So I said I'd be writing about what I am passionate about. One of my passions is childbirth. Where did that come from? Well I consider myself - wait for it now - a FEMINIST......!
I discovered I had feminist 'leanings' in college when I went as a 'mature student, at the grand old age of 23 ( and to think I actually felt old then!!!! HA!!!!). Here I chose and was interested in women's issues, while studying Sociology and History. While in college I became interested in birth from an academic standpoint. In both my Sociology and History dissertations I looked at reproductive rights and the medicalisation of childbirth. It was a fascinating subject in a very abstract way. I didn’t think I wanted children at this stage so while the subject drew me in it was not through personal experience.
When I became pregnant in 2006 suddenly it was not so abstract. We had decided to try and have children and see what happened, but even still it was a suprise. I was thrilled at first, but then the fear set in. I suffer from panic attacks intermittantly, but when I became pregnant they began to escalate and take over my life. I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy because I was so fearful of the birth. Of course the general public didn’t help. I wanted a home birth and ideally a natural birth (I was just as afraid of hospitals and operations as I was of birth), but people began telling me their horror stories of either their own births or a friends. (Seriously people, think before you tell a pregnant woman a birth horror story please - it does not help them at all).
As this was my first pregnancy I wasn’t aware at first of how judgemental and opinionated people become over your birth preferences, but boy did I learn! Everyone had an opinion. Everyone was an expert. 'I would need a epidural' seemed to be the general theme. Just wait until you are in labour was bandied around a lot. In an effort to educate myself I went to natural childbirth classes (I found out later that they were Birthing From Within classes). They were very informative and gave us lots of useful information to mull over. They also offered us some coping techniques that unfortunately did nothing to help me and my fears. As I did not find them useful my fears actually grew. I thought - if I can’t manage to use these coping techniques now, how will i manage during my labour.
We also got to watch videos of women in labour. Amazing women having babies in hospital or at home, some gave birth in birth pools, others laboured in bed. All were having natural births. They completely and totally freaked me out! Mostly these women were doing fine until transition and then would lose the plot. I watched these videos - of women screaming to get the baby out, to bring them to the hospital so that they could get drugs, that they couldn’t do this anymore etc. They then went on to have a beautiful baby and seemed ecstatic. But i didn’t focus on that. No - I focused on the screaming and meltdowns of these women and left that class as white as a ghost, feeling even more terrified than I did before.
Interestingly everyone else loved the videos - for them they were powerful and encouraging. So it just goes to show everyone is different and different coping mechanisms and birth workshops can suit different people. I would never knock Birthing from Within - one of the women who took the class with me went on to have a fantastic birth experience and I have a number of friends how have found it helpful (one even trained and became an instructor in it), it was also great from a childbirth education standpoint for me. I learned a lot about birth from it. It just didn’t help with my fears, perhaps because of the panic attacks, and in fact made them worse for a while.
After the class I considered a C-Section, I really thought it might be more manageable than having a natural birth. I knew myself. I am a strong person but I do have a tendency to quit something just before the end when it is hardest. How was a I going to manage birth, especially transition, as there was no quitting there! My fears intensified and it felt like they were taking over my pregnancy. I was not enjoying it anymore as I couldn't focus on anything apart from the birth and how I would cope with it.
Thankfully a close friend who is a midwife mentioned she knew someone in Dublin teaching hypnobirthing classes. She wasn’t sure exactly what they were but they did look at fear in birth and help with that. So I contacted Tracy Donegan and made arrangements to take her workshop. My husband was not impressed. Another birth class - he had done one already! Still he knew how scared I was and so agreed to travel up to take the workshop with Tracy.
The workshop was amazing and a turning point in my pregnancy. Over the weekend I learned how my body knew how to have a baby, how well equipped it was with fantastic hormones to help me through the labour. I was shown ways to help those hormones show up during labour and how fear affects them. I was shown videos of women calmly birthing their babies while listening to lovely affirmations and David was given tools to help me throughout my labour. This all made sense to both of us. This was something I suddenly felt I could do. It didn't promise pain free, but it did say that listening to the CD's would help with my fear of labour and less fear going into labour could also result in less pain. I was told stories of other women who had positive birth experiences. We also did some hypnosis sessions at the workshop and I found them so relaxing.
I left the workshop feeling so much more confident and so relieved. I felt I could manage labour, that it wasn't this overwhelmingly scary event. That my body could do it, that I would reach the finish line. It was an incredible feeling. Suddenly I was feeling excited about the upcoming birth.
Over the next few weeks I listened diligently to the CD's and read the workbook. There were a number of different tracks but I focused on the main 2 - the affirmations and the main birth track. I listened to them every day. This was my first baby so I had time to do that which was great. I loved them, they helped me connect in with my baby, feel relaxed about the birth and so positive about it.
From time to time I would have fears - thoughts would creep in. My scathing inner voice would ask me how listening to a CD would help me have a positive birth experience when everyone else I had met who had experienced labour had nothing good to say about it. My thoughts would remind me of those women in labour screaming uncontrollably and ask how listening to a CD could help me avoid that!!! However, once I put on my tracks I would feel positive again and if the fears got too much there was a Fear Release track I could listen to which also helped me .
I am so grateful I found the workshop, as I do think my fears would have impacted on my labour hugely. I was now able to enjoy my pregnancy. I was able to ignore the naysayers and go into a lovely pregnancy bubble and I am so glad I have those lovely memories of my first pregnancy to look back on.
I had a very easy pregnancy. I had such a small bump, I never got breathless, I felt very fit and healthy ( I was probably the fittest I have ever been in my life before I conceived my first), I had very few pregnancy complaints so now that the fear was no longer such an issue I was able to just enjoy the feeling of growing a baby, and the fuss and excitement that goes with being pregnant on your first baby. It was a fantastic time.
When I finally went into labour I felt excited rather than scared and I did go on to have a very positive birth experience.....but that is a story for another time!
How did you feel when you were pregnant for the first time? Did you find something useful to help you deal with your fears around childbirth if you had any? What worked for you?