He has had a lot of pseudo names in his almost 3 years, wanted to mention them here otherwise I feel like I’m talking about a mere acquaintance rather than my own flesh and blood, love of my life, centre of my world etc. His actual name feels too formal.
Anyway, onto it. Make yourself a brew, it’s a long story…
First thing to say is that my birth story is, of course, no more important than anyone else’s. You can find tales from lots of my gorgeous gang on this site, with more coming in all the time. They are varied and wonderful, telling of calmness, confidence, empowerment, togetherness, through home water births and c-sections alike. How it went for me is no better demonstration of hypnobirthing than how it went for them.
Some of their births will be perceived to be ‘better’ than mine, some of them ‘worse’. I guess what I really mean is that they are closer, or further from what you would like for your own experience as the reader.
But ultimately, people are curious about mine. I’m sharing all of these techniques with them, I’m offering them a new perspective, and their eyes are boring into me asking, “Yes, but did it work for you??”. My answer, is of course, a resounding yes. But perhaps not in the sense people imagine.
I’m super clear in my classes that the dreamy births I am showing clients are for inspiration, different things to learn in each, antidotes to the type of birth imagery we are ‘allowed’ to access usually. They are not goal setters. They are not promises. They are the suggestion that birth can be a wonderful experience. That you can forget what you’ve heard- YOU CAN make a difference to your experience. But certainly not a guaranteed outcome.
Hopefully it’s pretty clear here how hypnobirthing made a difference to mine. After reading our story, I hope you know for sure that I will tell you the truth, all of it, no floating on a cloud of magic vagina sprinkles here…
Fear of an epidural, and loss of control. These were my big drivers in desperately seeking an approach to birth that I could get on board with. Hypnobirthing did not immediately appeal to my accountant hubs. Obviously. But he agreed, parked his reservations, and off we went. Session 1, another couple declared that they were planning a home birth, more than half the group asserted that they definitely wouldn’t be having any drugs, and I felt a little judged for my honesty that here and now, before learning anything, I was open to pretty much all options. We glanced at each other, wondering if we really belonged.
By the journey home from session 2, I piped up, “Shall we have a home birth?”. “Yep, I was thinking that too.” And so plans were set in motion. My parents were mortified. Until I reminded them that they had both been born at home.
We practised, and practised, and practised. CD every night (specially purchased player from Argos, devoted to the cause- who has a CD player these days? My problem is I don’t actually understand any technology, so stuck with this…). Light touch massage almost daily *win*. We didn’t do the couples relaxation stuff, it just wasn’t for us. I was much happier retreating into myself of my own accord, hubs was relieved, and I got really good at using my own mental triggers to induce relaxation.
I was as confident as a first time mum could be. I honestly never doubted that I would have a smooth, positive experience, and that I could do it.
Due date came and went, emotions were running high. Especially as hubs was changing jobs around the time, which meant he was due at new place 11 days after EDD. Foolish. Luckily, they allowed him to take his first week as holiday. Thank you SocGen.
Tried not to get hell bent on the natural induction methods, enjoyed spending time together walking along the seafront, going for cake. When the waiter in Patisserie Valerie asked me when I was due and I said ‘yesterday’, it was as if he was certain I was going to pop this baby out over an eclair. Not so. More walking, a couple of curries, the occasional raspberry leaf tea later, nothing. Tried to remain lighthearted.
41 weeks and the tears started to flow. My sister in law gave birth that morning, jumping the queue. I was ready to try anything. I had had enough of waiting. And of course when we truly hit this wall, it’s time. So cracked on with the obvious solution (sorry mum, if you’re reading this).
At midnight exactly, the action began. Little Cinders on the way.
I was thrilled by a little show, and a twisting sensation as the plug released, immediately followed by fairly strong and regular surges. But. The blood kept coming. Each surge, another release. This wasn’t something we had known about or prepared for, and the sight of it left me a little concerned. So whereas our original plan had been to stay on our own as long as possible, we decided to put a call in, and ask for a midwife to come and check.
I think it was around 3 by the time she arrived. She as lovely and respectful, and immediately commented on the lovely atmosphere (I was in bed- it was 3 in the morning after all- on my left side, drifting in and out of relaxation and sleep, getting some light touch action. Favourite Jo Malone burning away, and just a lamp on. It really was tranquil). We looked at the blood loss, had a chat about the implications and she made a call to the hospital. She came back with an offer from the Supervisor of midwives to transfer in, but to the Midwife Led Unit as a compromise.
I weighed it all up, and decided at this point, that I was happy to continue at home. I felt totally in control, I felt well, I could feel things becoming more intense, and the idea of leaving my home at this time went against all my instincts. So we politely declined, I knew the midwife wasn’t entirely happy, but neither did she seem on edge.
I stayed in bed for a long while, comfortable and coping, resting the night hours away, knowing there could be a long way to go. I drank tea, sipped water and snacked on ginger biscuits. I was asked to signal to the midwife when the surges were happening, otherwise she wouldn’t have known. After some time, I needed to get up and go for a wee. I knew this was going to be an issue- sorry for the TMI, but that gravity would do it’s work, and there would suddenly be a pool of blood to panic everyone.
Sure enough, this prompted a new phase of assessment of the situation. Plus, getting upright made the surges significantly stronger. I no longer wanted to lay down, and returned to my bedroom to kneel on the floor with my arms and head resting on the bed. At some point in all of this, another midwife and a student had arrived. They remained in the spare room, I remember bumping into the student on the landing on the way back to my room, and noticing that I didn’t feel weird about being half naked in front of this stranger in my house. I knew then that this was a sign things were going up a notch.
15 minutes or so of kneeling by the bed and my lovely midwife came off the phone again, suggesting with more urgency this time that we consider going in. “I can’t now”, I told her, “I need a poo.” Yep, poo chat- get used to it. “Don’t have that baby down the toilet!”. Ideally, no, I agreed. Luckily, just what I was expecting (you’ll be thrilled to read, I’m sure) and I returned to that kneeling position on the floor, or on the bed, moving around trying to find the best way to relax upright.
Still feeling well, surges ever more intense, and really requiring my concentration. This is when I remember starting to make a little noise though them. Oooooooooo. Would recommend- if you scream like you’re in pain and concerned, you’ll panic yourself. If you oooooooo like you’re just acknowledging the sensations, it feels much easier to handle.
Conversation about the blood loss resumed. The midwife explained that my behaviour was indicating to her that I was only in early labour. Maybe just approaching the 4cm cut off for “established labour” at best. This could be a long process and I couldn’t sustain this level of loss. I wasn’t buying the ‘early labour’ assessment, and felt slight pressure building on my pelvic floor, and wondered if this was the beginnings of the urge to push. But I could feel hubs switching sides and leaning towards going in. I decided to agree to an examination to establish the reality of the situation.
So we waited for the next surge to come and go, and I quickly rolled onto my back to be checked, hoping it would be over before the next surge came- all my instincts were telling me to get up. My spine was displeased.
“Oh! You’re 8cm!”
The midwife had been hopeful that the examination might give her some indication of the cause or source of the bleeding- not so. She gently but firmly asserted that it would be a good idea to go in, that the bleeding could be unpredictable moving forwards, and that there was still time to make it in before baby arrived, so now was the time to go. I could see hubs was on board with the home birth exit strategy.
And so, I agreed, she went off to arrange an ambulance, and I went off to pack a bag… That’s right. Silly, stubborn me had decided that since we were having the baby at home, packing a bag was pointless. Naive. Looking back, our optimism had overruled my sensibility, and I considered packing a bag a mental admission that it wouldn’t work out. What a loser.
So here I was, entering transition, floating into the nursery, breathing with my surges, stuffing vests, sleep suits and nappies into a bag. I was the only one who knew where anything was, obviously.
Still, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m doing really well. I feel ok. I can cope.” The midwife kept repeating to me that we were going in and did I understand why- I think she expected me to be more distressed or panicked. I was ok. “Does she know what’s going on?” I heard the student asking. Obviously thought I was off my rocker acting all serene.
Until I opened the front door. By this point I think it was around 11.30am. I was caught totally off guard by the broad daylight, and the reality of an ambulance on my driveway. It made me feel overwhelmingly vulnerable. Being made to lay down in the ambulance was the next challenge. I pulled my eye mask down and tried to stay in the zone. Every bump in the road was a violent disturbance, so much noise and rattling around. I felt far from safe and secure, not because of the labour itself, but this new environment over stimulating my senses.
When we arrived at the hospital, the challenges got worse still. I was wheeled into a room on the Consultant Led Unit with the biggest window I’ve ever seen, no blinds up, and the most grim view over the beauty of Basildon (just gorgeous…). A midwife with an accent so thick I literally could not understand her appeared and started barking at me. Each time I asked, “pardon?”, she became more irritated and harsh. Before I knew what was going on she was taking my clothes off and putting me in a gown “in case you need to be rushed to theatre for a section”. What now?
I actually thought I was going in to carry on as I had been at home, but to have access to help if the situation changed. But suddenly I had been sucked onto the ‘high risk’ conveyor belt. An attempt was made to put a cannula in my arm (another ‘just in case’ measure) that caused me more pain than any surge I had. She switched to the other arm and successfully butchered that too, but at least she got it in and it was over. Continuous monitors were strapped around my tummy. The blood pressure monitor was applied to my already throbbing arm, each time it tightened, the pain from the failed cannula attempt was magnified.
All of this happened within 5 minutes of us arriving. I was totally overwhelmed, confused, bewildered. As was my husband, who later told me that he really thought I was going to die. That the way they behaved created such a sense of panic, with no one explaining anything, acting as if there was not a moment to spare for discussion, or to gain consent for any of this.
For a period, I was really disappointed that either of us put a halt to these shenanigans and demanded a more informed consent driven way forward. Looking back now, I’m not sure how we could have overcome the bustle all around us, in the circumstances we found ourselves in, and the way we were treated (“processed”, actually seems a better fit to describe it). We did our best at the time. There was time to discuss all of this, and it’s one of my lessons learnt from this birth. A lesson that I think makes me a better teacher- I get how it feels, how it goes, how it unfolds when the situation changes quickly. I am keen to reiterate to my clients their right to halt proceedings, and demand to be a part of the decision making. There are so few situations where a few minutes to engage with you cannot be spared.
Following this, it seemed a thousand people needed to come and wave their hands around in my vagina, seeking the cause of the bleeding. Probably it was 3 or 4. As I started to regain my composure, I told one of the Drs- “we’re using hypnobirthing.” She actually laughed, like belly laughed at me, grinning as she said “Hypnobirthing mums always end up with an epidural because the pain hits them all in one go”. I mean, what? What absolute nonsense. And thanks for that. (Note my epidural fear that prompted this journey to begin…).Amusing to see the poster behind her head declaring how the hospital respected women’s choice. Mega lolz.
No one we met during this period showed us a moment of kindness or compassion. I could feel the environment and people sucking the confidence, calmness, and energy out of me. Half an hr after being there I felt drained, violated, mocked and judged.
The sensations I could cope with so well at home suddenly felt torturous for this first hour in hospital as I laid on the bed, strapped into place. We needed to get our sh*t together if we were going to get through this. I asked to try gas and air, and intended to use it in conjunction with my breathing techniques. But the rotten midwife just kept screaming at me that I was doing it wrong when I couldn’t follow her instructions. Hubs eventually cracked and shouted at her “take it away then! Stop telling her she’s doing it wrong, you’re not helping her!”.
Seeing him find his voice again gave me a little boost, and we regrouped. Got our hypno back on. Prepared to put the last hour aside and move back to a positive place. We stopped engaging with anyone, and were luckily left alone. This was probably about 1pm.
I got on my side (facing away from the lovely view…), we put the music on, and tried to get back into the rhythm of breathing. Light touch was back. After an hour or so of peace, and starting to feel in control, like I was managing again, she was back (she never actually left the room, I just blocked her out), wanting to do another examination to check progress.
Onto my back I went again, and she examined me. “You’re STILL only 8cm”. Well it’s hardly flipping surprising. The principles of hypnobirthing tell us that an environment filled with fear, unfamiliar people, sense of danger and lack of love and compassion, can stall, or even reverse labour progress.
“I’m going to break your waters to get things moving. We need to get this baby out soon or you will need a section.” I didn’t know then, as I do now, about the risks of artificial rupture of membranes, or about the lack of good evidence for it speeding up labour. It didn’t feel like a big deal, so I agreed. In went the needle and out came the water.
Back on my side, with my mask and music again, I focussed on relaxation and managed to doze a little between surges, then breathing through them. Struggling a little, wondering if I could really continue much longer, but certainly not screaming for that ‘inevitable’ epidural…
3pm- another examination- onto my back again, and surges so close together that a check couldn’t be squeezed between them- not pleasant, and makes me wonder how on earth any woman can endure an entire labour in this position. But she said the magic words- “you’re 10cm”.
I rolled back into my side, knowing I didn’t yet feel the urge to push (that sensation I had experienced at home of being almost ready to bear down had disappeared since all this drama). But the pressure kicked in- if you don’t get this baby out in an hour, we will take you for a section.
Incidentally- the blood loss seemed to have totally stopped at some point since arrival, I only realised when I looked back that the actual problem had disappeared, but left me with a whole new set of issues. It was still being waved in my face as a red flag. It seems odd now that I didn’t challenge this at the time, but all of my energy was going into remaining calm and focussing inward- I was not up for engaging my neocortex negotiating, or dealing with confrontation- adrenaline alert.
I stayed side lying for a while, another hour, with no urge to push. Surges still coming thick and fast, coping well but feeling like I needed rest, following this instinct that I wasn’t ready yet to summon the energy.
4pm- if you don’t get this baby out in an hour- we’re off to theatre. Again, why? There was no indication throughout any of this that the baby was in any sort of distress. The bleeding had stopped. Yet the panicked vibe continued around us.
At this point I decided I was getting up. I knew there was no way things were getting moving if I stayed laying as I was. So onto my knees, wires and IVs twisting and knotting as I turned to lean over the back of the bed, and waited.
Sure enough, the urge came, (I tell my clients- like vomiting out of your backside…) and I started to use the down breathing to support my body. It felt right- satisfying and gentle. At some point, a second midwife was called. She was lovely. Her face, her manner, her words were kind. I finally felt like someone had come to support us who cared about us as people. It was a little boost to my comfort levels.
After about half an hr of this, she told me she could see the baby’s head, and encouraged me to put more into the pushing. So I did, but to no benefit. All that happened was I felt myself tiring. I needed to lay down again (had been up all night and by now it was 16.30- I was shattered). So I got back on my left side, and continued to breathe the baby down with the surges..
Stirrups, I heard one of them mumble to the other. Episiotomy? I don’t think so. I had made many, many compromises that day, but it would all end here. There was absolutely no way I was consenting to that. Hubs recalls me firmly, loudly, aggressively even, telling them simply- NO.
It was 16.57 when Louis was born, naturally, and as best as I could achieve in the circumstances, on my terms. Healthy, long limbed, beautiful, slippery, familiar and new, my little love. I don’t recall pain as he emerged, only a totally unexpected extent of opening- and being blown away by how my body could make space for him.
When he first started to feed, I felt a sense of completeness and normality like I can’t describe- like this is what life is all about. Thank you oxytocin.
So, not quite what you had in mind as an experience that would prompt someone to devote their life to hypnobirthing? Thinking maybe you expected that to get so evangelical, you need a transformative, orgasmic, pain free experience?
I tell my clients that we are each heading towards a certain point on a whole spectrum of possible birth experiences. I am firmly convinced that hypnobirthing moves us along that spectrum to a more positive place, whatever that means for us. What stayed with me with such clarity was that hypnobirthing shifted us a million miles from our previous destiny.
Let me paint a picture of our experience without it-
We would NEVER have started at home. No way. So those first signs of bleeding would’ve sent us straight to the Consultant Led Unit at midnight. I would have immediately been strapped up to continuous monitoring, the associated difficulties, and begun to enjoy the lovely view, sounds and smells of the environment.
I would have had no toolbox- breathing techniques, light touch, relaxation techniques (utterly invaluable, so powerful, the jewel in my experience, the thing that kept me, for the most part of 17 hours labour in a state of calm and relative comfort).
I would not have known I could, or should consider politely (ahem) declining stirrups and a snip.
I would not have known to stay off my back.
I would have been scared from the onset, bewildered throughout, lacking confidence in my ability or my own sense of how it was going. All of this would have increased my pain levels. Physiology tells us this is true- fear, tension, pain, repeat.
I feel with as much certainty as is reasonable, that adding all of this up would have resulted in my baby being born by emergency section. I know how it goes in these circumstances. The clock is ticking, and 17 hours of hospital labour following the blood loss would have meant a lot of pressure to ‘just get this baby out’. And of course it would have been needless- me and my baby were tickety boo. (If a baby is born by section, this is no sign of a ‘failed experience either, if it was the right choice at the time, as it sometimes will be)
Of course then, we could say that going in to hospital was a needless intervention- it was. But I didn’t know it at the time, and on balance we made a choice that we thought was right.
Was it a perfect experience? No. Did hypnobirthing let me down then? Only if you think it’s something it’s not. It can’t eliminate every possible negative element of a birth. I tell my clients that preparation is 95% of the experience, but that we each receive a certain portion of luck on the day.
I was fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive midwife at home.
I was unfortunate to experience inexplicable bleeding, and to encounter the sort of ‘caregivers’ I did in hospital, who had so little regard for my needs.
We cannot expect to tick every box (although some couples certainly do). We shouldn’t expect not to wobble- we are pretty up against it. The 90 mins or so between leaving my house and regaining composure were the low point of an otherwise empowered experience, one in which I felt I demonstrated strength I never knew I had. In the circumstances we faced, I am proud to say that hypnobirthing worked for me.
I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of giving birth again, and carry with me the conviction that I won’t stand for any nonsense. I do my very best to inspire this confidence in my clients, so that they might learn from my lesson.
When I reflect on Louis’s birth, I feel it has given me a marvellous opportunity to be a well rounded teacher- would you rather I’d had a textbook home birth and that this was the only experience I could bring?
I know there are compromises to be made, and I can empathise. I know there are highs and lows, challenges for some more than others, and I can prepare you to meet them with confidence.
I know that women are strong. I know the value of the tools. I know that you can amaze yourself with your own capabilities. I know that in the face of adversity, birth can still be overwhelmingly positive. I know you need to be prepared.
And on that note, time to go and pack my bag for baby number 2- we are planning a home birth, but you know, just in case…