Childbirth: the tense and the relaxed approaches

Can I help? By Penny Sinclair, child psychotherapist
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The Independent Online
Did You read of the case of Miss S, who underwent a Caesarean section in hospital against her will? Since then I've had a bucketload of letters from mums-to-be asking about Birth Plans.

Listen, mums, it's a new, wholly Western idea to be handed a clean, wrapped parcel at the hospital to be unwrapped at home. Believe me, the best way for baby to feel part of home life is to be born at home. At home, dad can utilise his nurturing skills to the full. Personally, I couldn't have managed without my life-partner, Chris, who spent a full eight hours on the phone from Namibia talking me through my breathing exercises while Esme was born.

During that period, he recognised the power and passion of my pain at home - nothing like the demeaning and draining pain of a hospital birth - and even hung up for hours at a time when he recognised that I needed my own space to let my hair down.

Chris: "Is this going on much longer?"

Me: "F- you, Chris... Hello?"

He was equally supportive at the hospital birth of Timon. He attended two ante-natal sessions and our health visitor even asked him to stay on for extra relaxation practice. During the actual labour he lay on the floor beside the birthing pool flexing and unflexing his muscles to relieve his tension.

The manner of birth is a crucial factor in the development of a child's character. What baby sees when she first emerges may affect her for the rest of her life. When Timon has his spells of biting people, I remember his first views of those vicious fang-like medical implements. I often wonder if Esme's first sight of the smooth black telephone receiver is behind her passion for thick curving liquorice sticks.

I was privileged to be asked to be a birth partner for my single-mum friend Carol last Thursday. However, I was a bit disheartened when I visited her at home to find she had a cupboard full of maternity wear.

"The tense, as opposed to the relaxed, approach to childbirth begins with pregnancy...." I began. She interrupted: "I think my contractions have started." "Mums should never feel they need more than a piece of elastic to extend trousers and bras," I went on. "I think they are coming every four minutes," she said.

I was even more disheartened when I explored baby's room. I found it complete with over-elaborate play centres and two cots.

"While baby certainly likes a programme of activities, she can enjoy making toys with beans and beads in tubes..." I said.

"I think my waters have burst," she gasped.

"...and she certainly doesn't need cots when she can sleep in a drawer or a shoe-box."

At times like these, one wants to help. I took down the brightly coloured plastic mobile and put up a piece of string from which I hung pieces of brightly coloured cloth and leaves. Carol looked a little anxious and confused - sorry, mums, I know professional help can often be hard to take.

Carol became quite violent when I suggested changing her highly technological Birth Plan to a home delivery or a birth pool. I finally agreed to drive her to hospital but only after picking up games and music from my home: it's very important to distract mums-to-be in the early stages of labour.

We went straight to the Central Delivery Suite where we tried Monopoly and draughts, but Carol kept throwing the pieces off the bed. I'm afraid a bout of consumerism followed by a hospital delivery is not conducive to a relaxed birth experience. I was careful to praise her during the contractions.

"Despite not having a home birth you are doing brilliantly, Carol, even though you'd be so much more relaxed at home."

As a professional in childcare, I was happily able to offer the midwives some tips. I'm sure the sound of intelligent argument was helpful to Carol, as she advanced rapidly into the last stages of labour and was soon trying to suppress verbal expression. Do feel free to yell, mums, it can ease the tension wonderfully and even help the pain. "Yell, Carol!" I said urgently. "Let it all out!"

Her words, when she did eventually manage to get them out, were immensely gratifying as they demonstrated her confidence in coping alone. "GET OUT!" she screamed. She kicked the mirror which I was holding - so that she could see the birth - clean out of my hands, and it smashed on the floor. I viewed this positively as I was able to collect the shards and create a crystal-ball symbol of Carol's birth experience. I'm presenting it as a centre piece for baby's mobile as soon as Carol's mum feels strong enough in herself to answer the door, bless her.