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Working as a traditional herbalist in a regulated practitioner world

Added 19/09/2018

For many years now I have worked as a herbal practitioner in the arena of women’s health and women’s life cycles. Alongside herbal medicine I have other practices and trainings I draw upon in my work.

Included in the arena of women’s health and life cycles are the experiences of pregnancy, birth and mothering. This is an aspect of the work I offer that soon became a primary focus. In some ways it's not surprising because mothering has been an area of my own life that has made my heart sing and also I am trained in antenatal education and pre and peri-natal psychology.

I am now a grandmother as well as a mother so here’s an indication as to how many years I have been working as a herbalist and yet I'm still surprised how many herbal practitioners shy away from working with pregnant, birthing and postpartum women.

When I first started working in this amazing area of women’s health I discovered pretty quickly, despite they’re being such a rich heritage of the role of herbalist/midwife there was little to draw upon as a herbalist today.

One of the so-called obstacles is the enormity of contraindications during pregnancy and breastfeeding and the regulations modern day herbalist work within their practice. In many ways as is often quoted by wise teachers, the answer lies in the heart of the problem. This was the path I walked along.

At the time, of course, I was simply navigating my work practice. It’s only on reflection I can see that by not fighting the contraindications and regulations I discovered a model within myself to work with my clients.

I made the decision early on in my work to offer to all aspects of my work, the innate trust that the answers are always there in our hearts simply waiting for the questions to be asked. Offering encouragement to mothers with babes in the womb or outside of the womb to trust their self.

Of course many times this asked of the client to be willing to meet the fear that arises in many of our parenting journeys. Sometimes this would also ask to look in the face some old memories where the parenting relationship was not always experienced as safe. I offer as a background constant in my work that much of my role as a practitioner is to be a signpost for the client in diving deeper into knowing themselves.

One of the things I have discovered in working with pregnant and breastfeeding women are the strength and potency of herbal teas. Many times herbal teas are seen as the poor relation to tinctures. Yet in sensing teas were the best way to work with the herbs for pregnant and breastfeeding women I discovered not only were they very effective in attending to symptoms, diagnosis and wellbeing, but also very versatile.

The herbal brew served as a cuppa not only attends to the symptoms but also teaches us of self-kindness. The gift of stopping for a moment reminds us of the deep relaxation available to each of us at any moment, no matter how busy external circumstances may be. If we make a stronger brew of herbs they can be used as footbaths, baths and herbal wraps. All of these methods of using herbs bring amazing results and are very relaxing tools in the healing process for the client to use in their own home.

In offering this way of administering herbs to mothers we are also supporting the legacy of home herbalism, this being a particular enthusiasm of mine. I feel mothers either pregnant or after the baby’s birth have their minds and hearts wide open often supported by the physiology of the body and their deep yearning to nurture and nourish their child. In discovering for themselves the benefits of using herbs, healing foods and natural healing ways to support pregnancy, birth and postpartum and attend to symptoms, it’s a natural byproduct for them to use these discoveries in their homes and families daily lives.

I do sometimes work with tinctures; the most used situation would be for birthing. It’s most unlikely that any birthing woman could drink a herbal brew other than in the early stages of the labour process.
In choosing which herbs to have in my apothecary, as I said so many herbs are contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Yes, the pregnancy/breastfeeding apothecary is much smaller compared with standard ones yet no less effective. The limited number of herbs that I could use in this particular aspect of my work encouraged me to discover more and more about the plants I could have in my medicine bag.

The herbs used are often tonic, restorative, nutritive, nerve tonics, digestives and galactagogues. Often many of the herbs could be called backyard herbs.

Simplicity has been at the heart of all the formulas I make and also the particular model in which I work and this has been the key to many healing outcomes. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, we could say I ask the clients to participate in preparing their medicine, to take a moment to drink the infusion and to recognize they are offering themselves this herbal brew as an expression of self-kindness. All of which takes time, effort and attention/awareness on the part of the client.

Many times I have found that I can use the same herb for so many different situations, which of course is part of the exquisite beauty of herbal medicine. With having a limited apothecary in terms of the number of plants I can use this has been one of the blessings as it has encouraged me to discover more and more about the herbs I can use.

One of my most used herbs is Oat Straw, it can be in a prescription for fertility, pregnancy, vaginal infections, frazzled nervous systems, it also supports a normalizing effect on the whole physiology of the body in times of stress. Oat straw added with Lady's Mantle into a strong brew then strained and poured into a bath it’s like a warm blanket of love to a woman who has experienced a miscarriage or gyne procedures. Oat straw is a herb that whispers to me of saying yes to life, of supporting and nurturing the life force energy within each of us.

Listening and witnessing of the client is a major part of my herbal practice, both of which I feel are such gifts the practitioner both offers and receives. To listen deeply to a client asks of me as a practitioner to be willing to follow a completely unknown experience unique to each client rather than starting from the place of I know which herb to use for these symptoms. The witnessing of a client experiencing the process of her decision to become a mother and all that this asks of her is something I have enormous gratitude for.

Such simple effective processes and prescriptions that offer reassurance, affirmation, inspiration, nurturing, nourishment and healing when needed.

As I said earlier I didn't set out to not fight with all the contraindications of herbs when working with pregnant and breastfeeding women and the regulations we face as practitioners today. For whatever reason, I simply navigated a simple safe route to work with the joy of offering my services to pregnant and breastfeeding women. 

Another of my passions is to speak out about how an amazing it is to work as a practitioner in this arena of pregnancy, birth and beyond. To support not only practitioners in feeling comfortable to work with pregnant and breastfeeding mothers but also to encourage more home herbalists.

I used the symbolism of a mother nurturing and nourishing her child in the womb, recognizing many times this is also what the mother is yearning for her self. So there was a signpost to the gentle, nurturing, sustaining and nourishing herbs. Of course, I discovered many of these herbs are not contraindicated. I learnt to trust that such plants are gentle yet very effective and healing. I also witnessed over and over why we are doing something is as important as what we are doing.

Supporting and affirming to pregnant and breastfeeding women that they themselves can be included in all the nurturing and nourishing that is offered to their child.

Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all beautiful demonstrations that Life provides. At the birth of a baby, there is an involuntary action occurring; birth is going to take place, we may not know when or how, but it will occur. Just as when a baby is in the womb legs and arms grow. The mother doesn't sit down on a Tuesday morning and say today I will grow toes for my baby today. It simply occurs. There is the fact life provides. After the baby's birth there is colostrum and then milk in the mothers' breasts. Then when the baby’s digestive system is ready for more than just milk teeth appear. Life provides.

Sometimes it can be as if we become so casual about the fact that life provides. We are so busy attending to the problems we can miss the blessings. We can be so busy attending to the details of how we believe things should be or shouldn’t be again we miss the blessings available in every moment. In working with pregnant, birthing and postpartum women I have witnessed how these life cycles ask that we open to the capacity to receive as well as give. From this willingness to receive as well as give there is a harmony, a sharing of experience between mother and child.

This is where the wise teachers' words "the answer is always in the heart of the problem " comes to life through direct experience. Working with pregnant women and mothers I recognized by including both mother and child in every prescription, every signpost of support and affirmation, a relaxation arises that support both mother and child.

We could consider it’s a problem that so many herbs are contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Yet I have discovered having a small apothecary of herbs for this aspect of my work to be blessings.

Amanda Rayment is a trained practitioner in herbal medicine, a woman’s health and healing educator.

Courses offered by Amanda include Antenatal Wisdom, The Home Herbalist Apprentice and The Great Mother and the Amazing Power of Softness.

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