Knowledge + Support = Empowerment

knowledge + support

“I know why you call it Birth Empowerment! I felt so empowered, elated, wonderful – I was on such a high”, exclaimed one of my clients when we spoke on the phone after her birth. This woman was the last client I taught birth preparation to before immigrating to the UK in 1998, and it was actually a couple of years later that we had that conversation. She was due a couple of months after I left and my return trips to the US were busy times with my family, and I always liked to allow enough time to hear someone’s account. She had a fabulous birth and I could feel the exuberance was still there as she described her experience to me on the phone years later. In fact, she had just given birth to her second child four months before we chatted.

What was so interesting about this empowered birth is that it had three interventions that might have led to a different outcome.  She was induced because she was two weeks late and her cervix showed no signs of effacement, and was admitted to the hospital overnight with a prostaglandins gel to soften the cervix. She told me that she hung on to something I had said in class: “I kept remembering you saying if you have to get an IV or something, it’s not the worst thing in the world. When they were threatening to induce, and I was getting nervous with people’s comments, that helped a lot.”  When I taught birth preparation I always reminded people that just because an intervention is necessary, they did not have to abandon their desire for a natural childbirth altogether. In the morning, at 7:00 am her water was broken and induction was started, yet the feel of her labor does not have that hallmark. By 9:30 she was 3-4 cm, at 10:00 she was 6 cm, and by 10:30 she was pushing. She pushed for a half hour and her daughter was born at 11:00 am.


After teaching the Bradley Method® for ten years, I synthesized the best of my training with new material acquired over the years as part of my continued professional development into a new methodology called Birth Empowerment® Preparation for Childbirth.  Back in the 1980s, empowerment was a relatively new concept when applied to birth. I knew that many women, me included, could emerge from the experience of birth with an empowered outlook on life. Birth is considered by some to be transformative, and healing, and when I was teaching and applied these transformative and healing concepts to birth, my clients were able to actualize powerful and healthy experiences for both mother and child. This comprehensive preparation for childbirth helped my clients understand what to expect and what they could do to have a positive birth. I taught this birth preparation for another ten years before I immigrated to England, for a total of twenty years as a childbirth educator at the end of the 20th century.

One option for empowering birth is a book by Katrina Zaslavsky called The Modern Woman’s Guide to a Natural Empowering Birth.   

It pulls together a plethora of positive birth stories and expert advice that focus on what’s positive and possible in birth. Commonly pregnant women are burdened by the horror stories that experienced mothers like to share about their birth experiences, which has a negative effect on their perceptions of what birth will be like. It reminds me of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” It takes a village to help women give birth, which used to be the case when girls came of age in a village where women giving birth was shared and witnessed as ordinary life events. This shared wisdom was lost when birth was relocated into hospitals and became invisible. As I read Zaslavsky’s book, the birth stories are like a village of birthing women coming alive for prospective mothers. It’s not about someone telling you how to give birth; it’s a volume of insights that are demonstrated by the stories that real mothers share about their powerful experiences. These are the kinds of stories that empower women to create births like the one I started this blog with. It advocates for good independent birth preparation, the knowledge that eliminates fear.


As a doula (since 1978) I have watched how empowering birth can be when a woman is well informed and has the kind of support that facilitates birth going smoothly. Knowledge is important to eliminate fear of the unknown, and when it is paired with support, this is how empowerment unfolds. Most of the time support comes from the father or partner, and often a doula (a woman who assists the mother through birth and the postpartum period) adds a layer of support that allows the partner to be more engaged, providing emotional comfort while the doula provides the practical and physical support. The continuous support of a doula is known to reduce caesarean section rates, interventions, the use of medication, and for increasing satisfaction with the birth experience. It also takes the pressure off the father/partner to remember everything learned in classes! When a woman doesn’t feel supported in labor she can become overwhelmed leading to a traumatic experience that leaves a nasty imprint for the start of a new family. Good birth preparation and solid support are like insurance policies against things going wrong and having a lasting negative impact.


I believe the formula for empowered birth is: knowledge + support = empowerment.  This is what led to the development of The Birth Empowerment Workshop®, a holistic weekend intensive that helps couples assimilate the emotional and spiritual aspects of giving birth and becoming parents. A sense of community is created within the group when we are learning and growing in a warm and harmonious environment.  It is a great joy to watch the empowerment of those who take part – and this plays out during their birth experiences, while they are adjusting to life as parents, and in the depths of their relationships. It is known that for the vast majority of new parents, there is a dramatic drop in satisfaction with the relationship in the year after a baby is born. The Birth Empowerment Workshop® is a way to inoculate against this happening by helping to create strategies that bring us closer together to weather the storms ahead. The evolution of this workshop into a couples’ retreat that strengthens relationships before the baby is born is an aspect of empowerment that emerged from the process, empowerment as a couple. Here is a statement by one of the fathers who took part: “Birth Empowerment is about growth (both personal and interpersonal), about exploration, learning and discovery (both pragmatic and spiritual), but ultimately Birth Empowerment is about love; love and its most creative product: a beautiful healthy child and two ever closer growing parents enriched by the magical experience of birth.”  (S. Kotansky) 

Knowledge + Support = Empowerment

On September 1st, Empowered Birth Awareness Week begins as a reminder of the importance of reclaiming women’s power in the birth process. A few years ago Barbara Rivera started this week long advocacy for empowering birth that commences each year on ‘Labor Day’, and it’s an annual event. There are a number of events to celebrate empowered birth on a global scale, across the US and even in the UK too, as well as online. As an early adopter of empowered birth, I am so grateful that it has been embraced as a significant possibility for birth in this time of highly medicalized childbirth around the world. It is an important rebalancing of what’s possible for birth.

The combination of knowledge and support for birth is a package that fosters success and a deep sense of empowerment. Knowledge is power, and when coupled with loving support, the environment for positive birth becomes radiant and joyful. When we meet the challenges of birth with grace, this enacts a level of confidence that transfers to life’s other trials and tribulations. And there’s no better way to start the journey as a family than with a strong dose of confidence and empowerment.


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  1. Great article, times have changed since my eldest was born, he is 22 now and he was born 9 weeks early so very scary at the time. I always remember the midwife saying to my wife that they were going to do everything possible to stop the birth, whilst my wife was convinced baby was coming after 24 hours in labor the midwife relented saying that baby was coming whether they liked it or not and he was born 20 mins later, he was very ill to start with but is a strapping lad who has travelled the world and is about to achieve his dream of attending drama school

    1. I think you’d be surprised Mike how times haven’t changed that much in those 22 years! There have probably been some positive changes in how babies are taken care of in a NICU or special care baby unit. I’m delighted to hear how he’s grown into a strapping lad whose dreams are coming true!

  2. Hi Diane

    Fascinating read – wish we’d had all that when my first-born (and second) arrived over 30 years ago.

    As a long-distance Nana, I’m proud to say that my elder son surprised us all by turning into a fantastic hands-on Dad.

    That’s great work you’re doing.


    1. Thanks, Joy. Our children surprise us, don’t they? Those of us who are grandparents from afar are challenged by the distance, so I’m glad there are media like Skype and Google Hangout.

    1. Thanks, Lizz. My heart sinks when I hear about situations when women are so let down, that it affects them so many years later. Would it be worth your while to explore some of those feelings so you can release it and move on?

  3. Awesome post Diane. Your post reminds me of something close to my heart which I had been seeking for an appropriate venue to share. Glad here is the right place 🙂

    I had the privilege of being introduced to a doula Ginny (if not wrong, she was the only one in Singapore at that time 7 years ago) to learn about hypnobirthing. Attended her pre-birth preparation program.

    It opened up my mind and gained powerful awareness that natural birth was just a part of us, it is natural since the beginning of life. And it was through one of the classes that through the video, I watched a mother gave birth so calmly in bed. Truly amazing! You know how those drama on TV. Gosh, only did I know then that they were simply being dramatized and not true! It didn’t have to be that way and a calmer way of birthing was very possible. You just need to be aware, like you said Knowledge + Support = Empowerment!

    I didn’t engage Ginny for the birth but prepared and given the hospital my birth plan. It was rather new at that time to have such a birth plan as well as water birth. I believe it is getting more common nowadays. Anyway, I went for normal bed birth.

    It’s only sometime after I gave birth to my first child that I realized I didn’t remember any of the breathing technique, or whatsover when I needed it most. LOL

    I was breathing and holding on to the ‘stretches’ instead of going with the flow, following the ups and downs. I did remember to prepare and put on the rice socks for warmth around the womb area though.

    Seriously, I didn’t track and never know how long was the labour (don’t even know when to consider the start time ;p) So whenever people ask me how long was it, I don’t know. It wasn’t short though. I remember looking at the clock several times and time did pass fast.

    Fast forward, second one. This round I didn’t go for any classes. Just dug through my ‘maternity’ bookshelf for the arsenals!

    Read through the books, listened to the CDs. Followed the instructions and guides faithfully and practiced diligently.

    Proud to say, this time I did remember to do every bit I ‘should’ to have a good hypnobirth.

    I am proud to say that both births were drug free, natural birth.

    Thank you for giving me this space to share Diane. I truly appreciate it. And it is a very noble job you are doing and giving to all pre mothers and fathers alike. I thank you for making a difference in people’s life.

    Together, we make a Difference!

    To your Abundance,
    Sandy 🙂

    1. Oh.. just to add on (did I say I was so eager to share ;p), my second child. I was saying earlier I did every bit ‘right’ with the breathing and all, or perhaps my pain tolerance was on the rather high side, I gave birth barely 30mins upon reaching the hospital. Baby arrived before my husband completed the Admission paper work et al. LOL

      Once again Diane, Thank you for giving me this space to share. I am grateful.

      To your Abundance,
      Sandy 🙂

    2. It’s interesting to hear that birth plans were ‘new’ only 7 years ago. Perhaps Singapore is just catching on to this opportunity to communicate with the care provider! Sounds like you really grabbed on to the knowledge part of the axiom for the second birth and you sailed through it, even without classes. Yes, I’m all about making a difference for women having babies, and for the babies being born. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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