Channelling the sentiment of Monty Python, I am left thinking about exactly what we did gain from our Hypnobirthing course. I’ve read lots of blogs and testimonials about the benefits of hypnobirthing for labour and delivery and breathing and calmness. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel it sells it a little short. I decided to write this as a ‘you’ll get a shed load more from this than you realise’ piece, but it actually turned into a celebration of what we as a couple got from the process we went through with Beth. If you’re unsold on the benefits of hypnobirthing, please consider the fact that the side-effects may be more wondrous and far-reaching than you could ever imagine.
What did Hypnobirthing ever do for us?
1. It helped us with team ‘US’ – oh my gosh did we build a team together…
My husband and I were together a year when we got married and have just celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a 9 week old. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind and I wouldn’t change a thing. What we didn’t have though was a decade of trials and tribulations to build up our joint resolve. We didn’t have that solidarity that comes from supporting each other through the good and bad times or a childhood of shared experiences and reference points. The one thing we were told by every other parenting team we knew was how important it was to develop that solid base. Beth helped us slow right down and look at the building blocks of what we had. We breathed together. We stopped and we held hands. We looked at one another and just gazed – it was nothing to do with the chaos of our lives and everything to do with the simplicity of living. When our daughter was born, that’s what we did too. We breathed together. We held hands. We looked at each other and we were a team.
2. It helped us carve out a shared approach to parenting …
We had dreamed about being parents for years (decades even) before we met each other. We had significant conversations about conceiving our daughter but the ideology, logistics and financials that made this the right time to start our family, didn’t touch on the minutia of day-to-day life. We hadn’t had chance to have the myriad of conversations about our thoughts on everything from breastfeeding to soothers and baby-wearing to cloth nappies that seem to crop up organically in most relationships. By working through the process of birth, we had those chats. During our sessions, we discussed what we expected from the first minutes, hours and days of our baby’s life and then we built from there. We used our conversations to dig deeper into the way we ticked. Why did I have the concrete views I did? Why was he so convinced about that approach? What were our non-negotiables and why? What hadn’t we thought of? This in turn lead us to explore our own very different childhoods and marvel at just how much we had in common and how many opinions we held jointly. It meant that no matter what was thrown at us, and how many plans went out of the window, we both knew what the end goal was and we could keep that in sight.
3. It helped us tackle and overcome our wider fears
Hospitals as buildings are somehow magically impregnated by the full range of human emotions. They are places that we go when something is wrong in order to be fixed and sometimes, it just doesn’t happen like that. My husband hated hospitals. They were places of pain and death and heartache for him. Hospitals provided the backdrop for some of his most difficult times and now we needed to find a way to walk into one without that emotional baggage weighing him down. I am somewhat of a control freak. I cannot stand the idea of not having a clear command of the outcome of a situation. I hate not knowing everything to know about a project and I didn’t have time to train as a midwife. Between us, we needed to do some serious work on balancing out our adrenaline with oxytocin. We were guided with a combination of understanding and humour through some of the rawest parts of our private lives. My husband learned to focus his efforts on the positives of a birth surrounded by the best medical professionals around. I learned to look for the wins that mattered and to let go of what didn’t. Together, we built our ‘joy bubble’. A selection of smells, sights, sounds and textures that made us feel safe and at home. We practised feeling safe and happy and loved and we spent ‘date nights’ building our oxytocin reserves. We ended up meeting our daughter in a space that felt like ours. It smelled of home (lavender oil and coffee). Examinations were punctuated by the familiar sounds of Family Guy, South Park and American Dad that signal our ‘down-time’ (Mozart is also an option if that’s where you find your calm!). A favourite picture of us was blu-tacked up like a little Polaris on the wall of our room. In short, we found out what made us feel safe and we took it with us. Since then, we’ve found ourselves reaching for our ‘joy bubble’ after long days or long nights. Currently we’re living on a building site with layers of carnage and chaos around us, BUT we have our smells and sounds and focus and so we’re safe and we’re ‘home’.
4. It helped us define our shared goals
We joked many times that if I had my way, I would give birth in a yurt in the middle of nowhere and if my husband had his, we would be in a sterile and controlled environment where nothing could go wrong. As my pregnancy progressed, we went from discussing the merits of a water homebirth to being closely monitored and consultant-lead with induction as a ‘best case scenario’ and a caesarean section as a distinct possibility. It felt as if everything I had ever dreamed of was taken away one test result and appointment at a time. Beth helped us drill down into what it was that we wanted and why. She then showed us how they could work in any situation. For example – we were insistent that my husband should cut the baby’s umbilical cord. Beth helped us to see why – having properly stamped my foot about not finding out the gender of our baby, I wanted my husband to tell me. I wanted him to know first. I wanted him to introduce me to our child and the thought of someone I’d never met doing that made me feel somehow desperately sad. So we made it happen. It was in our birth ‘preferences’ document and no matter how our child was delivered, he would be the one to introduce us. There were many other ‘strong’ feelings that we had and we managed to find a solution for all of them. If I was not able to do skin-to-skin, he would. If we were in theatre, we could hook up the ipod. If I had a cannula and therefore not be allowed in the birthing pool, I could still have a bath. The list went on. The process though, wasn’t about allowing a diva to have things her way, it was about understanding why they mattered. My husband and I were able to drill down into those core aspects, understand their significance and make them work.
5. It helped us stay in control
I did mention that I was a control freak? Like most people I know, I work in a setting where I am fully accountable for the results of my team and I work hard putting strategies into action, evaluating results and then amending the process. I was really frightened that I would lose all control of my labour. I was afraid that birth would be done ‘to me’ and not ‘by me’. So we worked through that. We learned about our options. We learned about processes. We went into hospital feeling as if we had done our homework and that we’d had the inside scoop from someone ‘in the know’. Three days before my waters broke and filled with the confidence from our sessions, I successfully convinced the consultant to push back our planned induction. The fact that he listened and we talked through options together made me feel so much more positive. In fact, our little lady decided to kick start things on the very day I had fought NOT to be induced, but she did things her way. I said ‘no’. I said it to a midwife who wanted to induce me after my waters had broken, but before the 24 hour limit. It was medically safe for us to wait and we wanted to see if my body would kick in by itself. It did. We said ‘no’ to the doctor who wanted to intervene with either a ventouse or an episiotomy when I was getting tired. We wanted another half an hour of pushing to see if we could do it. She said that wouldn’t make a difference. So we took that half an hour and managed to avoid either intervention. We were in control because we had the confidence to ask the questions and ask for the alternatives. Our hypnobirthing and antenatal courses gave us that confidence. We were in control. When I had to go to theatre for a retained placenta, we still felt in control because we understood everything. We weren’t afraid. We explored the options and made the best decision for us. The bonus was that our baby got extra skin-to-skin time with her daddy and their bond is so incredibly strong. It was our birth and we were imbued with the confidence required to make sure that it remained so. We owned it. We nailed it!
So in short … I’m not sure how to describe what our hypnobirthing experience gave us: whether it was counselling, philosophy, meditation, science, ideology, or just a chance to sit and put the world to rights with a kick-arse midwife. What I do know though is: it was EXACTLY what we needed. We have so much in our lives as a result: the investment was in far more than ‘just’ the awesome birthing experience we had!