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Childbirth Without Pain: Alexia Leachman

childbirth

Childbirth is the passageway from maiden to mother; a natural process women have experienced since the beginning of time. So, at what point did we become fearful of what the body intrinsically knows what to do? If a woman in a coma can give birth, does this not indicate our body has it sussed?

Mama, childbirth educator and activist Alexia Leachman says yes—we just have to remove our preconceived ideas and fears to allow the body to do what it was made to do.

Yet, it was a journey through her own fears to finally understand—and experience—two pain-free births, the latter which she describes as “euphoric”.

The coach and author has since made it her life’s work to help women to break through their childbirth fears and become empowered through conception, pregnancy and labour.

childbirthHow did your journey with undoing fear of childbirth begin?

My journey began when I accidentally fell pregnant and I immediately felt engulfed by an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. It took me a few weeks to get to grips with my pregnancy and start feeling positively about it. But soon after then we found that we had lost the baby. The news really hit me hard. I was gutted because by that time I had got used to the idea of being pregnant and was looking forward to being a mum.

But a tiny part of me was also relieved, and that bit scared me because it made no sense. How could I be relieved? After some digging, I realised that it was because I didn’t have to go through with the birth. That’s when I realised I had a boatload of fear around birth and pregnancy.

By the time I fell pregnant again, I had done a lot of inner work on the things in my life that were creating my anxiety and stress, this meant that I was in a better place to deal with my fears.

During my first trimester I was very open about my fears and it was while on one of my therapy training courses that I learned about the link between pain in birth and fear (fear creates pain in childbirth). I realised that my biggest fear when it came to birth was around the pain and that led me to have an epiphany; if I cleared my fear then I would reduce the likelihood of experiencing pain during labour.

It was this realisation that kick-started my fear-clearance journey that would take up most of my second trimester. I started that pregnancy wanting a c-section, believing that to be the only way for me to get through the birth.

By the time I reached my third trimester I had successfully cleared my fears and was free of my tokophobia. I decided to change my birth plan to home birth and went on to have an incredible pain-free birth. It was a hugely defining moment for me in so many ways.

At what point in history do you think women started to see childbirth as painful, rather than a natural process?

I’m not sure it’s a case of either or. Yes it is a natural process and yes it can also be a painful experience. But that doesn’t mean that either of those are what women experience.

The trend towards birthing in hospitals and medical environments has meant birth has become less natural over the last century. To be clear, when I use the word natural, I mean simply allowing labour and birth to unfold at its own pace with no intervention— this is very difficult in a medical environment where you are surrounded by people who like to fix things and work from the premise that there is illness, disease or a health issue present that needs attention.

In the most part, pregnancy is none of those things. The minute we give a woman an induction like a sweep, we are starting to veer away from the natural-ness of the process. This can trigger what is known as the cascade of interventions which is a slippery medicalised slope which may ultimately lead to an emergency c-section.

The minute we give a woman an induction like a sweep, we are starting to veer away from the natural-ness of the process.

In the last few decades I think we have lost sight of women’s ability to birth their babies and have brought medical intervention in where it’s not always required. I’m not arguing against medical intervention when there’s a medical need, but being overdue is not a medical need. Nor is a big baby, or a mother who is slightly older. And yet women who experience any of these are routinely offered an induction where it’s simply not required.

It’s this medical intervention that contributes to the pain experienced in birth. Our hormones support us during the birthing process and we produce our very own powerful pain relief during labour. But, once we accept medical intervention we switch off the supply of our woman-made pain relief, and unfortunately, man-made pain-relief isn’t as effective.

Do you believe a lot of the “pain” in some labours comes from being in flight or fright mode?

Absolutely. As I mentioned before, in the context of birth, fear creates pain. Pain is an interesting thing and the most interesting thing for me, and for many researchers actually, is that it’s a mind thing.

What I might experience as pain, isn’t necessarily painful for you. But there are two factors that increase our experience of pain: our anticipation of it and our fear of it. So in the context of birth, this means that if we imagine that birth is going to be painful— possibly the most painful thing that a human being may ever experience— then, not only are we going to anticipate it, but we are probably going to fear it too.

Add to that another process we are aware of in birth: the fear tension pain (FTP) cycle, and it’s not hard to see how our experience of pain can be avoided. The FTP cycle says that when a woman experiences fear, she becomes tense, and as she does her muscles contract, which trigger pain.

When you combine the psychology of pain with the with the fear tension pain cycle it’s easy to understand how the fright or flight mode is responsible for much of the pain that is experienced by women. But importantly, once we know this, we also know that the pain can be avoided. That was my theory anyhow and when I tested it, it proved to be right for both of my births.

You actively petition UK television to remove portrayal of painful childbirth. What response have you been getting?

I’ve petitioned for a more balanced portrayal of birth in the media. For me this isn’t about airbrushing it and only showing the positive, but about showing the whole range of how birth can be, including the positive. At the moment, we are only seeing the negative painful scary version that tends to be the medicalised version. That is not balanced or an accurate portrayal.

Women need to understand that birth can be many other things, including pleasurable and that they have the power and ability to work towards that outcome if they so choose.

The response to my petition has been phenomenal. At the time it received a lot of attention in the press who predictably got the wrong end of the stick. But this enabled the message at the core of my petition to travel far and wide.

Women need to understand that birth can be many other things, including pleasurable and that they have the power and ability to work towards that outcome if they so choose.

Women who had not known that birth could be any of other way than scary, were getting in touch with me from all over the world to thank me for helping them to change their perspective on birth. I’ve had so many women contact me sharing their amazing birth stories that wouldn’t have been positive if they had not changed their mindset around birth. I never realised my petition would have such an impact.

childbirthWhat would you like to see mums teach their daughters about childbirth?

I’d love it if women could tell their daughters that childbirth could be the most incredible magical experience of their lives. Even though that is not every woman’s experience, for a daughter to grow up knowing that it is a possibility would make such a difference to her own eventual experience of giving birth.

There is no need for women to pass on to their daughters the negative experience they may have had; is that what they want to wish onto their daughters? Women who grow up believing that birth is a nightmare of pain and trauma, grow up to fear birth and are more likely to repeat their mother’s experience.

The best gift a mother could give her daughter is the confidence that she can birth her baby confidently.

How can a woman, who perhaps has a fear of what’s to come, experience a relaxed, pain-free birth?

An important first step is to get savvy on birth. Learn about it, and how the body changes and is designed for birth. Listen to positive birth stories to build confidence in the birthing body and women’s ability to do it.

Through my work, I’ve found women’s fears are in one of two categories: fear of the unknown and deep-rooted fears. Fears of the unknown will fall away once a woman educates herself. If she’s still fearful after learning about birth, then she needs to do some fear-clearance.

This might be done with a therapist, or through something like my online programme, the Fearless Birthing Academy, where I teach women to clear their pregnancy and birthing fears themselves.

How much does the setting (i.e. hospital, birth centre, home) contribute to how a woman feels during the birth process?

It’s crucial. But the most important thing about the setting is how a woman FEELS about the setting.

If a woman feels relaxed and safe in hospital then this is a good place for her to give birth. But if a hospital scares her, then it won’t be a good place for her to give birth. The best place for a woman to give birth is where she feels the most safe, secure and relaxed.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I have lots of things to help women who want to clear their fears, whether it’s support through my Facebook community to meditations and online programs to help them clear their fears and prepare for their fearless birth. Visit www.fearfreechildbirth.com for more.

Also my book Fearless Birthing is out soon!

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