I try not to think about how many years have passed since I gave birth to my four children! Time literally does ﬂy! But since I have become involved with mindfulness I can look back at that time in my life and realise that in effect, I was already practising mindfulness all those years ago and have no doubt as to the positive effect it had on all my pregnancies and labours. Mindfulness helps to develop a sense of being in the ‘present’ and to be ‘non-judgmental’ of the bodily sensations during childbirth, without reacting against them with tension and anxiety and this is exactly how I was.
Since developing the website Mindfulness and mindfulness exercises, I have written many pages relating to mindfulness, but the one I found most enlightening to research, and rewarding to write, was the one about Mindfulness in pregnancy and childbirth. Mindfulness can help enormously in pregnancy and labour by increasing positive emotions, reducing depression and managing pain. Women who practise mindfulness during pregnancy and childbirth generally have more positive and empowering experiences than those who are fearful and ‘resist’ the pain.
I had various normal issues during my pregnancies and childbirth. I had the threat of developing pre-eclampsia with my ﬁrst child, who we subsequently then discovered to be breech halfway through labour, with the obligatory emergency ambulance ride from the local cottage hospital into the main hospital thirty minutes away. We were then rushed back in again by ambulance six days later after a routine check by the midwife showed Alex’s little system to be shutting down due to lack of milk. Inexperience on my part meant that I was unaware he wasn’t sucking properly and therefore not feeding! We then spent the next three weeks in hospital building his weight, and strength, back up again. Throughout all this I found I was able to remain reasonably calm by recognising my fears, accepting how I was feeling and then letting go. I remember my early labour where I walked miles around our dining room table, stopping with every contraction to gaze into this picture I had on the wall of a little boy walking down a wooden walkway leading to a sandy beach and a beautiful blue sea. During contractions I can still remember clearly imagining myself walking down that path next to the little boy and then in my mind standing staring out to sea between contractions. That picture got me through hours of early labour pains and then with all the drama of the ambulance rides and the stay in hospital I felt I could almost detach myself from the worry after feeling my anxiety, but then recognise that my baby was in safe hands…unknown to me, during all this, I was already practising mindfulness.
And yes…I went on to have another child just 19 months later! This one was plain sailing – easy pregnancy, easy delivery and he knew how to feed immediately. I do remember however, on the day of my labour, how I just carried on with my plans – a Mums & Toddlers coffee morning and then a stroll into the shops, all whilst I was feeling pains, (which I assumed were Braxton Hicks contractions as I was 11 days away from my due date). I was aware of them, recognised how I was feeling and then accepted them for what they were – all part of the preparations for the arrival of my second child. I was unknowingly practising mindfulness…and this enabled me to carry on as normal until an hour before Josh was born, when we drove ﬁve minutes to the local hospital.
My third was another easy pregnancy, but an eventful labour! I had elected to have this one at home, which actually turned out to be a very fortunate decision. Again, I had been having pains during the day, but with a 3 yo and a 20 month old I had plenty to keep me occupied and I was at another Mums and Toddlers group in the morning and walked in the park in the afternoon. I noticed the pains, but again I just accepted them as the ‘early’ preparations for my third child – or so I thought! I had made arrangements to visit a friend in the evening and at 18.45 I called her to say I may not make it, as I thought something could be happening….by 19.00 I knew the baby was on the way and called the midwife….she arrived at 19.15 and Olivia arrived at 19.30! I remember so vividly even now standing rocking at my bedroom window, looking out over the park, with children playing etc., being aware of the intense pain of the (by now) almost constant contractions, but also being able to almost stand outside of my body and recognise them for what they were…just steps along the way to my prize. I believe that the labour was so quick and ‘easy’ because I was so relaxed and able to mindfully recognise and understand the way my body was working to deliver our third child – I wasn’t afraid of the pain, as I knew it would pass.
My fourth pregnancy was hindered by developing what was then known as Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), but is now termed as Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP). It was extremely painful and at times made it even difﬁcult to walk – which was not easy with a 5 yo who needed to be walked to school everyday, a 3 yo who went to Nursery three days a week and an 18 month old toddler to chase after! But again, I was unknowingly practising mindfulness by acknowledging how I was I feeling, recognising the pain, but accepting it for what it was – the hormones relaxing my body ready for delivery of my baby.
This was the only one who made me wait past my due date and in fact, teased us with a couple of false labours for a few days, but I serenely accepted this as part of nature’s way of ‘gearing’ me up for my last labour and mindfully recognised my frustration, whilst taking the opportunity to rest as much as possible before it actually happened. Four days after my due date, Imogen made her appearance after six hours of labour pacing around in my bedroom (a home birth had been chosen again), stopping with each contraction to stare out onto the same park I’d been walking in earlier, breathing through the pain, and then mindfully appreciating the brief respite in between. I felt hyper aware that every contraction was just one more wave bringing me closer to shore and could mindfully recognise that as the contractions became stronger and closer together it merely meant that I was getting closer and closer to the arrival of my baby. And when it came to the actual birth I remember thinking so clearly ‘This is how it feels to ‘give’ birth’, as I pictured myself opening up, relaxing and letting her come – acknowledging, but detached from, the pain.
How was I able to do this, when at that stage I had not read or even heard about mindfulness? All I can think is that for some reason I was deeply in touch with my mind and body; I had read many books and attended both the NHS childbirth classes and the local NCT classes; I understood how the body works in childbirth and the stages of labour; and I therefore felt calm and open to the experience, to the extent where I could use my mind to ‘step away’ from the pain and almost feel that I was detached from my body. The mind is an amazing instrument and I am so grateful now to be able to look back and realise that I was truly practising mindfulness nearly thirty years before I learnt about it!
Guest Post Written by: Janette Grant
Mindfulness and mindfulness exercises (http://mindfulness4u.org)