Harriet Becher, SE4
I first went to see Michelle about four years ago. I was initially interested in finding out if Alexander Technique could help with my recurrent back pain, but at about the same time as I started the lessons I discovered I was pregnant. AT did sort out my back pain - but more importantly, it has been invaluable in helping me cope with the demands of pregnancy, childbirth and caring for small children.
I had AT lessons every week throughout my first pregnancy. Michelle helped me to adapt to my changing size and shape - finding ways of sitting, standing and walking that felt as effortless as possible (as opposed to a lumbering pregnant 'waddle'!) During early and mid pregnancy I particularly enjoyed working in a lying down position - it brought a real sense of ease and stillness. The baby seemed to enjoy the extra space this created too. Towards the end when I was too pregnant to lie down on my back, we did a lot of work on the exercise ball and also crawling around the room, which is surprisingly comfortable when you are heavily pregnant and is supposed to help get the baby in the right position for labour. I found the sessions extremely relaxing and would always leave with a sense of great wellbeing - almost as if I'd had a massage. I'm sure AT was one of the main reasons I had such an easy and comfortable pregnancy, virtually free from the usual aches and pains. I went back to see Michelle for some top-up lessons during my second pregnancy two years later, and again this helped me to have a smooth and restful pregnancy despite the demands of working and running around after a toddler at the same time.
Alexander Technique also turned out to be the single most useful thing I did to prepare for childbirth. During my first pregnancy, on Michelle's advice, I read up on AT in labour, and my partner and I visited one of her colleagues who is a specialist on the subject. I was determined to have a home birth, so it was important to me that I was ready to cope without pain relief. It felt reassuring to know that I was equipped with a whole repertoire of AT-inspired movements and positions I could try in labour. They seemed simpler and made more sense to me than the techniques I'd learnt in my other antenatal classes, possibly because they were just an extension of the things I'd been working through in my AT lessons every week.
The birth of my daughter turned out to be very long and slow, but thanks to AT it was a calm and positive experience. I spent most of the first part of labour on the exercise ball, and then as things progressed I was able to cope with the pain of contractions by using the various AT positions I had learnt: I remember doing lots of 'pear' (on my hands and knees) and squats/lunges. By far the most useful thing, though, was an AT method of breathing called the 'whispered Ah', which I used at the onset of every contraction to help me stay calm and meet and absorb the pain in a positive way, rather than tensing up. As a result I felt focused and in control throughout labour, and could rest and conserve my energy as much as possible. I'm sure this (along with a very supportive midwife) was the main reason I was able to stay at home and get through the long labour in what felt like a natural and gentle way.
My son's birth a couple of years later was completely different: where the first time had been a long, exhausting marathon, this time it was quick and very intense. There was no time to rest between contractions - instead I just had to concentrate on managing all the sensations as best I could. I used AT techniques again throughout labour, but this time my 'whispered Ahs' were more shouted than whispered! I found it really helpful being able to channel the feelings in what felt like a positive way - using my voice to help 'roar' the baby out, rather than just screaming in agony! Using AT directions helped me not to panic despite how intense it all got, and again I was able to achieve a home birth without any drugs or interventions of any kind.
AT has continued to be a wonderful resource as I have adjusted to all the changes in my life as a working mother of two small children. I have a tendency to rush around on fast forward, and AT helps me slow down and be 'in the moment' a bit more. It has also been useful for the specific physical challenges small children bring: all that bending down, lifting, carrying and crawling about on the floor. When my daughter was around 9 months old I really started to feel the strain on my back and I went to Michelle for a few more lessons (I brought my daughter along once as a 'prop'!) - Michelle helped me work out an easier way of lifting her up, that I've used ever since.
I feel really lucky to have discovered AT at such an important time in my life, and would definitely recommend it to other pregnant women or new mothers. It has brought me a sense of wellbeing despite all the physical and emotional challenges of the past few years.