Many women shudder at the thought of childbirth since it’s often perceived as an agonizing, even traumatic experience. Anxiety and fear rush in causing some expecting moms to totally dismiss the idea of natural childbirth,  and go for the option that seems less terrifying.

While a gentle birth is certainly not for everyone, it’s a viable option that shouldn’t be hastily written off when considering birth plans.

“I was aiming for an epidural, and was even considering a caesarean delivery because I was so afraid of the usual thought that birthing is supposed to be painful and scary. It’s amazing how my perspective changed,” Roxanne shared after attending a gentle birthing seminar at Conscious Birth Manila.

Irina Otmakhova, a certified childbirth doula who wrote her PhD dissertation on conscious birthing, is the force behind Conscious Birth Manila.Irina Otmakhova, advocate of Gentle Birthing

With clients such as lifestyle blogger extraordinaire  Martine de Luna and other members of the health-conscious community in the Philippines, Irina intends to transform the negative notions on gentle birthing, and make it the preferred option.

Through her work, she aims to dispels mainstream misconceptions and brings us back to the basics, to shows what gentle birthing is really about: a natural occurrence, that should not be feared.


What exactly is gentle birthing?

Irina: Gentle birthing is the kind of birth experience wherein the mother’s choices and preferences are respected; when her body labour hormones are given the chance to do the work without routine medical interventions; when medical professionals are guided by evidence based care; and when the emergence of the child into this world is cherished as one sacred moment of birthing into being, with an intact capacity to love.

What are the benefits for mothers who opt to pursue gentle birthing?

Irina: In a culture where birth is largely regarded as a medical event and treated as an “emergency waiting to happen,” expecting mothers often come into their birth experience with lots of fear and anxiety about the process, which compels them to accept multiple medical interventions administered routinely in the medical setting against the preference of a natural childbirth.
 gentle birthing_gentle birthing with father holding the child
Birthing gently opens up an opportunity to fully own your birth experience, as the mother enters her birthing time fully prepared and informed about the process, as well as pros and cons of each medical intervention. Because her mind is at ease and she is in full control of her birthing environment, she is able to relax and enjoy her birth. When the work of hormones (such as oxytocin, melatonin, endorphins) is not interfered with by chemicals, and when the mother receives continuous emotional support from her loved ones during labour, her experience of birth is no longer that agonising life event that so many of us grew up believing birth to be. It becomes a sacred family happening wherein we accept both pain and pleasure.

 Gentle birthing is usually assisted or facilitated by doulas. Can you tell us what a doula is?

Irina: A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. We help make the gentle birthing process comfortable (and bearable) through relaxation, breathing, movement, and proper positioning. We extend communication to the mother and their medical facilitators and constantly reassure them that everything’s going to be okay. We never conduct clinical tasks or diagnose conditions, nor do we deliver the baby. We are there to fully support the mother, and their partners, in their gentle and empowering birth experience.

What convinced you to be a doula by profession?

Irina: Apart from being a women’s health and rights advocate, it is a long story. Essentially the journey started with my own beautiful and empowering home birth experience.

Initially, I envisioned a dolphin-assisted sea birth for myself, but then the common sense and logistical considerations prevailed and I settled for a less exotic option which is home birth.

Coming from The Netherlands (my second motherland) where home birth is a norm and midwives are the first line of care  – only women with complicated pregnancies  are attended by an OB,  all low-risk women are seeing midwives all through their pregnancy and birth – the choice for home birth came very natural to me. I opted for midwifery care and was blessed to have a wonderful home birth under the care of three exceptionally skilled midwives.

gentle birthing_happy mother after a conventional child delivery

What would you say to moms-to-be (or women in general) that fear the idea of gentle birthing?

Irina: Start with watching “The Business of Being Born” documentary to get a grasp of the reality of a conventional birth in a medical setting. Now that you have a huge piece of the truth, listen deeply to your heart’s yearning: which way does it want you to go about the birth of your baby?
If your heart is rejoicing at the thought of a transformative, family-centered, and potentially orgasmic birth, but your mind is still crippled with fear, choose a childbirth education method such as hypnobirthing that deals with the underlying negative beliefs about childbirth, and replace them with the positive empowering beliefs.

Any advice that you want to give to women considering gentle birthing?

Irina: The right mindset is a start, and the rest of the journey will unfold just how you envision it.

The joys and benefits of gentle birthing not only extend to the physical realm. Allowing women to have total control over their birthing experience is an empowering phenomenon. More importantly, it allows the mother to sacredly bring a child into this world with such grace, harmony, and serenity.

For those interested in learning more about gentle birthing – check out Conscious Birth Manila’s upcoming seminar

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