When I was pregnant with my first baby everyone told me about the risks involved in giving birth. Everyone told me the dangers. Everyone told me what could go wrong.
Many people told me their horror stories of birth. Many people rolled their eyes or laughed at me when I said I wanted a homebirth for my first baby. Many people told me I was being naieve or foolish. And many people close to me thought I wouldn't be able to do it: that I wouldn't stay at home the whole time, not for my first baby, or that I wouldn't cope without strong pain relief.
Wasn't I worried they asked? What would happen if something went wrong? Surely I should have my first baby in hospital.
It didn't seem to matter when I told them that my amazing community midwife had encouraged me to try for a homebirth (not just me but anyone who was even a little bit interested). Or when I told them that I was scared of hospitals - that hospitals reminded me of having major back surgery as a teenager, or seeing my mum ill with cancer.
They didn't listen when I explained that through the Wise Hippo course - an antenatal programme that incorporates hypnosis techniques - I'd learnt that the right birth is different for everyone; that it's about personal choice and being in control.
I understood why other people were worried for me. I knew that they cared about me and felt that I wasn't following either the route they'd taken, or the route they perceived as normal. But why focus on all that fear? You wouldn't tell someone the risks involved in driving every time they were about to get in a car, would you?
Anyway, when I had my amazing natural homebirth, all those people who had focused on fear fell into two camps. They thought I was 'lucky' or 'amazing'.
Although I preferred the amazing comments (who wouldn't?) it felt like they were missing the point. It wasn't about me, as such, it was about all the preparation I had done. My Wise Hippo course meant that instead of feeling scared about birth I was excited.
I knew that to have a calm and gentle labour I needed to be relaxed, so that my body could produce oxytocin rather than adrenaline (allowing the muscles of the uterus to work properly and for labour to progress smoothly). I also had a range of practical and positive tools that me and my husband could use to help me stay calm and relaxed through labour. I had the confidence to trust and listen to my body and to stay in control throughout.
And you know what? I was lucky, I was lucky that I didn't have any complications, I was lucky that I could stay at home the whole time. I was lucky that I'd heard about hypnobirthing over ten years ago from a doctor who'd had one awful birth and a second wonderful birth (yes, before the second birth she'd done a hypnobirthing course). I was lucky that I could do a Wise Hippo course locally. I was lucky I'd done my preparation and invested in myself.
Do your homework
You see it wasn't simply luck - I'd done my homework. As a fellow instructor Rena Gough mentions in her blog - 'it's about stacking the odds in your favour'.
Birth can be difficult and hard and complications can arise, but you want to give yourself the best chance and you want to have tools up your sleeve that you can whip out and use.
Now I help couples take charge of their birth experience by teaching The Wise Hippo. I teach so many first time parents who are petrified of giving birth (and I hear them, that's how I felt before I did my preparation) and their fear is of the unknown.
They haven't given birth, they don't know what it will be like for them. But they've been told what can go wrong, they've seen dramatic and extreme births on TV (you know the drill: a woman's water breaks, she starts contracting, screaming, lying on her back etc), they've heard the horror stories, so it's no wonder they feel afraid.
But over the weeks this changes, they learn how to take control, how to prepare by relaxing, how to focus on a positive birth and, you know what? That's what they go on to have. Sometimes complications arise - but they have tools to help, whatever path their birth takes.
So let's celebrate the positive birth stories too. People who have had great births aren't weird, unusual, or just plain lucky.
Let's have more open and varied discussions about birth, ones that are free of judgement. After all, knowledge is power!