preparing for birth | with Gabrielle from The Birth Space
9 min read
Meet Gabrielle. A mama to three young children with a multi faceted career as a doula, author and founder of Gather - a studio and education space in Melbourne. When Gabrielle's first baby was four months old, she returned to her demanding editorial role with Victoria’ Secret in New York. She soon realised an incompatibility with this high flying career and early motherhood, so returned to Melbourne to be closer to family and live a more aligned life. However, it was her beautiful experience having a doula at her first birth in New York that inspired Gabrielle to train as a doula. This work as a doula has led to incredible things for Gabrielle: opening a women’s space, writing two books and giving her the freedom to spend time with her children while also doing work she loves. We think you’ll love this inspiring conversation as much as we do. Let’s get started…
Tell us a little about you and who is in your beautiful family?
Hello! I’m Gabrielle. I’m married to James and we have three children - Camille who is 9, Audrey who is 6 and Freddie who is 2. I’m a doula, author and the founder of Gather, a studio and educational space for families in Melbourne’s inner west.
We know that there is so much to your story. Can you start by sharing more about your journey to motherhood and what led you to become a trained doula?
Our first child Camille was born in New York City in 2014. At the time of her birth I was working for Victoria’s Secret, leading their editorial department. It was a big job, and I returned to it full time when Camile was four months old. I didn’t even have time to sink into my transition to motherhood - I was back at work so soon. I pumped four bottles of milk a day for her while she was home with our nanny. I raced home every night, feeling as if I’d missed out on so much. I loved my job but I couldn’t reconcile how to do it and also be a mother.
“Our world is not set up to support mothers, especially new mothers. I was trying my best to stay connected to my career, which I loved, and to my daughter, and in truth I found it impossible”
So when Camille was one, I quit and we moved home to Melbourne in search of a more low-key life and to be closer to our families. I became pregnant with Audrey soon after and just after she was born I trained as a doula. For Camille’s birth in New York I’d hired a doula and I felt so supported that I wanted to also give that support to others. My work as a doula has led to incredible things: opening my women’s space Gather in Melbourne’s inner west, writing two books and allowing me space to be there for my children while also pursuing work I love.
For those mamas-to-be that may not be familiar with what a doula is, can you provide some insight into what the role of a doula is and how they can provide invaluable guidance through pregnancy and birth?
I think when families are starting out on their pregnancy and birth journey they quickly feel lost in the system and often unsupported, or they are seeking support our system is just not set up to provide. In a dream world, all women would have access to free continuity of care with a midwife but the reality, at least in Melbourne, is that so few women are able to access - or even know about - this model. And if they choose private, they can still feel let down by their OB because during pregnancy - whether consciously or unconsciously - we seek emotional support and OBs tend to focus on the physical/medical layer of birth, as they are trained to do. That’s where doulas come in. We are not medically trained so that isn’t our focus. Our focus is on the emotional layers to pregnancy, birth and postpartum, and also on ensuring the families we support understand and can navigate a complex system and are strong in their knowledge so can advocate when needed.
As a birth doula I provide information, education, care and support to birthing families. I listen to their hopes and fears and help them navigate the complex maternity and hospital system. During birth, I support the birthing person with massage and touch, encouragement, and practical and informational support. I also equally support the partner if there is one, to ensure they feel connected and empowered through the experience. We also have postpartum doulas at Gather and I think they should be considered an essential service for new families. Postpartum doulas provide food, touch, love and care to new mums so they feel fully supported and held as she transitions into their new life stage.
“Early motherhood is a rollercoaster of raw emotions driven by hormones, sleep deprivation, a healing body and the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a newborn. It's a LOT. And we should not be expected to do it alone”
At Gather, we have a collective of almost 50 pregnancy, birth and postpartum doulas and I work to match our birth workers with families as it is so critical you find the right doula for you.
Can you tell us your approach to pregnancy and birth, in particular the power of knowledge in making informed decisions?
Pregnancy and birth are so big and I don’t think we make enough space for either in our culture. With the families I support, we talk a lot about their history, their stories, their conditioning around birth growing up. Was it fear-based, was it celebrated? What is their birth story? All of it will have an effect on how they birth and how they hope their birth will go. I’m a big advocate for creating birth preferences/birth mapping. I think there’s a loud school of thought that ‘planning’ your birth is ridiculous but actually, if you don’t do the work and study the policies of the hospital where you are birthing and interrogate how you feel about them and learn what informed consent is and understand all the potential scenarios of how your birth might go, you’re going in blind and that’s a pretty scary place to be.
“We have high birth trauma rates in this country so a lot of what I do as a doula is ensure the families I support are super well educated and ready for whatever turn their birth takes. Knowledge is power”
In your perspective, what does an empowered birthing experience mean and how can a mother-to-be best prepare for this kind of birth?
An empowered birth is one in which a woman feels safe, cared for, respected, heard and honoured and, above all, she feels positive about her experience. I think it matters less the kind of birth it is - at home, in hospital, in the bath, with an epidural, a caesarean - and more about how loved and cared for she felt throughout.
“Our senses are heightened during labour and the things that are said and done to a birthing woman will imprint deeply. We have to be so careful how we move around her and what we say to her and what we do and we must never forget that the birth room is her space”
A mother-to-be can prepare by educating herself and choosing a birth team that feels right to her - eg. only allowing people in her space that she truly wants to be there and changing care providers if something doesn’t feel right. Partners also need to do the work so they are able to advocate if need be.
We absolutely love what you have done with Gather - a studio created to educate, support and hold space for women as they transition through major life moments. Tell us how Gather came to be and what you have learnt on this entrepreneurial journey?
Before Camille was born, I had a miscarriage. It was my first pregnancy and at the time I felt so alone. I sought a community of women who might understand what I was going through but did not find one. That was when the idea first came to me - it started as a few words on a word doc: ‘community’, ‘support’ and ‘mothers’. And I mentioned I had a doula for Camille’s birth. I met her through Carriage House Birth which was, and still is, a beautiful birth space in Brooklyn. When we returned to Melbourne I discovered I was pregnant again and searched everywhere for a doula but could not easily find one. It was so easy in New York, why not Melbourne? So my idea for a women's space with gatherings, yoga, meditation, education and doulas was officially born and we opened the doors in September 2018. Five years ago!
As an already accomplished author of The Birth Space (a must read in our eyes), we know the exciting news that you are releasing a new book in late 2023. Can you share what this book focuses on and how the writing process has been for you this time around?
Thank you! I am so excited for both of my book babies to be out in the world. My second book, The Motherhood Space, explores the themes we universally find ourselves moving through as mothers: the joy and the darkness, the intersection of motherhood, womanhood and feminism, the identity shifts, the loneliness, the beauty of it all, the passing of time, our relationships, our sexuality, our strength, our physical bodies, our minds, our emotions and tending to the emotions of those we hold dear, the crazy love and utter chaos, and the tug of war that is working and mothering and searching for ourselves amidst it all. My first book The Birth Space finishes on the chapter ‘matrescense’ and I found at the time I could have just kept writing, there was so much more to uncover and reckon with as we move deeper into motherhood. So with The Birth Space out in the world, I pitched my second book and got to work. Quite honestly, this book was much harder to write. I kept changing the plan and second guessing what I was doing. Motherhood is SO BIG.
Where on Earth was I to begin and how on Earth would I do justice to it? So I made a list of more than 30 women I love and admire who are doing incredible work in this space (Eve Rodsky, Andrea O’Reilly, Kimberly Ann Johnson, Amy Taylor-Kabbaz, Dr Sophie Brock, Juliet Allen, Tami Lynn Kent among many others) and asked for an interview.
Many of them said yes and throughout these conversations common themes emerged and so I focused on those and the words started to flow from there. As with The Birth Space, I also invited women to write stories of their own experiences of motherhood and what it means to mother. There is so much truth and beauty in these words, I am honoured to have them in the book.
Can you share what’s next for you both personally and professionally in the year ahead? We know that whatever you put your hand to will be amazing!
I am not very good at carving out time for my work and a lot of it is done in the margins of motherhood - a fair amount of my recent book was written in the notes on my phone during bathtime and school pick up or early in the morning or on the weekend. I worked every weekend from February to September last year. My husband James and I were tag teaming with the kids and we hardly had any family time.
“My work is so important to me and that is why I always do find the time but it’s at the expense of so much and so I’ve decided that next year I am going to sink deeper into mothering without so many work commitments”
I won’t say I’m taking a break because we all know mothering is the hardest job in the world, but I am looking forward to being more present for a while. I do have a project simmering in the background that I am excited about but for the next six months or so I’m going to go a bit slower. I write about this in The Motherhood Space, the push and pull of wanting to work and to create but feeling so torn when leaving our children to do that work. For me it will never feel truly balanced but I’m really happy - and obviously very privileged - to take things a bit slower in 2024.
And lastly, a very important question, what are your top 3 favourite biglittlethings?