Here I am at home a few days after giving birth, my tummy still wobbly, breast pad on the arm of the sofa. I gave birth on Tuesday 19th December, 1995, on all fours, after nineteen hours of labour. The birth was long but okay. I learnt a lot about what giving birth actually feels like from the inside. This set me on a path to where I am now as a doula and antenatal teacher. I want to share this beginning of my journey with you so you can learn from my experience and so you can understand why I do this work.
After antenatal classes I thought "I definitely don't want pethadine. I want to avoid an epidural. That only leaves gas and air. So I better find something else so I can leave the gas and air till I really need it."
I learnt how pethadine and gas and air work because they are muscle relaxants, so if I thought if I could get really good at relaxing my muscles that will reduce the discomfort. I also learnt about the hormones of labour and that the more relaxed you can be the better they flow, including endorphins, the body's own pain relief. So I practised full body relaxation once or twice a week.
I knew how powerful visualisation can be. They lay down pathways in your brain so you subconsciously react/behave/think in the way you planned. So I created a visualisation imagining after the birth, thinking back how well it had gone. I developed other visualisations for future pregnancies, and for my Birth Dreaming course.
I also practised a very simple breathing technique taught by my NCT antenatal teacher Sue. Practising helps it to become muscle memory. I've made a video about it which is on my YouTube channel.
In labour the breathing really helped, and the relaxation. I listened to my instincts. I rocked, swayed, and I walked and walked. Baby was back to back but the walking helped to turn baby around. It wasn't a conscious thought. I was just following my instinct to walk. It helped my discomfort. One of my mantras for my doula clients is "Do what feels good."
Getting the bath was amazing! The warmth was so soothing. I have used water (bath or pool) each labour. I cant imagine coping without. When I moved to this area and found out that, at the time, the local hospital didn't have any baths on the labour ward I used to get panic attacks every time I went past just thinking there were women in labour there unable to get in water.
I also used affirmations and positive thinking. During pregnancy I kept re-reading a positive birth story from a magazine, and reminding myself that thousands and thousands of women have given birth before me. During a contraction my partner would say that it was almost over, and although I knew he was lying I knew that the contraction would end. I had other affirmations too.
All these added up so in the end I didn't even have gas and air! That wasn't the plan but I had got into such a rhythm, that I just kept going. Getting through each contraction gave me confidence I could do the next. Penny Simkin talks about the 3 Rs of coping with labour: relaxation, repetition, and ritual. Each time a wave would come I would get into position, do a welcome breath, relax and go saggy, breathe, rock away, positive affirmations, and then goodbye breath, and shake it off.
I'm not saying that everyone will be able to get through it without pharmacological pain relief, but that there are things you can do to help reduce the discomfort. Also know that some people do. In those first antenatal classes someone asked how many women give birth without pain relief, and the midwife laughed and said "With first baby, no one." But she was wrong. Two out of the ten of us did.
This is me talking about this.
There is a certain amount of luck in how your birth pans out but there is also plenty you can do to prepare body and mind. You've got this!
I am a doula and antenatal teacher in Bedfordshire. I run pregnancy retreats and mum retreat days. My antenatal teaching is mostly through online webinars, including Top tips for a terrific birth. Get some free downloads to go from anxious to excited. Sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date (see link at the top of the page).