There are only 17 weeks until my second baby is due. Every day my bump becomes more wriggly, and the two stone (!!) I've put on means there's no denying I'm Really Quite Pregnant Now. Oh, and that one day relatively soon I'm going to be giving birth again.
My first labour didn't go quite according to plan. Despite months of pregnancy yoga and NCT classes, I failed to remember to keep calm and, yes, breathe. The first half was quick, the second half (after the major drugs) agonisingly slow, and T came into the world with the help of a no-nonsense surgeon with a medical vacuum cleaner, cone headed and letting us know, loudly, just how unpleased with the whole thing he was. I have thought a LOT about what I'll do differently next time (breathing being top of my list!) and planned a home water birth, hoping for a gentler introduction to the world for my daughter. There is no denying though that the thought of contractions, getting stronger and longer by the hour, is filling me with dread.
When I saw a hypnobirthing practitioner was offering a course of free sessions as part of her mentoring training then, I jumped at the chance. I'd investigated classes before, but to be honest the cost made them pretty much unaffordable for us, as did the childcare issue. This practitioner, living a short distance from my inlaws and offering a series of Saturday afternoon sessions, seemed perfect. Ignoring my husband's comments that the efficacy of the classes would be limited to me jumping up and making noises like a chicken whenever someone said a 'trigger' word, we nervously arrived for our introduction to the course this weekend.
I have to admit that I'd misunderstood the idea of hypnobirthing. I'd imagined that a combination of breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques would be another weapon in my armoury against labour, joining the Entonox, TENS machine, pool and birthing ball in a mass attack on the contractions, a sort of charge of the light brigade as it were, not removing the pain, but putting up enough of a fight to get me to the finish line.
I was intrigued then to find out that this isn't the case at all. Hypnobirthing involves a total rethinking of birth, demedicalising and demystifying the process. Contractions become surges, effacing and dilating become thinning and opening and failure to progress/medical interventions are, rather euphemistically, referred to as 'special circumstances'. All of these terms serve to reinforce that giving birth is a natural process, what your body is designed to do, and that it doesn't have to be a screaming, agonising event. Over the next four weeks we'll (yes, my husband will have to suspend his incredulity for another few hours) reprogramme our existing thoughts and feelings about birth, learning that it can be 'comfortable', a fact which, if everything goes according to plan, should be a self-fulfilling prophecy when the day itself comes.
The figures speak for themselves. Of our practitioner's clients, fifty per cent give birth without any pain relief at all. A further thirty per cent use only gas and air, and the remaining twenty per cent experience 'special circumstances'. I've been furnished with a book to read, and a relaxation CD, which I'll need to listen to every day between now and giving birth. I've been ordered to stay away from 'traditional' books on childbirth with their talk of episiotomies, epidurals and assisted deliveries (all of which I know already very well) and to avoid the post-natal 'my birth hurt more than your birth' sharing that lots of mothers seem keen on. The remaining face to face sessions will teach me all I need to know for my upcoming delivery.
I can't help listening to the little niggle at the back of my mind, the one that can spot a Nigerian Lottery email scam at one thousand paces, that says that this might all be a load of bunkum. BUT what other choice do I have than to try? The thought of repeating my first birth experience makes me cold with fear. Surely even what my mother refers to as 'one of these newfangled ideas' has to be better than this? If it doesn't work, the rest of my armoury will be in reserve, backing up the infantry with their buzzing back pads and plastic mouthpiece. But perhaps there's just a chance that I might be one of the eighty per cent for whom hypnobirthing brings a better birth, and that's worth putting my heart and soul into, at any price.