When I was younger, I had a terrifying moment when I was home alone and heard two adult men’s voices in the house. I stopped dead in my tracks, heart thumping in my ears. Unsure of what I would face if I turned the corner, but equally unsure I could make a safe getaway, I simply remained frozen to the spot, breath caught in my throat. After a moment, the M*A*S*H theme tune sounded and I exhaled with relief, knowing I wasn’t going to have to fight intruders with my bare hands that day. Maybe you have a similar story - or one causing bonafide fear to course through your veins. How did you react? Did you freeze too, or was your fight/flight response activated?
Entering a fluoro-lit hospital, people in uniform scurrying around, being asked questions and ushered into an unfamiliar space can have a similar response in the body of a mama in labour. Sound helpful? I don’t think so either. In fact, this can slow or even bring labour to a halt. So - how to get around it? Information and preparation: being familiar with the environment is one way, so it won’t be a total shock. Perhaps a visit to the labour ward or birth centre in the lead up, if that’s where you’ll be having your baby, is a good idea. Having tools up your sleeve for entering and maintaining a deep state of relaxation as well is even better - if we can prevent the sympathetic nervous system from kicking into gear to begin with, that’s fantastic.
Picture being in labour, walking down the hospital hall, your birth partner’s hand gently on your shoulder. They are fielding any questions so you can remain focused, breathing beautifully, visualising going over a wave with each contraction – or surge as you now know them - excited and ready, knowing you are about to meet your baby. You leave the bright ward behind as your partner draws the curtains and turns out the lights, fairy lights giving you enough of a glow to see each other. You have remained calm and labour continues to progress smoothly and beautifully, because you have prepared for it to do so. All the practice and discussions you’ve had have led to this moment. You’re ready to face whatever turn your birth takes and your body and your baby know what to do.
It may sound idyllic, but this was very close to my own experience. And fairy lights may not be for you, but that’s not actually what it’s about. The evidence-based techniques I’ve just touched on include tools such as anchor touch for deep relaxation, reframing language, visualisation, breathing and self-hypnosis techniques. The practice of tools such as these, and more that you may wish to take or leave, as well as an open minded but informed approach, are key to a positive, empowering birth experience... and if I can do it, anyone can.