Every time birth is on the television, it’s the same old story: panicking woman in agony is rescued by team of medics. Pregnant women could be forgiven for being absolutely terrified, and for saying, “Sign me up for every drug in the book, and get it over with.” Birth is just something we have to endure, a rather gruesome price to pay for the wonderful reward of our babies, right? Surely nobody, anywhere, could possibly enjoy it?
Like most pregnant women, Cheryl was anxious, but her curiosity was ignited who by a work colleague who talked about her own positive birth experience without pain relief.
“I almost couldn’t believe it was possible because all the stories you hear and all the things you read about and see on TV connected to giving birth are usually about pain and drugs, blood, gore, stitches, piles etc!”
Cheryl explored relaxation and used a hypnobirthing CD, and whilst at first she was skeptical and thought women who didn’t use pain relief were “100% bonkers”, she began to change her viewpoint.
“Gradually, it started to make more natural sense that birthing does not have to be an ordeal. For example, when animals go to give birth they usually go to a quiet place and get on with it. They just seem to know that it’s a natural process and there’s nothing to fear.”
Cheryl gave birth in the Netherlands, where home birth is more common, and enjoyed her labour from the outset. She lit candles and snuggled in a blanket on her sofa, feeling “calm, focused and beside myself with excitement.” This surprised her: “I never thought I would feel this way on the brink of giving birth. I never imagined I could be alone and totally in control and here I was, only feeling positive!”
“I totally surrendered to the experience and let my body do what it had to do. The most amazing secret of a positive birth experience is to remember– you do not have to ‘DO’ anything. Your body does it all. It knows exactly what to do and when to do it.”
And the burning question, did it hurt? Cheryl says she felt some pain as her baby crowned but that this was immediately replaced by the emotion of meeting her baby. Besides, she adds, “Pain only exists if you see it as a negative thing. I experienced the contractions, but I didn’t panic about them or associate anything negative to them. In fact the opposite! My baby is going to be in my arms! Bring them on!”
It’s easy to assume that this way of thinking belongs exclusively to home birthers, but Liz Stanford, who had both of her babies in hospital and describes the experiences as ‘incredibly positive’, echoes this ‘mind over matter’ attitude:
“The way you think about birth, effects the way you feel about birth which in turn effects how you give birth. Birth can be so enjoyable and empowering if we prepare in the right way.”
Liz was 27 when she became pregnant for the first time, and had heard only scare stories:
“I felt alone, terrified and desperate to escape. I was not only scared of labour and birth but of the drugs that women used to “help” them through their experience. I didn’t want to feel out of control but I didn’t want to feel the pain either.”
Liz also became a devotee of hypnobirthing, which helped her to conquer her fears and gave her, “the trust, the faith and the knowledge to work with my body and not against it.” She describes birth as a “powerful, sometimes overwhelming experience”, but, in moments she felt she could not go on, “feeling loved and supported” and “being told she was wonderful” brought back her sense of calm determination.
And birth does not have to be ‘natural’ or even go to plan to be enjoyable, according to Naomi Cosgrove, 29, from Sheffield, whose daughter Beatrix was born by emergency caesarean section in March 2014.
“On the night I went into labour I was excited and although the contractions were painful I loved the fact that we had started the journey to meet our little girl. I used all the techniques I had learnt at a class called Lazy Daisy: breathing through the contractions, walking, staying upright, and rotating my hips to help me dilate.”
“I enjoyed every moment, the anticipation and excitement, working with my husband on the journey to meet our little girl. I now understand what a friend meant when she talked about ecstasy in birth: it is an incredible feeling – through the hot pain it is enjoyable because you are bringing a life into the world!”
It can be hard to admit that you enjoyed your birth in a culture that, for whatever reason, seems determined to perpetuate the myth that having a baby is something to be feared:
“I get very strange looks”, says Naomi. Nevertheless, all three women agree that being positive and seeking out positive stories is essential work for all pregnant women:
“Don’t listen to the scare stories!” says Cheryl, “Have trust in yourself and your body, stay calm and in control and most of all ENJOY this wonderful thing you are experiencing!”
“Read the right books. Watch some positive births. Talk to people who feel positive about birth”, adds Liz, and Naomi agrees:
“Be positive - that is my main advice. I never let anyone scare me - I knew my body could take the pain, it is what we are made for!”