Sally was one of the women who attended a group course early in the year. She and her lovely husband, Mike, did lots of research about the kind of childbirth education that would benefit them best and I'm so pleased that they settled on hypnobirthing. That same level of care and information-seeking guided their whole pregnancy and the birth of their sweet daughter, Gracie. Sally's story follows and it really highlights the fact that sometimes things occur that we haven't anticipated. But with an understanding of how to ask the right questions and how to maintain a feeling of confidence and empowerment, birth can still be positive and awe-inspiring.
Here's Sally's story...
It was on my very first day of maternity leave, when our baby was about 38 weeks, that things started happening. I was on my hands and knees doing a jigsaw – a bit odd, I know, but serving the purpose of helping the baby to turn its back to the front of my tummy, and helping me to relax – when my waters broke. Actually, at first, I didn’t realise my waters had broken; I sighed and moaned that I should have listened to my mum’s recommendations to practise pelvic floor exercises. But after I changed my pants and jeans for the third time, I realised that this small but steady trickle was the start of our baby arriving.
After a few minutes of excitement, Mike and I remembered that we were supposed to be calm and relaxed and to continue as we were until early labour set in. So Mike went off to his usual Tuesday evening training with our running club, and I went to the supermarket! Later in the evening we called the birthing centre where we planned to give birth, to let them know that my waters had broken. They invited us in to do a quick check on the baby. We did our second of what would be 4 trips to the hospital within 2 days (we had visited the birthing centre for a look around just earlier that day), and the midwife listened to our baby’s heartbeat for a while, was satisfied, so sent us home to rest.
I had a fitful night, waking up with excitement every few hours. The next day was grey and cold, but we ventured out walking to encourage my body and the baby to be in a good position for birth. I was active the whole day, squatting and lunging all over the place. Hours went by and nothing much happened; no surges started. The birthing centre had asked us to call them again 24 hours after my waters had broken, and so in the evening of my second day of maternity leave, we had a conversation with the midwife again.
She told us that as there had been no other early labour action, the birthing centre would no longer be able to help with our birth, and that they would refer us to the labour ward. This was news to me, and not welcome news either: I had hoped for a birth in a relaxing, non-medical environment. And I really wanted a water birth, which was not something I thought a labour ward could help with. The midwife also advised that we return to the hospital for another check on the baby. At this point I started to feel apprehensive; it was an indication that we weren’t going to have the ‘ideal’ birth we had envisioned. But our hypnobirthing course had prepared us to appreciate that births don’t always go to plan, and I focused on having a positive attitude to a labour ward birth.
We returned to the hospital and joined the long queue for triage. After some monitoring of the baby, who was doing just fine, the doctors encouraged me to be induced to get labour started, since the risk of infection increases when the membranes that protect the baby from bacteria are ruptured. The hypnobirthing course had given us the framework to respect the medical opinion, but to also ask questions rather than automatically follow the advice. After a discussion, we felt confident that the risk of infection was still low in absolute terms, and we wanted to wait longer for labour to start naturally. We were concerned that one intervention would lead to another, and felt it was safe to wait a while to see what would happen given time. During this period we were in touch with Jana, our hypnobirthing teacher, and she helped us to understand the medical perspective and our options.
We were sent to the labour ward to do a second check on the baby that evening, and during this time a midwife pointed out that I was in fact having some gentle surges. This was such a relief. I had been waiting more than 24 hours now for labour to start, and I cried because I was happy that my body was getting on with things the way it ‘should’ be. I had felt the early surges but because they were quite soft – a kind of period-like pain – I hadn’t been sure that they were the real thing. The surges were gentle, so we went home again for another night’s (broken) sleep.
In the morning on the third day we returned once again to the hospital for another check, which was part of the deal with the doctors. All was well with the baby and my temperature was fine; no indication of infection. My surges were still mild, but the labour ward midwives asked us to stay rather than return home, and the fantastic news was that the one labour ward room with a water birth pool was free for us to use. I felt so, so pleased. The room was stuffed with medical equipment and had a view of Wormwood Scrubs prison, but also had low lighting and murals on the walls, a birthing ball, and a kind of gymnastic mat so I could kneel or lie on the floor. We were content to continue waiting in the room, rather than to return home.
All that day I walked and lunged up and down the hospital corridors, trying to ignore the sounds of labour coming from the other rooms. I met a guy who had been part of the same hospital introduction class – a guy who was now a beaming new dad – and he gave me pineapple to eat, insisting that this was what caused his partner to go into labour.
My surges became slightly more intense over the course of the day but didn’t progress into anything more serious. The doctors were really encouraging us to be induced (twice that day, the registrar, the senior consultant and another senior doctor came to visit us), and Mike and I agreed that now it was 48 hours since my waters had broken, we would progress with the artificial hormone route.
I’m a wimp when it comes to needles, so the insertion of the drip into my hand was uncomfortable – and also made it tricky to move around and use my left hand. Going to the toilet carting a drip and only using one hand in between surges was awkward!
And with the hormones, the real surges began. Over the course of the next eight hours, the midwife increased the dosage entering my system every 30 to 60 minutes, to help me dilate fully. To begin I dealt with the surges by lying on the bed, curled up, with my eyes closed. Mike kept a close eye on me and when he saw my breathing get deeper, he read the relaxation readings aloud. His instinct was to keep a slow and steady voice, but in no uncertain terms I told him to read quickly, so that I could focus on the picture the words were creating, rather than having my mind wonder back to my discomfort. The surges felt like extremely intense period pains, building up in a wave, and then slowly decreasing with intensity after the peak of the surge. They didn’t start at the top of my uterus like I imagined they would, but my full belly went rock hard with every wave. Mike was worried because I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. When the surges became extremely intense I asked for gas and air. After just a few gulps through the mask, I threw up everything in my tummy (hello again pineapple, goodbye any notion of medical pain respite). Thank goodness I was able to get into the water pool at that point – it was a relief to feel the water on my skin, which acted as a distraction and helped to dilute the intensity.
The midwife Annette who had popped into the room to cover the other midwife for a break was so wonderful, saying and doing all the things that absolutely aligned with our hypnobirthing practise, that I begged her to stay with us until the baby was born. I’m so pleased she was able to, as having a second person to support me and help me through the surges was just what I needed. I kept my eyes closed in the water, which was useful as we had a couple of commotions – the emergency sirens in the labour ward went off twice, and one time a bunch of medical staff rushed into our room, to be told quickly by Annette that the emergency wasn’t in our room! I kept focusing on my body, on the water, on Mike’s voice, on keeping my left hand with the drip out of the water.
After not too long in the water I felt the urge to push. Hypnobirthing can encourage mums to breathe the baby down, but my body was telling me to push and so I listened to that. After what felt like a long time (but was about only 45 minutes as I found out later), I asked Annette to help as the pushing wasn’t bringing the baby down. I was trying with all my might – the next day I discovered painful bruises on the back of my head where I had been pushing against the side of the pool – but didn’t feel any change.
Annette could only help if I got out of the pool, since in a water birth the midwives are hands-off, so I climbed out and lay on the bed. On my back and with my legs in stirrups! This was far from the ideal position, but at this point, about 50 hours after my waters had broken, Mike and I were tired and didn’t have the best positions front of mind. I continued to push, and Annette was able to see better how I was doing. She and the head midwife were bellowing during my surges, really urging me on. It turned out that I needed a small cut and after this was made, with a few more pushes, our baby was born.
Annette popped the baby on my chest and I looked with absolute astonishment at this gorgeous little human with deep dark eyes squinting back at me. It was a few moments later that we thought to look to see whether we had a boy or girl, such was the absolute joy and exhaustion and sheer strangeness of that moment. Welcome to the world little Gracie! Mike cut her cord and she latched onto my breast for her first feed.
Annette bustled about detaching the drip from my wrist and helping me deliver my placenta. We had hoped for a natural third stage and delayed cord clamping, but neither were optimal once I had had artificial hormones, Annette explained, and we were happy with that.
A fair few things happened that weren’t in our birth plan – being induced to get things going, being in stirrups for the delivery, not having a natural third stage delivery – and it being a lot tougher than I had envisioned! But we had a fantastic birth. We were in a positive environment with a wonderful midwife, and most importantly of course, Gracie was born healthy and happy and absolutely perfect.
Hypnobirthing helped us in many ways. Before I took the course, I was apprehensive about giving birth, but understanding how the mind and body are connected, and understanding the amazing physical things that happen during birth, I looked forward to becoming a superwoman! Hypnobirthing helped us to be calm and accepting of the changing circumstances, and to discuss, rather than simply accept, the direction suggested by the medical team. We are enormously grateful to Annette and the wider team at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, and to Jana, for helping us bring Gracie into this world.