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Is a Painful Childbirth all in Your Head?

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This is a question that is massively poignant to me, and isn't one that I ask lightly. Seasoned medical professionals and women who have experienced painful births are no doubt baring their teeth. Whilst I don't wish to trample on their experience, I am due to give birth in six weeks and I'm hoping that the title to this piece may be truer than we are currently able to anticipate.

Since becoming pregnant I have explored my options. In doing so I discovered 'Hypnobirthing - The Marie Mongan Method' and my education in natural, empowering birthing began. Whilst I've not yet put the theory to the test, I am already a superfan of the possibilities hypnobirthing holds.

Hypnobirthing starts from the premise that the pain commonly felt in childbirth is not a natural side effect of birth but rather it stems from fear. Women in our highly medicalised society are ingrained to believe that birth is frightening and as they go into labour the feeling is often one of terror. This terror may have been welling in them since childhood when stories of their own birth were recounted, or from the horror tales put to them throughout their life. A pregnant woman is often not reassured by her friends gleeful recitations of tearing, cutting, blood loss, vomiting, labors that last a week and the howling screams coming from a woman in the next room.

This understandable, but culturally driven fear naturally provokes the body's fight, flight or freeze response. All physical energy is directed away from the birthing process and a lifetime of anticipating great pain becomes true, surgery occurs, episitiotomies are dosed out, drugs are taken and birth becomes a medical traumatic situation.

Fear ensures that the birthing woman is tense and her bodies own natural painkillers, endorphins are therefore blocked. The anxiety in her body causes her to resist what her body wants to do. The hubbub that surrounds this in the hospital; machines, midwifes, invasive examinations simply causes her to slip further into a state of panic. It is no surprise that so many of our gals are left begging for the numbing sensation of whatever drug happens to be closest.

Birth is taken from mum and placed in the hands of professionals and all she is left with is another horror story to pass on. Of course some women may have a medical need for medical intervention, but midwife led centers such as The Farm in Tennessee run by Ina May Gaskin, have proven that surgical interference could occur in as little as 1% of births.

Indeed many other cultures experience childbirth as an empowering, straightforward, intense rite of passage for women. They don't understand what all of our fuss is about. Yet physiologically we are identical. It's seems to me that our sophisticated society has moved childbirth beyond itself. In medicalising birth and creating fear, we have disempowered women to the incredible power of their own bodies.

Hypnobirthing aims to place the power for birthing back in the hands of the parents. The formula is such a simple one. It involves removing the fear, relaxing, going inward and guess what... trusting our bodies. Yes actually trusting that women have birthed for thousands of years, many in a time or land without chemical or surgical interference, and they have done so quite nicely.

As a hypnobirthing devotee I'm currently learning to trust my body and my baby to do what comes ever so natural. I believe I've conquered my fears of childbirth, and I am looking forward to the whole process. I know - how peculiar! As is my husband who having attended the hypnobirth classes with me could not argue with the fabulous logic of it all.

I'm not suggesting it won't be a challenge, or that it will totally pain free, but visualising that the intensity of natural birth will be a wondrous occurrence. I am placing trust in my uterine muscles to do what they are meant to do effectively. I will handle challenging moments with a dose of deep relaxation, total faith, and if it comes to it, some nipple stroking from my nearest and dearest. Yes nipple stroking and other gentle touch techniques are said to flood the body with oxytocin, enabling an easier birth. Many may balk, but I'd rather get a little bit fruity in the delivery room than lose my marbles or physical control to chemical interference.

In a few weeks time I hope to report that my baby was brought into this world the old fashioned way. It's my mission to relax and go deeply inside the physical me, prompted by my spiritual inclination for gentleness, peace and all things natural. This is the first soulful gift I can give my little girl. A birth that is not only anticipated with excitement and big huge love, but delivered with it too.