If, like my sister, you are someone who loves a bit of a back story, grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and settle in for a good read!
I have been lucky in my life that I am generally in good health *touches wood* so as a consequence, whenever I am sick with a cold or sore throat etc I have a tendency to feel very sorry for myself in an 'oh woe is me' way. So when I told my family I was pregnant you could see them thinking 'oh wow, how are YOU going to manage that?'.
Through my work as a Clinical Psychologist I understand the importance of thoughts and feelings on behaviour. Do I think too much because I am a Psychologist or am I a Psychologist because I think so much? Either way I wanted to learn more about birth so I signed my husband and I up to a HypnoBirthing course.
We walked away from that first class feeling like we already understood more about why so many women are fearful of birth and what to do about that. Each further class only deepened our knowledge and trust in the process and we were excited to put the ideas into practice.
Which we definitely did. Twice.
For my son's birth, I fully expected him to be born way after his 'due date' and so I worked up until I was 39 weeks and 2 days pregnant and then did the important things like get my hair cut and a pedicure the next day. It was then the weekend and on the Sunday morning we Skyped my husband, Mitch's family in Australia and after this I remember vividly bursting into tears! My pregnancy had been fairly smooth, with my worst symptom being restless legs at night and suddenly I felt really uncomfortable and no position, sitting or standing suddenly felt very bearable for long and I had so much sympathy for those who suffer with more mobility issues during pregnancy. I think the thing I found particularly hard that day was imagining another 2 weeks of this feeling but in hindsight, I think the baby had moved further down and these feelings were a sign that he was almost coming.
On the day, though, when my first surge came at about 7.30pm that evening, it was completely unexpected. I asked Mitch to start timing on the 'contraction timer' app he had downloaded and my surges were coming about every 7 or 8 minutes.
What surprised me about my surges was that the sensation was exclusively in my lower back and I felt nothing in my abdomen at all. I found that sitting, fully clothed, on the toilet in our en-suite with the lights very low, the most comfortable place to be. We called the hospital at about midnight when the surges were about 3-4 minutes apart and they suggested taking a bath. Mitch pouring water over my back while I leaned forward in the bath really helped relieve the discomfort during surges. We called again a couple of times to check in and then made our way in for about 4am. Throughout the evening, I had spent the time concentrating on my breathing, either in silence or listening to my affirmations.
I'm just glad no one saw me as I left the building to go the hospital. I had my husband's huge hoodie on, my headphones playing the birth affirmations and an eye mask to help me stay 'in the zone' during this change of environment.
On arrival at the Birth Centre, I consented to an internal examination and was told I was between 3 and 4cm and they would admit me. Unfortunately they had no hot water due to a plumbing issue and no beds available so they sent me to the labour ward. They also explained I was dehydrated and the midwife on the labour ward was fab, she brought me two jugs of squash and said I needed to drink them and she would check me again in a little while.
The midwife said if a doctor saw me they would want me on a drip so that certainly gave me an incentive to drink and again I spent most of the time sitting on the toilet, fully clothed. The midwife also brought me 'gas and air' and to my surprise as I imagined it was going to make me sick, I actually found it really helpful to concentrate on my breathing. At about 8.30am they told me they now had space back in the Birth Centre and as my hydration had improved, I could return.
I was examined on my return to the labour ward at about 9am and was 6cm dilated. The midwife ran the birth pool (the hot water had been fixed!) and I spent time either in the pool or back in the bathroom. I wasn't using the gas and air at this point but found using the mouthpiece alone really helpful to keep the focus on my breathing during surges. At the next examination at about 1pm, I was found to be 7cm and the midwife suggested she break my waters (artificial rupture of membranes; AROM) and we used our 'BRAINS' and agreed to this which took place at about 2pm. At around 3/3.30pm I was found to be fully open.
This is the part where both Mitch and I completely forgot anything we had learned in the HypnoBirthing course about this stage and instead were guided by the midwife to push. This part took about 1.5 hours and the midwife helpfully suggested different positions, including moving out of the pool, using a squatting stool and finally giving birth on all fours on the bed. In hindsight, I realised I just hadn't held in mind that at the point of 'full dilation' the baby still needs to move down the birth path which is typically 3-4 inches and so I kept thinking the baby was going to emerge at any time rather than remembering that the baby needed to descend before being born.
The midwife helped me receive the baby as he was born and I brought him up in front of me and showed him to my husband who was definitely staying at the head end! At this point we could see the baby was a boy. I turned over and laid on my back and had skin to skin while we waited for the placenta to deliver. We placed him on my belly and he did the 'crawl' to feed which was simply awesome to witness. I had a couple of minor internal tears that the midwife did a couple of stitches for and honestly, for me, this was the most uncomfortable part of the whole 22 hour period from my first surge to getting into the shower post-birth.
Afterwards I felt 'oh, I really get it now', I want to do it again! We stayed in hospital for that night as it was about 7.30pm before we were cleaned up and in a new room and we stayed a second night to help ensure that breastfeeding was established which was so helpful. and I went on to feed until he was over 1 year old.
Fast forward two years and two months later and I reached my 'due date' for my second pregnancy and was disappointed I hadn't given birth yet. As my son had arrived at 39+6 I was sure this baby would be earlier than that but nope, nothing, nada. I had prepared during this pregnancy by listening to the rainbow relaxation and affirmations, practising the deepening technique with Mitch putting his hand on my shoulder and teaching others HypnoBirthing which really helped me remember all the theory! On the Wednesday before my due date, we had gone together for a 'fear release' hypnosis session and on my due date I listened to a hypnosis script to promote labour starting.
I realised I was putting too much pressure on myself to have the baby and so started telling everyone then that baby was going to arrive on Christmas Day (which was 10 days away) and practised accepting that this baby would be born when he/she was ready. On the following day, I did a couple of jobs I had been putting off (you know the ones; in my case it was sending off information for my tax return) and cooked a roast dinner and watched the finale of Strictly Come Dancing bouncing on my birth ball for the whole programme. I went to bed and then woke at 12.55am (checked my Fitbit on waking!) with a surge but this had happened on the Thursday evening and they had stopped after about an hour and I thought this might be the case again. So I stayed in bed, lying on my side with my eyes closed and concentrated on my breathing.
At 1.42am I woke my husband, Mitch, as I felt like I needed some support and wanted to start timing my surges. At 2.10am, we called the Birth Centre and they asked us to come in to be checked but said they might send us home depending on how things were progressing. My surges through this time had been mostly about 45 seconds long but quite close together, about every 2 minutes.
We started getting dressed and getting our last bits together for our hospital bag, e.g. bottles of water out of the fridge, toiletries etc and Mitch called his Mum and asked her to come over (she was staying just a couple of minutes away).
She arrived at 2.30am and I asked Mitch to ask her to put the television on as I think I wanted to pretend it was still just us in our home. Mitch came back into the en-suite bathroom where I had spent lots of my time sitting on the toilet in between packing my make up bag and I felt like I had a little wobble and said to Mitch 'I don't think I am coping very well' and then thought 'what do I need to do to get me back on track?' so I got my headphones and started to listening to the HypnoBirthing Affirmations and concentrated on slowing my breathing. Mitch had also brought me a drink which I initially declined and then remembered my first birth and that I needed to stay hydrated so I drank it all.
When I wasn't sat on the toilet I was bent over the bed leaning on my elbows and I asked Mitch to give me light touch massage on my lower back. Like my first labour, for me, the majority of the sensations were in my back.
Mitch went to put our bags by the door and when he came back I said you have to take my socks and leggings off and call the Birth Centre as I can't get to the hospital.
He called the Birth Centre at 2.42 and again at 2.50 but there was no answer. When he called again at 2.52, they answered and I was back sitting on the toilet! I could hear them saying I still needed to come in and then I could suddenly feel the head and said this. The midwife asked Mitch if he could see the head and he looked and I quote 'yep I can see it'.
The midwife told Mitch to call the Emergency Services (he's Australian so he said he first thought 000, then thought 911 (he clearly watches too many American movies!) and then remembered it was 999.
By the time he had finished giving our address details, I had instinctively moved to being on all fours on the floor in the en-suite and he crouched down, dropped both the phones to the floor and was just in time to help receive our baby. My body did all the work, I felt her head emerge and then her body followed immediately. I brought her up to my chest and then had to check several times that there wasn't a penis hiding somewhere and we did in fact have a daughter (it was a surprise for us although my inkling during the pregnancy was that I thought she was a girl).
To be honest the next bit is a little bit of a blur for me (due to the speed of the birth, I think the adrenaline must have still been coursing through me) but I remember my mother-in-law coming in to meet her grand-daughter and Mitch had disappeared. When he came back he explained he was looking for a shoelace to tie the umbilical cord, as per the instructions from the 999 operator.
I said I didn't want to cut the cord as I knew that I wanted it to stay attached until it stopped pulsating and that there was no reason to rush to cut it and fortunately the midwife from the Birth Centre was still listening on the other phone and shouted out that it was fine too.
The paramedics arrived 10 minutes after our daughter was born and as I stood up, the placenta came out. They took us to hospital so we could all be checked over and we were home again by lunchtime so our son could meet his little sister.
Everybody has said that we must have been so scared but I am so grateful to HypnoBirthing to equipping us with the knowledge and skills to trust my body and our babies. I really would do it all again tomorrow!