JILL BENJOYA MILLER
When I fell pregnant with my first child in 1994, before the multi-media explosion into all things birth, I had no knowledge of birth or babies. But I did have the good luck to wander into Active Birth yoga classes offered at my hospital. At every antenatal appointment my midwives asked me if I’d been going to yoga. They expected all the women to attend these weekly yoga sessions in order to learn how to breathe and move in labour. So I went and I learned, and I had an incredibly positive birth. Immediately I knew that I couldn’t leave behind that experience. Within months I was training at the Active Birth Centre with the same wise women who’d taught me in pregnancy- Janet Balaskas and Lolly Stirk, and Yvonne Moore. For over 20 years now I’ve been teaching pregnancy and postnatal yoga, helping parents to prepare for birth, providing doula support, and training other childbirth professionals. When I was growing up and learning about careers, I could never have imagined the work I would do, or how much I would love it.
I adore teaching pregnancy yoga, as it helps people to appreciate their changing bodies and to connect with their babies. Yoga prepares us a little more each week to trust our bodies, to believe in our natural ability to birth, and to have confidence in our own instincts and choices. Yoga is holistic preparation for birth: mind, body and breath. It’s beautiful and powerful, and it works for birth like nothing else I’ve seen.
During my Active Birth training, I began supporting women in labour as a way to learn more about birth. From the first moment, this was comfortable and intuitive work, so easy to be present and offer compassionate, sensitive support. As a doula I continue to learn about the nuances of birth, without expectation or judgment. I appreciate having the opportunity to work with midwives. Most importantly, this is a way to create a relationship with parents to help them feel safe and nurtured, and each time I feel privileged to be invited.
At the Active Birth Centre I teach with Janet Balaskas. In addition to helping couples prepare for birth, we offer professional Active Birth Teacher Training for midwives, yoga teachers and other birth professionals. I also co-direct and co-teach the YogaBirth Pregnancy Yoga Teacher Training Course.
For 12 years I taught Active Birth preparation and pregnancy yoga at The Birth Unit of the Hospital of Saint John & Saint Elizabeth. Under the guidance of Dr Yehudi Gordon and a team of extraordinary midwives, this unit offered integrated care, combining holistic and medical expertise, and pioneering Active Birth and waterbirth in the UK. I believe The Birth Unit paved the way for the birth centres that now exist in most UK hospitals.
Over the years, I’ve researched and contributed to books by Janet Balaskas and Yehudi Gordon, and written articles for midwifery and doula publications.
I currently spend a large part of my time working with two very special organisations- Birth Companions and the Happy Baby Community (partnered with Helen Bamber Foundation and Ourmala Yoga for Refugees). We support disadvantaged and highly vulnerable mothers across London including refugees and women in prison, through pregnancy, birth and early motherhood. I always welcome and greatly appreciate donations of baby clothing and equipment to offer them.