In addition to soft cheeses, raw meats and caffeine, listening to other people’s birth stories should also be on the list of banned items during pregnancy.
I was recently enjoying a decaf coffee and a pack (yes, an entire pack) of chocolate Hobnobs with some mum-friends when the chat turned to the impending birth of my third child and I casually mentioned that I was quite keen on having a drug-free delivery. Cue looks of horror and sharp intakes of breath so pronounced it made me think perhaps baby-brain had struck early and I’d actually said, “I plan on delivering drugs for free.”
It’s not that I was expecting choruses of “For she’s a jolly good fellow”, or riotous rounds of applause, but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of tales of inductions, emergency C-sections, epidurals not working and botched episiotomies.
In the run-up to the arrival of my first two cherubs, I didn’t have the nerve to shush the naysayers. Third time round was a different story. Any time a fellow mother started a monologue of maternity moans in the name of birth-bonding, I stopped just short of miming a zip across my lips and instead held my hand up and said, “I’m trying to just think happy thoughts in these final couple of months, but we can absolutely swap stories of our war wounds after the event.”
I went down the epidural route for my first two births, mainly due to being terrified of the unknown. And while they were beautifully pain-free, for this third one I felt that I wanted to experience all the sensations of a natural childbirth – the good and the not so good. In the same way that people challenge themselves to run marathons, I wanted to see if my body would be up to it. Had I known the little bundle would weigh in at a whopping 4.1kg and that my labour was going to last 19 hours, I might not have been so quick to shun the enthusiastic advances of a needle-wielding anaesthetist. But ignorance, as they say, is indeed bliss.
Once I’d made the decision to try to go au natrel for the delivery, I started researching techniques that I could use to ward off the temptation to grab a passing midwife by the collar and demand her to hand over the contents of the nearest medicine cabinet.
Much to my husband’s amusement, I signed us up for a hypnobirthing class – four weekly sessions, each one lasting three hours. Once he’d got over the initial disappointment that at no point would he be taught how to swing a pendulum in front of my face and make me bark like a dog, we both got really into it. Our teacher, Jasmine Collin, soothingly talked us through different relaxation techniques, how to conquer any anxiety we had over the birth, and generally how to remove the fear factor and replace it with positivity.
Traditional terms associated with childbirth – contractions, labour pains, waters breaking, pushing – were banished from our vocabulary, instead, words with softer connotations – surges, waves, breathing your baby down – were encouraged and reinforced with CDs that I listened to daily in the run up to D-day.
They’re, predictably, all along the lines of “You’re a strong, confident woman, and you can do this”. But before you accuse me of becoming a hippy and replacing my power suits with tie-dye flowing skirts, I can confirm that it actually really works. By the time I felt the quake of my first contraction, instead of feeling anxious, I felt like saying out loud “Bring it on!” (But I didn’t, because I’m not an American cheerleader.)
I’m not suggesting for a minute that a hypnobirth is a pain-free experience. Pushing a baby out of ‘there’ – sorry, breathing a baby down – is always going to be an intense and arduous experience... it’s a logistical issue, which probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. But when my not-so-little son was placed on my chest, mere seconds old, I couldn’t help but give a small ‘self-five’ and whisper “Go team” in his ear. Maybe I have got a touch of the cheerleader in me after all.
Image by Shutterstock
This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine