When I was pregnant the first time round, I really didn’t have much of a view regarding the way I’d give birth – in fact, I knew practically nothing about labour aside from what I’d seen in films. So the theory behind hypnobirthing was a revelation to me – the idea that labour could actually be something you enjoy, rather than a dramatic and painful necessary-evil women have to go through before they become mothers. However, I only really found out about hypnobirthing towards the end of my first pregnancy, by which time my doctor had already said that she wanted to induce me the day after my due date.
Although it was a relatively smooth induction and I was able to give birth naturally, the worst part was the process of having the epidural. Suddenly the room was filled with lots of people I didn’t know, the injection itself was extremely painful (I think a nerve in my back may have been struck as this isn’t the case for most women who have epidurals), and I fainted straight afterwards, which seemed to panic the medical staff. The crowd of unfamiliar faces staring at me and sticking yet more needles in me when I came round was very alarming.
Looking at the alternatives
When I fell pregnant a second time, I decided to do what I could to try for a more natural, less interventional birth where I could, hopefully, feel more in control. I came across Easibirthing – it is the English version of the American HypnoBirthing technique, and is endorsed by UK midwives and the NHS. I was put in touch with Dessi Kassab, a Dubai-based Easibirthing instructor.
We had a trial session during which she explained the Easibirthing approach of empowering women to enter labour feeling calm, confident and in control, and she talked us through some visualisations and relaxation techniques. I found Dessi’s approach and demeanour very inspiring, and we decided to go ahead with the full course of sessions.
"I didn't want to get my hopes up for a water birth, but I did buy a new tankini just in case"
Next, I looked into having a water birth, simply because I was interested to see how I would like it – I’d heard from friends who’d laboured in water that it made a huge difference. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, since there’s only the one room where you can have a full water birth at Al Zahra (although you can labour in water in all of the rooms) and I knew that if there were any complications or if I wanted pain relief, then it probably wouldn’t be possible.
But I did buy a new black drawstring tankini to put in my hospital bag just in case...
Putting in the work
We attended four three-hour Easibirthing sessions with Dessi, and were given printouts with visualisation exercises to try at home in between. Most of the visualistions were to do with pain management – imagine you’re in a control room and are turning down the dial on the pain level, that sort of thing. With an 18-month-old to care for and both of us working quite long hours it was tough to find time for the sessions, let alone the homework, but we just did what we could.
The sessions were very soothing and Dessi was great at reassuring me and talking me through my anxieties. My husband, Richard, and I were quite skeptical about the idea of hypnosis at first - it does have quite a sensationalized reputation after all. But we learnt it’s not about going into a trance where you do things you later don’t remember. Rather, you enter a state of relaxation where your faculties are heightened and you’re completely aware of what you are doing. I arrived at the sessions feeling exhausted after work but left them feeling rejuvenated.
The big day
During the birth, Richard supported me from outside the birthing pool by stroking my back, getting me drinks and making sure that the Easibirthing recordings of Dessi’s voice were always on. There was a wonderful atmosphere in the birthing pool – the room was dark apart from a scattering of golden starlight projected on the ceiling and the gently alternating green, blue, red and yellow lights illuminating the water.
"Anyone listening outside probably thought there was a farm animal in the hypnobirthing room."
The warm water was even more soothing than I’d hoped and it was great to be able to move around freely, which I hadn’t been able to do when I was induced as I’d been hooked up to a drip and a CTG.
I’d brought along ‘anchors’ for the Easibirthing – objects or pictures that help get you into your visualisations and get you into a calm state, which I found very helpful.
But the Easibirthing recordings from Dessi probably helped the most.
I can’t pretend that I was all Mother-Earth serenity – it turns out that I’m pretty vocal when dealing with discomfort! Anyone listening outside probably thought there was a farm animal in the hypnobirthing room. And when it came to the pushing part, I freaked out a little because I could feel the full pressure of the head in a way that I hadn’t when I’d had an epidural first time around. But with reassurance from Richard and the midwife, Joyce, I pulled myself together, then suddenly Joyce was shouting “Catch your baby!”
His little body came whooshing into the water, where I caught him and scooped him up on to my chest for the most magical cuddle that I think it’s possible to have.
I’d do it again
I would definitely try to make the same birthing choice again. I think it was less painful than my previous labour because it happened naturally rather than being induced, so the contractions progressed at a speed my body was more able to cope with.
The recovery was a lot quicker too – I was up and about just a couple of hours afterwards, and I was so much more aware of what was happening than I had been when I was medicated. I think Rafe was less drowsy than Max had been, which made it easier to establish breastfeeding straight away.
A difference I hadn’t really expected was how it felt to labour and give birth almost entirely alone – first time around, there had been so many people in the room, and it was brightly lit and at times felt chaotic.
This time was so peaceful, just me and my husband, with only minimal interaction with the midwife – it all happened so quickly but so gently. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience.