Today marks the day that my daughter has been out as long as she was in! 41 weeks and five days old. This is the story of my positive birth - it's taken me this long to write as I only get very short nap times to do anything in! ;-)
My first birth was fairly positive overall, but you know those rollercoasters where you feel elation and panic in the same few minutes? That. I felt pretty out of control for a large portion of the labour, and even though I’d done a standard antenatal course, when it came to crunch time it had not prepared me for how I’d feel, and how I could even have a hope of staying calm and in control. In fact, I didn’t really know what on earth I was doing. My second birth, very sadly, was not to a live baby following a Late Miscarriage; the hardest time of my life without a doubt. Having to give birth to be induced on the labour ward - in the same unit that I had my son in a few years previous - definitely bred my fear and anxiety around hospitals, pregnancy and labour. During that birth – quite understandably – I felt utter sadness, loss and grief. Not exactly what you’d hope to feel about birth.
If I were to imagine my dream birth (and believe me, I imagined the heck out of it whilst pregnant!), it would be the one I went on to have with Martha - our gorgeous daughter. Born at home while her big brother slept upstairs. I never thought I’d achieve that sort of birth before learning about Hypnobirthing, and I credit it entirely for setting me up to feeling no fear whatsoever and knowing so much about birth, my body, and how I could feel in control, no matter what happens. Birth trauma is real and it can be totally debilitating. But I was determined that there must be another way.
When I trained as a Hypnobirthing teacher, I remember at the beginning of Day 2 feeling absolutely resolute that I wanted a homebirth one day, which I never even considered first time round. I wasn’t even pregnant at the time; I just knew that for me, if I was lucky enough to have another baby, home was best. The place where I’d feel the most safe and relaxed. Because I finally realised that your surroundings, the environment and how you feel in your mind, massively impact on how your body functions during labour. Wherever that is for you, that’s the place you should choose to give birth in (as long as your choice of safe place isn’t coming from a place of fear – but that’s another blog post!) It helps that Brighton has an award-winning Home Birth team and we have a much higher rate of home births than anywhere else in the country – so maybe it’s more normalised amongst the midwives we see here?
My son arrived one day short of 42 weeks. At the time, the words ‘late’ and ‘overdue’ were bandied about more times a day than I needed a wee (and you know when you’re pregnant that is a lot!). I knew in my heart that this baby would be the same, and due to the basics I learned with Hypnobirthing, I embellished the truth with anyone who asked my due date. I added on a few weeks so that I wouldn’t be hounded when 40 weeks struck. Side note: my gosh we are obsessed with due dates – I didn’t realise how much it infuriated me until someone who I didn’t know asked me three times in one week when I was due and if I was having twins…!
So, I prepared for a 42-ish week pregnancy. That’s not to say the heat wave when I was about 38 weeks didn’t completely break me and make wish she’d come sooner rather than later, but I didn’t have that huge disappointment that I did first time round when my due date came and went. I’d done a lot of research and decided I didn’t want to be booked in for the standard induction after 41 weeks, and had discussed the ‘care after 42 weeks’ plan with my midwife. It’s within a midwife’s duty of care to offer induction (and they should talk through the pros and cons of each stage), but don’t feel like that’s pressure to take a certain path. They have to ask, and it’s your choice to either go for it or decline. What I loved is that you can take that decision day by day, too.
I taught Hypnobirthing all throughout my pregnancy, which was amazing for reinforcing the messages! I taught my husband the course, and I listened to my audio every single night before bed. I nearly always fell asleep to them! I loved totally switching off to the relaxations scripts as it got me out of teacher-mode and in to mama-to-be mode.
On the day I went into labour, I went to lunch with my mum by the beach, and decided I was going to book an appointment for every day that week; to pass the time and to be proactive about relaxing in these final days before the birth. So I booked a massage, an osteopath appointment and another lunch out. I said to my mum, “now I’ve booked all of that, the baby will come tomorrow”. I love being right… ;-)
That early evening I started experiencing what I would call tightenings; basically my bump would just go hard for a few moments before releasing. I began to realise they were coming every 15 minutes and so I quietly monitored that while relaxing in the lounge. After about an hour, I went and told my husband that I thought ‘something was happening’ and then I promptly went and cleaned the bathroom! My nesting was crazy; I was obsessed with cleaning and having everything perfectly immaculate, and so it made total sense to me at the time!
I had a wonderful friend of mine, Gemma, agree to come and be at my birth in a Doula role. She’s a trainee midwife and has years of antenatal experience, not to mention being one of the wisest people I know and always makes me laugh. I texted her about 10pm to say things were happening and to get a few hours sleep before I needed her! I couldn’t sit still, or concentrate on my Love Island catch up (you know you watched it too!), so I just pottered, and conserved energy, sat on my birth ball and started to do my breathing and visualisations. I had my headphones in with a positive statements for birth audio on repeat, reminding myself all the positive things I knew about birth.
Someone once asked me if Hypnobirthing was just focusing on the best-case scenario and ignoring all the things that ‘could go wrong’ with birth. I definitely don’t encourage my clients to ignore all the challenging aspects of birth; in fact we spend a whole session going through all the ‘what ifs’, trouble-shooting, curve balls and medical interventions. Hypnobirthing is about feeling in control, and how can you do that unless you’re fully prepared, for both your birth preferences and for when it veers away from that? Choice isn’t choice if it’s not informed. Hypnobirthing practices are focused on retraining your beliefs about birth; truly understanding and working with your body, and using techniques – just like all athletes do – to prepare for and visualise the birth you want. And, for those times when something unexpected happens in birth, you’re not panicking and making rash decisions, but instead you are in calm control.
As the evening went on, I did try and rest but it was all a bit too exciting. We’d first started trying for a baby five years previously, so to say I was eager to get this baby in my arms was a massive understatement! I had the lights down low and moved between laying on my side, to leaning on my knees against the bed, to (carefully) moving up the stairs sideways to help open up my pelvis. I felt good. Each surge was actually welcome and I was so, so happy to be at home. Our little boy was asleep in his room and it felt like a brilliant secret that I was busy labouring while he was in bed. I took this photo at 11:12pm – even my mirror was totally on point with the affirmations!
About midnight I moved downstairs and our lounge – thanks exclusively to my husband – looked like a magical, cosy, little cave. Even when not in labour, I take great pleasure in my lounge being sparkling clean and I guess Hygge-esque, so this was the dream. Fairy lights, everything tidy, my birth bag all laid out and my Hypnobirthing tracks playing – perfection. During each surge (which by now were about 5 minutes apart), I was leaning up against the mantelpiece and swaying my hips from side to side. Doing my breathing technique and using the visualisations I’d chosen in my practice. I kind of felt invincible. I knew we’d need to call the midwives soon, but I was so enjoying it just being us and the baby! I can’t reiterate enough that at one point a couple of years previously I felt so fearful about pregnancy and birth I didn’t know if I could ever go through it again. So, come about 1am I called Gemma and she was round before we knew it. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have a friend on my doorstep! She came in with fresh (albeit a bit tired) eyes and just her being there changed the atmosphere from pottering-along to let’s-do-this. We decided it was time to inflate and fill the pool, so my husband Leigh set to work doing that while Gemma and I retreated to the kitchen, as our worktops were the perfect height to lean on during each surge. They were coming thick and fast now; Gemma was timing them and I seemed to have one really manageable one, followed by one that I would call ‘mega’. It felt like REAL progress, which was just so encouraging. She was so encouraging after each one, telling me my breathing was perfect – it was so, so useful. The surges were coming round quickly, but were quite short, so we were focusing on getting them stretched out a bit. Gemma and I would chat and giggle in between in surge and I was keeping mobile – gravity and movement are your friends in birth! Gemma said: “it’s quite bright in here, is there a way we can dim the lights more?” I had bought some LED tea lights (top tip: don’t use real candles, as if a situation arises that you need to leave the house, you don’t want to be going round blowing candles out or worrying the house will burn down!) which were in the lounge, so in we walked to find the pool hose had completely flipped out of the pool and was flooding the lounge floor! I think I shrieked “What the *@^*!!!! (so Hypnobirthing!) and while someone turned off the tap I was literally hurling tea towels into the room to mop it up. We had every towel we owned ready for the birth so tea towels had to cut it! After the initial rush around, we laughed so much, it was such a comical moment. And it felt so good to be feeling so happy right in the middle of my birth. Not that I’d advise watering your wooden floor for jokes, but it’s good for your oxytocin!
Something shifted, and we decided it was time to call the midwives. I couldn’t quite get comfortable during my rests and I had my headphones on so that I could totally focus on my Hypnobirthing tracks and my breath. Leigh had spent so long preparing playlists of music for me, but all I wanted was Katharine Graves in my ears! I remember saying “I really need the loo, and just want to be on my own for a bit” which in hindsight is such a good sign that things are really progressing. I kept talking to my baby, telling her what a hero she was being and how hard she was working. Leigh came and knocked on the bathroom door and asked if it was ok if they bought a student midwife, and then before I knew it, three angels were on the doorstep, one of whom we knew!
I had got to the point where I no longer wanted to talk to anyone. I was so within myself and my breathing during surges had become heavy and super focused. I was aware of people milling around but I had no interest in what they were doing and no intention of taking my headphones off! Leigh said afterwards that it was in these moments where the kettle was on while the midwives read my birth plan and one said “Fantastic: Hypnobirthing; no interventions; we’ll stay in the kitchen!” Whilst I was happy and keen for them to use the Doppler throughout the labour to check in on the baby, I had chosen to opt out of having any vaginal examinations. During my first birth I had two pretty negative experiences with them: one where I was told “you’re ONLY two centimetres” when I genuinely thought I must be close to ten, and the other where it took several uncomfortable attempts. Neither of which I wanted to repeat, and so unless there was a clear medical necessity, I would decline them. It doesn’t sound much, but it felt like a big “I trust my body”, and I did.
THE POOL! It was so inviting. When I got in (and this happened in my first birth, too), my personality changed in an instant. From very quiet, focused and within, to chatty and blimmin’ delighted. I was loving life. I could literally feel the oxytocin flowing and I just kept saying “I’m so happy to be in here!” The surges weren’t giving me much rest time by now – probably one minute apart – but in the water it’s sooooo much easier to intuitively move your body from one position to the next without feeling like a baby elephant in mud. I was on my hands and knees in the water during the surge, and then move to be resting with my head propped on the side of the pool in between, being fed my water. For at least the past hour I had needed either Leigh or Gemma to be pushing on my lower back during each surge, and one of the many beauties of having two birth partners is when one or the other of them has to move the car 10 minutes before the baby’s born (true story), you have the other at your service! Mo, one of our lovely midwives was also in on the back-act, and I have a great photo of that in action, and I look so cared for.
Time goes a bit fuzzy now, but at one point I had discovered a canny way of staying in the same position for both a surge and a rest: on my side in the pool. After a while, my lovely student midwife, Katie, SO gently said, “Laura, this position is amazing for resting, you’re doing so well. But maybe on the next one we could try your hands and knees again?” She was doing such a great job of keeping everything so positive and non-intrusive. Even though I wanted to stay there, I knew she was right and that gravity needed to help for the final moments. At one point, she said “I saw the top of your baby’s head in that one!” and Gemma captured the moment where I’d said “Really?? Oh I love you!” Because don’t get me wrong, birth is intense. Your body will never work harder. The mental energy you need isn’t to be underestimated. But that doesn’t have to mean pain, fear, or feeling out of control, disappointed or alone.
The photo above was taken about 10 minutes before she was born. And before I knew it, my girl, my gorgeous daughter was out into the pool. We were all quite shocked as at the end she clearly decided she didn’t want to hang around and we weren’t expecting her whole body out at that point! I (in excitement/shock/disbelief/relief) exclaimed “She’s out, she’s out!” before scooping her up myself. And with the umbilical cord wrapping her up like a little parcel, I held her for the first time. The elation is indescribable. She was here. And ok. And so much like her brother (freakily so; it was like I’d given birth to the same baby again!) And I sighed the biggest sigh of happiness and relief on an endorphin high. And I was in my lounge!!
After Martha had been born, one of my midwives said to another: “She was so calm and in control, it was really quite magical”. I’m so proud of my birth; not because everything turned out the way I’d planned it to (apart from pool-hose-gate!), but because I felt great on the inside. It was a happy birth, a big team effort, I felt informed, prepared, excited and capable. I know that if anything had veered away from normal, we would have had the tools to deal with it without feeling fear and for that, I am so grateful to Hypnobirthing.
We bought a bottle of expensive Champagne to toast our baby girl as I had visions of chilling on the sofa and popping the cork for some bubbles. It’s still in the fridge. Maybe tonight is the night we should crack it open!