As with so many things, I had never even heard of hypnobirthing before I fell pregnant myself. One of my friends, one of my few friends to have had kids of her own, mentioned it to me in passing over lunch, saying she thought I should look into it. I made a mental note to do so, but it took me a while to get around to it. And to be honest, had she not mentioned that she had found the techniques useful even though she ended up having to have an emergency Cesarean, I might have forgotten about it altogether.
Let’s face it, it sounds a bit hippy dippy – and what you want when you first find out you are pregnant are easy and quick solutions to labour, not candles and incense. However I think I might have been too presumptuous.
The Boy and I were researching hypnobirthing courses in our area. We were particularly drawn to the initial research we did on the topic because it appeared to offer an active role for fathers to play during labour, rather than hanging about like a spare lemon. There are books, DVDs, CDs, MP3s and classes. Then, out of the blue, the opportunity to attend a hypnobirthing and wellness retreat on the Isle of Wight at a reduced cost presented itself.* Seemed like a no brainer really, since we were already interested to find out more.
Bump and Mind Retreats
Bump and Mind are a new company offering hypnobirthing and pregnancy wellness retreats on the Isle of Wight. The three night retreat has a very full programme designed for mums-to-be and their birthing partners to give training in hypnotbirthing as well as learning more about relaxation and exercise in pregnancy.
The whole thing is staged in the beautiful Northcourt Manor. This beautiful stately home is set in 15 acres of gardens, nestled against the chocolate box perfection of the village of Shorwell. We were housed in the General Gordon room which was a palatial environment in which to unwind, including a freestanding bathtub in the airy bathroom. Which I did not have time to enjoy, such was the full timetable we experienced!
We were also greeted with a surprise package of goodies on our bed, including a Hex-Nex which I was very pleased about as I have had my eye on them. These are teething necklaces for babies that you wear for the little one to have a good gnaw on when the time comes. Super cute!
The structure of the retreat was a varied daily programme of activities that you and your partner, on the whole, could undertake together. As you would expect, the central aspect is the four sessions of the Royal College of Midwives accredited hypnobirthing course by KG Hypnobirthing. The course is delivered by the retreat organiser, Tahnee Knowles, who trained as a hypnobirthing teacher since using the techniques during the birth of her own (adorable!) son in 2017.
The idea of hypnobirthing is to prepare you for a calm, pain-free labour by equipping you with a fuller understanding of the process of labour and teaching you techniques to allow your body to get on with what it is designed to do, without your conscious mind getting in the way!
So the classes contain a LOT of information about the body during pregnancy, labour and birth. This helps you to understand what is going to happen and also why we are conditioned to think that it has to be painful and horrible! I am very keen on the idea that it is going to be calm and peaceful and empowering, so I think I was pretty open to this understanding, but I could also work with the rational thread of scientific explanation behind the programme as well.
The key to a natural birth is relaxation. Many of the other activities on the course are centred around this – relaxing both body and mind. We did yoga each morning at 7.30am with Emma Spencer Goodier. I thought these sessions were brilliant. They were not too difficult to get to grips with even at 31 weeks with dodgy knees. There were also fitness classes with Lulu Adams, who also gave some excellent advice on self-care both pre and postnatal.
Relaxation and Pregnancy Fitness
The yoga was for us all. Then, neither The Boy nor I was particularly keen on being separated during the fitness sessions, with ‘bootcamp’ for the birthing partners. In fact, the only real criticism I have of the retreat were the elements that were aimed at us separately. We had attended to become stronger as a unit. Of course, we love spending time together on a rare weekend away too! We prefer everything to be aimed at the couple/birthing partner pair. That could be more a reflection of personal preference though.
We actually got a lot more out of attending Lulu’s talk on prenatal fitness and body care together and then heading out for a walk, instead of making me attempt squats. Of course, everything on the programme is optional so you can throw yourself into it as much or as little as you like.
We went on a lovely walk through the hillsides around the house, which was much more my thing. The sea glinted in the sun along the horizon, and newborn lambs bleated gently in the fields. I can definitely see how half an hour out like that is going to be good for my health!
Along with the active components, there was more relaxing relaxation!! We were both given back massages, naturally a special pregnancy massage for me and a standard back massage for The Boy. We realised that it was at least 10 years since we had either had a massage!! I think this may have shocked the masseuse somewhat, but there you go.
Meditation, Hypnotherapy and Relaxation
There were a lot of group meditations too – last thing in the day we all assembled for a relaxation exercise. The Boy and I both really liked the Gong Bath – which is a meditation under the sound of gongs. Certainly a new one on me, but I fell asleep so it must have been good. In fact, we decided this relaxation lark was definitely my bag, because I managed to fall asleep at the drop of a hat in pretty much every session. Luckily The Boy was on hand to tap me awake before the snoring started – not everyone’s birthing partners were so attentive and the gentle snores of the heavily pregnant were a recurring and rather comforting sound throughout the long weekend.
Some of the relaxations are actually taught as part of the hypnobirthing course and so we had the chance to learn them and begin to practice. It is evident to me that the more you practice and prepare, the more effective they will be. But only time will tell! Birth is unpredictable, but I will certainly be trying to put what I have learned into practice. Having never been in labour before, I cannot even begin to tell you how effective it is. Perhaps I’ll manage another update on this theory in June when it’s all over!!
Fuelling the Body
It woudn’t be me if I didn’t have a section about the food, right? And thankfully, the food on the Bump and Mind retreat is really worthy of note. Very much a part of the holistic approach of the whole weekend, food is prepared by Francesca of The Modern Kitchen Garden. Francesca is a whizz in the kitchen, dedicated to local produce and sourcing the very best seasonal eats.
The informal chats around the communal table play an important part in cementing the group. It was also a nice breather, giving you a chance to assimilate everything you had seen and done. This hard work took place against a backdrop of homecooked meals. They were made using a lot of locally sourced, Isle of Wight produce which was absolutely delicious.
All dietary requirements are catered for, although generally we all ate pretty much the same. There was a scrumptious breakfast buffet in the morning. We enjoyed local bread, preserves and butter for toast. Then there was porridge and granola and a whole series of toppings, including stewed pears with star anise. Lush.
Lunch was a light affair. Big earthenware bowls of homemade hummus and salads, or fresh soups like warming spiced butternut squash, alongside more of that local sourdough. Dinner was more substantial. My favourite was the fish pie, stuffed full of a few types of fish, a rich creamy sauce and segments of boiled egg. The Boy was, of course, smitten with roast beef on the final night. It was served with an interesting blood orange creme fraiche to accompany the roast potatoes.
So hopefully you can rest assured that you will not go hungry! There were always plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on offer too. Juices, smoothies and presse as well as non-alcoholic beers and wines.
So, we had a fantastic time and came away well rested. The Isle of Wight is not the easiest to get to from Leicester. We went on train and skipped over the Solent on a hovercraft, which was marvellous fun. With a Two Together card, travel for the two of us was a little under £160. Plus you’ll need a taxi at the other end – another £25 each way minimum. The retreat itself costs from £899 per couple. There are rooms that can accommodate families if this is not your first pregnancy rodeo.
As I’ve mentioned, I can’t give you any assurances or otherwise on hypnobirthing until I experience it myself. We’re getting in our practice and I hope you wish us luck. Let me know in the comments below if you want to hear more about how it goes!!
Whether or not it ‘works’ is kind of irrelevant. It has definitely been useful in helping The Boy and I to prepare for what lies ahead. I already feel like it has given him a more definite sense of purpose in what is coming. This has given me the confidence to take a back seat in many areas. Now I know he is in control. I don’t know if you can put a price on that!
*Our stay with Bump and Mind Retreats was offered to us at a discounted rate. My opinions about the service are 100% my own honest review and reflection on my experience.