Hypnobirthing. It’s quite a loaded word and brings with it a LOT of misconceptions. Today I’m talking about one of the most widespread misnomers and telling you why a hypnobirth is NOT about avoiding all the drugs and giving birth naturally– it’s actually about something much greater than that…
When I gave birth to my daughter 2 years ago the experience left me a totally changed person (read about it here). I was full to the brim with self-confidence and I felt like “if I can do that- I can do ANYTHING!” I’m not going to lie- it was a great feeling.
Now I knew that that was because of lots of reasons- the way I was looked after by amazing midwives, the way I was surrounded by 3 incredible birth partners, the fact that everything that happened was my choice. Loads of things contributed to the whole experience being incredible.
The thing is, although I knew there were all these amazing things, I couldn’t help but have this nagging feeling that I felt that way purely because I had the traditional hypnobirth- no drugs, no interventions and born at home. I knew that nagging feeling wasn’t true. I knew that it was totally possible to feel the way I felt in other circumstances too. I knew that mums could definitely feel that way after an elective c-section or an induced birth. And that was what I always preached. But still there was that nagging feeling.
Then I had an experience that showed me that that nagging feeling was indeed the pile of crap I knew it to be.
I had an ectopic pregnancy (click here if you want to find out more). I had to have surgery to save my life and simultaneously end the pregnancy. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t how I had pictured anything. But I did it. I made that decision and I faced some of my biggest fears that day. And by doing so I’ve got that feeling again. That feeling of “if I can do that, then I can do anything”.
An experience that couldn’t have been further from what we wanted and yet there’s that’s wonderful feeling again.
That’s the feeling I want for you. That’s the feeling I want every mum to feel as she enters into the journey of motherhood. And I know that whatever type of birth you have, you can feel it too. I know that because I’ve experienced it myself, I know that because of the wonderful stories I hear from the mums that do our courses (read about some of them here) and I know that because it’s what I truly believe in my heart.
So, hypnobirthing- it’s definitely not about refusing all drugs, you haven’t failed if you don’t have a home birth and you can certainly use it for whatever birth you have. Feeling a little more interested in it now??
If you really want to get on board and get that feeling too then please do book onto one of our courses in Southend or Upminster. Or if you’re not sure what it’s all about, then send us an email, ask us anything, we’re always happy to help. We are ALL on a mission to make motherhood better- and that starts with a good birth.
“Oh, she’s sticking her nose into our relationships now…”, you think to yourself, “as if it’s not enough to be talking to us about our vaginas all day long.”
Soz and all that, but I am telling you this. Birth changes everything. EVERYTHING. It’s like you were living in the matrix, and suddenly you woke up. The world isn’t how you used to think it was. The stuff you used to think was important- not so much anymore. And this whole new level unlocked- unthinkable emotions and realisations, an entirely new perception of the building blocks of life itself. SERIOUSLY. It’s fucking profound.
And not always in the most brilliant way for your relationship. If you are well prepared for birth, even a challenging experience can unite you as a pair. SO often, women I’ve worked with tell me, ‘I couldn’t have done it without him, he was my rock.” And these are not individuals who would have considered themselves to be particularly worthy of the birth partner of the year award. Usually, when we begin, they are clueless, resistant, anxious or in denial. But by the birth, they are truly, entirely part of the dream team.
I tell the couples I support about this, one of my faves from Ina May Gaskin (Check out anything of hers by the way- and don’t judge a book by it’s cover- she may appear to be slightly wild, but that woman KNOWS HER STUFF).:
If a woman in labour doesn’t look like a Goddess, then someone isn’t treating her right.
So the partners know- THIS is their objective. What does Goddess mean in this context? Not so much flowers in her hair, serene AF, but far more than this, greater things than this. Who would mess with a Goddess? No one. Who is the creator? SHE is- she is literally birthing a brand new universe (or someone’s lifetime perspective of it, which is the same thing- if you don’t believe me, physics agrees, so…). Who would mess with that? Goddess means autonomous, respected, served physically and emotionally, her comfort and satisfaction at the forefront of all decision making, her every whim tended, her voice HEARD.
If you can do the Goddess work, as her partner, you are getting a big fat A*. And after the birth- she will love you more than ever before. If you were by her side when she was simultaneously powerful, and vulnerable, and you her back… will see her for who she is, and you will be renewed in your love for her too.
And of course that’s all really fricking NICE. But what if not? What if she felt let down? Or abandoned? Or alone? Or compromised? Or her partner felt impotent? Alienated? Cast aside? Shouted down? Out of ideas?
I hear all of this from couples who come to me when they are preparing for second babies. That there is healing to do. That they entered into this great adventure of parenthood divided, resentful, hurt. And when no one is getting much sleep, (have you heard?) even the little things can be hard to get over. When you’re tag teaming in a battle of Adults vs Newborn, you need each other.
So I urge you- prepare TOGETHER. Share your concerns (both of you), your needs (both of you), your hopes for the birth (again…). Communication is so key. Watch some birth videos where the partner is integral and effective- offer your partner a role model- often they have no one to learn from. Talk about how you each want to feel after the birth, and make commitments to each other.
Team cohesion is a significant advantage in the early days, in fact, ALL THE DAYS of parenthood. Seek the synergies and stay connected.
For pregnancy and birth. For hospital or home. In a pool or a theatre. Til for Uni they depart.
The lovely Sarah answers some questions about her journey…
What did you know about breastfeeding before got pregnant?
Interestingly despite being well into my 30s and several friends with babies, before I was pregnant I didn’t know a huge amount from friends or family’s experiences as it wasn’t something that was openly shared, I have noticed since having a baby though people are much more open. Also unfortunately both my husband and I had lost our mothers when we were young, so we didn’t have that side of information or views either. However due to my profession as a dietitian I had learnt the benefits during my training and felt that ‘fed is best’ but being taught about it in a clinical setting and experiencing it in real life I knew could be very different.
There are definitely things I wish people had told me or given me before such as nipple cream is your friend, you can never have too much (I didn’t have any when I started!). Also I wish I had realise that it’s all about the latch, it is the key and take the time to ensure you understand how to and how to check, it is undoubtedly the most important part.
– What did you learn whilst you were pregnant?
During my pregnancy my husband and I both did lots of reading and research, I have to admit we both felt the NHS antenatal classes were not quite as informative as we had hoped, but we also did do a group NCT class which we found useful and have made some great friends from. From all of this my husband and I decided we wanted to try and exclusively breastfeed but understood that if there were problems or that it didn’t work we were open to whatever was best, as I love the quote now, ‘fed is best’, it became my mantra.
– What sort of start did you have?
On Good Friday, Theo was born at 3.34am, as you can imagine I was exhausted and as expected we tried to breastfeed pretty soon after birth. It was trickier than I expected, but the midwives were really helpful, but unfortunately it was all a blur, but apparently it seemed ok. After I slept for a couple of hours we tried again and the student midwife was very patient at going through it all again. However during his check up it was discovered that Theo had tongue tie, but apparently it wasn’t severe so were told it shouldn’t be a massive problem but they referred us immediately to the tongue tie clinic (unfortunately being Good Friday everything was closed and we were likely to be contacted after the bank holiday about it – which we were but over 6 weeks until the appointment!). During the course of the morning we had several midwives come in and talk us through things regarding feeding and gave us lots of support and after another successful feed we were discharged home just after 1pm that day. However we soon discovered that the feeding wasn’t going right, with Theo latching frequently and feeding for hours at a time and by the time the midwives came for my next day follow up at 4pm, my nipples were cracked and bloody and feeding was extremely painful. My sister and father had even gone out to get formula in case we needed it, as it was a bank holiday, and were we’re worried about dehydration. However the midwives were brilliant and spent so much time helping me latch and different feeding positions and encouragement but also there was never the pressure to continue if I couldn’t. However they did diagnose me with mastitis after a few day, and referred me to the GP for antibiotics and encouraged me to continue breastfeeding, despite the excruciating pain, as it is one of the best ways to help clear the infection (which I did but with the assistance of a double dose of antibiotics!). This fantastic support carried on daily for 4 or 5 days and then every few days until I was discharged to my health visitor at 2 weeks. Unfortunately though on her first visit Theo had lost nearly 10% of his weight and she immediately referred us to the Breastfeeding Specialist Midwife at the hospital and got us seen that day! (The HV was surprised we hadn’t seen her or been referred already). The midwife was amazing and gave me reassurance, advice and support. Thankfully she also got us seen earlier on the tongue tie clinic as were struggling so much (my father in desperation had tried to find a private clinic to help).
I hoped this would help settle down the feeding but unfortunately it didn’t. Theo continued to struggle with feeding, getting upset and agitated during feeds. To cut a long story short he was diagnosed with silent reflux. We continued to breastfeed and commenced medication for his reflux after seeing a private paediatrician as my GP wasn’t interested, which did help improve feeding, he was less agitated and fussy but a feed would still take at least 45 minutes.
Then when we thought things would start to improve the Consultant thought Theo had CMPA (Cows milk protein allergy) so I went dairy free, for 6 weeks but after reintroducing dairy it was apparent it wasn’t the case and likely a case of allergic colitis from my earlier courses of antibiotics.
Unfortunately Theo continued to gain weight too slowly and dropped off the bottom of the centile chart, after being born at a good weight of 7lb7 (25th centile) and although I know the charts are not the be all and end all (thanks to my training and some great support from friends and my Health Visitor), we knew we needed to do more. So at 4 months we started to introduce a bottle of dairy free formula (we had already started top ups of expressed but it wasn’t helping). After a slight improvement of weight we realised we needed to increase and over time Theo started to gain better weight and we saw an improvement in him. He had always been a cheery baby but now it was for longer periods as he was more content as no longer hungry.
However introducing this bottle feeding led to him getting frustrated with breastfeeding. He would always latch well but after a while would get agitated, I can only presume as he wasn’t getting as much milk as quickly as from a bottle (feeding sessions had continued to be over an hour). I continued to express and try topping up with formula and breast milk but over time my milk production started to slow and we finally stopped all breastfeeding just about a month ago when he was 9 months old. However he is now back to a good weight and remains a happy chappy that is an extremely terrible flirt!
During this rollcoaster of a ride my husband, family and friends have supported me amazingly , although they were concerned for my sanity and discomfort. They did occasionally say are you sure you should be carrying on, after a discussion with my husband, he was very supportive of my decision each time. He was just checking in on me to ensure I was ok and that I understood he supported me no matter what I decided/needed to do. I do have to admit though one or two people did keep commenting on why was I bothering to keep breastfeeding once we introduced formula. However although it ended up being formula fed with a breast feed top up, I wanted to give him as much as I could as something would still give him some benefits.
By the time we finished breastfeeding completely I was at peace with our breastfeeding journey. Although it had been extremely hard at times (I won’t lie, there were some dark times) and painful, it was also rewarding, that I could actually feed him at all as I know many women can not. I know that he is a healthy, happy, gorgeous little boy and however we have done it, it has been right for him and us. Now we are weaning he is a right little hunger monster and loves his food!
Sarah undoubtedly Did It Like A Mother – navigating the unexpected and making choices as needed for the benefit of her family… we are all about that here – there’s no one right way to do anything when it comes to babies, but coming out of any situation knowing you did what was right for you is what matters to us!
If you’ve got a feeding story to share and inspire with, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why? Yep- it’s mega lolz, but it’ so much more than that. As mothers, we have SO MUCH ON. Whether we work outside the home or are with our kids full time, have partners, friends, lives to keep up with, on top of keeping small humans alive- it’s relentless and everlasting.
When we are in that headspace, it’s easy to become consumed by our own outlook on the world, and to seek to justify our own approach to life by comparing and contrasting to others. We judge (even silently), ourselves and others, and lose sight of the fact that we are each striving to do our very best for our families in our own unique circumstances.
I find it SO INSIGHTFUL when we share our perspectives of the things we have in common. It reminds me that we each come at every single challenge carrying our own stuff, with varying degrees of info and support, and some good or bad luck sprinkled on top.
We mother best when we mother together, but that doesn’t mean we need to mother the same. To #doitlikeamotherhood means to accept this, and to say, “I’ve got your back, even if I don’t agree with you.” Sometimes that will mean sharing information, sometimes an act of kindness or simply a smile.
So let’s speak our truths, hear each other and stand together in solidarity. Your highs may be my lows, my triumphs your traumas, but our commonalities run through it all. We share the striving, the stressing, the waking, the working, the loving, the loathing, the wishing and missing. So let’s do it together.
I was so pleased when Keri asked if I was interested in getting our Feeding Friday blogs back up and running. Pre-kids I had never realised how important breastfeeding and all the surrounding talk was to me.
I had only had limited exposure to breastfeeding up close – my aunts all breastfed for varying lengths of time, but as we are scattered around the country that only meant I saw so many breastfeeds in action. A few friends gave it a go with their babes, but for varying reasons most switched out to bottles quite quickly, some felt quite shy to feed in front of people too, so again limited exposure to seeing it up close, and I’ve noticed a huge trend for the use of feeding aprons when out and about…. I’m all for whatever works to make you feel comfortable however you feed or parent your children, but again these mask what is now to me a very normal everyday occurrence.
This meant that by the time I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed for at least 6 months, but really I didn’t have much of a clue about the reality or practicalities of HOW to breastfeed!
It didn’t help that breastfeeding was a huge uphill struggle for Florence and I from the moment she was born… strangely though once she was here my determination to exclusively breastfeed became a primal urge that I couldn’t let go of. I searched high and low for the answers we needed to make it work… but it shouldn’t have to be that hard for women!! No doubt our early experiences contributed to my massive struggle in adapting to motherhood, and we need to change the conversation and support surrounding breastfeeding to support women during this transition to help prevent women feeling like they have failed in some way… Obviously how you feed your baby doesn’t make or break your parenting, but I know how awful I felt when I though I was going to have to stop before I was ready. The guilt, the shame, the anger, the disappointment, the sadness… the lack of choice. Nobody should be having to make choices which leave them feeling like that, but unfortunately I know I’m far from alone in that experience.
Obviously not every mum will want to breastfeed, or feel so strongly about continuing if it’s difficult, but perhaps with more information, exposure, real life stories and support, more women will see it as an actual option – as something they too can achieve.
Because nowadays women are subtly bombarded with the message that its unlikely to work out for many reasons, just like with birth… I can’t tell you how much ‘urghh’ this creates for me! Its everywhere: the subtle formula marketing strategies, the news stories which imply its unacceptable to feed your baby in public, the ‘fed is best’ motto being shouted from the rooftops currently (for the record I’m not saying starving you baby is an acceptable option – but just like with feeding ourselves – fed is the minimum acceptable level. there will always be an optimum diet for us all!) the horror stories of babies starving ‘because they breastfed’, the myth that breastfed babies are ‘worse sleepers’ than their formula fed counterparts, or the other myth that you cannot have a drink whilst breastfeeding, even the tales of women’s nipples falling off (not literally thank fuck!) as their baby chews them into oblivion whilst breastfeeding.
Why are the women who have achieved their breastfeeding goals, or overcome difficulties, or fed their babies right through to toddlerhood or beyond not the ones sharing their stories with us?! They are the stories we should be filling up on, building our confidence and information banks to know that yes, most women CAN achieve their feeding goals with the right support and encouragement. And it starts before baby is born – fill yourself up on our Feeding Friday posts and know that you can do whatever is right for you and your family like an absolute Mother!! I’m not saying it’s always easy (my story is here if you want to see how we overcame our many difficulties for example) but that it is most definitely an option if you WANT it to be!
Last week I shared with you an incredibly emotional experience. Sharing those emotions helped me out more than I can explain. It was really cathartic to get those words out of me and the support that I got from everyone as a result… well there aren’t the words to say how grateful I am. So, now it’s time for me to give something back to you. It’s time for me to share the good from that experience. You see, I learnt a lot over those few days of being in hospital and I think that some of those things are the golden keys to a great birth experience, so here they are…
1. Ask ALL the stupid questions.
When it comes to the birth of your baby it is so important that you are aware of what is going on and not just being thrown from one unknown to the next. Before you agree to any intervention (unless it is a true emergency) please ask, ask, ask. If it hasn’t been made clear to you what exactly is happening, then ask. If you’re not sure what someone means when they use a medical term- ask. Ask what the potential implications could be. Ask what the benefits might be. Ask if you can still have you music playing. Ask if you can still use the birthing pool. Ask whatever is important to you… even if you feel a little silly. I promise you will feel a million times better if you understand what is happening and when you look back on that experience it will be far more positive if you were able to feel in control.
2. Accept ALL the help.
Any time in pregnancy or after the baby is born, if someone offers to help you in some way- please say yes. If they offer to hang your washing out whilst you rest- do it. If they offer to cook you dinner- let them. If someone wants to help you bring the shopping in from the car- welcome them with open arms (well, maybe not if they are a complete stranger… but you know what I mean). People WANT to help. People like to feel needed, to be there for their nearest and dearest. So, do them a favour and let them.
We are fed so much rubbish through the TV and other media about birth. A lot of it involves fear and pain, and that’s about it. But birth doesn’t have to be like that. It can be the most empowering experience of your life. Fill your mind with positive birth scenarios- watch videos of home and hospital births, read about positive c-sections. Teach yourself that birth can be different. And then the magic happens- sit and take the time to visualise a positive birth. Dare to dream. Think of that friendly midwife, imagine yourself riding the metaphorical waves of the birthing process with grace and ease. Show yourself that it will be ok. Once you start down this path, things can only get better.
4. Share your fears.
What’s that saying? A problem shared is a problem halved?
If you are worrying about something… tell someone. Once a fear is on our mind it is hard to just get rid of it. The hypnobirthing techniques will help you to address some of these fears in pregnancy but some of them will need to be discussed with your midwife or doctor to put your mind at ease, especially if something comes up during the birth that you hadn’t realised before. If you don’t tell your midwife what is worrying you then she won’t know and won’t be able to help you. If you tell her she can reassure you or she can help you to avoid that particular situation. Plus, it feels good to get these things off of your chest. It will definitely help.
5. Listen to your gut.
If your gut instinct is screaming at you that something isn’t right or if you have a niggle that what the medical team are suggesting isn’t best for you and your baby. Listen to it. The power of a mother’s instinct is not to be underestimated. It is a powerful thing, if you tune into it and follow it. So, if it is telling you to go one way but your brain is telling you to just do as you are told or to be quiet because ‘they know best’, please dig deep, find the strength and speak up. Share what you feel and lean into that feeling each time it comes to making a decision. You know your body and your baby best, so only you truly know what is best for the both of you.
Ok, I make that 5 things now. I think that’s about right. I really do believe that if I didn’t apply these things to my experience last week, it would have been very different. Despite the sadness of what we were going through, I look back on that time with pride. I was strong, I faced the surgery without fear (well ok there was a little fear… but I didn’t run out of the hospital screaming, so I’m taking that as a win) and I did what I knew I needed to do for the sake of myself and my family. I want you to be able to look back on the birth of your baby and feel the same way too. I want you to feel proud and I want you to be able to say “I did it like an absolute mother”.
Not the swears, because we all know I love that shit. (You know swearers are shown to be more intelligent, right?)
No- I’m talking more consequential stuff. The words that weaken us, water us down, waste away our power.
I spend a fair while on our HYPNOBIRTHING FOR ABSOLUTE MOTHERS COURSE exploring this concept- why language matters. Initially, I see resistance. I see women, and their partners, thinking- “The rest of this all makes sense so far, but I cannot possibly ask my midwife not to mention pain of contractions otherwise she will think I am completely off my rocker…”.
I get it- ‘sensations’ and ‘surges’ feel a bit too sickly sweet to begin with. What difference can they really make? Turns out, a LOT.
Look for pain, and you shall find it. Look right now. Go on. Scan your body and you will find some kind of niggle you were previously unaware of. Monitor for pain (maybe so that you can assign a number to the severity) and it will intensify under the spotlight of your gaze.
When I ask women to consider avoiding talk of pain, I’m not saying that means it’ll therefore be pain free. (I’m not insane or stupid). But I know, because life tells me every day, that the words we hear affect our state of mind and therefore our bodies.
How are you gonna feel if the person next to you tells you they have nits? What sensations will your mind create at the suggestion? How will your mind, and body respond if someone uses threatening or aggressive language towards you? There are words some people just cannot tolerate- there’s a village not far from us called ‘Vange’- I’ve lost count of the number of people who shudder at the sound..
The words used around you in labour WILL impact on the way you feel, and therefore the way you labour (you know about oxytocin, right?) Almost more importantly, they will affect your perception of your experience when you reflect back on it- and this is the rest of your life, remember.
Were people kind to you? Did they use your name? Were conversations positioned appropriately as, ‘here are your options, the pros and cons, our recommendations, what would you like to do?’, or ‘you need xxx now’?. The language that frames our experiences defines our view of it.
‘Failure to progress’, ‘Poor maternal effort’- WTAF?!
There should be ABSOLUTELY NO SPACE CREATED for a woman who grew a human, and had it exit her body, to feel anything other than magnificent. She ought to be unconditionally supported, respected, and nurtured- physically and emotionally.
Pleased to see this in the BMJ, but saddened that this isn’t the most intrinsically understood principle already.
Make a promise to yourself now that you will not tolerate anything that is unfit for the birthing badass that you are. HOW THOUGH? Many wonderful midwives are fully aware of this stuff and passionately pursuing better birth talk. But not everyone. I hear disappointing stories regularly- online, at playgroups, wherever. So, HOW? You need a birth partner who is ready and equipped to advocate for you. How do you sort them out? We’ll do it for you.
Language considerations are a the heart of our brand- birth is not something that happens to you, it’s something you DO, like an ABSOLUTE MOTHER. Just let us dig out of you what you already know- you are powerful, courageous and resilient. You’ve fucking got this. #doitlikeamother
Even if you’ve been around here for a while, be honest- you read ‘hypnobirthing’ and you picture… what? For most people, dimly lit, fairly quiet, home water birth. And sometimes, YES- it’s exactly that. But you know what strikes me when I hear from clients who have births like this- especially if they are first time mums? I think to myself, ‘it’s fricking fantastic- they didn’t need to fully utilise hypnobirthing.’
SAY WHAT? Of course they did, right? I mean it’s still hard work, and they had what was probably, mostly, their dream birth. So how is it that they didn’t fully use hypnobirthing, to get a classic hypnobirth?
(How many times can I reasonably type hypnobirth before seriously doubting the spelling??)
Here’s the thing… One HUGE element of the way we educate women and their partners is to prepare them to make satisfying, sometimes difficult choices.
We were talking about choice at Pregnancy Relaxation Group the other night, and there were women who were completely familiar with the experience of being railroaded- of being led to believe they had no choices in their circumstances. This is true of most women who come to see us for a second baby- they repeat, in devastating chorus, “I wish I’d known, if only I’d realised…”
BUT one of the beauts who is back for her second round of doing it like a mother said she’d never had any of her options restricted. (“But then, I’ve been low risk both times.”, she said.)
Now again, this is BRILLIANT. I wish it could be this way for EVERY WOMAN. But it ain’t.
As soon as any single indicator catapults you from low, to high, you may well find yourself in a sea of stipulations, policies, restrictions. And you know what? You don’t have to accept any of it. I repeat- you don’t have to. You COULD. Maybe you even SHOULD. Some of it makes absolute sense. But when we consider that Trust Guidelines can vary from one to the next, that some of them don’t match up with NICE guidelines, and that only 9-12% of the Green Top Guidelines are based on Grade A evidence, we can quickly realise that maternity care is not the clear cut world we are sold.
You’re not a better or worse mother for accepting or declining an epidural, monitoring, induction, C-section, whatever. You’re in your own specific set of circumstances, with your own life experiences and natural levels of risk aversion guiding you.
BUT HOW can you possibly have the confidence to demand the information you need in helpful terms? To be afforded an appropriate amount of time to make a decision? To advocate for yourselves and avoid bowing to pressure against your wishes? To make rational decisions in the most emotional of moments?
HYPNOBIRTHING. Yep. The way we do it. It’s not all breathing and chilling and lavender oil (although all that stuff ROCKS). It opens your mind to a variety of possibilities, in an honest, yet sensitive way. We know you don’t wanna think about anything but the birth you want. We DEFINITELY don’t want you getting hooked on One Born Every Minute or other people’s awful birth stories. So what’s the difference between that and planning for the birth you don’t really want, as we encourage you to?
When you absorb OBEM or the social nonsense, you do not know the full picture. Your rational mind kinda gets this, but the subconcious is lapping up the fear and growing it by the second. When you make plans for scenarios B and C, you are protecting yourself, and squashing your fear by retaining some control. You get, ‘EVEN IF’.
Even if I end up in hospital, when I wanted home, this is how I can affect the environment. Even if I agree to continuous monitoring, this is how I can remain upright and mobile. Even if I opt for a C-section at any point, these are the ways I can ensure it’s as similar as possible to a vaginal birth.
Why does any of this even matter? Because it’s well known that women experience birth trauma largely as a result of how they feel about the way they were treated, rather than what specifically happened. Autonomous vs coerced. Respected vs patronised. Human vs vessel. Recognising that EVERY crossroads presents a choice, and that IT IS yours to make, and then salvaging what you can from the things that matter to you, is key to a healthy emotional state beyond the birth.
If you’re low risk, and remain so, you probably don’t have to worry about this stuff.
So is hypnobirthing ok for High Risk Pregnancies? YES. Absolutely yes. These are the women who need it the most.
OK… deep breaths… here goes. I want to share something with you but it won’t be easy.
I want to tell you about what happened to me last week. It was something so profound, something so special, life changing and yet so sad at the same time.
Last week I lost my baby.
I was 6 weeks pregnant.
I had gone to the hospital with persistent bleeding at 4 weeks and all they could do was book in a scan at 6 weeks. I went away knowing that something wasn’t quite right. I could feel it in my gut. We waited those 2 weeks, not knowing how to feel.
We arrived at the hospital that morning, we were optimistic. We were talking about how it would be fine and everything would be ok. We waited.
We went into the small dark scanning room and waited some more. We were told the lining of the womb was thin, there was no baby there… but I knew. I knew there was a baby. I knew the baby was still with us.
She continued to scan and then… there it was. My baby. Too small to discern from the other greys and blacks on the screen, but it was there… in my Fallopian tube. The lovely nurse doing my scan obviously didn’t want to upset me. She didn’t want to tell me the grave news for sure and she kept saying that there was “a mass” near my ovary. That’s what she referred to it as because that was all she could say.
I turned to my husband and gave him a thumbs up with a forced smile on my face… a rather grave and feeble attempt at humour. He didn’t laugh.
Then there was more waiting. A quick trip to another nurse for a blood pressure check and some blood tests. And finally we see the consultant. She confirms what we already know. The pregnancy is ectopic. I’m a midwife- I know exactly what this means. I know the baby cannot be saved and I know that my life is in danger. Almost immediately she tells me I need surgery… that afternoon.
I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t prepared. So, I ask the question I need to know the answer to- is there any way we can avoid surgery? I’m panicking. Having surgery is one of my big fears. Plus I don’t exactly fall pregnant easily, I already have polycystic ovaries and to remove a tube wouldn’t exactly help my chances of falling pregnant again.
Her tone changes and she takes the time to talk me through all of the options- I can wait but the tube is already quite full with blood and if my hormone levels are high there is a very high chance it will rupture, I can have an injection but this is simply to prevent the pregnancy from developing any further and it looks as though it has already stopped in my case anyway or we can have the surgery. We make a plan together- the three of us- if my hormone level is less than 1,000 I can wait and return for regular blood tests but if it is higher than 1,000 surgery is the safest option. I feel happy with this plan. I feel like I’ve been given a choice in an otherwise hopeless situation.
So, we were back to waiting again. We make the phone calls and update our family. And we wait some more. Then we get the phone call- the test results are back. My hormone level is just over 7,000… and I feel relief. I feel relief that we made the previous plan and now we have our answer. There’s no grey area- it’s simple, I need the surgery. My life is in danger if I don’t have it and I have a toddler to look after- I have to be ok.
For the first time in my life I am a patient in an NHS hospital. We sit in the Observation Area, waiting to be admitted. We go through the usual checks. I’m normally the one asking these questions, I’m normally the one taking the swabs, not the other way around. The nurse fills in the long form “Any allergies?”, “Any loose teeth, caps or crowns?” etc, etc. The name band goes on my wrist, the cannula in my hand. I refuse to sit on the hospital bed, I’m not ready to be a patient yet. The surgeon comes to see us and there are more questions. Again, I ask more questions- “Can it be done under a spinal, so I can stay awake?”. The answer was no of course, and I knew that but it felt good to ask anyway.
Then we get moved to the ward, they want to take me on the bed. I refuse. I’m not ready to be a patient yet. We settle into our little corner of the ward. I’ve got a window view- lucky me. I do genuinely mean that, the fresh air was very welcome and so was a glimpse of the outside world (even if it was the view of a Pizza Hut, whilst I wasn’t allowed to eat a thing- the irony!).
Again, we find ourselves waiting. I was on an emergency list and thankfully I wasn’t classed as urgent enough. I took that to be a good thing. I was happy being ‘stable’. Another surgeon comes to see us, then an anaesthetist. Again, with the silly questions. I make sure they know my worries and fears and I make sure I know as much as I need to to feel certain this is the right thing.
This whole time we make small talk, we talk a lot about our daughter. We talk about how lucky we are to have her. How lucky we are that I am ok. How lucky we are that we are being so well looked after by the nurses and doctors. How lucky we are that our wonderful family are there to look after our daughter at a moment’s notice. We are so lucky. It’s only when I put my head down on the pillow for some rest, it’s only when the conversation stops that those raw emotions begin to flow. The tears fill my eyes. The grief for the baby we have lost staring me blankly in the face. No hiding from it now. But that’s ok. My husband holds me tight and we cry together. We let those emotions out. It’s ok to cry.
Eventually, they call it a night. It’s midnight and it’s too late. My husband has been by my side this whole time. They never asked him to leave when visiting ended. They knew that waiting for surgery should not be done alone and they allowed him to be with me but now it’s late and he needs to go home and sleep. He leaves me munching on some NHS tea and toast (having made it hundreds of times over the years and spoken of the magical powers of NHS toast for mums after they give birth, I finally got to experience it and it did not disappoint). I settled down in bed and I got a few hours of broken sleep.
I woke in the morning feeling ready. Knowing what needed to happen and being ok with it. I decided to do a little visioning exercise to put my nerves at ease. Just like we teach mums to do in our classes. I imagined the process of going to the theatre, going to sleep and then waking up and feeling well. That really helped me. It reminded me that it didn’t have to be the scary experience I was worried it could be.
Then the lovely surgeon that was *actually* going to do the surgery came to see me. She knew some of the doctors I work with at my hospital and that put my mind at rest. Plus she was a consultant. Both of these things really helped me to relax.
My husband popped in to see me again and we waited for the porter to come and take me to the theatre. He came eventually and off we went. We were chatting the whole way- bizarrely about the porter’s uniform but the lightheartedness of the conversation helped to relax me even more. I said goodbye to my husband at the theatre door. I knew I would be ok. In I went. Greeted by more lovely staff. Chatting to the HCA about Malteasers. Then finally to the theatre.
There in the doorway was my surgeon. Smiling at me, looking at ease. As I went to sleep that was the last thing I remember. And I knew I would be ok.
The next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. I was screaming, screaming for my baby. My subconscious mind was strong at this point in time and the emotions were raw. In fact, knowing that is helping me even now. Knowing that there is a part of me screaming for my baby, grieving, hurting, sad. I don’t think I have really grieved on a conscious level yet, and I feel guilty for that. I feel guilty that I don’t hurt emotionally as much as I think I should. But I know that there is a part of me that is. A part of me that will never forget, that will always remember. And when that part comes to the surface I know I’m surrounded by the most amazing friends and family who will gladly lend me their shoulders to cry on.
Coming round from the anaesthetic was fine, just a moment of not being able to breathe but it soon resolved and I was ok. Off I went, back to the ward where my husband was waiting. I was incredibly sleepy and I couldn’t really eat much but otherwise I was surprised at how well I felt. I even went for a walk around the ward.
I had one moment of panic in the evening when I was suddenly overcome with pain. It came out of nowhere and scared me. However I took an ibuprofen and it subsided. The rest of the night was uneventful. I managed to get some sleep and by the next morning I was up, out of bed and eating well again.
It was a strange experience, being a patient in hospital. Being cut off from the outside world. It seemed like a dream really. I went home later that day. I made the difficult decision not to see my daughter. She is still breastfeeding and although the doctors had said all the drugs would be fine, I wanted to make sure that they were fully out of my system before she fed. I also knew that she would just want to be attached to me the whole day and I was still recovering, I didn’t want to risk injuring myself when trying to pick her up or cuddle her. So, I knew the best thing was to just see her the next day. It felt selfish but I knew it was the right thing to do.
The next few days were a blur of resting, napping, talking. I didn’t spend any time on my own for 5 days. I couldn’t deal with it emotionally and I was so grateful to be surrounded by all of my family. Looking after me and my daughter. We are so lucky.
The reason I’m sharing my story is… well there are two reasons really. The first is purely selfish. I want you to know what I went through and it feels so good to write it down and to share how I’m feeling. I know so many women that have been through the loss of a baby, some early in the pregnancy, some later. I’ve always been afraid to bring up the subject for fear of causing upset but now being the one going through it, I want to talk about it, I want to be upset, I want people to remember my baby, to acknowledge what we went through. For now, sharing feels good.
The second reason is that I learned a lot. I learned what it’s like when things aren’t straightforward, I learnt that even in those circumstances good can still come from it and I learned how truly wonderful our NHS is. So, I will share what I have learned in a separate post. I will share how my experience can help you when it comes to giving birth… but that will be for another day. To be honest, it’s this knowledge, the knowing that so much good can come from this situation, that is really helping me through. Knowing that even though my baby was only with us for such a short time, there will be so much good in the world as a result. I’m looking forward to sharing all of that goodness with you and I can’t wait to see just how much good can come from a really rather crap situation.
So, thank you for reading, thank you for being there, thank you for giving me the inspiration to keep going. You’re all truly wonderful.
PS I asked my husband to take photos of me along the way, I think they will help me as I process what happened and they will help me deal with the grief on the days that it comes, I have included them here because I felt they helped to paint the picture of our journey.
I read this brilliant, thought provoking piece from Kate and Alison at The Motherload, reflecting on the fact that today marks 100 years since women were allowed to vote. (I actually didn’t know that it was women over 30 and men over the age of 21 at the time… I don’t even know where to start on that).
I’ve always had a vague awareness of this issue because MARY POPPINS. I mean, who amongst us did not sing along with no clue what they were saying? The words were as meaningless as
And yeah, I had to look that up.
Even as an older child I remember being perplexed as to why women would have been willing to endure such suffering for the right to vote.
But I get it now, of course. I am a proud feminist. And do you know how I educated myself- intellectually and emotionally? Birth. When you get yourself involved in the complex, nuanced world of pregnancy, birth and motherhood, you see the subtly ingrained oppression that women continue to endure.
The overt stuff- the labelling, the limiting, the coercion, the ‘you’re not allowed’, the ‘don’t you want to do what’s best for your baby’ rhetoric, the misinformation or best guesses presented as facts.
And the under the radar stuff that undermines us- the lack of kindness in maternity care (latest results showing 1 in 4 women felt they’d not been treated kindly at this extremely vulnerable time), the lack of continuity of care even though it’s shown to improve outcomes, the expectations of, and lack of support for new mothers.
You see the residual ‘good girl’ syndrome, emerging from even the strongest, most confident women sometimes, as the lifelong conditioning kicks in. That birth will happen to them, that the ought to be ready to leave their dignity at the door, that they ought to accept and and all ‘assistance’ gladly and gratefully because they would be foolish to imagine they might know better, or rude to ask for another care provider.
I believe that pregnancy, birth and early motherhood ought to be the moments of our greatest respect for ourselves- a unique period where we CREATE NEW LIFE, and step into a power that is new to us, and yet somehow familiar. We are innately resilient and resourceful, we are utterly capable in ways we would struggle to comprehend before this transformation.
I invite you to REFUSE to hand away your power in the way the world demands you do.
We owe our political liberty, our voices, the freedom to shape the world we raise our children in to the Suffragettes who endured violence and torture to secure the lot.
How could we best honour them? By continuing the movement towards equality, by saying LOUD AND CLEAR, ‘we see this, and we do not accept this’. We do not accept it for ourselves, and we certainly do not accept it for our children.
Our daughters’s daughters will adore us when they can look forward to giving birth in a way that is appropriate for them as individuals, fully educated, equipped and supported. In a way that reflects the sheer magnitude of their creation. No more, the meek and mild subservient we.