Can virtual reality help women cope with childbirth?
Erin Martucci had been enjoying the beach vista and gazing at a flock of birds overhead when something shook her view. The voice of Ralph Anderson, her gynecologist, broke through the sound of the waterfall next to her.
“We’re ready to push!” he said, gently taking Martucci’s virtual reality headset off and bringing her back to a hospital room at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, New York. Martucci, 40, looked around at her husband and mother, their voices swirling excitedly around her: “She’s crowning! She’s ready!”
“I was like, ‘Wait, what are you doing?’. I thought I needed the goggles to push!,” Martucci says. She had been so engrossed in her virtual beachside hideaway, she hadn’t realised that her baby’s head was starting to show. It was time to take off the goggles.
Martucci is believed to be the first woman to use virtual reality (VR) for pain management during labor. With more women moving away from scheduled C-sections – which accounted for 32% of US births in 2015 – VR might offer another drug-free pain option during birth.
“I was on a beach, and there was a fire going,” Martucci recalls. “Wherever you moved, the scene moved with you. If I looked up, I saw the galaxy and the sun setting. On the right, there was a waterfall and a lot of movement with birds,” Martucci says. From time to time, a woman with an English accent peppered Martucci’s virtual world with guidance.
“You wanted to listen to her,” she says. “I remember her focusing on the breathing and your body tensing and relaxing, and tensing and relaxing. She kept saying ‘Focus on the birds,’” says Martucci. “It was really very calming. She would teach me how to breathe and be really in touch with your body.”
‘It made me feel I’m OK here’