A few weeks ago I had the privilege of supporting a friend, alongside her husband and a great midwife-led team,* through the birth of her second child.
After a first labour that, in a number of ways, hadn’t gone exactly to plan, she was approaching the second birth with optimism, but an understandable degree of nervousness.
My involvement hadn’t been planned – we happened to be visiting for lunch – and once it became clear, later in the afternoon, that my friend was starting to have contractions, what struck me first was how successfully she was preventing her labour from progressing by concentrating on hosting us and entertaining her adorable, boisterous two year old daughter.
Equally striking was how fast, once she relaxed after we had agreed that my husband, son and I would stay the night to look after her daughter, her contractions started coming thick and fast. Just over four hours, and a lot of deep breathing, later her handsome little boy was born in a peaceful and profoundly moving water birth.
While it is not, by any means, possible to fully plan any birth, the experience brought back to me my own preparation for my son’s birth and the overwhelming importance for all women in labour to feel safe – both in their environment and in their birth companions – so that they can fully let go.
The ideal psychological state for labour is, indeed, one of almost total unawareness of one’s surroundings. During my own labour with my son, I went into such a deep trance that I had only fleeting moments of awareness of my surroundings and thought my four hour labour had taken around 15 minutes.
For me, this was made possible by the fact that my husband and I had spent many hours talking about the birth that we wanted, what we did and didn’t want in terms of interventions, and what compromises we’d be prepared to make if the situation required it.
While my son arrived too early for us to have the home birth we’d been planning, I was confident that my husband would be able to advocate for me during my labour whatever the circumstances. Perhaps more importantly, informed by my inspirational pre- and post-natal yoga teacher, Nicole Croft, we went into my labour with the expectation that, if all was going well, I wouldn’t be in a state to advocate for myself – that I would have trusted my primal, instinctive, non-rational brain to take over to guide my body through the birth.
“Losing the ability to converse and think rationally are part and parcel of a positive birth experience and a good sign that the intellectual brain is taking a back seat, as it should.” The Good Birth Companion, Nicole Croft
It is not a coincidence, therefore, that the only bits of my labour I have any conscious recollection of were moments when medical staff insisted on communicating directly with me – pulling me out of this limbic state – rather than allowing my husband to mediate communication.
While my son’s birth is now nearly two years ago, all of this came flooding back to me when pulled in to support my friend’s labour a few weeks ago. Between her husband, the midwife team and me we were able to support my friend to trust her body and calmly breathe through the delivery of her bonny baby boy.
The World Health Organisation suggests that the vast majority of births – up to 90% – should be normal and uncomplicated. I wonder how many more women could have similarly good births if the importance of letting go was more widely understood.
To learn more about the issues in this post – and others around pain management, birth interventions and early days with a new baby – I strongly recommend Nicole’s book ‘The Good Birth Companion’. This is the only book I consistently recommend is read by pregnant friends and their birth companions. I hope you find it as helpful as we did.
*At the beautiful new birth centre, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham