Updated: Aug 9, 2019
This is the 2nd in a 3 part series from Make Birth Better Network member Sakina Ballard. Here, Sakina talks about how antenatal expectations can influence our birth experience. Tomorrow, she will describe her views on how antenatal education can better support women and their partners.
When I was pregnant with my first child I dutifully paid for and attended a private 6 week antenatal course as recommended by all the parents we knew. Since then, I have heard those courses described as a way to ‘buy your baby friends’. There was something comforting about being with others locally who were going through the same physical transformations as we ventured into the unknown of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
With the gift of hindsight I realised that I had been going to my courses and pregnancy yoga classes in the unseen belief that they would equip me to face what then felt like the mountain of birth that I would have to conquer but couldn’t see or know the other side of.
From where I stood in pregnancy, at the bottom looking up, it felt enormous.
Of course, none of this was talked about explicitly but it was there and I know is still there for women who are expecting their first baby.
My first birth didn’t go the way I had hoped or expected. I realised in the midst of that labour that I had no tools, nothing to actually help me to give birth; I just knew lots of information but no context of how to put these practically into the physical journey of labour and birth. It was also during this labour that I had an overwhelming sense that there was another way to birth but at that moment was too exhausted to continue and didn’t know what it was.
Having been an actress, it was very much like knowing your lines but not being able to act them with feeling. It was all in the head, nothing was sensed in the body.
In all honesty I felt really let down by my antenatal course having done ‘everything right’ but birth didn’t just happen smoothly, easily or like the contraction charts they showed in classes.
Now I know more about birth I can see that it would be impossible to prepare for every eventuality in birth but more fundamentally I still didn’t understand what had happened and why, internally and externally. I was left with physical and emotional trauma and spent early motherhood burdened by feelings of regret, confusion, sadness, guilt and shame.
It was when pregnant the second time and terrified of having to go through birth again (I genuinely didn’t believe I would survive it a second time) that Hypnobirthing came into my world through various friends, a couple who had used it to have healing births. I decided to give it go, having nothing to lose.
When I was learning Hypnobirthing, the dots started to connect for me in terms of what had happened and as well as having information, I had something to do in labour itself and so did my partner. We had a tool. We had no idea how it would work in birth, just that we did it and enjoyed the preparation and listed to ourselves and our instincts rather than just pure expertise and that in itself was empowering.
We were fortunate to have a healing birth and that experience changed me. My acting training had been holistic and Hypnobirthing sat well with my previous understanding of “know your lines so you can forget them” and “let go, let flow”. I knew I needed to find out more and 2 years later trained as a Hypnobirthing teacher.
Being an antenatal teacher comes with its own responsibilities, as we carry the expectations of many first time expectant parents, who were like me in our courses and offerings. I know I feel these keenly particularly as I train as a Birth Trauma resolution Practitioner and see that sometimes the cause of trauma is the great rift between expectation and reality for birthing parents.
Hypnobirthing has a part to play in this too. Recently there was a long discussion thread on The Birth Trauma Association Facebook group from those who had practiced Hypnobirthing and felt that it had contributed to their trauma. As a woman who had previously experienced trauma and someone who now teaches Hypnobirthing this is an uncomfortable place internally.
How do I support expectant parents and share Hypnobirthing which I think has a significant and valid place in improving experiences of births without also potentially encouraging or creating a foundation for birth trauma.
For me the answer has been to follow my own journey, starting at birth trauma and working backwards. What was missing? What would have been useful? What could potentially cause great disappointment?
Also being mindful that birth can be positive and empowering and remembering the utter societal importance that we do discuss it like that as well.
Rather than look at Hypnobirthing as a method of birth which I think sometimes it can be viewed as (babies are only born in 2 ways; vaginally or via caesarean section) I focus on the inner world of the parents and teach it as a tool that they are in control of and can help empower their experience. Trauma is both objective and subjective; difficult births don’t look a certain way and neither do positive ones, it is how they are experienced.
The other key importance is to build resilience and understanding through information and subjective preparation. As individuals, what do we like? What is important to us? How emotionally well do we feel presently? What do we need to support ourselves further? When we mix an emotionally aware preparation with an information based one, we are more readily able to create experiences that feel positive and connected to us, whilst being in the reality of the situation of birth, whatever that might look like.
Sakina Ballard is a Hypnobirthing Teacher, Positive Birth Movement Facilitator and Birth Trauma Resolution Practitioner, working around Croydon and South London www.tranquilbirth.co.uk