I was in the bath and he talked to me, and stroked my arm in time with my breathing. When each contraction started, he moved his fingers up my arm. This is a technique we had practised. As his fingers moved, I imagined a glove taking the pain away – like an anaesthetic. It really relaxed me.


Dr Kerry Woodcock is the first woman in Britain to give birth naturally using a hypnotherapy technique developed in the U.S. She endured a 24-hour labour without pain.

Kerry, from Wigton, Cumbria, opted for a HypnoBirth (a method of controlling pain) and has positive memories of delivering 8lb 12oz daughter Lana Beth at home. She lives with her partner Rupert in London.

Having lived in a Africa for four years I had seen women give birth naturally and was keen for a similar birth myself. I lived in a remote village in Tanzania, working for a forest conservation group and doing research for my PhD, and I remember seeing an old lady coming out of a mud hut with a newborn baby. I hadn’t heard any screaming or shouting beforehand and it made me think perhaps childbirth need not be as painful as people here make out.

When I became pregnant, I didn’t want to use drugs or have an epidural. I couldn’t understand why anything so natural should hurt so much. People have babies all the time and it didn’t make sense.

I met Deborah Henley, a clinical hypnotherapist, and she told me about HypnoBirthing®. Admittedly I was sceptical. I thought hypnotherapy turned people into zombies. But she explained that HypnoBirthing® was a way of preparing the mind and body for childbirth. It didn’t guarantee that the birth would be pain-free, but it would help me manage the pain, and could eliminate it.

This sounded good. I wanted a home birth, and learning how to manage things myself sounded ideal. So just a few months before my baby was due, Rupert and I began HypnoBirthing® sessions with Deborah. You need only four sessions because you fine-tune techniques at home.

In the first session, we went through what HypnoBirthing® is all about and watched a video of other women using the techniques during labour. It was amazing, they were watching television and looked quite serene. You only knew they were having contractions when they closed their eyes. Usually when you see footage of women giving birth they are screaming and shouting. It made me feel confident about the whole thing.

During the next session we started to learn how to do the techniques. Deborah hypnotised me. She told me to talk to my baby about what life with me and Rupert would be like. I did not have to talk out loud, but just have a private conversation with my baby to help me relax. You’re not in any weird state. You feel completely relaxed, but you are aware of what’s going on around you . I would describe it like driving on autopilot – you arrive somewhere, you don’t know how you got there but you’re obviously safe.

Deborah also taught me different breathing techniques to use in between contractions, during contractions and delivery. You use a technique called ‘breathing your baby down’ which is for delivery. You count very quickly to 20 and then breathe out slowly, trying to imagine you’re breathing out of the birth canal.

You are also told to rub olive oil and massage the perineal area around the vagina for about five minutes every day to help avoid tearing during birth.

Deborah prepared me to greet every contraction, because each one means your baby’s closer to being born. So we went through lots of different visualisation techniques to help you cope with them using that approach. For example you can imagine your body as a thermometer and as the mercury rises, it relaxes that part of you. Another popular one is to imagine blue ribbons expanding and then pushing down – this represents the longitudinal muscles of your womb rising enabling the cervix to dilate.

Apparently women all over the U.S., as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, have used these techniques to help them enjoy analgesic-free births.

At the end of the session Deborah gave me relaxation tape and a script for Rupert to use at home. The tape lasts about 20 minutes and goes through the colours of the rainbow. With each one, you focus on a part of your body and relax it. So, for example, you might start imagining a red mist surrounding your hand and make it totally relaxed and then focus on other areas until the whole body is relaxed.

Initially, we used the tape but then Rupert started using the script and talking to me instead. He said encouraging things such as: ‘You can trust yourself’ and ‘The baby is working with you.’ At first we couldn’t stop giggling because it didn’t sound right, and he needed to change his voice. But eventually you find what’s right for both of you.

I told my GP, and the midwives at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, about HypnoBirthing® and they were all supportive about me going ahead. I described the techniques I’d learned and they were fascinated.

During the third session, Deborah hypnotised Rupert and me together. We were both in a relaxed trance which allowed us to explore our feelings and fears about the birth. Rupert fell asleep but I’m sure it still worked for him.

Two weeks before your due date you have your last session. This was a summing up of all we had learned and how we would apply it during labour – a sort of dress rehearsal for the birth. Deborah went through all the techniques again and gave Rupert a summary card reminding him of what to do at various stages. I also went through different birthing positions.

I didn’t start labour until two weeks after my due date. But Deborah said this was fine and to let nature take its course. Then at 2am one day contractions started. I began using some of the techniques Deborah had taught me.

Because I’d practiced them, it felt natural. You don’t use all of them, you tend to pick favourites and rely on them. Mine was a blue balloon. Each contraction lasted one minute and got strongest at the 30-second point before it ebbed away. As the muscles rose, I imagined a blue balloon filling up with air, and at 30 seconds, I imagined it floating away. I used this balloon image constantly because it made me feel in control.

Knowing the techniques really helped – they kept me calm throughout my labour. I knew what to do and what to think. I didn’t have to conjure up ways of keeping myself calm, because I had already prepared. Rupert was there, too, and because he knew what to do, it really helped me. I reckon breaking a leg would have been more painful than having a baby.

There was one defining moment when I knew HypnoBirthing® really worked for me. I was beginning to get tired and I wasn’t dilating very well. It became hard to remain calm and I started to feel a little frightened. I tried some gas and air but that made me feel sick. Then Rupert stepped in. I was in the bath and he talked to me, and stroked my arm in time with my breathing. When each contraction started, he moved his fingers up my arm. This is a technique we had practised. As his fingers moved, I imagined a glove taking the pain away – like an anaesthetic. It really relaxed me.

Twenty four hours after going into labour, I gave birth. For delivery I used the technique ‘breathing the baby down’. I just imagined breathing the baby out. In the end I gave birth in my lounge, squatting down on some duvets and plastic sheeting. I didn’t tear. It just felt so natural, the way it’s meant to happen. When Lana was born I put her straight to my breast and she licked me like a cat. She was perfect. She started feeding the next morning.

Deborah told us that HypnoBirthing® babies tend to have shorter labours and less postnatal problems. Apparently mothers also tend to recover quickly and babies are calmer.

Well, at seven weeks, Lana sleeps well, hardly cries and is calm. I think all the relaxation helped. If you don’t use any chemicals or drugs, then there must be a benefit for the baby.

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