SM Chats to Maggie Howell

When Maggie Howell got in touch with us we whooped for joy. Amongst our team – despite the fact that I don’t think any of our children came out ‘to plan’ as it were – we all loved her book and cds on Natal Hypnotherapy and generally regard her as a bit of a guru.

Maggie’s methods have aided a staggering 100,000 births and she has a network of practitioners who run workshops and classes. Her books and cds rank in the top selling on Amazon.

The anecdotes of her devotees (and Maggie herself, when she talks of the birth of her five sons) describe a warm, calm, primal, gentle birth – without any screaming, tearing or distress to the baby. (I hope Maggie won’t take offence but the image that springs to mind is that lovely scene in Julia Donaldson’s book ‘Tabby McTat’ where the cat calmly produces kittens under the bed..!)

So we obviously had lots of questions for Maggie – who, interestingly didn’t come from a background in midwifery but in fact was an international sales executive – and you can read her words of wisdom below:

What do you think about the ‘too posh to push’ culture of elective Caesarians?
To be honest I really dislike the phrase “too posh to push”. I believe the vast majority of women who choose to have an elective cesarian, do so not because they have the money to make the choice over the time and place of the birth of the baby, but because they have significant underlying fears and anxieties.  This was recently highlighted in the BBC program “childbirth – all or nothing” when one of the women had chosen to have an elective cesarian. The program played up on the fact that she was a well off woman who had enough money to make the choice. They also played on the fact that she wanted to choose the time and place of her birth (in fact it was moreher husband who wanted to make the choice) and that she could have a massage and manicure in time for the birth. However as the program developed we found out that as she had struggled to conceive for many years, had undergone significant stress and anxiety and hence her baby had been conceived through IVF. Is it any wonder that she may have felt a lack of confidence and trust in her body’s ability to give birth naturally? Another example is Kirstie Allsopp. her first baby was born by emergency Caesarian section and the second baby was breech and hence resulted in a second Caesarian section. However many people have criticised her for being “too posh to push” when in reality her experience had nothing to do with her financial situation or social background.
In Many NHS maternity clinics, if women request a cesarian section there is now a pathway of care to understand the psychological reasons behind this choice. If women are given the correct support, counselling, and birth preparation many of the fears and anxieties can be addressed and dealt with. Sadly however the resources within the NHS do not always allow this and as a result women who are severely fearful of childbirth do not always get the care and the birth of outcome.
However I am particularly concerned about the increasing rate of cesarian section’s classified as “emergency sections”, which can in no way be attributed to women being”too posh to push”. Instead it has more to do with fear within the Maternity system, fear in women in general, increase in unnecessary medical intervention, increase in unnecessary induction, a decease in midwives autonomy to allow a woman to birth instinctive and a general decrease in trust in the ability of women to birth their babies.
– Do you find working with NHS hospitals ‘challenging’ or are they receptive to your workshops?
Over the last five years there has been a significant change in the acceptance of hypnosis in childbirth. Initially it took a very long time to go through the process and bureaucracy of working within the NHS. However on the whole we have been accepted and welcomed by the vast majority of midwives, as they have seen the positive benefits that hypnosis can bring when women use this as a tool to prepare for childbirth. Of course we have come across some more old school midwives who were sceptical and sometimes even dismissive about the concept. We have also met with some midwives who have felt concerned about the concept of “hypnobirthing” as there are some methods which have led midwives to feel alienated and more stressed by being given long lists of words they can and can’t say and even in some cases being told that they cannot speak directly to the woman and must go through the birth partner. This is not an approach that Natal Hypnotherapy takes and so in some circumstances we have had to explain the differences and reassure midwives that we consider them to be a integral and highly valuable part of the team supporting the mother to have a positive birth.
– Do you think that women sometimes feel afraid to ‘stand their ground’ to doctors and midwives when prefering to adopt your techniques and what would your advice be in this situation?
I think that there are many women who experience “white coat syndrome”during their pregnancy. We are generally brought up to believe that doctors know best and that they are there to help us so we need to do as we are told. However giving birth is not normally a medical experience and so the situation is somewhat different to when we are in need of medical care. For women choosing to use Natal Hypnotherapy as a first port of call we encourage them to include information about natal hypnotherapy in their birth Notes. We provide women with a large sticker which they put on the front of the notes explaining that they are using natal hypnotherapy as birth preparation. This can then facilitate a discussion with the midwives about the choices that the women have made. In addition it gives information for midwives on the research background and ways they can support women who have made this choice. During our classes we spend some time coaching couples on ways to create a rapport full and supportive team around the mother, and offer suggestions on the kinds of questions to ask if they feel that the medical team are suggesting changes or intervention during the birth. We also suggest that couples ask for time alone to discuss any options which also gives them time to use some of the techniques that they learn during the classes to maybe help change the situation. We have had feedback from many couples that simply having this time alone to either help the mother become even more relaxed or to help the baby change position has prevented them from needing medical intervention.
– Co-sleeping has had quite a bad rep recently, but you’re an advocate (we are too!). What do you feel are the benefits?
Yes you are right I am a huge advocate and very firm believer in the fact that as mammals our babies are safest and happiest when they are close to the mother, especially at night. There are no mammals, other than humans who choose to have their babies sleep at a distance from them. However, I also understand that as humans we have developed other traits which are not present for mammals for example intoxication from alcohol or drugs, smoking and being overweight, which can have an impact on their ability to respond to their babies presence and needs. On a personal note I could not for one moment have imagined not sleeping with my babies. Apart from the sense of safety, comfort, protection, nourishment and warmth that the my body gave to my babies, I am in essence relatively lazy! The thought of having to actually get out of bed and go to a different space to feed my baby was simply unthinkable. we have slept with all five of our babies and so have had at least one baby in our bed for almost 15 years! For many people this is probably quite shocking and I’m sure that there are many questions that they have. Needless to say having babies in our bed has not stopped more babies coming along 🙂
I believe that there are huge benefits to both mother and baby (and father), especially if the baby is breastfeed. From the mothers perspective you get more sleep, you’re more relaxed therefore your milk is more like to flow and you’re more likely to feed at the crucial times between 2 and 4 PM to ensure a healthy flow of milk during the day.  From the baby’s perspective there is a deep-seated sense of safety, comfort and warmth. The baby is able to search for and find a breast very easily so there is often no need for the baby to cry or to show any signs of stress during the night. For Babies who sleep in their own Moses basket or cot, when they wake up and do not feel or sense their mother immediately nearby, the only way for them to alert their mother to their needs, is to cry which increases the stress hormones within the baby. I believe that babies live completely in the present moment and so if the baby wakes up and is all alone I imagine that the baby has a feeling of fear and abandonment as they have no way of knowing where the mother is all when their mother will come to them. This in itself must be very scary and stressful for the baby and so it can take much longer for the baby to settle once it has had a feed. I also believe there are benefits for the father as for many fathers they may not spend a great deal of time with the baby during the day and so having a baby close by through the night gives them an increase time to bond and connect with their baby even if it is purely well they are asleep. My husband was always very supportive and felt that he really wanted our babies to be close to him as well…
– You draw on many primitive instincts in hypnobirthing, but are there any modern comforts or technological advances you’d recommend to compliment your techniques?
Absolutely. I believe that the use of hypnosis in childbirth is a two, one of many tools that women can use to help themselves have a calm and positive birth experience. I am a strong advocate for the use of pools during labour.  This is not something that mammals would instinctively do, however us humans have enjoyed the concept of a warm bath for many years and so this can seriously aid relaxation. I am also a supporter of the birth ball. We no longer spend time as women squatting for long periods of time which strengthens the pelvic floor muscles and helps keep the baby in a good position in Utero. So the use of the birth ball can really aid the birthing process due to the position the mother is in whilst using it and the constant micro movements which help increase strength and flexibility in the pelvic floor. I also believe in the power of aromatherapy oils and Homoeopathy all of which work naturally with the body to aid relaxation, to increase the ability to cope with contractions, to deal with mood swings et cetera.
– if you could give just one bit of advice to a woman in early labour, what would it be?
Relax, breathe and trust and as one couple recently said wrote as a affirmation “just do your best, let the body do the rest”
– And finally, with five boys (wow!) do you hold any belief in gender selection methods such as Shettles?
If I had a pound for every time somebody asked me whether I was hoping for a girl I would be very wealthy! I also get somewhat annoyed by the suggestion that I would continue to have babies purely based on the premise that I wanted a girl. For me the gender of my baby has never been an issue, all I ever wanted was a healthy baby. I know this is very cliche but it is absolutely true. Having said that by the time the fourth and fifth came along I suppose I was secretly hoping to have another boy as I felt very comfortable with boys, had all the gear and knew how their bits and pieces worked :-).
But that is just my story. I have friends and known people who have had a deep-seated desire and longing for either a girl or a boy. For women in that situation, it can become all consuming and so, as with anything in life, I am a firm believer in doing whatever you can to bring about a change or outcome you desire. If this means having sex on the day of ovulation or two days before in the missionary position then why the heck not. Of course there are no guarantees but sometimes just feeling like you have done something positive to help you get the outcome that you wish for can be beneficial. For the vast majority of women, when they hold their baby in their arms for the first time, the fact that the baby is either male or female pails into insignificance.
Visit NatalHypnotherapy.co.uk to find out more or to order any of Maggie’s downloads, cd’s or her book Effective Birth Preparation – Your Practical Guide.