It was with great sadness that I read about the passing of the one and only Sheila Kitzinger yesterday. Sheila was such an inspiration to so many and has been part of so many great changes within maternity services. Not only was she fundamental in setting up the NCT but also part of the doula movement in the UK.
When I fell pregnant with my first baby, my mum bought a book for me about childbirth which was a Swedish translation of “The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth”. This was my very first introduction to Sheila Kitzinger. Who would have imagined back then that I would eventually get to meet her on many occasions.
I look back at the time when I first met Sheila, in her house just outside Oxford, when I attended her Birth Crisis workshop. As I drove down the drive, Sheila was outside in the car park, directing traffic and helping us to park, dressed in her colourful clothes and feathers in her hair. That day, with Sheila and her daughter Celia contributed massively to the foundations of my work as a doula and I will never forget how much compassion and love a simple “mmm” can provide for a woman who is telling her story about an unhappy birth experience. Sheila’s warm and caring voice was so soothing and healing. I realised that there is not always a need to fix every situation, instead bearing witness and being there for women is what makes a difference. I feel so grateful to have spent that day with her in her home and to have experienced her wit and intelligence but also her great passion for her work.
When I was involved in organising the very first Doula UK conference, I knew we’d have to have Sheila there. We had a very tight budget and as it was our first conference, everyone was feeling concerned that Doula UK would lose money. Sheila wanted quite a big payment for her 40 minute talk and we were also paying for a taxi from her house outside Oxford to London return. I wrote her an e-mail, asking her if she would be willing to reduce her fee as we were a non-profit making organisation. I had a few comments about being brave to be bartering with the great Sheila Kitzinger and indeed, I should have listened to them! Sheila replied that all the work she ever did was for nonprofits and charities so this was her fee, take it or leave it! I have to admit that I did really admire that and sent a reply immediately confirming that we would pay her fee. Sheila was, of course, one of the highlights of the conference that year and even made the young camera men red with embarrassment when she was making the sounds of a woman in labour and talking about orgasms.
Sheila was one of those people that you thought would live forever and of course she will. Her enormous contribution to childbirth and the childbearing years will live on in the many books she wrote which have also been translated into many different languages. Sheila was a force to be reckoned with and she will always be one of my greatest inspirations. She will be greatly missed but her legacy will live on! There are enough of us continuing her work across the world.
Thank you Sheila for all that you have done and may you rest in peace knowing that you certainly made a difference!
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.