After an induction, epidural and forceps delivery of her first baby, Carol was amazed to find that she “enjoyed” giving birth to her second child. Although initially sceptical about self-hypnosis she found it invaluable during labour, and realised that her body and baby know what to do, and there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
You probably won’t believe me, because after the induction – pethedine – epidural – forceps of my first baby two years ago I hadn’t thought it possible either, but I enjoyed giving birth to my second child.
Like every other woman, I’ve heard all the stories, read the books, seen the movies. Like them, I couldn’t believe there could be an alternative: of course childbirth hurts, they’re called labour pains, aren’t they? When I first heard about women in labour using a water pool the best I expected was that it might make the pain tolerable, but after the technological nightmare last time, it seemed worth looking into. The hospital put me in touch with Dr. Motha at the Jeyarani Health Centre and I went along for a consultation, expecting to find the doctor behind a desk and a list of technical specifications on temperature maintenance and sub-aqua monitoring. To my dismay, I was seated on a cushion and told I was to be given a lesson in ‘self hypnosis’, which didn’t appeal to me at all. However, I soon found that this bore no relationship to my somewhat sinister idea of hypnotism, but is a way of teaching conscious relaxation. ‘Relaxation’ classes are held throughout the country, but there you’re taught to pant, grunt and strain every time the famous ‘urge to push’ comes. This is not only unnecessary but counter-productive, Dr Motha tells her (somewhat sceptical) classes. The uterus is a strong muscle specifically designed for this one job – let it work without tension, let the muscles relax, allow the baby to slip through easily, naturally; do not be afraid for fear leads to pain and pain to fear. We learnt to relax our bodies completely and at will, learnt to think positively and joyfully about the birth of our babies. All very well in theory, I thought, and I must admit all this relaxing has cured my bad back, but pain free labour? I still didn’t really believe it.
When my waters broke at four in the afternoon I was having no contractions but went to the hospital. An evening strapped to the monitoring devices hearing the woman in the other cubicle did nothing to help and by eleven o’clock the doctors decided to send me up to the ante-natal ward for the night and maybe induce me next morning – exactly what I’d been fearing all along.
On my own in the ward, I finally decided to stop fretting and do something positive. I sat in a dark corner and relaxed as we’d been taught, shutting off everything around me and concentrating on letting myself open up, welcoming my baby. By midnight I was being hustled back down the stairs by a nurse who refused to wait for the lift – ‘Hold on, dear, we don’t want you having it up here!’ I’d gone to 6cms dilation in less than an hour, and it was only when I realised that I should call a midwife and started trying to cope with the hospital scene again that it began to hurt. Once left on my own in a delivery room I stood leaning on the bed, which immediately helped – sitting or lying down were excruciating – and started to calm myself down again. My husband and Dr Motha arrived together and I relaxed still further, knowing that they would now deal with the outside world for me. Dr Motha turned down the lights and gave my husband directions on how to set up the pool and, I suspect, strict instructions to be a quiet, supportive but non-interfering presence. I was still a little frightened by the pain I’d felt and my body was trembling with the pressure of standing; the relief getting into the pool was immediate, as the warm water took my weight, soothed me and washed away the sweat. I soon found a rhythm, kneeling in the water, leaning my head on my arms on the side, breathing deeply as each contraction did its work. I concentrated on keeping my muscles soft and loose and opening to help my baby; I could feel each contraction and was aware of the effort my body was making and the effect it was having, but felt no pain.
Between contractions, I enjoyed the water, a smile, a drink; when the ‘urge to push’ came Dr Motha quietly reminded me to just breathe deeply. There was no need to set my teeth and strain; I could feel the baby’s head coming down a little further each time, gently opening his way into the world. If I’d tried to force him, I would have torn myself. At that moment I did feel a sudden sharp pain and thought ‘Ow, must be nearly there…’ I put my hand down to feel how much further I had to go and felt the baby’s head! The next contraction came, caught me unready, I yelled, the baby yelled, my husband yelled, ‘You’ve done it!’ and I was standing up turning round to take my baby from Dr Motha, feeling exulted and quite incredulous that it could all be over so soon, so beautifully. My baby nuzzled me, and smiled.
Later, my husband and Dr Motha left and the midwife went to fetch a wheelchair to take me to the postnatal ward – I could have taken the stairs two at a time but she insisted that I sit down; perhaps she felt that she had to do something other than check the heartbeat and write up the notes. That was when I heard the woman in the next room, shrieking and sobbing in the accepted, expected torture of childbirth.
And I wanted to tell her, there is another way, a way so old that after centuries of innovation, research and drugs testing we’re now having to rediscover it and tell each other a truth so simple is seems incredible – your baby knows what to do and there’s nothing to fear but fear itself Effortlessly, naturally, you gave your baby a body, eyes, a brain, life itself; the same way, you can give birth.