One day, during my final year in the all-girls’ high school I attended, our Personal Development teacher was on the topic of ‘marriage’ and took the opportunity to teach us ladies how to be mentally prepared for the first sexual experience. (I think someone was concerned that it was bound to be horrible.) Then, after the lesson, I remember my friend Phyana stretching a rubber band until it burst to demonstrate what would happen to our vulva during birth. LOL. I never forgot either lesson from that day. As I grew older, I was ever challenged by women who, like Phyana, were bent on making me terrified and paranoid about the birthing experience. Yet, somehow, I was convinced otherwise. Just like my teacher had emphasised the importance of relaxation for a pleasant sexual experience, I knew that relaxation must have some impact on the experience of labour and childbirth.
Fast forward 15 years from that memorable day in high school to my first pregnancy: I was not going to surrender to the Hollywood portrayal of childbirth! I was determined to bring my baby into the world under calm and controlled circumstances. Afterall, I’ve never been one for hysterics nor pandemonium. So, after much searching and researching, I found out about Hypnobirthing. Basically, it is a birth preparation philosophy that is built on the premise that in the absence of fear and tension, a woman’s body will birth normally and the pain, duration of labour and need for surgical intervention will be diminished if not eliminated. The practice includes breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, positive birthing affirmations and visualisations. I read the book “Hypnobirthing – The Mongan Method” with my husband and practised the techniques on my own. I learned about the history of birthing (and obstetrics), how fear affects labour, the power of the mind, how the uterus is designed and how it works during labour. I also listened to relaxation recordings and watched videos of calm, gentle births. Halfway through all of it, I was convinced that I could do it too.
I fondly remember the night that I walked into the hospital’s maternity ward, cracking jokes with my friends – only to have the midwife examine me and announce that I was 4cm dilated. I recited my birthing affirmations and practised my breathing with each contraction. Chatting with my husband and obstetrician about current events helped me to remain calm and I would visualise my baby moving through the birth canal as I breathed down with every contraction. Five hours after being examined, my little girl was in my arms and the birth experience I had was amazing! I actually thought, “This wasn’t bad. I’d do it again!” But, the most significant thing for me, was having my husband (who had studied Hypnobirthing with me) work with me through labour, and then give me the cue to breathe down our baby once her head had crowned.
Labour took a lot of energy and I felt like I was using my uterine muscles to shove a very heavy load, but it wasn’t pain. Don’t get me wrong – I know pain! (I used to suffer from two-week-long migraine headaches and spent all of my teen and young adult years with the daily agony of scoliosis.) But, what I realised was that the relaxation techniques and deep breathing limited the discomfort. Don’t believe me? Double your fist as tight as you can – until your knuckles burn – then take a pen or marker and try to stuff it through the space in the crook of your index finger through to your pinky. Now, relax your fist – but don’t open it – and try to stuff the pen or marker through now. This second approach, is my best attempt at simulating gentle birthing – you can feel the pressure of the object as it moves through your fist but, it doesn’t hurt.
For me, having a gentle birth was not just about comfort or avoiding a c-section. It was about being empowered as a woman and calmly birthing a child who will grow up with a calm spirit. I knew that my baby would only be born once and I wanted to have some control over that experience. I realised that the same Creator that designed my body to be fertile had also enabled my body to nurture and grow my baby from conception. So, it must follow through that my body had been equipped to birth my baby naturally and comfortably. I know that each person is different and there are some circumstances that will require medical intervention. But, if you desire it, rest assured that a calm, comfortable birthing experience is possible!
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. She currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 9-month-old daughter.