Hypnobirthing with The Bump to Baby Chapter…
My first birth was not something I especially want to repeat. Except for the obvious upside of having Munchkin, it was an event filled with fear, disappointment, anger. Having planned to have a home, or at least midwife-led, birth, I ended up not going spontaneously into labour, and, three weeks overdue, I very reluctantly agreed to go into Gloucester Hospital to have my waters broken.
Fear & Loathing…
To say I was terrified is not an understatement. For varying reasons I was determined that I did not want to be labouring in a delivery suite – and I had been adamant about this since before even getting pregnant. I believe that birth is natural and that your body and your baby knows what to do and that the best thing for that is to create a familiar situation where you feel safe and comfortable, free to move around naturally, with minimal interventions. A medicalised delivery suite was not somewhere I felt safe or comfortable. It was not somewhere I was going to be free to move around. It is not somewhere I would be given the time to get into a labouring rhythm. It was somewhere where I would be constantly monitored, where the pressure to dilate at the
quite frankly ridiculous and insane average of 1cm an hour would mean I had failed before I’d even begun. It was somewhere where intervention after invention would be tried, all in the interests of dealing with my total ‘failure to progress’. Something that is, quite frankly, one of the most appalling phrases the medical profession has ever, ever come up with.
Needless to say, a catalogue of intervention was what followed and my daughter was born by emergency cesarean less than nine hours after my waters had broken. I had tears in my eyes as she was pulled from me – and they weren’t just happy tears. As I was wheeled into the operating theatre, I had looked at R and said: “How did we get here?” He’d shook his head. Mute, terrified, sad.
Of course, moments later, my darling wriggly girl burst into the world, all 6lbs and 15ozs of her, needing no help at all, fighting fit and crying her little lungs out. She was a beautiful miracle, and the joy that flooded my body was like nothing I have ever experienced. Everything else flooded away and she was here, and we were there, and it was now us three and that was enough.
Days, weeks, months, years later, my feelings about this birth experience have ebbed and flowed, but I remained angry about what had happened to me, how it had got so quickly out of control, how totally powerless I felt, how much I felt the medical profession had let me down. I have tempered this anger with gratefulness that my daughter is here, and an understanding that sometimes birth can go horribly, irrevocably wrong, and how lucky we were that this didn’t happen. But, as I approached the prospect of giving birth to my next two little babies, I knew I needed to not only deal with what had come before, but look at what was coming and be able to face it with confidence and strength.
I knew a little about The Bump to Baby Chapter from social media, and a brief chat with Beth (one of the midwives who runs it) during one of the Push It Real Good walks in Cirencester had convinced me that hypnobirthing might really help me feel in control the second time around. But I was unprepared for how totally transformative I found the day. I wrote on Instagram later that day: “Just the most wonderful, affirming, restorative day with some fantastic women. This is a class that has actually managed to reset a lot of the pain and anger I held inside about my first birth. I feel confident about the path ahead of us now, accepting it, whatever it looks like, and making informed choices that we are in control of.”
Tools to Use
Firstly, being run by actual midwives who work on the same delivery suite at Gloucester that I’d been on was incredibly valuable – their insight, their professional, and personal, experience, their practical approach to birth was not only refreshing but illuminating. Beth was able to answer very specific questions about what happens during certain scenarios and her actual technical knowledge was second to none.
Secondly, covering topics such as the language we use around birth and addressing long held expectations of how birth will be for us allowed everyone on the course to think differently about the birth ahead of them. For the first time ever, I was able to see that my own preconceptions about birth, about my insistence on ‘natural birth’, had hampered me from the start, and, finally, after three years, I was able to take some responsibility for the way Munchkin’s birth played out. I don’t mean that we levelled blame, I mean that we looked at how being in control of a birth situation is as much about a mindset as anything else. I was determined my experience on the delivery suite would be terrible. And so it was.
*A little note here about NCT – I had always been quite positive about my NCT experience, I learnt an awful lot about what happens during birth and met some lovely people, and they cover all the natural aspects of birth really well. But I hadn’t realised how strong their underlying message about ‘natural birth’ as being the only acceptable way to deliver a baby was. I hadn’t realised how it had weaved its way into my psyche. I hadn’t realised that part of my feelings of failure were because I was told over and over again that natural birth with no interventions was really the only goal. And, I hadn’t realised that, because they spent so long on the theory and specifics of birth, that they spent almost no time at all on preparing us for what to do during birth, and even less time helping us with the all important breathing techniques. I hadn’t realised how, in many ways, this approach left me totally unprepared for my own birth, with absolutely nothing to call on when contractions became hard to manage. I remember my midwife saying at one point: “Use your breathing now, Emma.” And I thought: “What breathing?” I had no idea what she meant, or what to do.
The Bump to Baby course had a completely different message for us. It was all about how practising and using techniques and skills such as breathing, visualisations and relaxation triggers can help us deal with ANY situation in birth – from a natural, pain relief-free scenario to a planned Cesarean. It was about how important it was to take these tools, practise with them, perfect them, and then use them in birth to ensure we felt calm, in control, relaxed, confident. Beth talked about positive experiences of induction (something no-one has been able to convince me of for over three years) – explaining how using hypnobirthing techniques can make even the most sanitised of settings feel like a safe space for you if you are prepared for it. She covered how to manage different types of pain relief; what we can ask for, how to speak to consultants and different questions to ask – and she really got us to understand how things don’t go ‘wrong’, but that they merely take the path they are taking, and how we can use hypnobirthing to continue to feel in control.
There was also a lovely, cathartic and therapeutic feel to the day. This was a women-only session, which I loved – no need to tailor what we said to deal with the sensibilities of other people’s husbands, no need for the childish banter and jokes that peppered so much of our NCT experience – just a small group of women, sharing their own fears and concerns, their hopes and dreams. It was an incredibly warm environment to be a part of, helped – certainly for me – by the fact that there was a good mix of first, second and third time mums – everyone’s perspective and personal experiences feeding into the day, with anecdotes and advice that could support and reassure.
We practised relaxation tools, and covered different types of breathing extensively…. (as a friend said to me later: “Well good. It is kind of all in the breathing. It’s basically essential.”) And we talked about ways to make informed choices too – questions we could ask, ways to find things out, to make decisions that have come from a place of confidence and understanding, not fear or resistance. I came to understand how part of the feelings I have around my first birth are because I felt like it was something that happened to me, not something I actively participated in. I didn’t feel that I made choices, or was in control. It felt like a runaway train that I was on and couldn’t stop. I can see now, that in many ways I didn’t have the tools to allow me to actively participate in my own birth.
Empowered and Looking Forward
But I have the tools now. There is work to be done, practising my breathing, listening to relaxation CDs, tapping into that part of my subconscious that will kick into action when my babies are born – but crucially there is also a different mindset now. An acceptance about birth being something I can actively be a part of, and that any scenario can be made into a good and positive one. Most importantly, Beth has allowed me to see that birthing my twin babies will be extraordinary, however it happens. And I will be eternally grateful for that.
Bump to Baby Chapter runs a host of ante-natal and hypnobirthing classes in Gloucester and Cheltenham. Find out more here. Hypnobirthing Courses also come with a wonderful goody pack including a hypnobirthing book, chocolate treats and the wonderfully inspiring Yes Mum cards.