Getting pregnant had always been what I had focussed on, so when I actually became pregnant I was delighted. However, once the realisation that I was actually carrying a baby inside me hit (I had seen the 12 week scan, I had heard the heart beat at my 16 week midwife appointment and I was out of my own clothes and wearing the maternity clothes I had long dreamt about) it suddenly occurred to me that this baby had to also come out! PANIC!!
I know there are plenty of people who are a little nervous about labour, but I took that fear to a whole new level. Following life saving abdominal surgery and the passing of my father, I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress and panic attacks. The panic attacks were often triggered by an increased heart rate, for example exercise, or shortness of breath, but also from any medical situation. As I was under consultant care in pregnancy, due to the abdominal surgery, I had quite a few scans and medical appointments. These were both reassuring, once they were done, and anxiety inducing, in the week building up to them. Then of course, there was the fact that I had to give birth in a medical environment (home birth was not something I could have coped with, although I am very supportive of the concept). I decided that some counselling might be a good idea and thankfully my GP was very supportive and I started seeing my counsellor once a week from 19 weeks pregnant.
Having had counselling before, I know how therapeutic and beneficial talking about my worries can be rather than bottling them up where I tend to pretend they don’t exist. Through the counselling, I was able to get them out there and rationalise the fears to a point where I felt reassured, but I was still anxious about the baby’s welfare and my own during labour and I was still concerned about the medicalised environment of the labour ward. More needed to be done.
So, at 28 weeks pregnant, I started attending a hypnobirthing workshop. I was feeling nervous about the idea of losing control and almost changed my mind. I shouldn’t have worried though, as it isn’t like the shows on TV where you dance like a chicken, although I am sure that would have been far more amusing to the midwives during labour! Instead, I found the 3 hour sessions to be extremely relaxing and I left feeling refreshed and happy. The classes contained a combination of discussing key birth choices, such as cutting the cord and vitamin K; practising breathing techniques, light massage techniques and visualisations to help you relax during labour; watching videos of positive hypnobirthing labours. There was also supplementary reading, birth affirmations and podcasts to listen to at home… NOT in the car (I promise I only started to do this once before realising what a stupid idea it was and stopped!)
I loved the hypnobirthing podcasts! I listened to them every night as I fell asleep and usually would be woken up at some point in the early hours when J was kicking me with the headphones still in my ears. I still use them now when I am in an anxious situation, such as flying, as I can bring them up instantly without the need to listen to them. They were so relaxing and powerful that I found myself walking around in a calm and peaceful pregnancy bubble of my own, protected by my visualised cloak (I promise it all makes sense if you attend the classes). By the final session of the hypnobirthing I was almost falling asleep during the class visualisations and I loved the weekly light massage techniques.
Interestingly, it was really the counsellor who summed up just how effective the hypnobirthing was when she told me I didn’t really need the counselling anymore as I was just so happy and calm all the time. I did continue the counselling until the end of my pregnancy and one visit post birth to unload, but it was the hypnobirthing that really cemented my positivity and relaxed state. My mum said that she noticed a big difference in both my husband and myself as the course progressed and afterwards as our rhetoric when discussing labour changed and we were both calmer and relaxed about the baby’s arrival.
My labour didn’t turn out as I had planned but even though the labour wasn’t the easiest and I wasn’t able to use hypnobirthing in the way I had imagined, I was so relaxed from the preparations I had done that I dealt with a difficult situation in a very calm and relaxed manner and was able to cope easily with the change of plan without panicking (once they believed I was actually in labour, but that is another story).
If you are experiencing anxiety during pregnancy or about labour then I would highly recommend asking for help rather than suffering on your own. There are plenty of hypnobirthing and antenatal classes around the country and you can discuss your concerns and possible need for counselling with your GP or Midwife. For me, birth education meant empowerment and confidence in my body. If you have any questions about hypnobirthing please ask in the comments.
This is an adaptation of the post I wrote which originally appeared on Meet Other Mums.