November 21, 2010

Calm Birth. Are You Crazy?

Calm. Birth.

No, that is not an oxymoron. Or a myth. Or a method of giving birth where everyone in the room gets high on drugs and stands around saying 'peace man' to the melodic backdrop of a few Simon & Garfunkel tunes.

It's a method of giving birth naturally. Without pain relief. Are you hearing me right? PAIN RELIEF FREE.

You already know I've gone to the kooky side (with all that communing-with-the-universe and secret baby t-shirt business) so really, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I'm throwing the anaesthetist out with the epidural and going all alternative when it comes to giving birth this time around.

Except that it's not really 'going alternative', it's more like 'going native'. We all know that millions of women give birth in huts and paddy fields as a perfectly normal part of their day to day lives, without medical intervention or pain relief. So why not us? After all, we have the best of both worlds - the ability to birth naturally AND the back up of medical intervention should it be required.

The difference is that we are so used to relying on medical help, we often bypass the natural bit, where our bodies know what to do.

For my first birth, I think it was fear that sent me scuttling to the hospital so early. Fear of the unknown mostly. When my contractions started at midnight one Saturday, I felt slightly panicked. I also had an awful and unremitting bout of diarrhea for hours and was worried about dehydrating. I laboured intermittently through the night at the hospital, but by 8am nothing was progressing. Which led to having my waters broken. Which led to being induced on a syntocin drip. Which led to immediate fast, hard contractions. Which, combined with the intense back pain of a posterior baby, led to an epidural.

Yours truly, mid-contraction, unable to move, holding my breath,
willing the aneasthetist to come NOW!!!
Don't get me wrong, the birth was wonderful. They turned down the epidural just enough for me to push effectively and John and I pulled Jack out of my body together in what was the most intensely emotional moment of my life. But in hindsight, I can see that my fear and lack of trust in my body led to a domino effect of medical intervention.

Now I'm curious about what it would be like to do it another way. With knowledge and faith and courage, instead of fear and doubt and ignorance.

I first heard about calm birthing (or hypno birthing as it is sometimes called) a couple of years ago when one of the girls in my mother's group used the technique to deliver her subsequent babies. At the time, it sort of drifted in one ear and out the other, because at that stage I had made the mental and emotional adjustment of living with unexplained infertility and confirmed myself as a one-baby woman. I was still interested in all things baby, but kept myself detached. As you do when everyone around you is having babies and you can't.

Then last year when we were contemplating IVF, another friend told me about her experience using the calm birth technique to deliver her first child. Not only did she give birth calmly and naturally, her little boy is, quite possibly, the calmest, most contented baby ever produced. This is another by-product of having an unmedicated birth - seriously chilled out babies. When I met this little dude, he sat on my lap, staring up at me as if to say "Hey there nice lady, wassup? Feel like chillaxing to a few Simon & Garfunkel tunes?" It was all I could do not to plonk him in my handbag and make a fast getaway!

I was fascinated. Pain-free? Drug free? How??!!

I jumped on e-bay, found a second hand copy of Marie Mongan's Hypnobirthing and started reading.

In a nutshell, the whole idea is that we Western women are conditioned to think that childbirth is horrifically painful, a trial to be feared, and that the only way we can possibly manage is via the use of pain relieving drugs and/or having a Caesarian section and avoiding the whole thing altogether. Of course, in many cases, these options are necessary and potentially life-saving for both mothers and babies so I'm all for having those options. But as just that. Options. Not de rigueur.

However, the combination of our education, our recent Western history, the childbirth hell stories we insist on relaying to each other and the portrayal of childbirth in fictional media (the cliched pushing, panting, screaming, husband-blaming labouring women of so many movies) have given us a picture of child birth that isn't pretty and is, in fact, bloody repellent.

All that gruesomeness has engendered a great fear in we women. We fear the pain. We fear any tearing. We even fear the fact that we might do 'number twos' when pushing! (For those who haven't yet had children, be warned, you probably WILL do number twos when pushing. It's no big deal and perfectly normal. Doctors and midwives have seen much worse. Your husband, on the other hand, may need to suck on some of that gas . . . )

All that fear leads to an enormous amount of tension. Tension causes us to stop breathing properly and our blood pressure to rise. We fight against the body's natural ability to bring the baby down. Our body stops producing the natural pain-relievers we need like oxytocin and endorphins, and starts producing adrenalin which sends all the good stuff to our limbs (to flee or fight) instead of our uterus. The result? Pain. Lots of pain.

Put simply, you get scared, you tense up, and it hurts.

So how are the hundreds of thousands of women all over the world who are giving birth calmly and naturally doing it? (Oooh, I'm sounding a bit like an infomercial aren't I?! All I can say is I have the zeal of the converted! Jeez Louise, I hope this stuff works.)

Firstly, we have to let go of all our fear surrounding child birth and completely trust that our bodies know what do to. That child birth is something that our bodies are made to do.

Then we have to learn how we can best facilitate that process, mainly through the use of breathing, which allows all those good hormones to flow, and visualisations, which help us to focus. The result is not only a calm, unmedicated birth, but a calm, unmedicated baby. It sounds easy huh? Would you like a set of steak knives with that?

The internet is full of calm birth stories so if you're interested, read one here . . .

John and I have completed the calm birth course with the beautiful, knowledgeable and yes SUPER CALM, Louise Luscri. You can find details about her and her accredited course here.

She's a proper, real-life midwife too which was quite comforting considering the course was in a room full of pregnant women picturing their cervixes opening and anything could have happened! As if that wasn't enough to recommend her, she also serves Tim Tams and homemade brownies for afternoon tea. We love you Louise :)

So . . . . here we are . . . . 38 weeks pregnant, armed with my calm music, calm candles, calm husband and this youtube clip loaded onto my iPhone (if you watch this clip, you'll understand why I will have the sound turned off - a bunch of Russian folk dancers aren't really part of my whole cervix-opening visualisation scene).

What was your birth experience like? Have you tried calm birth? Would you? What most scares you about child birth? I'd love it if you'd share your story in the comments below.

Wish me luck ladies!


Disclaimer: If the writer succumbs to an epidural, an excellent excuse will be fabricated to justify its use under the guise of creative license!

Image courtesy of cafepress. You can buy this t-shirt here.


  1. actually the main aim of calm birth is to minimize the use of medical intervention and provide painless childbirth. but some women are afraid of it, because of pain and labor during delivery time.


I love hearing from you (and by the way, you're looking lovely today) x

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