During pregnancy, it always astounded me how many people, often complete strangers, wanted to unleash their birth story (in often graphic detail) on me. A convert to hypno birthing and the power of positive thinking by the end of my pregnancy, most of the time, I halted people's tales before they'd begun, for fear that another account of a 36 hour horror would only serve to undo all of the good work I'd done in my attitude towards birth. Having been through it, I now understand the need to both reconcile your experience in your own mind, but also somehow connect with others who have been through what is ultimately the most primal experience you go through as a woman. My story isn't fluffy and romantic by any stretch, and it was incredibly tough at times, but I still feel positively about it, and so here it is.
I'd started pregnancy pretty terrified of birth. It felt like a dreaded exam you have to go through at school that prevents you from truly looking forward to the summer holidays. I essentially thought of it as something I'd 'get through', but there weren't any positive thoughts aside from that.
I'm naturally someone who researches and plans, and preparing for the birth in any way I could felt like the only positive way I could deal with this dreaded event. Cue pregnancy yoga, hypno-birthing, and an NCT alternative course - all of which gave a different perspective on the pros and cons of different ways of dealing with the birth itself, and helped us navigate our way to an option we felt happy with. A home water birth, with hypno-birthing to guide us through and ideally prevent the use of any options stronger than gas and air. For me this was never about the kudos of going 'drug-free', it was more about buying into the logic of making the situation as stress-free as possible, and that approach giving you the best chance of a quick recovery. I also liked the idea that your midwifes stayed with you throughout, rather than being rushed off to see several patients in a hospital ward.
We prepped in every way we could, Ben having bought into the same thinking as I. Nightly listening to affirmations from the wonderful Hollie @yessmumm from London Hypnobirthing; practicing exercises to help keep me calm if complications occurred (or 'special circumstances' as they're referred to); and as much physical preparation as possible to keep me in good shape to physically get through what is often referred to as a marathon.
It all kicked off at 2am on a Saturday morning. I woke up with really bad period cramps, but after a false alarm the weekend before, where we were both convinced that it was go time, I tried (unsuccessfully) to go back to sleep, eventually getting up at about 5am to do some yoga to distract myself. I was convinced that something was different though. Yoga didn't do anything to ease the pain in the way that it normally would, and it exhausted me. After relaxing for a few more hours, I felt better and we headed out for a nice day wandering about in the sunshine. Looking back I should have known that my rejuvenated energy was my equivalent to 'nesting' - it's just that I hate cleaning and tidying, so exploring our area and going for a quick drink was my equivalent! The pains came and went, and I still had a suspicion that something was happening, but tried to ignore it.
I had my 'show' during the day (and yes, I did google it, and it's pretty gross) but it doesn't necessarily mean things are starting soon, so again, I tried to ignore it. That night I crawled into bed, totally exhausted after my 2am start. I don't know what made me think of it, but I recalled some advice that a midwife had given me about putting down a protective sheet in the bed and put one down for the first time. I was just nodding off and felt a huge 'whoosh' of water that woke me up. Ben was watching sport upstairs and was pretty surprised when I called out that my waters had broken. We were both excited, but tried to keep calm (got to keep that adrenaline low!), and agreed we'd try to go to back to sleep, after having called the midwife to let her know that things were kicking off.
An hour later, having realised that sleep was going to be impossible given that my surges (contractions in hypno birthing language) had started about a quarter of an hour after my waters breaking, and were immediately 5 minutes apart, we agreed to get up and watch some cheese on TV (I'd negotiated some pretty horrendous chick flick action that I never normally would watch with Ben, but pregnancy is a powerful negotiation tool and watching things that make you happy is supposed to be part of the process). Dirty Dancing was begun (the film, not us), and we snacked and I did my exercises and breathing on the pregnancy ball.
The surges quickly got closer together, and stronger, but we were still calm and happy. We called the midwife and she came out, and Ben started to prep the birthing pool in the lounge, and get everything set up to make it a relaxing environment, while I experimented with the TENS machine, and various yoga positions to help with the pain. The room behind our lounge became my retreat - small and dark, it enabled me to really go within myself as I listened to birthing affirmations on repeat.
When the midwifes turned up, one of them turned out to be someone we'd met before, Kayleigh, which immediately made us feel more calm. Both of the midwifes were great, leaving Ben and I to it, and enabling us to really focus on the kind of birth we wanted. The examined me shortly after arriving to see how things were progressing, and whilst the fact that I was only 4cm dilated was a little disheartening, they told me that the babies head was really low and everything was progressing well.
As the pain worsened, I felt like going in the pool would help. It felt amazing as I stepped into the warm water, but soon after I felt incredibly hot and had to be helped out. In hindsight I think this slowed everything down. When I was examined at my next 4 hourly interval, the midwife said I was only 5 cm dilated. I was totally disheartened, but to make things worse, she asked the other midwife to come and give her a second opinion, as she was concerned about the babies position. They thought that his (as we later found out) head was tipped back and obstructing the pathway, and began to be worried because his heartbeat was irregular. They talked to us straight away about going to hospital to ensure we had the support we needed.
Everything felt out of the blue at this point, as it had all been going so well, they'd been happy at each 15 minute heart beat check, and suddenly we were discussing abandoning our entire home birth plan and moving to hospital. It was hard not to get stressed out, but Ben and I asked for time to talk about it, and negotiated an extra hour at home to monitor the heart beat, and if things hadn't improved at that point, we agreed we'd change our plan.
Annoyingly one of the midwifes had taken it upon herself to order an ambulance, despite us asking for more time. I have to say that knowing there was an ambulance team sitting in our kitchen downstairs didn't help with the pressure of what to do next.
Over the hour the heart beat normalised again, so we were back on course. I felt like everything was getting more intense, and was sure that we were nearing the end. The pain got steadily worse, and the surges closer together, and I got back into the pool. Another four hours passed, and the midwifes wanted to examine me again, but I was in the throws of contractions constantly, and was reluctant to let them go anywhere near me (it hurts when they're checking how far dilated you are, or at least it did for me).
They tried the examination, but couldn't be sure how far I'd progressed, estimating I was still around 5cm. I was sure this couldn't be right, but again they started the conversation about going to the hospital as the baby's heart beat was erratic. Everything had changed for me - I was mooing like a cow when the surges came, getting the sensation to push, and yet they were telling me that there could potentially be another 10-15 hours of this at least (little did I know at the time!) and that our baby was at risk.
We talked it through, and given my energy levels at this point (it was Sunday evening and I'd been up since 2 am on Saturday), and primarily the baby's safety, we decided that hospital felt like the best route. Ultimately we wanted him to be OK. Ben started scurrying round getting the hospital bag and anything else we might need (we looked like we were going away for a short weekend), and the paramedics came to help me walk to the ambulance. Worthing hospital is such a short journey from the house, but I was generally worried I wouldn't be able to make it, the surges were so intense. I remember asking if I could stand in the ambulance, as sitting or lying down at this point was impossible.
Thank god you can't be held accountable for your behaviour during labour. The ambulance man tried to make inane chit chat as we took the journey to the hospital and I essentially told him to shut the f**k up, so that I could concentrate on my breathing. Not my finest hour, but I wanted to be in a bubble and shut the world out so that Ben and I could just concentrate on making this happen in the way we wanted to.
After a short journey (but one that felt like a lifetime, and included every speed bump known to man), and a random meandering stumble along the hallways of the hospital, where I looked like an insane erotic dancer as I did my yoga thrusts intermittently against walls in a bid to take the edge off the surges, we reached the delivery suite. They tried to make us feel as at home as possible, so we'd been able to take in our own music and things to make it feel more like our own space. At this point they needed to examine me, and to get me to have energy back, so drugs were the only option to progress and ensure the baby wasn't too tired.
Diamorphine was the first step, but this left me a swaying mess, falling asleep standing up, but not taking any of the pain away. An epidural followed (how I sat still for them to inject this in my spine I will never know), finally giving me some respite, and enabling them to examine me, telling me that I was almost 10cm dilated (only an hour after they'd said 5 at home), and that the epidural would give me a couple of hours rest until I needed to push.
Our midwife at this point, Clare, was AMAZING. She worked with us to ensure that everyone used the right language of hypno-birthing, she tried to keep us smiling, she talked us through each and every decision and tried to keep as much to our plan as we possibly could. At one point we had Otis Redding playing (our baby boys namesake), we were all talking and laughing, and finally it seemed like a good outcome could still be possible, despite our plans having changed so drastically.
The two hours came and went, and it was time to push. I squatted one side of the bed, with Ben on the other, holding my hands, and used the 'down' breathing that we'd learned to push the baby out. Each and every breath seemed like it took every ounce of energy I had, but I was driven on my Ben telling me how well I was doing, and Clare's voice behind me telling me that she could see the baby.
What I didn't know was that the baby's head kept appearing, and shooting back inside, never being in the right position to come out and complete the birth. We changed position, so I was sitting back on an angle on the bed, still using gravity, and we continued to try, me primally pushing and breathing down, convinced we were still going to be able to have the birth our way.
At this point a surgeon came in, assessed the babies heart beat, and how long we'd been going, and advised us that we should progress to using forceps, and the likely requirement of an episiotomy. I literally couldn't believe it. It felt like we'd had 3 lots of births at this point, it was very late Sunday night, I'd been up since 2am Saturday morning, and had started to feel like a guinea pig for every birth choice you can possibly make. It didn't help that the surgeon was a very blunt woman, and we'd never met her before, so I didn't receive the news well. Clare was convinced we could still do things naturally, and told the surgeon so; and I asked the surgeon to go because she was such a negative influence at a point that keeping positive was so important.
She went, but gave us a limited period of time to try and then we needed to make some decisions. I tried, and tried again, but the baby's head just didn't want to come out on its own. Clare again was amazing, talking us through how the procedure would work, reminding us that we'd tried everything that we possibly could, and it would still be me giving birth. I had to agree to a potential C Section as well, and then I was wheeled into an operating theatre and prepped.
When the drugs had kicked in, I remember being on the table, fully lucid, but unable to feel my legs, which was so bizarre as I could see them hoisted high above me at a totally unnatural angle. Ben came in suited up for the procedure, and he looked so freaked out to see me in that state that all I wanted to do was calm him. Infact I felt unnaturally calm about the whole thing at this point.
They had to tell me when to push, as I obviously couldn't feel down below, and ironically the baby came out on the first try. I felt a huge wave of relief as they handed us our beautiful baby boy, Otis, after Ben had cut the umbilical cord. Poor old Ben had seen all of the gruesome mess down below - I, thank god, had been spared this!
I had skin to skin with Otis straight away, and Ben and I sat and stroked our new family addition. We had to wait for the placenta to be delivered, and the surgeon to stitch me up, and we were then moved to a recovery room where we could rest and spend time as a family. It was another 5 hours until we were moved to a ward to rest properly, and we then spent half a day being fed by hospital staff and drifting in and out of sleep before we went home (in my case, hobbling somewhat).
It was a long, long, hard experience, and I find I look back on it with mixed emotions. Through my enthusiasm for finding my ideal way to give birth, I'd created a black and white scenario - the 'good' way and the 'bad' way, and the reality is that birth just doesn't work like this. I don't regret any of the decisions we made, as each and every one was ours in the end, and was made in the interests of the safety of our baby (and me). Our preparation paid off to give us as much control and piece of mind as you can possibly muster in these circumstances. Had we not done hypno-birthing, we wouldn't have had the preparation of working as a team, of finding ways to keep calm when all around us was in chaos. If we were to go through it again (and it's a question, as it's still pretty recent!), we'd still opt for a home birth, but at least now we know the other feasible approaches and that we can get through whatever we're faced with.
You're put down with markers in your file for psychological stress when your birth 'plan' doesn't go to plan. Each and every health visitor and midwife who visits you in the post natal period checks that you're not about to throw yourself out of the window because you didn't achieve that elusive 'natural birth'. But I can honestly say that going through all of that not only makes you more empowered as an individual, but has made us stronger as a couple, and as a family unit, because if we can get through all of that, we can get through anything. And this little beauty was the outcome at the end of the day, so how can you regret anything about that?