Giving birth. It truly was one of the most amazing and surreal experiences that I have ever had. I don’t meant to write this story to make anyone else feel bad about their own experience but to empower women and share the beauty of birth rather than frighten and exaggerate with tales of horror. I have titled this blog “Our beautiful birth journey” rather than “my” to emphasise that this is an experience that the mother and baby share and it’s important to consider the impact of birth on a baby.
Let me start by saying that when I became pregnant, I was terribly afraid of birth. In fact, I almost ignored the thought of it until a couple of months in to pregnancy. This seems to be a normal phenomenon in our society. All of our lives, we have been bombarded by images, movies and stories of what a painful and horrendous experience pushing a baby from your most sacred regions is. Tales of screaming and tearing, laced with fear and made into a kind of competition – who has the most scarring birth story to share with their friends? Who can appear the toughest from what they have had to endure? To top that off, I had spent my career working with children with disabilities, many of whom had been born prematurely or who had complications at birth leading to lifelong physical and intellectual impairments. I was well aware of what could go wrong, to say the least. In fact, I had never heard of a birth story gone right. I tell you all of this to show you that this is a typical way of thinking about birth. But it is not the only way. Change your perspective a little and everything transforms.
During pregnancy, I decided that ignoring the transition between pregnancy and baby was not going to make it go away. I decided to arm myself with all the knowledge I could. I went searching for a podcast to hear other women’s stories and I chanced upon something that changed my life – “The Birth Hour”. An amazing podcast where women share their positive birth stories – hospital births, VBACs, twin births, adoptions, birth centre births, home births. I quickly learnt that I knew nothing about birth. What is a mucous plug? Birth can take days? Your water can break at any stage? I devoured as many episodes as I could handle – I listened to birth stories to and from work, on the way to the shops, while I was working out. I couldn’t get enough of them! The common theme was that everyone had a completely different experience – birth was unpredictable. When I heard these women speak about what a beautiful experience they had, I just knew that’s what I wanted.
My partner and I are both in health professions, so we decided early on to give birth at the hospital. We weren’t in a place to afford private care or a OBGYN so we just went with the standard midwife care through the public hospital. I ended up being placed in a midwifery group practice (MGP) program where we have our midwife appointments with a group of pregnant ladies who are due around the same time and we are all allocated our own midwife.
I definitely wasn’t one of those gorgeous glowing pregnant ladies. I was very active and fit before I fell pregnant – teaching yoga, doing heavy power lifting and rock climbing several times a week. I had envisaged myself teaching and practicing yoga, lifting weights and eating healthily all through my pregnancy. The reality was very different. I ended up being quite sick, nauseous and vomiting right up until around 30 weeks. I was so fatigued and suffered from terrible pelvic pain. I wasn’t able to walk without pain and lived off a diet of ham and cheese croissants and coffee to settle my nausea.
After listening to many hours of the birth hour podcast, I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to try and have an unmedicated natural birth with as little intervention as possible. I had heard many women who achieved a natural birth credit a doula for invaluable support so I began looking into doulas. When speaking with Josh (my partner), he expressed concern about having another woman in the room. “What can she do that I can’t?” was the theme of the conversation. So I stumbled across a website for a clinical hypnotist that ran hypnobirthing classes (she is also a doula). I brought up this idea with Josh and he was on board (after several convincing literature reviews on the effectiveness of hypnobirthing in achieving a natural childbirth).
Hypnobirthing was a game changer for me. Hypnobirthing is essentially the philosophy that birth is inherently natural and safe. It aims to give a woman knowledge of birthing and techniques to relax to enable her to have an empowering experience. As Hypobirthing Australia explain:
“The ‘hypno’ part of ‘hypnobirthing’ refers to the hypnotherapy that we use during the program to release fears and condition ourselves to release endorphins at times during our birth.”
Essentially we were given relaxation and affirmation CDs to listen to while meditating on having a peaceful, calm birth. By programming yourself to relax to certain tracks, you can then play the music during birthing and trigger yourself to surrender to the process.
I worked in a physical job where I was on my feet all day until I was 34 weeks and then finished work as my contract had ended. Initially I was disappointed as I felt like I had lost my purpose and I had to just hang around until the baby arrived. But it turned out to be great for me! We bought a house and moved when I was 36 weeks pregnant (actually a great time to move because no one expects you to lift anything!) and I had a few weeks to settle in to my new house and prepare for the birth. Those few weeks I focused on relaxation, meditation, yoga, breathing, creating art, eating well, journal-ling. I would listen to my hypnobirthing tracks in a relaxing bath every night. I devoured books, lectures, videos and documentaries on natural birth. I was given Sarah Jane Buckley’s book – Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering which I can not recommend highly enough! She is a doctor and through research and science, explains why a gentle, natural birth is best for both mother and baby and how the cascade of interventions can negatively impact the pair.
Around 38 weeks, I went for a hypnotherapy session to release any fears that I had been holding on to. I felt amazing and didn’t feel like I was harboring any fear about birth but it came up that I had started to want a homebirth rather than a hospital birth. I had armed myself with so much knowledge and felt so confident in my ability to birth that I was afraid the hospital staff would get in my way and stop me from having the birth I had envisaged. I was also fearful of the car ride to hospital. Through hypnosis and diving into my subconscious, we discovered that my house didn’t yet feel like a place I wanted to have a baby – descriptions of “dark”, “dark energy”, “stagnant” kept coming up. When we investigated my feelings towards a hospital birth at a subconsious level, feelings of “safe” and “calm” arose. It became clear that I wanted a hospital birth to feel safe but that I wanted to labour for as long as possible at home alone to achieve my calm, gentle birth. Michelle (my hypnotherapy instructor) did a fear release hypnosis for me around the car ride to hospital and transitioning into the hospital environment. When I got home, I used a sage stick to smudge my entire house, clearing the “dark energy” I had felt and reassuring my baby that he was coming into a welcoming, loving place.
Stay tuned for the next installment – labour and birth itself!