DEBBIE & PATTI
I had always been terrified of giving birth, so when I was pregnant I went into preparation overdrive. I read tons of books, attended hypnobirthing classes with my partner, Anna, and in the lead up to my due date, we were very diligent about our homework, practising breathing every night, and listening to various relaxation and visualisation recordings. We had a doula, Beccy, who visited us several times in the lead up, too, to talk about our plans: a homebirth in a pool we would set up in our kitchen.
When the first contractions came, about 8pm on the day before my due date, all I could think about was getting out in the garden and doing my ‘slug patrol’ – I knew it would go to pot from then on and it would be my last chance. It was quite nice wandering around the twighlit garden, too – although I was slightly alarmed at how painful the contractions were already. Later, I tried to sleep, but found it impossible.
We rang Beccy, who eventually came about 4am, and gave me some amazing massage to the sounds of some weird ambient music I had compiled for the occasion, while Anna slept. The massage really helped with the contractions, and this bit was a bit like being in a spa, and really quite nice. When it was properly morning, we had some toast, and Beccy and I went for a walk around Nunhead cemetery, about 8am, with me stopping to lean on trees every time a contraction came. We went back home and the strange time warp of a day continued with the arrival of the midwife, a first birthing pool that was faulty (even though we thought we’d had a trial run), a second birth pool set up by the amazing Jacqui of Sunflower midwives homebirth team who managed to source it at the drop of a hat, me eating a few pieces of melon, the changeover to a different midwife, H, who was very stressy and officious and who apparently slowed my contractions every time she came near me (the doula later reported), more massage, and more and more very intense contractions, and gas and air, until around 8pm I decided I couldn’t take the contractions anymore and needed to go to Kings for an epidural. H examined me, and I was only four centimetres dilated. This decided things, and we went to the hospital.
I was very disappointed to have ended up in hospital because I’d assumed that if I did my hypnobirthing homework things would go to plan. I found it quite hard to accept that it hadn’t worked out. But the people who dealt with me at Kings – both doctors and midwives - made it much easier to cope with the change – they were so amazing and respectful, and I had to revise my preconceptions about hospital births. They gave me the epidural very quickly, and it was an incredible relief to be out of pain. However, after another few hours, there was still no further dilation, and so it was decided I needed to be given syntocinon, which makes contractions stronger. Again, I was really disappointed as I had wanted to give birth without any of this. But this seemed to be what was required. Finally, after being numb from the waist down for about 10 hours, the midwives decided I needed to start pushing soon.
I was completely knackered, and couldn’t understand at all how I was going to do this, when I couldn’t feel anything. The midwives told me not to worry and that they would guide me through it. I stopped pressing the button on the epidural which allows you to control the dose yourself, hoping some sensation would return. It didn’t. Suddenly, the midwife (Jo, who seemed like an angel to me) noticed a deceleration of the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, and several doctors and midwives came rushing into the room. This was quite frightening. The senior midwife then lifted up the sheet that was covering my lower half, and said “That’ll be why, the head’s out!”. The baby – Patti – had quietly birthed herself while I felt nothing and the HCPs looked at the machines. I saw them bring the rest of her out, and someone said ‘You’ve got a girl’ (which I was over the moon about), and lay her on my chest, and beyond that, Anna crying with joy, and probably relief. The drama was not over, though, as after a minute or so, looking down at her while everyone busied about, I noticed she looked white. I told Jo, doctors and nurses rushed in again, and Patti was immediately whipped away from me and into an incubator where something blocking her airways was cleared, then taken to have some precautionary jabs in case she had an infection. But she was back with us within about 20 minutes, and then I managed to calm down a bit, as I hadn’t enjoyed that separation. But Patti was fine after that.
If I had any advice to give, I’d say try to be flexible in your expectations, as that might make it easier to adapt to whatever situation arises. I’d recommend hypnobirthing. At the time, I thought hypnobirthing would help me to have a smooth homebirth with minimal medical intervention. It didn’t. However, what it did help with, which is incredibly valuable, is staying calm. I used the hypnobirthing techniques throughout and I think my calmness and Anna’s really helped us deal with all the situations that arose. The fact that we had practised together meant we were on the same page. And it meant that if I looked like freaking out, she knew what to say to me to help me back to calm.