Sometimes the universe is just amazing. It does things to you when you’re least expecting and bang you meet another human being who you feel is so well connected to you, it’s amazing that you haven’t crossed paths before. Cosmic. Well this is exactly what happened last November when I tweeted Hollie and I wanted to find out more about her Hypnobirthing classes. She lived and worked in the same area as myself, and some of my women had been raving about her and her classes. We met during my lunch break in a coffee shop and it was like meeting up with an old pal. We talked and talked and hardly drew breath, our mutual passion for positive births was palpable (not to mention fashion trends) and we swapped numbers with the promise of meeting up next time over a drink. The meeting was cut short as my pager went off calling me to a beautiful home water birth. Here Hollie tells us why all pregnant women should consider hypnobirthing and Paul McKenna is nothing to do with it………

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So what is hypnobirthing? If I’m honest, I think the name puts a lot of people off. There is something about it that suggests I will probably be a mung-bean-eating, tie-dye-wearing pocket-watch wielder. In fact, I’m just a normal mum to one, with a background in graphic design who has stumbled across something wonderful and wants to share it. And that something wonderful happens to be hypnobirthing – an entirely logical antenatal eduction programme based on physiology – how the body works. There is nothing strange about it – no voodoo involved – it is simply understanding how our birthing muscles are designed to function and moreover, how they have become impaired by fear and unfounded expectation.

I came across hypnobirthing when I was pregnant with my son. It’s fair to say I was terrified at the prospect of giving birth. I used to type “horrific birth videos” into YouTube, watch them, and then think “okay, that woman survived, that means I have a good chance of surviving too.” I don’t even think I seriously entertained the idea of giving birth until I was at least 6 months pregnant. I then remember having a conversation with a friend who had just given birth, and that conversation changed my life. I asked her how the birth was, bracing myself for the standard unfolding of traumatic events. She said “it was the most romantic, peaceful experience of my life”. I assumed she was being sarcastic, but in fact she went on to tell me what a calm and intimate experience it had been as she beamed with happiness and pride. Hypnobirthing was apparently the answer, and so with a good amount of curiosity and apprehension, I booked us onto a course.

The course, which ran over two weekends, totally changed the way I viewed birth. I realised that all of my visions of birth were based on other people’s experiences. I was conditioned to believe birth would be awful, with very little understanding of how the physical process of birth even worked. Both my husband and I felt completely enlightened and empowered by what we learnt, by the hypnobirth videos we watched, and it helped us to bond enormously. This was a team effort. We could do this and enjoy it. In the space of two weeks, I’d gone from burying my head in the sand to being excited about going into labour. I think a lot of people around me thought I was slightly off my rocker. How could I possibly be looking forward to this? But I was. My husband and I practiced the techniques daily, and the three of us grew closer all the time. All of this practice paid off entirely when my son decided it was time to make an appearance, and I can honestly say that the journey of his birth was the most rewarding, joyful and life-affirming thing I have ever experienced. At no point was I scared or in unbearable pain. I have never felt so close to another human being as I did with my husband through labour, and my son’s calm temperament, from day one, is something I definitely put down to hypnobirthing.

hollie and oscar

Having had this experience, I absolutely knew I had to share this with other women. It made me sad to hear other women talk so disparately of their births, knowing how fulfilling and joyous it could be. I made the decision to train to become a hypnobirthing teacher, and had qualified by the time of my son’s first birthday. I launched London Hypnobirthing two years ago and have been working with mums and their birth companions ever since. I cannot think of a job I’d rather be doing. I love my work and I am proud to be making a difference to the way we approach birth in this country.

So what kind of things does hypnobirthing embody? I always like to begin by acknowledging couple’s concerns about birth, or even about the course. We introduce ourselves and it’s absolutely fine for dads to say “I’m here because my wife told me to come, and I have no idea what this is all about”. A lot of mums say “I’m not sure if I believe in this, but if there’s a chance it can help then I guess it’s worth a try”. Also fine. What I do ask is that couples approach the course with an open mind. I am offering them knowledge, understanding and tools for a better birth, not promising them a “normal” one, whatever that may be. It is their responsibility to take what I offer and practice it, and also to let go of their limiting thoughts around birth. It’s kind of like learning a foreign language – it’s all very well buying a CD, but if you practice speaking it you’ll of course progress so much more.

We talk about where our fear of childbirth comes from and how this fear affects the way our muscles work. We ask if birth has always been this way. We explore the roles of adrenalin and endorphins – and the significant part they play in the birthing body. We look at how programming the mind with certain messages will trigger corresponding chemical reactions in the body – think of placebos, blushing, salivating – and relate this to how we can train our bodies to work in labour. Over the four week course, we learn lots of practical tools to use during labour, a gentle endorphin-inducing massage, breathing and visualisation techniques, and practice the art of self-hypnosis in different forms, which allows the mind and body to work harmoniously, just as nature has designed it to.

There’s a lot we can draw from nature – looking at how animals birth their babies – most often at night, when it’s dark and they feel quiet and safe. It’s no surprise then that most women go into labour at night, and that women often labour so well at home only for things to stall when they make the transition to a bright and noisy hospital where there are lots of strangers buzzing around. It’s so important to get the birth environment right, and this is where dads or birth companions have a huge role to play. I remember during my labour my husband simply whispering “you’re completely safe”, and it was like the warmest embrace I’d ever had. It’s sad when dads feel helpless, or merely a bystander in bringing their baby into the world, and I really encourage couples to embrace this as a total team effort. Your birth companion is there to create a safe space and protect it, to advocate for you and your baby, and to offer gentle encouragement and security – helping to maintain mum’s relaxed state so that she can turn within.

Another important element of hypnobirthing is gaining the confidence to ask questions and ensuring you have the best birth experience for you. Birth is such a personal journey and should be treated as such, wherever and however you choose to birth. I strongly believe that every woman should be entitled to the same level of care and respect during pregnancy, and understanding birth enables parents to reach decisions from a place of knowledge. There is no right or wrong – if it feels right for you, it probably is. Unfortunately we live in a society where we are all too often dictated to by authority, and scared or even embarrassed to question it. Expectant parents should be vary wary when they hear the words “not allowed to”, or “have to” – remember that this is yourbody and your baby. Of course it’s important to listen to medical opinions, but make sure you take the time to tune into your own instincts, to ask questions, and to make decisions based on the interest of you and your baby, rather than handing over such a precious experience because it feels like the only option. So many women in the UK for instance are needlessly induced because they are “late”. Or actually not late as it happens, with recent research highlighting that a woman’s due time can be anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks. To expect all babies to pop out bang on 40 weeks is like expecting 100 people to walk a mile in exactly the same amount of time. Nature doesn’t work like that, and I encourage the parents I work with to respect that their baby knows when and where is the right time to be born.

Another issue that our society has a lot to answer for is the pressure put on women, and especially mothers. From the moment you’re pregnant you will start facing outside advice or opinions on doing things a certain way. From people you don’t even know. Women are judged if they have pain relief, or are “taking the easy route” if they’ve had a caesarian (i.e. major abdominal surgery). You’re letting your baby down if you don’t breastfeed, because formula is apparently poison, and if you cuddle your baby too much you’re sewing the seed for a high-maintenance adult. Hypnobirthing is about stepping away from this outside pressure and doing what’s right for you and your baby. It’s about challenging these social judgements and about making decisions based on the knowledge you have gained, and ultimately what feels right. Women should never be made to feel like failures, and if one woman feels that way, it’s society that’s failing.

Hypnobirthing is also not about prescriptive birthing, we are not anti-medicine (we are lucky to live in a country where assistance is readily available if required), we don’t say you have to home birth, you’re not required to be quiet, we’re just there to open up the way we enter the birthing process. We’re there to support and encourage women to believe they are designed to give birth naturally, a belief that society is sadly losing sight of. Ultimately hypnobirthing is looking at how fear affects labour and addressing it. It’s about programming our mind to accept the journey of birth and make way for it. So many women don’t get the birth they want because they are limited by fear. For example, despite most first time mums going over their EDD with their first babies, 66% of London Hypnobirthing first time mums have had their babies on or before their EDD. There’s so much to be said for being emotionally ready for the physical journey to begin – a clear reflection of how the mind and body work together.

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So, I hope this has been able to dispel some of the rumours you may have heard about hypnobirthing. If you’re pregnant and would like to know more about my courses, or what couples I’ve taught have to say, have a look at my website www.londonhypnobirthing.co.uk or drop me a line at hollie@londonhypnobirthing.co.uk. I am always very happy to talk. My friendly and informal group courses run twice a month (four 2.5 hour weekly sessions) in East Dulwich, alongside private/one-to-one courses in the comfort of your own home should you prefer. I also offer a free daily affirmations service – providing you with a new positive statement for birth every day. To recieve these, simply follow me on Twitter @lovelybirths, or like London Hypnobirthing on Facebook.

Hollie Stroud MHbA
London Hypnobirthing

Birth Story Of The Week – Katheryn and Louie

Today’s birth story comes from a fellow midwife who contacted me after discovering my blog. She is also a blogger and in the ridiculously small world we live in, we realised we know a few of the same midwives as she also trained and works in Bristol! Katheryn chose to practise Hypnobirthing for her home birth. Here she shares her experience, what it’s really like to give birth as a midwife.

Blog: The Vintage Midwife


“I chose a home birth for my first baby, which I appreciate is not everybody’s cup of tea. But I knew that I would feel safer and more in control in my own home and I was inspired by my mum having my sisters at home. Her birth story is here  I had written my dissertation about home birth and had attended lots of home births as a midwife so I felt pretty well informed about the risks and what it involved.

I had prepared myself for the fact that I may need to be transferred in to the hospital if something didn’t go according to plan or most likely I needed more pain relief (I’m a right wimp).  I had packed my hospital bag full of lovely treats in case this happened, so it wouldn’t be quite so disappointing!

I had had a lot of worries about how I would cope with the pain in labour and what would happen; having too much knowledge of potential complications. Doing a HypnoBirthing course had made me feel a lot more relaxed and confident but I still had doubts if I could manage to have the home birth I wanted.

Labour started naturally at 4 days past my due date.

Looking back I was probably in early labour for longer than I realised. In the afternoon we’d walked to the shops and I had to keep stopping to hold onto my man’s arm. My tummy was going tight but it wasn’t painful or regular.

By the evening my tummy was going tight more regularly, about every 15 minutes; it still didn’t hurt. I put on my Hypno CD and when I ‘came to’ after it finished then the tightenings were one after the other, about every minute. This was about 7.30 pm, when I consider my labour really started.

I had a bath with lavender oil and was sick. I got out the bath and was kneeling by the bed and was sick again. My man was timing the surges (HypnoBirthing speak for contractions) by now and keen to call the midwives. I asked him why? “They’re every minute, lasting a minute” I didn’t believe him as they simply didn’t seem that regular to me and they still didn’t hurt.

About 9 pm, after I’d been to the loo there was loads of blood mixed in with mucus (a bloody show- really good sign that labour is moving on).This really shocked me and made me come out of my relaxed state. I got my ‘thinking’ midwife head on then- tightenings every minute, vomiting, bloody show- in theory I’m in full on labour, but I can’t be! It’s been far too quick plus it doesn’t hurt at all. What is going on?!

From this point on I came out of my relaxed state; I was in my ‘thinking’ head and didn’t know how to go back deeper. Like a switch being flicked, suddenly things became painful. This showed me just how effective using the HypnoBirthing techniques are. If I could change anything it would be that we had practised the deepening techniques so that I could have got back into my relaxed state.

I got my man to call the midwife at 10pm, we were told she would be an hour as she lived a long way away and had to stop at the hospital to pick up equipment.

At this point one hour felt like ages so I just decided not to look at the clock or think about the time. By now I’d found it really helpful to make noise when I was having a surge. I got in the birthing pool, which my man had set up. It felt fantastic in the warm water, helped me so much. Rescue Remedy helped too and visualising my cervix opening whilst I was having a surge.

At the peak of the surge, for a few seconds it got really intense but then it would ease off again. In between the surges it didn’t hurt at all and I enjoyed the break, reminding myself that I could do it. I tried to check myself (do an internal) to find out what was going on but I couldn’t really feel anything;  It is extremely difficult to do to yourself when you’ve got a massive bump, I don’t recommend it! I thought I was maybe 1 cm dilated and I started to think ” I can’t do this for hours, I might need to go in for an epidural.”

About 11 pm I opened my eyes and like a vision a lovely, lovely midwife had arrived. I was so pleased it was her; she was so calm and kind, very experienced and had had four babies herself. I know I was very lucky to know the midwives that were looking after me.

I wanted to be checked but it was so difficult to lie on the bed and the gap between the surges was so short and much worse lying down. She said I was 6-7 cm dilated (midwife talk for 8cm), so well over halfway. I thought she was joking as I was convinced I hadn’t been long enough in labour and for most of the time it hadn’t hurt at all.  As soon as I heard that I thought “I can do this. I’m going to do this” and kept telling myself that.

She called the second midwife. I got back in the pool. I asked for the gas and air (not for the pain so much as to stop the noise I was making which had got really loud at this point and was starting to annoy me, and probably our poor neighbours). Gas and air in the pool was heaven.

Shortly after this I felt I needed to push. Rather my body started pushing, a bit like retching, I just couldn’t stop it. I heard myself making pushing noises. The first couple of pushes I thought “this is great”, but then it got hard.  I felt really excited because I knew I would meet my baby soon.

I was pushing as hard as I could, but it felt like trying to shift a bowling ball or a melon; something hard and round that just wouldn’t fit through my bones. I started saying “I can’t do it”. I should have known this was normal for this stage of labour. They were telling me “you can!”

Apparently at this stage I was speaking in a different accent after each surge- Bristolian “Alright my love?”, Indian “Oh my goodness” and cockney “faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacking ‘ell”. Must have been rather amusing for those with me. Guess it was the gas and air.  After a while I stopped using it.

My contractions started to ease off. I was asking them to break my waters, which hadn’t gone yet. They sensibly said no need yet- try and get out the pool and go and sit on the toilet. My bathroom is down a flight of stairs and I think they were hoping this would jiggle baby down.

I had to talk to myself out loud “Come on Katheryn, you can do it!”- like I’d talk to a woman I was looking after. I was helping myself through it like I’d helped hundreds of other women before. The midwives and my man were a massive support.

I sat on my toilet, gave a couple of pushes, it felt much easier to push on the loo, especially my loo. I felt the head coming.  I had my hand there, my waters went and the head just came out. In total I had pushed for 40 mins. They had put a towel under the toilet seat so babe wouldn’t fall down the loo. They said- stand up. I lost it, “I can’t!”. The second midwife got stern, “you have to!”- it was just what I needed.  I stood up and leant forward. It felt very surreal with the baby’s head out and the body still inside. My man saw our baby’s face at this point, the first person to see it. I gave another push and then woosh! I had my baby in my arms.

Me and my man were crying and laughing. We looked and it was a boy. Everybody had been convinced we were having a girl. He cried straight away. He smelt amazing and looked so clean. He looked just like my Dad, who died several years ago, and who I was very close to. We gave him his name (George) as a middle name.

vintage midwife

He was born at 1.45 am. The labour had been less than 7 hours and the midwives there less than 3 hours. Not bad for a first labour. Cheers HypnoBirthing!

I wanted to birth the placenta naturally, without the injection, so they didn’t cut the cord yet.  About 5 minutes later I gave a push and it all came out.  Felt a relief for it to come away.

My man held our boy for the first time and he opened his eyes and saw his Dad and held onto his beard. The midwives checked to see if I needed any sutures; few grazes but no stitches. All that perineal massage had paid off.

The midwives weighed him (8 lbs 6 oz, a good size!), checked him and gave him Vitamin K injection. I tried to breast feed him but he wasn’t interested yet so I had a bath and the midwives left.

I lay in the bath, looking at my soft, empty belly, thinking “I did it!” I was so pleased and thrilled, it felt like a huge achievement and I was so relieved our baby was safe and ok. I had a new respect for my body and what it could do.

Afterwards we cuddled in our bed together, drinking tea and eating cake and looking at our son. It was the best experience of our lives.  If we had been in the hospital my husband would have been sent home at this point, another bonus for having a home birth.

I know that I could not have had such a brilliant birth without HypnoBirthing and my experience inspired me to train as a HypnoBirthing Practitioner.  If it worked so well for me when I had so many fears and preconceived ideas about birth (and am a real wimp!) then I know that it can work for other women too.”

So Did Kate Do It Her Way?

kate and will

Unless you’ve been living under a large rock for the last 24 hours or have no access to the media, Twitter, Facebook or any human contact, then you will know that Kate delivered a baby boy yesterday afternoon. My (invisible) midwife hat has been firmly on my head since the news broke that she was in early labour. I could not help speculating what has going on inside The Lindo wing and neither could my colleagues either. Heading over to Twitter this evening proved I wasn’t the only one with my spies out and here’s why.

The wonderful Rebecca Schiller aka The Hackney Doula has written a fantastic piece on her thoughts (and mine) on what we hope and believe Kate achieved to birth her baby boy.


‘I’ll admit this is entirely speculation. I have no idea what has been going on inside the Lindo Wing for the last 36 hours and it’s good that I don’t know. Very few people, with the exception of Romola Garai , want the world’s media to have knowledge of the state of their post-partum perineum.

However on careful viewing of the footage of Kate emerging 27 odd hours after birth, I’m putting myself on the record saying that I think she had a spontaneous vaginal birth without instruments and without an epidural. Why? Well, as @midwifeyhooper, @beverleyturner and I have been saying on twitter she is walking and carrying her baby with ease. There’s no hesitation or grimacing when going down steps or into the car; all of which would be pretty impossible so quickly after a caesarean.

The baby has no tell-tale lumps from a ventouse cup or forceps marks on his face. Kate herself has no bruises on the back of her hands or wrists suggesting no epidural or synthetic hormones.

head and hand

Of course, anything is possible, but her apparent lack of discomfort, her energy and her short stay in hospital and seemingly quite speedy timeline all point to a straightforward birth.

In many ways I feel guilty for speculating, for grubbily pouring over the photos searching for evidence. She’s just a woman adjusting to one of the most momentous changes in her life and I’m sure she doesn’t need us all wondering about ‘mode of delivery’ (hateful phrase). It’s her business and as long as she feels happy, well-supported and that it was a good and safe experience who cares if she had an elective caesarean or a water birth?

Yet, I can’t help feeling it does matter. If Kate was really keen to have a natural, vaginal birth and had really spent time practising antenatal yoga, Natal Hypnotherapy and the like I feel delighted for her that she had the birth she wanted and prepared for. In many ways the odds were stacked against her. Like over 90% of UK women she gave birth in a consultant-led unit (in her case with two dedicated consultants) when the evidence clearly shows that midwife-led care is the most appropriate, safest and cost-effective for low-risk women. She also gave birth at a private hospital with, reportedly, a 100% epidural rate, a high caesarean rate and no birth pool. (Though I wonder if an inflatable pool is being deflated as I type).

Sadly many UK women aren’t so lucky. Shunted in to consultant-led care through lack of available options they have a 45% chance of having an operative birth. Shocking when you think that the birth centre down the road would have dropped that chance by nearly 30%, while costing the NHS less and giving identical outcomes for the baby.

While medical intervention is life-saving, much-needed and also for some a positive choice there are too many women wanting to have Kate’s birth who end up feeling that the decisions have been snatched out of their hands.

So, perhaps I’m justifying my tabloid curiosity as I guiltily examine the backs of Kate’s hands, but the fact that the most high-profile birth of our time seems to have been a natural one, in a sea of rising interventions and rising dissatisfaction amongst women, seems important.

The headline “Woman has birth experience that she wanted and planned for” wouldn’t probably go down too well at The Sun’s news desk, but sadly it is becoming almost deserving of the front page.’

Follow Rebecca here @HackneyDoula

An Open Letter To Kate Middleton

Dear Kate

Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on choosing some great maternity dresses throughout this pregnancy. Re cycling your Top Shop polka dot dress went down a storm, I bet Sir Phillip Green couldn’t believe his luck.

I hope you’re enjoying your ‘nesting period’ now that you’ve finished your last public engagement before the baby is born. I also hope William isn’t spending too much time whizzing around in helicopters rescuing stranded people while you are on your hands and knees scrubbing the Royal floor boards to encourage your baby to get into the right position for labour. Don’t worry, I know you may be tempted to sniff the bottle of Bathroom Bleach due to those uncontrollable urges, it’s just those crazy hormones. Your body does not really want you to eat soap.

photo (5)Really embrace this time to perfect your Hypno-birthing techniques with William, remember ‘Surges not contractions’ and print off your affirmations to post around the delivery room walls. Something along the lines of ‘Opening like a flower‘ or ‘ If in doubt, breathe out’.

Show him how to massage the sacrum of your back during those difficult times of your labour, you may want to consider using aromatherapy oils such as Lavender or Chamomile which are relaxing especially if your Mum or William are getting a little stressed! Drop a few drops onto a tissue and let them have a whiff, this should do the trick. Perhaps this would be a good time to consider trying some perineal massage.

Make sure William knows how to use the TENS machine and can stick the pads on your back without him electrocuting himself! Could be a bit embarrassing for him and you. Not one to tell the Queen. I’m sure you have already, but pack your labour bag, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, a wide headband and a pillow are just a few essentials you will definitely need. And not forgetting the all important food bag, especially for William. A strapping lad like him needs to be topped up regularly with high energy snacks; Pot Noddles, a few bananas perhaps and some Lucozade for you to sip to keep you going. (bendy straws, don’t forget the bendy straws!)

Music! We know how much you and William are partial to a little groove once in a while so make a great playlist. You may be inspired here from some of my and my readers suggestions. Number 8 and 11 were particularly good through those final pushes!

Last but not least, remember to take photos! If William is down the business end, get your Mum to take them. Obviously these won’t be the ones The Palace will want to release. But the first one of you with the baby skin to skin and looking like well like you’ve just given birth is very special. Perhaps Instagram it, a nice filter should do the trick.

Sending you lots of positive birthing vibes Kate, and I do hope you achieve the natural birth you so want. I have a feeling your Obstetrician may not be so up for a water birth or Hypno-birth but you never know. One last suggestion, maybe consider a midwife looking after you. One you know, have a good trusting relationship with, one that will support all your choices and treat you like a normal low risk pregnant woman. You could even have a home birth at your parents house, in the private environment you so deserve.  Just like the soon to be Great Grandmother did. If home birth is good enough for The Queen, it’s good enough for the heir to the throne.

Let me know if you change your mind, I may know a few great midwives that could help.

Best Wishes