Midwife Karen Wilmot left the hospital system in 2009 because she had a vision of creating change. Now she works with women online and in person, sharing her wisdom, experience and the many lessons she learned in the labor room so that pregnant women are able to have the best birth experience possible with the right preparation.
Your mother was a midwife. How much did she influence you in your career choice?
I grew up hearing birth stories. My mom would get this kind of glow when she talked about birth and she always talked about it in a way that made me in awe of the woman she was talking about. I would beg her to allow me to go with her to work. Once we were visiting a farm and she was called to assist a farm worker who had gone into labor. I literally held onto her legs as she walked out the door yelling “but it’s not in the hospital – you said I could come if it was not in the hospital!” I was only about 6 at the time so she was having none of it!!
What is the most important thing she taught you?
I would say that it was the beauty of birth and the strength of women. I never ever associated fear with birth because of the way that she spoke of it. She made it sound like something so special. I literally grew up in awe of birth.
How did you start your career as a midwife?
I never imagined doing anything else. In South Africa we have to do our nursing training before we can study midwifery so that is what I did.
In 2009 you left the hospital system. Why was that?
Mainly because the idea that I had grown up with was not what I was seeing in the hospital. Initially I thought that it was just because I was a student and that I still had a lot to learn. But the more I learned the more disillusioned I became. There was none of the awe and the beauty that I knew existed. I was working from a place of fear and I was doing things that I knew were wrong. Often I was working in situations where we were short staffed and I was unable to offer the support that I knew was needed. Other times I was doing procedures that I knew could be avoided. I was supporting the system and not the women. It was horrible.
It started off with a nagging in the back of my mind but soon became a loud voice telling me that I needed to get back to what I knew in my heart. I did not realise that by leaving I would have to literally unlearn everything I knew and relearn it in a way that served women not the system. However I am so glad that I did. Doing so has allowed me to be very realistic and aware of what is going on. I am also able to stay neutral and non judgemental. I support choice because birth matters and there is not one right way to give birth. A woman who gives birth feeling supported and who makes decisions and choices from a place of deep inner knowing is empowering. Unmet expectations can be disappointing and that is why it is so important to me to work with women during pregnancy as well. I believe in and practice a truly holistic approach to pregnancy and birth.
How did the idea of becoming a virtual midwife come about?
I guess it started when I realised the impact that I was having in my local community just from offering birth preparation classes. All I was doing was making sure that women knew what to expect and teaching them the tools and techniques to cope. I have a deep insight into the system and I know how it works so it is easy for me to structure the information in a way that empowers couples to make informed decisions. I also teach the importance of being able to communicate effectively with health care providers because too often I see couples handing their power over thinking that the doctor knows best or that they have their best interest in mind.
I could not help wondering how women who had little or no access to quality care would manage and being far from home I was comfortable using technology to stay connected. The idea grew in my head and what started out as a Facebook page soon became a website. I took a few months off to write and develop my online courses and the site has gradually evolved into what it is today.
I have since written a book based on my experience of working with expats in the Middle East (Giving Birth Abroad: The Essential Guide for Expats Expecting) and I still offer 1:1 support packages and VIP retreats even though I am now back in South Africa in a home birth practice.
Delivery and birth are intense physical experiences – how is it possible to work with women online during this important moment?
I know!! I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I tell people that I am “The Virtual Midwife.” The common understanding of a midwife is that we assist women to give birth and how can I possibly do that online and virtually? Thanks to the popular BBC program “Call the Midwife” there has been renewed interest in this ancient and beautiful vocation. While we don’t ride bicycles anymore, we still connect with women during the most intimate and memorable moments of their lives. We are invited into the sacred space of pregnancy and we guide and support women over the threshold into motherhood. We are with women throughout the pregnancy, during birth and in the precious weeks after birth, not just in the moment of birth. Our value lies in building relationships, sharing ancient wisdom and reminding women that we are born to do this. Creating trust.
What services do you offer?
I offer 2 online courses. My signature course is very comprehensive and covers everything from pregnancy through to after the birth of your baby in 6 modules of video, audio and ebooks online and on demand. The second course evolved out of my work in the hospital. So many women arrived with really bad birth plans that had literally just been downloaded off the internet. They had no idea what most of the things they were asking for meant or what they could do to avoid them. It was almost as if by handing over a piece of paper with a request not to do something it would be honoured. Birth does not work that way. There are so many variables and if you want to have a positive and empowering birth experience then you need to know what your role is. The 10 Day Birth plan teaches you every aspect of a birth plan that matters and also how to discuss it with your care provider. It is particularly relevant for a hospital birth where you will be offered many choices and offered many interventions. You will have the knowledge and skills to discuss your care and be an active participant to get the birth you want.
What are your top 3 tips for a positive birth experience?
Only 3? EEEK! The main one is trust but then I have 3 C’s and 3 R’s. Only 3? EEEKK!
If you trust your body, your baby, your partner, your care provider, your place of birth and your own ability to give birth then you will have the courage to give birth and you will be able to stay calm and centered. If your birth team respects you and the beauty of birth you will find rhythm and be able to relax into the intensity of birth. With all of these you WILL have a positive birth.
What do you love about your work?
The women! I am in awe of the power of women in labor. It never ceases to amaze me and now I understand why my mother got that glow when she talked about it. She died when I was 10 but I still speak to her when I am with a woman in labor and she is my guardian birth angel.