In 2010, after what seemed like forever, I was pregnant, happy… you might even say “glowing” (although during the first few weeks that glow may have had a decidedly greenish tinge at times). I was more than prepared to delve further into the world of pregnancy-related research. Already well and truly hooked on BabyCenter, I had been using the forums with the obsessed fanaticism that only a woman desperately TTC successfully can muster. And through becoming a member of some dedicatedly supportive private groups, I had my first encounters with “crunchy” future mothers-to-be. In my exploration on the subject of birthing, I read their posts about The Bradley Method, doula training, birthing pools, castor oil, Hypnobabies (no, it’s not about hypnotising your child, silly! 😉 ) and many other fascinatingly foreign things. Personally, I liked the idea of an intervention-free/minimal birthing experience, although I am by no means opposed to medical assistance/hospital births/planned c-sections (which many of my friends have had and I myself may need to have this time around), etc. The appeal of a natural birth rested partly in the fact that I was rather (and, it turns out, intuitively so) worried about the phenomenon known as “snowballing interventions”. So I decided to investigate further.
At 13 weeks, with no complications having arisen and feeling the relief of entering the “safe zone” of my pregnancy, I embarked upon a love affair with Tara Lee or, more specifically, her prenatal yoga DVD, the highly recommended Pregnancy Health Yoga with Tara Lee. I did at least one exercise from the Pregnancy Health Yoga DVD program faithfully (at least 5 times per week) from the start of the second trimester through to a couple of days past my due date. This may sound like a tall order, but when you consider that some of the exercises take only minutes and some are just breathing exercises, it is definitely achievable. At the end of my pregnancy, thanks largely to ridiculous water retention, I weighed 40- yes, you read right!– 40 kilograms more than I did pre-pregnancy. It is an insane figure, I know, and I literally laughed out loud when I looked down at the scale the last time I weighed myself at 9 months pregnant. I count my blessings that I was ok with my body image and that knowing I was essentially healthy and my baby was doing great was enough to make me put any negative thoughts about pregnancy weight gain firmly to the side. Despite the extra weight and the nasty carpal tunnel syndrome I also developed in my right arm in the third trimester, I was still able to maintain a very low-key prenatal yoga practice of sorts using this DVD right up until 9 months. My husband helped me do the partner work section of the DVD and I always found it sweet (we would sometimes start to giggle!). There is a gentle sincerity in Tara’s manner and approach which I find very appealing and I do not believe that any of the exercises or concepts are beyond the grasp of the yoga beginner (especially as modifications are suggested to make certain moves easier).When I so much as heard the music from the soundtrack to this DVD postpartum, I honestly became teary-eyed as I remembered with immense affection my pregnancy experience which, despite the usual uncomfortable symptoms and some more serious medical issues towards the end, was a truly magical time. I firmly believe that bonding with my baby L started whilst I was carrying him and that doing a relaxation/yoga/meditation/affirmation practice on a regular basis aided that natural process. When L was approximately 6 months old we started doing Tara Lee’s Yoga for You and Your Baby DVD together and it felt wonderful to continue the bonding practice that began all those months ago. Because of my SCH diagnosis, I have been unable to do any form of structured exercise during this pregnancy. I have come to accept this, as sad as it is. But I believe that I learned and gained much from my prenatal yoga experience in my previous pregnancy that has stayed with me throughout this one.
I liked what I had heard about the Hynobabies approach to birthing. As someone who had sworn as a young person (way before the thought of seriously wanting kids was a reality for me) that I would demand every drug in the hospital when I went into labour, I had done a turn-around and started to question why I was scared of the birthing process and whether there was something I could do to alleviate my anxieties. After hearing about Hypnobabies, I decided that self-hypnosis could be a valid way to turn my old thinking around even further. We ordered the Hypnobabies Home-Study Course for Expectant Mothers and I remember thinking when it arrived, “Wow, this is… comprehensive!”, but being excited to get stuck into something that was all about me pro-actively doing something to have the best pregnancy/birthing experience I could. It was a real compliment to the pregnancy journal writing and prenatal yoga I was already doing. The woman who recited the affirmations on the Joyful Pregnancy Affirmations CD became a trusty companion as I commuted to work on public transport each weekday. I found listening to those affirmations provided a buffer against the noise and activity around me and allowed me space to focus positively on my pregnancy, making good use of time that ordinarily would have involved me staring blankly out of a subway window. I listened to them on repeat whilst at work on my computer. I listened to them as I went to sleep at night. I can still recite affirmations from that CD by heart (“Pregnancy is natural, normal, healthy and safe” being one of them). At the end of the 3rd trimester I even wrote out the affirmations on colourful sheets of paper and displayed them on my fridge! The Bubble of Peace practice was also very useful for me and I found the general tone of the entire Hypnobabies program to be very supportive, encouraging and hopeful. Here is a summary of the objectives of the Hypnobabies Home-Study Course taken directly from the Hypnobabies site:
“In Hypnobabies, our objectives are to help our pregnant couples bond with their babies in utero, which automatically happens when they are practicing hypnosis techniques together. We teach expectant moms how to stay healthy and low-risk through nutrition and prenatal exercise. Our students learn that they can trust women’s bodies and their babies’ innate wisdom during the process of birth, and couples learn how to be informed consumers. Moms become self-reliant and confident about birthing their babies naturally, in safety and in comfort.”
Around the same time as I received the Hypnobabies Home-Study Course, The Bradley Method book we’d ordered, Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, arrived too. I took a look at both the Hypnobabies course book and the Bradley book in order to decide if I could combine approaches or if one appealed more than the other. The Bradley book we purchased was a starting point/complement and no substitute for an actual course (and does not claim to be one) and, as I had already started with the Hypnobabies course and found some things in the Bradley book potentially contrary to the Hypnobabies approach, I decided to not continue to read it. I must stress that as I did not continue to read the book I can hardly claim expertise on the subject, but The Bradley Method had been explained to me by a doula friend in the simplest of terms as being an approach to childbirth that considers birth to be a natural process (as opposed to a medical “problem”) and a birthing technique that advocates active participation of husbands/partners as “birthing coaches”. I still think The Bradley Method sounds like a wonderful approach to birthing and I would be open to exploring it more, however there do not seem to be any classes/instructors in my area. As the information in Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way is relevant to husbands supporting their partners effectively, my husband continued to read the book even after I put it down and he found it very informative… and “brutally honest”.
As my pregnancy went on, I continued with Hypnobabies, took a prenatal belly dance class at a EKC in Stockholm during the 2nd trimester and attended a Labour Preparation course (in English) at Danderyds Sjukhus (a hospital containing one of Europe’s largest maternity wards). The dance class I enjoyed, however it was a bit inconsistent instruction-wise as for some reason the teacher (who was also a trained midwife) was unable to take all of the classes so the remainder were taken by fill-in teachers, not all of whom had knowledge of what was safe/unsafe for us to do in terms of dance moves. I chose deliberately not to do a couple of moves one fill-in instructor showed us, as the regular teacher had already mentioned that they were not recommended for pregnant women. But essentially I thought the dance class was fun, much more of a work-out than the prenatal yoga I’d been doing and it was nice to do a structured activity with other pregnant women. The 4 hour Labour Preparation course was anything but enjoyable, however. The course was conducted by a midwife (in Sweden it is midwives who assist the mother during labour/delivery and doctors only intervene if needed) who I pitied, as some of the people in it were rather “difficult”. I must say that despite all the information I’d read, all the videos I’d watched, all the advice I’d received via forums online, I felt simply overwhelmed by some things I heard during this course and scared by others. For example, I started dreading to go to the hospital in the 1st stage of labour, only to be told I hadn’t progressed far enough and to be sent home in -22°C… during a snow storm (a likely occurrence in February in Sweden). My class was a mixed bag of “characters”. The man sitting next to me spent the entire class gaming on his iPhone whilst working his way through 3 packets of candy. His wife sat on the other side of him looking incredibly frustrated and alone. At one point she tried to take his phone away from him and he snatched it back and continued to play. And another guy was an absolute jerk, publicly disrespecting his wife and all the women there with his ignorant comments and questions. The midwife mentioned that it was very important for mother and baby not to get too stressed during labour, so in Swedish hospitals they are fine with English-speaking women asking for a new midwife to assist if they cannot understand fully what is going on/don’t feel comfortable/need to speak to someone who speaks fluent English. The rude guy asked, “But how rational is that? To ask for a different midwife?” The midwife responded, “VERY rational. The mother needs to feel well-supported. She is in labour!” Jerk-of-a-husband retorted, “But if my wife complained, my first reaction would be to blame her for the fuss… I’d automatically blame my wife and just think she was just being irrational.” His wife didn’t say a word. She sat there, small and nervous… with a very big belly. The midwife asked what we were all doing in preparation for birth-“Yoga? Breathing exercises? Profylax? Meditation? Anything?… Anyone?” I was amazed that I was the only person in the entire class that was doing anything at all. The midwife said, “If you haven’t done anything yet, I urge you seriously to start preparing now! It is very important!”
As the detailed descriptions of the birthing process went on and on, I took notes, I watched, I listened… and I started to get scared… for the first time during my pregnancy. By the time I left I felt fragile, cross and concerned. I wished I had not gone. I will not be doing such a course again, even if offered the opportunity this time around. I realised that the beauty of doing your own study/research into birthing preparation is that you can control not only the information you absorb, but also the environment in which you do it. At that point I was grateful for my pregnancy journal, my prenatal yoga DVD, the private groups I’d joined online and my Hynobabies home study course. Along the way I also realised that focus on preparing for the “main event” had been surpassed by connecting with my body and baby in “the moment”. I cherished the time I put into all my pregnancy-related pursuits and genuinely felt/feel that they helped me have a more balanced, healthier, happier pregnancy and a deeper connection to my body and my baby than I would have had otherwise. I had come to subscribe to the idea that “the baby comes when the baby’s ready”, but at 9 months with not even a Braxton Hicks contraction experience to my name, I figured things just weren’t progressing much… at all. And I was right. Out came the dreaded castor oil (I mixed it with apple juice and it went down surprisingly easily). It didn’t have the desired effect, however. I walked, sat on a Pilates ball as much as possible, tried all of the sensible, natural things I could think of, but the time came to accept the inevitable. I was fast approaching 9.5 months and was scheduled for an induction at BB Stockholm (the birthing clinic of my choice) by my midwife. I packed my Hypnobabies CDs in my hospital bag and headed to the birthing clinic, nervous and excited.
In some way I wish I could tell you that it all went according to plan, but an induced labor of 44 hours with complications and a myriad of interventions, followed by an emergency c-section and blood loss of a positively life-threatening 3.2 litres (resulting in transfusions) screams that it didn’t. I have spared you the details here, as this post is really meant to encourage, not to intimidate. However, upon hearing even the abridged version of my labour/delivery experience, a curious pregnant woman might rightly wonder if all that time, effort and preparation I did during my pregnancy was worth it. You bet your sweet belly bump it was! I had a home visit from a psychologist at a few weeks postpartum. He came to see how I was holding up after my “traumatic birth experience”, only to tell me that my psychological recovery from the event was “remarkable” and that I need have no fear as to whether I had invested my time wisely in doing so much “work” during my pregnancy. He said that the results of my efforts were speaking for themselves in the way I had bounced back and explained that he’d had patients who had not been so fortunate. He wished me well, shook my hand and I haven’t heard from him since. Every midwife and doctor who knew what I had been through and was aware of the efforts I had put in prior to giving birth, unequivocally stated that I would have been far worse off had I not worked so hard on my physical and emotional state throughout the pregnancy and, furthermore, attributed my fast recovery and the great health of my baby in part to those efforts. Of course I had a grieving process of sorts to go through after having my son in such a dramatic and scary way, especially when my expectation and desire had been for a polar opposite experience. But I will never regret taking the time to care for myself and bond with my baby in the ways I did. Despite everything he went through during the labour and delivery, he scored perfect points on his APGAR test and went on to become the extremely healthy, secure, loving, happy and robust little boy that he is today. And I am convinced that choices that I made throughout my pregnancy contributed to his health and well-being and my own too… far beyond the delivery ward.
*For the record, I cannot consider myself to be “crunchy”, but perhaps I’m “crunchy-curious”. And I truly don’t have any friends who have taken the exact approach to pregnancy health/birthing preparation as me… nor would I expect them to. What I do, I do for me because it feels right for me. Bottom line. I don’t personally strictly adhere to a particular “method” or ideology of parenting, but I respect people who do. I love hearing other people’s suggestions about things that interest me (hence being open to the trying the things I discussed above), but would never want to force my way of doing things upon someone else, nor would I want anyone to do that to me. I think that sharing, encouragement and support amongst friends when it comes to parenthood is not only kinder but far more constructive than judgement, criticism and high-mindedness about the “right” way to do things. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I feel like it’s taken a village to raise me into motherhood! And I am forever grateful for all the support I have had on this journey and the freedom I have been afforded to find my own path.