LYDIA & BAX
After the birth of my first child Rosie, I just couldn’t understand how some ‘lucky’ women described their birthing experience as amazing or empowering. These were definitely not the words I would have used to describe my labour.
My first labour was induced for being ‘post dates’–I made this decision because I was scared – thinking that my placenta would automatically stop working the moment I went past my due date (which I now know is absolutely not the case!) My induction was followed later by an epidural, then an episiotomy due to difficulty in the pushing stage, with both mum and baby showing signs of distress.
After all, I was numb from the waist down, semi-recumbent on a bed with my legs up in stirrups pushing against gravity, so that doesn't really come as much of a surprise - it was hard work! There was a brief discussion about the possibility of an unplanned c-section and in the end I had a ventouse delivery.
This is not a particularly unusual account, and I was left feeling traumatised by the whole experience. My first experience of birth really didn’t need to be like this. I was not prepared and birthing in an environment that made me feel tense.
You can of course have interventions and still have a positive experience. I also believe it is important to not downplay the emotional effect that interventions like forceps or a ventouse can have on you. It can have a huge emotional impact experiencing a ventouse 'delivery', which is pretty much an extraction with a sink plunger!
So, reflecting on my first experience, I hadn’t really made any informed decisions - it was more that I went along with my assumptions about birth and what I thought I was expected to do, meaning that ultimately I was very unprepared.
So when I heard about other women describing their labour as ‘amazing’ I just did not get it - what did they know that I didn’t?! (In all honesty I was getting a bit peed off!) When I fell pregnant with my son, I was desperate to find out more, so like all pregnant women I turned to Google! And the answers all seemed to point me in the direction of Hypnobirthing.
I began to piece together the course of events that had played out in my first labour, and everything clicked into place. We signed up for a local Hypnobirthing class, which was a full two-day course. I released a lot of emotion in the first class and I think that is exactly what I needed to do, so I was then able to move on feeling stronger.
As I began my practise, I completely lost any fear I felt about labour, which in itself was pretty incredible. I went from believing I couldn’t possibly do it all again, to making the decision to have a home birth. This was the right decision for me as a lot of my tension was connected to the hospital environment, I wanted to avoid interventions and I knew that was most likely to happen if I stayed at home.
This time I had the knowledge that my baby would come when he was ready - for me this just happened to be a grand total of 17 days over my estimated ‘due date’. Some doctors did put a lot of intense pressure on me to have an induction and others didn’t (in fact bullying might have been a more accurate word in one case).
The midwives we met were all very supportive (bar one) so it was a case of making an informed decision for ourselves. I was healthy and the baby was healthy. Instead of an induction for going ‘post dates’ I had twice weekly monitoring of baby's heart rate.
When I went into labour I had two community midwives at home with us and they were brilliant and really understood what we wanted. I had started to have some mild sensations about 4pm in the afternoon on the day and we decided to call the midwife about 10pm. By this point we were timing the surges and with disbelief they were quite regular, but I still didn’t feel that things were getting going. We were deciding whether to go to bed or call the midwife, and we thought we might as well make the call. After I phoned the hospital it felt as if the midwives came out pretty much straight away, but my perspective on time was a bit unreliable by then!
The midwives arrived both at the same time - we said hi and they made themselves comfortable in the dining room. At this stage they just left us to be by ourselves in the living room, which is what we wanted. It was dark, warm and cosy and we had the door closed most of the time so I didn’t feel observed at all, which is great for oxytocin production! Every so often the midwives would ask to check my blood pressure and baby’s heart beat. Both our heart rates remained normal throughout and I put this down to being in a state of deep relaxation.
When I practised my relaxations & listened to my affirmations every evening prior to labour (& in the afternoon also if I got the chance!) I always put lavender oil on a cloth and inhaled the smell. This anchor had become so strong that during labour this became my drug! I breathed in the lavender oil with each surge and it instantly took me back to my relaxation practice. If you had told me before that I would use essential oils as a 'pain relief' I would have probably laughed, but because of all my practice it just worked!
I spent most of the time upright leaning on my birth ball, which I had propped on the arm of the sofa, breathing in the lavender oil whilst swaying with my eyes closed and listening to my relaxation music. I also used a TENS machine & I only took this off just before I got into the pool.
Because I had a better understanding of how any interruptions might slow down my progress, I felt confident to wait for any internal examinations and I let my midwife know this. I hadn’t wanted to find out my dilation, as I didn’t think it mattered and I definitely didn’t want anything that might throw me off. A bit later on my midwife popped her head around the door and just repeated the offer. This time I agreed, as we both thought it might be a good idea and curiosity got the better of me! I found having the examination uncomfortable, as I needed to lie down on the sofa for her to check, so I concentrated on my breathing and brought my favourite visualisation to mind. Afterwards, I then stood back up as this felt much more comfortable, which is obvious when you think about it. My midwife looked very happy, so I took out my earphones to hear what she said and was told that I was 8cm, which was brilliant news to hear. I remember feeling ecstatic at this point and I really couldn’t believe I was this far along at all. I then popped my headphones back in and closed my eyes again. That was enough time talking and using my critical thinking brain and I wanted to shut everything out and get back in the zone.
During transition to the down stage of labour I experienced a little kick of adrenaline, so where beforehand we had been fine by ourselves in the front room, I now felt that I wanted my midwives by my side. I had instinctively lowered myself to the floor - my body just knew something was about to happen!
My husband Patrick was able to help me to completely relax again and make me feel safe, as we had practised together. Also my midwife reminded me to focus on my breathing, so I took deep breaths and released any tension I was holding in my body. I remember I had to soften my hands as they had gone into fists at this point and I knew I needed to loose this tension if I wanted things to go smoothly. I focused on my breathing and melted back into relaxation again.
I then eased myself into the birth pool (it was now finally filled!) - the warm water was absolute pure bliss and that’s an understatement. I had a 'rest and be thankful’ phase where I had a pause in surges and I remember saying ‘Oh, it’s stopped’ (the warm water really was that good!) Most importantly nobody rushed me, and everyone just quietly waited whilst I rested leaning on the side of the pool. It did feel a bit like being in the eye of a storm and eerily quiet. A few moments later when the next surge came, baby was on his way and this stage was pretty satisfying this time. As I was in an upright, forward and open position, this stage was super productive and Bax was born really quickly. Once I caught him I scooped him up onto my chest and we had our first cuddle in the pool - he was very content and didn’t really cry. This was an unbelievable feeling - it was just incredible.
The next phase was to birth the placenta; I still managed to forget about this bit even though it was second time around for me! With my first labour I was given an injection (syntometrine) to speed up this process, which is not unusual after an epidural. However as a side effect it made me violently sick, so this time we decided to just wait for it to happen naturally, which it did.
So just as I had prepared and practised for, hoped for and imagined many times before, I gave birth to our son in the birth pool at home. Bax was born at 03.43am. He weighed 7.lb 3oz so for 17 days ‘overdue’ he knew what he was doing! The best thing for me was that he was born at 03.43am and at 05.05 am I was handed my postnatal discharge papers! This had been another reason I chose to have a home birth, as I had a few issues getting discharged with Rosie and I had found it a bit grim on the postnatal ward.
Thanks to Hypnobirthing my experience was calm, manageable and even pleasurable at times. There is no doubt in my mind that this birth could have ended up with me feeling very differently if I hadn’t trusted my instincts and fought for the birth I knew would be right for me and my baby. I just knew I would birth better at home.