One thing I do quite regularly to check in on myself is think in years to come … what will I look back on this time and think of. On the more morbid days I think on my death bed, what will flash before my eyes. (Heavy for a Friday morning I know!) More often than not for me it’s to do with how much time I spend on TBTBC vs. my family time. A never ending battle for most working mothers I’m sure.
One specific time though, when this deathbed tactic massively helped me was when I was considering getting a birth photographer for my fourth baby. I nearly didn’t do it as I was nervous that some of the other midwives wouldn’t get it. I felt extremely diva ish 💁🏼♀️ rocking up to my birth (the place where I will be going back to work!) with a photographer. An imagined fear of being judged. I nearly didn’t do it as Rob openly didn’t get it, he thought I was weird 😆. Anyway, I obviously checked in on myself and thought of myself in my elderly years and knew that the captures of one (of four) of the greatest moments of my life would be far greater than any judgement I would get from anyone else. So I did it, and now thanks to Chui King Li I have one of my greatest achievements in life to look on (which I do on the regs) and cherish for ever. The only regret I have is not doing it with all of them!!
Anyway, my point of this story is that birth matters. The reason why I like looking back on my photos so much was because that day mattered. I brought my baby girl into this world on that day. It was an incredible day. Birth is not just a means to an end. It’s the mark of the end of a pregnancy and the start of being a mother. It’s just as, if not more important as your wedding day that you spend thousands of pounds on and months sometimes years of prepping. In years to come it will be a day that you will remember, you will want to share what happened with your children just as your own mother tells you. Why do you think mothers tell their birth stories so much when they’re together… because it’s important to them. How they felt on that day is important to them. When you’re elderly you will remember your birth and how it made you feel more so than the colour fabric of your baby’s pram or the colour of the walls in the nursery or their first outfit.
Birth is so much more than one day. Birth matters.
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Let’s throw it back to the 1950s where only the aristocratic Dads may have made an appearance in the birth room to welcome a son. The majority of Dads would be waiting in the pub for the news of the arrival of the baby at a homebirth or sat in the hospital waiting room, only to see the baby when their wives would be clean and decent. It was deemed inappropriate for the wives to be seen by their husbands behaving the instinctive, primitive way that labour brings.
Fast forward 60 years to now and Dads are thrown into the birth rooms with often not a scooby doo to what to expect or to do. With the role models from one born every minute spotlighting Dads to be jokers and a spare part in the birth rooms, more concerned with whether they’re going to eat the pickled onion monster munch or the sour cream Pringles. It’s no wonder with the media portraying Dads this way that they find their comfy chair in the birth room, open up their snacks and load up the iPad with the latest football match and settle down for the next few hours, leaving their other halves and the midwives to it.
What would you think if I told you that as a Dad, you are the best asset to birth? You can reduce the want for pain relief and make birth run more smoothly. Oxytocin is the reason why. Dads are the biggest source of oxytocin, with this hormone being the love hormone. A high level of oxytocin means a high level of endorphins (your body’s own morphine supply) and stronger, more regular contractions (oxytocin directly acts on your uterus muscles.)
So to the Dads out there that want to be that difference to the birth (that’s all types of births), here’s my tips for you…
1. Touch- Holding a hand, massaging the lower back, popping a hand on your partners shoulder. Touch increases the oxytocin and let’s her know you’re there.
2. Have a good poker face- No matter how you’re feeling underneath, bring out your best poker face. If she sees fear in you, she’s either going to feel scared herself or feel like she has to reassure you. Either of these are not ideal for her oxytocin levels.
3. Encourage her to eat, drink and wee often. Eating and drinking because the uterus is a muscle that needs nutrients to work effectively. You wouldn’t run a marathon without fuel. Wee often because if the bladder is full then baby’s head can struggle to get past it- women in labour often don’t get the same urge to wee as they do in pregnancy so need reminding to go.
4. Help pack the hospital bag- during birth if she asks you for her flannel for her forehead, or her Vaseline as the gas and air is drying out her lips, you’re going to want to know where it is in that bag. If your partner has a cesarean then all the baby clothes/hats/nappies are going to be your responsibility to find afterwards.
5. Get involved in the birth prep too. Help make the playlist, help research the birth plan. Knowing what will be happening in all avenues of the birth will mean that you can be confident and provide reassurance. Antenatal class can help you with the knowledge that you’ll need. If you know the choices she’d like then you can work with the midwife to make this happen. In the thick of contractions it can be a challenge to make and voice decisions so you’ll be the main communicator.
6. Tell her she’s doing amazing, tell her everything is going well, rather than asking her if she’s ok. If she’s feeling uncomfortable with contractions then she’s probably not going to say she’s fine and dandy.
7. Be a leaning post. If your partner is upright and leaning forward her pelvis will be open an extra 28% meaning more room for baby to pass through. And again the closeness will increase the oxytocin.
8. Be present. Try and limit the use of phones or iPads. When you’re trying to birth a baby and your hubby is scrolling Facebook it can feel a tad isolating.
9. Get your dose of skin to skin after with baby. It can be great for your bonding with baby, helps regulate their temperature, heart rate and breathing. Plus it gives your partner the chance to rest after birth and have two hands to eat the well deserved tea and toast.
10. Look after yourself. There’s nothing worse than having a hangry Dad in the birth room. Pack yourself lots of snacks and drinks so you can stay well fuelled too. Pack yourself a change of clothes too and maybe a toothbrush as labour and birth can take a while.
12. Practise the techniques with her in pregnancy. This can be breathing techniques, counting, visualisations or relaxations from hypnobirthing. What ever coping techniques you are going to use, you’ll need to know what they are to be able to prompt them when the going gets tough- this can be in the car on the way to the hospital, in the waiting room or during transition when birthing mums tend to momentarily lose control.
13. Sort the practical stuff- know who to call, where to park, how to get there, how to get the car seat in the car for the ride home. This will take lots of the pressure off.
Remember YOU are the biggest source of oxytocin in the room. Don’t underestimate your role in the birth room.
For more ways on learning what goes on in labour so that you know what to expect, what to do when things don’t go to plan and other ways to make the birth go smoother then you get involved with midwife Beth’s online birth course.
Fayes birth story.
So…. We didn’t have a birth plan we were just happy to go with the flow and it’s a good job we did! My due date had passed, and I was starting to feel a tad inpatient so I had a bath with a ‘sex bomb’ (bath bomb from Lush!) which was recommended to me by a new mummy friend I had made on the Bump to Baby Chapter antenatal course. I even had to go to my mother in law’s for the bath because the previous week I had got stuck in our bath due to the taps being in the middle!!
I was 5 days overdue so my partner and I went out for a thai curry at lunchtime, again in a bid to get things started. By 4pm that day the contractions had started…. 10 minutes apart and not very consistent however it was all starting to happen. My partner went off to five-a-side football at 5.30pm and when he returned at 7.15pm they certainly felt stronger and were more like 7 minutes apart however still not always consistent.
I had a tiring night, however I managed the pain using my hypnobirthing breathing and visualisations, paracetamol and a tens machine. Sleep was tricky though because well… I was a tad uncomfortable and I was needing to time my contractions. By 4.30am the following day it was time for us to make our way to the birth unit at Gloucester Royal, things seemed more consistent and my pyjamas bottoms suddenly appeared wet! My partner drove us to the hospital saying ‘this is it!’, it reminded me of that early morning trip to the airport when you are feeling a mixture of excited and nervous!!
We arrived at the birth unit and after being assessed I was advised I was 3cm dilated and only part of my waters had broken, therefore diamorphine was recommended to me so that I could rest and catch up on some sleep for the day that was ahead of me. They also started me on some IV antibiotics because I had Group B strep.
Several hours passed, my waters hadn’t broken naturally, I felt super relaxed and drowsy and I hadn’t dilated anymore. I felt at this point a little frustrated and waved goodbye to any hope of a water birth because I needed to be looked after in the delivery suite and have the rest of my waters broken. It was at this point that I was started on the hormone drip to try and increase the intensity and frequency of the contractions (or so I thought this was).
The level of hormone drip changed throughout the day, and by 10pm that evening I was 6cm dilated, this felt so wrong to both my partner and I at the time after such a long day. However, earlier that night we had a wonderful surprise when Beth came on shift and was assigned as our midwife. Seeing a friendly face was just the best we could have hoped for and my partner was pleased because he could straight talk with Beth! I was shattered and was only using gas and air as pain relief, otherwise I was managing with my hypnobirthing techniques. I remember feeling really quite insular and just focussing in on my breathing. A cesarean was offered and discussed at 11pm however we declined this suggestion on the basis that I didn’t want the recovery afterwards. Albeit, I was very tempted and did ask whether they could guarantee our baby would be born in the next hour so that it’s birthday could be the 16th of the month the same as her dad- barmy I know!! My partner laughed at this reasoning, in my head it was justified given the day I had experienced! Instead we were advised the hormone drip would be increased and we would be assessed again in 2 hours.
Those two hours I remember being really tough, however both Beth and my partner were very supportive and I remember them both being really positive. Finally, at about 1.30am I was more or less fully dilated, however (there are lots of ‘howevers‘ in this story!!), our baby’s head was facing 10 o’clock as opposed to 6 o’clock and therefore I needed some help from a doctor to move baby into a more optimum position for birth. I have also learned since that her heart rate was also creating an odd pattern and I wasn’t in any fit state to take instructions on how to push because I was attached to the gas and air for comfort and was exhausted! Therefore, the next part of the story involved signing a consent form and going to theatre. The two options I had were forceps and C section- both of which I had prayed I wouldn’t need so I remember feeling like a failure. Given our feelings about the recovery after a C section, we opted for forceps first.
I recollect being in theatre feeling like I was on Holby City- surrounded by lights, legs in stirrups and lots of clinicians around me including an anaesthetist trying to get a spinal block into my back however I couldn’t sit still due to the contractions. I recall him getting more and more cross and frustrated with the situation and perhaps me due to my lack of cooperation (not on purpose I might add!!). Once the spinal block was in, the process started and the one doctor could not turn her head, nevertheless I was lucky enough that another doctor was available to try. She was successful, however our little baby turned back! At this point, I remember Beth saying ‘you are definitely having a girl because she is being a right diva!’ this made me smile because we didn’t know at this point what we were having. The same doctor managed to turn her again and very much gave the impression that this was my opportunity to push my baby out. Beth was monitoring the baby’s heart rate and feeling my tummy for contractions, when a contraction came I was supported, encouraged and motivated to push as hard as I could three times. I am pretty sure after 3 lots of 3 pushes our baby was born! Forceps were used to help direct her out and I had an episiotomy.
Beth told us we had a baby girl and I was ecstatic because my partner already had a boy so I secretly hoped for a girl! Unfortunately, she was born very startled and with a slightly disfigured chest so was whisked off to the corner of the room for checks. My partner recalls how anxious he felt at this time, nevertheless within 15 minutes of being checked over by the doctors, her chest had recovered and all was good in the world. Well for her anyway… I on the other hand was still lay on my back, legs in stirrups feeling quite uncomfortable whilst the doctors manually removed my placenta which got a little stuck, hence my 1.7 litre blood loss. Due to this loss I started to feel more and more unwell- shaky and sick. By now, our baby girl was in my partner’s arms having lots of lovely cuddles and I couldn’t control my shakes whilst in recovery so had to opt for looking at her and stroking her hand for the first hour and a half of her life. Once I felt better I made up for it with some skin to skin contact and a good feed. Holding her for the first time was just the best medicine for feeling better and this is how I have decided to remember her birth.
Channelling the sentiment of Monty Python, I am left thinking about exactly what we did gain from our Hypnobirthing course. I’ve read lots of blogs and testimonials about the benefits of hypnobirthing for labour and delivery and breathing and calmness. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel it sells it a little short. I decided to write this as a ‘you’ll get a shed load more from this than you realise’ piece, but it actually turned into a celebration of what we as a couple got from the process we went through with Beth. If you’re unsold on the benefits of hypnobirthing, please consider the fact that the side-effects may be more wondrous and far-reaching than you could ever imagine.
What did Hypnobirthing ever do for us?
1. It helped us with team ‘US’ – oh my gosh did we build a team together…
My husband and I were together a year when we got married and have just celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a 9 week old. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind and I wouldn’t change a thing. What we didn’t have though was a decade of trials and tribulations to build up our joint resolve. We didn’t have that solidarity that comes from supporting each other through the good and bad times or a childhood of shared experiences and reference points. The one thing we were told by every other parenting team we knew was how important it was to develop that solid base. Beth helped us slow right down and look at the building blocks of what we had. We breathed together. We stopped and we held hands. We looked at one another and just gazed – it was nothing to do with the chaos of our lives and everything to do with the simplicity of living. When our daughter was born, that’s what we did too. We breathed together. We held hands. We looked at each other and we were a team.
2. It helped us carve out a shared approach to parenting …
We had dreamed about being parents for years (decades even) before we met each other. We had significant conversations about conceiving our daughter but the ideology, logistics and financials that made this the right time to start our family, didn’t touch on the minutia of day-to-day life. We hadn’t had chance to have the myriad of conversations about our thoughts on everything from breastfeeding to soothers and baby-wearing to cloth nappies that seem to crop up organically in most relationships. By working through the process of birth, we had those chats. During our sessions, we discussed what we expected from the first minutes, hours and days of our baby’s life and then we built from there. We used our conversations to dig deeper into the way we ticked. Why did I have the concrete views I did? Why was he so convinced about that approach? What were our non-negotiables and why? What hadn’t we thought of? This in turn lead us to explore our own very different childhoods and marvel at just how much we had in common and how many opinions we held jointly. It meant that no matter what was thrown at us, and how many plans went out of the window, we both knew what the end goal was and we could keep that in sight.
3. It helped us tackle and overcome our wider fears
Hospitals as buildings are somehow magically impregnated by the full range of human emotions. They are places that we go when something is wrong in order to be fixed and sometimes, it just doesn’t happen like that. My husband hated hospitals. They were places of pain and death and heartache for him. Hospitals provided the backdrop for some of his most difficult times and now we needed to find a way to walk into one without that emotional baggage weighing him down. I am somewhat of a control freak. I cannot stand the idea of not having a clear command of the outcome of a situation. I hate not knowing everything to know about a project and I didn’t have time to train as a midwife. Between us, we needed to do some serious work on balancing out our adrenaline with oxytocin. We were guided with a combination of understanding and humour through some of the rawest parts of our private lives. My husband learned to focus his efforts on the positives of a birth surrounded by the best medical professionals around. I learned to look for the wins that mattered and to let go of what didn’t. Together, we built our ‘joy bubble’. A selection of smells, sights, sounds and textures that made us feel safe and at home. We practised feeling safe and happy and loved and we spent ‘date nights’ building our oxytocin reserves. We ended up meeting our daughter in a space that felt like ours. It smelled of home (lavender oil and coffee). Examinations were punctuated by the familiar sounds of Family Guy, South Park and American Dad that signal our ‘down-time’ (Mozart is also an option if that’s where you find your calm!). A favourite picture of us was blu-tacked up like a little Polaris on the wall of our room. In short, we found out what made us feel safe and we took it with us. Since then, we’ve found ourselves reaching for our ‘joy bubble’ after long days or long nights. Currently we’re living on a building site with layers of carnage and chaos around us, BUT we have our smells and sounds and focus and so we’re safe and we’re ‘home’.
4. It helped us define our shared goals
We joked many times that if I had my way, I would give birth in a yurt in the middle of nowhere and if my husband had his, we would be in a sterile and controlled environment where nothing could go wrong. As my pregnancy progressed, we went from discussing the merits of a water homebirth to being closely monitored and consultant-lead with induction as a ‘best case scenario’ and a caesarean section as a distinct possibility. It felt as if everything I had ever dreamed of was taken away one test result and appointment at a time. Beth helped us drill down into what it was that we wanted and why. She then showed us how they could work in any situation. For example – we were insistent that my husband should cut the baby’s umbilical cord. Beth helped us to see why – having properly stamped my foot about not finding out the gender of our baby, I wanted my husband to tell me. I wanted him to know first. I wanted him to introduce me to our child and the thought of someone I’d never met doing that made me feel somehow desperately sad. So we made it happen. It was in our birth ‘preferences’ document and no matter how our child was delivered, he would be the one to introduce us. There were many other ‘strong’ feelings that we had and we managed to find a solution for all of them. If I was not able to do skin-to-skin, he would. If we were in theatre, we could hook up the ipod. If I had a cannula and therefore not be allowed in the birthing pool, I could still have a bath. The list went on. The process though, wasn’t about allowing a diva to have things her way, it was about understanding why they mattered. My husband and I were able to drill down into those core aspects, understand their significance and make them work.
5. It helped us stay in control
I did mention that I was a control freak? Like most people I know, I work in a setting where I am fully accountable for the results of my team and I work hard putting strategies into action, evaluating results and then amending the process. I was really frightened that I would lose all control of my labour. I was afraid that birth would be done ‘to me’ and not ‘by me’. So we worked through that. We learned about our options. We learned about processes. We went into hospital feeling as if we had done our homework and that we’d had the inside scoop from someone ‘in the know’. Three days before my waters broke and filled with the confidence from our sessions, I successfully convinced the consultant to push back our planned induction. The fact that he listened and we talked through options together made me feel so much more positive. In fact, our little lady decided to kick start things on the very day I had fought NOT to be induced, but she did things her way. I said ‘no’. I said it to a midwife who wanted to induce me after my waters had broken, but before the 24 hour limit. It was medically safe for us to wait and we wanted to see if my body would kick in by itself. It did. We said ‘no’ to the doctor who wanted to intervene with either a ventouse or an episiotomy when I was getting tired. We wanted another half an hour of pushing to see if we could do it. She said that wouldn’t make a difference. So we took that half an hour and managed to avoid either intervention. We were in control because we had the confidence to ask the questions and ask for the alternatives. Our hypnobirthing and antenatal courses gave us that confidence. We were in control. When I had to go to theatre for a retained placenta, we still felt in control because we understood everything. We weren’t afraid. We explored the options and made the best decision for us. The bonus was that our baby got extra skin-to-skin time with her daddy and their bond is so incredibly strong. It was our birth and we were imbued with the confidence required to make sure that it remained so. We owned it. We nailed it!
So in short … I’m not sure how to describe what our hypnobirthing experience gave us: whether it was counselling, philosophy, meditation, science, ideology, or just a chance to sit and put the world to rights with a kick-arse midwife. What I do know though is: it was EXACTLY what we needed. We have so much in our lives as a result: the investment was in far more than ‘just’ the awesome birthing experience we had!
In 1982 my mother gave birth to me with the assistance of hypnobirthing. She told me the birth experience was beautiful and she was in control throughout. 30 years later, I was in labour with my first child and I thought my experience would be similar to my mums. That I would be in control. That I would enjoy the experience of bringing a new life into the world. Well, the birth was awful. I felt I was not in control of my body. I was terrified. I kept my eyes shut throughout. I demanded all drugs going and completely lost all faith in myself. It took me a long time to recover physically and mentally. Hence, the long gap of five years before we decided, it was time to try for another.
Determined to be stronger this time and take control again, I was recommended a taster session in Hypnobirthing. I only did NCT previously and didn’t look into Hypnobirthing properly. The course was incredible. I talked through my first experience with other mums and the wonderful Beth from Bump to Baby Chapter. I came away from the meeting feeling empowered and ready to go.
Between the hypnobirthing course and yoga classes, I learnt how to breath, relax and focus. I also met some absolutely fabulous women. I felt that I was stripping back everything medical thrown at me and remembering, as a woman, my body is built to grow a human. An actual human AND its built to give birth. That I should not be scared of the birth, my body will know what to do and I just need to breath, focus and work with it and my baby to get through labour.
9 months and 3 days later, I woke up, got my daughter ready for school and felt a ‘twinge’. The period cramp kind of twinge. The ‘oh yes its finally happening…oh sh*t its finally happening’ kind of twinge. I was meeting a friend for coffee that morning, but as I got to her house, the cramps stopped.
I cracked on with my day as usual, but let the husband know that things might be on the move soon…at some point.
I demanded a curry for tea. But I couldn’t eat it. Not like me at all to refuse food. 9pm came and the cramps returned. We called ahead to my parents who live an hour away, to get over quickly to help look after my daughter. They arrived just after 10pm. I sat bouncing on my ball, visualising, breathing, eating (to keep the energy levels up). Had a few cat naps and by 3am, I was ready to head into hospital.
We arrived at the birthing centre in Gloucester and I explained to the midwife, I wanted a hypnobirth. At this point, everything was manageable. VERY uncomfortable, but manageable. I walked about the room, had a bath and ate some more. But not much was happening with the contractions. They were remaining at the same constant, manageable level of pain. At shift change over we had another midwife. She asked if it was OK to examine me. I agreed. Unfortunately, I hadn’t progressed any further. She gave me another stretch and sweep and said I had two options…. Go home or go out for a few hours. I felt a complete failure and just wanted to go home. So we packed everything up. Walked out of the birth centre door and WHACK a MASSIVE surge. I stopped, cried, breathed and walked further….WHACK….another surge. This happened all the way to the car park. My husband asked what I wanted to do, but I said I had been told to go home, so we were going home.
The journey back to Cheltenham was interesting. I cursed every road bump and pot hole.
As we pulled onto the drive, I thought the baby was about to pop out. I made it to our downstairs toilet, goodness knows how, but I made it. I had a quick wee and then said, HOSPITAL. Well, I screamed HOSPITAL at my husband. I didn’t want to go back to Glos and to be honest, I felt like we wouldn’t make it.
We headed straight to Cheltenham where we were greeted by a midwife at the front entrance. Lisa was incredible. She was the calming, soothing, chilled out midwife I needed. My husband set up the music, so I could listen to the tracks from my yoga classes. I plonked my massive (I was massive) tired body in the birthing pool and I cried. The water was so relaxing and relieved my body straight away. I don’t think I have ever felt such a sensation of relief. I felt, safe.
The contractions remained intense, however, things progressed slowly. I was in the water, on my side out of the water, leaning against the wall, leaning against the husband, on the loo…everything. It was now the afternoon and I was exhausted. My breathing techniques were being helped by gas and air, but I had reached my limit. I asked for my mum…which I never do. I needed some time to recoup ready for the final leg. So they gave me diamorphine. It took the spikey edge off every surge. I was able to have a snooze in between the waves and my hubby even managed to eat a chicken sandwich. Which, I wasn’t aware of.
When the final moment came, I was led on my side, legs, arms, bum entwined with midwife and hubby. I felt like I needed a massive poop. I didn’t experience this sensation in the birth of my daughter, as I had an epidural and by this point had my legs in stirrups in the operating theatre. She was stuck and needed a little helping hand to get out. But, this time round I could feel everything. My body knew exactly what it was doing and I remember thinking, ‘my body can do this. I was built to do this’. Lots of banshee screaming erupted (I had been vocalising my surges most of the birth, but this was on another level of loudness) I could feel the head coming. It didn’t sting. It didn’t hurt. It felt like a HUGE relief, finally I was at the end of this. I was finally going to meet my baby. One last push and out my gorgeous baby came. All 9lb 9 of him! No wonder he had taken so long to get down the birth canal.
My midwife, lisa was such a special lady. She helped calm me down and remind me I can do it in moments when I lost my positive thoughts. She understood hypnobirthing techniques and even had the music we were listening to on her phone. It felt like we were meant to give birth in Cheltenham in the midwifey unit. This was the birth I wanted first time round.
The birth was amazing. Long, painful but amazing. I had given birth to an absolutely beautiful baby boy. I did it naturally (apart from the diamorphine pain relief, which I think helped to save my husbands blood circulation to his hands. They were squeezed a lot during labour) The hypnobirthing along with meeting incredible women, reminded me of what I had achieved with my daughter and what I CAN achieve. Our bodies are incredible, we have got this.
Photo credits Chui King Li Photography