This story fills me with such happiness. Catalina got in touch with me via Facebook, seeking an antenatal course that would prepare her for her second baby. From the very first session, it was clear that she and her husband, Harry, were committed to doing everything they could to calmly welcome their child. Catalina practised regularly and - very sweetly - printed out affirmation cards for all of the participants on the group course she attended!
Her story is wonderful - she made conscious decisions throughout and was calm and confident as she navigated her birth. She used so many of the techniques we talked about in the course and I especially love how she asked her husband and midwives to verbally reinforce her self-belief as her baby was born.
Here's Catalina's story...
In thinking of my second birth, I knew I wanted a different story from my first birth. Although I laboured in the hospital’s birthing centre, I was completely unprepared for the marathon of a long, natural birth. In the end, I was moved to the hospital’s labour ward and delivered my baby girl after an hour of forced and constant pushing while laying on my back and with my legs in stirrups. Needless to say, this part is remembered as a painful memory and when my daughter arrived, she was immediately taken from me and given multiple checks.
Luckily, I found a supportive and relaxed hypnobirthing approach through Jana Phillips' Mindful Birth Project. From the start, I learned about reprogramming my brain away from traditional birthing images to more joyous, calm and peaceful images of women working with the surges of labour. I attended Jana’s sessions with my husband, Harry, where I met other like-minded couples. In the weeks building up to my son’s birth, I also read several books, listened to hypnobirthing recordings, and practiced the different types of breathing. I used the relaxation breathing technique throughout my last weeks of pregnancy, when I was on difficult tube rides, awaiting anxiously at NHS appointments, or just fighting insomnia. In fact, I still use it now as I am caring for my newborn.
The week before my “due date” was a trying one. I learned that due to my age (42), I was strongly advised to receive an induction. I had never thought of this as a possibility and was suddenly quite stressed. My idea of a natural, calm birth seemed to fade as I thought of the possibility of prostanglandin gels and oxytocin intravenous drips. I knew that these interventions usually lead to epidurals and/or c-sections. I shared my concerns with Jana, who provided me with website links and reading material to help me work through an informed decision about the induction.
My “due date” arrived on a Wednesday. I didn’t sleep too much the night before as I was still anxious. Also, throughout the night, I was feeling Braxton-Hicks contractions that were not like anything I had experienced before. They seemed to be felt primarily in my upper abdomen, and felt like a tugging down sensation. I felt slight heart palpitations through each one, but used relaxation breathing to fall back asleep. Harry woke up to prepare my older daughter for school and send her off on the school bus. He cooked up a hearty and healthy breakfast. Then, we set off on a morning walk in the neighborhood. That helped clear my head and prepare mentally for the day and night to come. When we returned home, I called the hospital to check on a bed in the antenatal care unit where inductions are given. With no bed yet available, we ate lunch. When my daughter arrived home at 2:30pm, we set off to Kilburn Grange Park, where I watched her climb in the new adventure playground and I walked several laps with my mother. The walks were getting tough, but I persisted as I knew they would be helpful. By the end of the day, I managed to reach 10000 steps! On the way home, the hospital phoned to say a bed was now available and that I was to come in. We prepared dinner, and did my daughter’s night time routines. We told her that grandma would take care of her while mom and dad headed to the hospital. We left for the hospital by 8pm on Wednesday night.
Upon arrival, we met our first midwife, Maryama, who showed us our bed. One other woman and her husband were going through a similar process next to us. Maryama gave us some space and arrived 30 minutes later. She attached strips to my belly and began to monitor the baby. After 40 minutes of monitoring, she noticed I had already been having surges quite frequently. I only felt the Braxton-Hicks movements that I described earlier. She did an internal exam and sweep. She said I was 1 cm dilated and left me to sleep for the night. Maryama did not want to administer the prostanglandin gel and was hopeful that labour would move along for me. She advised that upon the morning exam, it may be appropriate to break my membranes. I tried to put any negative thoughts out of my mind, imagining a peaceful birth, my son in my arms, and positive images of women birthing. I was able to take several naps throughout the night, with the help of the hypnobirthing tracks.
When morning arrived, I was monitored again and given another internal exam. I noticed this exam was much more comfortable. I also began to feel some minor surges. Maryama noted I was 2 cm dilated and that she could feel my membranes right above my cervix. She thought I should go forward with the breaking of my membranes in a few hours. I sent Harry home to get a decent breakfast, as we both remember how long labour can take and it seemed like we were only just at the start. My own breakfast soon arrived at 8am. I ate my cereal through what felt like stronger surges. These progressed throughout the morning. I used the surge breathing and ordered last minute items on the internet for a few hours, all while sitting on a birthing ball.
By 10am, I felt like I needed to minimize distractions, and wore my eye mask and ear plugs. I listened to the hypnobirthing tracks to concentrate. The surges were becoming stronger and more frequent, and the birthing ball was becoming uncomfortable as I was feeling more and more “open.” I started walking around the hospital floor, pausing at surges, closing my eyes and using deep breathing. By 10:30am, I texted Harry to return, alerted the midwives of the stronger pressure and began to do deep breathing with some vocalizing. A new midwife, Alison, did an internal exam. It was 11am, I was now 4cm dilated and in active labour. After some checking, Alison said I could go to the Birthing Centre. At 11:45am, with Harry by my side, I began to make my way there. I now had a tank of gas and air that Alison would hold for me. The hallway directly connected to the Birthing Centre and would normally be a 1 or 2 minute walk. However, I had several strong surges on the way there. We stopped so I could use the gas and air, which felt really good with the deep surge breathing. I was happy to finally begin my labour in the birthing centre, could a peaceful water birth be next?
At the doorway of my room, I felt a strong surge, followed by a “pop” and release. My membranes had broken. It was now 12pm. Two very friendly midwives greeted me inside my room, Jo and Shanice. They seemed very calm and encouraging. We walked to the bed, with several pauses for stronger surges. These surges reminded me of ones I felt later in labour with my daughter. Suddenly, I felt an intense opening in my body and I released more of my membranes. I also felt a strong bearing down pressure. Jo and Shanice were patient with me, they had noticed some meconium and wanted to monitor the baby. But, the thought of lying on my back was almost impossible. While pausing for surges, Jo did an internal exam, I was fully dilated! I listened to my body, and all it wanted to do was release my baby.
Due the presence of meconium, I no longer had the option of using the birthing pool. I summoned up all of the images of women giving birth without assistance that I had seen over the last few weeks. I told myself I could give birth, right there on the large inflatable bed next to the birthing pool. Rather than lay directly on my back, I turned to my side and opened my left leg as wide as possible.A third midwife, Alison, entered the room. Jo let me know that she was happy for me to try to give birth then and there, but she could only let me try with a few surges before making the call to take me to the labour ward. With each surge, I followed Jo’s instructions and appreciated her gentle coaching.
I looked at Harry and remember asking him to tell me, “You can do this!” to which he complied and as did all the midwives in the room with each surge. In between surges, I was encouraged to relax. On the fourth surge, I felt my body shake and my baby boy came rushing out and was placed immediately on my stomach at 12:27pm. He felt so warm and tiny. Jo and Shanice were patient with me and let me have skin-to-skin contact and a chance to breastfeed. I remember feeling waves of calm and joy. Things were happening around me, talk about the cord, the placenta and my tears. But, I only focused on my son. I could not believe how quickly it all happened. I credit hypnobirthing with the confidence to give birth naturally, despite the special circumstances and interventions that were presented.