Here Cheryl MacDonald, perinatal yoga teacher and childbirth educator explains why hypnobirthing can ensure a pain-free birth experience
OK! Has made claims that Kate “has already begun using the deep breathing methods recommended by hypnobirth practitioners.” Kate has been apparently also been looking into water birth and seems determined to have a natural birth.
Having trained in hypnobirthing in the past; written my own natural childbirth education programme and having used natural birthing techniques myself, I have a few suggestions for Kate to keep in mind…
Optimism is key, but don’t be disappointed
Being a prenatal yoga teacher and antenatal educator, I was eternally optimistic about the birth of my first son. I prepared for my birth using a well-known birth hypnosis programme (which I also taught to other mummies) and was 100% prepared to be silent, peaceful and pain free during my birth. I practiced religiously every day for nine months, and then my birth was nothing like I had planned.
Now I have to quantify this and say that I had the most amazing, beautiful, natural and speedy birth (around 5 hours start to finish.) But I didn’t look like the serene ladies in the hyonobirth videos that promised me a silent and pain free birth.
However, I cannot say that my birth was painful. My birth was at worst uncomfortable and at points, damn hard word. At times I was meditative, breathing deeply, loudly, oblivious to anyone other than my baby, absorbed in my birth. Other times I was pumping with adrenaline talking to my baby: “Come on little guy!! We can do this, come on little man I love you I love you so much!”
Giving birth is the most amazing, rewarding experience I have ever had. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, the main thing is that gorgeous little person that you have to love for the rest of your life at the end of it.
Allow yourself to get noisy!
There were also times during birth where I made noise. I made a LOT of noise and I was loud and I writhed and danced around. I even mooed like a cow for a large amount of my birthing time. I said random things to the midwives and my husband: “Mike you better make sure those bin bags are gone from the front door by the time I get home!”
Making noise while giving birth, is a fantastic way to positively release stress. Screaming wastes a lot of much needed energy and you can even frighten yourself when you hear yourself screaming. But don’t be afraid to be noisy: moo, groan, moan, sing songs! Let it all out, just make it positive.
No matter what happens, NEVER feel that you’ve ‘failed’
I was fortunate enough to have the natural birth I had hoped and planned for. Not every mother is lucky enough to have that – be that because of special circumstances or over-enthused obstetricians. So why did I still feel, to a certain extent, that I had ‘failed?’ I have years of training as a yoga teacher, a daily meditation practice and could not have practiced using this technique any more if I tried.
Why was I not silent like the mothers in the birth videos? Why was I so undignified and had to make crazy noises and sit on the toilet for 2 hours?? Why didn’t my placenta detach from my womb at the end? What was wrong with me that all these other women had beautiful peaceful silent births and I couldn’t do this? My birth was amazing, the most tremendously spiritual experience of my life. But it wasn’t like the picture.
Having taught birth hypnosis myself I had admittedly always thought that anyone who didn’t achieve their picture perfect silent birth either didn’t practice enough; was weak or had been subject to special circumstances.
And here I was, with no special circumstances, probably over practiced and didn’t consider myself weak. I just couldn’t keep quiet during birth.
Don’t set yourself up with unrealistic expectations of silence and painless birthing. This is doomed to ‘failure.’ Embrace the birthing experience wholeheartedly: educate yourself, discover your most effective comfort techniques and have supportive people around about you. Birth where you are most comfortable and feel safe. But never ever compare yourself to silent birth angels. This is not the case for the majority.
Remember that every birth is different
I began to think about the mummies I had taught over the years and about half of those mummies had their silent, peaceful, drug free births. The rest of the mums had a range of outcomes.
Some mother did have special circumstances which had resulted in interventions and/or pain medication. You can’t plan everything for birth and sometimes special circumstances arise. Others had experienced pain during birth and had gone on to request drugs for pain relief. Some mums experienced pain but had continued on to have a drug free birth. A lot of these mums had practised their techniques daily. There was no physiological reason why these mums should feel pain and not others. But it wasn’t the birth in the picture. It wasn’t the birth I had shown people in the videos or told them about.
Remember that everyone’s perception of pain is different. What one mother may see as agony, another may see as hard work and discomfort. What you need is individual tools that will work for you, not the majority. Birthing is a very individual experience, which is why it is so important that you know and understand yourself and your coping mechanisms before the birth.
Ditch the birth guilt
After the birth, I would meet up with mums and speak to them about their birth and their experiences. Had it ‘gone well?’ (where they silent, pain free and looking radiant afterwards?) or had it ‘not gone quite to plan?’ (a noisy birth, a birth where drugs or interventions were required.) I could hear mums try to ‘justify’ or explain why they’d made noise or had used pain relief medication. I could hear the guilt in their voices, as if they had somehow wronged their baby or let them down by doing these things. I couldn’t bear it!!
Here were women: mothers, with beautiful new babies who had gone through the most amazing experience of their lives, who were now suffering extreme birth guilt because their birth didn’t match the pretty picture in the videos. Yes, some women (a few) do have a silent, still, pain-free birth. But not everyone does.
Women everywhere are suffering from birth guilt because of new techniques offering pain free or orgasmic births. Yes these are possible for a few women, but not for everyone. Women need to be educated on realistic birth outcomes, not sold fantasy birth plans where they are made to feel that it is their fault if they don’t ‘make the grade.’
One size does NOT fit all: find out what comforts you BEFORE the birth
Every woman is different (clearly.) Birth is a completely different experience for every mother. It doesn’t make sense to assume that everyone has the same response to new experiences. It doesn’t make sense to assume that someone who has difficulty relaxing or letting go in everyday life, will suddenly be able to do so in the midst of an all-encompassing experience such as childbirth.
And no, hypnosis won’t work for everyone. Every mother is unique and must find her own way of birthing. Stress relief for one person could be making noise or dancing or singing (all things I recommend to the mothers I work with now!) or it could be sitting silently breathing and drawing inwards.
Pregnancy and birth are a journey of self-discovery and we must be honest with ourselves about our fears of parenting and birth, and aim to find out what really comforts us when we are under pressure. We are in birth as we are in life, so what comforts us now is very likely to comfort us during birthing.
Surround yourself by supportive people
Some mothers will experience pain while birthing and will need interventions. And if birthing does become painful or there are medical circumstances which arise meaning that mum does need drugs or interventions, does that mean that she is any less of a mother? Or that her birth is any less valid than mine? Absolutely not.
We need women to support women. We don’t need a select group of mothers who have had natural, positive birth experiences and can breastfeed and sling wear and co-sleep all at once, to be turning up their noses at mother’s who can’t – or chose not – to do these things.
We also do not want to be surrounded by a group of women pushing their negative birth stories down our throats, because guaranteed, that one horror story will be the one that sticks in your mind and makes you worry. Stop watching programmes like One Born Every Minute and surround yourself with supportive mothers with happy birth stories.
Yes, giving birth is hard work. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be the most amazing experience of your life. I would not swap that day for any other and if there was any pain, it was erased from my mind before it occurred. Like a good boy scout, Be Prepared, but also be prepared for the unexpected. And then just allow nature to take it’s course. You have it within your reach to embrace and enjoy your birth, so please don’t be scared. It is our strength that makes us women.
Cheryl MacDonald is the founder of YogaBellies which specializes in perinatal yoga and natural birth preparation. She created the Birth ROCKS natural birth preparation method and has trained over 70 YogaBellies teachers across the world and has been working with birthing women for almost ten years. She is mother of one lovely three year old buy and lives with her husband in the west end of Glasgow.
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I’m an inclusive, not scary, totally normal yet heavily qualified yoga instructor and founder of YogaBellies® and the Birth ROCKS Method. I’m trained in self hypnosis and meditation and what I love is helping women (ALL women) enjoy yoga without having to whisper all the time and wear fancy activewear that cost a month’s rent.
I believe Yoga is for everyone.