What is Positive Birth?
I was asked recently, "How do you feel when a woman you've taught doesn't have the birth experience she hoped for?". There's always a part of me that wishes the woman had but never have I had a woman say that hypnobirthing didn't help. Whether they used it in pregnancy and/or birth, the message that I get from the women I teach is "the course meant that we both feel so positive about our experience." This is said to me no matter what journey her birth experience may have taken. The fact that she can reflect on that day and say that hypnobirthing helped her to remain calm, focussed and in control is what hypnobirthing is really all about. When I read or hear a positive birth story, the phrases that come up time and time again are "I felt in control", "I felt listened to", "I felt respected". It's rarely about how the baby was born. It's about how the woman felt. That is the true meaning of positive birth. That's why learning how to feel in control, how to ensure you're listened to and respected should be a key element to any antenatal course. Here's why:
What does informed consent mean to you? How can you be sure that you've got all the information you need so that your decision is an informed one? As you prepare for birth, it is vital that you understand how to make informed decisions. It will make all the difference to your birthing experience. Imagine agreeing to a procedure and not fully understanding the benefits, risks and why it is being done to you. That's stressful and not a place we want a pregnant or labouring woman to be in.
“No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law." Birth Rights
We all have the right to informed consent in healthcare, and that includes the right to refuse medical interventions. Women are intelligent, autonomous human beings capable of making decisions about their body. Unfortunately, the “informed consent” that many women experience during childbirth looks more like, “Here’s what we’re going to do to you; now sign this.”
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a person in a white coat or uniform, who's area of expertise is birth, will always know what is best for you and your baby. Not only that but it's hard to navigate your way through a conversation when birth isn't your first subject and, lets face it, your hormones are everywhere! We totally get it. The difference is that, when you agree to something simply because someone has told you 'this is what we do', that element of control we know to be so important to a pregnant woman can start to diminish.
At Parent Tribe, we are passionate about teaching women and their birth partners how to weigh up the full spectrum of risks and benefits according to their personal values and perspective. Questions like; What are the risks of what you're proposing? What are the benefits? How will what you're proposing effect my labour? How will it effect my baby? What are the alternatives? It isn’t informed consent unless the mother has the ability to choose an alternative other than the one that the healthcare provider recommends.
To make this super simple, I use the example of when a parent is looking for a nursery for their child. Do they listen to everything the nursery manager tells them without asking a single question? No, that parent will probably ask a number of questions before even considering that nursery. "What is in place if X happens?", "What's your policy on X", "Can I see an example of X?" Yet, when it comes to birth, we seem to hand important decisions over to someone else. Just because you're child isn't earthside yet, it doesn't mean that your protective instinct isn't there. Whether your child is in your tummy or lying in your arms, you are still a parent and you deserve the right to feel confident in the decisions you make.
Feel listened to
Having had two babies myself, I know how many times a woman can hear the phrase; “A healthy baby is all that matters”. We know this, of course, and it is our top priority. Surely, above and beyond a healthy baby, women matter too? As Milli Hill explains, "this phrase, whilst it may be well meant, suggests quite implicitly that women don’t matter, that they are a mere vessel."
When our wishes and concerns are heard, we feel in control. We feel respected. We feel positive. I've taught the importance of this to women for years but only truly understood the power of it when I met with the obstecician who was going to perform my son's emergency caesarean. He came into the room, took one look at the monitor and said, "You just had a contraction. How was the pain?". It was clear to everyone in the room where my son's birth was heading - he was coming out of my tummy in about 30 minutes if my contractions didn't significantly get going. However, I'd been practicing hypnobirthing and language was important to me. There were certain words that I did not want to hear in the birth room no matter what was happening - "contraction" and "pain". They made me anxious and tense.
Rather than give up on my hypnobirthing practice, I turned to the obstetrician and told him that the "surges" were fine and the "pressure" was manageable. In that moment, this man who only ever sees the medicalised side of birth, turned to me and said "Ok, lets see how your surges progress and what the pressure is like and take it from there". My shoulders dropped, a smile appeared on my face and my birth, which had gone from a planned home birth to an emergency caesarean, now had the potential to be a positive experience. Was it the birth I wanted? No. Did I feel disappointed that my home birth wasn't happening? Absolutely. But this man had listened to me and respected my wishes. Parent Tribe’s hypnobirthing teaches you what it means to feel listened to and what to do when you're not. These small but significant steps can help make a birth experience an empowered and positive one. Small things, big difference.
When it comes to making decisions, it’s important that they’re made from a rational place, rather than an emotional one. What do I mean by this?
When you receive information that you need to make a decision on, the first thing to do is ask for some time to think about what you’ve been told. This might be 24 hours, an hour to take a walk around the car park, or minutes but asking for that space gives you that all-important control. Come away and do something that makes you happy and releases some oxytocin - a yummy lunch at your favourite restaurant, a walk in the park, a trip to the cinema. Release any emotion - have a good cry if you need to. Then, and only then, do your research and discuss the risks and benefits with your birth partner. You can then make a decision from a rational place. If it comes from an emotional place, you’ll question whether it was the right decision. You’ll feel stressed and your confidence and control will waver. When i was asked to make any decision during my sons birth, I always asked for 30 seconds before agreeing or signing a piece of paper. I knew the decision i was going to make but those 30 seconds allowed me the space to take two deep breaths, compose myself and feel confident in my decision. It was always on my terms. This was my body and my baby. This made an enormous difference to me and, again, contributed to the experience being a positive one.
So, where to go for unbiased, evidence based research? I highly recommend referring to AIMS where you’ll find independent information on pregnancy and birth. If you have a question then you can ring their helpline and someone will go through your choices and the research with you. You can also purchase their fantastic booklets on various pregnancy and birth related subjects - caesarean births, breech babies, vitamin K, induction…you name it, they’ll know about it! You can also arrange to speak to or meet with the Head of Antenatal services at your hospital. This allows you the time to go through your notes and ask questions that you may not have had the time to ask during an antenatal visit. I also recommend getting along to your local Positive Birth Movement group where you can hear positive birth stories and share information about birth choices.
When choosing an antenatal course, whether you choose to do hypnobirthing or not, it is so important that you come away understanding the importance of freedom of choice, how to access accurate information, how to work with your caregivers and how to approach your baby's birth without fear. Hypnobirthing is not about having a ‘natural’ or ‘drug free’ birth. It’s about being informed from a place of positivity as opposed to fear.
If you want to learn more about our courses and how hypnobirthing can support you in having a positive birth, then take a look at our courses. We run FREE taster sessions every sic weeks so you can see if hypnobirthing is for you.
Read my birth stories here.