As I begin to write this blog post, I have to blink hard and pinch myself that the heading is in fact a reality. I’ve just given birth! Major WTF in my book! I know lots of you have followed my journey right from the beginning before I tested for Huntington’s Disease, and before I even knew I could have a baby. Many of you have followed me since pregnancy began, and for some, it’s just as I enter motherhood. I wanted to share my birth story mainly to share how hypnobirthing went for me and to share a birth that didn’t go to plan, yet had a positive ending.
For those who aren’t aware, I opted to have private hypnobirthing sessions as well as swatting up myself, and worked with Beth from The Bump To Baby Chapter. The sessions consisted of 3 hour long sessions over the span of 4, and worked on consolidating techniques as well as educating me on the physiology of the human body and what happens when we go into labour.
Click here to check them out.
Previously, I had been terrified at the concept of giving birth. I always knew I wanted children, but even at my 12 weeks scan, I shuddered as I walked past the ‘Delivery Suite’ sign on my way to Antenatal. For me, I needed something positive and empowering that would help me diminish all the fears that were floating around in my head, planted by others and the TV. The word ‘pain’ whizzed around my brain the second labour was mentioned and it was something I wanted to change, and that is what led me to hypnobirthing.
Without going into detail, hypnobirthing uses techniques to enable women to feel confident and calm during labour. It uses specific language choices and replaces the idea of ‘pain’ with a feeling of ’empowerment’. Contrary to how it sounds, it also educates on the physiological process of labour, and what the uterus is doing in order for your baby to be born. This is explained in stages and you are given specific breathing techniques that focus either up or down, based on the stage you are experiencing. Blood needs to flow to the uterus in order for it to work efficiently, and the best way of doing this is by having lots of oxytocin (the love hormone) pumping around your body. This is released when we are happy, calm and relaxed.
When we feel fear, adrenalin is released. This sends the blood pumping to our hands and feet in preparation for the fight or flight response. Blood is pulled away from the main muscle we need, and we inevitably feel more of a struggle. The goal is to remain calm, relaxed and to work WITH your body and not against it. Breathing, visualising and trusting completely.
A 37 weeks, my course was complete and I had finished work. I spent everyday immersing myself in hypnobirthing. I read Katherine Graves book back to back, listened to a relaxation every night when I went to bed and repeated empowering statements in my mind throughout the day. I can safely say at this point, I was looking forward to labour. I felt so well practised, and in my mind knew I could do it. I was asked to write a birth plan if I wanted to by the midwife, and although I had my heart set on a birthing pool, I decided not to attach myself to it too much (or so I thought I wasn’t) and just wrote a few choice words. I let them know I had hypnobirthed and explained I wanted support with that. I said I was thankful for the support and trusted the midwives. I also said I needed reminding to drink. I think that was pretty much it. I felt ready and couldn’t wait to get going.
On the day before my due date, I had been up to hospital with what I thought might be leaking waters. I spent hours on delivery suite, and on inspection was told it wasn’t my water and I was ok to go home. To be fair, it wasn’t a lot and although I felt thing were progressing, I felt the midwives knew best and plodded off home to stuff my face with biscuits and wait. That night, (due day) I woke up at 2am thinking I’d wet the bed. I went to the loo, changed and led back down to sleep popping my earphones back in so Katherine Graves could ‘hypnobirth’ me back to sleep. I felt cramps like I hadn’t experienced before and decided to stay awake for a bit to see what was going on. An hour later, 2 more underwear changes and ‘cramps’ every 20 minutes I figured this could possibly be the start. If I am honest, my instinct told me it was time. I hadn’t had that the day before when I was sent home, but I felt completely different this time. I didn’t call delivery as I wasn’t certain about my waters, and was so aware I’d been sent home the day before. I woke Kev, told him what was going on and said to go back to sleep and I’d keep him posted. By 5am, the cramps were getting stronger and maintaining a regular 20 minute so I decided to call delivery.
We were asked to go in and again waited a while to be seen, both grinning a little with excitement through tired eyes. A midwife assessed me, and to my surprise told me my waters had not broken. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I did believe it, or I tried to, but I just felt so strongly I was in labour. Again, we were sent home, and feeling deflated I flopped into bed for a 2 hour kip.
As the day went on, I continued having surges/contractions, and just tried to relax, watch some TV, and get some food into me (ok chocolate). Kev was off work as we both felt it wasn’t just a niggle. He was thrilled as Liverpool were playing so he kicked back and watched the game praying we were at the ‘stay at home’ stage for the 90 minutes that was on! I had a pre booked community midwife appointment at 2pm and decided to go along anyway as the doctors is just down the road, and it would be good to see her anyway. I explained everything whilst there and she asked if she could check me for my waters too. She agreed with me and felt it was my waters leaking and called delivery for me to go back in.
For those who aren’t aware, when your waters break, you have a 24 hour window before you need to be given antibiotics to stop infection. As I had gone in during the early hours, it was decided that they would in fact take that as the time my waters broke rather than the afternoon I visited my community midwife. That left just 12 hours before I had to be hooked up and drip fed the goods!
I was sent back up to hospital and seen around 5pm, examined and given a stretch and sweep. I popped my headphones in and went to my special place and led there without so much as a grimace. The midwife was so lovely and chilled, and told me I was about 3cm dilated and also told me that to not flinch during a stretch and sweep boded well for me for the next stage of labour. I was thrilled. Hypnobirthing was going to plan! I was told to go home until 2am (my 24 hour window) and to then come back in to be hooked up in delivery.
We left the hospital with a spring in our step, and decided to go for a pub tea! Yep, to the pub! We sat in the pub knowing I was in labour and I had a sneaky headphone in one ear to get me through every contraction (which were coming about every 6-7 minutes by now). After the pub we went home, and I decided to get in the bath. I felt like things were ramping up quite quickly but being in the bath relaxed me no end, whilst Kev timed contractions. We stayed at home for the full evening. Kev snoozed between contractions whilst I bounced on a ball and lost myself in some London Grammar. It is so true what they say about going into your own little world. I felt like I was in a trance. At one point I even had a little dance around the room as I felt the need to just move around. I must have looked hilarious. With each contraction, I focused hard on my breathing and my visualising. Breathing in filling my stomach with air, imagining a sunrise, and the blowing out pulling my uterus up and visualising the sun rising to the highest point in the sky. It really helped me.
At 2am we arrived on delivery. I was told I couldn’t have the pool as I would need to be given a hormone to induce me, an antibiotic for my waters breaking and the baby would need continuous monitoring. I had told myself time and time again that would be ok, but in reality, it was hard not to feel gutted. Kev gave me some encouraging words and told me even if I had to deliver him right now in the consultant room, I’d be ok, and within 5 minutes I had accepted it and we were taken to our room. They say, ‘make the room as homely as you like’ but who the hell is going to take that much stuff with them, and how ‘homely’ can you make a hospital bed with medical instruments all around the room.
As I sat on the bed, and Kev played with the reclining chair he found, I remember looking at the little cot they have in the room and for a flashing moment thinking ‘HOLY FUCKBALLS! A BABY IS GOING TO BE IN THERE SOON’. I took a deep breath and popped my affirmation card on the table in front of me
‘Everything is going to be ok’ …
along with a bottle of Evian and some Arnica. So much for making it homely right? haha
At this point, I was 4cm dilated and labour was progressing. The midwife who I had first was the same midwife on shift the night before who had sent me home and didn’t think my waters had broken. She was lovely, but for some reason, I couldn’t relax. I was on edge from the second we got going. She broke the rest of my waters, and I was amazed how much water there really was (apparently mine were leaking from the top?). She then told me I needed to have a canula. What’s a canula?
I freaked out a little. Never a fan of needles, I knew I wouldn’t like this and told her I would be ok and just to chat to me. She told me it wouldn’t be very nice, and that is was the grey one, the largest, as two drips would need to be fed through it. I imagine she was trying to be matter of fact to inform me and rid me of the unknown but it pumped fear into my body like I hadn’t felt yet. I had done all this prep for labour, never had I ‘hypnobirthed’ for medical intervention.I squeezed Kev’s hand and looked away, feeling blood spurt all over my hand while she inserted it. My veins weren’t straight enough in my hand so it had to go by my thumb and it was so uncomfortable. I was shaking like a leaf and didn’t want to put my hand down. Tears streamed down my face as I sobbed at Kev to find a way I could have it out. He was so sweet. I could see it was upsetting him to see me so scared but he stayed so calm, dried my eyes and just talked to me about other things.
3 HOURS OF PANIC
After being induced and the antibiotic fed I was left to it. I imagine delivery was quite busy, and just had to go with it. The midwife popped in when she could but for some reason never held my hand, or talked to me or encouraged me to stay calm. I have no idea why. Maybe she didn’t have time. Maybe they don’t do that? But in that 3 hours I COMPLETELY lost control. I couldn’t calm myself down after the canula was fitted and labour seemed to progress a lot quicker (or at least it felt that way). Contractions started to come with shouting, and I couldn’t for the life of me breathe through it. I was scared. I had let the fear consume my body and without someone professional to guide me back on track I couldn’t gain any control. I tried SO hard. Kev was sitting behind me telling me to breathe but I just couldn’t catch my breath. He said I was hitting my head on the hospital bed, something I can not remember at all. He asked them to get me some gas and air, and I stupidly sucked on it blowing it all out not knowing how on earth to use the machine. Again, I imagine the midwife was so unbelievably stretched she hadn’t been around to see me using the gas and air but I was wasting every breath by not doing it right. I was panicking and began to heave quite strongly. At this point she decided to examine me, unsure if the ‘heaving’ was in fact a quick dilation and in fact me trying to push.
I was 5cm dilated!!!!
I wailed and said I wanted an epidural. I felt so upset with myself, I had laboured for 26 hours completely calm and serene, and within 3 hours of being in hospital had completely lost control. I was devastated that I hadn’t been able to continue my journey, and to some point inconsolable. She left the room and returned to say an epidural would be around an hours wait…… an hour! I cried even more. How was I going to take this for another hour. I’d have asked an hour ago if I knew that! It was nearing hand over time and she said her goodbyes for which we thanked her and she left the room.
I looked at Kev, wondering why the fuck I bothered to blow dry my hair before going in, stupidly thinking I’d have a glamorous after shot following my oh so straight forward labour and within 3 seconds projectile vomited all over myself. I think it’s fair to say this was ‘rock bottom’ in terms of the 39 hours this all went on!
Humour is such a huge part of my life, and when shit is really tough, it’s all that gets me through. Kev told me not to worry and said he would clean me up, and just as I thought he was coming over to do so, whipped out his phone! He said ‘give me a thumbs up. Come on, you’ll laugh at the this tomorrow’. I could have smacked him but seeing as I had both hands hooked up to machines with horrendous canulas I opted for a thumbs up photo, blood, sick, waters, just a whole concoction of bodily fluids teamed with a very sweaty face and a Mrs Trunchball topknot. I was the vision of hypnobirthing I really was! haha
Sparing you the bottom view of the shot… this is that moment!
SAVED BY THE STUDENT (and her mentor in shining armour)
It has been argued that familiarity is what helps many women have a calm and positive labour. It is the main reason women are encouraged to stay at home as long as possible when they begin because being in familiar surroundings is said to help labour progress more swiftly and calmly. Those of you who followed my pregnancy will know that I spent many a day in DAU for reduced movements. At 20 weeks we were told our baby boy had a hole in his heart, so I was constantly on edge every time he was still. I got to know many midwives in DAU, all who were amazing every time I went in. It was also during a visit there that I met Emma, a student midwife who asked if I would mind her delivering our baby as part of her portfolio she has to complete. I was thrilled to be asked. I felt Emma and I got on really well, and I also loved the idea of supporting a student. To me, if anything, they would be more attentive and conscientious, as well as the fact they are assigned to you and only you during labour meaning you get one to one with your midwife. They of course have a mentor with them, so too me it was an absolute no brainer.
Emma was meant to be made aware as soon as I went into labour, but as it happens, they didn’t want to bring her in until official handover. As handover happened, and I continued to work through my ever so painful, ever so frightening contractions awaiting my epidural, Emma appeared. I remember this moment really clearly (because a lot of it does become a blur). I remember laying on my side, and Kev looking at me, worry in his eyes at the desperation he felt to take it away completely unable to do so and Emma kneeling down right beside me. As a contraction came on, I started to panic. She spoke really calmly and told me to breath the gas and air. I sucked it in, and took it out my mouth to exhale. ‘Keep it in your mouth and breath into it’ she said. I had absolutely no idea that you kept your mouth on the tube, or that this could help control my breathing. Nobody had said. This wasn’t in any pre-labour manual? How did I know what to do and why did it take until Emma came in to be coached on how to use it? She held my hand and counted my breathing through the whole contraction….and guess what? No screaming, no panic, and SO MUCH LESS PAIN! How could being in a calm environment, with someone who made you feel completely safe make SUCH a difference? Kev was amazing, and of course did everything he was supposed to/could have done, but Emma was the professional and somehow it made all the difference. I was too scared to back out of an epidural by this point, worried I’d go back to the place I was before. I cried to Emma that I didn’t want to have one and she told me…
‘Nobody gets a medal for how their baby comes out’
It was the most poignant part of the whole experience, and it was the moment I accepted that hypnobirthing would now have to be used in a different way. To accept what I couldn’t control, and to steer this labour back onto a positive track. I wanted to look back in a positive way about the birth of Freddie, no matter what happened. Things weren’t going to plan….. but so what?
I even had a moment pre-epidural where I needed the toilet, so had to be unhooked from all the machines and risk a moment without gas and air. Kev came with me, and just after I went, I had an almighty contraction. To my amazement, with his support holding my head to his, I breathed through the entire thing…. controlled, no screaming, no panic…and no gas and air! I could not believe it. I was gaining control back.
Times just merges during labour. I always used to think ‘How can you be in labour for that long?’ but the time just goes it really does! 31 hours in and I was still going.
The doctor arrived to give me the epidural. Man that is a funny experience! They stand there reading you a list of risks that come with the epidural, including paralysis and nerve damage (all low risk I should say) but you literally just shout ‘YEP YEP YEP NO WORRIES GIVE ME THE DRUGS’.
I was told it was really important to sit extremely still during the procedure. It was especially important I didn’t fuck this up, as I had already been assessed due to my scoliosis (twisted spine) and told it may be difficult for an epidural to numb me equally on both sides…..and that’s exactly what happened!!
Another comedy shot by Kev after the drugs have been given!
I was given a clicker to press anytime I felt contractions and I felt myself clicking it each time, and sucking on the gas and air still. Part of my right hip hadn’t numbed (I knew this because I could feel ice on it before pushing). The thing is, I could have taken this as a negative; something to moan about when telling my story. But actually, it meant I could feel to push. The one thing that I wanted to do. It was the main reason I hadn’t wanted an epidural as I had heard pushing was really hard as you can’t feel when to push. It also meant I still knew when contractions were coming and going.
The next 8 hours was a series of nodding off and being woken up with various concerns. I was shattered but felt calm and safe now. The midwives Emma and Kate were out of this world. Chilled, having a laugh with Kev, and reassuring me constantly. I was so so lucky to have one to one midwife care through having a student. GWH is one busy hospital!
The baby’s heart rate kept dropping every time I had a contraction. If I’m honest my gut told me he was ok, but this far in you do anything you are told and with the amount of professionals I had in and out the room I couldn’t really argue anything wasn’t best for the baby. I had to try lying on both sides, lying down flat, but nothing was working. The only position he was happy, was if I was sat bolt upright on the bed. I had to have a clip attached to his head to try and ensure his heart rate was being picked up accurately. I had been examined by this point and told I was 8-9cm dilated so I knew (hopefully) it wouldn’t be much longer until it was time to push. There were still concerns over his heart rate and someone was sent in to take a blood sample from his head to check if he was distressed, and a decision would be made as to whether I needed an emergency C section or not. I’ll be honest, my eyes filled with tears at this point. I had been frightened to have a needle near my arm, let alone a C section, and mad as it may seem, I wanted to push him out after such a long labour! Emma again came by my side and reminded me I was in such safe hands, and that if that were the case she would be there, along with Kate and Kev and everything would be absolutely fine. Despite everything going against what I had hoped for, I felt calm, safe and in the best care. My induction hormone drip had been ramped up throughout the day and to be honest I had completely forgotten I had canulas in either hand. All I could do was settle down, relax and wait.
The doctors came back almost instantly with a result and told me I didn’t need to have a C section yet, and that we should just continue to monitor his heart rate. Relief.
A second examination was done where I was told I was 9 1/2cm dilated. In my head, I really wanted to say ‘Does that half a centimetre really matter?’ haha but of course I knew it did! I was willing that moment I could push now! Kev and I were 38 hours in since my waters first broke and small contractions started and we were flippin’ knackered! The midwives Emma and Kate had gone almost their entire shift without a break, not even a sip of water, and we had tried to encourage them to go take a break for their own sanity. I knew I wanted them there when it was time to push, and they had worked so hard to give me the best experience possible.
The must have disappeared for about 15 minutes, I swear that’s all it was, before they were back and all hands on deck. I was supposed to be waiting for more doctors, specialists….I couldn’t even tell you, to come and check progress. Kate (the qualified midwife and mentor) examined me and confirmed I was 10cm.
‘Right, let’s get this baby out shall we?’ she said
It was the single most motivating thing said during that entire experience. No messing about, let’s just do this! Her confidence, and pro active approach was everything I needed, and before I could even get excited she had slung both legs up in stirrups and provided me with handles to grip onto by the bed.
Kev was beside me, holding my arm with one hand and the gas and air in the other and both girls were telling me how this was going to work.
‘With every contraction you are going to take a deep breath in and push down into your bum’ they told me. ‘You are going to do this three times, with every contraction’
‘How long does the pushing bit take’ I asked.
They told me about 1-2 hours and before I could take that in, a contraction was coming and it was go time.
I did as they said, and pushed. I felt like I was pushing but it wasn’t hard enough. It was just my first go, so I figured next time would be easier. Second contraction came, and I let out a mighty gasp and shout instead of holding my breath and pushing. Shit, why wasn’t it working? I could feel it but I just couldn’t find the power. At this point, Emma’s mentor Kate slung herself round between my legs and gave me a really stern talking to. Man I loved that woman. She looked me straight in the eye and told me I needed to hold it together now, because it was really important I focus on getting him out swiftly. She also reminded me that every time I gasp or shout, I am wasting a push, and that I needed to keep pushing until they had finished counting. I did not care that she was firm, I needed it in that moment!
THIRD TIME LUCKY
Just before the third contraction came, I remembered a hypnobirthing visualisation. The labour had all been so long, I had forgotten to actively use all the techniques I had learnt before. Yes I felt safe, and calm and had accepted how labour would be, but I hadn’t actively used those techniques in a good few hours.
The visualisation was of a pebble being dropped in water and the ripples moving outwards. What did I have to lose?
The contraction came on and I took a deep breath in before pushing, visualising with all I had. Something was happening! I could feel him moving. Pushing was working, and the girls confirmed this telling me to keep doing whatever I was doing.
I pushed so hard with everything I had, and felt completely empowered, safe and supported all at the same time. The pushing part was the most incredible experience I have ever had in my entire life. Kev, who had sworn he would be staying the head end, could not stop watching the whole experience, repeating to me over and over again ‘I can see him, he’s coming, he’s nearly here’ whilst being so excited he kept forgetting to shove me on the gas and air between contractions haha.
I felt like an absolute goddess in that moment, despite sporting about 9 chins and a Monica vein in my head with the most horrific hair you’ve ever seen during every push! In what felt like 5 minutes, he was here!
They slung him straight onto my chest and I wept like an absolute baby, as did Kev. We were so exhausted, so elated, so in love we couldn’t believe it was finally done and he was here. They rubbed his back, urging him to let out a cry and the moment I heard his little squeal was the best moment of my entire life. Within minutes he was cwtched up, settled and cosy, blinking his tiny little eyes and looking around him. He probably didn’t but it felt like he looked right at me, and I can remember just saying ‘I love you so much’. Kev was right by my shoulder, coo’ing over him too, kissing my sweaty and probably very smelly head of hair, and I just led there thinking ‘I fucking did it man!’ It was incredible. Nothing that happened in that 39 hours could ever take away that time pushing him out and holding him afterwards. I felt like hypnobirthing had worked. In it’s own way for me, I was able to look on the whole experience as the most wonderful and empowering moment in my entire life, and was surrounded by so much love and support in the process.
I asked how long I was pushing for, and the girls said about half an hour. I was told this is pretty impressive for a first time pusher but I think part of me was so ready to meet him by then I just gave it all I had to get him out. The visualisations helped no end and without those, who knows, I could have been pushing a whole while longer.
The rest all is quite a blur really. The placenta arrived minutes after the baby, I had no idea. I had second degree tears and a lot of grazes which were dealt with by the girls, and again I had no idea really. Freddie was weighed and Kev got him dressed and before I knew it I was alone in the room, with a baby in a cot next to me in complete awe of this creation my body had made. As Kev left to get his daughter Evie, I sat and had a little cry. A happy cry. Knowing that just 9 months before I thought I had Huntington’s Disease, and would be unlikely to have a baby. Knowing that 8 months ago I found out I was pregnant and went through the terrifying process that was testing. And sitting there now knowing this baby was ours, and that I grew him in my body that wouldn’t face what I once feared it would, and that I was lucky enough to have this beautiful baby boy to call my own. It was all extremely overwhelming.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
When I embarked on my hypnobirthing journey, one of the things I loved about Beth from @thebumptobabychapter was that she was a midwife. She knew the realities of labour, and how no labour is the same as another. She didn’t stress about the natural birthing side of things, and worked more to get your brain in a place of positive thinking so that no matter what course your labour took, you wouldn’t give up.
I had dreamed of a quick and swift water birth, with music and dim lights and no medical intervetion.
What I got was a long drawn out labour, with early waters breaking, an induction, antibiotics, a hospital bed, attached to machines with an epidural that partially numbed me and a very near C section…..and I look back and I am ok with it. I am more than ok with it, I am proud of it. I used my hypnobirthing to get to 4cm, and have a ‘flinch free’ stretch and sweep. I used my hypnobirthing to get me through contractions when I was waiting for my epidural. I used my hypnobirthing when I was pushing Freddie out, and when all is said and done, I used what I had to give myself the most empowering experience that was possible for the labour I was presented with.
I would like to finish my story, with a special thanks to everyone at GWH. What an absolutely incredible maternity unit. I can’t remember everyone’s names, but to name a few, thank you to Emma, Kate, Becky Ru, Catherine, Barbara, Dr Fazal, the doctors who came in during his heart rate dipping, Jayne (even though she was rooting for the name Hank!) and to anyone and everyone I might have forgotten. Freddie and I will be popping in soon with cards, choccies and cuddles. I am so grateful for all you did to bring my baby boy into the world safely.
Thank you to Beth for everything you did preparing my beforehand. I am amazed that with all that unplanned redirection I was able to still reap the benefits of what I learnt.
Finally, thank you to Kev. For sitting out the whole 39 hours with me. For being there in the few hours I lost control, to hold my hand and keep me safe. And for the great photo memory just after I threw up everywhere!!! Freddie and I love you so much.