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The mother who was terrified of giving birth

Dennis O'Sullivan, a first time dad-to-be from Co Cork, stared at his wife in disbelief and asked the midwives: "Who is this woman who has replaced my wife?"

He could not believe what he was seeing. Barbara was in the throes of a difficult and stressful labour but rather than fall apart, she remained calm and focused.

Dennis was amazed because Barbara has a pathological fear of childbirth.

The condition, known as tokophobia, has become increasingly common and has been recognised by psychologists. It is so serious that some women avoid pregnancy altogether and others opt for planned C-sections because they cannot cope with the stress their fear of birth induces.

Barbara knows exactly how that feels. She remembers clearly the first time she saw two blue lines on a pregnancy test: "We had been trying for a baby and while I was excited to be pregnant, I was also terrified. I have a morbid fear of hospitals, needles and especially giving birth and had firmly decided I wanted a planned C-section."

Barbara found an understanding obstetrician who assured her that if she really could not cope, a scheduled c-section could be arranged.

"I was relieved about the C-section but then I wondered if I could face my fears and go through with the birth."

Barbara researched ways to deal with her tokophobia and discovered hypnobirthing on a UK website.

"I contacted them with a view to travelling over to take some classes but they told me that I could do something similar in Ireland called GentleBirth."

Barbara booked herself and her sceptical husband Dennis into a GentleBirth weekend course.

"There were lots of women on their second and third pregnancies there, telling stories about horrific birth experiences and how they were trying GentleBirth to get a better experience this time," she says.

"As a first time mum-to-be, I was so frightened by their stories that I stood up and asked them to stop, as they were making me feel worse about my impending birth."

Barbara went on a 'fear- release' workshop to help her come to terms with why she was so afraid of giving birth.

She says: "I realised I was afraid because I had learned to be afraid. The media and other women had taught me birth was painful, terrifying and dramatic. Using the techniques I learned through GentleBirth I started to think positively about birth."

'I repeatedly visualised my birth being a positive experience, in the hope this would change my expectations. I listened to CDs, read books and practised techniques designed to get me through the labour and birth calmly. However, I will admit that even though I was trying my best to be positive, there was still a part of me that was frightened."

While Barbara wanted a peaceful and natural birth, things did not go according to plan.

"My blood pressure went up and I was artificially induced into labour; which was not the best start. I spent the night labouring slowly and becoming very tired, so I asked for an epidural.

"Thankfully, the techniques I learned really did work and I remained calm and quiet during all this; my husband fell asleep beside me. The next morning, when the midwife found I had reached 10cm dilated, she asked cheekily whether or not she should wake my husband up!"

Barbara was ready for her baby to be born and was feeling proud for doing so well -- but despite lots of pushing, baby refused to come out.

His heart beat had slowed down so Barbara was urgently prepped for theatre, first to try delivery with forceps and if that failed, an emergency C-section.

She recalls: "I still felt incredibly calm. My husband, however, was a mess. He put his gown on the wrong way and was flabbergasted that I was so relaxed. My obstetrician, who had been very attentive and supportive, said I could try three pushes with the forceps but if that did not work, it would have to be an emergency C-section, for the baby's sake."

With Dennis properly gowned up, Barbara started the almighty pushing to try and get their baby into the world and finally, on the third push, little baby Odhran was born, to an ecstatic set of parents.

Barbara says: "Having such a positive and successful birth was empowering for me and it has changed my life in many ways. I am thrilled to have such a wonderful son and I love being his mother.

"He has been a ray of sunshine in our lives; he is such a happy little guy, and I put some of that down to GentleBirth and because I was so calm during and after the birth. I was able to breastfeed without any problems and I think that has a lot to do with my own confidence, I was relaxed and it all happened easily and naturally."

Barbara reckons it is sad that people focus on the pain of labour because that is such a small part of the experience. "When I decided to look at it as something I could do and enjoy, I stopped feeling scared. Changing my mindset worked out great for me and I look forward to doing it again!"

Tracy Donegan, author of The Better Birth Book, runs GentleBirth and fear-release workshops around the country.

She says: "Fear of birth is a learned behaviour and can be reversed with self-hypnosis programmes such as GentleBirth. Hypnosis can change how women feel about pregnancy and childbirth, easily and effectively.

"Learning relaxation techniques means women can enjoy pregnancy with significantly reduced anxiety levels for both mum and baby.

"Excessive, chronic stress in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight babies and premature labour. Hypnosis is not magic but it definitely feels that way to the women who go from planning a c-section under general anaesthetic, to comfortable enjoyable pregnancies and even blissful births!"

For more information about GentleBirth log onto www.GentleBirth.ie

Irish Independent