I have always been a rule follower. That’s not to say that I always do exactly as I am told without question, but if a person in authority gives me an instruction, I almost always do what they say. I do challenge things if I can see it will hurt someone else, I am always questioning and debating with our vet about the best treatments for our dog Nina, but I have never been the best advocate for myself. It’s rare that I let go and just totally trust in my own intuition. I start our birth story by mentioning that, because I think above all else the most important thing I learned from hypnobirthing, and the tool I needed most in bringing my son into the world was trusting myself and, equally as importantly, being able to defend that trust.
I had a really good pregnancy for the most part (other than some quite horrendous sickness resulting in hospitalisation early on) and I was told throughout that I was going to have an extremely big baby! We had a growth scan at 34 weeks and were told that our little lad was measuring 4 weeks ahead, and on track to be about 10-11lb at birth. This didn’t phase me at all, I expected to have a big baby as I was 9lb10oz (and not the biggest baby in my family by a long way). But, because our baby was above the 98th percentile, I was transferred to consultant led care and booked in for another growth scan at 38 weeks. My community midwife asked for an additional scan at 36 weeks because she wasn’t totally happy with my bump measurement, but the consultant was confident that it wasn’t needed, and so I felt pretty happy that all was well.
A few days before my 38-week scan, on the Sunday, I went to the maternity assessment unit extremely itchy and blood tests showed that my liver wasn’t doing perfectly but wasn’t a huge cause for concern. They gave me a stretch and sweep (I was 1cm dilated but my cervix was still very high and firm and thick) and booked me in for more blood tests to monitor my liver the following weekend. So, I went to my scan on Thursday afternoon pretty relaxed, expecting to be told once again that I was having a huge baby, and preparing to stand my ground and refuse an induction if it was offered just because he was big. As soon as they started measuring though I knew something wasn’t quite right, and they confirmed that in the four weeks since the previous scan our baby had barely grown. I asked for a second opinion and for them to double check the previous scan, and they were very confident in their measurements. I was sent up to the maternity assessment unit and as soon as I arrived, I burst into tears. I spoke with a consultant who explained to me that it was likely that my placenta was “failing” and recommended that we induce as soon as possible. My biggest fear throughout pregnancy was induction, I was scared that it would be either extremely fast or extremely slow and that it would be much more painful. Because of covid rules my husband Andy wouldn’t be allowed to be with me until I was in established labour and moved on to the labour ward. I also knew that our hospital had a policy that if you were induced you couldn’t have a pool birth, which had always been my dream. But, when it came to it, none of my worries mattered compared to the safety of our baby, and I booked in for an induction on the Saturday. That isn’t to say however that I found the decision easy afterwards, I was heartbroken. The language used, that my placenta had “failed”, tied up with a lifetime of being a “good girl” was hard to process. I felt like I had let everyone down, especially my baby. I had spent most of the pregnancy promising everyone this huge baby, and then in the last month I hadn’t nourished him as I should be doing, and I had had no idea that there was a problem. Of course, in hindsight I know that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I couldn’t have known, but it’s still painful.
Before I left the hospital, I was given another sweep (number 2, if you want to start counting, because spoiler alert - I had quite a few) and went home. I felt like it was important to let myself feel what I was feeling, so I had a good cry and grieved the birth I had hoped for. But I was also quietly determined that if I bounced on my ball enough, and walked enough and did all the other things that could induce labour that night and the following day that I wouldn’t need the induction. Turns out though that you can’t wish, or bounce, yourself into labour if your body isn’t ready.
I arrived at hospital at 6am on Saturday morning and was given sweep number 3 and a Propess (which is basically like a tiny tampon of prostaglandins that they place near your cervix for 24 hours). I started getting mild contractions quickly and bounced on the ball all day on the ward. When they checked me 24 hours later, I was having contractions every 3 minutes, but my cervix hadn’t changed. I was given another sweep (4) and the Propess was taken out. Because I was contracting regularly, I couldn’t have another Propess, but once they removed the first my contractions died down (they never actually stopped in the ~100 hours between starting the induction and the birth, but they got less strong at various points along the way). I was given another sweep (5) and a second Propess later on the Sunday and went back to having regular contractions again. During this time on the ward Andy was only allowed to visit once a day for about an hour and half (although we also got in sneaky evening visits too because I was allowed to leave to walk around the hospital grounds and he would join me which was lovely). I was extremely lucky that after a few roommates who were only briefly passing through the ward on their way for c-sections, or who went into established labour much quicker, I was joined by two amazing women. They both also ended up being induced and we got to spend a few days getting to know each other and supporting one another through what was an admittedly quite an emotionally and physically draining few days. Everyone who visited our room commented on the girl power vibes, as we sat bouncing on our birthing balls together, listening to hypnobirthing tracks, giving each other pep talks and harvesting colostrum. I didn’t love the process of being induced, but I am so glad that I got to meet those women. During my time on the ward, I also spent a lot of time looking at the vision board I had made. Although I was certain that it no longer represented the birth that I’d be able to have because of hospital rules, I didn’t have the heart to change it. I loved looking at the picture of the pool and I wanted to carry the same vibes with me into whatever my birth ended up actually looking like, even if it wasn’t in the water.
Back to the slow process of getting my labour started, and the exact same thing happened with the second Propess as the first. I was contracting regularly but my cervix hadn’t changed, but they weren’t able to give me any additional induction unless my contractions tailed off, which they did after the second was removed. I had another sweep (6) and when my contractions slowed again, I was given Prostin (a 6-hour prostaglandin pessary) and sweep number 7. Thankfully when I was examined 6 hours later at 6am on Tuesday I had progressed to 3cm dilation, and my cervix was softer (although still not very effaced). I was told that they’d be able to break my waters, so now I was just waiting for a space on labour ward (which they said would likely be before 3pm.) After sweep number 8, I excitedly packed my bags ready to go.
Of course, 3pm came and went, and at 10pm I was finally told that it definitely wouldn’t be that night. I was devastated. By this point my contractions had weakened once again and there were talks about having the start the whole process from the beginning. I’d already been in the hospital for four days, and whilst I’d been using hypnobirthing techniques to stay calm, I was pretty exhausted by this point. I had a shower, cried hysterically, and called Andy. He drove to the hospital late at night, in the middle of a magnificent thunderstorm, and we sat in the car, ate chocolate, listened to music, and talked through all our feelings. He sent me back on to the ward with a lovely playlist and unbeknownst to me, whilst I got into bed and listened to this gorgeous music he’d recommended, he phoned the hospital. He wasn’t trying to cut the queue or complain, but just to ask them politely to better manage my expectations the following day (and to stop offering me co-codamol!). The next thing I knew though a lovely midwife was at the side of my bed telling me that it was finally time to go to labour ward!
I think I was in shock; I remember being quite shaky walking over to labour ward, but I met our lovely midwife and Andy was finally able to join me. Andy was incredibly on it and immediately asked our midwife if she’d read our birth plan, he whipped out a hard copy and she went through it with us in detail. I was grateful that she took it very seriously, and really listened to what we had hoped for and what we didn’t want. I found making the birth plan really useful for ourselves, but I don’t think I saw the incredible difference it can make until the following day on the postnatal ward, where I heard one woman say that she’d really hoped for something (I can’t even remember what now) but had forgotten in the moment to ask and as a result was a bit disappointed with how her birth had gone. Having a plan written down and being able to hand it to the midwife was invaluable. I think it gave her a really clear perspective on what our hopes were, enabled her to push on our behalf for what we wanted and meant that in the moment, when you have a lot of focus on, that you don’t have to remember and recount all the details of everything you’ve likely spent months thinking about.
After going through the plan, my waters were broken at 2am on Wednesday morning, which was one of my all-time favourite moments. My waters went like they do in films, and I found that hilarious. With each giggle I sprayed more and more fluid across the room. There was a very childlike joy about the funny sensation of it and being able to make so much mess! I was told to be as mobile as possible for the next hour, and if nothing was happening then the plan was to start a syntocinon drip. I expected from that that it’d be a fairly slow build up, and hopefully in an hour something would have changed. We started decorating the room with photos, affirmations, and fairy lights, but I think within three minutes of my waters being broken I was in active labour and getting strong and regular contractions. I paced the room between them and leaned on the windowsill with Andy’s support during each surge, using the breathing techniques we had learned through hypnobirthing. After a while though it was obvious to me that the four days in hospital and late hour were taking its toll and I was physically exhausted. I had really wanted to be very active in labour, but my legs were heavy and so after a while I decided to lay on my side on the bed. I don’t really have much concept of time from that point onwards, but a while later I asked for gas and air. It was a big deal for me to ask for pain relief when I needed it, rather than be offered it (hence Andy’s earlier call to the ward, where he asked them to stop offering co-codamol). Our midwife did an amazing job of respecting that throughout my labour and doing exactly as I asked when I asked. With gas and air, I was able to micronap between my contractions, and I think amused Andy with recounting the vivid dreams I was having, and sleep talking about utter nonsense. A while later I started feeling a very strong urge to push and was bearing down hard. I had a slight wobble and started saying that I couldn’t do it, which led everyone to believe that I was in transition. I asked to be examined (which was the only time during active labour that I was examined), and to our surprise was only 6cm dilated (although that had happened pretty quickly). I was scared that my pushing would be crushing our baby’s head, but the midwife was really reassuring and encouraged me to keep listening to my body. At this point the unexpected happened – she offered me the birthing pool! I knew that it was against hospital policy because of my induction (but importantly to note, not against NICE guidelines), and I knew that there was only one pool so it was unlikely to be free even if I was allowed. I’d prepared myself that I wouldn’t be having a pool birth, although like I already said, I’d not had the heart to take the pool photo off my vision board. I didn’t say any of this though of course and I jumped at the chance. Funnily enough when we initially got into the first room on labour ward, I said to the midwife how this “might” be the room I gave birth in, because I had a funny feeling it wouldn’t be, and in the end it wasn’t. It took a while to fill the pool, but I will never forget going into the pool room and seeing the water, the fairy lights and all of our photos that they’d moved across and set up without my knowing. It looked exactly like the photo I had on my vision board, and I think that moment really brought me back into feeling totally in control and powerful, after the weird 6cm wobble.
I got into the pool and the water was amazing, I instantly relaxed and felt the intensity of my surges ease. I tried a few different positions, but to my surprise, a lot of the positions that I practiced before birth that I assumed would feel the best for labouring in, felt awful. I let my brain switch off and I trusted my body to know which position was right. I had been determined beforehand that I wouldn’t give birth reclining, but it felt the best in the moment and so that’s what I did. I hadn’t been in the water that long before I transitioned for real this time. My midwife noticed external signs that the birth was close (I pooped!) and then it was much more serene that I had expected – I felt totally calm, my contractions stopped, and I ate strawberries. Until that point, I’d been using gas and air, but I no longer needed it after that. Our midwife invited me to see if I could feel my baby’s head inside and I was shocked to find it was right there. The process of pushing my baby out was one of the moment amazing experiences of my life. I was so glad that I had heard other peoples birth stories and watched positive videos of very natural births beforehand, because my experience pushing was nothing like I feel we are used to seeing in Hollywood, or even many real birth videos. I really didn’t want coached pushing, but I wasn’t sure how I would know what to do. It turned out though that I didn’t need to know consciously, my body knew exactly what to do. The midwife talked me through what was happening, but she didn’t coach me in pushing at all. It was entirely my body and my baby working together. Once his head was born, I felt him turn and I think that was probably the best single moment of my life, feeling him come into the world so peacefully and naturally, I can’t describe the emotions. And then before I knew it, after less than 5 hours of active labour, at sunrise on the most beautiful sunny day after the storm, I was bringing Dylan out of the water and on to my chest. One thing I was grateful for throughout my induction and labour, was that Dylan’s was extremely relaxed. His heart rate was perfect they said, and then he had such a calm entry into the world, he didn’t cry at all.
Andy was amazing as a support throughout labour and then did a great job immediately making sure our son got optimal cord clamping. We left Dylan attached and in the pool for 20 minutes, until the cord had just about stopped pulsing and other factors meant we needed at that point to move things along. Andy and Dylan had a beautiful golden hour together, having constant skin to skin cuddles.
Probably, I am told, because of my induction and extremely long early labour, I had a fairly substantial haemorrhage after the birth. I also had a retained placenta and some tears (I think because I pushed out a baby with a head on the 97th percentile, with both hands on his face!), so I needed some fairly urgent medical attention after the birth. I went back to using hypnobirthing techniques and I can’t believe how calm I was. Despite it being quite a scary scenario, I imagine, my only clear memory from that time is seeing Andy cuddling our son and being filled with pride. I was so in love with my amazing husband, who was the best birth partner imaginable and so in awe of this perfect baby we had created with love and who I’d just given the most beautiful birth to. Thankfully as well, because of my slight complications, Andy ended up being allowed to stay for nine hours after the birth (not the one hour we had been told and worried about).
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a more positive birth, but I think it’s important to note that things didn’t really go to plan (A). I faced a few of my biggest fears – I was induced and spent several days in hospital without Andy; I had a haemorrhage; and I tore – my birth story basically ended up being a list of my biggest fears! But none of those things ended up being as bad as I had feared, and I was more than strong enough to deal with them. I had all the tools I needed to overcome anything thrown at me.
Whilst the difficult parts were less than I had expected, the brilliant parts were far more. The overwhelming feeling of birthing my baby and holding him in my arms for the first time, and the amazing sense of power, pride, and confidence in myself that I got from my birth, are indescribable. Through hypnobirthing I went from being the rule follower at the start of this story and lifelong “good girl”, who trusted that other people knew best - to feeling like a strong woman, a mother, an actual goddess. Because I trusted myself and my body, it showed me that it was infinitely more powerful and strong and amazing than I ever imagined, and I was able to give Dylan the most beautiful birth that I could ever have dreamed of.