Welcome to our brand new mini blog series!
You’re in for a treat. I’ve got some amazing midwives lined up to tell you why they love all things hypnobirthing.
It can be a worry of hypnobirthing mums that the midwives won’t take it seriously or won’t know what it’s all about. These amazing humans are here to tell you exactly why there’s no need to worry and why they think hypnobirthing is amazing.
First up, here’s the lovely Jess Henderson- hypnobirthing teacher at 10 Moons Hypnobirthing and NHS Midwife.
What is it that drove you towards becoming a midwife?
During my first pregnancy, whilst I absolutely loved being pregnant, I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of giving birth. Like many other first time mums, my experience of birth had only really been those I’d seen on the soaps and in dodgy sex education videos at school. I also had my Mothers recounting of her own birth experiences which involved 5 day labours, one sided epidurals, metal implements, lots of vomiting, passing out and a strange man entering the room and pulling the baby out. Seriously, I didn’t understand how this was a process that women could survive and if an elective caesarean section under general anaesthetic had been an option I’d have jumped at it. I consoled myself in the knowledge that epidurals did indeed exist and reassured myself that one-sided ones were a thing of the past. I told myself, and every health professional I encountered during my pregnancy, that I would be having one the minute my cervix hit 4cm’s (the ‘official’ classification of ‘established’ labour), and when I rocked up at the hospital in labour I threatened to throw myself out the window if it didn’t happen.
As things transpired it would be many hours before I got to the ‘magic’ 4cm’s but rather than these being the hours of unimaginable torture I anticipated, they were transformative. 19 years later I still remember every word of reassurance uttered to me by the midwives who cared for me. The idea of being able to connect so deeply with complete strangers was alien to me but it was also a revelation. They enabled me to take responsibility for my own experience through informing and supporting me and I birthed my daughter feeling like a living goddess with the capability to move mountains. Yes I still went on to have an epidural but the decision to have one, at a much later stage then I could have ever imagined, was an informed one and not one made through fear.
This woman to woman connection and the transformative experience that it achieved was what drove me to midwifery and what keeps me there today.
What’s your favourite thing about being a midwife?
There are so many truly special things about being a midwife. Whilst labour and birth is just one side of our hugely multifaceted job, being present at the birth of both a new soul and a mother is such a huge honour. When a woman feels empowered by her birth experience, bearing witness to that is incredibly rewarding. As midwives our role in the birth process is minimal but I 100% believe that birth can be a positive and empowering experience no matter what path it takes and that as midwives we are perfectly placed to support this. Protecting a woman’s birth space, ensuring that she is treated with dignity and respect, that she is informed in her decision making and that she knows she has choices – all of this can be the difference between a traumatic and an empowering birth experience.
We know that how a woman feels about her birth experience will profoundly affect her for the rest of her life and that, devastatingly, accounts such as those of my own mother are retold by countless women on a daily basis and these aren’t mere stories, this was their reality. As such, being able to support a woman in a way that enables her to completely own her experience, where she births feeling like a rock star, completely empowered and invincible and knowing that this is down to nobody but herself- THAT is my most favourite part of being a midwife.
In general, what ways do you see hypnobirthing helping mums when you’re working as a midwife?
What first caught my attention about hypnobirthing mums was the calmness and confidence they exuded. They had complete trust in their bodies and as such were completely attuned to what they did and didn’t need whether this be from midwives, their partners or the system itself. Witnessing my first hypnobirth as a student midwife was a real wow moment. A goddess of a woman, instinctively birthing her baby whilst the midwives sat silently in the corner following her lead. The mother herself wasn’t silent and there wasn’t whale music playing in the background either, but everything she did was an instinctive response to her body’s natural cues. The ecstatic high she experienced as her baby was born and in the hours after was contagious! Whilst this is a very common scene within hypnobirthing the calm instinctiveness it induces is not restricted to vaginal or drug free births.
Whilst in my experience it really does increase a woman’s chances of birth progressing that way I have seen the same elation, empowerment and ownership of experience in hypnobirthing women who have had epidurals, instrumental births and C-sections. Hypnobirthing women know their stuff, they’re well researched and they know their options. This helps them to anticipate how they will deal with unexpected situations before they arise and, as such, they are able to maintain focus and retain control if these things do actually happen.
This is also where the partners of hypnobirthing women really do come into their own. As a midwife you all too often hear birth partners express how they feel ‘useless’ or ‘like a spare part’. Generally hypnobirthing couples will have practised together, explored their options together and share this self-belief. It’s lovely to bear witness to this bond.
What’s the biggest misconception you hear when it comes to hypnobirthing?
A big misconception is that in order for hypnobirthing to be effective, women must birth in complete silence in a trance like state. Whilst very often women will withdraw into a kind of ‘birth bubble’, as I said before, hypnobirthing allows women to be so in tune with their bodies that they respond instinctively. Whether this be vocally, physically or environmentally the hypnobirthing mother will know exactly what she needs to enable her to birth her baby. Whilst dim lights and minimum disturbance from others will definitely encourage the natural birth process there are definitely no constraints on a mother’s behaviour.
If a mum was asking you about whether or not to do a hypnobirthing class, what would you say to her?
The very fact that she is asking means that she is actively seeking ways to achieve a positive birth experience and so I would say go for it. Hypnobirthing really will give you the techniques and skills you need to take control of your birth. You’ve nothing to lose but the empowerment you’ll experience will give you more than you could ever imagine. Attending a taster session is a brilliant way of finding out more without making any financial or long term time commitments. It’s also a great way of finding the teaching approach that is right for you.
Do you find your colleagues are supportive of hypnobirthing techniques?
Now that hypnobirthing is becoming more and more mainstream and less of an unknown entity, I feel that it’s very much supported. I think any resistance that may have existed was more a case of not fully understanding how to support a hypnobirthing woman rather than distrust in it as a whole. . The fact that as midwives this support actually involves ‘doing’ very little is sometimes quite a hard concept to grasp.
For many women verbal reassurance and tactility from their midwives are invaluable forms of support but for hypnobirthing mums, more often than not, less is most definitely more. Sometimes there is a feeling that care is substandard if we don’t maintain a reassuring conversation or a regular check in on how a woman is feeling but actually when you learn to sit back and really be led by a woman’s instincts, enabling her and her partner to utilise the skills they’ve learnt, then the results speak for themselves and it’s very hard not to support such positive outcomes.
Did you use any hypnobirthing techniques for your own births?
No but I wish I had! Each of my 5 births has been very different ranging from home birth to emergency caesarean section but the one thing that has been so apparent to me with each is the impact of fear. When I have felt safe, respected and in control I have felt empowered, when any one of these aspects has been lacking the reverse has never been more true. This is why, to me, hypnobirthing is so logical. The unknown is such a great feeder of fear. With hypnobirthing you gain an understanding of not only the physiology of birth and how external factors can influence this but of the system, your options, and how to assert yourself. You also gain an understanding of how we’ve been conditioned to see birth as something to be feared. Releasing these existing fears and learning the techniques to induce focus and calm during labour and birth will greatly improve your odds of, yes achieving a natural and straightforward labour and birth, but most importantly the birth you want, whatever form that may take.
What’s your number one tip for a mum when it comes to giving birth? Do you have a tip for birth partners too?
The biggest and most detrimental lie that women are told is that their bodies are incapable of birthing their babies. It is what we were put on this earth for so listen to your body and trust that it knows exactly what to do. Whilst the demographic of childbearing women may have changed, presenting more of what is deemed ‘high risk,’ this does not and should not mean that intervention is a given. Whilst modern day birth interventions have undoubtedly saved lives and continue to do so when absolutely necessary, if one is offered to you at any point in your birth journey you need to know the rationale behind this. Arm yourself with as much information as you possibly can so that if an option is presented to you it is exactly that- an option, and one on which you can make a balanced judgement. If you accept an intervention or choose a path based on fear then it ends up being something that is done ‘to’ you and you will question what would have happened if you’d chosen an alternative for ever more, even when the outcome was positive.
This advice extends to birth partners too. Trust in the mothers instincts, be led by her but remember that if you too are well informed you are perfectly placed to advocate on her behalf allowing her to get on with the business of birth.
How can a mum get the best out of her midwife when giving birth?
Midwives are fierce protectors of their women and as such they will want to support you in achieving the best birth experience possible. Your midwife’s care will be evidence based and she will be your first point of contact for any questions that arise. However, within the NHS, she will be expected to practice within the remit of hospital guidelines and policies. Having an understanding of this will enable you to work with her to get the birth you want rather than viewing her as an obstacle to it. One of the best ways to help your midwife in this is by letting her know exactly what a positive birth experience means for you.
This is where a birth plan is so important. Even the process of writing a birth plan can enable you and your partner to ascertain what really matters to you both and presents an opportunity to really explore your options. This will also enable you to be adaptable in your approach to birth, having anticipated how you might react to different scenarios. Include the things that are of most importance to you both, particularly if events should deviate from the expected path. This will show that you have an expectation to be actively involved in decision making along with an awareness of your options.
If you are hypnobirthing it is also a good idea to have a separate note to give to your midwife advising how she can support you in this. Remember that some midwives may have no experience of hypnobirthing and what it entails and so letting her know how she can help you will be greatly appreciated.
Each labour is unique and this includes in duration. You may encounter more than one midwife during your labour so have multiple copies of your birth plan and keep them to hand. Having your partner physically hand a copy to your midwife at first encounter will help keep disturbances to your focus to a minimum and ensure that those looking after you actually get to see it. Keeping the birth plan concise and easy to read will also help ensure that your most important points aren’t missed. In fact it doesn’t even have to be written, The Positive Birth Book has a brilliant illustrated birth plan and you can download the icons for free online.
Finally, just as labour is unique so we are all individuals. As in all walks of life there will be some people who are always going to be on a different wavelength to you. Keep this in mind when you meet your midwife but remember that if you do feel very uncomfortable with, or unsupported by, your current midwife then you are perfectly entitled to request a change of caregiver and it is a good idea to do so.
What’s your biggest frustration when it comes to working within the maternity system?
Within the UK maternity care is standardised. The aim of this is to ensure safe, high quality, measurable care with improved outcomes and a reduction in inconsistencies. Sadly these standards don’t always take into account the uniqueness of labour. This is why it is so important that you arm yourself with as much evidence based information as possible. You do have options and there are often alternatives. Being informed and prepared to question means that you can work in partnership with healthcare professionals to achieve, not only the best outcomes, but the best birth experience possible.
If you’d like to find out more about the amazing Jess you can find her on Instagram here.
If you’re local to Essex and this has inspired you to think that maybe this hypnobirthing malarkey isn’t so voodoo after all, then why not check out the courses we have on offer here.
And be sure to check back next week for our next instalment!