Sophie Walker, podcaster, Australian Birth Stories

If you’re anything like me, perhaps podcasts have only recently come on to your radar. But now that I’ve discovered them, there’s no looking back. Goodbye dull commute or aimless walk, hello opportunity for learning, laughing, mindfulness or anything in between. Check back here in a couple of weeks, when I’ll let you in on my current faves. In the meantime, here’s an up-close-and-personal with Sophie Walker, the woman behind one of them. In case you missed it, Australian Birth Stories was one of the hottest podcasts to drop last year!

Sophie lives in Melbourne with her husband and their two young boys. Holding a Master of Public Health, she was interested in babies and birth from a young age. While pregnant with Niko (4), she immersed herself in all things birth, dreaming of a drug-free, birth centre experience. Despite her plans to the contrary, Sophie had a 36-hour labour, complete with hospital transfer, induction, epidural, episiotomy, forceps and then a postpartum haemorrhage. Second time around, she researched like crazy to prepare for another attempt at an unmedicated birth centre birth. Juggling a toddler and a part-time job, podcasts were a good option as they could be listened to ‘on the go’.

After achieving a beautiful birth with Louis (2), Sophie was inspired to create the Australian Birth Stories podcast. It is an important collection of varied women’s birth stories from right across Australia. I’ve known Sophie for many years and have been so excited to watch her rise up the podcast ranks. She’s a warm, friendly and determined woman. Enjoy the read, and then be sure to check out the podcast for yourself.

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In the work you do, how important are the right words?

In my current line of work, they’re essential. It can be so easy to offend people when it comes to birth. I try to steer clear of terms like ‘natural birth’ if I can. There are many negative connotations with other words in my field, such as epidural and induction. It’s so important that I’m always mindful of how I come across when interviewing women and discussing birth.

What gets you up in the morning?

My 4 year-old and way too early. We tend to start the day at 6am. On a professional note, the emails and messages I get daily from women saying I helped and inspired them to have a great birth. This is something I never really considered when I first started the show.

What led you to your current career choice?

I studied and worked in public health for many years, most recently in cancer research. I have a Master of Public Health and love working and talking to people. An obsession with birth, women’s health and podcasts led me to try my hand at starting my own podcast.

What are the most effective ways you market your podcast?

Without the finance for a marketing budget, I’m currently relying on word of mouth and Instagram.

What have you learnt about the world of podcasting since you began Australian Birth Stories?

Consistency is the key. Oh, and editing takes 10 times longer than I ever plan for. Although I know podcasts are available on a global scale, I never expected to have weekly listeners in countries such as Romania, Spain and Pakistan. It’s mind-blowing. I’ve also learn that while it’s great to be regularly ranking in the top 5, nothing beats getting a personal email from someone saying how they used something they learnt from the podcast in their own labour.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to other podcasters?

Only begin if you can keep up with the schedule you have set for yourself. If you say you’ll be releasing a weekly show, have four shows ready to be released before you launch. In the early days, I found myself ringing around friends the day before the show was due to air as I had nothing to release for that week. Thankfully, I now have around 150 people on the waiting list, so a shortage of stories is no longer an issue!

When you’re not listening back to ABS episodes, what podcasts are your faves?

I love This American Life, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, and Ladies, We Need to Talk.

You can find Sophie and the Australian Birth Stories podcast here.

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How I Saved My Sanity in January

School goes back next week.

Although, I’m no longer a teacher so I don’t live by the term, die by the term. And, my little rascal is still a few years off school (and his daycare largely stayed open in January - thank goodness!).

So why does it matter to me at all?

I don’t know about you, but it always feels like there’s a different energy around the place in January. Even for those of us continuing to go to work, we’re conscious of so many other people either away on holidays (sigh) or navigating the work/kids on school holidays juggle. But more than that, I’m a little bit of a (whispered) control freak. Honestly, I can’t remember what came first. The teaching term or routine addict. The chicken or the egg. But that’s how I roll.

And January is a month where routines tend to slip a little. There are occasional later bedtimes, both for adults and little ones, pushed back or skipped naps, or unusually busy days. While that allowed our family more social flexibility, we certainly paid the price some days. Okay, okay so we also have an almost-two-year-old on our hands, which probably accounts for plenty. At any rate, it’s become abundantly clear that both he and I are natural sticklers for routine (much to the chagrin of my spontaneous husband - we’re still working on finding that middle ground).

So, how did I find some structure amongst the free-fall of January to keep my inner (sometimes outer) control freak happy? And, to feel like I was having a bit of a holiday in my own city some days?

We chose activities for the whole family. By that I mean, we selected either kid activities that we were happy to do, like visit the new Ground Up exhibition at Scienceworks. Or adult activities where toddlers would be welcome, like hanging at the super-relaxed bar and eatery Tallboy and Moose in Thornbury.

We used babysitters. With parent babysitters temporarily out of action, we were happy to pay our fabulous local babysitters for the privilege of dining out for our wedding anniversary and to just have some adult time.

We took naps or had down time. Some weekends were really full, so we made sure to take the opportunity if ever the toddler slept to sleep too, or simply rest in front of the cricket. To reset, and to find some more energy for when he woke.

We socialised with other families. This gave the little ones some instant friends to play with, and made ‘another trip to the park’ loads more enjoyable.

We tried new experiences. We went for pho and pizza, mastered the art of the babycino, explored Scienceworks, found a new water play park. We mixed it up.

In a funny way, I think I need January to reset myself, to reinvigorate and re-energise, to exercise my spontaneous muscle and to just free-fall. Knowing full well that, by February, everything will be back in its place, just as it should be.

Happy end of January everyone (and to my fellow control freaks, we’re nearly there!).

P.S. If there was anything on your Jan to-do list that you didn’t get to and I can possibly help - just sing out! Copywriting, editing, proofreading, hit me up! Piles of washing, cooking, bill paying, I will politely decline.

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Things we can be thankful for

As each year draws to a close, I typically get a little bit reflective and I know I’m not the only one. Even if it’s been a doozy of a year - and there were some pretty rough moments in 2017 - I try not to wish a year away, to leap into the next without so much as a glance over my shoulder.

Because each year brings its own gifts. We lost my father-in-law in March, which was completely devastating. But, our son had his second year Earth-side, filling our lives with so much joy. I also made the bold decision to career transition and become a copywriter, and haven’t looked back. Friends were married, had children, moved houses, jobs and countries. Life happened.

I’m not sending out a newsletter this month - goodness knows there’s enough hitting your inbox right now. Instead, here’s my December musings in blog form. I hope that no matter what your year looked like, you can find something to be thankful for.

So, grab a cuppa (or a bubbles - it’s the silly season after all) and enjoy.

Thank goodness…

For good friends

Raise a glass to the ones who stuck by you this year when stuff got real. They are the keepers. Hug them hard.

For good things in the world

Rather than focus on the things we’d rather forget (Trump, anyone?), let’s celebrate marriage equality in Australia. #itsabouttime

For opportunities

We are so fortunate to be able to freely pursue our passions and goals, with all the resources we have available to us. Remember those days before the internet???

For family

We are grateful for the toddler-wrangling, the wise advice, and for the reality check when we need it. #rememberwhereyoucamefrom To the littles, thank you for keeping us in the moment and for reminding us just how fascinating the small things can be.

For the success of others

A dear friend had her novel published this year, while another’s business grew from strength to strength. Yet another navigated year one of motherhood with poise, grace and a hell of a lot of patience. A fourth is taking a brave and inspiring step to study abroad. The list goes on.

For Netflix

For the nights you’re too tired to make conversation, or you just want to be swept away, Netflix brought us Stranger Things, The Sinner, The Fall and The Crown. Hallelujah!

For community

For the bustling community where you may be living, to online, business and work communities, people need people. Connection is everything.

And lastly, for coffee

Without you, not much would be possible.

My very best wishes to you and yours this Christmas. See you back here in 2018. X

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Things I said I’d never do (and then did them) as a new mama

I had an incredibly clear picture of the kind of mother I was going to be, sorted out well and truly before becoming pregnant with my son at age 34.

I was going to be all relaxed and earth-mother, wearing and taking our baby everywhere. Our baby was just going to seamlessly slot into our lives. I would wear floaty maxi dresses, and breastfeed comfortably anywhere. I would see friends and family regularly - yes, the types of catch ups would change (I wasn’t a total fool) -  but I would stay connected with everyone. At some point I would return to work, in an effort to achieve balance between time with my angelic yet-to-be-conceived child, and feeling like myself again.

Say, WHAAAAT?!

I mean, I don’t even own a maxi dress.

I had been so fixated on this idealistic vision of parenthood, that I hadn’t actually done any reading about what happens when a baby arrives. I read loads about pregnancy, sure. But from birth onwards, I really was as clueless as they come, preferring to think that my mothering instincts would just ‘kick in’ #denial.  

Instead, I became a different kind of mother. The kind who puts a note on the front door, asking visitors to knock quietly as the baby is sleeping. Who becomes obsessed with cot sleeps, cancelling plans and scheduling days around getting home, because naps in the pram are fleeting and a melting down child = hell. Breastfeeding was pretty much a disaster from the get-go, with supply issues and a lazy latcher, but I persisted obsessively for several months, with round-the-clock expressing and rapidly rising stress levels. I tried desperately to exercise control and routine, with a tiny baby who had other ideas.

Eventually I sought the help I needed, and the tide slowly began to turn.

Other things began to happen that I hadn’t expected either. I spent entire afternoons on the couch, in the quiet and the stillness as my son slept, snuggled deep into my shoulder. I began to repeat the mantra, Be in the moment, to try to be mindful, realising that this time would end. Before long, he was sleeping in his own room, and I was packing away clothes that were already too small with tears streaming down my face.

Time passed.

He grew bigger. We laughed a lot. I discovered formula. He slept. We danced to House of Pain - Jump Around. I read a book. A whole book! He projectile vomited avocado straight onto the freshly cleaned floors. Wore his first pair of Converse. Rolled, then crawled, then stood.

And then one day, as the three of us stood in front of the mirror pulling funny faces, a big smile of recognition slowly appeared on my son’s face. He knew us. He loved us. I realised then, that whatever we were doing was working. There was no right way, or best way. But there was our way.

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Keeping Memories Alive - Father’s Day

Dads are super special beings. As children, we look up to our dads so much. They give us advice, guidance, support, loving us unconditionally even in those moments when we can be hard to love! They are our teachers, of football or cooking or music appreciation and how to tie our shoelaces. They pick us up when we fall down and help us to build resilience. As adults, we see our dads in a new light and, if we become parents, our perspective changes again. One thing’s for sure - the bond between a father and child is something very significant indeed.

I am blessed with a wise and kind dad. He is never short a dad joke or an article cut from Choice or the paper relating to any life decision, large or small. You may casually mention you’re thinking about buying a new toaster. Dad’s got the Choice article on the topic the next time you see him. Super funds? Hard drives? Prams? Lucky I hung onto my filing cabinet! Dad is measured and balanced, and has helped me nut out the answers to many tough questions using pros and cons lists and listening with a non-judgmental ear.

To witness the beautiful bond between Dad and my young son Max has been such a wondrous thing. It helps me to imagine how Dad may have been with me as a young child. The love they have for each other is already so strong. Parenthood can be so challenging at times, but also provide such magical moments. I feel closer to my parents now, as I experience this crazy ride they know all too well.  

Max’s dad, my husband, is another fatherly gem. He has grown into his role as Dad over the past 19 months, navigating the newborn stage, then keeping calm through the more recent toddler tantrums! Not only do they share the most gorgeous auburn hair, they are both daredevils, cheeky and great at cuddles. Only the most patient of dads could read ‘Goodnight, Sleep Tight’ or ‘Oh no, George!’ as many times in a row as my husband, though he has been known to skip a few pages of ‘We’re all Going on a Bear Hunt.’

Amidst the loveliness of father-son and grandfather-grandson bonding that has occurred since Max’s arrival, there has been some significant sadness for our family. My gentle larrikin of a father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer just before Max’s birth and passed away in March of this year when Max was just 13 months old. There is sadness, that Max will grow up not knowing his Pop. Sadness that my husband can’t take this fatherhood journey with his own dad alongside for guidance.

For many of us, days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be bittersweet. Of course, the day will be a wonderful celebration of the dads in our family. However, we will also spend time reflecting on the absence of my father-in-law and the lasting impact of such a loss. Be sure to hug all the special ones around you this Father’s Day and tell them just how much they mean to you. It’s not a day about gifts, but a day about time and memories - making them and keeping them alive.

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