Childbirth and the Peter Jackson 'calm birth technique'

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Childbirth and the Peter Jackson ‘calm birth technique’

JOHN PETROZZI:    Hi. Welcome to “Living is Easy.” I’m John Petrozzi.  

Today, I’m really grateful we have an extraordinary person on our show today – and it’s Peter Jackson, who’s an internationally recognized expert on midwifery. Peter has over 30 years experience as a midwife, delivering babies all across Sydney and Richmond, New South Wales.

Today, I’d like to talk to him about the amazing journey he’s had in developing his program, which he calls “Calm Birth.”

Hi, Peter. Thanks for coming on the show.

PETER JACKSON:    Good morning, John. Thanks for having me and giving me the opportunity to speak to people.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Absolute pleasure.

Peter, the reason I wanted to get you on the show is because of the amount of experience you’ve had throughout your life in delivering babies and the process that you’ve made, in terms of helping out mothers and helping out dads to cope with that beautiful experience of bringing a baby into the world.

What’s been your journey and what made you become a midwife?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, it’s more by accident than by design. My early life was sort of interrupted by being in boarding school very early, and when I left school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I had a number of different positions. To cut the long story short, eventually, I decided I’d like to work with people more and I applied at Grafton Hospital to be a wardsman. I even thought that would give me a little of more contact with people.

Anyway, it was just purely by chance the person who interviewed me said, “Do you want to be a nurse or a wardsman?” Of course, it didn’t enter my belief system that men could nurse, so this was a new challenge, and from there, I took off. Then after I finished my general training and worked for a year at Grafton, the matron felt I would be really a good person in administration. She said, “If you’re going to run a hospital, you have to know a lot about midwifery and you need to do that.” So off I went to Blacktown in 1976 and the doors opened there. From there, I did many other things and eventually ended up at the Barrow Hospital, and since 1989 right up until about 2007, I worked as midwife there in the unit.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Wow. That’s a good 34 years ago in that journey when that journey began.

PETER JACKSON:    Yeah. It’s been a very rewarding journey. I think coming into nursing and midwifery, with all those other things that I have done gave me a broader sort of perception of life and I could connect with people easier.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Yeah. Can you tell us how old you are?

PETER JACKSON:    Sixty-seven.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Sixty-seven and still powering along.

PETER JACKSON:    Oh, yes.


PETER JACKSON:    Life is to be lived as far as I’m concerned.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Mm, I love that attitude.

So, Peter, tell us about this program you developed – Calm Birth. Because you have managed to help so many mothers achieve a calm birth.

PETER JACKSON:    Well, back in 1989, when I came to Barrow to live – and I’d been sort of in a few other areas of nursing and adolescence and mental health – because I had a midwife certificate, they thought, “Oh, we’ll put you in the maternity unit.”

So I got to ask a few questions because things had changed. They had improved since I’ve done my training intern for Mums and Bubs since 1976. I was still confused because some mums seemed to have great experiences; other mums seem to have very sad, disappointing experiences and it was very painful for them.

So I began to search, I suppose, a little bit deeper. In 1994, I combined my nursing with subconscious mind work. I found that that sort of provided the foundation, if you like, to bring mind-body medicine into the midwifery area, which primarily, I had sort of been approaching it more from the physical point of view.

JOHN PETROZZI:    So tell us more about the mind-body connection that you’ve come to understand.

PETER JACKSON:    The mind-body connection to me is fascinating. I’ve had some excellent teachers, in terms of books and seminars – Dr. Herbert Benson: mind-body in the United States, Dr. Milton Erickson, my own teachers here in Australia, Greg Brice, and Frank Wright. What I really have come to understand is that it’s the mind that drives the physiology. It’s our attitude, our belief system, via the emotions that really drive the physiology.

So when I started to look at it and kind of try to line it all up with Obstetrics, what I found with a lot of mums was fear. Of course, on any level, take childbirth out of the equation, fear is going to alter physiology in quite dramatic ways and in ways that we know and can describe in contemporary science.

JOHN PETROZZI:    So you’ve basically put this beautiful process of childbirth and mind-body medicine and created a program where you’re helping women go through childbirth and loving it – is that right?

PETER JACKSON:    Exactly right. I mean, I have a number of mums who have said to me, “I was sad when it was over because it was so good.”

JOHN PETROZZI:    Isn’t that interesting?

PETER JACKSON:    It is interesting. I wonder, “Why can’t all women kind of experience that kind of birth?” And I have found, with some mums who I have worked with, who have come to me, who have had very traumatic and painful first births, once they understand the amazing process of the human body when a mother gives birth and work with that process that system is designed, with some of the ideas and tools that we teach at Calm Birth, there the creator of the birth experience and all those other wonderful people and the obstetricians and the midwives, people there, I see them more as the safety net, because no one can guarantee that everything’s going to turn out exactly right 100% of the time. I think that’s right across life. Who can foretell what’s going to happen?

But I believe, in preparing the mum to work with the process to- Well, I’ve been saying it in my classes: To look at the birth of their baby as a labor of love and get the right sort of hormonal balance, which is well documented in people like Dr. Sarah Buckley, Dr. Michel Odent, if we get those hormones there right, they often call it a “cocktail of love” hormones; and that seems to create a totally different experience of bringing their babies into the world.

JOHN PETROZZI:    So what is it you do in your program?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, first of all, I talk more about what we understand in contemporary science of the normal physiology of birth and how the mother’s beliefs and emotions affect the working of that physiology. We can demonstrate in contemporary signs how the emotion of fear will alter the blood flow to different parts of the body. We can also understand how fear creates tension. This is a natural survival mechanism. But in childbirth, it can sort of disrupt the whole thing.

So in terms of approaching childbirth with the right mindset is, I believe, one of the most essential things for any mum to do.

JOHN PETROZZI:    What is it that you do? Do you do the old technique where it’s all to do with the breathing or is it all to do with trying to block out the sensations? What is it you do?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, it’s a combination of- first, knowledge is a great ingredient. If the mother understands basically, simply, the physiology, how the uterine muscle was designed to work – this is based initially on the work of Grantly Dick-Read, who was an English obstetrician back in the early part of the last century. Of all the things I’ve read on it, Read’s work makes a lot of sense to me. As he said, he came to the conclusion that this muscle was an amazing part of nature’s design. But what interfered with its effective working was the emotions.

In other words, he sort of understood that there were three parts to it: the mother’s belief system, the actual working of the uterine muscle depended a lot on the emotional level or the emotional aspect of the mother.

So what I do is first of all, give them that knowledge. Knowledge is to me a great way to dismantle fear of the unknown. Secondly, I then introduce them to what I call “subconscious resources.” There are many wonderful resources within our human body based on contemporary science such as the relaxation response basically from Dr. Herbert Benson – wonderful books, and he spent many, many years as a cardiologist, helping people to enter into the relaxation response. So that’s number one.

Secondly, our subconscious memory – we have lots of good memories. Memories are a wonderful resource. The use of our imagination in visualization; this is a powerful tool. Mums have said to me, “Peter, I birthed my baby as I had visualised it. As I had prepared for the birth, I pre-played it in my mind what I would like.” And as I’ve said, you can’t guarantee this but it does sort of give the mother something to work with that amazing experience.


PETER JACKSON:    But there are a number of other resources that we teach, including breathing. Breathing – there is some great science behind it, both from western medicine and also from eastern philosophy. So combining all those things together seems to give the mother some practical tools to work with to create their experience.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Fantastic. So, Peter, tell us a little bit more about that relaxation response you’re talking about.

PETER JACKSON:    Well, the relaxation response is part of our normal physiology. This is what I really love about the work I do. It’s not something that I’m sort of pulling out of the air. Benson’s worked on the relaxation response and he described it so well. He’s got a very succinct, If you like, definition. It’s a bodily calm that we can all evoke. It’s the opposite of the well known “fight and flight mechanism,” which in birth, if a mother is frightened, anxious, or she doesn’t feel safe, she can then push that button. So therefore, it’s going to alter how her body is working; whereas, if she’s relaxed, we respect her privacy. She has the tools to work with then it’s amazing what she can do.

As Benson goes out to point out, the relaxation response, that’s when the body’s in a kind of a healing mode, reshuffling mode, so that we can sort of conserve energy and all sorts of things like that and allow that energy to go where it’s needed. He said it often opens doorways, which I believe in other authors that I’ve written, such as Milton Erickson, it allows us access to those deeper levels of our awareness and the wonderful resources that we have, such as our imagination, creative visualisation, and all those things.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Peter, what’s the number one fear you’ve come across with women when they talk about childbirth and labor?

PETER JACKSON:    Pain – every time. I suppose, if I look back over my time and I used to sit on the bed and talk to many mums, I got a lovely insight from Dr. Michel Odent in one of his books, where he said, “If you let them, each mother will teach you something.”

So just listening to mums, that’s what they would say. I would say, “Tell me about your experience. What was good with it? What was wrong with it? What did you find difficult?” You can nearly bet your bottom dollar after every time, the first thing, “Peter, it is painful.” So that to me didn’t make a lot of sense, you know. It didn’t seem that mothers should have to go through pain to bring their children into the world.

Okay, work, incredible muscle sensation at times, powerful muscle sensation. Grantly Dick-Read discovered this also that it depends on the state of mind of the mother. You can talk to the mother about the workings of the uterine muscle as sensation and pressure and maybe quite intense at times; but if you work with it, then that can change the whole birth experience.

JOHN PETROZZI:    I’m intrigued with this word that you’re using, “sensation” as opposed to “pain.” Is it the same sort of thing that they would talk about in a pain management unit, for instance, in a hospital, trying to reshuffle the body’s memory and sort of understanding how that sensation’s been sort of interpreted?

PETER JACKSON:    Look, I’m not sure. When I started back in 1994, I used the frequent pain management seminars and I think it was Professor Michael Cousins. I’ve got a-

JOHN PETROZZI:    All right. Yeah, he was here in [0:13:41]. That’s right.

PETER JACKSON:    Sure. He gave me some great insights, and I went over to South Australia, to Flinders Medical Centre there and I spent a few days with, I think, it was Dr. Brownridge who was doing a lot with epidural block anaesthesia. I was really trying to find what it was. In the medical model, we talk more of pain and, you know, that’s the perception, etc.

Look, I don’t have a problem with that. Pain is pain. It’s an interpretation of a stimulus, but again, even in my other areas of nursing, where a person was more focused and had a different understanding, the pain didn’t seem to be as bad, if their mindset was in a better way and using breathing techniques. I often showed people that during postoperative care. Let the body go. Let that part of you that’s been incised, yes, there’s going to be sensations there; but if you breathe slowly, rhythmically, relax your body, often, it’s the muscles around the injured site that are screaming because they’re held in so tense.

So again, I think using all of the concepts of the relaxation response and the breathing- again, the breathing for example, we know that when we change the rate and depths, according to Candace Perth, that we release different brain signals or chemicals and some of those are endorphins, which are the body’s natural opiates.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Yeah, it seems to be part of your program as a matter of educating mothers and partners in exactly what’s going on.

So you spoke about the uterine wall. The uterus actually has a job to bring the baby out, without us being sort of conscious – is that right?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, according to what I can put together, the uterus is the prime mover. And that’s what I like about Grantly Dick-Read’s sort of understanding and the way he described the action, the muscle layers, where the outer longitudinal muscles powerfully draw her up during the labor, and that’s why the sensations can be extremely powerful. They eventually bunch up, and according to his theory, that’s what pushes a baby out. The middle layer of the uterine muscle, its role is to supply the energy, the blood supply between the waves when it relaxes in that relaxation phase, allowing blood to flow through, refueling it off and say, for the next wave. The inner circular fibers in the actual giving of birth need to sort of let go and be drawn open by the action by the longitudinal muscles. To me, this makes perfectly good sense.

If the mother works with that, with each sensation that she experiences using her breathing, which again, as I’ve said, according to science, releases all those amazing different brain signals, visualisation, and all sorts of things like that, then she is creating her experience.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Peter, how can you create a calm birth?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, firstly, I think knowledge is one of the most important things. Again, there’s a lovely scientist by the name of Dr. Joe Dispenza, and he put this in perspective for me. He said, “Our brains are designed to go from thinking, to doing, to being.” When I reflected on that, I thought that’s right, that the thinking part is the gathering of the knowledge and information.

So again, if the mother is aware of how her body was designed to work and how she can work with it, so she needs some theory underpin that. Then, she needs to go away and put that into practice and come to the realisation that her body was designed to birth the baby and to believe in herself, and also for the dad to understand the process so that he can support that on an emotional level by encouragement and companionship.

Unfortunately, again, as history has unfolded, we have sidelined the dads a lot. So knowledge is the first thing. Knowledge is a great ingredient – that’s the thinking part.

The doing part is after the classes, without pressure, the mum puts into practice the things like the breathing techniques, the visualizations, because she now understands the process so she can reflect on it, and in her mind begin to think about the kind of birth she would like to achieve.

Like one couple said it so beautifully, they left the class and they decided to have a positive experience. They couldn’t say what the actual outcome on the day would be but they never let themselves err from saying, “This is going to be a positive experience.” They were open to the possibility that it may go to the right or left.

So they put time and effort into preparing. To me, as another mother said it, “Part of it might have been luck, but mostly, it was preparation.”

JOHN PETROZZI:    You would’ve seen lots of very, very anxious mothers in your courses – wouldn’t you?

PETER JACKSON:    Oh, extremely anxious mothers.

So the doing part is the next part and then the third part in Joe’s little insight is creating the experience. Because we have taken the knowledge in, we’ve become proficient at putting it into practice, and then we create the experience.

I think if you look at anything in life, what you put into it is what you get out of it.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Of course, yeah.

So, Peter, just in terms of creating the experience of childbirth, how can we engage our midwives and nurses and obstetricians in the process?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, this is a good question, and it’s not one that’s easily answered because there are different bodies of knowledge, there are different models of interaction, and basically, we kind of work with the midwifery and the obstetric or the medical model of care and caring for mums and dads and babies during childbirth.

Now, each model has something very positive to offer. Each model, as far as I’m concerned, has a part to play. But I think the key to it is helping the couple first understand the process and then enter into more communication and a partnership with their caregivers so that they, as a team, create the experience.


PETER JACKSON:    Perhaps the medical people, because we are more, if you like, “risk orientated” and we do see things, you know, the things that we see make us very much on guard. I think we have to perhaps rediscover as I have, I believe, that we can trust the process in the majority of cases, given that the mother has the right preparation, the tools, and the support that she needs.


PETER JACKSON:    And then, we can sort of use all these other things. So it’s really I think an education point on three levels – the mother and the father first. We really prepare them. We’ve got all this wonderful nine months to prepare them.

Secondly, to perhaps relook at it in our medical model that natural birth is the starting point, and then, if need be, we can add all of these other things into it.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Peter, just before the break, we sort of alluded to a bonding process that happens between baby and mother just after birth.

Can you tell us a little bit more about this and how we can make it happen quicker?

PETER JACKSON:    Really, the whole process starts during the journey in the womb. As the mum and the dad are communicating, first and foremost, with each other – the loving relationship – and the child is absorbing that. The mother is literally interpreting the kind of world that the baby’s being brought into, again, that’s Bruce Lipton’s work. Then at birth, give them time because anybody can just think about it from the baby’s perspective. It’s just come into the world and, “Wow! Where am I?” But Mum and Dad are there.

Now, Sarah Buckley, Michel Odent says, “In that first hour or two after birth, the hormonal kind of interaction in mother and baby is profound. They’ll never have the same amount of oxytocin and endorphins. This apparently sets the scene for them, as Sarah Buckley puts it, “to fall in love with each other.”

I think if we’ve kind of made that journey while the couple are approaching their birth confidently, and everything sort of turns out into an experience where they say “wow” and they’ve given their time, then the bonding takes off, because bonding is the emotional connection between the three of them. And it’s just as important, I believe, for the dad to be so involved and to talk and communicate with their baby while it’s in the womb and to be there and to really be present at the birth. Then three people get off to a good start, because there’ll always be other challenges to the bonding and relationship as we grow. This is life but get it off to a good start.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Yeah, that sounds good.

Peter, I’m sure in your experience, you’ve seen some pregnancies which have had premature babies or there was a baby with some instant trouble and had to be taken off to the intensive care unit. What happens to the bonding process there and how can people manage to improve that?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, yes, that’s certainly been part of the journey where some mums had that experience. Now, again, I often use the analogy – I use a lot of analogies but I like the airplane – if we get a bit of turbulence as we enter the atmosphere so the baby becomes premature, case in mind stories always provide an excellent example of a mum who birthed twins at about 34 weeks and they had to be rushed off into the intensive care. The dad went with them. This is important that we keep up that connection, either between mum or dad. Sometimes, if mum’s busy, then the dad can sort of step in.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Peter, what do you want to be remembered for?

PETER JACKSON:    Oh, that’s a good question.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Because you are 67 and you’ve got some great experience in midwifery and delivering babies, and you also had quite an extensive pride to that, too. So, what do really want to be remembered for?

PETER JACKSON:    Well, I’d like to be remembered that I was always searching for knowledge. One of my greatest, if you like, heroes of history is Galileo. Just a very simple story may illustrate it. He refined the lens of a telescope. Back in 1611, he could see the moons around Jupiter, but nobody believed him.

Now, I can look at the same thing and this is not all my work. I’ve built on the work of others and perhaps I’ve refined the telescope just that little bit more. If people can pick up on that and remember, “Yeah, well, somebody cut the pathway a little bit further into the frontier.” We’ll always be pushing the frontier back, but yeah, hopefully that I’ve made some contribution that people can recognize that it’s a contribution with many other people along the road. There’s some wonderful scientists around now that are really giving us those insights. So, yeah, I feel to be remembered as somebody who pushed the frontier back just a little bit.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Nice one, Peter.

Just before we go – unfortunately, we need to wrap it up – do you have any closing words for any mothers to be who are listening to this?

PETER JACKSON:    I would say, to all mums, look, childbirth can be an amazing experience, but I really believe that knowledge, understanding how your body was designed to work, tools to work with it are essential for you to create the experience.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Now, that’s lovely, Peter. Creation is what it’s all about – isn’t it?

PETER JACKSON:    It is. As Joe Dispenza said, “When we get out of survival mode” – see, a lot of mums approach their birth saying, “How am I going to get through this? How am I going to survive it?” –  he said, “When we move from survival to creation, that’s when we’re really using our brain, our inner resources, our subconscious resources, call them what you like. Right across the board of life, when we move from survival into creation, that’s when we start to change things.”

JOHN PETROZZI:    Lovely. Beautiful. Peter, it’s been great having you on the show. I really appreciate you being on our show today.

PETER JACKSON:    Well, it’s a pleasure, John. I really enjoy talking. I love to talk about these things and perhaps shed a bit of light on well, something that needs a little bit of light on, I think.

JOHN PETROZZI:    Yeah, exactly right. Thanks, Peter.


JOHN PETROZZI:    And that was Peter Jackson of Calm Birth. He developed that program called “Calm Birth,” and if you want to find out a bit more about it, visit: There’s a lot of information on there, and there’s a contact number if you want to make a phone call to Peter himself.

Thanks for joining us today on “Living is Easy.” To listen to this and other podcasts, go to:

I’m John Petrozzi. Until next time – stay well and stay happy.