens? Yes, straight into labour.
I was ready.
I tried to tell myself it might be Braxton Hicks and it might stop and start and I had a few days or even weeks left yet.
But no, my body knew differently.
Just four hours later my baby popped out (quite literally with a popping sound and a big splash!) into my waiting hands, slippery and warm to my fingers, crying already as I brought him in close to my heart. Quickly soothed by enthusiastic suckling, we gazed at each other. My delighted and euphoric laughter echoed round the bathroom as my husband stared in astonishment. ( He thought I needed water or something when I shouted for him to come.)
Very shortly, I was ready again; this time for some well deserved rest as I dropped off to sleep cradling my newborn in a warm cosy after-birth glow, deeply satisfied and powerfully transformed by the surprising turn of events that evening.
Further information about Joel Young NPA can be found here.
Click here to download The NPA Process Sheet for FREE and see for yourself what is possible.
The links in this article for Joel Young are affiliate links. The NPA technique is so powerful and deserves to be more widely known and used.
For assistance on your own journey to birth with confidence and trust click here to learn about working with me in BirthEssence Mother Nurture 1:1 sessions.
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