Holding on, letting go

White books in a row

There is a type of woman that I recognise as soon as she walks in my door. She reminds me so much of myself pre-motherhood. The younger me who thought she had it all figured out; before the chaos that inevitably accompanies children roughened up my smooth edges.

Poised and confident, this client is what Psych 101 taught me to call a “Type A“. Driven, successful and ambitious, this is the lady that gets things done. In many ways, this personality type is a childbirth educator’s dream. She is always on time for my classes, she takes notes and asks intelligent questions. Her birth plan is done and dusted by 34 weeks, and she is religious about eating healthily and attending her weekly preggie yoga or aerobics classes.

But there is a downside to this personality type when it comes to labour and birth – can you guess what it is? Life has taught these women that hard work = success, and they cannot imagine why this law of the universe wouldn’t carry through to the birth of their first child.

As labour progresses, and this woman is confronted by the hard work she must do and the unknown now staring her in the face, she often resists and tries harder to control her body with her mind. This attempt to control what is happening does the body no favours, and often results in a longer, harder labour. I believe it was world-famous midwife Pam England who wrote that she knows she is in for many hours of work when she arrives at a mom’s house and finds her sitting neatly on a chair, with a beautiful white nightie on and her hair perfectly in place. She knows this woman has many hours of unravelling ahead of her, before she will let go enough for her baby to be born.

If you recognise yourself in my description, please: don’t stop doing any of the great things you are doing! There is a school of thought in birth circles I call “Just go with the flow”. This relaxed attitude which teaches no childbirth preparation is necessary (just trust your body) may well play out just fine in a country like the UK where midwife-led care is the norm, and many birthing units do their best to create dark, private and warm environments where moms labour best. But in a country like South Africa, where the C-section rate in some hospitals is 90%, this is a bit like sending your child into McDonalds and telling him to buy himself a healthy lunch. As well-meaning as the staff there may be, they only know how to prepare burgers, chips and ice-cream. His chances of finding a nutritious meal there, no matter how hard he tries, are just about zero.

The point of my story is that careful preparation is key, as long as you can let go and release yourself to the power of nature as you labour and birth your baby. This becomes easier when you are surrounded by people you love and trust: your partner or a trusted family member, medical staff that support your birth wishes and a doula who makes you feel like a goddess.

A course like HypnoBirthing is also invaluable as it teaches you how to relax your mind in a controlled way. An instruction like “just relax” drives us Type A’s crazy; we just can’t do it. In fact, trying to relax when we don’t want to makes us more anxious than before. HypnoBirthing teaches you how to practise relaxation techniques on a regular basis, so that your mind and body are conditioned to respond to auditory, tactile or visual cues. Without you even having to engage your conscious, hyper-controlling mind, your body will automatically move into a deep state of relaxation as you have trained it to. Expect labour to be intense – it almost always is – but with the right team and tools, it can be one of the most joyful and uplifting experiences of your life.

Holding on, letting go – finding the balance between these two states of being is the trick to birth and to motherhood in general.

(Photo credit: Gentle Welcome. Photos may not be reproduced without written permission)

 

A New Year’s Birth Story

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I think it’s only fitting that I begin this blog with the story of how Gentle Welcome came to be. I certainly would not have ventured down the path of working with pregnant women and babies, if it were not for the birth of my own son – my second child.

He was (is) a much wanted, much anticipated addition to our family, and I was absolutely determined that I was not going into his birth as unprepared as I had been for his sister’s. Almost four years earlier, his sister’s birth had ended in a desperate emergency C-section after a long and painful labour. She was healthy but it was not a happy experience for either her or I, and I knew it could be better this time.

We had planned an elective C-section with little Mr T for some very simple reasons: we didn’t want any high drama this time, we wanted to have as much control over the process as possible, and we wanted to have a joyful, wonderful birth-day, that we could look back at with fondness and not regret.

I started preparing for his birth long before he was born, with regular Body Talk sessions and HypnoBirthing classes with a highly experienced and passionate teacher. One of the most useful things that HypnoBirthing taught my husband and I was to prepare a thorough birth plan, based on careful deliberation and research, and make sure that this was signed off by our gynaecologist. I also loved the simple, practical mind-body relaxation tools that we learnt but was honestly a bit sceptical about how useful they would be for labour. I had after all, had a long natural labour before, and I couldn’t quite see how some breathing and visualisation would have made any difference to the unrelenting pain I had felt. Nevertheless, I was confident that they would help in a C-section delivery and planned everything around our scheduled date for the surgery.

Well, life has a funny way of not ever quite working out as you think it will, and I woke up at 1am on New Year’s Day with strong surges. These were not Braxton-Hicks, this baby was coming! I remember so clearly leaning against our passage wall and feeling my whole being consumed with the force of nature that was working its way through me.

Unlike our previous labour, we did not rush to the hospital. We had another little one to think of, who was still sleeping soundly, and so I breathed my way through my surges for a few more hours before we packed our bags and got ready to drop her off at my parents’ house.

My sense of anticipation was high as we drove through the quiet streets in the pre-dawn. I had no conscious thoughts of anything except the next moment, the next surge, and – strangely enough – no fear. It felt like, this time, everything was going to be ok.

We arrived at the hospital at about 5am to a cheery New Year’s Day staff, who settled us into our room. The next few hours went quickly as we moved our way through labour; we listened to the HypnoBirthing Rainbow Relaxation track, my husband read me affirmations, and we chatted and laughed along the way. With no drugs in my system this time, I felt so incredibly clear, conscious and in touch with my baby, even as the hormones of labour moved me into a more relaxed state of flow.

I still knew that I wanted this baby to be born by C-section, and I continued to feel this strongly as labour progressed, and so we were prepped for surgery at lunch time when the theatre became available.

Now this was the bit I was prepared for! I focused on my breathing and managed to move myself into such a state of deep relaxation that I didn’t even notice that my husband had had to leave the room after having a dizzy spell. Once he returned, our little baby was born! This time, there was no grim silence, no urgent scurrying as the medical team worked to save our child’s life; the atmosphere was light and cheerful as we welcomed our boy. I remember kissing his little nose as he lay next to my face, and feeling such a profound sense of relief that he was here at last.

I was so blown away by the joy, calm and peace of this birth that I proclaimed to any visitor or hospital staff member that would listen: “We had the best birth, it was AMAZING.” (I was probably still a bit high on the post- caesarean painkillers!)

Guys, this was not a textbook “natural caesarean” as I would teach it in my classes now. There was no seeding, no delayed cord clamping and no skin to skin in theatre. Yes, knowing what I know now, that would have been super, but the most important thing for me was how I felt after that birth.

I felt strong, confident and powerful. I felt like I had decided on the terms of my birth, and in all instances, I had been treated with respect and dignity by the medical staff. Best of all, I felt at such peace with how it all worked out in the end.

It took me a few months of reflection before I decided that I wanted to help other South African women to have amazing, happy, gentle births too; whatever that might mean for them, in their unique circumstances, and with their own dreams and desires.

Our little boy turned three last Friday, and to this day his birth-day is not only a celebration of his life, but a celebration of one of the happiest memories in mine.

(Photo credit: Tina Lane. Photos may not be reproduced without written permission.)