Have you ever played roller derby? It’s a fast, furious contact sport. So, clearly you’d have to be an aggressive risk taker to play, right? But aggressive is definitely not a term I’d apply to my Page 1 Woman™, who’s an enthusiastic, award winning roller derby ‘blocker’. Risk taker? Definitely as she’s on a mission to transform childbirth culture from negativity, pain and trauma to one of parent empowerment, relaxation, ease and even enjoyment.
Meet Tamara Cianfini, mother of two, former nurse, and co-leader of The Wise Hippo, which delivers training for wannabe Wise Hippo instructors and aims to turn scared parents-to-be into prepared parents by providing great antenatal education. Why ‘The Wise Hippo’? “Wise represents education. Hippo symbolizes the protection of a childbearing woman in several cultures; e.g. the Native American totem symbol representing pregnancy and fertility is a hippo”.
Having experienced a traumatic traditional birth with her first child and a much easier birth of her second child, with a supportive doula in attendance, Tamara became hell-bent on telling the world that childbirth can be magical when pregnant couples are in control and know the right way to do it. ‘..it really angers me that antenatal education was as bad as it was.’
As you’d expect from a roller derby ‘blocker’, Tamara didn’t passively sit on her obsession. She took action and set up her business ‘Birth Easy’, later becoming the influential chair of UK Hypnobirthing. She began to spread the hypnobirthing message more widely.
‘I don't want people to go through what I went through first time around. It can totally be avoided with the right education’.
Here’s proof of the power in ‘The Wise Hippo’ mindset technique – it transformed Tamara’s roller derby team mates from consistent losers to champions.
Describe your work
Tamara: I’m the co-founder of The Wise Hippo which provides education for pregnant couples from bump, birth to baby. We train mums, midwives, therapists, hypnotherapists, reflexologists, anyone, to be confident passionate instructors and to set up their own business. There are now around 350 qualified instructors teaching The Wise Hippo programmes worldwide.
More NHS trusts training with us to offer this education save money through fewer C-sections, less use of pharmaceutical drugs and instrumental deliveries. Also, there’s less risk of horrific experiences, reduced post-natal depression and many more satisfied parents.
When I met Dany Griffiths, my business partner, she had an online hypnosis for birth programme and I was chair of UK Hypnobirthing. We figured we would make a good team. We created The Wise Hippo to improve antenatal education and change the face of hypnobirthing.
The term "hypnobirthing" is a turn off for many people. We didn't like that it often promised a pain-free and drug-free birth. Nobody can promise that. If a woman didn’t give birth like that, she’d feel she’d failed and hypnobirthing didn't work. So, we needed to provide mums-to-be with tools and skills to manage the birth on the day, whatever happens, even if her birth plan changes to interventions, such as a C-section. It’s important that she feels she had the best birth possible, that she made informed decisions and remained in control throughout.
The purpose of The Wise Hippo education is to equip pregnant couples with skills for pregnancy, giving birth, and for life, (e.g. breathing and relaxation techniques). When you're calm, and relaxed in a situation you deal with it better. For new parents, it's an emotional time. If you've got tools, e.g. music on an MP3, that you can play when needed, that's useful. Also, lots of couples are terrified of childbirth and becoming parents. So, we aim to remove fear and build confidence.
What essential steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Tamara: Leaving Australia for America after training in nursing was definitely my first step. Doors opened and I walked through. Whilst I enjoyed nursing, I felt my purpose was something bigger. Then I came to London to sort out a visa, and met the man who became my husband. When I became pregnant, I found ante-natal classes were about drugs, and what could go wrong. I left those classes dreading the birth of our baby. It was a traumatic experience.
Another step was starting my company, ‘Birth Easy’. Things went brilliantly. With passion, and determination, I got a reputation for turning scared women into prepared and confident women and clients came to me via word of mouth. But once it hit its peak, my husband suddenly left after 14 years. It's the most devastating thing I’ve experienced.
Relationships can deteriorate after a horrific birth. Whilst I was off my head on drugs, he was very present and experienced it very differently from me. He's never talked about it. The post-traumatic stress destroyed our relationship.
When you experience that kind of trauma you’ve two choices, depression or action. It was scary being suddenly left with two children. But I needed to act and make something of my life. I became like an unstoppable ship in the night organizing conferences for the country’s hypnobirthing teachers, getting guest speakers and celebrating our amazing work. I got myself well known so when we launched The Wise Hippo I easily filled the room. About 70 teachers attended and signed up to teach The Wise Hippo birthing programme. The Wise Hippo became popular very quickly.
I’m also a Doula and often get the privilege of filming amazing births which we show in The Wise Hippo classes. Couples are blown away seeing others birthing so calmly.
What was the one most significant thing that got you to your current position?
Tamara: Being at the forefront of UK Hypnobirthing was significant, because it got me known. Also, after The Wise Hippo launch my personal classes were filmed by Sky News and ITV. In a programme called ‘Baby Diaries’, I was featured teaching Sam Faiers from TOWIE. Its huge following was great promotion for The Wise Hippo. I’m currently teaching Ferne McCann from TOWIE and an ITV ‘This Morning’ presenter. I’ve taught her The Wise Hippo’s new online programme, ‘Bump, Birth and Baby Blueprint’.
When a woman gives birth in a soap or a Hollywood movie it's nothing but screaming and tremendous pain. So, we’re surrounded by negative images of childbirth. The Wise Hippo education aims to relieve that fear and enable pregnant couples to focus on birth and becoming parents in the most positive way.
What was the greatest challenge that you faced on your journey?
Tamara: My husband leaving was the biggest challenge. I overcame it by getting involved in something bigger than me and finding my true purpose. This education really does change lives!
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Tamara: I had an epiphany moment when giving birth to Alana. Despite being a big baby, I birthed her with a smile on my face. At that moment I knew I had to change the childbirth world. I remember thinking, "Why don't all women know about this?" It seemed like the world’s biggest secret. I knew that ante-natal classes weren’t teaching this. So, my lightbulb moment was, "I’ve got to get out there and change the education."
This education benefits babies too. A baby born without trauma, is born without all that emotional baggage. It’s more likely to be calm and well-natured. Babies born with trauma can have emotional stuff to overcome from the start. They can be more stressed, cry a lot, have sleep and feeding problems. Studies have found this to be true. For instance prisoners in a particular American jail had experienced birth trauma. It probably wasn’t the reason they committed the crime, but contributed to something in their makeup that led them to do it.
What resource has been crucial to your success?
Tamara: Social media, definitely; particularly Facebook. My role in The Wise Hippo is to create and collate promotional stuff and spread useful information. I do interviews, make videos and put them on social media, so they get shared around the communities. Because there are many women of child-bearing age on Facebook, it’s a great resource for them to find us.
What do you understand by leadership?
Tamara: Leadership is about making a difference and changing lives of those who cross your path. Whether they are pregnant couples, new mums setting up their business or midwives, we guide them, so that through the teaching they can change lives too.
Dany and I are both leaders, but very different people. We complement each other. She's very creative, like the mad scientist. I easily connect with people. I focus on the marketing, make deals, meet and chat to the people as well as supporting our many instructors
What difference has it made being a woman leader?
Tamara: As a woman leader I trust my instincts alot. I’m guided more from the powers within, and trust the path that has been laid for me. I'm always positive and upbeat, seeing the good in people. I find it difficult to see negative in people. Being a woman leader, it’s a privilege doing what I do as the more we can create confident empowered parents the better the world will be. I love that!
What are your top three tips for women who want to lead in their field?
Tamara: My first tip; find balance if you've got children. Remember, it's not all about work, because having and raising children is important. For each child we get just one chance. So find that work/home balance so that your children don't miss out on anything. One day you might regret it and it’ll be too late.
Another tip, if you don't feel passionate about what you're doing, ask yourself ‘Is this right for me?’ It needs to make you spring out of bed in the morning because we're here for a purpose; we have one life. I feel so lucky that I found my WHY. Everything I do is because I want human beings, parents, to be the best they can be and it starts at birth. So we create a happier, safer world, with less violence and negativity.
My last tip is be healthy. It’s a priority; drink lots of water, eat good food, exercise, and also do something that’s fun and helps you to switch off. That’s why I love to play roller derby. It’s physical, tactical and a great way to switch off.
Would you like to know more about The Wise Hippo? Click here.