My Birth Story

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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!

 

The Labour (of love) Bag

There’s nothing like a pregnancy to make you think you need to buy ALL THE STUFF. I remember standing in Mothercare before my son was born, staring at the rows and rows of ‘essential newborn items’, totally confused. What on earth was the difference between a sleepsuit and a bodysuit? Do you need long or short sleeved, or both? How are you meant to know these things? I felt like I was missing some intuitive baby-equipment hormone! Anyway, perhaps that’s another blog post - on what you really do need – but for now, my thoughts are very much on my labour bag. And in the same way, it can feel quite overwhelming knowing what you need to pack.

The advice is, that from about 36 weeks you ideally want a bag packed for your birth, as you’re approaching full term and baby could put in an appearance any time in the next 6-ish weeks. When I was shopping/packing for my hospital bag with my first baby, there seemed to be lists and lists online about what you should pack for the big day, but they were all different! But having gone through a birth myself, and then taught many mamas-to-be, I’ve racked up quite a lengthy list of useful items that I wanted to share. This combines lots of the lists I’ve found online, personal experience and advice from others – so I hope you find it useful when packing your own. I’m calling it the Labour Bag, because this goes for all types of births; hospital, midwife-led centre and home.

 

For Mum; birthing Goddess and needer of the most stuff!

For Birth: The Essentials

  • Maternity notes
  • Birth plan
  • Nightdress/pyjamas/comfy clothing
  • Slippers or flip-flops
  • Comfy socks
  • Your own pillow for comfort (in a coloured/non-white pillowcase so you don’t lose it!)
  • Snacks – bananas, cereal/protein bars, glucose tablets, energy gels, even fruit baby pouches - then extra snacks for after birth (you’ll be starving!)
  • Drinks
    • Bottle of water (this can be re-filled at hospital if you're there)
    • Coconut Water (if you don’t like it plain, the one with added pineapple is really nice – really good for rehydration)
    • Isotonic drinks, like still Lucozade sports drinks
  • Bendy drinking straws – an absolute must, and amazing for drinking in any position. Make sure your birth partner offers water after every contraction/surge – and then makes you go to the toilet once an hour (a full bladder can get in the way of baby)
  • Lip balm
  • Hair ties/bands
  • TENS machine if you’re using one
  • Flannel or water spray
  • Phone (with charger)
  • Mood-setters – like LED tea lights and battery operated fairy lights
  • Hypnobirthing affirmations that you’ve used throughout pregnancy
  • Photos of things that make you happy (your other children, your happy place)
  • Tissues or wet wipes

 

In addition, I’d highly recommend the following (but aren’t essential):

  • Protein shakes, for while you're at home, or if you're planning a home birth (I’ve bought some plant protein powder (tropical flavour) from Holland & Barrett, and plan to get my husband to blitz it up with almond milk or coconut water and a banana. These are great for getting nutrients and energy into you without you having to eat anything. The vast majority of women in labour don’t want to eat (your body is pretty busy with something else!) so these can be a life-saver for energy stores)

  • Soft bra/bikini top for the pool, if you want. You probably won’t want it when the time comes but pack it in case you do

  • Sunglasses or Eye Mask - to shield out any bright lights so you can remain in your birth bubble

  • Essential oil of lavender (or rose, chamomile or clary sage). You can add this to a tissue or flannel to inhale during labour
  • Scent diffuser, for use at home – and check with your hospital if they have one/let you bring one
  • 5 flower remedy (very similar to rescue remedy) – you can put this into drinking water if you like
  • Arnica tablets – to help with internal bruising (for just-before, during and after birth).
  • Birth ball (although most hospitals/birth centres will have them so check first)
  • Massage lotion if you want to be massaged in labour
  • iPad/tablet (with charger) / magazines to pass the time if you need it

 

For after the Birth:

  • 2 or 3 nursing bras
  • Breast pads (I can recommend Lansinoh ones for brilliant absorbency from, Boots or Kiddicare.com. There are also some great washable brands out there.)
  • Nipple cream (use after every feed whether you need it or not!)
  • Maternity pads (2 packs, although if you’re in hospital they will provide you a few boat-like pads for the first couple of hours)
  • Front-opening nightshirt or PJs – or nursing top/vest for the top
  • Toiletries (make up wipes make it easier; toothbrush and paste, deodorant, moisturiser, mini shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. I've used see-through wash bags from Boots - a 3 pack for £9)
  • Towels (for a shower and hair wash afterwards)
  • Hairbrush
  • Plenty of big cotton pants
  • Clothes to go home in (comfy maternity clothes, you’ll still have a bump)
  • List of important numbers in case phone’s run out of charge / you can’t charge phone
  • Plastic bags – to put any dirty clothes in
  • Make-up if you want!

 

For Birth Partner:

  • Phone and charger
  • Camera – fully charged!
  • Music/playlist on iPod/phone – including Hypnobirthing tracks if using them
  • Speaker (wireless, if you’re not playing through the phone)
  • Toiletries for them
  • Book/iPad
  • Swimwear if they are getting in the pool too!
  • Snacks for them – so they don’t have to disappear off for food!
  • Water/drinks for them
  • Change of clothes/underwear
  • Loose change if you need it for the car park at your hospital – or for vending machines
  • Contraction timing app if using one

 

For Baby (see – they need the least!):

  • Nappies (allow 10-12 per day)
  • Wipes (Water Wipes are great as they’re much easier than water and cotton wool and really natural – from Boots/supermarkets or Amazon)
  • Nappy sacks
  • Muslins (these will soon feature in every room of your house!)
  • 3 sleepsuits (these can be with feet attached or not depending on time of year)
  • 3 vests/body suits (short sleeved for summer/long for winter)
  • Pair of socks or booties
  • A going home outfit if you’re not birthing at home
  • Baby blanket or shawl
  • Cotton hat
  • Snowsuit/jacket if it’s cold/winter
  • Car seat

 

Some people like to pack three separate bags; for mum, birth partner and baby. Some take a small suitcase and combine all three. Whichever way you do it, make sure you and your birth partner pack the bag together, going through what everything is - and where everything is - for easy access later on! And make sure the bag is easy enough to open and access all your items.

If you’re planning a home birth then do still have your labour bag at-the-ready in case of any transfer. Transfers to hospital are not just for emergencies; they can happen for a few different reasons, but it’s worth having a bag packed to save worrying/faffing around! Even if you stay at home the whole time, at least all your essential items will be in one place instead of spread throughout the house!

Are there any other items you found invaluable during your birth?

So, go forth and pack!

 

Is Nesting a Thing?

I’m a list writer. I’d go so far as to say I’m a list fanatic. So last week when I accidentally deleted my 90-item-strong list from my phone, I felt seriously bereft! You might be wondering what on earth I’m doing with my time if I’ve still got 90 to-do tick boxes to tick. But the vast majority were ‘things I need to clean’, ‘things I need to sort through’ and ‘things I need to organise’.

Nesting has kicked in – big time - and it feels uncontrollable! It feels really, really important that our tinned foods cupboard gets fully cleaned out (and organised by type) before the baby arrives. Likewise, if the drawers of my bedside table aren’t de-cluttered soon, or our ‘full of crap’ tin isn’t emptied, I just won’t feel ready for our new human.

When I was pregnant with my son 7 years ago, I didn’t really get many food cravings. I would often know exactly what I wanted to eat, but there were no gherkin/ice-cream combos. However, I felt a growing addiction to fabric softener and it had to be a particular brand; I would have drunk it if I could have. I used to buy it in bulk in fear of them running out or discontinuing it! We had bottles and bottles of this stuff, but having it there made me feel calm; that my baby’s clothes and linen would smell just right. I realise now that was less of a craving and more of a nesting instinct. I even ironed all his new baby clothes, and I seriously never iron anything. I woke up in the middle of the night once, panicking that I hadn’t ironed all his Moses basket sheets. I mean, that is just not my personality!!

So what is it that makes us nest when pregnant? To feel the sudden urge to clean, or sort, or organise stuff - RIGHT NOW. For starters, it’s not just us humans; birds, fish, pigs, cats and dogs are amongst the many animals to display nesting behaviours when preparing for birth. Rodents, hares and rabbits all hunt for the lowest, sheltered spot available to give birth; perhaps we share that attribute as many women do seek to be lower towards the ground as they're giving birth. Female dogs show signs of nesting by pacing, and using items from around the house such as blankets and clothing to build their dam, or nest. Again; seeking out homely, comforting, safe things is essential in getting the right hormones going for birth.

Lots of studies have been done showing the cocktail of hormones these animals experience which leads to them to building their nest; increased oxytocin and prolactin, driven by increased prostaglandin and decreased progesterone. But the studies in human are far from conclusive and everything I read leads to ‘we’re not really sure’. The animals’ nest building is ‘performed in order to provide sufficient shelter and comfort to the arriving offspring’ – I think we definitely mirror this, in wanting everything to be just right. If you dare delve into Pinterest, there are thousands of nesting ideas and tips - it's certainly a real phenomenon!

I’ve no doubt that hormones are responsible in part for our human nesting instinct; our whole body and mind change during pregnancy. But I also wonder if somewhere during the second trimester we get the urge to retain some control and that nesting calmed our nerves. But does our need to protect and prepare morph into obsessive or anxiety-driven behaviour? As long as you’re being safe (not lugging steam cleaners up and down stairs or balancing on chairs to reach the must-be-dusted light fittings) then grab that toothbrush and scrub the skirting boards if that’s your thing. Nesting can feel very therapeutic, and if it helps you feel positive then I’m all for it. However, pregnancy anxiety (often triggered by feeling like ‘there’s so much to do’) can be very real, and hugely overwhelming. What with the nursery decorating, the equipment buying, the cleaning and of course getting on with your daily life, it’s no wonder our partners sometimes arrive home to tears. Here are a few ways to alleviate the pressure if the nice, comfy nesting starts to make you feel out of control.

  1. Talk to someone. Your midwife, doctor or even just a friend over a cuppa. It will always help, and you are certainly not the first person to feel this way.
  2. Make lists. They really do help and the accomplishment of ticking things off is super satisfying. (Does anyone else sometimes add an already completed task to a list just so you can tick it off?!)
  3. Delegate. This is not the time to take on every single task; ask for help (or make your partner a list!). People are kind, and someone will love to take on a few things for you (my lovely mum is busy batch cooking for my freezer for easy post-baby meals).
  4. Focus on the birth. Take some time out from preparing your home to prepare your body and mind for birth. Learning breathing and relaxation techniques can really help during pregnancy too, not just for the big day.
  5. Break it down. Is everything you want to do absolutely vital? Picking out the urgent and important stuff first will start the ball rolling and feel like you’re ticking off the big things.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Feeling nervous about a new arrival can take its toll. Remember you want to be reserving some energy stores for your birth and beyond so taking it easy is also very important.

Nesting can manifest in many different ways. Some mums-to-be might want to buy up half of B&Q ready to DIY the whole house. Some may want to wash and arrange baby clothes, or simply just like being at home and pottering. Just leave the bleach in the cupboard, nest sensibly and relish this opportunity of having the time to make your house clean...

Now, I’m off to dust off the iron; there are muslins that need de-creasing!

I Met My Hero Today

10am on a Monday morning; sat in a boardroom; looking at the sunshine outside, already planning what I was going to have for lunch. It’s not exactly the setting in which I imagined meeting my hero. But in she walked, and my heart did an actual flutter.

It was just over six years ago when I first met my hero – but I didn’t realise she’d end up with that label at the time. I was about 5cm dilated in a delivery room, pacing up and down praying that someone would come and save me. And in she walked.

My labour was pretty up and down; I’d never even heard of Hypnobirthing back then, so while I was trying to remain calm, I didn’t have the tools to know how to. I was nearly 42 weeks pregnant and I’d put an awful lot of pressure on myself about my baby being born before Christmas. Or if not by Christmas, it had to be 2010. Why on earth it mattered, I don’t know! But I felt irrational and that’s how I thought. Of course he wasn’t here ‘on time’ – he had his own timetable, which wasn’t sent to me! When he decided to start his journey there was about a day or so of surges, pacing and refusing all food, before I went into hospital requesting some help. I had no idea what I was doing or what was happening in my body (I wish I knew the techniques I teach now!) and about 6pm my waters were broken for me.

I didn’t really click with my midwife. I’m sure she was a lovely person, but in that moment of time, I guess I just needed someone else. For anyone reading this who may go on to experience the same thing, please know that you can request a change of midwife. It’s not that you’re making it personal, but you deserve to have someone caring for you who you really click with. We don’t all get on with all types in this world, and it won’t be a problem for you to ask if it’s possible. I didn’t ask; I was too preoccupied and didn’t even realise I could.

About that time, the labour ward shifts changed. All those amazing souls who’d been working for 13 hours straight got to go home, and new midwives came on shift to see which women they’d be caring for.

That’s when she walked in. She gave me choices, which no one else had done. She ran the most perfect birthing pool for me. And she had my back.

My husband has said when I got in that pool, it was like I’d downed a few glasses of Champagne; I was suddenly happy – giddy! She sat in the corner and walked beside us through the next few hours. We chatted about the fact she’d had her babies in the pool I was in. I felt like we were soul sisters! She gave me confidence, love and support without ever intruding. It was like we’d been friends for years and she just knew exactly what I needed at every moment. I’d never experienced someone wanting to help in this way before, and in the months following it was her actions that planted the seed in me about working in the birth industry. I knew, because of her, that I wanted to help change people’s birth experiences.

The moment our son was born and she handed him to me through the water was more special than I can ever describe in words. She spent hours settling us in to new parenthood with so much love; I actually don’t remember much about those few hours apart from feeling the happiest I’ve ever felt with my baby boy, and talking to her about the views at sunrise over our city that we both loved! (I do remember having the best tea and toast I’ve ever tasted, downing two bottles of Lucozade and two cereal bars - I mentioned the refusing all food whilst in labour!)

I always meant to write to her and thank her for making such an impact on me. I knew how nice it would be to receive a letter like that, and she deserved to know how amazing at her job she was. But then I had a newborn, and life took over. It stayed on my to-do-list for so long, before I decided it was so far after the event it would look a bit odd. I wish I hadn’t listened to myself! But I did, and that letter never got written.

Over the years I’ve so often thought about her. Wondering if she still works at that hospital, or if there was any way I could find out. Every year on my son’s birthday, I say a special little thank you to her, knowing she was there at the most important moment of my life. And that she shaped my experience; I had been incredibly lucky.

And I guess that’s the message of this blog post. Don’t leave it to chance or luck. Do everything you can to surround yourself with people during pregnancy who are going to make a difference to your birth experience. It really matters. It may be a Yoga or Pilates instructor (mine has been a Godsend with regards to pelvic health), a Hypnobirthing teacher, a doula, a midwife, an antenatal teacher, or a combination of all of them. Someone who gives you choices, options and helps you to gain the knowledge and toolbox you need for birth. Someone who helps teach you how to get to your happy place and how to stay calm. Someone who cares that you have the best birth you can. Don’t chance it that someone will just walk in. Plan for it and it will make such a difference.

And then, in that boardroom, last Monday morning, she walked in. I knew instantly it was her. I knew she wouldn’t have a clue who I was (she must have cared for literally 1000s of women since) yet still said she knew she recognised my face. But I honestly felt like I’d known her all my life in that moment! I got to talk to her; I told her how much of a difference she made. That she changed my experience for the better. I wish I could book her to be my midwife when this little Mini is born in the summer. But maybe she’ll just walk in that day, too.

Due Dates - to reveal, or not to reveal?

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I've wondered for a long time; why do we still deal in a single estimated due date, when it's well documented (even in the NICE guidelines) that Full Term is anywhere between 37-42 weeks. I get that it's helpful to have some sort of marker, but the due date becomes the most spoken sentence throughout our pregnancies. It's normally the first question people ask; "Oh lovely! What's your due date?" so you'll find yourself saying that date multiple times a day/week. It becomes ingrained, and something so looked forward to - so it's hard not to get attached! Mine was even my password for my work email!

Fewer than 5% of babies are born on their assigned due date which speaks volumes as to how accurate they are. Even so; if that date comes and goes, it's very easy to feel disappointment and pressure.

Comedian Russell Brand, while being interviewed on the One Show in January, said that he thought his baby would certainly arrive when it was due.

"I was anticipating that the baby would arrive at exactly the point that was predetermined. I took that doctor at his word, like that meteorological satellite man. "We can calculate that this baby will arrive at exactly this moment"... Well, the baby wasn't born at that moment; that's why I had to go to Nottingham later on that day, I'd just held my little baby daughter, I had to go and do a show! And it didn't seem relevant all the stuff I was saying as this person had just turned up into the world."

So how can we enjoy those last few weeks of pregnancy without fixating on one date? My son is now six, and does everything in sixes at the moment, so here's my list of (six) things to help you navigate the due date minefield!

  1. Consider stretching the truth when telling people your due date. If it's 5th May, tell people it's the 20th. This way, when the 5th May arrives and baby hasn't, you won't get those well meaning texts, phone calls and Facebook messages asking "any movements yet?!" (Yes, and I thought I'd post them on Facebook first...!!). It removes a layer of pressure that you just don't need.
  2. If you don't want to make up a due date, be vague. Say 'end of June' or 'middle of July'. This gives you some wriggle room to avoid the '40 week pressure'.
  3. Read up and research on what happens when you are 'overdue' from a medical perspective. If you know the protocols around induction, when you'll be offered sweeps and the benefits and risks of all parts of induction, then you will be prepared to make informed choices that are right for you. We cover all of this on my courses.
  4. Reframe the time after your due date as bonus time. Make yourself a '40-week Jar'. On separate pieces of paper, write lovely relaxing things that you enjoy doing and fold each piece up. If you get to 40 weeks, take at least one 'job' from the jar each day and make it your mission to enjoy every second of it. (I've put six ideas at the bottom of this list to get you going)
  5. Oxytocin is your best friend, especially in late pregnancy. It's the 'love' hormone which we need during childbirth, but we can encourage its production by doing things that make us happy. Listen to your favourite podcast, watch some funny DVDs, organise a special date day with your best friend / child / partner. Laugh lots and your body will thank you.
  6. Above all, try and remember that your body and your baby have their own timeline. Use your Hypnobirthing techniques to stay calm and relaxed. Late pregnancy can be hard on your mind and body so be proactive about taking care of both (and hey, if that involves Dairy Milk then so be it!). Whether you have to wait 39 weeks or 42 weeks to meet your baby, you've done amazingly to come all this way - make the best of those last few weeks.

40-week Jar ideas*

  • Go to a cafe for tea and cake (and buy an extra slice to takeaway)
  • Take as long as you like to read a magazine
  • Go the cinema during the day
  • Iron some baby clothes (I never iron, and this was dreamy to me!)
  • Book a reflexology appointment 
  • Take a nap any time you want

* If you already have a child / children and don't have much time to yourself, then your jar ideas can be about making it a priority to do so. Ask someone to babysit for a couple of hours or use your post-40-week days about having bonus 1:1 days with your little one.