How was your first labour? Was there lots of fabulous breathing, serenity, essential oil and face-misting? Did you feel in control? Or, despite 20 hours lugging pillows into NCT classes holding grubby, dismembered Tiny Tears dolls and being told no-one was going to mess with your labouring, Mama-Bear self, was birth a vagina-destroying mess, full of drugs (if you’re lucky!) and absolutely no control whatsoever? I didn’t unpack my case for 3 days. And as for the face mist spray…
I haven’t talked about the details of my first labour since it happened. It seems self-indulgent when almost everyone I know had a fairly bad time. (Aside from the baby-exiting, sheer joy part.) By the time the baby is out, and all is ok, you’re onto an endless stream of well-meaning women flattening your boobs to feed. And you’ve never tried so hard to do anything in your LIFE. And you’re on your own.
I spoke to Caroline about the difficulties new parents face. ‘Women are struggling – not just women – men as well. Unsupported through birth trauma, breastfeeding, post-natal depression and the implications from all of that. They may have difficulty with bonding and feeling isolated, finding friendships with other mums….it just keeps going…poor body image, post natal nutrition issues.’
If you are a Mum in West London, its likely that you have been lucky enough to come across the lovely Caroline Barber. Known to many as ‘baby massage Caroline’ – this rather undersells her extensive skill set. If you haven’t met her, then hopefully you will. There are few people with such a natural empathy and ability to provide the space for you to talk.
Caroline has created a business which truly works to help. A Recognised Doula, Certified Infant Massage & Baby Yoga Instructor and a Babywearing Consultant (alongside the Chiswick Sling Library), Caroline works with many families providing ongoing postnatal care and support, particularly in the first year following birth. She also co-founded the Bub Hub with Claire Maguire, where they invite local people to work alongside them and support women post-natally.
‘I was a Social Worker. I worked for a number of London Boroughs in the fields of Child Protection, Disability, Schools and Fostering. I was always interested in the more therapeutic side of the work and found the nature of working with clients on an involuntary basis such a challenge.
‘I first decided to learn to be a Baby Massage Instructor when I couldn’t find a suitable class to take my baby to. All classes were at unsuitable times, in cold church halls, and generally didn’t feel accessible. My business really spiralled after that, going in all directions, to make support for new families available, accessible and supportive. The NHS is wonderful for so many things, but seriously lacks resources for postnatal care and support. And while my business is accessed privately, I do feel that I make postnatal support accessible and sociable, often reaching isolated new parents.’
‘I found so many don’t have families nearby. People in London are from so many different countries and there is so little support. They go back to work and that’s it. And not everyone loves their ante-natal group. These parents are often passed from pillar to post and spend so much money and waste so much time.’
The isolation of mothers is much more widely talked about now, yet still a chronic issue for so many. Several years ago in my first NCT class, the teacher was telling us about a wonderful scheme providing Doulas to young immigrant parents coming to the UK who had no family nearby. How many of you have family within 5,10…100 miles she asked? Out of 10 of us, only 1 raised her hand. Not, of course, to draw comparisons between women seeking asylum and the fortunate women of leafy West London but she was making a point about loneliness, fear and what it means to be a new mother hundreds of miles away from family.
And its something Caroline comes across all too often. ‘I did my Doula training after chatting to loads of women who had had horrid births. It’s quite intensive training and I am now a Recognised Postnatal Doula and have supported countless families with their newborn babies.’
Caroline also trained in the 3-step Rewind technique and holds the Babyem Qualification in Postnatal Depression. She offers 1:1 sessions where clients work together around birth, birth trauma, difficult or unsettling feelings and birth memories.
‘West London Babies is pretty simple really. Simplicity has been my ethos all along. I work from home, during the week, and work around my own family, and by pure luck and chance, this works well for new parents and their babies. The Chiswick Sling Library is often the first meeting I have with new parents. Babywearing is often another huge point of confusion for new parents – they want to keep their babies close but just don’t know quite how to do so safely for them all!
I love the work I do, and I often find it odd to call it “work”, it is my passion to work postnatally. Truly heart-centred work!’
THE BAKER’S DOZEN
What is – or has been – your greatest struggle (either personal or professional)? Balancing my family’s needs with my own needs, and reminding myself that my business is a business, not a charity.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? A professional swimmer.
Best advice ever received and from whom? From my mum: Love instils and creates Love.
Who do you most admire? My children, they remind me to keep things simple and clear.
What keeps you up at night? Our rabbit, my husbands snoring, and the fighting foxes.
When were you happiest? Oooh… too many days and times to count. I am lucky that way!
Favourite object you possess? My sun lamp – I am Australian, solar-powered, and need sunshine everyday.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? ‘I love you’.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you? Don’t take anything for granted.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? Nutella.
What change do you hope for in your lifetime? Changes in maternity care, equality, peace, sustainability.
Who could help you next? I think I can help myself, I just need the time and headspace to think.
Please recommend a brilliant female-led brand or business you have used recently. I follow Suzy Ashworth, and am due to attend a conference with her later this year.