GP Medicine, 23 September 1990
The decision of Dr Jane McGrath was prompted by a chance meeting.
Dr Jane McGrath had not been planning anything revolutionary for the birth of her first child.
‘It was going to be a managed hospital delivery with plenty of pain relief. The notion of alternatives like waterbirths hadn’t entered my head,’ the east London GP said.
But a chance meeting led her to become the first doctor in Britain to give birth using hypnotherapy.
Dr McGrath bumped into Dr Gowri Motha, once a registrar in obstetrics and now a firm believer in water births and hypnotherapy.
Dr Motha invited Dr McGrath to attend her classes from week 24 of the pregnancy.
‘I have to confess that I was sceptical about whether hypnotherapy could really work in easing labour and reducing pain, but I was prepared to have a go at it,’ said Dr McGrath.
‘I went once a week to start with, and then every other week towards the end of the pregnancy.’
‘We were encouraged to relax. A regular activity was to lie down and raise our legs in the air and tighten and relax all our muscles.’
‘Then we were told to concentrate on something pleasant.’
‘The whole idea is to create a feeling of tranquillity where we became detached from the body mentally. The mind goes into an altered state,’ Dr McGrath said. ‘You are taken into hypnosis in stages. Dr Motha’s words are soothing and she uses mental imagery to put you into deep relaxation.’
‘The concept is to mentally ‘anaesthetise’ the body so that it feels no pain in labour.’
‘After a few sessions it was quite easy to get the hang of and we had to go home and practise with the help of our partners.’
‘Although it appeared to work in our sessions with Dr Motha. I was still unconvinced it would work for me in labour.’
‘I know it sounds silly for a doctor to say, but I’m a wimp when it comes to pain and I couldn’t see how mind over matter could be better than pethidine and gas and air.’
‘Nonetheless, lying on a sunkissed Greek beach and the sensation of floating on air, were my chosen alternatives.’
When Dr McGrath’s waters eventually broke at 2.30 one morning, she case herself off to her Greek island and experienced very little pain.
‘I couldn’t believe how well it was working. I called Dr Gowri and she came round to examine me. By then I was experiencing pan down the sides of my legs and beginning to think I was a failure and hadn’t been doing the hypnotherapy properly.
Hypnotherapy and water minimise pain.
‘I later realised that the discomfort must have been caused by the way the baby was lying. It must have been touching a nerve.’
‘When Gowri examined me, I was already almost fully dilated. I was flabbergasted, particularly as this was my first baby.’
‘She asked me whether I wanted it at home or in hospital. I plumped or the safety of the delivery suite.’
Dr McGrath had been expecting an ‘on-bed’ delivery, but she soon found herself being prepared for a water birth.
Dr Motha is an NHS pioneer of water births and she believes water, combined with hypnotherapy is the most relaxing and pain-free ways of delivering.
‘When I should have been feeling pain at the height of each contraction there was none. I kept on thinking this couldn’t last. But it did,’ said Dr McGrath.
‘Gowri encourages her patients to think that the vaginal opening is not really narrow.’
‘It helps break that feeling it will be painful or that you might tear and encourages the muscles to loosen.’
Three and a quarter hours after starting labour, Oscar was born with Dr McGrath still sitting in the pool.
‘The delivery was calm and stress-free, and my blood pressure was low. My pulse was only 64 when it should have been much higher.’
Dr McGrath is now a firm supporter of birth hypnotherapy. ‘I remember seeing a lot of pain and suffering experienced by women in labour when I was an SHO and the thought of having to go through such an ordeal really frightened me.’
‘I was very fortunate to meet Dr Motha again because she has proved that there are alternatives.’
GP Medicine, 20 May 1994