Before women are pregnant, many will consider taking the soft option and have a caesarean section. When they become pregnant and their hormones do somersaults. They read some more about caesarean and realize that maybe they aren’t the easy option they’d thought, either for themselves or their babies, and it dawns on them that this could be a painful experience.
The other thing that happens when you’re pregnant is that people immediately feel entitled to express an opinion and give you advice. You are inundated with horror stories about other people’s experiences in labour; and somewhere along the line somebody mentions Childbirth Hypnotherapy or Hypnobirthing and how you can have a natural pain free birth. So you go home and Google it… This is how it all began.
At the beginning of the last century there was a young obstetrician, Grantly Dick-Reed working at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. This was the area of the docks, which was the poorest slum area of London, at a time when only wealthy people who could afford to pay could go to hospital.
One night, Dick-Reed was called out to attend a home delivery; It was in such a poor dwelling that there was water dripping through the roof and no money for a bed or blankets. When he got there, he offered the woman chloroform for pain relief, but she waved him away. Much to his credit he stood back and watched as she gave birth naturally and easily with no drugs and no pain. He asked her why she had refused pain relief, as this was completely outside his experience, and she simply said to him: “It didn’t hurt”. It wasn’t meant to, was it, Doctor? This simply statement stuck in his head like a mantra.
Back at the hospital that evening, he was met by a nurse who said: “It’s been a very boring evening, but it looks as if there’s a woman down the corridor who’ll need help soon, and he was really struck by the contrast between the beautiful, natural delivery he had just attended, and the fact that in the hospital it was considered boring unless there was an intervention.
Dick-Reed had seen many women having painful births which contrasted so strongly with the natural delivery he had just attended, and he puzzled why it should be so. Eventually he came up with the theory that the root of the problem was fear. Because of fear, the muscles tense up, and the natural process of birth is inhibited, so it becomes less efficient, longer and, therefore painful.
At the end of his career he wrote a seminal book on natural birth, ‘Childbirth Without Fear’, and the principals he propounded still hold good today. The research into how the hormones work in pregnancy was not done until after he had finished his career but, in due course, his theory was fully vindicated.
Since Dick-Reed’s time, the principles have been developed further, most notably by Hypno birthing, the leading method of childbirth education today, which will no doubt be developed further over the years ahead.