Relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to enjoy the remainder of my pregnancy with an excited sense of anticipation of the birth: this is how I left the retreat feeling. Quite a departure from the state in which I had arrived: exhausted, anxious and apprehensive about the upcoming life-changing event.
The mini miracle of this change was brought about by spending two days cocooned in the nurturing environment created by Eliza Guerrini (occupational therapist and natal hypnotherapist) and her mother-in-law Heather (trained nurse, doula, and self-confessed baby and birth obsessive). The pair run retreats for expectant mums (as well as new mums, and even expectant couples) from beautiful country houses in the Cotswolds, carefully selected for their tranquilly, comfort and connection with nature.
The break is a chance to switch off from daily life, focus on positive preparation for birth, and meet other pregnant women. Informative workshops and taster sessions of natal hypnotherapy are neatly woven in to a relaxed but well thought out timetable.
My stay takes place at Matara, a ‘wellbeing centre’ comprising a stunning 8-bedroom Regency house, 28 acres of gardens and parkland, and quirky indoor spaces for the group activities. Accommodation is luxury with a capital L, but in a cosy understated way – fluffy bathrobes are found in the wardrobe, and a warm (but not hot, ladies) aromatherapy bath will be prepared for you at any time.
I’m chauffeured from the nearby train station and am greeted with hugs, herbal tea, fresh fruits and the most delicious gluten-free coconut cake made by Chef Kirstie Urquhart.
The welcome tea sets the tone for the food we’ll be eating; fresh, nutritiously balanced feasts for breakfast, lunch and supper, with endless healthy snacks available throughout the day (and night to satisfy any midnight cravings!).
Breakfast always includes a juice concocted by Kirstie (first up, carrot, apple and turmeric), followed by, well, anything you fancy really. A favourite was lemony avocado on toasted locally baked sourdough rye.
Lunch is taken at the farmhouse kitchen table or courtyard garden, and may be miso glazed aubergines, pesto courgette ‘spaghetti’, or squash soup with onion bhajis, yoghusrt and chimichurri. The evening banquet is served in the dining room, with mocktails (we all had top-ups of the zesty cucumber ‘nojitos’) with nibbles (pani puri bites or oriental steamed vegetable wraps) beforehand, and hot milky drinks afterwards.
Although the emphasis is on fresh and ‘wholesome’, don’t feel guilty if you’re craving coffee or chocolate, - these aren’t forbidden and are available too!
Put simply, you won’t go hungry, and mealtimes are a real highlight of the stay.
On the first morning, we head out for a stroll through the bluebell-carpeted woodlands, the 8 mums-to-be (at different stages of pregnancy and a mixture of first and second babies) taking the time to get to know each other. We stop for (yet more!) restorative homemade snacks – a hot citrus drink and nutty halwa - while Eliza reads a beautiful piece from Cider with Rosie by local author Laurie Lee.
Back at the centre, yoga is taught by the very uplifting and spiritual Chloe Mercer and gives an opportunity to enjoy gentle exercise (suitable for all levels and bump sizes), feel closer to baby, and earn the feeling that you almost deserve that next big meal.
Heather and Eliza are always on hand to chat about any pregnancy issues; their years of experience in birthing (both personal and professional) become very apparent during informative workshops. They share practical advice, as well as many positive stories, which go a long way to override the conditioning to associations of pain and negativity most of us hold about labour owing to the media (thanks, One Born Every Minute) and too much neurotic internet browsing.
Eliza’s gentle voice is perfect to lead the gentle natal hypnotherapy sessions. We curl up under cosy blankets and are lulled into the most peaceful state I’ve felt for some time by using breathing techniques, guided imagery and visualisation. The concept is that by understanding the birthing process and learning ways to stay calm and relaxed, fears can be removed and replaced with confidence in your body’s ability to birth naturally.
If all this wasn’t pampering enough, you can choose from a range of special pregnancy treatments and therapies, delivered by local therapists selected for their warmth of character and expertise.
I want to try everything on the list, which includes reflexology, a Dr Hauschka facial and acupuncture, and even a maternity photo shoot (this can be done in the privacy of your own bedroom and/or in the countless beautiful settings throughout the house and gardens).
I go for pregnancy massage from Camilla, who makes me feel safe and supported with carefully placed pillows between my knees. She focuses on my specific pregnancy body niggles (foot cramps, pelvis pain, and neck tension from being over-worried) not just with her warming and firm touch but also friendly words of advice to just be a bit easier on myself at this time.
As well as getting the big things spot on, Eliza and Heather are really thinking about the smaller details: homemade cookies by your bedside, gorgeously scented oil burners throughout the house (I have since purchased the same fragrant oil to recreate the serenity at home), personalised goodie bags packed with pregnancy essentials (think stretch mark cream and vitamin supplements), and interesting and varied books on birth and babies dotted around the cosy armchairs and cushioned window seats.
Come the close of the stay, we are all sad to say goodbye, it feels like the end of a fortnight away with old friends. The group endeavour to keep in touch and share news of our arrivals over the next few months. Once back home I’m keen to maintain the newfound sense of calm and confidence; easily achievable thanks to the tools and resources provided on the retreat, which in my mind was worth every penny and a must for any mum-to-be.
New mums looking for a similarly heavenly escape can enquire about upcoming dates for ‘Retreat Yourself Mum’.