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

Could Men Really Handle It?

Typical man comment

Typical man comment

Watching my husband suffer with an impacted wisdom tooth this week has really got me thinking.  He didn’t cry out in pain as one would expect, but became very quiet  over the course of an evening, hardly ate the meal I prepared for him (unheard of) and eventually said ‘I think I’m dying’.  Of course my initial reaction was to call 999 but he began to explain the severity of his pain, stating that ‘if he had a gun he should shoot himself’ and ‘where on earth is the number for his dentist?’  The irony is, that he hasn’t even got a dentist and he vaguely remembers still being registered at his childhood dentist back in North Somerset, not helpful.

He then said that childbirth was a breeze, and men could handle it without any drugs.  A breeze huh! Try saying that when you’re trying to shove a something to size of a watermelon out of something the size of an orange with a bit of gas and air and a feeble back rub from your other half.  Or as my friend described it ‘as simultaneously shoving four rolling pins up your arse and vag for eight hours straight.  I could go on……

Luckily for my husband , some rather crazy Dutch guys decided they could also handle the pain of childbirth and proved it by filming an experiment called ‘Guinea Pigs’.  Storm and Zeno reveal why they took on this particular challenge, explaining that giving birth is the worst pain there is.  However, since men can’t feel labour pains, the two men used electro-stimulations to simulate contractions so they could experience the distress for themselves.

“Do you think the pain will make us scream,” Zeno asks before the shocks begin.

One of the midwives responds bluntly: “Yes, it definitely will.”

She wasn’t lying.

Propped on a bed with electrodes attached to their abdomens, Storm and Zeno last through two hours of the simulated contractions. Though they try to laugh through the pain, the men appear to be in complete misery as they double over and clutch pillows tightly and eventually reaching for the gas and air.

Haha in your face HUSBAND!  Its really funny viewing, enjoy.

How would you explain to your other half how your labour felt?


The Marathon of Labour

As another day of endless rain descends on the UK during the height of Summer and I look desperately at my toddler hoping she won’t grow up and hate me for taking her to Sainsbury’s for the third time this week (look its indoors, it sells a great selection of flowers AND there’s a Starbucks), I have a small glimmer of hope that in 5 weeks we will be on holiday!!!! The blue skies and hot Mediterranean sun makes me happier than nothing else in this world (apologies if that’s sounds shallow) but my husband will agree. I’m a completely different person on holiday yes Vitamin D and me are the best of friends. But there is the small issue of bikinis, and with bikinis comes the 2babies/haven’t done exercise since last summer/always says yes to cake, tummy.

So I’ve started running.  Only once around my local park (it has a huge hill) and I hate it.  I really really hate it.  I know I could have joined the gym but I would have only sat in the sauna for 2 hours and to be honest I really dislike exercising in front of skinny people especially in confined spaces.  So the park seemed like the best option but when I reach that point (usually 10 minutes in) when I feel like I’m going to die, the stitch in my side is unbearable and that disgusting taste has developed in my mouth I think about labour.  Not just when I was in labour but when I’m with a woman helping her through the toughest points.  Let me tell you a little story of Zoe.

Zoe and Ben were having their first baby; she came into hospital at 39+5 weeks during one of my night shifts and was found to be 6cm dilated, membranes intact contracting strongly.  I suggested she should try the birthing pool and an available room was found.  As the pool was filling she started using gas and air and was finding the contractions really painful and difficult to cope with.  The pool was ready and she got in and immediately relaxed.  Her waters broke half an hour late and she started making involuntary pushing sounds with each contraction.  My student and I stood back and waited quietly as we observed this amazing stage of labour.  After about an hour of pushing, Zoe started getting really tired and fed up.  She couldn’t understand why her baby hadn’t been born yet and wanted to get out of the pool and have an epidural.  I reassured her that her baby would be here soon and she was doing such a fantastic job.  I suggested putting her finger inside her vagina to see if she could feel her baby’s head (I hadn’t examined her at this point) and she said she could and it didn’t feel that far away!  This gave her some encouragement that she really was close to meeting her baby.  But exhaustion had kicked in and the contractions had started to wear off.  I asked Ben what snacks they had in the bags and he produced some Flap Jacks and a bottle of Lucozade.  We fed this to Zoe and with a bit of nipple stimulation the contractions came back with a vengeance.  But Zoe still found it difficult to get through those last few pushes.  I asked Zoe if she had ever run a marathon which she said she had done a 10K a long time ago so I used this analogy to help her focus and visualise.

Labour is like running a marathon; it’s really hard, really physically painful and you will push your body in ways you never thought possible.  But you will do it, you can do it and there’s a finishing line, meeting your baby.  Zoe gave her absolute everything in those last few pushes and birthed a beautiful 8lb 5onz baby boy.

And that birth story isn’t the exception.  So many times I have heard (and also myself) women say ‘I can’t do it’ during labour.  Birth is probably the hardest thing your body has to go through but self-belief, a bit of preparation and support from your birth partner means you most definitely can do it.