Birthlight, now worldwide, started with informal, small birth preparation classes taught by Francoise Freedman in Cambridge in the 1980’s. As an anthropologist at Cambridge University, Dr Françoise Freedman was asked to share parenting skills that she acquired during long periods of fieldwork with Amazonian rainforest people. Over two pregnancies and one year with her young family in Peru, Françoise learnt to be a mother in the Amazonian indigenous way. She also became apprenticed to the shaman midwife who cared for her. Back in Cambridge, the experience of having two more babies motivated her to bring together the best of western health care and the “nurture” imparted to her in the Amazon. Yoga, which Françoise had grown up with in France and trained in, and her background as a competitive swimmer, both offered avenues to adapt and convey her Amazon experience to Western parents’ lifestyle and aspirations.
There was a lot of excitement about practices that have now become mainstream: carrying babies was exotic; taking babies to a swimming pool was a matter for calling the police. Pregnancy yoga, and even more so with babies, was seen as dangerous in a way that is difficult to imagine today. After years of teaching, research, books, articles and conference presentations, the clear benefits of pregnancy yoga, baby yoga and baby swimming training programmes were consolidated under the banner of Birthlight – a UK registered educational charity. From the start, Birthlight attracted an international audience.
Birthlight has grown from friends, to friends of friends all over the world, keeping its original vision of integrated care and support to make pregnancy, birth and the early years the best foundation in life. This is a universal human right. Our network of trainers and teachers finds its unity in this vision, regardless of differences in culture, social background and personalities. After twenty years of training, we now have a third generation of Birthlight trainers. At all levels, we aim to create community and integration to serve new families worldwide. Everywhere and in every way, we respect difference.
The Present & Future
In parallel with her involvement in Birthlight, Françoise has retained her connection with Amazonian indigenous people through her academic research and teaching at Cambridge University. Interactive conservation projects aim to empower new generations with elders’ knowledge threatened by environmental changes.
Now in 2020, Birthlight’s ‘blended courses’, ideally part online and part face to face, offer new possibilities for adaptations of training that will better engage friends and connections in our collective mission: offering the best of tradition with the best of innovation to nurture new life