(image from http://www.123rf.com)*
Mention the words ‘mindful birthing’ or ‘hypnobirthing’ and you will probably find that a number of people quickly dismiss them as ‘new-age’ fads. Yet, for me, not only are they not new-age (you just need to look at how birthing has long been perceived and dealt with in other cultures and various tribes around the world to see this) they are also actually very logical and extremely effective approaches to giving birth. I have to ask myself if the people who so easily pooh-pooh things like this have actually ever taken the time to look into them and understand them first.
I remember the antenatal classes I attended before the birth of my first son and how giving birth was described as ‘exhausting’ and ‘like running a marathon.’ I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without making sure I had prepared myself thoroughly first. Yet how many of us actually prepare physically and mentally for labour? We have no doubt heard from friends about the labour that went on for days and days and how shattered they were by it all……we have seen the women in movies red-faced, dripping in sweat and hysterical……so we are fully aware that giving birth is not exactly a walk in the park but, still, many of us just sit and wait fearfully for the day those contractions start and plan mostly for after the birth (the buggy, the car seat, the colour of the nursery etc.).
This was very much the case for my first birth……and it was an experience I did not enjoy. My waters broke but, as nothing else was happening, I was eventually admitted to hospital. I did not sleep a wink, worrying about the huge impending task I was soon to face and trying to drown out the groans and cries of other women around me already experiencing regular contractions, and I was eventually induced due to the risk of infection. Within hours I too was having extremely painful contractions and, very close to actually giving birth, I remember having the thought ‘I can’t do this any more. Am I going to die?’ Something that would haunt me for months and months afterwards…..like a kind of post traumatic stress disorder. I actually was nowhere near dying and, a whole two years later, I would discover and understand why I had had this thought; knowledge that would give me the strength to face the next labour feeling positive and very confident in my body’s ability to birth a child.
Even before Luca’s birth Paul and I had discussed how, ideally, we would love to have at least two children so that they could grow up together and (hopefully!) be little side-kicks. But after Luca was born I felt shattered by the birth, exhausted by the task of looking after a new-born and also terrified at the thought of another birth. It took me two years to even consider facing it again and, in the autumn of 2013, I fell pregnant once more. This time I also had a 2 year old toddler to take care of so the pregnancy was very different and I decided to go to a weekly yoga class. It was blissful….not only relaxing but it also gave me that one time a week that I could really devote to focusing purely on the little life growing inside me. It was through these classes that I heard about hypnobirthing.
I started looking into it, bought a book and found that it all made so much sense. Second time around my waters broke again and, whilst I had some contractions, they were not strong enough and the doctors discussed the possibility of eventually having to induce me again. I was not overjoyed by this prospect but I accepted it calmly and went home. The contractions eventually started to get closer and, after a bath, I knew the baby was coming. We drove to the hospital and, 40 minutes after arriving, there I was holding Matteo in my arms…..with my tea and toast on the side (a scene I had so often visualised in my mind and that was now a happy reality). The last part of the labour had not at all been the harrowing and terrifying experience I had previously had and I didn’t need any stitches this time and felt really well both physically and mentally. I cannot recommend it enough and I would advise researching it on the internet, buying a book or finding a class. There is such a lot you can learn about it but, essentially, how it helped me the most was by teaching me to:
- Really trust and have faith in my innate ability to give birth.
- Relax my body and use my breath to work with the contractions instead of tensing up, holding my breath and trying to block them….which only increases the fear (and pain!) factor.
- Understand how fear can actually delay or slow down labour, thus increasing the chance of interventions, and the reasons for this. For example, a mammal facing an unexpected predator can slow down labour enough (due to the fight or flight mechanism) to run away to a safe place. It is exactly the same for us if we feel frightened or insecure.
- Recognise that feeling as if you can’t go on is actually a part of labour which often means the birth is imminent.
Of course taking this sort of approach to giving birth does not mean that you won’t feel pain or won’t have to have interventions, but it will make you feel more confident and knowledgeable about shutting down the thinking part of your brain and leaving your body to just get on with it. In her book ‘Effective Birth Preparation’, Maggie Howell writes ‘even if a woman were unconscious or in a coma, the muscles of the uterus would birth her baby’. Incredible really, isn’t it!
Giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear.
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