This NI mum says hypnobirthing made her fifth labour the best yet
Hypnobirthing is designed to promote relaxation techniques to help expectant mums - and even the Duchess of Cambridge is said to be a fan. Now, having qualified as a hypnobirthing teacher, Emma Lewis (34), from Ballynahinch, a mother of five kids aged seven and under, tells Heidi McAlpin why she's passionate about spreading the word
Ask a group of mums to regale you with stories of childbirth and you'll invariably hear dramatically different accounts.
But one overriding factor will inevitably emerge: the excruciating pain that precedes the wonderful, life-affirming moment when their baby is born.
Why is it that the most natural thing in the world, the one job bestowed on us humans to keep the world ticking, is fraught with sweating, screaming, and mums demanding every drug the hospital offers?
If chilled-out childbirth seems the holy grail to most expectant mums and about as likely as a heatwave in February, one local woman is making it her mission to push through the pain barrier and deliver a new era in birthing.
Emma Lewis is an advocate and recently qualified teacher of hypnobirthing, a ground-breaking relaxation technique designed to deliver the delights of pain-free labour to a new generation of mums.
The 34-year-old Ballynahinch woman knows more than most about having a baby.
Not only has Emma started her new hypnobirthing business, Breathing Bumps to Babies, she is also mum to Annabelle, Mabel, Bobby, Essie-May and Jon aged from seven years to 10 months.
Add to that the fact that her husband, Jonathan (38), works away from home for a couple of weeks at a time as a self-employed joiner, and you have one very busy working mum.
"Our house is crazy," confesses Emma. "There's never a dull moment, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think nowadays big families are a bit more unusual. When I take the children out, people always ask if they all belong to me.
"Mums always want to know, 'how much washing is there? How much are groceries? How do I get them all to bed? Do we go on holiday?' The reality is it's the same as every other family, there's just more washing, more groceries and it takes me longer to get them to bed!"
As mum to five young children, having a husband who works away a lot is the "biggest challenge" for Emma.
"Luckily I'm quite laid-back when it comes to the kids," she says. "If they come down in the morning looking like they've got dressed in the dark, wearing an outfit that makes my eyes water, I normally go along with it."
Emma manages to combine her new career with a full-on family by sticking to a well-honed routine.
"A lot of my work is completed once the kids go to bed," she explains. "I have learned to survive on little sleep. I'm hoping the work-life balance will get better as the kids get a bit bigger."
Yet it is her children that Emma has to thank when it comes to developing her love of hypnobirthing.
"I have had different births with all of them," she recalls. "Some have been on time, some overdue, two in the Home from Home Unit in the Ulster Hospital, one of which was a water birth, and one in a delivery suite.
"Hypnobirthing was only offered to me during my fifth pregnancy. I had heard of it, but that was about it.
"My fourth labour and birth was longer and more difficult than the others. I suppose I was more anxious about the fifth birth and wanted it to be completely natural, so I decided to use hypnobirthing to overcome my anxiety."
With the support of her midwife at the Lagan Valley Hospital, Emma and her husband worked on her hypnobirthing technique throughout her fifth pregnancy with baby Jon. "Hypnobirthing is all about teaching ourselves how to relax," she says. "I mean getting into a state of deep relaxation and zoning out any distractions."
Everything was going according to plan until the week Emma was due to give birth. She suddenly contracted sepsis, an infection that can lead to potentially life-threatening blood clots, and had to be induced.
Yet despite this last-minute intervention, Emma believes hypnobirthing ensured Jon's arrival was "the calmest and most wonderful birth of them all".
Emma learned her craft through KG Hypnobirthing, which was founded by Katharine Graves, a leading exponent of the technique. Katharine has trained midwives at the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital in London, where the Duchess of Cambridge had Prince George and Princess Charlotte and where she is due to have her third child in April.
It has been openly rumoured that Kate has adopted hypnobirthing throughout all three of her pregnancies.
"I think it's wonderful that midwives and hypnobirthing teachers are on the same page," says Emma of Katharine's ground-breaking technique.
"I believe in hypnobirthing so much, and the midwife that introduced it to me said she watches first-time mums comfortably and confidently birth their babies using KG Hypnobirthing.
"In a sense we are getting so relaxed that, in birth, our fears don't get in the way of our body doing what it has to do. It is almost a primal way of giving birth. It takes away all the fads and all the gimmicks and the need to have your baby a certain way because a celebrity has done it."
For Emma, the media has a lot to answer for when it comes to childbirth. TV channels are wall-to-wall with reality shows screening some truly gut-wrenching maternity ward scenes that wouldn't look out of place in a horror movie.
"So many of these cultural influences directly impact how we feel about birth," she says.
"But your body was designed to give birth, and you and your baby will know what to do when the time comes.
"The hypnobirthing mantra is 'Where the mind leads, the body follows'."
In a society just beginning to embrace alternative birthing methods, does Emma come across any detractors?
"I think before you understand hypnobirthing, it is normal to be sceptical," she admits.
"I definitely think pregnant women today really research birth and want to know more about their choices.
"Once people get over the 'hypno' side of it and realise it's not stage hypnosis, they feel much more comfortable with the idea."
Scepticism was close to home for Emma when she decided to give hypnobirthing a go.
"My husband was a complete sceptic when I told him I was going to try having my baby using hypnobirthing," she says.
"Then he witnessed the birth of our son and the difference it made, and now even he is a believer."
Emma is keen to stress that hypnobirthing is as much about the expectant couple as it is the mum-to-be.
"I always say the decision to have a child is a joint one," she explains. "It's a partnership so, ideally, involving your partner as much as possible in your hypnobirthing journey is the best thing.
"The partner can practice relaxations at home with mum, and perhaps speak for mum when she arrives at hospital to make sure her caregivers understand she is a hypnobirthing mum and aiming for a natural, calm birth.
"They don't need to be a helpless bystander by any means."
Emma offers one-on-one and group hypnobirthing courses for expectant couples, either at their home or in a neutral venue.
"The brilliant thing about these courses is that they are a complete antenatal preparation", she says.
"I teach hypnobirthing and the physiology of how it works, but I also talk about situations that, as happened to me, could potentially take you away from the natural route.
"The idea is that when we address our fear, we can then release our fears."
Seeing a mum achieve a successful and pain-free labour is what it's all about for Emma.
"To watch a mum use hypnobirthing during childbirth is a powerful experience," she admits. "The stress and drama tend not to be there. Mum is in control, she's calm and it's really beautiful."
Yet it can also be a bittersweet moment for Emma, whose biggest regret is only experiencing hypnobirthing with her last baby and not having had a home birth.
"There's plenty of time for another one though," she laughs.
Even after childbirth, hypnobirthing techniques can work their magic.
"My fifth baby is definitely a very relaxed, happy boy," Emma says. "Hypnobirth babies are often much quieter when they are born because of the ambiance in the delivery room.
"Some mums even say that the relaxation sounds they listened to when pregnant can soothe their baby after birth."
Then, when a new mum and baby return to the family nest, those relaxation techniques can really kick in.
"Hypnobirthing is not just a bunch of techniques for birth," explains Emma. "It is giving you life skills. I even used my breathing techniques recently when I got two wisdom teeth out.
"I still go to bed after a hard day listening to my relaxations. We process information most when asleep, and I know I will wake up feeling better."
Whether a mum of five or expecting your first child, the benefits of hypnobirthing can be truly life-changing.
"Experiencing a beautiful birth in whatever form, and feeling in control and calm, is something every mum deserves and will never forget", says Emma.
"The more mums who experience hypnobirthing and have a positive story, the better.
"They will tell their friends, who will try it and do the same. Knowledge is power. Let's put it on the map as a birth of choice."
So the next time you overhear a group of mums comparing the pain of childbirth, breathe deep and relax.
To find out more about Emma's hypnobirthing courses, visit breathingbumpstobabies.net