Eight years ago, while pregnant with my first child, Mitchell, I did what many first-time mums-to-be do: I read all the recommended books, took pregnancy yoga and attended ante-natal classes in preparation for birth.
I thought I had covered all bases, but when it came time, I found it hard to concentrate and manage the labour -- as most of what I learned during my pregnancy went straight out the window!
On my second baby, Robyn, I had an idea what I was in for and hoped for the best -- and an epidural! Sadly for me, it was a bank holiday with skeleton staff, so there was no epidural to be had. The birth was another tough experience and one I was not in a hurry to repeat.
It was on baby number three that I discovered hypnobirthing. I heard about mums managing their labour, by being focused and in control of their contractions and without calling for an epidural. While it sounded somewhat 'too good to be true', my interest was piqued.
The stories were amazing, and there was also a thought-provoking survey conducted by Tracy Donegan, from Gentlebirth.com: Of 100 mums in Ireland who used hypnobirthing, only 5pc needed an epidural.
According to Donegan, who teaches Gentlebirth, "The programme is based on leading-edge science and years of research in sports psychology, including techniques employed by professional athletes and new positive psychology teachings."
Simply by changing our thoughts we change the perception of sensations felt during labour. Not only do the tools in the GentleBirth hypnobirthing programme change your attitude to pregnancy and birth, but you form new connections in the brain, from fear to confidence, each time you use their CDs.
I decided to check it out by taking some classes and listening to the CDs. They promised that if I concentrated, I could condition my brain and body to get through the labour without needing pain relief.
So each night at bedtime, I stuck my iPod on and spent 30 minutes listening to the CDs, taking in the calming words and reconditioning myself to think about labour, not as something almost impossible but instead as something my body is designed to do
My husband, in an effort to be supportive, listened to the CDs too, although unlike me who stayed awake and focused for the whole 30 minutes, he was usually snoring his head off after just five.
With hypnobirthing, mums-to-be are recommended to use the word 'surge' instead of 'contraction' and refer not to the waters 'breaking' but, rather, the waters 'releasing', so we used to laugh and joke about surges and waters releasing gently and it proved a great distraction. It seemed the more we used words like surge and release, the less daunting the birth.
When I went into labour at 2.30am one morning, I hoped it would work.
I focused, relaxed and imagined my surges (contractions) washing over me. We had planned a home birth for this baby, so my husband was with me at all times.
He helped me remember the hypnobirthing techniques we had practised and made sure my hands were loose and shoulders relaxed and if he saw me clench, would urge me to relax.
This made a huge difference because when I did not tense up, the surges just passed over me, whereas on my previous births I had squeezed my body rigid with each contraction and, because of that, they hurt -- a lot.
I managed my labour well and in between 'surges' we chatted as I lay in the bath. It was calm being at home with the midwife on hand to help out and my husband focused on helping me labour.
The labour was not totally pain-free and some of the surges toward the end were definitely uncomfortable, but I was able to practise what I had learned through hypnobirthing and manage them.
When I knew it was time, my husband helped me out of the water.
I leaned on him as I hobbled to the bedroom and eased on to a birthing ball but as soon as I sat on it I knew it was too late for that -- the baby was on the way.
I had a slight moment of panic after I had been pushing for a while and the baby had not arrived, where I muttered aloud "I cannot do this any more."
My husband reminded me to focus on my breathing and urged me to give it my best shot.
A few minutes later, without so much as a sniff of gas and air, our baby girl April was born. Her hand was beside her head, which had made it tough to push her out, but with the support of my husband and midwife, I managed it.
For me, it was a life-changing experience.
After two painful, difficult hospital births where I begged for epidurals, I had finally learned to labour without pain relief by getting my body to do what it was designed to do, and it was hypnobirthing that taught me what I needed to know.