Angela and Johnnie

Angela and Johnnie

Thank you to MoorMum Angela from Otley for sharing her story.

I could hear in my head the echoes of an elderly American lady’s voice reciting, what were now very familiar affirmations:

I am happy that my baby is finally coming to me…

I am open and relaxed to whatever happens during my labour…

I am calm and relaxed as my body opens….

I was lying in the bath, where I had spent an awful long time over the last 9 months! The difference this time was that I was in labour.  I was breathing very deeply, and with each exhalation trying to keep calm and positive.  Meanwhile my partner, Ray, scurried around the house getting some last minute things together before we made the unexpected trip back to St James’ Hospital.

This was most certainly not what we had planned, and so that second affirmation about being open to whatever happens during my labour, was probably the most important of all the things I had learnt and practiced over the weeks leading to this moment.

The fact was that we were all set for a homebirth -we had even bought biscuits for the midwives! But a week overdue and with the bump not as big as it should be, it had been recommended that we have our baby in hospital rather than at home.  So, having joked that the worst scenario would be to be in labour and have to drive to the hospital unexpectedly, we found that this was exactly what was happening.

I am happy that my baby is finally coming to me…

I am open and relaxed to whatever happens during my labour…

I am calm and relaxed as my body opens….

When I first found out I was pregnant, the thought of giving birth filled me with fear.  This, I now realise, is the culmination of a lifetime of talk and stories about how painful it is, how long the labour will last, the need for pain relief,  talk of forceps, stress on the baby,  c-sections, poo, stitches, swearing at your partner, excruciating pain…and so it goes on!  These types of stories are so dominant in our culture that they are taken as read, no one challenges them and they stain our sub-conscious brain with negative thoughts about the birthing process.

This all lead me to believe that childbirth was going to be a painful and frightening experience that I had to get through in order to win the prize of my beautiful baby.

However, after that first panic about what lay ahead, I started to read more about more natural births and how yoga and breathing can help with the birthing process.

Having read more, I came to realise that although the increase in hospital births has of course reduced the rate of infant mortality, the focus on risk, coupled with the old wives tales and rumours of how awful it is, has inadvertently led to the disempowerment of the labouring women.  We often forget how to trust our own bodies and we forget that actually, this amazing body that has grown and nurtured a child for 9 months is also designed to allow us to birth our babies without automatically needing any epidurals, forceps or caesarean sections.

There can often be a vicious circle when in labour- we get a contraction, it is really painful and frightening – so we automatically hold our breath and tense up.  This limits the oxygen available to the uterus. The uterus tires more easily, it becomes more painful.  And so it goes on.  We tire, the baby tires, the labour lasts longer and there is an increased need for either pain relief or medical intervention.   Surely there must be another way!

It was a friend who introduced us to Hypnobirthing , after proclaiming with her second child that ‘there had been no pain, just pressure!’….well I don’t know about you but it sounded like it was worth a shot!

So we started to have Hypnobirthing lessons from Leisa Mark a Hypnobirthing teacher.  I personally feel that the name is a little off-putting, and at first it can feel a bit too American (with apologies to our American cousins, but you may know what I mean!)  However despite this, it has a lot to offer.  Leisa came to our home once a week for five weeks and talked us through the Hypnobirthing theory.  I must admit we felt a bit daft as we lay on our sofa and she guided us through a series of relaxations…but trust me it was worth it!

For me, Hypnobirting was about preparing the mind and the body for what was to come.  It taught me some deep relaxation and breathing techniques and to have the opportunity to talk through the fears and mechanics of giving birth.

I am happy that my baby is finally coming to me…

I am open and relaxed to whatever happens during my labour…

I am calm and relaxed as my body opens….

I found that a virtuous circle is also possible – to breathe fresh oxygen into your body after each contraction, to relax deeply and let the body take over the process.  To understand that the uterus is a muscle like any other, yes it is working hard but it is doing what comes naturally and the last 9 months has been building towards this day.  Not to think about how long the labour has been, but just focus on breathing, and sending positive messages to the child which is emerging, as nature intended, from the body.  It of course doesn’t necessarily follow that this will lead to a drug-free, pain-free labour. But I believe with this approach, your chances are higher!

So, by the time I was due (indeed overdue) I had read all that could be read about hypnobirthing, I had listened to the CDs, practiced the relaxations and most importantly I had overcome the fear of giving birth. I was really looking forward to the experience and convinced there would be no pain.

I am happy that my baby is finally coming to me…

I am open and relaxed to whatever happens during my labour…

I am calm and relaxed as my body opens….

I hadn’t been anticipating a day sitting in the hospital waiting to speak to the Registrar about whether we could have the baby at home (having discussed the baby’s scan with her we agreed straight away that it was best to come into hospital ).

I didn’t plan that although my contractions had started we would be sent home and told to come back later.  As a result we spent (there and back) around 90 minutes on an excruciatingly bumpy road in the Friday night rush hour from Leeds to Otley and back to Leeds again (trust me, in labour it feels very bumpy!)

Neither was I expecting a sterile birthing room with bright lights and a huge clock showing me how long I had been in labour, or to be strapped to a baby heart monitor so I couldn’t walk around the room.

This labour was turning out to be the complete opposite of what Ray and I had planned and prepared for.  I am open and relaxed to whatever happens during my labour.

If someone had said that all these things would be part of my birth story, I would have been horrified – where are the soft lights, chanting music and gentle atmosphere?  Well, actually it was still there.  But I think only because were aware and felt we could ask- we asked the lights to be put low, the clock to be covered and I just got down on my knees and breathed deeply.  In the end it didn’t matter where we were.

Hypnobirthing  lessons enabled Ray to know what to expect and gave him an important role to play in the birth.  I know for certain that without the loving and practical support of Ray during my labour that it would not have been the positive and joyful experience that it was.  He was there to remind me to breathe deeply and whisper positive words in my ear as the contractions intensified.  I know all partners do this, but he was clued up to look for signs of tension and knew the techniques I should be adopting to keep relaxed because we had already practiced them.   This really helped me to forget where I was and to sink more deeply into myself and into the waves of the labour, rather than being scared of what was happening.  When our baby emerged, it really felt like we had done it together, and indeed we had.

Once I had surrendered to my breath and allowed my instinct and body to take over from my rational mind, it wouldn’t have mattered if we had been in the middle of Briggate!  It did hurt (but not unbearably), I will admit….but with all those outside complications, I think it was not possible to go as deeply into a state of relaxation than if we had been at home all day.

Despite all of this, I can say without any word of a lie or exaggeration: it was the most wonderful, exhilarating and positive experience of my life.

Our baby boy, Johnnie, entered this world at 12:23 on 7th March 2009.  Would I do it again…bring it on!

Further Information on HypnoBirthing

HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing (3rd Edition) by Marie F. Mongan  available from Amazon etc.

Harrogate Hypnobirthing website.

Pregnancy Yoga.  There are an awful lot of pregnancy yoga books on the market.  I am a Yoga teacher myself, and I found these two the most useful:

Pre-Natal Yoga (with Double CD Set) by Yoga Association of Victoria (Paperback – 2005).

This is quite a slim volume and includes postures, breathing techniques and relaxations in both a book and a guided CD. it is quite gentle and would be particularly good later on in your pregnancy ….its a double CD and has some chanting on the second which is also really lovely. It is available from Amazon.

Wendy Teasdill Yoga For Pregnancy (Gaia Publishing)

This is also a really good book – more of an all rounder and has practices for the different trimesters…Wendy has taught a lot of yoga pregnancy teachers and I would recommend this one too.

If you would like to contact Angela to discuss her story or ask any questions, please contact us.