The pink figure flying towards us down the corridor was motioning wildly. Somewhere deep within I knew that the action must be directed towards us but she seemed, at that moment, utterly irrelevant. My husband and I were walking slowly into the hospital as I laboured. At each contraction, now very close together, he would kneel as I paused and sank into his arms. Breathing slowly and calmly, seconds later, we would rise and again begin the trek towards check-in. It was lovely.
The labour, going on 20 hours at this point, had been miraculous. My doula, my husband, and my schnauzer were perfect labour partners. I had experienced the best massage skills that my life partner had to offer, relaxed on my birth ball, been the recipient of many schnauzer cuddles, taken a bath, and rested on my porch at sunrise. The gradual progression of this labour lulled me deeply into myself and eventually I had requested to go to my birthing place.
I love natural childbirth. I love everything about it. I love labouring for hours on end, the sweat, the crawling from room to room, and the primal sounds. I love the smell of birth, the warmth of the room and the touch of supportive partners. I love watching couples labour together and oh how I love the labour dance—that little sway that labouring couples always seem to fall into as a new contraction begins its ascent. Following the birth of my first child, with the utmost confidence in the bodies of women, I became a Bradley childbirth instructor and doula. I assured mothers that they were powerful, that they were strong, and that they were made to give birth. I had the opportunity to help other women learn to listen to their bodies and was able to attend several beautiful un-medicated births in homes and hospitals.
And then I became pregnant. Again. I don’t know that I can fully describe the fear that gripped me even as I held the urine-soaked proof in my hands. Paralyzed by the weight of everyone else’s expectations, I began questioning my ability to birth this baby. What if this birth was wildly different? What if something went wrong? What would I say to my students if. . .the ifs were the worst. Irrational mom-thought kicked in. Surely I didn’t deserve another great birth and healthy baby.
I should note that I am a reader and fear exacerbates this trait. I didn’t simply read during this fear-inducing pregnancy; I consumed books on childbirth. I re-read all of the Bradley materials as I led a class for three couples due in the same month and was reminded that I know my body intimately. Bradley had helped me learn about my body, expectations of labour, and relaxation, but I was now dealing with a whole other monster. I had developed fears about my husband’s ability to support me and about the possibility that my body would rebel and leave me defenseless. It soon became clear that Bradley alone would be less than adequate for this pregnancy and so began my frantic search to find peace before birthing this baby.
The title alone was not gripping. When I first saw this book by Marie Mongan my mind countered that I did not want to be zoned out during my birth (nor quack like a duck for that matter). I did however, have a healthy appreciation for the mind/body connection and HypnoBirthing built upon the foundation that had already been well established by Bradley. The focus on positive talk, affirmations, and faith in my body were needed. Both HypnoBirthing and the Bradley method have their basis in the work of Dr. Grantley Dick-Read who published “Childbirth Without Fear” in the 1940s. In his groundbreaking book he proposed that pain during labour is caused primarily by tension of the muscles that occurs when we are fearful. HypnoBirthing takes this premise and focuses on breaking the cycle of Fear-Tension-Pain. HypnoBirthing also challenges the reader’s perception of pain. Through HypnoBirthing I embraced the labeling of my contractions simply as ‘surges’ that come and go like waves and I created affirmations about my growing baby and my ability to birth him.
Birthing From Within
If HypnoBirthing was my jar of pickles then Birthing From Within was my pint of ice cream. Granted, I had to get past a few attacks aimed at Bradley, with our pillows and side-lying relaxation, but once I did it was delicious! Pam England’s work helped me focus on labour as hard work. This may seem an easy enough concept for some, but I had experienced such a gradual and relaxing labour with my first that I had come to think of birth as defined in this way. Birthing From Within led me to create birth art, to visualize my labour, and to allow myself to be primal during labour. It reminded me of my connection with women who birthed ages before me and it reminded me of my strength as a woman.
HypnoBradleying from Within
If my first labour was a leisurely stroll through city streets then my second was the freight train that ran down the distracted pedestrian. Two weeks before his due date while lying in bed (yes I was reading) I felt water soaking my new king sized mattress. Within an hour it was obvious that this would be a very different birth. Within four hours my second baby boy was born in the dining room of our tiny apartment. The midwives had arrived 30 minutes before his birth. In that four hours I vocalized like millions of women before me, I repeated affirmations about the strength of my body, I lay on my side and breathed through my early surges. Drawing from all of the childbirth methods I had learned, practiced, and clung to, I allowed myself to feel powerful. I remembered all of the labouring mothers that I had been privileged to attend and found my strength in their experiences.
After the birth, nursing my newest baby boy on the floor of my living room, my toddler playing quietly at my side, my husband sitting protectively nearby, my midwives packing up to get out of the way, I realized that this gift was one that many women will never get to experience. We tell one another the worst things about birth and create fear that drives one another towards a medicated, doctor-directed birth. I will not be that story. I am a woman who births. I crawl, I sweat, I groan, I push, I love, I nurse, I share.