‘I don’t hold one type of birth as being the ideal’
Niamh Healy was a chemical engineer. After becoming a mother, she retrained and now works in several roles relating to pregnancy, birth and early parenting
Niamh Healy: ‘It’s a privilege to show parents-to-be just how much they can influence the birth of their babies by changing how they think.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley
I have been working as an antenatal teacher for 10 years and try to confine my working day to during school hours. So I start work as soon as my youngest heads off to school at about 8.30am or so. I’ll check emails and posts on my work Facebook groups but after that I’ll start on whatever is most pressing, which could be in any of my roles.
Since 2013, I have been one of the tutors on Cuidiú’s Antenatal Teacher Training Programme and I relish that role. It’s a long course – a minimum of 2½ years – and we currently have 15 students who will be teaching almost nationwide. So this is an exciting time right now as some of our students are doing their teaching practice before qualifying.
One of the most important themes in the antenatal classes is empowering parents to make informed decisions which are right for their family. Every week someone at one of my classes mentions something their caregiver (obstetrician or midwife) said to them which they have taken as fact.
Very often, others in the class say they had a different experience with a different caregiver or in a different hospital. We discuss how policies can vary from unit to unit and how to discuss options with caregivers in the best way to get the most information on which to base an informed decision.
There are many options open, but women and their partners need to feel comfortable in discussing them with their caregivers rather than feeling like the control has been taken out of their hands. Parents feel happier if they have been involved in making decisions.
It’s a privilege to show parents-to-be just how much they can influence the birth of their babies by changing how they think.
I also facilitate GentleBirth workshops. It is different from my usual antenatal classes because there is an emphasis on brain training for birth which I find both fascinating and exciting.
The brain training elements include changing unconscious thought patterns using hypnosis and affirmations, changing conscious thought patterns using mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and sports psychology.
My tutoring work is very comprehensive and varied, from preparing financial information to making budgeting decisions, through to marking written assignments, reviewing assignment guidelines and preparing for the next tutorial.
We currently have students at different stages of their training who are all working and learning together. The benefits of this type of mixed training are that the new students learn not just from the tutors but also from the other students.
Established students benefit from the energy, passion, enthusiasm and fresh ideas which the new students bring. And all our students are mature students, so they are bringing their life and career experiences into their training and teaching.
The training programme and all Cuidiú antenatal classes involve current adult education principles so we minimise lecture time and maximise opportunities for learning in groups, for building skills, confidence and motivation.
No two weeks are the same in my job and there are always inquires to answer, bookings to arrange and people to inform so I try to keep our Facebook page interesting with useful articles for parents and parents-to-be.
My connection with new mums doesn’t stop once their baby has arrived. I usually get to find out how their births went and it’s very uplifting to hear that they put into practice what they learned from me. Maybe it was relaxation, a breathing or massage technique or a way to make informed decisions.
On Thursdays I teach locally during the day – a morning class of Relax, Stretch, Breathe and an afternoon class for baby massage. Very often mothers who are attending the pregnancy antenatal classes come along to do infant massage classes and that’s especially nice as we already have a connection.
On the other side of the coin, the worst part of my job is when I hear of parents feeling pressurised into a course of action which is not evidence-based but where they felt frightened into doing it.
If I had a magic wand and could change something about my work, it would be to teach more during the school week as currently almost all my teaching and tutoring hours happen on what should be family time – evenings and weekends.
So it is quite difficult to have a fixed working week and often I will find myself at the computer in the evening when I should be enjoying some downtime with my family.
Also, I am on several closed Facebook groups for work purposes and it’s very tempting to get involved in discussions as they arise instead of having the discipline to wait until the times I consider my official working hours.
I work from home which can be very convenient, but can also be quite isolating so I am lucky that I have colleagues I can contact to discuss issues. Overall my different roles of antenatal educator and tutor, massage instructor and GentleBirth instructor make my life very busy, but also very rewarding.
Out of hours I enjoy yoga and Pilates. I’m a fair weather walker as I find it hard to motivate myself to head out into the cold, wind or rain even though I know the old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.
So I’m better if I have a walking buddy – I can’t talk myself out of it then.
As parents of two teenagers and a pre-teen, Paul and I have to work hard to come up with activities to suit the whole family. We try to find something on TV or a film we can all watch together or go out for the occasional meal.
It’s a challenging time compared with when they were younger but we’re muddling through like everyone else out there.