First off, PBA is not a thing (i don’t think!) I just made that up, but it’s got a ring to it!
So, I know what you’re thinking, this hypnobirthing stuff sounds a bit hippy!
Well, I thought so too!
It was all a bit ‘peace, love and happiness’ for me even after the first class, but skip forward four evening classes and reading a couple of books and I was feeling much more positive about birthing. Never in a million years did I think it would get me through labour, never mind the birth itself (with a little help from gas & air).
I was attending the Downe Maternity Led Unit for all of my antenatal appointments, it was here I signed up to the active birthing and breastfeeding classes. A family friend and one of the sisters Tracey had also suggested I take the Hypnobirthing course.
Kerry, my sister had read a hypnobirthing book but had not been fortunate to get a place on the hypnobirthing class as it fills up fast and the classes only run on certain dates. Truth be told when she was reading the books and listening to the relaxation tracks I rolled my eyes at her but I thought what have I got to lose!? Four Monday evenings missing a bit of trash TV or potentially gaining something which would help me and my baby.
. . . .
Hypnobirthing is equally about your birthing partner as it is about you and so this was a course for both of us. My husband Chris came to the first class, there were about eight couples in the class with Tracey and Karen running it. We sat around in a circle and it felt a bit like we were in an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting as we all were asked about our biggest fear of birth.
We introduced ourselves to each other saying when we were due, if it was our first child, what we thought hypnobirthing was and what we hoped to gain from it. This broke the ice and it was really interesting to hear others who had either similar concerns or very different ones, or who had used hypnobirthing previously.
Tracey and Karen had a positive outlook for each individual’s concerns as well as theories or case studies/birth’s they were able to share. This was really comforting.
For me my biggest concern was arriving at the hospital and being told ‘Sorry you’re only 3cm, go home’. I just think it would feel like you had failed an entrance exam and your overall birthing experience would begin with a negative. So I hoped the positive mindfulness, relaxation and breathing techniques would all help me in the early stages of labour at home; to avoid being turned away.
At this stage I was very much planning to attend the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald a good 40 minutes away from home, so the thought of being turned away was a real worry for me in case I got home and had to turn straight back around, or worse, not make it!
The Ulster is a much busier hospital and logistically the midwives need to know which labouring women is closer to birthing than the other, so an examination to see how many centimeters dilated someone is has a lot to do with who needs a bed first.
Research does show that women progress quicker in the comfort of their own surroundings which is why the hospital encourages you to return home. So it does make sense to send women who are not as close to labour home, however mentally this can be very negative for a labouring woman.
In the Downe (about 15 minutes away from home), an internal examination would not necessarily be made. As it is a much quieter hospital you would be monitored for an hour or two to see how your labour was progressing and if the midwife felt you would progress better at home it would be suggested or worded in such a way that returning home was an option not necessarily an order. Mentally this could change the outlook of someone’s experience from the outset.
All of this was comforting for my concerns and became one of the factors for my decision to birth in the Downe Midwifery Led Unit (as discussed in ‘My Birth Story‘ Blog).
In that first class we also had to close our eyes and practice a breathing technique while listening to a relaxation track. It was then I felt like a schoolgirl as I could feel Chris’s shoulders going up and down next to me as we were both chuckling to ourselves trying not to laugh out loud!
The hypno side and relaxations tracks really were not for Chris, he appreciated the theory that birth is natural; our body is designed for birth and that in fact we are very like other mammals when it comes to birth (as a farmer he has seen it all but obviously it would be very different when it was your wife in labour and not a heifer!). As it was December and he is a turkey farmer he didn’t make any of the other classes but I thought I would keep going to the class as it couldn’t do any harm.
Each week I arrived home more positive, teaching him a relaxing massage technique we had learnt, a different breathing technique or spouting off facts, birth affirmations, visulisations or positive birthing stories we had heard.
One technique that really worked for me to relax was an anchoring technique. Tracey had done this on me in the class and I found that touch was enough to relax me. Simply placing a hand on my shoulder while doing my breathing and listening to the track I felt that I had someone with me, behind me and supporting me. This hand on my shoulder was my anchor, holding me calm and steady.
Chris remained calm and positive throughout my labour at home, having him remain calm and not seeing any kind of fear in his eyes reassured me. He tried the relaxation massage but I just could not sit still or comfortably for this to really help me. He did use the anchoring technique of placing his hand on my shoulder (whether he remembered me going on about this or whether it was instinct I don’t know!) but this made me feel like he was behind me 100%. He did this when I was in the pool too and gave me his hand for reassurance, it is amazing how good it feels to hold someone you love’s hand to put you at ease.
During the classes we were given a guided tour of the home from home facilities in the Downe. We were talked through the various pieces of equipment, shown how to use them and given the opportunity to ask questions.
I was in awe of the facilities and during each class we always ended on a relaxation track and were asked to visualise the day of our babies birth; where we would be, who we would be with, how we felt safe, positive and had experienced a relaxing birth.
Each time I did this I pictured myself in the Quoile suite at the Downe having had a water birth, I pictured myself with my husband by the bed holding our baby.
The rooms in the Downe are not numbered but named with beautiful wooden engraved plaque’s on the doors. This appeared in my visualisation each time I listened to my relaxation track. It sounds silly and some will just call it fate but on the day of Sam’s birth when I was being wheeled into the maternity unit I had my eyes closed as I was ‘in the zone’ doing my breathing but I opened my eyes and looked up as I was going into home from home and saw the Quoile suite plaque.
This was the room I wanted, I had visualised and which had meaning to me as I had been brought up sailing at the Quoile Yacht Club. Once I saw the sign I felt content and safe that I was going to have the birth I wanted. Not once during my birth did I feel scared or unsafe, I was confident in myself, my body, my midwives and the facilities of the Downe.
During my labour at home I had used my breathing to get me through each surge (in the books they call them surges as opposed to contractions and also call it birthing as opposed to labour as labour suggests a hard days work and in actual fact birth does not need to be treated as such).
I listened to my relaxation tracks while experiencing the surges and breathed through them. The visualisation that worked for me was imagining I was riding a wave. As the surge built up I took a breath in and saw myself reach the crest of the wave and as I exhaled I felt myself ride the wave closer to the beach.
The car journey for me was the hardest part and I didn’t manage my breathing as well here as I could not get comfortable. I did say some birth affirmations into myself. I had written some out to read over but didn’t get a chance to use these, or put up the ‘hypnobirthing in progress’ poster on the door which was given out at our class!
I had also followed some hypnobirthing accounts on Instagram and screenshot some birth affirmations. These little quotes really stuck with me and I said them over to myself during the car journey. In between telling Chris I needed to push!!
The additional reading I did outside the class included the following books. Bare in mind I only started to read these at about week 35 and felt I had left it too late, but it is never too late (I only finished the last chapter of one of them the night I went into labour!).
I only started to take hypnobirthing seriously at week 37.The reason for this was that I also used an Epi-No (I will do another post on this as fear this is turning into another essay!) which you could only use from week 37. Basically ‘epi-no’ means (episiotomy NO!). It is a piece of equipment you use to train your body instead of perineal massage. Used to avoid tearing or needing an episiotomy.
I used this daily from week 37 while listening to my relaxation track. It trained my body in preparation for dilating and birthing. I managed to get to 7.5cm using this and so my body was used to the feeling of birthing to a certain extent but mentally it helped hugely as I felt more confident about birth
Sam was 8lb 11oz and I did not need an episiotomy and nor did I tear. I had a superficial graze which did not even require a stitch so for me this was a great tool. Expensive at £90 but it can also be used for kegel exercise post birth!
Here are the hypnobirthing tracks I saved on my phone. I listened to these before bed with earphones in so I could get ‘in the zone’. I saved a spotify playlist and had tracks there too. (I used all of these when labouring at home and relaxation tracks were played during my waterbirth).
Here is one we listened to in the class: Birth Relaxation Kit (I found this one a bit American).
I preferred this one which was downloaded as part of the above Sophie Fletcher ‘Mindful Hypnobirthing Book’. Mindful Hypnobirthing Tracks. It was this I listened to while using my Epi No.
On the day Chris could not get my wifi to work to play the track but thankfully Lisa one of our midwives had a hypnobirthing relaxation track (a bit like music you hear in a spa) on her phone and that was enough to focus me and give my breathing a pattern.
I also YouTube’d ‘positive births’ and watched some of these in the weeks prior to my due date.
In the books they talk about intervention and that not all internal checks are necessary. I had become focussed that my baby would arrive when it and my body was ready. I was not fixated on my due date and was not overly impatient, just becoming more uncomfortable as the weeks went on. I was offered a sweep at an antenatal appointment the day before I was due, I declined this. I was sent for a growth scan on my due date, again I was offered a sweep. I turned this down.
I said to the consultant, you must think I am a bit odd turning this down but I feel my body will go when it is ready and my original due date from my first scan was not for another week. He agreed my body would go when it was ready but said he would book me in for a sweep at 41weeks. It turns out the sweep did work for me as 12 hours later labour began, but I do feel holding off a week paid off as I was more ready mentally and physically for my baby.
I don’t think I could have got to 10cm fully dilated on arrival at the hospital without practicing my hypnobirthing but I would just emphasise it is never too late to try. There are no medals for not taking pain relief of any kind but I don’t feel it should be the first option. Even if hypnobirthing gets you through the early stages of labour at home then great! I couldn’t have done it without gas and air but felt so proud of myself for getting as far as I did without it.
The Downe have a range of birthing aids and equipment in their home from home as well as the pool they have birthing balls, birthing mats, a birthing stool, support rope and the multitrac partner seat.
I cannot thank Tracey and Karen enough for mentally preparing me for birth through the hypnobirthing classes. I have no doubt this positive mental attitude to birthing had a huge part to play in my positive birthing experience.
Thanks to the Downe and all of the midwives involved in my journey. As a first time mother I would not think twice about a midwifery led unit and if I am fortunate enough to have more children I would not look past the Downe for it’s facilities and outstanding service.
I hope this helps any of you who are anxious about birthing. Even if it makes you a little bit more relaxed or makes the early stages more manageable.