A different way of delivering a baby

YOU don’t have to look too hard to find a woman with a horror story to tell about childbirth.

Jackie Heffer-Cooke is one of those women but she also knows that having a baby can be altogether different, less fearful and more empowering.

After the birth of her daughter, Megan, when very little was as Jackie had hoped, she took a hypnobirthing course that not only radically altered her experience of giving birth the second time around but also completely changed her life.

Jackie gave up her high-powered career as a television executive to become a hypnobirthing evangelist and teach the technique to other mums-to-be.

Prior to Megan’s birth Jackie was working 60-hour weeks as head of daytime and lifestyle at a local TV company, starting her maternity leave just four weeks before her due date.

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“My husband James and I had just completed the NHS ante-natal classes,” she says. “The main message I took away with me was which labour drugs I should take and when. At the end of the final session I asked the training midwife if there would be anything at all to look forward to when giving birth. I guess not. Sure enough, apart from meeting my darling daughter for the very first time, there wasn’t.

“I left work on the Friday and my waters broke at 5am the following Tuesday, which was a bit of a surprise. I had set aside that four weeks to do some research on childbirth and to concentrate on labour. Because I am someone who likes to be in control I like to be educated about things so I know something about what to expect. Then Megan came early and it was quite a shock to me.”

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Megan was in a breach position, which meant that at the hospital Jackie was told to sit on a bed and connected to all sorts of monitoring equipment.

“I felt out of control,” she says. “As the labour progressed I was still on the bed and not aware that I could get off and help myself in any way. I have never been so scared.”

Megan was eventually born by Caesarean and despite the fact that Jackie thought her baby was “wonderful” she came away from the experience feeling disappointed and cross that she had allowed herself to be in such a “vulnerable” position.

“I couldn’t quite get my head around the whole experience,” says Jackie. “Does childbirth have to be this way, I asked myself. How crazy that this seems to be the story for a lot of women in the UK.”

Some time later, when Jackie had returned to work part time, she started working on a programme about complementary health that featured hypnobirthing.

“I just became more and more interested and reminded of my own experience during labour,” she says. “I know I had worked myself into a great deal of stress which was something quite uncontrollable for me and caused me anxiety and pain that I don’t think was necessary.

“So sitting on my own, in front of the computer, my research took me to www.hypnobirthing.co.uk and somehow I ended up driving to Northampton to spend four days on a hypnobirthing practitioner course. The course changed my life. I came back evangelising. Already I realised the simple techniques I had learned on the course would have been hugely effective in my case with Megan.

“There is education about what your body is doing in labour and that makes it much more easy to deal with. It’s about allowing yourself to breathe and relax, to take yourself into a place where you are calm, centred and perfectly in control. Passing through your critical mind into the subconscious mind, which is calm, without ‘expectation’ and open to suggestion. In this case the suggestion is that ‘birthing is natural and easy’.”

Jackie says that apart from the benefits hypnobirthing brings in labour it also offers a valuable focus on the needs of pregnant women at a time when the NHS is perhaps too hard-pressed to give them any extra “me time”.

There is currently intense debate about midwifery services nationally. Already this year Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, has said that pressures caused by a historically high birth rate, increasingly complex pregnancies and births and staff shortages have left midwifery services at the edge of their capacity to cope.

It is against this background that an NHS trial of hypnobirthing is being carried out at two hospitals in the north of England. In what is believed to be one of the largest studies of medical hypnosis, 800 first-time mothers aged between 18 and 40 will be monitored to see if women can give birth at lower cost to the NHS and with less supervision if they are ‘hypnotised’ not to feel pain. First results from the study – being run at hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn, will be available in a year’s time.

Critics of the trial have expressed concerns that it is a way of saving money in an already pressurised area of health care but supporters say the benefits of hypnobirthing speak for themselves.

“Personally the best hypnobirthing convincer for me was the amount of midwives taking the course I took who had witnessed hypnobirthing mums, seen it actually work and had come to find out more,”says Jackie.

By the time Jackie was pregnant with her son, Sam, she was teaching hypnobirthing to other mums-to-be.

“I felt – and I still feel – strongly that I don’t want women to be in situation I found myself the first time round with Megan,” she says.

When she went into labour with Sam, Jackie was able to employ the hypnobirthing breathing and relaxation techniques, staying at home until her contractions got closer together and the birth became more imminent.

“Because of the hypnobirthing you are able to focus inwards and concentrate on using your breathing techniques. There was no screaming and shouting. I had my birthing ball and I was totally hypnobirthing,” she says.

Quite late into her labour Jackie started to lose a lot of blood and needed an emergency Caesarean. But she says that was OK. She was never hoping for a perfect birth, just a better birth, which she feels she achieved.

“I had successfully laboured and had a wonderful hypnobirth. It was a completely different experience from the first time around. I am not in any way anti-intervention. I am only anti-intervention if you don’t know any better,” she says. “The hypnobirthing course is based on understanding labour. I was able to keep myself calm the second time around. The first time I was five or six hours on a bed because I did not know I could get off.”

Jackie teaches hypnobirthing in a course that runs over five weeks, with a two-and-a-half hour session each week.

“The first session is very much about teaching them what hypnobirthing is,” she says. “It is making sure your natural pain killer (endorphin) flows through your body. You have to understand how stress works. If there is a perceived threat the body will respond with fight or flight. Your heart rate shoots up and a whole raft of things happen in your body to put you in survival mode. The whole point of hypnobirthing is learning how to cope with that stress.

“Hypnobirthing is nothing to do with stage hypnotism. It is to do with being in control of your own state of mind. It works on the idea of conditioning: if you tell yourself something over and over again, you will believe it. With hypnobirthing you tell yourself over and over again that it will be fine and to listen to your body. You are calming your mind and this lets the body work more efficiently.”

n At the moment most of Jackie’s courses take place in Norwich, although she does work with individual clients in Suffolk and is hoping to set up a course at the Complementary Medicine Centre in Eye. To find out more visit www.norwichhypnobirthing.com, www.becalmrelaxation.com or www.norwichbabyyoga.com, call Jackie on 0845 396 1527 or write to her at info@jackieheffercooke.com

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