So you’ve done your research and decided that hypnobirthing classes are for you, but your significant other is reluctant, or may even be refusing to attend with you. Let me tell you a secret – a LOT of the people (usually men) that attend with their pregnant partners started off reluctant. Once I I get to know them they often tell me they didn't really want to come but are glad they did. Here are some of the things they've told me they were worried about.
1. Hypnobirthing sounds weird.
The things you will learn on the course are actually very rational and logical. There will be no joss sticks, no chanting and no hypnotising you to do things against your will. Hypnobirthing is an odd-sounding name, but the ‘hypno’ part refers to a state of deep relaxation that allows us to change deep seated beliefs that are stuck in our subconscious, such as ‘birth is scary’. Athletes and sportspeople use this technique all the time to get ‘in the zone’ so they can perform at their best. That’s as weird as it gets.
2. I don’t want to look like a dick.
My classes are informal, evidence based, logical and I don’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. The most interactive it gets is practicing supporting your partner to take different birth positions, usually whilst laughing. But the rest of the time you don’t have to leave your seat unless you want to get more cake and tea.
Frankly, you will look like more of a dick not knowing what to do or how to help whilst the person you love most in the world is doing the hard work of birthing your baby. Think of those blokes on One Born Every Minute. Don’t be like them. When you know what do to support your partner and baby and are there every step of the way, it truly feels amazing. You feel powerful and resourceful and essential to the process, rather than like a spare part.
3. We have too many other things to spend money on.
I get it. Having a baby is life changing, and it can seem like there is SO MUCH on the list of stuff you need to buy before they arrive, not to mention redoing the bathroom. But take a moment to consider that your partner’s experience of giving birth will be with her, and you, for life. I meet too many women who are traumatised by their experience of giving birth, and traumatised Dads too. It might sound dramatic, but it’s true. The men who feel like this are not weaklings, they are just normal people that weren’t prepared and felt out of control and unable to help their partner and baby. Get prepared. It will be one of the best things you ever do. The bathroom renovation can wait.
4. What if it doesn’t work?
Hypnobirthing is not magic. It’s a logical, rational approach to birth that gives you and your partner the skills and techniques you need to manage pain, deal with the unexpected, and make the decisions that are right for you and your family. You will both need to practice the things you learn. I can’t promise you the perfect birth, but if you put the work in it always makes a difference. You and your partner will feel like a team, and feel proud of yourselves for working together to bring your baby into the world.
And finally, here are some comments from blokes that have attended my Calm Birth School course with their pregnant partners:
“As the Dad you can sometimes feel left out of the loop, but I felt included and have gained some great skills which have made me feel hugely more confident about my role.”
“(I liked)…the way information was easily explained. I felt included.”
“Very well informed, rational approach – I enjoyed that the course stayed rooted in evidence based approaches and didn’t fulfil my fears of excessive ‘woo-woo’!”
Photo by Steve Mays / CC BY
Affirmations are positive, present tense statements. We say them as if the statement is already true. Most of us use affirmations all the time, without realising it. Do you identify with any of these?
These are all examples of my negative self-talk (or affirmations). Negative affirmations often come from things other people have said – teachers and parents in particular. They were true because I believed them, and I had plenty of evidence to back up my beliefs too. In fact, I’m still telling myself I am not great with names, so guess what? I’m not! But I believe I have the power to change this by changing my self-talk to something more positive.
So isn’t this just wishful thinking? Well, affirmations work because our mind runs on patterns, and it will do everything it can to prove itself right – from filtering what we notice through to self-sabotage. Many of these patterns have been running for years – for example, the maths one was from primary school, and so whenever I approached a maths problems or a sum, I would get anxious and think, oh no, I’m not good at this, this will be too hard for me, and so on. Do you think it’s easy to do a sum with all of that going on in your mind? Nope. My mind was setting me up to fail.
So, in order to overwrite the negative beliefs or negative self-talk, we need to give it something else to ‘say’. By repeating positive affirmations, they eventually become part of our new reality, and our mind starts trying to work to prove us right.
The power of positive affirmations is well known by athletes and sports psychologists. Most athletes and sportspeople use affirmations (and visualisation) as part of their training routine.
In the context of birth, positive affirmations are useful as one of the tools to help us overcome our negative thoughts and experiences about birth. If we go into labour with all of our old, negative beliefs about birth unchallenged, then our subconscious will cause us to want to escape the situation, because it believes it isn’t ‘safe’ for us to be in labour. This will cause a physiological response that will make normal birth much more difficult, as we feel stressed, anxious and afraid of what is happening to us.
However, if we can give our subconscious some new beliefs about labour and birth, then there is much less likely to be any conflict between your body and your mind when you go into labour.
Here are some examples of positive affirmations:
My body softens, opens and relaxes more and more as my labour advances
All of my feelings are valid
I feel the love and support of others around me
My baby knows all is well
Birth is a safe and wonderful experience
I trust in my ability to give birth
My body knows exactly what to do to birth my baby
I am strong, confident and assertive
My body is completely relaxed
I feel the surges move through my body and know that all is well
I breathe calmly to oxygenate my blood and allow my uterus to work efficiently
My body knows how to grow and birth my baby
I relax and allow birth to happen
I see myself handling everything beautifully
I find it easy to speak up for myself and ask for anything that I need
Pick your favourites and write them on post its or postcards and pop them around the house where you will see them. Say them to yourself whenever you see them, and watch your confidence expand!
Photo by David Salafia, CC BY
If you want more great content, practical tools for coping with labour and birth, and an amazingly supportive birth partner, sign up for my Hypnobirthing classes. One space left in April and two in May - grab yours quick! Drop me an email or click here to find out more.
On the 11th of January, 2016, we all woke up to the news that David Bowie had died. That very public loss and grief coincided with a much more personal one for me. It was the day that I learned that my pregnancy, which was a few days from reaching the celebrated 3 month mark, in fact had already ended almost a whole month before. My still strongly symptomatic body just hadn’t wanted to let me know that. Two days later I found myself in hospital being prepped for the surgical procedure to remove… I still don’t know how to phrase it… My baby? The loss? The contents of my uterus?
After being wheeled away from my wonderful rock of a husband I was taken on an almost farcical journey from brightly lit bay to brightly lit bay, where each time I was asked to repeat my name, date of birth, and what surgical procedure I was about to have, and why, to the point that I simply couldn’t find the words anymore and became a little hostile to the poor nurse asking (to be fair I had told him less than two minutes previously, in the previous location). Eventually, I was asked to walk from the trolley to the operating table. I was wearing just a surgical gown and my bright purple thermal socks. I padded over, shivering, and was helped up onto the table by a crowd of people. I noticed in horror that the leg portion of the table was jointed so that it would hinge outward in two separate sections, with stirrups, and I tried not to think about what was about to happen. I lay down and fought the urge to tell everyone to back off and kindly approach me slower, preferably one at a time. I made small talk about how cold it was in there, but I felt uncomfortably crowded - everyone was doing something different to a different piece of me, and I just wanted to be knocked out as fast as possible.
Two weeks later, I was back at work and trying to be normal. This was harder than I expected it to be. I became pretty depressed for about 3 months, but in quite a high functioning way - I dragged myself to work each day and work got done. I was desperate to get pregnant again as fast as possible, and I was not easy to be with. I withdrew inside myself and when spring finally came, I didn’t really understand what had happened to those 3 months. I felt like time had played a trick on me, and that David Bowie had only just died. It’s strange having a very private grief marked in time by a very public one - there are reminders everywhere.
I don’t think I quite appreciated the power of hormones until then. When my cycle returned to something resembling normal, the fog suddenly lifted, and I was back in the world. Bruised, dazed, and grieving, but back. It felt good to exist again.
We’d planted a magnolia tree in our garden to mark the lost pregnancy, and I noticed that somewhat poetically, the last flower head on that beautiful tree didn’t fall until I was pregnant again. Amazingly, this was in that first, almost normal (if very long) cycle. I found out when I was due to go on a hen weekend. I wanted to ‘just check’ that I would be able to safely drink. I thought it was early to be testing, although given the cycle length I couldn't be sure of anything. But I also knew I’d just be anxious about it all weekend if I hadn’t. So, in the bathroom, while my husband showered, I peed on a stick and stared at where the second line would be. He said I was looking too soon, and suggested I join him in the shower whilst we wait, but I couldn’t put the stick down - I couldn’t tell if the faint line was a line or a shadow - what did he think? Eventually we agreed that the shadow was actually the faintest of lines, and I went into a state of shock.
It’s not that I wasn’t thrilled, I was. But I was also terrified. I had just got myself back after the horribly messy aftermath of last time, and I didn’t know how I would cope with another hormonal roller coaster. Perhaps it was self-protective, to direct the intensity of feeling away from unbridled joy, so I’d not have so far to fall if/when it happened again. This time round, my joy was distinctly more ‘bridled’, and I had no time to process any of the other feelings that were surfacing alongside it, as I had a hen do to get to.
At the hen do I got round the not drinking by mumbling some story about anti-biotics, but I couldn’t avoid the spa. I carefully avoided the hottest parts, ensured that I remained hydrated, and generally felt terribly guilty for being there. It was a curious mix of lies, denial, and fear of harming that extremely fragile faint little line, that by this point I wasn't even sure that I believed I'd really seen.
Driving home, I was totally raw. I had exhausted my resources and a cocktail of feelings was starting to emerge. I sobbed my way up the motorway, never before feeling such connection to the soundtrack of Joni Mitchell’s emotive lyrics and chord structures reaching me from the car stereo. I was scared of the journey ahead, I didn’t feel nearly ready or strong enough to embark on it, I was terrified of losing myself completely if I lost this little bean too, and I felt so guilty for feeling anything less than sheer delight. It was exhausting.
At the beginning of my first pregnancy, I joyously downloaded the ‘what to expect’ app, and eagerly devoured each week’s information (how the bean had turned into a tube, which would become the central nervous system, etc., etc.). I excitedly showed my husband the diagrams of what our little one looked like now, and matched my symptoms against the lists provided.
This time around, I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I read up on miscarriage statistics, the numbers surrounding risk levels week by week, and the psychological after effects of miscarriage. Not that I found much in the way of new material - I’d already consumed most of it in the previous few months when my entire world had been grey fog. The first 12 weeks felt like an ice age. Every trip to the toilet felt like a threat and so many times I was fully expecting to begin to bleed. Eventually, our scan date came, and I was convinced that it would be a repeat performance of last time. I knew the lines by heart: ‘I’m sorry, but it’s not good news - I can see a baby but there is no heartbeat. I just need to get my colleague to confirm what I can see. I’ll be back in a moment.’
But, by some miracle, this was a different play entirely. Instead, the line was: ‘I can see a baby, and there’s the heartbeat - would you like to have a look?’ I gasped and stared at my husband, and then we both looked at the screen to see a lively little creature shooting backwards and forwards as if on a pilates reformer machine, earning herself the nickname ‘frog’.
I simply could not believe it, and I simultaneously felt like a weight had lifted… and been replaced by a different kind of weight. Now that I knew that this baby was an actual possibility, there was so much more to lose, and I had to worry about her as well as about how I would cope if I lost her.
I began to relax a little and allow the positive feelings in over the next couple of weeks and it felt really good. I was excited and could think about little else. We began to tell some people, but asked them to keep it quiet as it still felt quite vulnerable.
Then, at 14.5 weeks, when my husband was away for work, I got up in the night to pee, and began to bleed heavily. When I looked into the toilet and realised what was happening I became detached from reality. A bit of me knew that this meant that I’d lost the baby, and I knew that there would be a huge mountain of emotions that I couldn’t face right then. I also knew that I needed to do something about this blood loss, because I was alone and it was pouring out of me, and I didn’t know at what stage it was dangerous. I began to panic. To cut a long story (involving many phonecalls with husband and out of hours medical staff) short, I ended up going to hospital in an ambulance and spending the night there, utterly convinced that our frog was gone. It was a pretty terrible night. But a scan in the morning revealed, to my utter amazement, that in fact, she was happy as Larry, seemingly oblivious to all the drama! Once again, I simply could not believe it, and over the next couple of weeks I became hypervigilant to every twinge, every sensation, and obsessed about statistical risk of miscarriage week by week.
As the weeks rolled by and felt more and more undeniably pregnant, I gradually settled into believing that this one might just go all the way. But I’ve restrained myself from broadcasting it widely. As I’m now 35 weeks, it’s extremely obvious to people I see on a daily basis, although it still shocks me when I catch sight of my reflection and realise just how obvious it is! I find it really surprising when strangers give up their seat for me, but it’s a good reality check for just how pregnant I now look.
We’ve not put anything on facebook, so we have some friends who we don’t see very often who have no idea we are expecting a baby fairly imminently. If and when we announce the birth of our daughter on facebook, we fully anticipate a fair amount of surprise at our apparent secrecy. The reasons for not broadcasting it are twofold. The obvious one is my lack of confidence in the pregnancy, and fear of losing our baby. This haunts me still, and I have to work fairly hard in my head to keep that fear at bay.
Another reason is that I have a very visceral understanding of the agony that other people’s pregnancy and birth announcements can cause when one has experienced a loss, or is trying to conceive. I’m sure that many people handle these things a lot better than I did, but for me, each new announcement (and it seemed there were so many on facebook) and each time I saw someone heavily pregnant, or with a new baby, it was a painful reminder of my loss. It’s not that I didn’t want other people to have what I wanted, I just wanted to be able to have it too, and the absence of it made me feel so hollow and so empty. So each time I wonder about posting some kind of pregnancy or future birth announcement, I think about the potential impact of doing so on those going through similar experiences, both those I know of and those I don't. I think of how seeing it could make someone's day just a little more difficult, and I can’t quite bring myself to do it.
This reason is bound up with another ‘side effect’ of my miscarriage too. I think it rendered me, for a short while at least, much more sensitive to, and tolerant of others. My own grief made the fact that everyone has their own shit going much more salient. I was more aware of others’ potential silent or hidden suffering. I'm not making claims about being a changed or improved person or anything, just that I had a real connection to the idea that you never know what private tragedy people have going on in their lives - if someone is behaving like an arse hole, it might be that there's a damn good (maybe very sad) reason why.
Another interesting side effect was on my anxiety levels. In my job, I regularly have to speak to large numbers of people for fairly large chunks of time. I actually hate it doing this. I used to suffer from social anxiety quite badly, so the fact that I can do this at all is a real improvement, but it’s never been particularly enjoyable. However, in the grey fog months following the miscarriage, I found that I no longer got anxious about this part of my job. I just didn’t care anywhere near as much as before what people might think. The loss taught me that there are things so much more important (and difficult) in life, and public speaking felt easier in comparison.
But I digress…… Pregnancy after miscarriage is different, or at least it has been for me. The main differences have been that for every bit of wonderfully hopeful excitement, there can also be fear and anxiety and distress, even when nothing seems to be going wrong, and even at the same time as all the positive stuff. Anniversaries or notable dates might be really weird, too. I am hugely grateful that I got pregnant again so quickly, and that it meant that when the due date for my first pregnancy rolled around, I was already well on the way with this one. I know that many women find that date particularly difficult if that isn't the case (and sometimes even if it is).
I am now approaching Christmas with a bizarre sense of deja vu - I was pregnant last Christmas too. (And because it would have been obvious, despite only being 9 weeks, we told our families, in a slightly elaborate fashion involving a camera set up to capture their reactions, only to have to take it back a few weeks later.) In some ways it feels like I’ve been pregnant for over a year. My due date is pretty close the anniversary of David Bowie day, and I can’t quite put into words what that feels like yet, other than pretty damn weird. I’m kind of hoping that the actual date of our daughter’s birth does not fall on that day, but at the same time, part of me is fully expecting that it will.
Having had a miscarriage has definitely affected my experience of pregnancy this time, but I didn't realise until recently that it was also affecting my thoughts and feelings about birth. Fortunately, at some point during the second trimester, we got wind of a mysterious magic word from some of our friends, that had them very enthusiastically encouraging us to seek it out: ‘hypnobirthing’. Liking what we heard, we searched for local teachers and chose one who sounded warm, experienced, and interested in scientific evidence. We knew that this would make for a good match for the way we like to interpret the world. We were right, and our classes with the lovely Liz have been exactly what we were looking for.
Through hypnobirthing I’ve become aware of the impact of vivid images, of padding into my surgery in my purple socks, and the huge volume of blood that poured out of me earlier this pregnancy. I've done some work to acknowledge these, lessen their impact and make more helpful imagery accessible instead.
I wouldn't say I'm totally ready for the birth of our daughter quite yet, but I am certainly getting there, more and more each day. I could stare at my belly for hours, watching each lump and ripple as she wriggles and kicks, and we are very much looking forward to meeting her.
I'm aware that I've not said much about my husband in this piece, and this has been his journey as much as mine. We are very much a team, and I have not been an easy person to be with at times. He has never faltered or deviated from doing and being exactly what I've needed through all of this, and I’m not really sure how he has done this, nor can I put into words what it means to me that he has.
Photo by Lauren McKinnon, CC BY
I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ today. Yesterday I burst into tears several times at seemingly small things. Then a short while ago I realised I’m due on my period today. That explains it. Not that this means my tears and emotions aren’t valid, just that they are much more present, very much at the surface. For some reason the way I am feeling right now has reminded me with incredible clarity of the last days of being pregnant with my second child.
I felt extremely raw. Vulnerable. Ripe. There was tension in the air. The sensations in my belly were not unlike menstrual cramps. A dull ache. I felt the need to rest, to hibernate, to hide away. Well, as much as you can with a two year old relying on you for her every need. Just keeping her fed and happy was more than enough for me to focus on. The pregnancy had been straightforward and healthy, but not enjoyable. I felt my body creaking and straining under the effort of growing and carrying this baby. I was looking forward to giving birth, not only because I would finally get to meet our baby, but because I would no longer feel so heavy and achy.
The days moved slowly. Even though my first child was born at 41 + 4, when my estimated due date arrived and nothing happened I felt a bit disappointed. I’d been having cramps from 37 weeks, so I thought that might indicate labour was around the corner. Gradually, the days moved significantly beyond my due date. (Why do we usually drop the word ‘estimated’? We really shouldn’t.) I knew instinctively that this baby would come when s/he was ready. I felt their strength and robustness, their regular movements reassuring me. But at the same time I knew I was going ‘against’ guidelines by deciding to wait and see, by declining to book a date for induction. I had no doubt that I was making the right decision, my husband was fully supportive, it seemed I knew the stillbirth stats better than my midwives and had balanced the risks and benefits, but I am a good girl at heart and I hate disappointing people. Fortunately, that part of my personality is balanced with being a stubborn git who likes to understand stuff for myself and ask a lot of questions.
However, The System is mighty, and when it brings its might to bear on vulnerable, weepy pregnant women, guess who gets their way most of the time? I was beginning to take the strain of the weight of this system that claims women have a right to informed choice but doesn’t act as though it really means it. What it feels like is that it bullies and coerces until it has frightened the woman shitless and she caves in to the enormous pressure exerted upon her. Both my pregnancies have gone well beyond 41 weeks so I was fully aware of this. Last time I avoided the meeting with the consultant to discuss my ‘options’ by going into labour. Lucky me.
Anyway, this hinterland, this odd time of waiting for my baby was made more difficult by the feeling that I should be doing something. Have you had sex/ eaten a hot curry/ taken castor oil/ driven on a bumpy road/ *insert whatever colourful suggestions your friends, family, neighbours have come up with*? We are a nation of doers, we feel better when we are doing something, or telling someone else to do something. As a rule, we find it extremely hard to just be. I know that’s true for me in any case. With my first pregnancy I drank raspberry leaf tea and had a couple of amazing therapeutic pregnancy massages and some acupuncture. It made me feel relaxed and calm when I had started to feel a bit frantic, but ultimately babies are born when they are ready, and not before. I knew this. I knew it in my bones, but at 9 months pregnant, with all of the hormones, exhaustion, and pressure, it felt really hard to let go and allow myself to wait patiently for my baby to be ready.
As it turned out, I went into spontaneous labour at 41+5. It was such a relief! I felt excited as I began to feel some pattern to the cramping and knew this was the real thing. I wonder why it seems so difficult to treat pregnant women nearing and beyond their estimated due date with kindness and gentleness, rather than treating them as if there is a problem? The average time for a first time mum to go into labour is 41 weeks, so it really is very normal to go beyond the magical due date.
Anyway, that's my story. I'd be really interested to hear about your experiences so please feel free to comment.
If you want more information on the facts and figures of induction for going ‘overdue’ then Sophie Messager goes into detail and links to a lot of evidence in her excellent blog post.
Most women quake in fear at the thought of having to give birth to a big baby. You might be crossing your legs just thinking about it. But is it really so awful, or are we the victims of the nocebo effect?
The nocebo effect (the opposite of the placebo effect) is when a negative expectation of something causes it to have more impact than it would originally. By instilling fear in women about the dreaded ‘big baby’, we are creating a situation in which it is very difficult to have a positive experience of birth.
This is not to undermine or minimise the experiences of women who have had a hard time birthing their big babies, although equally some have had a difficult time birthing a 7lb baby. What I want to do here is question our seemingly universal belief that a woman birthing a big baby will need assistance.
If we believe that giving birth to a big baby is impossible or agonising, then surely we also have to believe that there is a problem with women’s bodies. That our bodies just aren’t fit for purpose. And maybe this isn’t much of a leap for most of us to make, given that we are told all the time that our bodies are deficient. For many of us it’s like wallpaper, we no longer notice all the messages telling us we are too fat, too hairy, too sweaty, our boobs are too small/big, our cycles are too long/short.
I believe our bodies are perfectly designed to accommodate and birth our babies. During pregnancy, the body secretes a hormone called relaxin, which allows the ligaments of the pelvis to loosen, becoming soft and pliable, making more space for the baby to pass through. The baby’s head has overlapping plates that allow it to reduce in circumference during birth. This is the result of thousands of years of human evolution, and we are the pinnacle of that – if birth didn’t work, we literally wouldn’t be here.
Unfortunately, the medical community tends to collude with the idea that birthing a big baby is very likely to require assistance. Women who are ‘suspected’ (which makes it sound like a crime) of carrying a big baby are sent for growth scans to investigate. Unfortunately, ultrasound is not as effective in estimating the size of babies as many of us believe - medical professionals included. A UK government confidential report (CESDI) concluded that "the inaccuracy of ultrasound estimates have been well documented. Indeed, it is possible that estimating fetal weight by late ultrasound may do more harm than good by increasing intervention rates”.
Off the top of my head I can think of three friends who had babies well over 9lbs and had really positive birth experiences. So I decided to ask them more about their birth experiences. Sarah B gave birth to a daughter weighing 10lbs 11oz and she said, “Birth was perfect, I'd say the 'easiest' of all three babies (other 2 were 9lb 1oz and 7lb 14oz). I had a small tear, which could have been stitched or left but I opted for stitching to make healing time quicker.”
Sarah M also gave birth to a daughter, “The birth…was an absolutely amazing experience. One that I cherish and feel it helped heal scars from the birth of my first daughter (induction at 41+3). She was born at home on dry land. I had a small tear but no stitches.”
Both of Rachel’s daughters weighed 9lbs 10oz and were born at home – the eldest was born on the bathroom floor because Rachel didn’t realise how far advanced her labour was. I remember her phoning me and telling me the story, and it was the most amazing birth story I had ever heard! Her youngest was born in the kitchen before the midwife could arrive, caught by a very proud Dad.
All of these women were well educated about birth. They felt confident in their ability to birth their babies. They knew how to create the optimum environment for physiological birth to take place – which is for it to be dark, quiet and familiar – in fact all of them chose to birth at home so that it would be easier to create these conditions. Does that surprise you? Did you know that for women experiencing a low risk pregnancy, home birth is safer than hospital birth for second or subsequent births? However, if you feel safer in hospital, then go with your instincts. If this is the case then it can be useful to think about what you can do to make the hospital environment more homely. (But that’s another blog post.)
When you are pregnant, have you noticed how it seems that someone is always ready to make a comment about your bump or your body? Here are some real life examples of comments that have been made to pregnant women:
“You’re the biggest pregnant woman I’ve ever seen!”
“Are you sure there is just one in there because you’re huge!”
“Any day now!” (Usually when you have 3 months left to go.)
“Your boobs are massive.”
“Your baby is going to be huge – maybe you should you book a c-section?”
“I don’t envy you squeezing that one out, love.”
The last two comments, apart from being rude and insensitive, come from an assumption that birthing a big baby is harder than birthing a smaller baby. Can you see how our collective fear of ‘big’ babies creates a problem for the woman who is told she might be carrying a big baby? She ends up terrified of giving birth, worried about whether her body can handle it and about how painful it’s going to be. So when she goes into labour she is waiting for it to be excruciating, tensing up against each contraction, and because fear = tension = pain, she is in for a rough ride.
There is another way. Do you know anyone who had a great birth? Ask them what they did. This is the reason I used hypnobirthing for the birth of my daughters, and why I now teach it. I spoke to the people I knew who were positive about birth (admittedly not many). They all had one thing in common – they used hypnobirthing techniques during pregnancy and birth.
In fact you don’t have to spend long hanging out on Facebook groups about hypnobirthing to hear lots of positive birth stories – and plenty of them are about babies born weighing over 9lbs. These women aren’t any different to other woman on the planet, except for their lack of fear, knowledge about the process of birth, belief in their body and a whole host of hypnobirthing tools and techniques to keep them calm and relaxed. The bottom line is, when women are prepared to take responsibility for what they can control about labour and birth, which is quite a lot, they stack the odds of a positive birth in their favour, whether they are having a particularly big baby or not.
Photo by hugrakka, CC BY
When a women goes into labour her cervix starts to open (dilate), and it needs to open to about 10cm so that the baby can be born.
It has become routine to offer women vaginal examinations during labour to measure how dilated their cervix is as a way of establishing the progress of their labour.
Note that I said they are 'offered' to women. You have a choice, and are welcome to say 'yes' or 'no'.
Why would you say no? There are many reasons why women say no, some find the idea distressing or uncomfortable. I had one during my first birth, it was uncomfortable but I got the reassuring news that I was 8cm, which seemed to shock the midwife (I was very relaxed and calm because I was using Hypnobirthing techniques). During my second birth I had none. The midwife was extremely experienced and happy to use visual cues to tell how my labour was progressing.
Interestingly, a 2013 Cochrane Review had this to say about vaginal examinations:
"We identified no convincing evidence to support, or reject, the use of routine vaginal examinations in labour, yet this is common practice throughout the world. More research is needed to find out if vaginal examinations are a useful measure of both normal and abnormal labour progress. If vaginal examination is not a good measure of progress, there is an urgent need to identify and evaluate an alternative measure to ensure the best outcome for mothers and babies."
So basically, we don't know if vaginal examinations are a good way of checking the progress of labour but the NHS uses them routinely anyway. If you don't want them then say no. Sometimes women find themselves under pressure to conform to routine practices on the day, which is not ideal, but that's another blog post. A supportive, knowledgeable birth partner and/or doula will advocate for you.
If the idea of vaginal examinations doesn't phase you then think about how many you'd like. Just one when you arrive at the hospital or birth centre, or when the midwife arrives at your home, or are you happy to have them every four hours, as some hospital guidelines suggest? You can always chat to your midwife at your next appointment and ask how often they are routinely offered, and take it from there.
If you'd like to learn more about labour and birth, and for your birth partner to learn to be amazing during your pregnancy and labour, check out details of my hypnobirthing classes.
Photo by Torsten Mangner, CC BY 2.0
Our first guest blog is a courageous story of survival and finding her inner strength from the amazing Layla. One in four women experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives, and it is common for abuse to start or get worse during pregnancy. If you need support for yourself or you have concerns about a friend, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247, or you can speak to your midwife, like Layla did.
Layla didn’t use hypnobirthing to prepare for the birth of her son, but I loved reading about how she and her friend giggled in between contractions – what a great way to release tension and lighten the mood!
So I never really expected to be in the situation I was, 31 years old, 7 months pregnant and sleeping in my friend’s double bed (as her husband had kindly vacated to the sofa). But it felt like a complete weight had been lifted off my shoulders to be honest, of course I felt the guilt and shame of being officially homeless and with my 7 year old but also the feeling of not being terrified of when he got home and he had had a bad day or not knowing where I was allowed to sleep that night. It was wonderful.
I had just left my partner, the father of my unborn child who had been mentally and physically abusing me throughout the duration of our relationship. It began with small things like him commenting how I had done my hair a certain way and he didn't like it. Then the fact I had put weight on during my pregnancy, progressing to accusing me that the child I was carrying wasn't even his and questioning the sonographer on our 12 week scan, “Can you tell if it's black or not in there”? He found this highly amusing - the rest of the hospital staff not so much. They later took me into a room to discuss his behaviour and comments. Because of the way I had just accepted it they believed it had become normal to me. They were right.
I had also become so utterly controlled and reliant upon him that when it progressed to physical violence - which could be anything from pulling my head back suddenly by my hair to strangling me or pushing me down the stairs - I truly believed I deserved this, I made my excuses to social services when they became involved and said I wound him up and it wasn't his fault, as through his abuse I had truly come to believe this was true.
It was only when finally I attended a midwife appointment and she questioned me due to the social services involvement that I broke down and told her everything. She was wonderful, almost cried with me and told me that I needed to get out of this situation as I knew it was wrong. I went home terrified not knowing what to do as this was my child's home too, where would we go what would we do? I had no idea.
I came home to him drunk and abusive with my 7 year old there and decided enough was enough. There was no way I could just walk out so I went to bed with her as I had been doing and waited till he fell asleep. Once I was sure he was asleep, I called a taxi, gathered up what I could and my child and I arrived at 2am on my friend’s doorstep.
I must emphasise how amazing my friends and family were during this time, from my friend’s husband giving up his bed to my dad giving me money for a deposit on a house, I think they were just relieved that we were safe as they have all said they were aware of the situation but felt they couldn't do anything whilst I was still there.
I got settled in a rented house and again the kindness that was shown to us was incredible, from help with moving to the man who after delivering the beds it took me a month to afford (we slept on sofas pushed together) came back to set them up for free as he 'couldn't have me doing that in my condition'. I believe we were very lucky.
So just as soon as we had managed to get back a little of our lives and were enjoying our quite empty but safe house I was getting incredibly close to the end of my pregnancy. My back was agony, I was huge, and I really wanted a speedy birth. I had chosen to have a VBAC which is a vaginal birth after the caesarean I had with my daughter, as I hoped my recovery time would be quicker, and I had been well supported in this.
I agreed to a sweep on the day before my due date and on my actual due date I began with contractions. Only very small to begin with but by tea time incredibly painful. I phoned my friend who was to be my birthing partner and she came to my house for support. We had such a laugh that night between the pain, rolling about on the birthing ball and holding hot water bottles on my back but as it got towards the early hours I really started to feel I needed some help with the pain. The taxi ride to hospital was quick and before I knew it I was being examined by a rather stern midwife who told me I wasn't in labour until my waters burst, all over her. I wasn't aware of this initially until my friend started laughing hysterically and the midwife bustled out to get changed leaving me and my friend hysterical!
Then came the pain, I was examined by another midwife who told me at 4cm dilated I could progress to labour suite as I was in established labour. I couldn't wait, I thought ‘Ah he will be here soon’. How wrong I was. It turned out my cervix for some reason wasn't dilating, so whilst I was in terrible pain nothing was happening, after a few hours of this and no sleep I was becoming exhausted. After this, under the care of a very lovely experienced midwife who remained with me until the end of my labour I was put on a Syntocinon drip to speed things up. Oh and it did! The pain became immense and as I puffed aggressively away on the gas and air I felt an overwhelming urge to push. I was pushing for about half an hour and nothing happened then the monitor on the baby started beeping. They then told me that they believed the cord was stuck around my baby's neck causing him to choke with each contraction and it was either an episiotomy and assisted delivery or a caesarean! A caesarean! After all of this I was mortified! So I then found myself in stirrups (very dignified) but to be honest by this point I just wanted my baby here! I shut my eyes and puffed on the gas and air as they administered the local anaesthetic for the episiotomy then used the forceps (which have always made me think of salad tongs) to pull my little boy out. For a few moments everyone was quiet as he was quite blue due to the cord but as he let out an almighty scream and they placed him on my chest and I finally saw his little face for the first time everything fell into place.
It sounds so clichéd really but honestly, all the pain and heartache and stress leading up to this one moment all made complete sense right then. He was here, tiny (5lb 13 oz), safe and perfect. I felt so proud of myself and all my supporters for what we had achieved, I finally felt worthy again I had done it. I had myself back.
Photo by Chris McFarland CC BY
There’s this phenomenon where the minute a woman’s baby bump appears - or before, if she’s really unlucky - people queue up to tell her terrifying birth stories. When pregnant with my first child I had colleagues, friends and the odd stranger telling me how horrific giving birth is, sharing every frightening detail, as if warning me against attempting it (a bit late, but thanks anyway).
It happens all the time. Which is strange, because surely the least appropriate time to tell your traumatic birth story is to a woman expecting her first baby?
The reason this matters is because the presence or absence of fear will affect the way a woman is able to birth her baby. The complex hormonal and physiological process of birth is negatively affected by adrenaline, which is generated when we feel afraid. Birth is a normal process, but the presence of fear stacks the odds against women, causing their bodies to work less effectively and increasing the likelihood of intervention. When we are pregnant, one of the best things we can do is surround ourselves with positive birth stories. Knowing that other women have done it and how they coped is an amazing confidence boost. We start to believe we could do it ourselves.
I have a wonderful friend who, for complex obstetric reasons, had two difficult births, but she is a flipping SUPERSTAR in my book because she supported and encouraged me when I was planning my first birth, and said not one negative word to me. Not one. It must have taken great strength for her to support me and listen to me witter on, but she did, and that is a true friend.
So if you feel really positive about your birth, then ask your co-worker/ friend/ family member if they want to hear your story. But if you find yourself about to launch into all the gory details of your birth experience, stop, take a deep breath and think instead about contacting someone to debrief your birth experience with. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. I still think about my 90 year old grandmother’s face when she recalled her experiences in childbirth, and it breaks my heart a little. Birth trauma is real, for both women and their birth partners, and you deserve to be heard. But please, step away from the pregnant woman.
Photo by Juan Antonio Capó Alonso CC BY
I love this story from Annabelle as she talks about how her surges really flipping hurt, and she shouted the house down, but in between them she was relaxed and calm. THIS is the power of hypnobirthing - with daily practice it WILL make a difference to your birth. Huge congratulations to Annabelle and Stephen on the birth of Marty, and a big thank you to them for sharing their story.
Marty arrived on 20th October at 10.57 and I'm writing this to say a huge 'thank you' to Liz Dew and The Calm Birth School for helping to make my labour an amazing event and a memory which I will treasure.
Marty - my first baby - was born at home, in a birthing pool, as we had hoped and planned for. The plan almost went awry when low blood platelet levels at the end of my pregnancy led to the midwives being unsure about the safety of the homebirth. Liz was amazing at making some helpful suggestions and, in the end, I came to an agreement with the midwives that I would go to hospital for a full blood count at the onset of labour and that I would be allowed to return home to give birth, assuming the platelet levels hadn't dropped further.
I went into what I thought was labour at 9pm in the evening and rang the hospital at 2am. They told me to come in for the blood test, which I duly did, and I was back home at about 5am. I got into the birth pool in our kitchen shortly after and Marty was born just before 11am. I didn't use any pain relief apart from a TENS machine. I kept 'saving' the gas and air for when the labour got 'worse' - but Marty was born before I got to that point.
Although my birth wasn't the 'silent', 'discomfort-free' experience I've seen on some hypnobirthing videos (it hurt!!!), I was incredibly relaxed between surges and managed to practise my positive visualisations and breathing techniques in the pauses in between. At no point did I feel either frightened or overwhelmed and, although I think I screamed the house down(!), I didn't feel panicked at any point and I believe this is why my labour progressed really smoothly and really quickly - with no pauses or 'backward' steps. My waters didn't break until five minutes before Marty made his appearance.
I attribute all of this to my hypnobirthing training with Liz and the daily practice which I did after the course had finished. My partner, Stephen, was also amazing throughout the whole experience - calm, reassuring, solid. Although I noticed him getting paler and paler with each surge, he was confident in his 'role' and did everything that we had planned together, without me having to ask or prompt. He was fantastic! Again, the hypnobirthing course and light touch massage, which we had practised every night before bed, really helped both of us cope with the birth and work together as a team.
I am so, so proud of what we did on that day. Scooping Marty out of the water in my home was the most euphoric moment of my life. Thank you to Liz and The Calm Birth School for laying the way for this brilliant experience.
Some people say you ‘just know’ when you're in labour. I'm not convinced that's true for early labour since some of the signs are quite subtle and can happen for days or even weeks before labour begins. Here are 5 signs that your labour might be very close:
1. Your waters break
We’ve all seen films and TV shows where a pregnant woman’s waters break with a pop and a gush and then she immediately goes into labour, right? Well, this might happen, but equally your waters might not break until your labour is quite advanced. Some waters gush and some trickle, leaving you wondering if you just wet yourself. It's quite rare, but sometimes babies are born with the amniotic sac intact. Also, sometimes a woman's waters break and then nothing happens immediately, although the vast majority of women will go into spontaneous labour within 48 hours.
2. Surges or contractions start
At some point your body will start surging or contracting, but to start with it can be quite subtle, kind of like mild period cramps or discomfort in the lower back. Some women experience cramping for a few days or weeks before going into labour, which can be really flipping annoying as you keep wondering, "Is this it?".
3. You lose your mucus plug
My mucus what?! The mucus plug sits at your cervix to prevent infection. As your cervix softens to prepare for labour the plug loosens and comes away. It can look like a clear, jelly-like discharge or it can be tinged with brownish blood, which is why it's sometimes called a bloody show. Again, this can happen days before you go into labour.
4. Diarrhoea or vomiting
I know! But this is a good sign, as the hormones that relax your cervix can also loosen your bowels. Having 'a good clear out' also makes way for baby. It’s thought that some women vomit because the body is focused on preparing for birth so doesn't have the energy to digest food.
5. Taking nesting to a new level
Feel the urge to repaint the living room at 3am when you're 39 weeks pregnant? Stop! Put the paintbrush down and step away. Frenetic busts of activity such as a need to scrub the skirting boards or remove every scrap of dust from behind the radiators could mean you will soon be going into labour. It's your nesting instinct stepping in, which causes us to want to prepare a safe environment for baby. Whilst starting a new DIY project might not be the best idea, by all means continue to scrub the skirting boards as being on all fours is a great position for labour.
So there you have it. Detecting whether or not you are in early labour can be tricky and frustrating. Bear in mind that all women experience labour differently - it might only be when you look back on your labour that you can pinpoint when it started.
I'm Liz Dew, founder of SheffieldHypnobirthing.com and I love a good chat about birth. This blog is where I explore some of the things that I find amazing, frustrating, or fascinating about birth and birth culture. Grab a cuppa and dive in.