MY DRUG-FREE CHILDBIRTH; Mind over Labour Currently One Woman in Five Opts for an Epidural as a Means of Pain-Free Childbirth. but the Royal College of Midwives Believes This Figure Is Too High and Is Proposing to Charge for Them. Forty per Cent of Women Who Have Epidurals Require Further Intervention, Such as Forceps or Ventouse. YOU Columnist Alice King Describes Her Drug-Free Birth Alternative

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I Iam floating in a calm sea. I can feel the water gently lapping over my huge swollen tummy and feel the fine spray cooling my sweating brow. I can smell the sea air and see the sun glinting on the waves. As I feel my tummy tighten I begin to ride the oncoming wave, slowly at first and then increasing to a crescendo as I reach the crest of the high wave which is taking me closer to the shore. The wave passes, the pain decreases and I lie back, relaxing as I regain my breath. The waves get bigger, more dramatic and closer together. With each wave I am carried ever closer to the deserted pale pink coral beach. Concentrating, I can see a long trestle table, dressed with a crisp, starched white damask tablecloth and decorated with sweet peas. I can smell their delicate aroma, mixed with sea air. There are rows of champagne flutes glistening in the sun. A magnum of champagne is chilling in an ice bucket.

The stuff that dreams are made of? Some sort of hallucination brought about by drugs? No, this was the scene I visualised to cope with the pain during the final stage of labour for the drug-free birth of son number three at home.

(This, you should understand, is before I gave up drinking alcohol.) I ran this structured, rehearsed fantasy though my mind as I leaned on my desk in my office at home, gyrating my hips as the contractions intensified - meanwhile sending a fax explaining I couldn't make a wine tasting I'd been invited to because I was having a baby. There and then.

I am not some kind of superwoman, and having already given birth twice without drugs, I had no illusions as to the severity of the pain. But I had to have something to get me through it, and visualisation was the answer for me. It is not some strange, esoteric, mystic discipline - if you have ever daydreamed or counted sheep to get to sleep, you have experienced visualisation.

Looking back on my first, 28-hour labour with son number one, I realised how much my fear and shock at the agony I suffered during this marathon had slowed down the process. Stress and anxiety are known to inhibit oxytocin, the natural hormone that regulates contractions.

While I had planned a home birth, I ended up in hospital, and though I had a natural birth I am sure some kind of relaxation technique would have helped.

I had read up on visualisation in preparation for the arrival of number two son. In the event, I was so surprised by the speed of this second labour that I had no time to use it.

Determined to have my third baby at home, I knew that the choices of artificial pain relief would be limited. Gas and air was one possibility, but one I did not fancy as I tended to feel nauseous with the pain. I reasoned that visualisation would help to relax me, and would concentrate my mind, giving me something positive to focus on rather than the excruciating pain. I used to lie in the bath practising one simply called 'The Ocean' - a metaphorical way of picturing birth, to which I added my own hedonistic detail, a party.

In its simplest form this involved the picture of being out at sea, and each contraction was a wave; every wave would take me closer to the shore where I was going to give birth.

When my labour started I retreated to my office to be alone. I had explained my visualisation technique to the midwife and she was happy to leave me to it. …