By Georgie Abay
When my waters broke, I wasnt exactly prepared. Id spent the weekend doing a two-day Calmbirth course at The LifePod in Sydneys Paddington (a fantastic childbirth education programme, but more on that later) and left armed with information on breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques. I had six weeks to prepare myself. Or so I thought. The day after the course, I went into labour. It went on for 19 hours and ended in me pleading for an epidural and the use of forceps to pull our baby girl out due to a slowing heart rate. Despite a few complications, I still look back on my daughters birth as a positive, calm experience (and the most magical day of my life no one can ever prepare you for the love you feel when you first meet your child). Throughout the birth, I listened to my heart and did what felt right. For me, an epidural felt right. Due to being six weeks premature, my daughter was taken straight to the special care unit, which was heartbreaking. There was no bonding post-birth, she was straight into a humidity crib. There were tears lots of them but I tried to stay positive and focus on what I could do to get her home as soon as possible. Three weeks later our baby was home with us and over a year later, shes a happy, healthy little girl.
According to Lauren Falconer, co-founder of The LifePod in Sydneys Paddington and mother to six-and-half-year-old Phoenix, no matter what happens in birth, your state of mind is crucial. What Ive found over the years is that its not a natural birth that makes it positive, its the way that a woman has prepared and the state of her mind, says Falconer. I know many mothers that have had intervention, but after attending Calmbirth at The LifePod and my prenatal yoga classes they know how to keep themselves calm and relaxed, and are able to deal with anything that comes their way. This is the key. Falconer founded The LifePod with her sister Belinda back in 2007. We both wanted to create a space that felt like a home away from home, where no-one judged you, you were always made to feel welcome, safe and relaxed.
On her own birth experience My own birth experience was amazing, the best day of my life! I had prepared for the birth by doing lots of prenatal yoga and attending Calmbirth and was also studying to be a doula at the time. I was filled with inspiration and a really positive mindset, which made all the difference. I was blown away by what our bodies are capable of and the incredible resources that we have inside of us. On the flip side, it was without a doubt the hardest thing Ive ever done in my life, I was challenged in a way that Ive never been challenged before.
On the positive effects of hormones at birth The main birthing hormone is oxytocin, which is also known as the hormone of love! Its the same hormone we experience during love making, when we laugh with friends, when we feel good. During labour and birth we want high levels of oxytocin in order for labour to progress efficiently and effectively. To keep levels of oxytocin high, labouring women need to feel private, safe and unobserved. This is something that the remarkable Dr. Sarah Buckley talks about a lot. If we are scared or feel unsafe, we will decrease our levels of oxytocin and raise levels of adrenaline, slowing and stopping the process of labour. The other wonderful birthing hormone is endorphins, helping us to transcend the experience, the same hormone that is released when you exercise to help you get through the experience of a long run, a mountain hike or any kind of exercise that requires endurance. Endorphins make us feel good also and take us into, what is known as a trance state.
On the stages of labour There are many stages of labour however we generally know there to be three. Very simply, it all begins with pre-labour, which is when the body is showing signs of readiness, which can vary from period pain to cramps to feeling gentle surges of energy waving through the body. The labour will then progress to active first stage which is when a womans body is opening up to allow an opening for her baby, this is a very important time for her to feel private, safe and unobserved. Then comes transition, when her body is making changes again physically and hormonally for the third stage, which is when the baby is moving down through the birth canal to be born.
On the benefits of touch Touching with love is key through labour. Touch primes oxytocin, especially when the person who is touching you is your beloved, or a trusted birth partner or friend. Humans need touch, it is healing beyond words, it can comfort us in times when we need profound support, it can take away fear and offer much relief of discomfort and intensity experienced through birth. I teach couples in my calmbirth course several different massages and ways of touching that are hugely beneficial through labour.
On the importance of prenatal and after-birth bonding We tend to focus mainly on the birth itself but the moments straight after birth are of huge importance to the mother and of course her new born infant. Of course we all want a healthy baby and mother, but what we also want is a baby that bonds to its mother and then attaches as well. The moment straight after birth for any mammal is extraordinarily important, babies want only one thing, and that is to be with their mother.
On bonding if your baby is premature or there are complications There are many things that you can do, firstly have your partner or support person go with your little one. Have them talk and make lots of eye contact with your baby. Babies recognise their parents voices immediately so this will be of huge comfort. I always recommend sleeping with a few wraps in your bed in the weeks leading up to the birth of your baby and that way they can be wrapped in something that smells like you both. This is a great way for them to bond and get to know you especially if they are taken away. Some other tips are: make as much eye contact as you can when you have them back in your arms. Hold them babies generally do not want to be separated from their parents, they want to be held and kept close to your heart where they feel safe. Touch them. Baby massage and gentle stroking, patting and kisses are a great way to connect and bond. Sing to them! Even if you think you cant, they are going to love your voice. Finally: rock them. Babies love the movement, we intuitively do this, its a beautiful soothing gesture that very often calms and settle little ones.”
On the use of epidurals I believe that everything has its place and that we are incredibly lucky to have the support of the medical model that we have. I know however that we have incredibly high intervention levels and that we could reduce those if women were prepared in the right way. No one would get up in the morning and think that they could compete in a triathlon, you would need months of preparation, information and support. Its exactly the same for birth, we need to be prepared and we need to practice each and every day leading up to the birth of our babies.”
On what youll learn at Calmbirth Everything you need to know to birth your baby in a positive and gentle way. In many ways Calmbirth un-teaches you, it helps to unravel all the myths that so many of us have been taught about birth. This to me is so important, we need to share the real truth about birth and that it is an absolute celebration and not to be feared.”
On breathing during labour It is hugely important. During Calmbirth I teach two techniques, one for during the contractions, also known as surges, and one for in-between the surges. It helps to keep a woman calm and relaxed, aids her uterine muscle to function efficiently and keeps baby supplied with lots of oxygen. So many women come back and tell me that breathing was the key. I felt this myself and its one of the reasons that we need to practice, practice, practice.
On fearing labour I think that the media has played a very large role in our negative view of labour. It is usually portrayed as a terrible experience where everything goes wrong. In movies, we see women very upset, lying on their backs in awful hospital gowns and screaming to either have drugs, to get this thing out of them, or yelling obscenities at their husbands. This is so far from the truth, so far from what birth is really all about. The other side to that is women tend to enjoy sharing their negative experience or putting another woman down for expressing her desire to have a calm birth. I struggle with this and havent quite come to terms with why we are doing this as a collective. Its interesting because fear is one of the main emotions that will prolong labour and cause fetal distress, its fascinating that we continue to generate so much fear into women around childbirth, when it is so un helpful for them to feel that way.
For more information on Calmbirth, go to www.thelifepod.com.au
Photography: Julie Adams Make-up: Sarina Zoe