“It shouldn’t be called labour. Think of it as a birthing experience. It can be enjoyable,” the midwife told me at my first antenatal appointment.
After I finally stopped laughing to myself, I thought, well, why not prepare for it as best as I can. Think of it as training for the ultimate endurance race. I wanted to at least try to have as natural a birth as possible, without medical intervention or anesthetic, so I kept fit, put myself under “hypnosis” (see below), and took handfuls of herbal pills.
And without wanting to sound like a smug mother (the worst breed, in my book), I managed to get through two births without any major pain relief.
Trust me, I never would have believed it possible either. I am no earth mother; if an epidural is what is needed then bring on the drugs, but this is what, miraculously, worked for me:
Tension only increases pain and “hypnobirthing” works on the premise that if you can relax your mind and “switch off” during contractions, through specific breathing and visualisation techniques, your body will relax and the birth will be less painful. Sounds brilliant, but does it work?
In the last trimester, I listened to the Birth Preparation CD from natalhypnotherapy.co.uk and Hypnobirthing with Katharine Graves through iTunes (you can do hypnobirthing classes if you prefer). There were imaginary pain dials to turn down in the fiercest moments, calls to elongate the word “relax” during contractions and various mantras to chant over and over again.
It sounds preposterous, I know, but it did, amazingly, help me get through it. It works to try this in a darkened room so you can maintain a trance-like state (and also feel slightly less ridiculous doing it, which always helps).
Labour, I’ve come to believe, is akin to a marathon, so getting fit, whether it’s walking as much as you can, cycling or swimming, will give you the extra energy you need to endure the race of your life. Sign up to your local pregnancy yoga class too. You will feel calmer, more positive and energetic after a session.
The breathing and relaxation techniques are invaluable during labour (and help alleviate any late pregnancy back ache or soreness). Child’s pose, the golden thread technique, cat stretch, hip rotations, figure of eights all got me through the hardest contractions. I couldn’t have coped without them.
Natural pain relievers
A Tens machine brought me back to life in the most intense moments. It stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and is basically a hand-held machine with leads, attached to sticky pads, which you place either side of your spine. Press the button, turn up the power dial and be the willing recipient (sounds crazy, bear with me) of tiny pulses of electrical energy to the base and middle of your back.
The idea is that the pulses stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins when you need them the most; others argue that it stops the pain signals from reaching your brain.
I hate to think what I must have looked like (another reason for doing this in a darkened room), rigged up to wires, while my husband helped to “zap” my pain away, but I would not have had it any other way. Wafting Neal’s Yard aromatherapy oils throughout the room, lovely as they are, will not cure your pressing ills.
Buy or hire a machine (I hired one through Mama Tens, mama-tens.info).
Taking off the Tens machine was one of the hardest parts for me – it was the biggest crutch I had in the most painful moments – so the only way I was willing to let it go was to swap it for something else. Not, sadly, a gin and tonic, but a water bath and gas and air.
At the correct temperature, warm water hits the back at just the right point to be soothing enough to carry on; gas and air provides a new focus and makes you feel fuzzy enough to take the edge off the pain.
Sugary snacks and drinks
Now is not the time to worry about your diet; a hit of sugar will convince you to keep on going for a few extra crucial minutes. Ribena and chocolate covered flapjacks worked for me. As did drinking vats of raspberry leaf tea in the last trimester.
The claims are that it will speed up the second stage of your labour by toning up the muscles of your uterus, helping them to contract more efficiently. There is no clinical evidence to back this up, but, as with all the techniques listed, I was willing to keep an open mind.
A friend drank so much raspberry leaf tea that she gave birth in the hospital car park. I drank three cups a day and took the herbal pills and nearly gave birth in the taxi on the way to the hospital. Is it an old wives’ tale? Probably, but it tastes pretty good, so what’s there to lose?
While I would never agree that labour is something to be enjoyed, I truly believe, with an uncomplicated pregnancy and luck on your side, that it need not be the most painful experience in your life. Every birth is different, but if you can make it to the finish line, without drugs or medical intervention, there is little that can compare to that sense of achievement and primeval rush of euphoria as you hold that little person in your arms for the very first time.
Pure, unbridled joy.
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