My reflections on birth and the importance of empowering pregnant ladies
29 June 2020
How many women do you know who have had negative, even traumatic births? I know several and I am one myself. During my first pregnancy I thought I did all the right things to educate myself; attending NCT classes, reading books, watching YouTube videos and watching lots of ‘One Born Every Minute’. Despite my preparation I still found myself pushed into a potentially unnecessary induction and feeling completely out of control and ignored during my birth.
I’m not going to go into the details of my first birth here as I don’t believe the world needs any more negative birth stories and I certainly wouldn’t want to scare any first-time moms out there. Ultimately me and my baby were safe and YES that is the main thing but so often the psychological damage women are left with lasts for months and years and is not spoken about enough.
Family and friends come and coo over your newborn baby but it’s rare for people to REALLY ask or listen to how you are feeling about your birth experience. I’m very fortunate to have family and friends (including a wonderful mother who is also a psychiatric nurse and NCT friends who all experienced first births around the same time) who I felt I could confide in, but there must be many women out there who feel completely isolated and traumatised after birth. Equally, I appreciate many women are fortunate to have wonderful and empowering birth experiences, something I am very much hoping for as my second birth approaches (I am 33 weeks pregnant with my second daughter at the time of writing this).
This pregnancy I have thrown myself into hypnobirthing and it’s done wonders for my attitude and confidence as my due date approaches. For any expectant moms out there, I’d recommend researching Siobhan Miller (founder of The Positive Birth Company), she’s amazing and offers lots of free/low cost resources for you to explore. Hypnobirthing isn’t as ‘hippy’ or ‘out there’ as you might expect, in fact, it’s based in science and common sense. The main theory of hypnobirthing is that to have an effective birth, women must avoid being caught in a cycle of fear-tension-pain. To avoid this, we must remain as relaxed as possible and much of this is around the breath (something I focus on a lot as a yoga teacher). By controlling our breath we tell out body that everything is ok, we are safe, therefore we can direct oxygen to the parts of the body that need it (I.e. the uterus) and avoid getting into primal ‘fight or flight’ mode where oxygen goes to our limbs.
Hypnobirthing talks about the importance of environment. Your birthing partner should help to create a safe and ‘spa like’ environment for you to give birth in which may include music, aromatherapy and dimmed lights. Surrounding yourself with positive birth stories, imagery, videos and affirmations is important in hypnobirthing and avoiding over dramatized or negative birth stories is encouraged. I’ve avoided ‘Once born’ like the plague this time around as I recall watching a particularly scary episode in my third trimester about a lady who lost too much blood… this is not something you want on your mind when labour approaches!
A key element of hypnobirthing which I am hoping to use in my second labour is the acronym B.R.A.I.N. This stands for benefits, risks, alternatives, instinct and nothing. It is a tool which can be used to assess whether you want to take up interventions being offered to you or not. In a hospital environment especially, midwives and doctors will often want to examine you, monitor baby and offer you various interventions and it’s important not to get swept up in saying ‘yes’ to everything when it may not be what you truly want or need – make sure you ask the right questions and go with your gut. I am planning on using the tools I have learnt when my second baby arrives and I’m hoping that I can blog about a positive birthing experience here in a couple of months’ time! Finger’s crossed!
Whilst I am approaching my due date with less trepidation this pregnancy, the journey has still been a slightly bumpy one, especially over the last couple of weeks. Baby is measuring small and there are concerns she isn’t growing fast enough. My blood platelets (which clot together to stop bleeding) are low. Both factors mean that a hospital birth is likely, something which has given me some anxiety. I’m using my B.R.A.I.N to challenge this and to weigh up the risks with my consultant and midwife. My plan was to give birth at home or in a midwife led unit this time around, however, it may be that hospital is the safest place for me and baby. Whilst this is disappointing, I’m trying my best to still enter labour positive and assured that my body was built for birth.
My main reflections on this topic are that no matter what happens during birth, whether it’s an elective C-section or a natural water birth at home, it doesn’t matter, what matter’s is that women feel in control, supported and safe during their labour (which let’s face it is probably when you are at your most vulnerable) and that they are left with a feeling of empowerment and achievement afterwards. I hope that by more women entering labour informed and confident they can achieve a positive birth experience that they can look back on with awe. I very much hope this can be the case for me this time around, but I will keep you posted…