Welcome to the World Henry
A lovely story which shows how birth education, and removing your conscious & subconscious fears about birth, can improve your experience of welcoming your baby into the world. Thanks to Naomi, for sharing your story with us today.
As a child I was obsessed with asking my mum about my birth. I’m her first child, was 9lbs15oz and she was a tiny five-foot-tall 21 year old. It was a long, incredibly traumatic experience for her that resulted in a great deal of medical intervention including blood transfusions. So I was already kind of set up to think birth would be a life-threatening experience. When I fell pregnant with my son, it seemed everyone fell over themselves to tell me birth horror stories. Consequently, I wasn’t overly optimistic about birth. In fact, I was very fearful about it.
I really believe the best antidote to fear is education. So I began to research everything I could about birth - and birth outcomes. Although I’d often joked that my perfect labour would occur under general anaesthetic, ending with a full makeover and being presented with a clean baby, what I actually hoped for was to be able to have a water birth with as little intervention as possible. I really did not want to be like my mum, stuck in a labour ward for days, presented as a case study to a crowd of medical students, lots of strangers touching my body as shift after shift changed.
I also did not want to be in unbearable pain, so I set my sights on the water birth in the midwife led unit as the gold standard, with the caveat that if it all got too much, I gave myself permission to ask for whatever level of pain relief I needed. I would not allow myself to suffer for the sake of meeting other people’s expectations.
My friend suggested hypnobirthing and although I was skeptical about how it could help, I decided to try it as part of my goal to have the birth I wanted. I borrowed her dvd which had worked for her, but I didn’t get on with. I also downloaded an app which I’d listen to while I napped (not the ideal way to use it I’m sure but it was very relaxing!) and I signed up for a six week block of classes.
I was really surprised by the classes. I imagined they’d be yoga and deep breathing with candles - which was definitely an element of it, but there was also a lot of education about the different stages of labour, explaining things about my body that I had never heard discussed between women, or read about elsewhere. It was truly amazing to learn these things and it gave me a huge appreciation for the incredible things women’s bodies are capable of. The breathing techniques we learned actually made me feel a little light-headed, which gave me an insight into how they could work for pain management; gas and air is a little like that - you’re still conscious and aware but it’s like you’re outside of yourself. One piece of information really stuck with me: many women find labour manageable until they reach the second stage of labour, when they’re fully dilated and the baby starts the descent through the birth canal. Then they feel afraid, cortisol is released and this increases feelings of pain. All of this new found knowledge felt like power. I felt much more like I understood my body and how to help support it through the marathon that lay ahead - little did I know, it can be more of a sprint, even for first time mums!
My son was due on the 17th February, and it was Sunday the 24th. I was booked for a sweep on Monday 25th, which I didn't want, but was feeling very fed up and uncomfortable. My mum had been visiting and trying all the usual “natural induction” tricks all week, none of which worked. We dropped her at the train station around 10:45 am - I even walked her up the steps and over the gantry - then came home. At 11:30 am I went to the toilet and discovered my mucus plug had come away. I was surprised by how much there was! I immediately started having contractions that were under five minutes apart. I couldn’t really believe this was happening, as I’d been mentally preparing myself for a long latent stage. We called the hospital and the midwives asked me to pop down for them to check if I was really in labour. I was disbelieving myself and told my husband I wasn’t going now because I had a bee in my bonnet about potentially being told to return home. I got in the shower to help with the contractions and soon realised I really did need to go to the hospital!
We got in the car and my contractions were very intense - I was thrown by how quickly things were going and struggled to focus. When we got to the hospital, as it was a quiet Sunday the main reception for maternity was closed. We had to be buzzed through a door but I rushed into a disabled loo as I thought I needed to poo - I wasn’t really listening to my body as I’d been instructed and I think I was still in denial as to what stage of labour I was in. I came out and we were let into the reception for the labour ward - it felt like everyone was being really slow to understand. An amazing midwife suddenly ran over and touched my shoulders which helped centre me. She got me up to the midwife led unit where I was examined by a student midwife in a labour room. Somewhat hilariously (in retrospect) she said she couldn’t feel the cervix and a senior midwife examined me and said “That’s because she’s fully dilated.” They offered me gas and air but I couldn’t calm myself down and focus on my breathing until I was in the pool. Once I was in the water, where I had planned to be, the change was incredible, I instantly felt safer and was able to regain my rhythm and breathing. The water helped me move into the positions I’d practised in my hypnobirthing class, and I was finally able to let my mind take a back seat and allow my body to take over. With the help of the midwives, who were also trained in hypnobirthing, I pushed for 17 minutes before my son was born in the pool. It was incredible bringing him up through the water and seeing his face for the first time. One of the reasons I hoped to be able to give birth vaginally was that I’d read it is associated with better breastfeeding establishment - so I was thrilled that my son was then able to latch very quickly. It sounds cheesy, but I was on a massive endorphin high and felt so powerful. I repeatedly had an irrepressible urge to laugh - even though I had an unusual tear which took 45 minutes and four local anaesthetics (requiring anaesthetist approval) to stitch. I really felt as though I’d somehow tricked the system! When I said to the midwife that I wasn’t sure if I’d used my hypnobirthing training properly during labour she smiled and pointed out that not consciously experiencing contractions through the first stage and having such an uncomplicated birth were great outcomes, which I agree with!
I’m now pregnant with my second child and am planning a water birth at home. I’ve already started listening to a hypnobirthing app again and I’m using positive mantras to help reinforce my confidence that my body can do this. My first birth was amazing and I wouldn’t change it, but I think transferring to the hospital unsettled me and raised my stress levels: I also know that second births are often faster and would rather prepare to do this in the comfort of my own home.