Betty Parsons: Inspirational childbirth expert


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The Independent Online

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.