Hypnobirthing in Dubai: Jessica Smith’s real and raw experience
As published on Mother, baby and Child by Nicola Monteath
Hypnobirthing is not simply about natural water births, it’s about being informed to make choices that you are comfortable with, says paralympian, author and speaker, Jessica Smith.
A year ago, my family and I landed in Dubai ready for a new adventure and excited about starting our new life here as expats. My husband and I have two young children aged 4 and 2, and we had always discussed trying for another, but upon arriving in Dubai we decided to give ourselves at least a year to settle in and then revisit the idea. Three months later, I found myself taking a pregnancy test, which was positive.
Amidst all the excitement I had so many questions ranging from where to find an obstetrician to insurance issues as well as cultural practices at different hospitals. To be honest, it was quite daunting, and I did contemplate returning home to Australia to give birth. However, that simply wasn’t a practical option. What unfolded, was by far the most empowering and supportive process, right throughout my entire pregnancy journey.
Never did I think that giving birth in a foreign country would in fact be the best birthing experience I would encounter.
I struggled with Hyperemesis (HG) throughout all three of pregnancies and I can only describe that experience as traumatic, and therefore I knew this third pregnancy would be my last. My OB was Dr Christian Jozsa from Healthbay Clinic. From day one I felt very relaxed in his presence. He was supportive of my wishes to have a natural water-birth delivery, encouraged it and at each visit, explained how beautiful the experience would be. This was a pleasant surprise for me as I made the assumption that water-birth delivery would surely be uncommon here.
Since becoming a mother for the first time four years ago, I am in total awe of the female body and the power we exert during pregnancy and delivery. I have a newfound respect for myself and all women. After having my daughter, I became obsessed with birth stories and imagery of such intimate raw moments that represent the incredible strength and vulnerability that women are able to express at the same time. After two relatively easy births, I decided that my birth plan the third time around would involve as little intervention as possible. I had heard about hypnobirthing and wanted to explore this as an option of dealing with the pain and fear I still had from hearing so many traumatic (and very unhelpful) birth stories that are often told to expecting mums. I wanted to feel empowered during delivery, but I knew this would take a lot of inner strength. I wanted to work at retraining my brain to welcome the pain and enable my body to use the pain with the mindset that with each level of pain intensity, I was closer to meeting my baby.I like to think my pain threshold is quite hold, in fact all my years as an athlete I actually enjoyed training in different states of physical pain, because I was able to identify pain as a necessary part of achieving my end goal. I applied a similar mindset to birth; each surge and each level of intensity was necessary and that helped me to mentally process everything.
Hypnobirthing is not simply about natural water births, it’s about being informed to make choices that you are comfortable with. It’s about learning skills and techniques and is ideal for any woman who is pregnant, whether you are planning to have an elective c-section or if in fact you do want an intervention free birth like I did. Even though I wanted a water birth, I also knew that on the day anything could happen. Hypnobirthing was such a valuable tool as it helped me feel prepared for whatever scenario I might find myself in. Sometimes things can go wrong, but sometimes it’s not about having to alter your plans for medical reasons, but instead unforeseen circumstances such as the environment not being what you had hoped for, the birthing pool not being available, staff shortages, or your OB not making it to the delivery (mine didn’t!).
I attended hypnobirthing classes run by Ana Piera from The Dancing Birth (@thedancingbirth) and it was so informative, so gentle and calm – the whole experience made me feel confident and excited about giving birth. Ana Piera is a certified doula, childbirth & hypnobirthing instructor, certified breastfeeding counselor and the mother of three young boys. She offered to be my doula, (a non-medical support person who assists the mother and couple during the birth by offering emotional and physical support as well as information) and at first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted someone else in the room with me. However, I felt so comfortable in her classes, formed a true connection, and loved the way she approached birth judgment free. It was the best decision I could have made! She added a calm presence when things were getting tough, was soft and gentle, helping me and my husband to stay focused. As I slipped in and out of my own zone to deal with the pain, she calmly held me or put pressure on areas to help alleviate the surges. There were moments when I was really struggling with the surges of pain, my husband was a wonderful support, but when he could see that I was losing focus he started to get stressed, and it was at that moment that Ana stepped in and brought me back into the moment. I will be forever grateful for her support.
I went full term with both my previous pregnancies, 40 weeks and 39 weeks, however I was certain (and somewhat hopeful) that baby number three would come early. So, at week 37 I was ready. By week 38 I was irritable and tired and by week 39, even more. By week 40 I was over it. I tried everything to naturally bring on labour, eating a pineapple a day, walking, bouncing on the swiss ball, yoga, eating spicy food and even watching stand-up comedy – you name it!
But of course, I had to remind myself that there are in fact two people involved in birth, the mother and then the most important person, your baby. And it is the baby who will ultimately decide when they are ready to be welcomed into the world. I had to go back to practicing patience and gratitude, then four days after my official due date, while doing the regular school run, I started to feel contractions. I waited a couple of hours to make sure the contractions were regular, then I called my husband who works in Abu Dhabi, knowing he could need to leave immediately.
As the day went on, I knew it was happening, and was determined to spend as much time as I could with my other two young children before their lives drastically changed. With contractions in full swing I still managed to do the school pick up. Once we were home, I just sat and played with the kids waiting for my husband to arrive. Thankfully my mum and brother were visiting from Australia and took the kids out for the evening so that I could relax and have some quiet time at home with my husband before heading to the hospital. I sat on my swiss ball watching more stand up comedy to help the oxytocin flow. By 8pm it was time to head to the hospital. I chose Al Zahra Hospital to give birth, as it was well set up for water-births. Even though there is only one birthing pool, all other rooms are equipped with inflatable pools for women who wish to labour in the water.
The doctor on duty advised that I was approximately 5cm dilated and to expect another four to six hours of labour. I looked at my doula and husband and shook my head, I knew it wouldn’t take that long. I was right. The surges began to intensify almost immediately after I saw the doctor.
I was managing really well with various breathing techniques and standing as I felt that relieved a lot of the pressure as the baby was beginning to transition. The room was calm and quiet, but I took myself into the bathroom for a moment just to myself. It was as if I knew the baby was ready. I slowly got into the bath and straight away felt a sense of calmness, but at the same time I felt the most extraordinary surge of pain. It was time.
With the incredible support of my husband and doula, I was able to really be in tune with my body. No one told me when to push, but rather I was able to trust my body and allow it to do what came naturally. So, with no forceful pushing, I was able to feel my baby makes it way down and out. It was and will always be one of the most incredible memories for me to cherish. I was able to catch my beautiful newborn son and bring him to my chest immediately.
What makes this experience even more special, is that it was captured through images and video by the incredibly talented Julie from ‘Hello Petit Bebe’ (hellopetitbebe.com). I only wish she could have been at the births of my other two children. I now have photos and video footage that I can look back on for the rest of time.
At 10.35pm on November 25th, Idris James was born into the water, and it was the best experience of my life. My stay in hospital was also lovely, the staff were accommodating but not forceful. They respected my wishes to visit us when we were awake and not to bother either myself or my new baby if we were sleeping. I even received a complimentary head and neck massage the day after delivery. Overall, the experience here in Dubai was wonderful. I am beyond delighted that I got the birth I had dreamed of.
I will be forever grateful to everyone who formed part of my support team, my husband, my doula Ana, the midwives and my doctor (even though he wasn’t at the birth) and my birth photographer.