After Prim’s birth, I was reluctant to share my birth story. At postnatal classes, we were asked to introduce ourselves, our baby, and our birth story. By the time it got to me, four other ladies had talked about emergency C-sections, a forceps delivery and an episiotomy. Each of them looked somewhere between resigned to and traumatised by what they’d been through; none felt like it had been a positive experience and were (understandably) just relieved that their babes arrived safely. I introduced myself and Prim, and made some flippant comment about having an ‘OK’ birth.
Why the reticence? Having seen the backlash to Fearne Cotton’s account of her ‘intense and euphoric’ birth the week before mine, I thought I’d better keep my mouth shut. Whilst many had simply congratulated her, there were swathes of women accusing her of ‘rubbing it in’. Women who, I imagine, left feeling anything but positive about their own births, seemed angry and defensive. Others twisted her words to make it sound as though she was suggesting that any birth involving pain relief or medical intervention couldn’t possibly be intense or euphoric… Anyone who has hypnobirthed, or even read about it, will know that it is understanding your body, your baby and the birthing process, alongside knowing your rights in labour and feeling empowered to ask questions, that leads to these ‘euphoric’ feelings. It is knowing that if you want pain relief you can ask for it and, if you need medical intervention, you can discuss the benefits, risks and alternatives with your midwife or consultant before making an informed decision to ensure ‘the right birth on the day’ that empowers you. It is not, as some were suggesting, about doggedly continuing to birth without pain relief if you need or want it, or eschewing any intervention just ‘because’. Fearne undoubtedly had ‘the right birth on the day’ for her and, I’m 100% certain that, having done her hypnobirth training, she would have felt equally euphoric whatever type of birth she’d had.
It was tribe member Jules who called me out and said that I should share my story in more detail because “people need to hear positive stories.” Fortunately, they were a kind bunch and agreed that it was good to hear stories that gave them confidence for the ‘next time’… So I made a deal with myself. No more reticence. Every woman has the right to share their birth story and, by ensuring that positive ones are imparted, I hope to help do away with the fear and anxiety so many women seem to have about giving birth.
Thankfully, hubby made notes of the timings of Prim’s birth, otherwise I’d have lost track. I got in the pool fully expecting, even after our hypnobirth classes, that I’d be in there for hours… days even! The great thing was that, having done the training with me, he was able to keep my negative thoughts at bay. A godsend.
We had been advised by Kirsty, our Wise Hippo instructor, to write our ‘birth preferences’ and also to envisage how the birth would be, whilst also mentally preparing for every eventuality. This was to help maintain positive focus and keep ourselves calm and relaxed. In my head, I would go into labour in the evening, at around 2200h, manage the contractions at home until they were close enough together to head to the Birth Centre at Stoke Mandeville. I was set on a water birth but had convinced myself that all the pools would be out of action! That way, it wouldn’t be upsetting if it were the case. I didn’t want to be offered any pain relief – I wrote in my preferences that I would ask for it if I needed it, knowing that, if it was put in front of me, like sweets in front of a child, I would take it. Whilst I have nothing against pain relief – I just, ideally, didn’t want it during my own delivery. Even the sight of an epidural being administered makes me nauseated, and I knew from research that pethidine *can* lead to breathing difficulties for baby, and make them drowsy for days after birth and didn’t want anything to jeopardise getting breastfeeding off to a good start. I wanted to be as alert as possible for the birth and wanted to trust my body – and baby – to do what they’re designed to do. If we needed intervention for whatever reason during labour, I felt confident in myself, and my husband – we would be able to discuss the different options before making any decisions.
So, here goes…
Braxton Hicks began on Monday 21st September, my EDD, coming and going with no distinct pattern or length. Same again on Tuesday, Wednesday and throughout the day on Thursday (the day I believed to be our REAL due date). During the late afternoon and early evening, ‘proper’ surges (contractions) began. Longer, increasingly frequent, but still manageable. By 1915h they were close enough together for us to call the Birth Centre, knowing that we had a 45 minute drive to get there. When we arrived at 2000h, the midwife on duty commented that I, “seemed too happy to be in labour.” This, quite frankly, p*ssed me off, as I was trying to remain positive. Plus, I was in the latent part of the first stage, so definitely in labour. A combination of this comment, being told I was only 1.5cm dilated, and then being hooked up to a monitor for half an hour before heading home again resulted in a sense of deflation and, sure enough, my contractions slowed – a common response to moving from a place in which you are comfortable to a bright, clinical, setting. I felt an affinity with the mammals who stop birthing when they sense danger, though hoped I wouldn’t delay for up to 2.5 years as armadillos can when distressed(!)
We got home at around 2300h. I had a bath and managed 30 minutes’ sleep (every little helps!). My surges woke me up at midnight so I watched Dr Foster and GBBO, and managed them with breathing and back rubbing from Phil. By 0330h, they were coming every two minutes and were very intense. I waited another 30 minutes, not wanting to risk being sent home yet again. We arrived back at 0455h. I was determined that the next time we left it would be with our baby!
I was examined at 0500h. I definitely didn’t enjoy this. It wasn’t painful but I was desperate to be in water and felt cold and exposed. Adrenaline had kicked in and my legs were shaking uncontrollably. However, upon hearing that I was 4cm dilated, and that the pool was available and already being filled, I felt more relaxed. My waters broke at 0520h and, now firmly in active labour, I got in the pool in a darkened room, at 0545h. Our midwife was a star. Having read our birth preferences, she sat in the corner doing some paperwork, only coming to the pool if she needed to listen to the fetal heart rate.
Typically, the moment she left the room, at around 0620h, I felt the overwhelming urge to push. I lost my cool a bit here, believing it was far too soon – I had only just been measured at 4cm and ‘normally’ it takes an average of an hour to dilate a further 1cm. I was expecting at least another five-six hours of dilation to reach the second stage of labour, but here we were! Both she and hubby told me, calmly, to go ahead and follow what my body was telling me to do. Weirdly, I wanted to kneel up and rest against the side of the pool – I HATE kneeling in ‘real life’ as my knees hurt within seconds but, again, my body just seemed to take over. I also made A LOT of noise with each surge – they were seriously intense. The time in between them allowed me to regroup, chat and even laugh with hubby. Whenever my breathing veered off course, he helped me refocus. I remember feeling incredibly grateful to him for being so involved in our hypnobirthing classes and for ensuring that I could use all the visualisations, affirmations and techniques we had learnt. Everything I’d learnt in NCT Relax, Stretch & Breathe classes came into play, too – having attended weekly from about week 16 of pregnancy, I’d repeated the breathing exercises enough times to remember those without hubby’s help 😉
At 0745h, our midwife forewarned me that I’d need to be examined again at 0900h, as it would be four hours since I was last examined, and she wanted to be sure that, as I was pushing, nothing was impeding baby’s exit. Whilst I didn’t want to get out of the pool, I also didn’t want to spend the next hour waiting to be examined, so asked if she could do it then. She did so and the contraction I had when out of the water was on another scale. I remember shouting, “HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS OUT OF WATER?!” and hubby calmly reminding me that the water had been my pain relief. Fully dilated and with nothing blocking the way, the midwife was obviously convinced we’d be meeting our baby very soon – I had another surge on the way back to the pool and she put a pillow on the floor underneath me! That must have spurred me on because, as soon as I got back into the water, I felt the burning sensation that accompanies crowning. I’ve since learned that this is called the ‘Ring of Fire’ and that about sums it up. At about 0800h, two additional midwives arrived, so I knew we were very close to meeting her now. With the next surge, her head was out and I felt her turn it so that her shoulders could be born. Despite the discomfort, and my ridiculous statement about her, “feeling like an owl turning its head all the way round(!)”, I was amazed by how babies inherently know that they need to turn their heads, and how much – incredible!
At 0809h, Primrose was born. She was scooped up and placed in my arms and we spent the next hour or
so – the ‘Golden Hour’ – doing skin to skin and checking she had all her fingers and toes, pouring warm water over her so she didn’t get cold. I was grateful to the midwives for not rushing me to get out and even more grateful when I realised that the horrible tar-like first poo had been done in the pool, so we didn’t have to clear it up!
After lots of research, I’d written in my preferences that I wanted a physiological third stage. I saw no reason to have an injection to encourage the delivery of the placenta if I’d had a ‘normal’ delivery. As I got out the pool, with Phil having skin to skin with Primrose, I was asked again if I wanted the injection. I declined and was sat on a birthing stool, over a bio waste bag, and told that I’d probably be in for a long wait. One surge and it was out, taking me (and them) by surprise. The cord was then clamped and cut. I’ve since done further research and now know that the oxytocin released in that first hour of bonding will have encouraged the placenta to come away naturally. Again, the human body continues to amaze me!
I wish I’d known more about placenta encapsulation back then but, as it stood, I didn’t even want to look at it, despite it sustaining this tiny life for the past nine months!
Primrose initially appeared a natural breastfeeder, though we had a bumpy ride once we left the hospital. (That’s for another blog post!). We spent the next few hours drinking in this new addition to our family, watching as her APGAR score was taken and the midwives weighed and measured her, telling us she had a big head, which made me wince. I had a shower and had to pee in a cardboard tub so the lovely HCA could assess how much blood I was passing. I was examined and had a first degree tear (referred to as a ‘graze’). I requested it not to be stitched though regretted this two days later when it had turned into a haematoma and had to be popped (I did have gas and air for this – I completely freaked out!)
We were discharged and home by 1800h, wondering what the bloody hell had just happened and entering into this new phase of our life… For more on this, check out our old post ‘So I Gave Birth. What Now?’
Now, if people ask, I say I loved giving birth. Was it ‘painless’? In between surges, yes; during them, nope! Did I remain ‘silent’ (another common misconception about hypnobirthing). Absolutely not! Was it ‘intense’? Yes. Did I feel empowered? Yes. Will I have the same experience in August? Who knows. What I do know is that both births will have been the ‘right births on the day’, for me and our babies.
One of my greatest wishes is that every woman, regardless of the type of birth she has, feels this way. Not just ‘I delivered a healthy baby, that’s all that matters’ but, ‘ I felt empowered and positive throughout and did exactly what I needed to do on that day, at that time.’
Jo, The Mother Side x