I’m 16 weeks and 6 days. And I’m trying something called Active Birth Yoga. Well in fact I tried it. Once. And I was a little bit small so I felt a little bit ridiculous as all the other women were so much bigger (one was 41 weeks) especially as the exercises could have been done by an arthritic 90 year old, while I can still touch my toes.
But I’m planning on giving this active birth thing a shot.
Ina May Gaskin appears to be the poster girl for the movement and the premise is pretty understandable. It says us women were born to give birth – its simple. Our bodies were meant to do it, they know what to do, we just need to chill out and get on with it. The modern era of medicine is of course welcome in what it can do in high risk cases, but in fact it has complicated matters. It makes us lie down when actually gravity tells us the best way to give birth is sitting, squatting or on all fours. Its what primitive woman used to do – there’s cave paintings and everything.
But with modern medicine and our risk-averse society, they say, we give up our natural maternal instinct to have birth imposed upon us. It’s all tubes and examinations and drugs and pushing and pulling and lying down and not really feeling anything. Its One Born Every Minute. It’s tearing and groggy babies, they say, and the fear instilled in us by this myth that it’s really bloody hard just makes us tense and with this tension comes pain. Its a midwife-led birth not a mum-led birth. But birth, done naturally, can actually be pain free.
Yes please. But how realistic is this really? And will aiming for a pain free birth simply cause more panic and guilt later on when the contractions kick in and you’re screaming for the morphine? Most of my friends gave birth on epidurals, all blissfully unaware of any pains down below, and all seemed very happy about it too, with lovely happy babies to show for it. As one friend said, she just didn’t handle pain very well and she ended up having a lovely time on a walking epidural. Is it necessarily better to vow not to touch an epidural while risking an onslaught of unimaginable pain?
Well I’ve decided, against my more cynical judgment, to give it a go. I went the Active Birth Yoga class run by Natalie Meddings who is also a doula, and although I spent much of the hour and a half trying to kick my cycnical side into submission, I found the whole thing pretty interesting.
We started with tea and biscuits, so far so nice, and a new mum came in to share her “birth story”. Now you can imagine anyone willing to discuss their birth story in public is unlikely to go through the list of painful and embarrassing ailments, but this was a birth that I’d never heard the like of before. She stayed at home until the last possible minute and then had contractions for a couple of hours (which were apparently not painful) until a blissful waterbirth. She remembered her hypno-birthing technique of imagining blowing a balloon away and listening to her partner repeating the mantra that every surge (for a “surge” is what hypno birthers cleverly call a “contraction”) would bring her closer to her baby. It sounded like a beautiful and peaceful birth, and she certainly looked amazing for a mum of a 4 week old baby.
Yet this didn’t really coincide with the stories I’d heard about birth. The hours and hours of waiting and howling, the vomiting and shitting, the excruciating pain and blood and complications and “I can’t do it!”.
While I tried, and failed, to catch someone’s eye in order to roll mine cynically, I realised that actually if I found the confidence to try, then this was the birth I’d always imagined having. Of finding myself as an animal, instinctive, moaning in a new animal moan that echoed down the ages to women centuries old who had been through the same thing.
And I really like the idea of the privacy you get from staying at home as long as you can and only going to hospital when things get back. As Natalie says, you can’t really do much more of a private thing than giving birth – its about a million times more private than having sex or having a poo and those you don’t do with a roomful of interveners! – so I want to try to do most of it myself, at home, relaxing with The Chef, and then being in hospital at the last minute with a midwife who lets us do it in our own time and in our own way. But of course if I need them I’ll be so glad they’re there.
I have a lot of work to do then. As its my first I especially need the fact that this is natural, that it could be easy, and even dare I say it a wonderful experience, seep into me. Here’s what I’m planning to do:
- I’m going to continue the Active Birth Yoga course but only from when I’m about 5 months and have a bit more of a bump
- I’ve bought a hypno birthing CD – Effective Birth Preparation by Maggie Howell and also her relaxing music CD for the birth
- I’m going to practice relaxed breathing, pelvic floor exercises, and relaxation using floral oils like lavender
- I have until December to try to persuade The Chef to join me in a hypno-birthing day long group class. Oh my. At £165 for a one day group session its not cheap though!
I’ll let you know how it goes.