(Picture drawn by my husband Alex Ogg in my last week of pregnancy)
Last July I ventured to Bangor University in the furthest corner of Wales to attend a workshop run by pioneering midwife Nancy Bardacke. Nancy is the author of Mindful Birthing and devised the 9 week Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting course (MBCP) which teaches parents-to-be how to use mindfulness as a resource in pregnancy and childbirth.
Virtually all of the 30 or so attendees were midwives, health professionals or meditation teachers – I was one of only two pregnant mothers there.
Nancy took us through a practical workshop. We spent the day meditating and doing the same exercises as parents on the 9-week course. Bardacke guided us through the “raisin” meditation, where we examined the experience of eating a raisin.
The most striking exercise was working with ice. We had to hold ice for certain periods of time, and try different strategies to tolerate the pain. The idea is that mothers can work with pain and experiment with ways that might help them cope with the pain of labour. It was very easy to see how thoughts such as “I can’t do this!” “This hurts so much!” “When is she going to ring the bell?” amplified our experience of suffering. Instead, directing the attention on the breath, or on visualisation, or focussing on the comforting touch of a partner helped to make the pain more tolerable.
I went to the workshop having already experienced too very positive births, and also with a well established meditation practice. I was curious to see whether Nancy could teach me anything new. One of the most important messages that I took home from the theoretical side of the workshop was that in between contractions, labour is completely pain-free.
This turned out to be an extremely useful message during my labour with my third child four months later. As with my elder children, I had planned a home birth, but in contrast to them, this time I laboured during the day. Between contractions I noticed that I felt completely normal. I took the luxury of going for a walk by myself in the local park during early labour, then as labour progressed I retreated to my bedroom with my husband Alex, lazed on my bed and discussed babies names. As I was going into transition, I even suggested that we put a film on.
This all meant that labour progressed extremely smoothly. So smoothly in fact, that we didn’t ring the midwives until I was a bit further along than I should have been. I asked Alex to take a last photo of my bump, but when I stood up for the shot, a strong contraction came on, so I stood still to allow it to run its course. Alex took the photo anyway. Looking back at the time on the photo, I see that it was taken just one hour and twenty minutes before the birth of my baby. I was in very advanced labour – but the picture reflects the fact I felt very relaxed.
Not long after the picture we heard grandma leave the house with the older children and my lodger also went out. I felt ready to go down to the birth pool that was waiting for me in the kitchen, and my baby was born forty minutes later – exactly one minute after the arrival of the midwife.
My lodger later told us – “i only popped out to the supermarket in town, and when I came back there was a baby!”
So, thanks Nancy, for a really useful workshop in Bangor. I heartily recommend parents-to-be to attend an MBCP ante-natal course if you can. Or if you can’t get to a class, you can read Nancy’s book Mindful Birthing