Mental Health Training

Giving Birth: Your Greatest Achievement, not your Greatest Fear, By Jane McNeice

Posted by on 26 Mar, 2016 in Mental Health | 0 comments

Giving Birth: Your Greatest Achievement, not your Greatest Fear, By Jane McNeice

From the moment I saw the two lines on the pregnancy stick, I knew that I would spend the remaining 35 weeks (or thereabouts) fearing the impending birth. Compounded by finding out that such things as episiotomies existed, and other horror stories surrounding childbirth, I was filled with terror by the time my contractions started at 42 weeks with my first-born. And as expected the fear brought about the self-fulfilling events of that day, vulnerability, pain, more pain, episiotomy, stitches, and a cocktail of drugs to manage what I had created. But I was the proud mum of my first child, a beautiful baby girl.


“You’ll soon forget the pain,” they said. “Really?” I was sceptical to say the least, but nevertheless absolutely in love with my baby girl. For a number of reasons my second experience of childbirth didn’t happen until 18 years later, though some would wager that my fear still had a subconscious part to play in this sibling age gap. After attempting to conceive naturally, one operation and fertility drugs later, I found out I was pregnant (after forgetting to take my fertility drugs that month!) Not as immediate as last time, but a couple of weeks into knowing I was pregnant, it occurred to me that again I would have to face my nemesis – childbirth!


Time and place being of great benefit, I was sat in my first antenatal appointment at my local hospital, only to pick up a leaflet and related article about Hypnobirthing. New to the concept I read on…a story of a woman with severe anxiety relating to childbirth that tried out Hypnobirthing with great success. I knew immediately this was for me, and there was a local team based at the hospital that could help. I pursued it straight away, and my now husband and I booked on the next available course. Several weeks later we were equipped with reading materials, a CD, and the skills and tools to have a natural Hypnobirthed baby. No more negative language, only healthy birthing language. No more watching, or talking about unhealthy horror story births, just the positive stuff.


And sure enough a good birth ensued, free from medical interference, self-starting between my baby and I, no membrane sweep as I refused this, no induction, no drugs (though not entirely pain free), just a happy healthy baby boy, and happy healthy parents.


So when I found out I was pregnant for the third time, I was surprised to find my fears were still there and the anxiety difficult to manage once more. We opted not to do the full Hypnobirthing programme this time, instead planning to read the Hypnobirthing book with the hope that the knowledge and skills from the last birth would re-surface, possibly too optimistic in hindsight.


Between baby number two and baby number three I was also introduced to a new concept called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Quite intrigued by this new method, and always open minded to try new things, I decided to undertake a number of sessions of EFT with a trained professional who had kindly offered to try this technique out on my fears. The so called ‘Tapping Therapy’ does what it says on the tin, using tapping techniques on acupressure points, and crafted mantras based on the negative fears and emotions you have. Significant discussions take place around those fears – negative memories, experiences, and feelings – in order to identify the appropriate mantra and language to use. In my case, key fears were identified from my previous birthing experiences, in particular the first birth where there were a number of salient issues e.g. fear of (and being) cut; a childhood memory of finding out exactly where babies came from; and other memories. We honed in on these memories and worked with them using the EFT. In some cases we used a memory replacement technique to ‘overwrite’ the negative memory with a healthier version.


My EFT path couldn’t be described as straight and direct towards removing all fears. Instead there would be improved days where my fears were lightened. Progressively, however, I reached a stage where my fears felt managed. Sessions took place up to the week before my due date. Ultimately, I felt the real test of EFT would be the day my surges (Hypnobirthing name for contractions, just one of the healthy language I referred to) started…


Between my first and third births, however, a number of years had passed and I had now reached the childbirth line in the sand, 40 years of age! This resulted in encouragement from medical professionals to be chemically ‘induced’ at 40 weeks due to increased stillbirth risks in the 40+ group. Following my declining, progressive encouragement to undergo lesser inducements such as a membrane sweep ensued, pending artificially breaking my membranes at 40 plus 7 days, already negotiated down from 40 plus 10 days in the first instance. However, at 40 weeks plus 2 days when I relented to a membrane sweep, there was a distinct awareness on my part that my deep seated fears where still lurking in the background, despite reading the Hypnobirthing book again, and (on the surface at least) vehemently believing the Hypnobirthing concept of fear = tension = pain, thus no fear = no pain, and having undertaken several EFT sessions.


At 40 weeks plus 3 days, my surges had started. I attempted to manage the increasing pain through Hypnobirthing recommended breathing, visualisation techniques, in particular visualising my abdominal muscles as loose ribbons, and breathing my baby down. The breathing techniques had been most effective during the birth of my son, but this time I experienced more pain and discomfort than previously. The birth was manageable, but not as manageable as my previous birth. But once more I became the proud parent of another son, three beautiful children, and three very different birthing experiences.


I am left with no doubt that society grossly underestimates the trauma, fears, and anxiety around childbirth, but that alternative interventions can help in managing these. Both EFT and Hypnobirthing are evidence-based interventions, although research and the profile of both are still on the increase. How both played out and to what extent in the third birth is questionable. In my opinion, EFT was extremely effective at managing fears that existed in the weeks up to the birth, but I remain unclear as to its effects in removing all fear in preparation for the birth. It would have been interesting to explore whether a session undertaken at the start of surges may have helped. While most effective during my second birth, the Hypnobirthing didn’t appear as effective in the third childbirth. However, I feel that in hindsight it would have been more beneficial to undertake the full training programme again as a proper refresher.


It’s important to note that there were a number of variables occurring at different times during my three birthing experiences; hence it is difficult to identify true cause and effect. For example, use of Hypnobirthing but to different extents, use of EFT in the third birth only. No use or knowledge of alternative birthing techniques in my first birth, only a powerful belief that there would be pain. Medical advancements and knowledge during the 18 years between the first and second births, and my own personal growth over my 20 years of birthing, very likely also played a part. It leads me to conclude that non-medical interventions are indeed beneficial, but to a greater or lesser extent for some people than others. Because the birthing of my children has been so challenging, both mentally and physically, they most certainly have been my greatest achievement.

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