SIMONE & ANOUK
During the two and a half years after the birth of my son my professional focus was teaching Pregnancy and Post Natal Pilates. Together with my dear friend and business partner yoga teacher Corinne Allsopp, we built up a beautiful community of mums in Camberwell, ran birthing workshops and worked on how to prepare a mum physically for birth and then help guide a postpartum mum back to physical function. Becoming pregnant again after being immersed in a world of mums and babies felt full circle. I got to experience it all afresh with heightened awareness and sensitivity, and really take note of all the sensations my body was feeling. I had forgotten just how demanding pregnancy is on a woman’s body, energy levels and mental resilience. I really felt the immensity of all those underlying demands, and with working and running after a toddler at times it felt like a really tall ask. However, I found teaching pregnancy class whilst pregnant incredible.. it made me acknowledge the ladies in my class for taking the time and limited energy reserves to come to class and look after their bodies and their mind too.
From 36 weeks when I found out my daughter was breech nothing about the rest of my pregnancy or labour was anything like my son’s had been, so it was really useful for me to learn more about all the many variations of pregnancy and labour that can happen. After all the work I had done, and my experience of having a 40 minute cab ride (whilst contracting) to hospital in my first labour I was very clear I had wanted to be at home this time. With the words of “she is breech and its unlikely she will turn” being uttered in the 36 week scan, I felt quite shattered that the possibilities of me having the birth I had dreamed of felt quite slim.
Here are a few things I learnt that may be helpful if you are going through similar:
First thing babies really can turn after 36 weeks. I didn’t believe this but it happened. I tried all the natural options first, osteopathy, reflexology, acupuncture, all the spinning babies lying upside down on an ironing board but at 38 weeks she was still head up. I found those 2 weeks hugely stressful and with her head nestled into my rib cage pretty uncomfortable. I slept really badly as I would wake to pee and think she had turned, and my mind would race in the relief of that possibility, only to wake up to the disappointing reality of her head being in the same part of my rib cage. I had decided if she hadn’t turned, I would go for a vaginal breech delivery, but after doing some reading I felt it would be worth giving an ECV a go, knowing I could get them to stop if it felt wrong. It was a tough decision, a big part of me felt she had turned for a reason so why force her to turn back, but in the end I decided to give it a go, and to my surprise she turned very easily. It took under 2min and it really was just a bit uncomfortable but not painful like I had been warned it may be. Some factors that may have contributed to this is that the osteopathy may have made more room in my pelvis for her to be more comfortable head down, she wasn’t engaged so it was an easy turn, she was quite little in a second time mum tummy, so maybe had more room. Or it could have been the skill of the obstetricians doing the ECV. All in all I was very grateful I did it.
Now head down I started getting a lot of Braxton Hicks and thought this could mean things were getting going, but apparently she wasn’t even nearly ready. Whereas my son was 5 days early, this one was a week late.. in that time I had a taste of the somewhat irrational anxiety around due dates, being late and worrying about induction that I totally skipped last time!! And coming out the other side what stuck with me is that we can so easily get caught up in the worry, but really our bodies and babies know what they are doing, and so much of this is about trusting both. When things get going they get going, so being late really isn’t as big of a deal as I thought. I get that I didn’t get to 42 weeks so this would have been a different experience of this if I had, but even still I was amazed at how unnecessarily stressed I got about being even one week late.
So many mums of 2 had said to me that having a 2nd is not about the newborn it’s all about the toddler.. and for me even the logistics of the birth was about my son Zachary! He had been ill so was asleep in bed with me when contractions became regular. My husband Adam had retreated to the sofa to get some sleep away from a horizontally sleeping boy, so after timing 4 regular contractions I went to wake him to say I think we are on! I had been contracting a few nights before but each time Zach had woken coughing they would stop. It almost felt like our little girl was waiting for the space to arrive. But the regularity of this made me think this was it! I had a bloody show and as I stood up contractions became more regular. Our main stress was getting Zach out of our bed and asleep in another room whilst Adam got the pool ready in our room!! Trying to settle Zach whilst having contractions is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget!! Somehow he resettled in 15 minutes, enough time for the midwife to arrive and again I was reminded that somehow things work out! Ironically, Alex the midwife who we spoke to and came I had never met, as the midwife Sophie I had been seeing throughout unfortunately was ill that night and couldn’t be there. However, being part of the Home birth team I felt at ease with her right away.
I had Adam and Corinne with me throughout and having had a taste of what it is like to birth in this way I can’t recommend having a second birth partner enough. Adam was brilliant at getting things set up and checking the water temperature was perfect! And he really was there for me, (just before my waters broke I was hanging on him and said something along the lines of “I feel like something is about to go, but I have no idea what part of me it’s going to come from!!” Sure enough my waters went and it was a massive relief.. also to have him holding me up in that moment felt huge and like he really had me and our baby). I think for both of us, though having a second birth partner who felt to us like a doula, made us feel stronger and like together we had this. Personally, having a woman who had gone through birth and who was breathing through every contraction with me, counting my breaths and letting me know when I had reached the peak of each wave, was a level of support I craved and felt so grateful for. I believed her when she told me my beautiful girl would be here soon.. and she was! A mere 4 hrs compared to the 26 with my son felt like a breeze.. I knew that I could trust my body and that it really knew what to do. Alex reminded me of this, and once my waters had broken I felt ready to push she said if I wanted to get in the pool to go ahead. Amazingly there was no checking, the trust in the room felt tangible. I have to say although this all sounds quite floaty and you may not quite believe that birth can be this way, I know I didn’t until I experienced it, I see now that the support and trust in your people and your body is fundamental to you feeling safe enough to be able to birth in a way that I feel even more strongly, every woman deserves to experience. A large part of this does also feel to be a function of a second time birth, having an idea of what it’s all about, muscle memory and knowing that it is finite all definitely help! But if I compare the support I had during this birth to my first, I can now see I was in no way set up to feel safe in that birth.
Lastly, the part of the birth that I will hold dearest was the very end. Once Anouk’s head was out I really slowed down and let her body descend almost on its own, there was one more push and she was out.. with Zach by the time I got to pushing I just wanted it all to be over and pushed him out as fast as I could. I had a 3rd degree tear with him and so this time I was very aware of taking more time.. I really felt that once her head was out the work had been done and I could slow down.. Anouk came out so calmly and had a look around the room, it was a beautiful moment that will stay with me, my heart was in awe that it had been her in there all along, and she was as perfect as I imagined.
Her brother woke 6 minutes later and came in to find his mama with placenta still attached in a pool in the room he had a few hours earlier been asleep in..all a bit overwhelming.. thankfully a present his sister had managed to get on route was given at that won him over!
Overall, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for being able to experience such a different birth to my first, to have the trust restored in my body and my instincts and for having an intact perineum! (Side note, I used the Epi-no from 38 weeks and highly recommend it!) An hour later we were in bed figuring out a latch.. for sure floating on a mega oxytocin cloud.. it’s a morning I’ll treasure.
Second time round the 4th trimester felt like a gift, having an idea of what it’s all about, and having the confidence to not race to be back on my feet felt like a revelation. Of course the divide of myself to be there for my boy who really needed me was tough, but the newborn bit felt like it fueled me to be there for him. There was a night I remember when he just sobbed and I knew he knew his universe had dramatically shifted. I had to remind myself in those early days that giving him a sibling was one of the best things we could have done for him, but I could feel his confusion, he had been our everything and suddenly there was someone else around and in our room!
Physically the afterpains were a lot more intense than I remembered them and lasted for at least 4 days, and initial feeding was much harder than I expected it to be for the second time. However, not having to deal with a tear/stitches made the early days so much easier, as well as expecting hormones and emotions to be all over the place made me know with a lot more certainty it would all be ok.
Almost 11 months later we are now a solid unit of 4, and couldn't imagine life without our little ray of sunshine. Almost a year since her birth, it still feels crystal clear. Anouk’s birth felt like it empowered me to be more of the instinctual mother I’d wanted to be, and as a family unit I think that has empowered us all.