Becoming a mother is one of the most transformational times in a woman’s life. Sadly, it is a rite of passage that is too often navigated alone, with partners working long hours in the role of ‘provider’ for the family and new mothers feeling isolated and abandoned as they become the full-time carer of their newborn child.
This is an all too familiar story that I experienced first-hand, following the birth of my first baby. I was left feeling lonely and desperate for the company of like-hearted women. The transition from career woman to mother had quickly followed my relocation from England to Australia, where I had no family, friends or connections within the unknown world of parenting. My partner was a loving and supportive father, but he was also creating a new business, in a new city, with all the demands that go hand-in-hand with a start-up.
During the endlessly long days of early motherhood I wished for a group of friends with similar interests; I longed to share the challenges and the joys as my daughter grew. What I was not aware of at the time, was my craving for connection went hand-in-hand with the natural hormonal boost of oxytocin following birth, making connection a vital key in the health and wellbeing of new mothers.
My intention to meet other mothers was fulfilled when I joined a Homebirth Group and later attended my first women’s circle where babies were welcomed. The seed was firmly planted to create a safe space for women to connect, and together with a friend I set up a women’s group for pregnant and new mothers to meet. We sat in circle fortnightly, shared our feelings, laughed, cried and walked alongside each other as we navigated the path of parenting. Intimate bonds were formed and these dear women are still my closest friends today, even though our children are now grown and have flown the nest.
Start at the beginning with pregnancy circles
As prenatal yoga teachers or birth professionals, we are in the ideal position to build community through offering a relaxed space of connection in the form of a Pregnancy Circle. This can be a place for women to get to know each other during pregnancy and form friendships that may continue into early motherhood. In the late 80’s, founder of the Active Birth Movement, Janet Balaskas, offered ‘tea and birth’ chats following her prenatal yoga classes in London. This quickly became a way for women to share pregnancy stories, ideas for managing labour and express their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental space.
Mother of three, Sarah Holroyd Hill, who sat in support circles with each of her pregnancies and now holds circles herself, shares;
“Sitting in circle during my pregnancy connects me with the women who are always holding me. It reminded me of the innate wisdom in our bodies and it taught me to trust myself and my community.”
Creating a circle for your birthing community, or adding one to your yoga timetable, can bring a richness to your own experience of working with women. A key element is to allow time for each person to share their feelings if they choose. It is worthwhile reading up on the practice of active listening before facilitating your first circle, giving advice is not usually encouraged as often a person will come to a deeper understanding of themselves simply by sharing their feelings. Another essential ingredient is the ‘code of confidentiality’, asking all members to agree not to share personal information/stories outside the circle.
Here are some ideas to consider when setting up a Pregnancy Circle:
Consider how you would like the women to feel when they attend your circle and create an intention / purpose for the gathering. You may wish to have a topic for each circle, share your knowledge on a particular birth-related issue or allow the shared experience of the group to guide the discussion. You can also invite guest speakers, e.g. doulas, midwives, childbirth educators, breastfeeding consultants.
You may hold the circle at the yoga studio which is already familiar to the women, at an easy to find a venue nearby or in your home. Holding circles outside in nature is lovely, but you will need a Plan B for the weather. Creating a focal point or simple altar in the centre is a welcoming touch as is providing water, herbal teas or nourishing light snacks.
While coming together in person is of course ideal, it unfortunately isn’t always possible. Using one of the online platforms we now have available to us, such as Zoom, is a great alternative way to gather, and also expands the circle beyond the restrictions of physical distance.
Frequency / Fees:
Decide what works best for you personally, in terms of your own schedule. Fortnightly (new/full moon) or monthly circles are common, however, for a Pregnancy Circle, weekly may feel more supportive as women journey through the trimesters with different issues arising. If this feels like a big commitment, consider sharing the facilitation responsibility with a co-teacher or friend. Fees will relate to your location; you can also offer incentives to purchase a ‘circle pass’. Donation-based circles are a generous gift but do consider your own time and costs.
Numbers / Open or Closed:
From many years of facilitating circles, I have found 8 – 11 participants a good number to allow each person time to share. My general guide for running a circle is a minimum of 4 people to create a foundation for bonding. Pregnancy circles are always going to be cyclic with the women embracing many changes and ultimately birthing. This makes an open circle preferable where members can come along when they wish or if a particular topic interests them.
A regular structure will make women feel more at home. This can be a simple opening /grounding meditation, a round of ’gratitude’ or a reflection on what has been positive / negative or gold / shadow in recent times. These brief shares begin to ‘warm-up’ the group to each other for deeper expression later. Ending with a word or phrase to sum up what they are taking away creates a sense of completion.
Holding a circle is a gift to the women (and babies!) in your community, a sacred space where you can witness friendships flourish and a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. When you are ready to take the first step, remember the tradition of sitting in circle goes back to our ancestors and continues to hold women safely through rites of passage around the world.
Anna Watts is a beloved Bliss Baby Yoga presenter, who features in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course, sharing her wisdom and experience in various aspects of pregnancy and birth including the Stages of Labour, Interventions During Labour & Conscious Caesarean, Yoga Nidra for Pregnancy and Yoga Nidra for New Mothers.
Anna is the founder of Celebration of Birth Doula Academy. She is a Sacred Birth Educator, Doula Trainer, Counsellor and has held women’s circles for over 30 years. The Academy offers Sacred Birth Doula and Postnatal Doula trainings for both new and experienced doulas to explore birth as a journey of transformation and healing. Please visit the website for training dates and information about her personal sessions, in person or via Skype anywhere in the world – www.celebrationofbirth.com.
- www.alistewartphotography.com, with thanks to www.sarahholroydhill.com (pictured)
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