Here are my reflections on 2021. It’s easy to focus on what we are not doing, and forget all the amazing things we have done and learnt through the year. We do hard things. We forget. We rarely appreciate our own growth. I write my yearly review primarily for myself, as it gives me a very useful opportunity to reflect. I chose to share it in the hope that it will provide inspiration to others.
As a culture we are often too focused on the future, the goals, the forward. Allowing time for learning and reflection is an important part of personal growth.
In 2020 I started the process of really embodying the idea that making time for self care is something that needs to go before the myriads of daily tasks, otherwise the time for this never comes, and we become overwhelmed and stressed.
In 2021 I took this further, by working with new mentors who helped me towards managing my business and my time in a way that feels more doable and sustainable. For the first time in my life I feel that I can create a regular income from a place of stillness and calm.
My word for the year for 2021, was alignment, and my god did it prove to be true!
I could also re-use the “stretched between gratitude and grief” title that I used for 2020 because the same theme emerged in 2021.
This blog is quite a long read, so you might want to settle down with a cup of tea before you read it!
Things I feel grateful for
During the first couple of months of 2021, because of the lockdown in the UK, I couldn’t go swimming in the swimming pool as I normally do twice a week. I took up early morning running instead (I don’t love running, but it’s a mean to an end to keep fit), as well as carrying on with my early morning drumming practise in the woods. Because of this I saw many magical sunrises over the local nature reserves. I remember feeling angry and frustrated about the repeated lockdown at first, and forcing myself to look at things from a gratitude angle. I restarted a gratitude journal I shared on social media, to keep myself accountable and help me look at things from a more positive angle (which makes me think I need to restart it). Those early morning sunrises felt like a gift, as if nature was telling me: look if you’d been at the pool you would have missed this!
Being in nature helped me in 2021 as it had helped me in 2020. This poem by Wendell Berry says it well:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
There were many floods and some frost and snow during the first two months of 2021 in Cambridge, and being the year round outdoor swimmer I have become I found myself stupidly excited at the prospect of swimming in the snow, and in the flooded river, wading knee deep in water to get to the riverbed, with a friend who was as crazy as me!
In that quiet, inward time of winter I also took part several Freedom dance workshops online, one of which was a 21 day challenge with Alex Svoboda, which was a 30min dance at the start of every morning for 21 days. It was very powerful and transformative. Every day we danced to a different enquiry, for example staying with one’s dance when working with a partner, or noticing our expectations. Then we were encouraged to carry on with that enquiry for the rest of our day. I embarked on the challenge slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to fit it into my day but I loved every minute of it.
Later in the year, I resumed dancing outdoors like I had done in 2020, sometimes streaming a teacher’s zoom class on the meadows with a speaker, sometimes taking part in an organised dance in the woods, silent disco style, sometimes in a friend’s garden. One of the highlights of the year was a 3 days dance gathering camping week end by the sea in Suffolk. I took my daughter with me, and we were delighted to be upgraded for free from a hobbit hut to a 2 bedroom cabin with kitchen and bathroom! My daughter had a fantastic time hanging out with the other kids in the double decker glamping bus and on the beach, having a truly free range week end and only returning for meals and sleep. I filled my connection cup to overflowing dancing, drumming around the fire, swimming in the sea, and generally hanging out with a group of conscious people I love. In September dancing resumed indoors for the first time since March 2020. I was amazed by this first session it for several reasons. First I realised how far I’d come in my dance practise since the lockdown in March 2020, and with nearly 2 years of weekly practise. I also realised that most of the people in the community were strangers back in March 2020, and had now become close friends. The first session was with Alex who is one of my favourite conscious dancing teachers. I realised how much I’d missed dancing within a indoor space, where the sound and the energy of the group is held within a container and the sound reverberate from the walls. It was truly exhilarating and it felt like that exhilaration was shared by the group, as if we all danced 2 years worth of pent up energy together. I loved every minute of it.
Another new healing practise I experienced this year was rolfing, which is a form of deep tissue and fascia release. I had the recommended 10 sessions with the wonderful Rebecca. I walked away from each session feeling very relaxed, and all where a very interesting personal exploration, which allowed me to be even more present in my body.
In 2021 took part in many land based rituals celebrating the wheel of the year and the moon cycles. This gave me further cementing in my connection to the land, the cycle of the seasons and myself. I also meant that, along with my drumming practise, ceremonial work became really embedded into my daily life.
I also had, for the first time since I was a child, a group of friends organise a surprise birthday party for me, in which I felt utterly celebrated. As well as giving me gifts and a chocolate cake decorated with crystals, my friends took turn in telling me what they appreciated about me. I went home with my heart full and felt this should be something everybody receives on their birthday.
I swum a 2.5km stretch of the river cam in one go as part of an organised event.
In August I visited France and felt very grateful to finally see many parents after a year, despite the stresses of navigating the testing requirements and forever changing rules. As we couldn’t travel to Spain to be by the sea as we used to, I made a point to swim in as many new wild bodies of water as possible, discovering and swimming in several new wild water spots nearby. The highlight was finding this magical river spot about 40 min drive away, with a pebble beach, a high bridge and crystal clear, warm waters. We loved it so much we went several times for the whole day.
I got myself a very special birth drum which has a carving matching my birthing tattoo, increasing my forever growing collection of drums. I ran drumming circles outdoor, and as I had done with the dancing, I realised how far I had come from being a nervous overpreparing person when I ran my first one in February 2020, to feeling relaxed and competent and within my zone of genius.
In December I attended a 3 day retreat with a group of doulas I love, in South Wales. We put the birth world to rights, took a long walk to a beautiful waterfall (where a scene from the Robinhood movie with Kevin Costner was filmed), we danced, sung, drummed, and hung out in the wood fired hot tub. Heaven.
This year, more than ever, I feel grateful for this year is animals. I have a deep connection to animals, with dogs being my favourite. My daughter had been begging for a dog for years but with the unpredictability of being on call and my husband being against owning a dog, it didn’t feel possible. In June I helped a close friend get ready for a long trip to the USA. She was stressed as her plans to have someone look after her dog weren’t panning out. I offered to look after her dog, and to my amazement my husband agreed. We had this lovely cockapoo living in our home for 5 weeks. It brought some challenges, especially as I was on call and I attended a birth during that time. Mostly though, it brought us joy and increased the sense of connection within my family. My husband, who had been totally against the idea, was quickly converted, especially when the dog slept on his feet as he ran counselling sessions on zoom. I could see how healing the dog’s presence was for my daughter. In September, I bumped into the most beautiful female golden retriever near my favourite swimming spot, and the owner told me they were going to breed her. We are getting one of her puppies in February.
During January and February, my kid’s school insisted that they attend remote lessons for 6h a day. Being cooped up in their rooms on their computer all day didn’t do their mental health any good, plus they only had 40 min for lunch so our entire house had to run around their schedule like a military operation. When they weren’t logged in the school attendance officer would call us and it wasn’t a pleasant call. My youngest’s mental health took a nose dive and she became so anxious she could no longer leave the house. With hindsight I wish I had said no to this forced 6h online “learning”. In Early March Schools reopened after lockdown my daughter was too anxious to return. We got the support of a very kind woman at the school, and a slow phased return in place. I put all my work on hold and spent the next 6 weeks almost exclusively supporting my daughter. She was often too anxious to even leave the house let alone go to school. School would call within an hour of her starting the day asking us to pick her up as she wasn’t coping. My husband and I had to rearrange all our work at a moment’s notice. Bearing in mind that our daughter had been a happy, outgoing, independent child before and used to go to school by herself from year 5 onwards, this proved a challenge for us, and caused me a lot of worry and stress. We spoke to a GP, who referred her to CAMH, and CAMH rejected the support saying it wasn’t severe enough. When I asked the GP was constituted severe enough, she replied “kids that are actually acting their thoughts”. We tried to find a therapist. It took 6 weeks to find someone who fitted the bill. Even private therapists where overrun with demands. My husband is a trained counsellor and volunteers for a young people’s mental health charity, and they were received an unprecedented level of requests. In the midst of this, I also felt some gratitude towards the fact that both myself and my husband have a fair understanding of mental health, and could afford private support. Once I got a therapist sorted for my daughter, I fell apart and realised that I needed help myself, because my daughter’s suffering caused me distress, and started to seek a therapist for myself. I went through a long trial and error process too, trying to find the right person who had availability. Through a local friend I found Inger Madsden who specialises in supporting anxious teenagers and their parents, using EFT. I was sceptical at first because I had only experienced EFT in groups and I had not been particularly impressed. However, working with Inger, I had one deeply transformative experience after the other of unlayering trauma and feelings. I know it wasn’t just the technique itself that helped but the expertise and compassion that Inger offered me.
My daughter’s challenges are far from over. The woman supporting her at the school mentioned autism in June. I was dismissive at first. Then I started reading into it and realised that I had a very narrow understanding of what neurodiversity actually is. After many months of reading and taking to so many people, I now believe that I have ADHD and that my husband, son and daughter have autism. We are seeking a private diagnostic for our daughter in order to get the appropriate support in place. Even going privately we have to wait 3 months for this. The waiting list for NHS diagnosis is about 2 years in my area.
The kind woman who was supporting my daughter left the school in October as the school treated her so badly. She wasn’t replaced with anyone that my daughter has felt safe with, so she hasn’t been able to attend more than an hour or two of school a couple of times since then. The school threatened us for lack of attendance, whilst also not providing the support we know our daughter needs. We have enrolled the support of a SEND specialist to help us navigate the complexities of getting the right education support. I call her a SEND doula. This has given me a whole new level of empathy for the mothers I support through navigating maternity care, and for my own expertise in this area, because acquiring the knowledge to navigate such a new area feels like a full time job, and the parallels between the two systems (in particular the fact that you are expected to comply to a system that actively harms you, and threatened if you do not comply) are truly mind-blowing
In 2021 I carried on working with Louise Miller. Through working with Louise, I learnt to connect to my vision in a holistic way first, then flow everything else from this. I finally learnt to develop a regular rhythm of work and life planning that worked for me (after many years of trying things out that did not quite fit me), and I felt ready to do it on my own by the middle of the year. It is quite simple and it fits with the approach that going “top down” is paramount if one wants to stay focused on their purpose and vision. Every 3 months, I have a session to plan my goals, in a bird’s eye view fashion. Then I do the same at the beginning of every month, then every week, then daily. What I’ve loved in working with Louise is that she holds the space for people in her session, in a very gentle and empowering way, much like a to-do list doula! I value the dedicated space it gave me very much. One of the side practises I developed myself from this was to start writing a “ta-da” list, which is a quick list of everything I’ve done work and life wise that week. It only takes 5 min, but it makes a big difference in reflecting and realising that I’ve done a lot of things, especially when it feels like I haven’t. I wrote a blog about this.
The biggest impact on my business this year, was starting to work with authentic marketing and joyful productivity mentor George Kao.
This has been the best decision I have made for my business. Before I came across George, I felt that marketing was manipulative and yucky. As someone for whom authenticity and integrity are the most important values this was a big challenge. George is like a zen master of business (literally, as he is very calming, see for example this video where he interviews me about what working with him did for me). He showed me how I can offer my work from a place of authenticity and alignment, in service to my clients and audience. He explains this well in this blog. I joined his training to learn about marketing, but I didn’t expect that I would also learn how to make my business more joyful, authentic, productive, and sustainable. I loved the first course I attended so much that I joined his small group programme, and in there I got to know a whole new bunch of solopreneurs who share my values. I loved the fantastic supportive energy from the group.
The results from enrolling in George’s programme speak for themselves: I ran my first free webinar in February, with over 300 enrolees and 115 attending. In the webinar I was able to offer my new online course and it felt completely comfortable and true to me rather than cringe-worthy and uncomfortable like before. I ran another 7 webinars after this one. I learnt to share content with more regularity, because I was encouraged to treat it as a ministry as opposed to try and sell stuff. Deep down that was always why I had shared blogs, social media stuff and writing. In 2021 I wrote 34 blog posts (as opposed to 13 in 2020), and many more short texts posts on Facebook. I also shared over 150 posts on Instagram (and despite this it felt natural as opposed to stressful), and saw my audience grow organically from 1700 to 2500. I am also not longer interested in growing my audience for “likes” sake, as I’d rather only have people on there that actually want to hear what I’ve got to say. Thanks to George, I no longer gauge my value (or the value of what I share) based on how my audience reacts to what I share, rather I see it as a service and an exploration. I find this so freeing, like all the pressure has been removed and I can finally share stuff from a place of flow and relaxation.
I am finally able to start seeing a way forward in making my business sustainable in a way that feels doable as opposed to overwhelming.
I have also being asked to lead a small team in George’s masterheart group in 2022. Being chosen by someone of such deep knowledge and values feels very validating to be asked to do this by such a master in the field.
In 2021, I launched 2 new online courses : one based on my book called Why postnatal recovery matters, and a postnatal rebozo massage, aka closing the bones course to a beta “early adopter” group (I am going to launch the completed course this month). I also ran a new live course on running mother blessings, and a handful of live workshops. I reshot all the tutorial videos for my closing the bones course, my postnatal recovery massage course, and the also the ones for my rebozo online course which I plan to re-launch in 2022.
I ran several mother blessings ceremonies for expectant women. I loved crafting a bespoke ceremony for each of them, inviting their friends to share special stories with them, to give them birth wishes and pledges of postpartum support, and holding the space for a circle which felt deeply touching for all involved.
I also gave about 40 closing the bones ceremonies to new and not to new mothers.
I imported and sold many rebozos from Mexico, and I even had a new womb belt custom woven to my request by one of my suppliers.
My book, Why postnatal recovery matters, which was published in 2020, went for its second print in July this year, which means that over 2000 copies had already sold within less than a year. It is now also published in Italian, and the German and French translations are underway. It currently has 81 Five star reviews on Amazon.
Doula wise in 2021 I supported 8 families through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum. This year brought another fair share of challenges however. Until June I still wasn’t able to be present at births in the hospital due to one partner only restrictions. I still went on call and supported families over the phone during labour. As I explained in last year’s review, I knew I was still making a difference, but it was very frustrating, and removing a lot of the joy that this job normally gives. From July onwards, although my local hospital never relaxed the one partner rule, the majority of clients managed to obtain an exemption by writing a letter to the hospital, based on a letter similar to the AIMS template.
From May onwards I started to notice that the hospital staff was stretched beyond anything I had seen in 10 years in this field. Midwives were on their knees, leaving and taking long term sick leaves, and the problem was compounded further by the new continuity of care model which was pushed through but not adequately funded. Midwives and doctors were also told to self isolate over and over as close covid contacts. The local hospital was on divert (when they direct labouring women to other hospitals as they are at full capacity) more than ever before. The lack of staff also meant that midwifes from the birth centre and the homebirth team would get pulled into the delivery unit, which became the only place of birth option (if opened). The rates of induction and caesarean went through the roof (in my local hospital induction went up from 25% in 2019 to about 35% in mid 2021 (with a high of 39% in May 2021). Caesarean rate went from 28% to about 35%. Early this year, new draft NICE guidelines for induction of labour suggested that the majority of the population should be induced at 39 weeks (see my blog on this). Pregnant women are being told they might not be able to send them a midwife for their homebirth. I heard of women in labour being directed to Birmingham (from Cambridge, because all the other local hospitals were also on divert). And I also heard of many births before arrival (when babies are born before a midwife arrives, at home).
Most of my clients were being pushed towards a medicalised delivery unit birth or induction. I suspect this was because of the staffing issues described above. More and more clients were told that their labour would need to be induced early, and coerced into consenting by making threats about stillbirth. Whilst I am used to this type of coercive behaviour, I saw it reaching proportions never seen before since 2010. In parallel, the local health professionals that I used to direct my clients to as trusted, women-centred people, no longer seemed to be supportive, and started using the same coercive tactics as everyone else.
I’m accustomed to supporting people who want to birth outside of the guidelines and encounter resistance for this. In the past this would be true for a few clients per year. This year it was true for every single client, and I witnessed a level of coercion that I had never seen before. I had to help all my clients make plans for if the hospital was closed. I supported one to make a formal complaint against several local health professionals for coercion. I also had to support every single client in fighting to get my presence at their birth authorised. I was even asked to leave the room at a homebirth, when the local policy only allowed one birth partner in people’s own home (what a ridiculous thing to try and enforce).
There were beautiful moments too despite all this, especially when the women I supported got their birth choices respected and I got to witness them getting the birth they wanted, against all odds.
Being a birth doula has always been a job with high challenges and high rewards. Being on call and supporting women through a broken maternity system isn’t for the faint hearted. In 2021, however, this was the first time since I became a doula when the balance of stress versus joy really tilted the other way (even more so than in 2020). I’ve decided that I am going to stop working a birth doula this year. I have a couple of birth clients who I still look forward to supporting, and I will write a separate post to explain the reasons behind my decision in more details, because it deserves its own reflective piece and explanation.
In 2021 I loved running many mother blessings for clients and friends. I found it very rewarding to create a beautiful ceremony to celebrate the mother, and hold the space for people to express their love and support for the birth and postpartum. During many of these I and the attendees were moved to tears. I loved it so much that I ended creating a live course and teach a group of birthworkers. This was a new process for me, because, encouraged by what George Kao says, I sold the spaces in the course before I even created the course content, and I then wrote the entire teaching plan in the space of two weeks. For the first time in my life, I deliberately chose to avoid checking other people’s work and write solely from my own knowledge. I found the process exhilarating, because until I started writing I hadn’t quite realised how much I knew. There was way too much to fit in a day! As I wrote stuff, struggling to write fast enough to keep up with all the ideas pouring out of my head, I also delighted in the fact that I had managed to reduce the impostor syndrome down to almost zero.
I loved the experience so much that I intend to use this model every time going forward. I’m also excited at the different angle and depth of knowledge that teaching something (as opposed to doing something) brings.
I got incredible feedback from my students, who found it hard to believe this was the first time I taught this course. One of them, who had trained with me before, even told me that it was the best course I had ever taught.
I had a sense that it was important and felt good to teach this way because, for the first time I taught something that was entirely me as opposed to inspired by other people. Doing this I believe also empowers students to do the same.
This inspired me to start offering impostor syndrome coaching sessions for birthworkers, for which I receive great feedback.
I want to keep using this model for future courses. I plan to teach many things in 2022, for instance I want to teach intuitive healing techniques as opposed to the formal systems I have trained in, because it feels more in alignment with my values and how I want to encourage others to trust themselves rather than following a rigid set of steps. I also have a small group programme in the making which I plan to offer in the Spring. Watch this space!
My word for 2022 is opening. I’m curious to see what will unfold.