When Nadine Richardson was pregnant with her son 16 years ago, she dutifully signed up to a three-month antenatal program and went into labour thinking she was ready for birth. What happened next left her reeling. “I gave birth and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I was not prepared for that at all’ – and neither was my partner,” she recalls.
Rattled by the experience, Nadine began looking for answers. A yoga teacher who had been accepted into medical school before turning to documentary filmmaking, Nadine was convinced there was something missing in antenatal education. “My birth was very long and very challenging and it required medical assistance. And then my girlfriend gave birth two months later, and we had the same pelvis sizes, we had the same baby sizes, but she did it in eight hours, a natural water birth,” she explains. “I was looking at our bodies and looking at our babies, and I thought there is no way physicality alone is creating disparity in experience.”
It triggered a long process of enquiry that led to Nadine training as a doula and, nine years ago, developing and launching She Births, a two-day course designed to help pregnant couples have a better birth experience.
The program has grown organically over time, beginning with a just a few couples taking the course in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs to now educating more than 3,000 expectant parents via a combination of face-to-face and online courses. And last year, scientists verified what many of Nadine’s clients can already attest: She Births works.
The five-year clinical trial followed 176 couples in two major Sydney hospitals – half the group did a standard hospital antenatal program, while the others followed the She Births course. The results were staggering: those in the She Births group experienced shorter labours, a 65 per cent reduction in epidural rates and a 44 per cent reduction in cesarean sections. The study was published in the British Medical Journal last year, pushing Nadine’s course into the big time and making She Births the only scientifically verified antenatal course in the world. She’s now working with the HCF Catalyst program and a team of corporate advisors to take She Births to the next level. “Since [publication in] the British Medical Journal we’ve been overwhelmed with people wanting to deliver the program, but because I want to keep quality and integrity and brand control … we’re slowly growing,” Nadine says.
The program’s acceptance of all kinds of birth experiences is what sets it apart from standard offerings, she explains. “It’s all about giving the power back to the woman. You’ve got to come out feeling empowered, and you should always feel proud no matter how you gave birth,” she says. “A lot of people also say our course is a huge amount of fun. It’s awkward stuff to teach, so you’ve got to be a pretty cool, personable and humorous educator to get partners onto the floor to practise helping mum through a contraction!”
Practically, the course gives couples a “toolkit for birth”, equipping them with mind and body techniques to minimise the perception of pain and avoid medical induction. Partners are guided in how to care for the mother during labour, and both are given valuable, evidence-backed information on hormones, nutrition, massage, antenatal yoga and early parenting.
“A very clear intention to create a beautiful birth, no matter what unfolds, is unique to us,” Nadine adds. “I don’t like to project onto people that birth is going to be pain-free and glorious, which some courses do, while other people project a very traumatic view. We just try to be completely in the middle, that birth is beautiful and it’s like running a marathon in the lower half of your body while you’re walking a labyrinth in your mind.”
Nadine’s own journey from yoga teacher and doula to high-powered entrepreneur (with a twice-daily meditation habit, naturally) has been just as challenging and enlightening. “I’ve had to completely transform who I am into an analytical, semi-guarded, clear and specific KPI-driven outcomes person. I’ve had to learn a whole new language of business,” she says, adding that she’s learnt the hard way not to “hand her power over” to other people.
Building a business “is exactly like a birth!” Nadine laughs. “I think it is a birthing process. The juggle is real, and the juggle changes every day.”
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