Eleanor Copp is a specialist VBAC midwife in the NHS and a hypnotherapist in private practice. She works with women, pregnant or not, who have experienced previous trauma relating to childbirth.
What exactly is a 'VBAC', and what does a VBAC midwife do?
VBAC has become the shorthand for a Vaginal Birth After Caesarean - when a mother is planning a vaginal delivery after previously having her baby by C-section. A VBAC midwife meets women early on in their pregnancy to discuss their birthing options and to make a plan of care.
That's just part of my job though. In private practice, I combine my experience as a VBAC midwife with hypnotherapy techniques, and help women who have unresolved issues relating to their birth experience when they had a C-section.
This can be a C-section which was planned or unexpected - either way what happened can erode self-confidence and increase anxiety. These women want to manage their fears and optimise the likelihood of feeling calm and in control for their next delivery. My hypnotherapy techniques help them to stay calm and focused.
Tell us about the women who come to see you
Only some of them are women who want a VBAC, but they all want to learn skills to manage the unknown. Some want information that will support them and be practical and useful when dealing with professionals. They may also have aspects of a previous birth that they wish to avoid, or even have post-traumatic stress from a previous experience.
Some women I help have depression, or a phobia, such as needles, hospitals or even childbirth itself. I also help women with physical limitations such as chronic fatigue syndrome or symphysis pubis diaphysis (public bone pain in pregnancy – SPD).
There are also women who come to me because they feel they did not bond with their baby well and are desperate for this not to happen again.
How do you help them?
I listen to their stories, and look at the facts and the big picture: family relationships, what support they have, things like that. Using hypnosis I can then work on increasing confidence and self esteem - and challenge any mistaken beliefs or illogical fears. What I always do is respect the woman I'm working with - and her experience - and work alongside her to achieve her goals.
Describe a typical day – if there is such a thing for you!
On a therapy day, I typically see six clients, ranging from pregnant women to non-birth related work (working with men and women with illnesses and long term anxiety or depression).
I run monthly workshops for parents-to-be and work periodically at Plymouth University teaching student midwives how to manage their stress, as well as running the Taunton birth forum.
I also write for magazines so that takes time too! On a VBAC clinic day, I meet with about five couples, look at their stories and discuss with them what the best birth options are.
What are your 'bugbears' when it comes to childbirth in 2012?
It bothers me that the baby is not considered to be having an experience too. All the pressure is put on the mother, which means the baby will instantly feel her tension - but this part of it is left unacknowledged. Ultimately babies do the best they can in sometimes very difficult circumstances, and yet they are labelled as naughty or stubborn! That really upsets me.
I know birth is a shared experience and when mothers are compassionate towards their baby in labour, they manage so well.
Something else that irritates me is that when mothers ask for help they get offered surgery or drugs. When I work with women, we explore what help is needed specifically - physical, emotional or practical. Then we can focus on finding the help needed. Women I work with are often looking for support and rapport: eye contact and guidance. Sadly, that is not often present these days.
How did you get into doing what you do?
I found the level of fear so high for some women that by the time I met them in a hospital setting, it was too late to make a big impact. So, in 2003, I trained in HypnoBirthing, so that I could offer support in pregnancy, leading up to the birth.
Now I know how to relax someone very quickly if I meet them for the first time. I have also done counselling courses and reflexology training, and what I do now was a natural progression from all this.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love seeing women who were in a mess emerge strong, confident and happy.
Getting a phone call from a mother I've worked with telling me how fantastic her birth was and how wonderful her baby is - that's just amazing!
If you could give one piece advice to a woman nervous about giving birth vaginally after a previous C-section, what would it be?
I would say, go to pregnancy yoga classes, and check the teacher has trained with The British Wheel of Yoga. That will help so much. Another useful resource is Caesarean.org.uk, which provides research-based information and support on all aspects of caesareans and VBACs.
Did you have a VBAC? Please share your experiences below