IS it possible to be so calm about the prospect of giving birth that you can drift off to sleep? Apparently so – or for the ever-chilled out Stew at least.
With bubba number two due in just a few weeks, we decided to shun traditional antenatal classes (let’s face it, I couldn’t really fit them in around work anyway) and as I’d been offered a hypnobirthing session we gave something a bit less conventional a go. If it’s a good enough technique for Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba and even Kate Middleton, it’ll do for me!
I’ll admit, alternative therapies are not usually my thing, but the thought of being calm, positive and even enjoying labour won me over.
While I was pregnant with Santi I went to the four-week NHS antenatal course, and although it was interesting to learn about the various stages of labour and what your body goes through, I found the focus on pain relief and the various interventions that could be needed very daunting. Nobody at 37 weeks pregnant wants to be passing a ventouse around a classroom.
So, one Thursday morning we found ourselves heading into a holistic and alternative therapy centre to see if childbirth could be turned into something to be excited rather than fearful about.
The car journey didn’t set us of on a calm and positive note as Stew decided that was the time to tell me I shouldn’t be nervous about giving birth “because I’ve done it before”. Yes, but I’ve also attempted to conquer my fear of heights by jumping out of a plane, but it doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry to do it again!
Not knowing what to expect – massage, chanting, crystals? – we pulled up and immediately clocked prayer flags hanging up outside. Riiight. Of all the things I’d considered hypnobirthing to include, religion definitely wasn’t one of them. I started to get a bit nervous and wondered what I’d got us into, and could sense Stew starting to hate me.
It turned out my mind was going a bit wild – as it tends to. Hypnobirthing doesn’t have anything to do with prayers, rituals or witchcraft – it’s about being in control, something most women, including me, worry they’ll lose as they’re wheeled into the delivery room.
Yvette explained that it’s preconceived ideas of labour – the horror stories mothers eagerly share the moment they find out you’re expecting – that fill women with fear. But through positive thinking, banning negative words, like pain or contractions – they’re thought of as “sensations” or “waves” – it is possible for the birth of your child to be an enjoyable experience.
It sounded good to me!
So, we settled in for our session, which started with some questions about Santi’s birth. Luckily, I’d had a straightforward delivery with a short labour, making Yvette’s job easier as there was no great trauma to erase from my memory. It did feel slightly awkward jumping into talking about something so personal with someone we’d never met – and having a photographer snapping away made it even more uncomfortable (I was writing a feature for work), but I guess most people don’t turn up with paparazzi!
To prove the power of the mind, Yvette got us to sit back and close our eyes as she told us to imagine we were sitting in the sun under a lemon tree. I’ll be honest, it took a while for me to get into it because I find it hard to switch off. But after a minute or so I was feeling more relaxed, and a bit of scepticism was chipped away.
There was a short biology lesson, where we were told about the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline and the “love hormone” oxytocin, which we want to encourage during labour as a natural source of pain relief. The two can’t exist together, so the key is to be totally relaxed and let your body go with the flow of contractions – sorry, surges – of labour, rather than tensing up and fighting against them. It made sense, why make your body work harder at something natural?
To help, Yvette explained the importance of feeling comfortable and making your labour environment as familiar as possible. A home birth is ideal, but if you need to be in hospital, which I will be because of my gestational diabetes, homely item can lessen the clinical feel of the delivery room. She asked if there was something with a calming smell that I could take in, but I think she meant more like a pillow than my Jo Malone perfume so I just kept quiet at that point.
Then we closed our eyes again. Yvette softly talked us through the emotions of birth and bringing your child into the world calmly and positively, and I tried to switch my mind off to everything else and focus on her words. As I opened my eyes, I realised I’d actually managed to tune out all the random thoughts and worries that usually swirl around my mind. Success! Now I just need to perfect that to the extent that I can pretend I’m sunning myself under a lemon tree instead of pushing out what I’ve been warned is a rather large baby with a fairly big head.
I turned to look at Stew to see how he was getting on, and swiftly gave him a kick as I realised he’d drifted off and was about to start dribbling! I’m pretty impressed someone as sceptical as him managed to relax to that extent … But if he falls asleep in the delivery room I’ll be less than impressed!
*Yvette Winstone is a Katharine Graves trained hypnobirther, and practices at The Centre, Pell Street, Swansea.
She offers hypnobirthing courses covering 12 hours, and can be contacted on 07923974612 or at firstname.lastname@example.org