Who are you?
Romy: I’m Romy (she/her), I am the daughter of a Dutch migrant mother and 4th generation German father. I was born and grew up here, where I live with my family on Wurundjeri country in Naarm/Melbourne. I have been working as a midwife for 10 years and am a co-founder of Birthspace, providing pregnancy, birth and postpartum education to our community. I am mother to two children, Ira and Miri. I’m just three weeks into being a mother of two and am practicing what we teach by enjoying a slow and embodied postpartum. I am learning to love this new season of life, slowing down with much more intention and presence—parenting and the pandemic certainly have accelerated this process. Music, food, gardening and friends light me up.
Sunni: I’m Sunni (she/her), I am of Indian, Armenian, Irish and English settler descent. I was born on Noongar country (aka Perth) and currently live and work on beautiful unceded Wurundjeri country (aka Melbourne.) My work for the past four years has been with birthing and postpartum folks as a full spectrum doula and co-founder of Birthspace. I am also mother to my two children, Fox and Dizzy (my most important job!). I am currently immersed in the creation of an online mentorship that I am launching for new and established birthworkers, called Held in (Birth) Space, which is rooted in the nervous system, trauma-informed care and somatic healing.
You are both birth educators as well as a midwife and birth doula respectively. What led you to this path of empowering women in childbirth?
Romy: I went straight from my gap year after high school into midwifery. I was attracted to the intensity and intimacy of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I always wanted to work in a carer’s role but didn’t want to be around illness day in, day out. Stepping into midwifery studies as a 19-year-old, I imagined I would be talking to parents and snuggling babies but instead it was a deep dive into health care advocacy and personal growth. There was a lot more medicalisation, admin and obstetric nursing than I had been trained or prepared for. I did my time in ‘high-risk’ midwifery then found myself burning out from the high intervention rates and trauma. I found a workable balance for me in public continuity of care models. In this model, I can build relationships with families and have time for genuinely informed decision-making. Midwifery seems to have it all—science, spirituality, care of mind/body and a whole lot of politics. Creating Birthspace with Sunni has been exciting and healing for me. I have been able to practice what I know to be true midwifery, which is being with families, while focusing on trauma prevention through embodiment and informed decision making.
Sunni: Like so many birthworkers, I was led to this work through my first birth of Fox at home. The journey leading up to that experience was the first time I had felt separate from the patriarchal, lineal structures around me. Creating and birthing life while simultaneously moving through an ego and identity death of my former self was an initiation into the cyclical nature of my body, power and sovereignty. Once stepping into this way of life, I cannot step off because to do so is to deny the only truth I know. I feel as though this work offers healing to the earth and allows the flow of sacred reciprocity, which is to give and receive in equal measure. This work brings me into deeper connection with my body, my community and environment. It supports a peaceful arrival of new life to this earth with a hope for a more compassionate future.
How did Birthspace manifest? How would you describe what you do?
We came together through a shared reverence for not only the beauty of birth and parenthood but all the gritty and gruesome parts too. We offer workshops to support people navigating conception, pregnancy, birth and parenthood from a trauma-informed and holistic perspective. As a midwife, Romy’s knowledge is rooted in physiology and navigating the maternity care systems. As a doula, Sunni supports people to become more aware of their emotions and patterns. We feel as though we strike a balance between the practical and spiritual realms of this journey by bringing it back to the connection to our bodies and selves. From the first time we met, our conversation felt expansive and honest. We hope to do the same with the people we teach in our workshops. We are a LGBTQIA+ affirming space, we support and celebrate people of all abilities, backgrounds, genders, sexualities and cultures.
What role does Birthspace play for the wider community?
We aim to provide accessible, inclusive and evidence-based information to the wider birthing community. Hopefully, in doing so, we are helping to shift the common birthing story toward a more empowered and positive experience. We aim to help people become aware of their conditioning around birth and deepen their connection with their bodies and intuition. We ask people how they can create an environment that can hold all of them as they are—however that may look. We hope that this ripples out into their communities and environments.
We have learned through Birthspace that connection and community are key to positive pregnancy and parenting experiences. Many families don’t have a direct connection to ‘the village’ we are all told is required to raise children, which is why we run monthly, in-person, parent gatherings outdoors in collaboration with our friends, Bush Parents. This has been a beautiful space to witness a community bloom where new parents can connect and navigate these times together.
We also offer the first workshop in our series, Pregnancy Choices, for free to everyone because we believe informed decision-making shouldn’t come at a cost. All of our workshops are offered at no cost for Black, Indigenous folx and POC with the option to donate to Indigenous led organisations. We are perpetual students and acknowledge that this wisdom does not belong to us and we will always pay reparations. Currently, we donate 10% of our profit to Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Fund.
What is something you like to emphasise to those who are pregnant as they approach childbirth? You talk about the ceremonial aspects of childbirth. Can you speak about this a little more?
Birth is a Rite of Passage. What this means is that once a person moves through this passage, they will never be able to return to their former selves or lives again. Historically, and across cultures, this experience is revered, ritualised and honoured. Today, the process of honouring this has been robbed by the modern medical approach to childbirth that centres institutions over individuals. We find that birth trauma is much more associated with not being seen or heard of having autonomy over the experience rather than the physical trauma that may occur. We encourage birthing people to seek out a circle of support that recognises that each birthing person holds power and expertise when it comes to birthing their babies and that these support people can advocate for and honour your needs. We also encourage folks to create their own rituals and ceremonies to honour the journey they are on. This might look like creating a sacred space using candles or nice smells or creating a birth altar with images or phrases that you want to call on during your birth. You might make time to centre your body over your mind by finding a movement practice. We find nonlinear dance (being led by your body as opposed to instructions) can assist in learning the language of your body.
How do you care for yourselves? How do you advise those who are pregnant to care for themselves?
Birth is a Rite of Passage. What this means is that once a person moves through this passage, they will
Self-care doesn’t have to be all face masks and massages. For us, self-enquiry is the greatest gift. How can I make this moment more pleasurable? What is this feeling of contraction or ‘uncomfortability’? Where do I feel that in my body? The greatest message we hope to transmit during our classes is that the best trauma prevention and pleasure enhancer is knowing yourself well enough to feel confident calling the shots and surrounding yourself with people who support you to do so. The work of Adrienne Maree Brown has been an amazing inspiration for us. Their work encourages folks to define what pleasure means for them— encouraging us to ask ourselves how we can invite more pleasure or ease into each situation. This helps us recognise that despite all of life’s uncertainties we have infinite choice at any given moment.
Jo Buick’s work on rest has helped us see that resting isn’t lazy. Resting is political—it goes against capitalist, colonial structures and allows time for more conscious and connected relationships with self, community and country. Resting is a spiritual practice too, it makes room for intuition, embodiment and pleasure. Starting a small business has been a big teacher in remodelling how we want to exist in this world. We like to schedule rest days as opposed to workdays. Our business model is centred around authenticity, meeting our own needs so that we can be truly present when we work with families. We have both previously been geared toward productivity and it has taken conscious efforts to practice what we preach, slow down and prioritise ourselves and our families. As mothers, it’s a radical act to rest and it is not something that is modelled by birthwork either. There are often crazy hours, minimal peer support and of course high pressure with very important outcomes (people’s lives). Add to that the constant technological connection we all have to the world and work—we are oriented to constant progress met with guilt if we’re not constantly running. To us, rest is much more than a refuelling mechanism—it’s fundamental to knowing ourselves, to our growth and happiness.
How important are daily rituals to you both?
Rituals are a part of our daily lives—they allow us to create our own rhythms. We all have daily rituals even if we don’t realise it. This might be making coffee in the morning, journaling, having a shower, going for a walk or lighting the fire at night. Becoming mindful of these rituals and allowing ourselves to relish and be present with them brings respect, reverence and often gratitude to these moments. This is something we encourage people to incorporate into their pregnancy journeys—it can aid people in labour and birth to be embodied and have access to familiar, self-regulating rhythms. And in parenthood, it can help us to bring more presence and intention to the sometimes monotonous tasks.
How do you mark and celebrate change? What types of rituals and ceremonies does your work teach us to participate in and honour?
We mark and celebrate change by the turning of the seasons, the phases of the moon or our own blood cycles. We are surrounded by cyclic, rhythmic patterns that are available to us at any time. Each of these markers of time connect us with nature, which is our most supportive resource. We do this by eating foods that are in season, walking with our children in nature and exploring the changes we observe, or through creating intentional space and ritual around the full and new moons. Rituals will include casting a circle and honouring the elements, and some inner inquiry about what we want to release (full moon) or what we’re hoping to call-in or create (new moon). We feel that if people are able to move in cyclic rhythms, as opposed to the linear notion of modern society, we give ourselves the space for both the light and dark, the sun and the moon, progress and rest. Recognising these circles allows us to acknowledge that there is birth, bloom, decay and death all around as, all the time. Knowing this means that we can be with moments that feel more contractive, trusting in the knowledge that expansion will soon follow. A very relevant analogy for labour and birth.
Amidst the pandemic, it sometimes feels like our world is closing in. We have found it to be a meaningful and grounding ritual to acknowledge the country we are on each day. We do this in our own way, to ourselves or with our children. We acknowledge the first nations people who have tended and cared for the country we are so fortunate to live, work and walk on and whose culture and wisdom has enabled these privileges at a great cost to culture and country.