Following on from last week's musing on positive thoughts, this week I'm discussing labour and the impact of hypnobirthing. Hypnobirthing is about focusing on a positive birth experience.
Before I had my first baby, someone suggested hypnobirthing. I had never heard of it. I had assumed that I would do some antenatal classes in order to learn about the process of birth and perhaps learn practical skills such as how to put on a nappy. I was the first person to say that I would want "all the drugs" when I was in labour, my only experience of seeing labour and birth was from films . So when I went to this class, it was quite a revelation that labour didn't just start straight away or that you don't get rushed to hospital as soon as the dramatic breaking of the waters happen (my waters in fact didn't even break with my first baby when I was in labour, and I had to have them broken for me for my second!) and in fact birth is nothing like how Hollywood portrays it. So firstly, I would say, whatever you do, read up and go to any type of antenatal class as a minimum, don't rely on inaccurate films!! Especially as they definitely will put you off the entire process of giving birth!!
"When you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change.”
-Marie Mongan, Hypnobirthing
But as useful as any type of antenatal class would be, I would actually really recommend doing a hypnobirthing course and doing this with your birthing partner (if you can).
When we lived in Dubai, hypnobirthing wasn’t really a thing. In fact, you couldn’t do really any alternative ways of birthing, home birth wasn't legal and water births were a relatively new experience- not all hospitals offered this. I did choose a hospital which did have this, however for me, I didn’t really want to try it (personal choice though I have heard they are really good). The hospital hosted hypnobirthing classes and my friend, who was also pregnant at the same time, and I decided to sign up. So each week the 4 of us (my friend and her husband) would waddle our way to the hospital and spend 3 hours being taught all about hypnobirthing and what it is.
The course we signed up to was by The Wise Hippo (they also run courses in the UK). The sign up fee also included a book full of course information and some activities and access to the mp3 audios of guided meditations we would be listening to during the classes and at home in preparation. I believe you now get access to an online hub which includes a wealth of information all about the birthing process (including live birth videos!). One thing: you do get to watch these in the class, I mean, you are about to give birth yourself, no point being squeamish. Some of the birth videos I watched were almost beautiful however. The point is that it is important to view these too as these give you a true reflection of what birth ACTUALLY can look like.
I now watch films with “births” in them and actually scoff at how unrealistic they are. Then again they wouldn't be very dramatic if they were based on real experiences though sometimes I do wish they weren’t so over the top!
How did I find it?
The course was over 6 weeks with a 3 hour session a week. I know that sounds like a lot but there is so much to cover. It was very in-depth and I think it has to be. I found the course extremely interesting in that everything was presented in a very evidence based, matter of fact way and included real life experiences.
My main take home points were:
The female body is amazing and it is designed for giving birth.
If you can focus on your breath, there isn’t much you can’t do. It’s all about focusing on something else. Breathing through your “surges” (a nicer word for contractions)
The relaxation and calming techniques don’t have to just apply to giving birth, they are useful tools for life!
“The major role that the body’s natural oxytocin plays in birth encourages the idea that birth is an experience of love… Birth is a spiritual experience simply because it is largely an act of love on the part of the body physiology and the indwelling spirit.”
– Cathy Daub
Before I took the hypnobirthing classes I had never tried meditating but now it is part of my life and they help at stressful times, not just for childbirth.
Did it work?
Well, I guess I can’t answer this question without telling you the story of my labour….
My two labour experiences were both very different. With my first baby, I definitely utilized all the tools you learn during the hypnobirthing course quite simply because I had the time too. My second childbirth experience was a little different. Because I had done it before, I had none of the nerves of the first time round so I was able to dip back into the teachings without consulting the book.
Baby at 34 weeks, I always used to find ultrasounds so amazing, though I never knew which part was what. (Although clearly this is his head!)
Baby was overdue, the doctors were very keen to try and induce the baby but I was determined to try and get things going as naturally as possible. The doctors did say that if he was any later than 10 days then we would have to schedule an induction. But the baby eventually decided he wanted out after about a week after his due date.
One thing that is extremely difficult to work out when you are going into labour for the first time, is figuring out when you are actually in labour. When things started and the surges commenced, they were quite gentle, more like period cramps. Was this it? It turns out this was early labour and it did last for a while. Early labour is like the warm up to what comes later, active labour.
What I had learnt in the sessions is my body is geared up to cope, I just had to relax and allow my body to do what it needed. So throughout early labour I put on the mp3s, practiced my guided meditation as I had been doing in preparation. In the end the early stage lasted so long I paused the meditations and put on some lovely rubbishy films on TV to help pass the time. I found I didn’t really want to watch anything too deep, so I binged countless cheesy “hallmark” films, you know the really cheesy ones like the girl who turns up to be the children’s nanny at some posh princes castle in a foreign country and ends up falling in love with the prince who is heir to the throne.
I should mention my first baby was born in December, thus the cheesy Christmas themed film...
It was only on day two of early labour at home that I started to wonder how this was going to progress. My body was coping and I was breathing through using the techniques but I was getting tired. The surges were coming on every 40 minutes or so, and then there was less gap…. but this also happened during the night so I never managed more than micro sleep. By day 3, I was really feeling it. I knew my body could cope but I kind of wish things would speed up. By the end of day 3, I was admitted to hospital as I had gotten to 5cm dilated. But I was exhausted. I had barely slept and as much as I could cope with the increasing intensity of the contractions, I struggled to figure out how I would have the energy to keep going let alone push at the end.
So after consultation with the doctor it was decided I would have an epidural so I could sleep for a few hours. My body would still be surging, but I would have relief from feeling it (every 20-30 mins by this point). What a relief! I went from feeling the intense surge to feeling nothing. My husband checked the monitor I was attached to which outputs when a surge is happening, and even though my body would be going through a surge, I wouldn't feel it! Meaning I was able to get a couple of solid hours sleep. When I woke, I was at the point when I was ready to push. They reduce my epidural levels so I could feel enough to push and after about 15 minute of some seriously real effort at pushing (and by the way, you don’t scream out when you do this like in the films, you almost internalised that screaming energy to push down) my baby was placed on my chest, all soppy and purple-y/blue then pink. I was overwhelmed with a whole mix bag of emotions- happy to see my baby, amazed at how large he was (he was 9lb!) and relieved that it was all over. Mostly, I was in awe of my baby. I had never felt such a rush of love for something before. This doesn’t always happen with everyone but it did in my experience the first time round.
Would I recommend it?
The key point, which I firmly believe and they promote in the Wise Hippo course, is that you have the right birth for you. There is no “correct” way of having a baby, you have to find what works for you. Definitely read up on the choices and listen to advice etc but you need to make up your own mind of how you want things to go. And also, stick to your guns. You get to make your own birth plan, and it’s totally up to you what you require. As useful as it is to read other people’s experiences, no two births are the same. (my second birth experience was completely different… a story for another time).
But one thing I will say is that I really recommend hypnobirthing. Even if your birth ends up going down a different path, it still sets you up with the right mindset and gives you the tools to feel confident in yourself and your body. I found I used all the tools I learnt but in the end I went down the route of epidural. And that’s OK because it was my birth and my choice. I know some people plan on using what they have learnt but then end up having a different birth, so you do have to be prepared for that. But it comes down to whatever is right for you and your baby.
“Labor is not about dilation. Your body knows how to give birth whether or not you ever have a pelvic exam during labor. Birthing women need encouragement to trust their bodies, and to be the stars of their own labors.”
– The Doula Guide to Birth
Did you try hypnobirthing? Are you doing it now? I would love to know your experiences.
In website news, I am finally able to reveal the new sparkling gift box collection tomorrow and I am so excited and nervous about it. It has taken months of effort to get to this point and I am so grateful to my husband for his help. There is a particular feature (you shall see tomorrow) which I was not able to code myself for the website and he has really stepped up and helped me in a big way. So there have been many late nights where he is on one laptop and I am on the other. Even though now it is his summer holiday from his job and he could be playing his play station, he is still helping with the finishing touches.
I think it's because he believes, just as I do, that the whole reason behind these gifts are so important. When a baby is born, so is the parent and it would be nice if they get some recognition too. Parenting is an adventure, so if we don't look after ourselves along the way, it makes the whole journey that much harder. Self-care is a big buzz word at the moment, but it's buzzing for a reason. It's a reminder that we need to look after ourselves, mentally and physically AS WELL as our children (not instead of).
So I hope you will come back tomorrow to the website to check out all the newness, and it would mean the world to me if you could share, like and comment on any posts to do with the new collection so it can be really successful. *fingers crossed*
P.s. I will update the Resource section of the website with more antenatal information as I realise that this is currently missing!
But some fab resources if you looking in the meantime include:
The Wise Hippo
The V Hive
The Positive Birth Company, they have a digital download pack for £39!
Inspiring Birth Quotes
Illustrations by Willow & Womb