Strangely, I think I would actually trace my birth story back to a rather sad place nearly 18 months before the recent birth of my beautiful son, Gabriel Jonah. My husband and I got married in December 2018 and conceived on our honeymoon two days later. Unfortunately, this pregnancy was not meant to be – I had a natural miscarriage at 11 weeks – and the months that followed were challenging both mentally and physically. Without going into too much detail, there were certain incidents following the miscarriage where I felt that I wasn’t being listened to by some of the medical professionals involved, which was both distressing and detrimental to my confidence in the whole process. It would be fair to say that it took several months for me to get back to a place where I was mentally ready to try to conceive again.
Fortunately, we were able to conceive very quickly once again; however, there was certainly some residual anxiety from the previous pregnancy. I practiced some mindful meditation from very early on in my pregnancy and having witnessed hypnobirthing whilst working on a maternity unit previously, and heard nothing but positive feedback about it, it really appealed to me. I had seen and read lots of positive birth stories around hypnobirthing on social media and the picture they painted seemed like the absolute dream way to give birth.
In order to put my mind at rest, my husband and I booked in for private scans at both 5 and 9 weeks. Each scan showed us everything we needed to see for our reassurance going forward. Over the course of my first and second trimesters, I did lots of reading, listening and watching of positive birth stories, hypnobirthing talks, meditation and pregnancy affirmations. This was invaluable in rebuilding my confidence from the previous year and maintaining a positive mindset around my pregnancy. I felt like hypnobirthing gave me the confidence to trust in my body’s ability to carry the pregnancy and give birth naturally, and to make informed decisions about my body and my baby, which was absolutely crucial in the final weeks before giving birth.
My husband and I managed to squeeze into the last in-person hypnobirthing class before lockdown with five other couples. We did some group work going through communication and our hopes and fears around the birth, practiced relaxation, massage, and meditation techniques, and were given an amazing guidebook which my husband and I worked through together leading up to the birth. I was also lucky enough to be sent some more literature (and audio-recorded affirmations) from a midwife friend over in Northern Ireland, which I also used in those crucial weeks. Finally, I also downloaded a hypnobirthing app for my phone, which I used for meditations and found incredibly helpful. All of this knowledge and the tools that go along with it helped me to stay confident and relaxed despite the best efforts of the global pandemic to undermine that!
It was in the final couple of weeks of my pregnancy, however, that the tools I had learnt from hypnobirthing really came in handy. As my estimated due date came and went with precious little sign of labour, the spectre of medical intervention started to rear its head; however, my baby’s movements remained constant and there was sign of ill health for baby or me, so I remained confident that my body would be able to do what it is designed to do when the time was right.
At the beginning of the 42nd week of my pregnancy, I made an informed and consensual choice to undergo a stretch and sweep with my midwife, with very limited results. It was following this that the consultant first offered induction via pessary, which I declined. She therefore offered me another sweep on the basis that “her sweeps were good”. Again, I accepted this and the consultant attempted the procedure – again with limited success. The consultant had barely finished the procedure before informing me that “[I] won’t give birth naturally”, that I would need an epidural and “wouldn’t be a hero” if I declined it. I felt pretty shocked that she would express a completely unfounded opinion at such a delicate and vulnerable moment, but again the reserves of confidence that hypnobirthing had helped me to build up enabled me to be strong and assertive, and I informed the consultant that I was going home to do some hypnobirthing meditation and that I would give birth naturally. There was no medical reason or risk factor at that point to make induction necessary, and it felt like a sound, informed and rational decision to decline it.
Over the course of the next 4 days, my body was showing signs of moving the right direction, so on the basis that baby’s movements were normal, I was healthy, and there were signs of progress, I felt empowered and sensible in declining induction a further three times.
I was booked in for induction on the Friday; however, the better option was to request another stretch and sweep, as I had experienced surges of increasing frequency and intensity during the night which ultimately ebbed away. I spoke to Katherine from KG Hypnobirthing on the Friday morning, and she reinforced my confidence that my baby would come when it (he) was ready and that I just needed to keep trusting my body. I went to the hospital, myself and baby were monitored and were absolutely fine, and my cervix showed signs of progress, so I again felt very confident in turning down induction, despite a young registrar’s attempts to persuade me otherwise!
Later on that day the surges started to pick up again and they continued to progress to the extent that by midnight we were on our way to the hospital under a strawberry moon! We did our best to make the delivery room as relaxing and intimate as possible, with the help of some electronic tea lights and my favourite guilty pleasure: Sex and the City! I used a combination of my breathing techniques and a little help from the gas and air to breathe through my surges. I reached a point in the early morning where the surges had slowed down slightly and I felt like I could do with some rest, so after consulting with the midwife I decided to take some codeine. This enabled me to get through a series of micro-naps in between surges before they started to pick up again. At around 10:30, I had a conversation with the midwife about her breaking my waters, as when she examined me she could see that they were bulging right beneath baby’s head, with the logic being that breaking them would allow my labour to progress more rapidly. I made an informed choice to go ahead with this following a discussion of the risks and benefits of the intervention.
Within 1.5hrs, I was on the toilet (it seemed like the comfiest place at the time!) and felt an unbelievably intense, almost euphoric sensation take hold of my whole body. My husband sensed the change in my bodily movements and noises and went to get the midwives. I had discarded the gas and air and started to feel an almost out-of-body sensation. The midwives helped me off the toilet and onto the bed to examine me, and it turned out that I was fully dilated and ready to give birth. They suggested that I get onto all fours; however, my body had other ideas. For some reason, my body just told me to stand up, which I did. I wrapped my left arm around my husband’s neck and continued with my breathing techniques. Without even thinking about pushing, I had breathed the baby’s head out and was cupping it with my right hand. The midwives prepared me to push, but I didn’t have to – with the next surge, I just breathed the rest of him out – all 8lb 10oz of him!
There was no pain of pushing – my body just did what it was supposed to do, with maybe a bit of help from gravity. My husband peered over my shoulder and told me through many tears that it was a boy.
It was amazing (and in contrast to my two previous births) to be completely unmedicated, and able to move relatively freely off the bed, to have a shower and so on. My husband and I were able to enjoy the aftermath of the birth without any feelings of grogginess. I felt energised and euphoric from my birth experience.
After I’d got home and settled, I was only too delighted to email the consultant who had told me that I wouldn’t give birth naturally five days earlier to let her know that I had done exactly that, drug-free and standing up.
The knowledge, tools and confidence that I had gained through hypnobirthing were absolutely invaluable throughout my pregnancy and especially during the birth itself. I would have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in recommending it to any mother-to-be, and indeed my husband and I have already done so.
-Colette and Charlie