Gabrielle Targett – Doula Woman (Perth)

Natural Woman, Back to Basics or Birthing Basics

Written by Melenie Ambrose

With the World Health Organisation predicting that the caesarian birth rate could reach 40% by 2010, one Perth woman is on a mission to promote a non-medical approach to child birth which she says better empowers women and their partners. Melenie Ambrose reports.

In 1992 while living and working in Japan, swimming instructor Gabrielle Targett had a life altering experience. Accepting an invitation from a girlfriend to attend a lecture by renowned European obstetrician and water birth specialist Michel Odent, she says she witnessed videos of “the most beautiful water births imaginable”.

“It was the first image I had seen of birth and I thought if ever I have babies, that’s how I’m going to bring them into the world”, says Targett, whose next defining moment was to meet Australian Estelle Myers, a water birth pioneer whose film on the human-dolphin connection won her the United Nations Association’s Media Peace Prize.

Within three years, Targett was living her waterworld dream. On April 8, 1995, heavily pregnant with her first child and bobbing around in the waters off Bunbury in the State’s south-west, she was surrounded by her now regular pop of devoted dolphins.

“They were going wild, jumping over my head and swimming around friskily. I thought wow, this is amazing. They knew something was about to happen”, says the first-time mum, who the next day went into labour with daughter Jaeosha.

With water births illegal in WA hospitals back in the mid-90’s, Targett had to seek special permission to birth Jaeosha in a giant tub at Fremantle hospital. The historic event even sparked interest from a film crew in Japan who flew to document Australia’s first “water baby”. The team was intrigued by the fact Targett had not only birthed in water but swum with dolphins while she was pregnant.

Since then, the 38-year-old has gone on to have two more “powerful and positive” waterbirth experiences, bringing sons Benjamin, now 10 and Jarrad, 8 into the world in tubs in her Fremantle home. The drug-free labours each lasted two-and-a-half, six and two hours respectively.

So enthralled with her own experience, the fitness instructor has gone on to become an outspoken natural childbirth advocate. For the past ten years, she’s worked as a Doula – a non-medically trained birth assistant, supporting women throughout their labour and beyond by providing mental, physical and emotional care. She also runs the State’s first Doula Training Course together with her own business, A Labour of Love Ante and Post Natal Birth Support Services.

“I found I had so much to say about birth after having these three beautiful birthing experiences. I’m not pro-natural birth and anti-caesarian though. I don’t want to get that message across at all. I just want as many people as possible to understand the process of natural childbirth; to become better educated and informed in the choices they make”, she says.

In 2005, Targett self-published her first book, A Labour of Love: An Australian Guide to Natural Childbirth to the tune of $10,000. Endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives, it proved to be a popular seller and has since been picked up by publishers, Fremantle Arts Centre Press. In the book, Targett attempts to de-mystify the many fears surrounding vaginal births while promoting her own water-based techniques including “hypnobirthing” which she claims can lead to a more relaxing birthing experience.

She describes figures which show caesarians rates skyrocketing as “alarming”. In Western Australia alone, an estimated 53% of babies are being born via caesarian at Perth’s larger private hospitals. Nationally, the rate has increased from 10% in the 1970’s to 30% in 2005. While experts predict that could rise to 40% by 2010, the World Health Organisation has called for the rate to be reduced to between 10-15%.

“If women must have a caesarian for medical reasons that’s understandable as the procedure can save babies and womens’ lives”, says Targett. “But I do feel a vast majority are being channeled into that avenue because they are terrified of birth. Others want value for their dollar. Having paid an awful lot of money for an obstetrician, they hand over their birth experience to their detriment. Once on the whole cascade of medical intervention, they usually end up with a caesarian”, she says with a frown.

Targett believes the fear factor surrounding vaginal births has reached “epidemic proportions” today and continues to spread “like a disease”. She says scary, outdated birth videos shown to expectant parents at ante-natal classes don’t help the problem. Confronted with an unknown woman in various positions, “yelling and screaming when you haven’t seen labour before” can be “really, really terrifying”, says Targett who knows many a couple who has walked out unsettled by the clips on offer.

“Sure, a pregnant woman may yell and scream but we owe it to women and their partners to also show beautiful, calm videos that capture the essence of birth as a celebration. It’s about putting it in balance”, she says, pointing out that she chooses not to show any videos at all to her clients. Instead they create a mind’s eye view of THEMSELVES birthing through visualisation and hypnosis work.

According to Targett, another negative factor surrounding vaginal births in borne from parents themselves in the form of horrendous birthing stories. Recalled like they only “happened yesterday”, each is spelt out in graphic detail “oblivious to the effects” they’re having on the listener, she says.

“Sadly, that is some womens’ way of debriefing and getting through it. They don’t seek out any help from formal practitioners to get through their experiences. They get very caught up in their story and the terror snowballs. The more women they tell, the more the fear spreads and so an increased number believe birth is going to take them to hell and back. They’re so terrified and fearful of the pain of labour that they just want to escape it. Women have forgotten they have the power and strength to labour and birth”, she says.

While Targett concedes she has little to do with elective-Caesarian types (“I don’t tend to attract them”) she says she has seen some remarkable turnarounds in her time as a fitness instructor at the Fremantle Leisure Centre. She says pregnant women as late as 34-36 weeks have “completely backed out of their chosen hospital” to opt for mid-wifery based care after reading “A Labour of Love” or chatting with her at the pool. Others have asked their obstetrician to support them more “in a way they WANT to be supported” culminating in “these amazing and beautiful 12-hour labours”.

Preferring to talk in terms of “intensity” rather than pain (“pain is merely a perception”), the Perth doula says fear in childbirth can be “a self-fulfilling prophecy”. If you’re mentally telling yourself “every single day it’s going to hurt, it will”, she says. Targett claims to know of many women who have had “ecstatic” even “orgasmic” birth experiences, fuelled by hormones from powerful Oxytocins and Endorphins. The only problem is they don’t like to talk about their experience for fear of ridicule.

“For some women childbirth does bloody hurt. That’s the fact. But not ALL women experience labour like that. Some will go, WOW! I could have taken more. Bring it on! I could have had more of that. It depends on the mental preparation. That’s where it lies. If you are mentally prepared in a different way by using hypnosis, have a strong belief in yourself and feel empowered, you are going to experience labour in a very different way to someone who is fearful, anxious and hasn’t been taught to breathe or done any deep relaxation activities”, says Targett.

As for the stigma that water births are a radical, New Age thing, Targett (who likes to point out she is not “some way-out hippie” herself) says perceptions have certainly changed. She says a lot more “mainstream” women are today opting to use the hexagonal or octagon shaped birthing tubs made from a series of one-metre long panels. Rubber foam in the tub’s base, below the liner make them cushiony soft, enabling women to stay in them for hours.

While statistics show that as many as 80% of women who elect to have a caesarian do so again, there is an increasing number of mothers wanting to try for a vaginal birth after having a caesar. Targett says a vast majority of her clients are what’s called VBAC’s (Vaginal Birth After Caesarian) otherwise known as EBAC’s (Empowered Birth After Caesarian).

She claims they feel “completely ripped off” by their first birthing experience, most often an emergency caesarian. While a common held belief is that vaginal births are not possible after a caesarian section due to the possibility of surgical scars rupturing, Targett says in her experience, more women than ever are EBACing “very, very successfully”.

“The loss of power and the sense of losing something women think is rightfully theirs, sits with them for years. That is why we are seeing a whole movement of women having VBAC’s and EBAC’s. They feel like something was taken away from them and they want it back”, she says.

In addition to juggling her home life and busy work schedule including deepwater aqua and hydrotherapy toning and relaxation classes for pregnant women, Targett is also writing a new book along the same lines as her first. This time though she promises it will be “more assertive”, calling on those who work with pregnant women to be more accountable for their actions. She is also organising the 4th Australian National Doula Conference in Perth in October this year expected to attract up to 100 doulas from around the nation.

For now though, this Perth mum of three who still loves nothing better than diving into the waters off Bunbury to swim with dolphins is looking at the bigger picture. She wants to see “generation after generation still having the option to birth naturally”…and that includes her first-born daughter Jaeosha.

“The way the rate of caesarians are going, I fear we could get close to losing natural childbirth forever. I would love to know that my daughter has the option to home water birth, naturally if that’s what she chooses along with every other woman in Australia and around the world”.

Credits:

A Labour of Love by Gabrielle Targett is published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press RRP $26.95.
For more information on Gabrielle and the 4th Annual National Doula conference, log onto www.alabouroflove.com.au