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Giving birth (opens in new tab) is a subject that often incites fear into mums-to-be, with painful horror birth stories circulating between friends and in online forums.
For most, the instinctive attitude is 'give me the epidural (opens in new tab)!' with few imagining a birth with zero pain relief (opens in new tab). But mum-of-two Felicity Miller is determined to change that.
As part of our #MyBirthStory series - where a group of mums share their own stories to prove that there is absolutely no such thing as the perfect birth - she explains how giving birth using hypnobirthing (opens in new tab) techniques with NO pain relief helped her reclaim her body after experiencing a traumatic first labour, and why she'd recommend it to others too...
I have two children, my daughter, Evelyn, is eight years old and my son, Jack, was born just six weeks ago. Although I was overdue with both my babies, and they both tipped the scales, their birth stories couldn't be more different.
With Evelyn, because she was my first and I was younger I just did as I was told. She was overdue and I felt a lot of pressure to go along with what the doctors suggested. They said, 'you're late now so we're going to induce you' - and that was the way it was. They mentioned risks, but they didn't really go into it and when it comes to your baby, you just don't want to take any risks at all.
I agreed to being induced and I had a lot of interventions. The second time around I wanted a more positive experience, with my son Jack I looked at what my options were and came across hypnobirthing.
Knowledge is power and, for me, hypnobirthing fed into that.
It helps you to be prepared and know what your options are, so whichever way the birth goes, I wanted to do as much as I could to make my own choices and decisions to try and get a better birth experience - and fortunately, it worked!
I went overdue again and they started making noises about an induction, but this time I said I didn't want to be induced for the sake of it, I wanted to find out more about the risks to assess it on an individual basis. I was thinking, this is me, this is my circumstances as an individual, my pregnancy (opens in new tab), my baby.
I know some people can get pushed. My midwife (opens in new tab) was really nice and warned me that if you go to the hospital they will try and scare you. It's terrible that this happens. You're pregnant, you're already vulnerable and it's already a stressful time. Nobody would do anything to put her baby in danger and suggesting otherwise I think is really unfair.
Eventually, I went into labour naturally and was able to stick to my hypnobirthing plan.
Hypnobirthing uses techniques like breathing and relaxation to control your reactions. It starts off being a physiological awareness of what labour is and how you give birth in a physical sense. If you go into labour expecting it to be painful, you're going to be stressed and anxious which releases stress hormones. The idea is the more calm and relaxed you are, things should progress more naturally.
The hypnobirthing we did was a four-week course and it starts by explaining the physical side of labour and birth and how to maximise the best outcome with a positive mental approach by imagining the best scenario. They say prepare for the worst and it might not be as bad you as you expect, but if you imagine the best and hope for the best then you're not afraid and you've already imagined it the best way you can hope it can be. Birth is a good experience, something to look forward to; it's a natural process and we shouldn't be afraid of something that's natural.
In hypnobirthing you don't use the word pain, you call it physical sensations. Whether it's pressure or uncomfortable but don't think of it as pain. If you're not allowing yourself to acknowledge it as pain, it's not as painful. I definitely found that it worked.
I was relieved to start labour and I felt really good when I realised I was half way there already and I hadn't had any pain relief. With my daughter I had the epidural at about five centimetres so I could really feel the difference.
At the hospital I tried to make the environment as personal as I could. We had some nice music, some electric candles, a diffuser to mimic the aromatherapy smell that I had at home. It's about the feeling of controlling your environment, feeling safe and letting yourself relax.
Even when things picked up a bit, I had to lean on my partner but it was never unimaginable. You have breaks in-between your contractions and it's about focusing on those breaks.
I was breathing through it and went into a bit of a trance. I was aware of what was happening and people talking to me, I could reply but I wasn't saying much. I was just focusing and trying to stay in the moment. I took it one contraction at a time. It was like a dream like place, still aware but just doing my thing.
Having done research and gone through the course I was aware what was happening as it was happening. I could feel the baby coming down and felt it bump past the muscles of the cervix, felt the pressure at my lower back and remembered the pictures from the course of how the baby descends and the routes it needs to take.
At that point I thought this is actually happening and I've got this far. There's nothing else I can actually do now and there's no drugs or pain relief.
I wanted to get the head out slowly to avoid tears or grazes and I thought I'll push with the next contraction and that will be the head. Then I'll push again and the baby will be out. But actually I pushed once and he just shot out - we were all quite surprised that he was actually there!
I felt dazed that suddenly the baby was here and I had done it without anything. It wasn't easy and it was tough at the end but it was manageable and I was in control of it; aware of what was happening and why.
The whole time I kept thinking 'maybe the next contraction I will need something', but it never happened.
It's about controlling your thinking and controlling your mindset. Having my first birth so medicalised and then to do it on my own without any intervention was amazing. It was such a nice birth and such a nice experience for me and for my partner - he didn't feel scared, he felt calm and that what he was doing was useful.
Since he's been born, Jack has been relaxed and calm. The midwives have commented in his checks about how chilled out he was, which makes me think that hypnobirthing goes beyond the birth. We've had a brilliant experience, feeling really positive with no trauma or drama.
Different births go different ways, and some of the people in our hypnobirthing group did end up having interventions, but you can still use the techniques to help you feel better about yourself. I would definitely recommend it, I think everyone should do it if they can.
Have a #MyBirthStory of your own you want to share? Talk to us in the comment box below!