We are so pleased that Helen Holmes of Yogabellies has been able to sponsor our event in Manchester this October. Yogabellies are an Acorn sponsor of “Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff”, a not-for-profit event for families and the professionals who support them. I had the pleasure of meeting with Helen earlier this month to find out more about Yogabellies, and Helen’s own experiences of pregnancy, birth and the early days!
Helen lives in Sale with her husband Gary and their two boys who are six and two. She has worked as a teacher in Trafford with children with mental or physical health difficulties, teaching them when they are unable to attend school, and then helping them to get back into mainstream education. Sadly, staff changes and big changes to the service meant that following maternity leave with her youngest son, Helen was desperate for a new direction, and an alternative that fitted in with her family life.
In September 2014 she bought the Yogabellies franchise and classes kicked off in January of last year. Helen teaches three classes a week – pregnancy yoga, “belles” which is a relaxing and gentle class for women only, and mum & baby yoga. Pregnancy yoga is specific to pregnant women: all of the postures used are safe in pregnancy, and relaxing blends of essential oils are diffused during the class, before which there is chance for a herbal tea and a chat.
Helen explained that it’s not all yoga though. She likes to have a focus topic for each class, and these have included birth, the postnatal period, what to pack in your hospital bag, the “baby blues”, sharing birth experiences and the first few days with a new baby. Helen encourages women to think about what support they might need during birth and to talk to their partners about that before the day arrives. Other key topics have been optimal cord clamping and gentle caesarean birth.
“It’s all about women supporting women. We have coffee mornings on occasion, it’s about building a community. The Yogabellies teachers across the country all support each other as well.”
When it comes to thinking about the birth, Yogabellies classes include birthing breathing, relaxation and hypnobirthing scripts – all, as Helen says, to “get women in the zone”. “Even women who have gone on to have a caesarean birth say that the breathing techniques helped them to stay calm.”
Helen says that she has learned so much more about birth since getting involved with Yogabellies. “I was quite naïve when I had my boys – I have learned so much more now. I encourage women to research and get information on all of their options. If I did it again I’d go for a homebirth. My sisters were both induced and had caesarean sections, so I thought that was the norm.”
So what, in Helen’s opinion, are the things that new mums most need?
“That’s a really hard question, because women are all different. People say that you need to hibernate in bed for days after the birth, but personally I’d have been climbing the walls! I had to get back out in the world. Cabin fever hits me!
I would say though don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. If you want to breastfeed, read around the subject, and definitely ask for support. Think about who you want to have visiting and don’t be afraid to say no to people. If someone turns up with a meal they have cooked for you, accept it! With your first you are still learning to put yourself and your family first, ahead of other people or your career. It is a learning curve.
I also think it is so important for partners to be educated in the signs of PND and other potential problems so that they can spot them straight away.”
And what about new babies?
“Babies have simple, basic needs: food, love and to be cared for. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the ones on the bottom are crucial before you can tackle the ones at the top.”
And how do Dads and partners fit in?
“It is so important to communicate as a couple. Your partner needs to be told how they can help. Be aware of how distressing it can be for your partner to see the person they love in pain. Talk to them about how they can help, give them a role in the birth and the early weeks. Empower them to feel useful and involved.”
What did Helen find was the hardest part of those first months with a new baby?
“I remember my eldest screaming in the night and me going in to Gaz and saying ‘I can’t handle it anymore, you take over’. I felt so lucky to have him there to help. Those early weeks would have been so much harder without the support of my family close by. Going back to work later on was hard, trying to juggle everything. You do learn to cope with the tiredness though, and it does get easier.”
What has Helen learned since becoming a mother?
“I say ‘no’ now to people – I was a people pleaser before but I’m not anymore! I am better at sharing my own opinions! I have different priorities, my boys and my immediate family always come first.”
Through her work as a teacher Helen has specific insights into the mental health of her children and family. Along with Bernie Meagh of MATTAC (Manchester and Trafford Therapy and Counselling) Helen has set up The Parenting Hub, working with families & schools to support children in managing and understanding their emotions. Helen says of her parenting style “some people talk to their kids when the kids are acting out, but Gaz and I talk to each other and try to think about what we are doing and how it is affecting them”.
On the MATTAC website Bernie and Helen explain that they understand the challenges and pressures that both young people and parents face in life today. They believe if parents have the tools to help young people understand and manage their feelings then this will increase their emotional resilience and increase their ability to learn and achieve their goals.
It sounds to me that mums attending Helen’s Yogabellies classes will get a lot more out of it than simply the ability to wrap their legs around their heads. Although when it comes to childbirth, that ability is not to be underestimated!