Skeptical about Gentlebirth? To tell the truth, I was too. I first stumbled across Gentlebirth when I was working as a Women’s Health physiotherapist in a general hospital with a small maternity unit. My job involved treating pregnant women with pain and incontinence problems, giving the ‘physiotherapy antenatal classes’, and, the part I found most difficult, treating women after the birth of their babies.

Sometimes, these women would have had tears during the birth, but very often they would have what I perceived as a very straightforward, easily resolved problem – maybe some urinary urgency or pelvic pain that developed after the birth. I always asked what their birth had been like, and many times found myself comforting a woman who was obviously traumatised by what had happened during her labour.

dog birthOften these women told me they felt helpless, they felt they hadn’t been listened to, they felt they should have followed their instincts and laboured in an upright position rather than lying down on the bed as suggested. They felt they should have done better, waited longer or stayed calmer. One lady told me she felt her body was ruined and it was her own fault.

Why were these women so upset by what had happened to them? Why hadn’t they felt strong enough to say that they didn’t want to lie down but would prefer to stay upright in labour? I had grown up around animals and began to wonder why humans needed so much interventions during the birth process while a dog or cat would usually disappear and the first we’d know about their babies’ birth was that we’d hear the mewling of the new pups or kittens from between the hay bales in the barn when their mum finally came out for something to eat. Why was birth for humans so difficult and complicated?

All thishypnosis made me think about what I was teaching in my antenatal classes. I did teach about upright birth, perineal massage and coached v spontaneous pushing. But obviously what I was teaching wasn’t preparing these women for the reality of labour and birth. What could I change to make women feel more ready, more empowered and more informed I wondered? I can’t remember now what it was I ‘googled’ but I found Gentlebirth. I read a bit about it and thought: Mindfulness –  hippy, Hypnosis – Keith Barry – just hocus pocus, Doulas – hippies with a weird fetish for birth – but there might be some good stuff in it.

snake-charmerSo I headed along to the Gentlebirth Instructor training, never intending to teach Gentlebirth and I was BLOWN AWAY! I sat there for four days in that hotel hanging on every word. I can honestly say I haven’t been on a course before or since (and I’ve been on a few), where I’ve found every single minute interesting and relevant. Everything just made so much sense.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a very practical person. If I don’t see the point in something, I prefer not to waste my time. Being from a medical/healthcare background gave me even less patience for anything I perceived as ‘mumbo jumbo’, ‘snake oil’ type treatment approaches with minimal or poor scientific evidence to support them.

Guess what? There is a point to mindfulness – it has scientifically proven benefits. After 3 weeks practice, scientists have noted physical changes in the brain and increased levels of melatonin. Guess what melatonin does? It’s a labour hormone. Hypnosis? It’s been shown in studies to decrease pain perception, increase confidence and improve birth outcomes for mums and babies. A palliative care consultant who came to one of my workshops told me that he finds it useful for treatment of refractory (difficult to treat) nausea caused by cancer treatment so the evidence is definitely there.

Doulas? Also evidence to support their positive effect in birth outcomes. Affirmations, visualisation, cognitive behavioural therapy? All based on proven scientific evidence and used effectively by the most successful athletes, teams and business people in the world. It made perfect sense to me.

conor mcAnd then – the Dads. Having had pretty much no Dad’s in my antenatal classes; probably due to the fact that they were held at midday, and partly due to the fact that they weren’t encouraged to come and giggle awkwardly or studiously avoid the eyes of the other dads (and me, in case they should draw undue attention to themselves), I wasn’t sure where they’d fit in in the Gentlebirth scheme of things.

But again, the Gentlebirth approach made so much sense. Dads are obviously intelligent adults and have just as much stake in the birth of their baby as mums do. Mums have a huge job – being in labour and giving birth. It makes sense that Dads can and do, do everything else. I loved the idea of giving Dads a huge role in the labour and birth and the knowledge to do an amazing job.

I no longer work in a hospital. I’m now a Gentlebirth instructor, teaching monthly classes in Tipperary and Limerick and doula (hippy with a weird fetish for birth!!) in training. I guess you could say I was converted.

If you’ve been converted too, you can book your GentleBirth workshop or find out more at www.gentlebirth.com

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