Ania Witkowska is a somatic movement educator and therapist working with expectant and postpartum parents to help them transition into parenthood. During pregnancy she offers Hypnobirth training and individual Integrative Bodywork sessions to support women and their babies to have a positive birth experience, building confidence and helping them connect to their body and their baby during pregnancy and birth. Her Understanding Babies Parent education sessions inform and extend people’s knowledge and ability to read their baby’s signs, understand their developmental needs and respond creatively and effectively to meet them. Special workshops on topics and individual such as newborn parenting, dealing with toddler tantrums as well as developmental and sleep consultancy run throughout the year. Her aim is to resource parents to feel confident in the power and responsibility of their new role, helping them develop a secure and joyful bond with their baby and create the kind of family life that they desire.
What has driven you to this work?
It’s a mission, a passion that I discovered when I was working with young children as a community dance worker. I had my first baby in Manchester, UK back in 1995 through my profession I had developed and interest in the blossoming field of Somatic Movement Education. In particular I was researching the Developmental Movement Sequence which forms the basis of infant development. It irritated me that as a new mum all I heard about was the gross and fine motor skill side of movement development when there was so much knowledge in the fields of somatic studies, neuroscience and developmental psychology about how movement underpins our intellectual and emotional development as well as our physical ability. Problem was there was no one telling parents about this in a way that made them feel powerful, positive and able to apply the knowledge, rather than feel guilty and worried about doing something ‘wrong’ and so, once I went back to work, I developed my classes and workshops to address this issue. After I trained in Somatic Movement Therapy and Education I started working with younger babies, so often the difficulties a family experience arise from the smallest piece of misinformation that just spirals and gets bigger, more complex. A few years ago I started working with pregnant women because your ability to trust your body and understand how it works during pregnancy and birth is a vital element to ensure a confident and positive birth experience, and more recently I trained in Hypnobirthing because I had heard such amazing reports of hypnobirth experiences I wanted to be able to offer that to english speakers here in Berlin.
What can people expect during a Hypnobirthing course with you? And can parents request 1 on 1 sessions?
I do two types of Hypnobirth training The Birthing Body- A regular course for first time parents and then 1 to 1 courses either for those who have already had a baby or two or for first time parents who have special requirements. First time parents who come to the course will be with 3 other couples (and by couple I mean pregnant person and support partner during the birth), so it’s small and there is plenty of time for questions and discussion. The course is a full antenatal training, we explore what the body does during the birth, how the baby participates. We learn about self hypnosis and the power of language, visualisation and thought patterns and practice breathing techniques and hypnobirth visualisations from the KG Hypnobirthing method. We discuss the psychology of the birth process and postnatal period. We learn about environments for birth, potential interventions, why they may be offered and how to ensure you have all the information you need to make the decision that is right for you, birth place choices, hospital protocol, the different roles of obstetrician and midwife, what doulas have to offer, your rights, the importance of continuity of care and support during birth. I think one of the real strengths of this training is to totally involve your birth partner in the birth process, so they have an understanding of how best they can support you and why you may need that support. It’s a positive, practical and realistic course. Giving birth is natural, it is also a rite of passage and I think we need to have realistic expectations of the process and the postnatal period. I want people to get the most out of the course so I run it in four sessions ( either 4 weeks or 2 Saturdays) because it is important for people to practice in between, to have time to think and consider all the information they get. Supporting materials, a copy of the Hypnobirthing book and the MP3 download of the Colour and Calmness Hypnobirth tracks and tasty refreshments are included in the price which is 350€ per couple. Unfortunately the course is not covered by the krankenkasse, they only cover midwife led training which is a great pity.
What’s a typical day like for you in your work?
Very full and very very varied. Yesterday for example I started my day at the Praxis with an individual session with a pregnant woman, we did some bodywork, and deep relaxation. Then I had four crawling babies with their mums in the for the first of my four part course all about Floorplay why it’s important and how to enjoy it. I then saw a mum and her 8 week old baby, who is having a difficult time resting on his belly has been very easy to startle and sensitive in general for a developmental consultancy. I finished my day doing the last session in a one to one hypnobirth training for first time parents in their home. Today, I have spent the morning writing my book, answering a few emails and phone enquiries and now I’m finally answering your questions. Sometimes I long to have a full week to focus on just one thing, and occasionally I get that when I am researching or planning new work or teaching on one of the programmes I teach on.
Are there any signs or points where you recommend parents to seek your advice when it comes to toddler tantrums or sleep support?
I think that is a very individual decision, and depends so much on what support you have around you already. Sooner is always better than later, so when you find yourself googling and reading and not really understanding why you are trying the approaches you try, or being advised by someone to do something that feels wrong in your gut, even if you don’t really know why. That is a time when I can be useful to you. I look at the whole picture, the child, you, what all your expectations are, what is realistic and practical and above all will meet your child’s developmental needs. Together we come up with a plan to try that feels right for you, and then I am available for support for a week or so as you implement it. I don’t do sleep training. For toddler tantrums I run a workshop every couple of months called Dealing with Drama, which looks at the nature of the emotional turmoil that children find themselves in between about 18 months and three years of age, how you can use expressive and relational movement play to support them to regulate their emotional state, as well as the quality of mind and awareness you can bring to the situation to support them. I am always available for one to ones for those kind of issues as well.
Are there any secrets you could share about pregnancy, birth, or newborn parenting that could help out someone new to the game?
I think one of the most useful exercises you can do when you are pregnant is to take a few minutes every day ( and it’s best if you can make it part of your routine – so for eg. 3 mins when you wake up in the morning) just to take a moment to close your eyes focus inwardly and notice how your body is feeling, and follow any impulses to move, stretch, change position, rub or stroke away some tension, or be energetic, dance, jump… or just breathe and snuggle up in bed again, listening to your heartbeat or feeling your baby stretch. By taking a couple of minutes every day regularly during the 9 months of pregnancy, allowing your body to take control, you train yourself to better able to trust your body and it’s impulses during the birth itself.
Is there anything you’d like folks to know about you or the work you do that we haven’t touched upon?
I suppose the one thing I haven’t explicitly said and I think is really at the heart of all the work I do is that all of this, the developmental information, the somatic skills, the observation and awareness, the play ideas and approaches are shared in order to inform and skill up parents to make their own decisions about how they wish to meet their child’s needs ( in negotiation with their child of course) – for me it’s not about telling anyone what to do, it is about supporting them to feel confident in creating the kind of family life they wish to lead, one that makes every member of their family happy, one that supports individual fulfilment. Oh and to finish I should mention that I have just started a new Facebook group called Understanding Babies that’s about baby development from a somatic perspective – do join if you want to stay connected!