Betty Parsons: Inspirational childbirth expert

 

Betty Parsons' strapping mental and physical good health until virtually the end of her long life was a testament to her own teachings. She taught 20,000 women to "relax for childbirth and for life", as she put it. A trained nurse and opera singer, Parsons began in London in 1946 teaching stressed businessmen to relax. She was diverted into teaching expectant mothers at a time when the process of childbirth was viewed with trepidation.

Lessons from Parsons in a sequence of studios, latterly in Brook's Mews, Mayfair, and often including fathers (shockingly for the time), somehow made all the difference – and not just to childbirth. Betty's "girls", as she called them, widely reported that they continued to hear her voice in their heads years after they last clapped eyes on her, advising them as they went about their business.

After she retired in 1946 many continued to phone for guidance and to visit her house in Great Bookham, Surrey. Hundreds turned up for her 80th birthday at St James's Palace (she had taught Royal girls, too), and to her 90th, where the conductor Sir Mark Elder arranged a surprise musical tribute.

It is hard to describe the special experience of being in Parsons' company. Her teachings made perfect sense – drop shoulders and relax, put space between yourself and the problem, finish one job before starting another – yet somehow an extra something emanated. She was a great believer in the idea that it is only in looking back that one sees the reasons why events occurred.

In Parson's case she had a great blow in 1946 when her second son died of pneumonia at three months old. She became interested in Eastern philosophy when the chronic sinusitis she developed after her son's death was apparently cured by an Indian homoeopath who showed her the connection between mind, body and emotions and also taught her how to relax. "I had grown up with the idea of God being out there," she said. "Eastern philosophy introduced me to the idea of finding a higher self within me. Life is a jigsaw and I now see that my son's short life played its part in my decision to teach people and that my training to be an opera singer, a career which circumstances after the War prevented me from taking up, was not wasted. How else would I have been able to talk for 10 hours a day, every day, without my voice giving up?"

She believed that divine energy could be tapped through relaxation. "We have three elements," she said, "mind, body and emotions. I see these like a three-point plug. If all three are properly aligned, as they are when we relax, then the divine light will come on."

She was born Aileen Murray Slater in Rawalpindi (then in India, now Pakistan) in 1915. She was the daughter of a British army officer seconded to the Indian army. The family later moved to Canada, where Betty trained as a nurse. She married Terence Parsons, a commander in the RNVR, in 1939.

Friends and her "girls" continued to marvel at her undimmed mental and physical energy, which she attributed to daytime rests. "You are never wasting time when you are recharging your batteries," she said, adding, "Several people have said to me, 'how do you do it?' And I have said, 'well it's the attitude. I am a glass-half-full person and I believe we must live in today, not in yesterday or tomorrow ... I love my life and I am a great believer in the management upstairs. And I love my couple of whiskies in the evening. I know that I have helped quite a lot of people this way and it is only because I have practised my own philosophy."

Parsons is survived by her son Michael, a psychoanalyst in London.

Aileen Murray "Betty" Slater, childbirth instructor: born Rawalpindi 31 October 31 1915; MBE; married 1939 Terence Parsons (died 1976; one son, and one son deceased); died 1 February 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor