When Kirsty Wick began her training as a paediatric nurse, her first experience on a labour ward was to remain carved in her memory as a determining event in her life. She attended the birth of a couple delivering their fourth child. She fondly remembers how calm and strong the mother was, and how beautifully she laboured, trusting in the physiological process and beaming with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what to do. “I felt I’d had the privilege to witness a beautiful and calm natural birth, birth at its best. It was an amazing, unforgettable experience!” she recalls, despite the hospital environment being far from a relaxing and reassuring place to have a baby. She subsequently attended many other births, not always in hospital. “I once helped a woman who had delivered her baby on a bus. It was a powerful experience which really made me appreciate what an exquisite natural physiological process birth really is.”
Whilst it is important to keep in mind that appropriate medical interventions can play a life-saving role, most of the time a woman can deliver her baby safely and naturally, following a sequence of fascinating physiological changes which have been perfectly designed by nature. When a woman goes into labour, the brain’s limbic system produces a wonderful blend of hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins, that protect her and her baby and safeguard their well-being. The birthing hormones act in harmony to cause the uterus to contract up, which causes the cervix to soften and open. However, Kirsty explains that the hormonal activity during labour not only causes physiological changes but psychological ones too. “Ideally, if a woman feels calm and secure, the changes will occur smoothly and she will naturally go into an altered state of consciousness, an extremely intuitive state, during which she will be the best placed person to know what is happening within her body and with her baby. If she has the confidence to trust her feelings as the labour progresses, she will instinctively know what to do.”
Sadly, in reality few women feel ‘confident’ about childbirth. Whereas, for our ancestors birth was very much woven into the fabric of their everyday life, nowadays we relate to it as something completely alien. Our ultra-modern, technologically sophisticated society has made us increasingly risk averse and divorced from our instincts and the natural processes within our own bodies. Furthermore, misconceptions and horror stories tend to dominate our perspective of childbirth. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that pregnant women are left feeling disempowered, fearful and reliant on medical interventions to give birth. Finally, in addition to our fear-driven cultural climate, the typically stressful hospital environment is a far cry from the reassuring place a woman needs to birth safely and calmly. Surrounded with unfamiliar people, bright lights, clinical protocols and technology, a healthy woman in labour can easily feel tense and anxious, and we know well that rising anxiety levels can cause the body’s natural functions to shut down and her labour to freeze for hours, days or more.
Kirsty had initially thought of qualifying as a midwife, but as time went by her experience as a paediatric nurse left her feeling increasingly aware of the limitations of modern medicine, especially as regards a woman’s emotional health and wellbeing during pregnancy and labour. Kirsty explains that it is crucial for an expectant mother to prepare for labour not just physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. “The limbic system, which plays such a crucial role in the physiological process of childbirth, is also the emotional seat of the brain. It has a great deal to do with the formation of memories, as it records all our experiences and stores them for future survival. It is responsible for our sense of instinct, which is heightened during labour for the safety and wellbeing of the mother and baby. A woman’s altered state and increased intuitive awareness during labour will also be inherently linked to her emotional self, making her not only particularly permeable and vulnerable to impressions from her immediate environment, but also to events from her past. Thus difficult emotions re-emerging up from the past can sometimes negatively affect labour.”
Seeking a bridge between her nursing background and a more holistic approach, Kirsty eventually left nursing to explore complementary therapies and to integrate her knowledge with an understanding of the psyche. “I became very interested in the unconscious and how it affects our lives, and more particularly in how it impacts pregnancy and childbirth.” She subsequently trained in Analytical Hypnosis Therapy and has since developed a rich and multifaceted course to help expectant mothers and their partners prepare for the birth of their child.
Her course is significantly different to other forms of group “hypnobirthing” classes available, as it aims to prepare couples on a one-to-one basis. Kirsty highlights to importance of individualising the course: “Group sessions do not consider the person’s specific background, and past events and fears that could arise during birth. In my experience, the more you personalise the course, the more effective it becomes.” She usually works with couples, but the birth partner can also be a sister, a mother, or a close friend of the pregnant woman. Her course includes a thorough study of the physiology of birth – which alone can allay many fears – and self-hypnosis, visualisation, relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as massage and aromatherapy treatments. To help women prepare emotionally and psychologically, Kirsty also offers analytical hypnotherapy sessions: “The aim of the hypnotherapy sessions is to access the limbic system and to work through unresolved past experiences or trauma which could re-emerge during childbirth and make the labour difficult.”
Kirsty’s approach to helping expectant mothers is also different to some other courses in that she aims to empower her clients to have the confidence to reclaim ownership of their pregnancy and birth experience. “Driven by fear some people are left with the impression that the best way to prepare for birth is to hand over everything, and all the power, to the medical experts and to external things such as a hypnosis CD.” Ultimately, she believes that it is by integrating her new understanding of childbirth and by acknowledging her past experiences and emotions, that a pregnant mother can be empower herself with confidence.
Pregnant women wishing to attend a course with Kirsty should aim to start it about 24 weeks into the pregnancy and ideally to have completed it before 36 weeks, although attending the course after this time will mean the woman has less opportunity to practice the techniques she will still reap the benefits of it. The course can be organised as a one-day programme, or divided into 5 separate one hour sessions. Additional analytical hypnotherapy sessions can be added for people with negative past experiences or unresolved issues that could create anxiety during the birth.
For women past their due date, hypnotherapy can be a powerful and natural solution. Mind-and-body work is also very powerful to help with breach babies, as it strengthens the bonding between mother and baby, and can reduce any anxiety possibly causing the baby to stay closer to the mother’s heart. Finally, hypnotherapy is very helpful for post-natal anxiety and to help with breastfeeding.
Produced by Nadia Sajadi-Rosen on behalf of The Practice Rooms – April, 2016
About Kirsty Wick:
She is passionate about working with women and their birth partners to enable them to experience the joy of a calm, safe and gentle birth. Combining her medical background with a holistic approach led her to create Birthgently. She feels privileged to have worked with many women and couples with their unique birth journeys from pregnancy to birth and beyond.
Kirsty provides private hypnobirthing courses and classes, one to one hypnotherapy for pregnancy and postnatal issues (breech presentation, natural induction of labour, anxiety, breast feeding support). She also provides pregnancy and postnatal aromatherapy massage. In 2015 Kirsty joined Jacquelyne Morison Hypnotherapy Training as principle tutor teaching the ‘Birthgently’ approach to qualified hypnotherapists.
Kirsty works at The Practice Rooms in Salisbury, The Space in Shaftesbury and Not Just Backs in Tisbury.
Perspectives, Spring 2016 – Links to other articles in this issue
An interview with the art psychotherapist Cyndy Walker on the nature and the advantages of art therapy.
An exploration of the history and the practice of ‘Body Mapping’ with the psychotherapist Annette Schwalbe.
Dawn McHale discusses the benefits of creative writing both as a technique for self-development and as a means of complementing therapy.
The healer and shamanic practitioner Hannah Pearson explores the links between wellbeing and self-development.
Morwenna Lewis has chosen a poem for this issue of Perspectives and explains its special significance to her.
‘Reflexology for Fertility: A Comprehensive Practitioner’s Guide to Natural and Assisted Conception’. Written by Barbara Scott; diagrams by Harriet Combes.
Treatment swaps are valuable both as a means of discovering different types of therapies and of supporting one another’s practice and wellbeing. This column relates some of our practitioners’ experiences.