Elsa and Carl attended my November group hypnobirthing course and were a brilliant couple to work with. Elsa's story below is so detailed and informative: she writes eloquently about how her hypnobirthing practise enabled her and her husband to make decisions that felt right to them - leading up to the birth of their daughter and during the labour. As with every birth story, unexpected events came up, but Elsa and Carl handled everything calmly and confidently. I hope you love reading this birth story as much as I did!
When I first found out I was pregnant, my first reaction was happiness and the joy of the idea of having a child. After this settled, my next thought was dread: what about the birth itself? Although Carl and I had 9 months to prepare for the arrival of our child, I soon noticed that Carl and I had different perspectives when looking to the future. Carl was excited about the arrival of our baby and the possibilities that were awaiting us - what would the nursery look like, would it be a girl or a boy, what sport would we involve it in from a young age. My concerns really amounted to one thing: the birth itself.
In order to take away from the fear, I decided to research giving birth and prepare myself for it as much as possible. Two friends of mine who were a few months ahead of me in their pregnancy told me about a course they had done called hypnobirthing which they felt had helped them a lot. Admittedly they had not given birth yet, but they were feeling a lot more prepared and calm. So Carl and I decided to join Jana’s course. It was an excellent decision!
As we were home in Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay, we decided to prepare for a birth in Scotland. Over the months we took a few trips north to register at the local hospital and meet the midwives. Our baby was due on 9 January, so that would give us a bit of time to celebrate the festivities with everyone and then relax a bit during January as we waited for the big day.
On the evening of 30 December, when we finally felt we were a bit more prepared (buggy bought and assembled, crib built, wardrobe built and baby clothes washed and folded etc), we went over to a friend’s house for dinner at the other side of the village. I was wearing my new trousers which I had bought as I felt that my old pregnancy trousers were quite tight and becoming uncomfortable. Unfortunately though, as the evening wore on, I felt that these new trousers were also feeling quite uncomfortable. I knew that we would not be spending tomorrow night partying until the wee hours of the morning, so I was determined not to give in to my craving for loose pyjamas and bed. So I settled with standing up and moving every now and again, while continuing the conversation. It was only at around 9pm that it occurred to me that I was not constantly feeling uncomfortable, but that the discomfort was coming in waves or surges. This must be minor braxton hicks! I told Carl that I thought I was having braxton hicks but that we should carry on and enjoy the evening. I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t convinced that these were braxton hicks, but these were real contractions. I on the other hand was having none of it…we were 10 days early and I was sure our baby would arrive mid- to late-January, or at the very least in 2019!
By around midnight the ‘braxton hicks’ were becoming more intense and walking home across the village took longer than it usually did. Once home, I admitted that it would be a good idea to get the birthing ball and the TENS machine out, just to help and also as a good way of practising for the real deal. At 2am I finally admitted to Carl (and myself) that this was probably labour and that we should phone the hospital to discuss what to do. My contractions were not lasting more than 40 seconds, but they were every few minutes. At 5am after hitting the magic number of three contractions for a minute or more in ten minutes we decided that it was time to drive in to the hospital. We had called to warn them of our arrival and they confirmed that they had one room left with a birthing pool, with our name on it if we wanted. They also said they didn’t have a birthing ball to lend us there, which I am glad we knew as bringing ours was very helpful when we got there and waited for the pool to fill.
We woke my parents up to let them know that we were leaving and drove through the peaceful countryside to the hospital in quiet excitement. Looking back on that drive, aside from the TENS machine being on constant boost and not realising it was even on anymore, I was strangely calm. I was not at all in the panicked state that I imagined I would be in when labour started and there would be ‘no going back’.
When we arrived at the hospital, the calm feeling continued. We were greeted in a dimly lit corridor by a midwife who asked if we would like to give birth in the consultant led unit or in the midwife led unit. We confirmed we would like to go to the midwife led unit and use the room with the birthing pool. We were led to the room where I was examined. I was 6cm dilated and we could stay! We brought out our portable speakers and put on the hypnobirthing soundtrack I had compiled and got comfortable on the birthing ball while the midwife, Tracy, read my birthing plan.
At 36 weeks pregnant, I tested positive for Group B Strep and I noted this in my birthing plan. With Tracy we agreed that I would need an IV of antibiotics now and then would have a further course after the birth. This meant that I could not get into the pool right away, but we used this time to bounce on the ball with the TENS machine while we waited.
After the course of antibiotics, I got into the pool and crouched down and faced Carl, who sat on the birthing ball in front of me and held my hands. At this point, Tracy ended her shift and was replaced by a junior midwife, Louise, and a more senior midwife, Gail. Gail came to tell me that she practiced hypnobirthing and that she understood from my plan that this is what I was doing. She said I was doing a great job, but that whenever a surge came, she noticed I was squeezing Carl’s hands as hard as I could, which I should stop doing. Instead she said, I should place my hands over his, and ‘go’ with the surge, not allowing myself to seize up or fight it and definitely not squeezing anything. I did this from then on, much to Carl’s relief I am sure.
Louise and Gail were great. Throughout the morning they brought Carl and I toast and coffee and filled up our water. I had asked not to be hooked up to anything for fluids and so Carl topped me up with drinking water regularly.
At around 9am Gail came to say that she thought we would give it another hour and then we could consider what we could do to get things moving along faster. I remember being told in the hypnobirthing course that we could ask the midwives not to propose any pain relief as this may make us feel like we needed it. I remember not being convinced by this argument. If I didn’t want pain relief then I would refuse it. However at that moment I understood exactly what Jana had meant. By suggesting that I needed to change position to speed things up, Gail had made me feel like I wasn’t doing well enough, which up until then I thought I had. I am sure she didn’t mean it in that way, and was probably noticing that I was getting tired and beginning to fall asleep between surges, however it was the only time I got close to snapping, and asked her to ‘please stop talking during the contractions’ and then after that surge I told her I would stand up in the pool and sway if she thought that would help, but I did not want her to suggest anything else unless necessary. By this point my waters had broken in the pool and so I did not want any further examinations. Especially as I didn’t see how they would help. I had been told that examinations may increase the likelihood of an infection, plus if I was still 6cm dilated that would definitely discourage me. After that, no more mention was made of changing my position and when I asked for them to talk me through the pros and cons of gas and air, they showed me what it was but did not push it on me at all. I elected to use it and was glad of the distraction.
On the subject of pain relief I must say that I was surprised at how manageable the ‘pain’ during labour was. I know that in hypnobirthing it is suggested that the word pain is avoided and I admit that I did refer to it a few times during labour. However it was not at all the searing pain I had imagined or dreaded. Each surge did not last too long and the breaks in the middle were completely pain free. I was able to carry out normal conversations (or fall asleep) as if I were at home relaxing on the sofa and although the surge was not comfortable, I was aware that this sensation had a purpose – to bring my baby closer to me – which made it much more bearable than any other pain I have experienced in my life. At one point I asked myself if I thought an epidural would help and honestly I wasn’t even tempted. The surges were doing all the work for me and I did not want to take anything that would stop me from having them and I felt I could manage the pain easily.
During this time, Carl had been the best birth partner I could have wished for. He was calm and supportive and listened to my every need. As he had also come to the hypnobirthing course he knew how important his support was. He also knew what was happening to my body and what to expect, which I am sure helped keep him calm too. He counted the breathing with me, served me water, coffee and toast and encouraged me constantly. Thanks to him I really did feel like I was doing a good job!
I had my back turned to the clock so I don’t know what time it was, but after a while I told Louise who had stayed by us the whole time that I felt that the baby was near. She took what I had previously thought looked like a steel cake server and plunged it into the water underneath me, to use as a mirror. She was very honest when I asked her, and admitted that she couldn’t see anything and didn’t think I was quite there yet. But I could feel something was getting close and I was careful to keep going with the surges, not tightening anything as they happened and not allow myself to worry about tearing if the head was close.
Suddenly, I heard Louise give a surprised cry and lunge for a button which would call Gail into our room. The baby’s head was crowning and within minutes the head was out! At this point, what had previously been a calm atmosphere with quiet music playing in the background changed and Gail became much more authoritative and commanding. She made it clear that (1) I was not to lift my bum out of the water and (2) I had to get the rest of the baby’s body out at the next surge. After I repositioned myself to make sure I was deep enough into the water, we all waited in silence. Gail suggested I try to push in case I could get the body out then, but I tried and nothing happened. It really was the surges doing all the work. After about a minute the next surge ramped up and I gave myself in to it. The baby came out in one fluid movement.
I don’t remember if Louise pushed the baby between my legs towards my front, but I looked down and there was our baby. The first thing I noticed was how ‘like us’ the baby looked. It really was a mixture of Carl and I. The baby was still in a tight ball with its arms and legs all wrapped up over its front. I slowly scooped it up out of the water, and held it against me, with Carl wrapping his arms around us both. After a short while, I started to unravel the arms from the body and then the legs. That is when we saw that she was a girl! We could not have been happier.
After waiting for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating and for Carl to cut it, I climbed out of the pool and got on the bed to wait for the placenta to come out. I kept asking Gail and Louise whether they were concerned about the amount of blood there was in the pool and leading all the way up from the bed, and they said no but they were a bit concerned about my placenta. I did not pay much attention to this as the placenta was the least of my worries now that I had safely birthed our beautiful baby girl.
I had heard from Jana and from several hypnobirthing films that it was possible for the baby to be placed on the mother’s abdomen and for the baby to crawl up to the breast for its first feed. I didn’t think this would happen to us as it sounded too rare and wonderful, however we placed her on my chest and within seconds she had latched on and was feeding! I really do believe that she was able to do this as she had not come into the world stressed and shaken or drugged.
The rest of the birth was less exciting. Gail explained that although I had asked to be given an hour for the placenta to come out naturally, she did not have a good feeling about it (I suspect the amount of blood was a concern) and would like a consultant to come and see me. Within minutes I had spoken to a consultant and discussed what was going to happen with an anaesthetist and 40 minutes later I was whisked off to theatre to have the placenta removed. It turned out that it had been stuck to the wall of my uterus and would not have come out naturally, so it was a good thing that I went. The staff were so kind and explained everything to me as it happened. One nurse held my hand throughout the whole procedure.
Despite this unplanned event, nothing took away from what was an amazing and positive birth. Carl and I were so grateful to Jana whose teaching prepared us in more ways than we could have expected and to the staff at the hospital for allowing us to give birth in such a calm and wonderful way. We named our child Skye, and she has continued to grow and develop in this world just like she came in – calm and confident, enjoying every minute of it.