Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a "Relaxation" antenatal class covering the basics of hypnobirthing.
Hypnobirthing is the use of calming breathing and visualisation to make labour quicker, easier and less painful. It doesn't stop contractions from hurting but women do seem to need a lot less drugs when they use hypnobirthing techniques. This article gives a pretty good overview of the theories and science behind it.
Relaxation is not one of the normal NHS antenatal classes but one of the local midwives is a big proponent of hypnobirthing; she's running the sessions (on the NHS) on a trial basis to establish whether there's an interest in them and whether women find the techniques useful during labour. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to attend and I hope these sessions become a standard thing, not just in Aberdeen but across the UK; I went along thinking my "The baby's coming out one way or the other - no point stressing too much" attitude was a pretty calm one but I left the class feeling so much more relaxed about labour and in control of what's going to happen.
I don't suppose hypnobirthing is for everyone. It sounds a bit wishy-washy. Mothers love to tell me "Take all the drugs!" and scoff at the idea that labour can be anything but agonising. But I've got my fingers crossed (in a loose and relaxed kind of manner). I know women who have had good experiences giving birth.
And it makes sense to me.
In fact, some of the techniques we were taught were already familiar to me.
Having endometriosis, my periods are very heavy and used to be extremely painful. Used to be. These days, despite me being unable to take painkillers, I find them mildly uncomfortable but totally manageable. I credit that entirely to having learnt to relax my body and my breathing - if I'm focused on the pain, I tense up and the cramps get worse; if I relax my muscles, they ease.
Likewise, I used to be plagued by migraines. Although I still get the odd hormonal one, it's very unusual for me to get any others. That change occurred when I realised that, when I'm stressed or very focused, I tense my jaw on one side; learning to recognise when I'm doing that and to consciously relax it cleared the migraines right up.
And, on those rare occasions when I have trouble sleeping, I can usually send myself off by relaxing each muscle in my body in turn - starting with the top of my head and my eyelids and my cheeks and working my way down to my toes.
I fully believe that we can make pain worse by telling ourselves it's awful and we can make it easier to manage by teaching ourselves to relax.
So hypnobirthing really appeals to me.
Despite this, and despite the midwife's first hand accounts of hypnobirthing easing labour, I might have been a little more sceptical were it not for three of the other women in my class.
Two of the women happened to have had this woman as the attending midwife for the births of their first children. She had managed to teach them each enough relaxation techniques during labour to markedly improve their pain so now, both expecting their second child, they had come along to learn more.
And the third woman was in labour. During the class. She wasn't far enough along to be admitted to the maternity unit but she was having contractions roughly every ten minutes. We could see the contractions happening and we could see that she was feeling uncomfortable but, using the breathing techniques she had learned (she had been to the class previously but was back for a refresher), she was riding them all out calmly and smiling and laughing with the rest of us.
More than anything else, watching another woman experiencing labour right in front of me was really reassuring. So much of what we see on TV and in films is women screaming in agony, yet here she was breathing slowly and getting on with her life - so much so that she had made it to an antenatal class on her own.
So there we go. There are no guarantees. The birth may still be difficult or need to be assisted. I may panic and forget everything I've learned. It may be as agonising as it always looks in TV shows. But I don't feel scared. I feel like I can cope with this; I feel more in control.
P.S. My pregnancy posts have all been a bit wordy and thinky recently; next week I'm going to do another general round up post so if you have any questions let me know!
Hi! I'm a 30-something stay-at-home feminist mother-of-one. I live in Aberdeen, Scotland with my toddler, boyfriend and two black cats.