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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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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