I will teach my girls how incredible their bodies are too
My hypnobirthing journey started when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first baby. A colleague put a copy of The Hypnobirthing Book by Katharine Graves on my desk and said “take what you want from it. I read it before my second birth and had a really positive experience; I felt in control the whole time.” I didn’t think hypnobirthing was very ‘me’ but my biggest fear surrounding birth was losing control and I figured I had nothing to lose.
I read the book in one day because once I started I couldn’t put it down. I was surprised at how scientific the explanations were - it just made sense to me. It gave me confidence that my body would know what to do and the belief that I was well equipped with all the natural tools I needed to birth my baby safely and without fear. In fact, I was looking forward to experiencing birth.
In the weeks leading up to the birth I read the book several times. I practiced breathing, relaxation techniques and visualisations, I read positive affirmations and listened to guided meditation.
Four days before my baby’s due date I started to experience tightening. I dismissed them as Braxton Hicks because in my mind there is no way it could be labour. Even though I was practicing hypnobirthing, I was expecting something stronger. The tightening stayed pretty much the same right through the night and into the next day. That evening they became slightly stronger, more regular and closer together. My partner and I decided to drop the dog to my parents in case we had to leave for hospital in the middle of the night. During the car journey the tightening stopped completely. We went to bed and woke up the next morning - still nothing. To take my mind off the disappointment I met my Mum and a friend for a picnic. I took my dog back home with me because it must have been Braxton Hicks after all.
That evening I was feeling uncomfortable so I went and ran myself a bath. As I stood up from the bath, my waters broke. Still no surges so we phoned the hospital to ask what we should do. We were told to stay put and come in the next day to be checked, in case of infection now that the waters were gone. I could hear my partner downstairs on the phone to his dad telling him my waters had broken but it didn’t look like the baby was in a hurry. With that came my first big and powerful surge. I made my way to the bathroom and leant over the bath. I called down to my husband and asked him to come upstairs, the baby was keener than we thought.
The surges were coming thick and fast, no more than two minutes apart. I managed to gain control from my initial shock of the speed of events and started to use the breathing techniques I had been practising. I was coping well and I felt calm but I didn’t feel like I could leave the bathroom. I asked my husband to call the hospital and tell them I didn’t feel like I could get in the car. We were told we had no other option than to call an ambulance. I now know that we could and should have asked for a midwife to be sent to our house. Instead, we did as we were told and called 999. A first responder arrived and tried to coax me from the bathroom and onto my bed. I did not want to leave the bathroom and I definitely did not want to give birth on my new bed. I had just agreed to move when the all- male ambulance crew arrived. Now I was on a bed I didn’t want to give birth on with three men in the room I didn’t know and I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I closed my eyes, concentrated on my breathing and pictured myself weightlessly floating over green fields while the sun was setting. It was an image I used so often during guided meditation and it always made me feel so relaxed. I regained composure and made my way downstairs and into the ambulance. Just as we were about to leave, a familiar face popped her head round the door of the ambulance; it was a community midwife and it was my midwife who looked after me throughout my pregnancy. I will always remember her calm words, “shall we get you back inside, we don’t want to have a baby in the back of an ambulance now do we?”. To this day I have no idea who called her but I’m so thankful someone did.
As soon as we made it back into the house I had another surge and I felt completely in control. The midwife turned down the lights and asked the ambulance crew to wait outside. The next moment my mum walked through the door in her pyjamas. My partner called her to come and get the dog and she expected an empty house when she arrived. Now I had my very own midwife, my husband, my mum and an ambulance crew sat outside in case I needed them. Not many women can say that. I felt calm and I was ready to meet my baby in the comfort of my own home.
Another midwife came to support and she was equally relaxed. It wasn’t long before I felt my body start to move the baby downwards. With each surge my body pushed - it was completely natural, I didn’t have to think about it at all. It was so empowering! Amelie Jade was born at 10:08pm on 8th September. She barely cried other than to clear her lungs and let us know she was here. She lay on my chest and looked straight into my eyes. I loved her completely.
The midwives gave us both a thorough check and waited until I had a bath before they left. By midnight we climbed into our own bed with our baby girl. She slept all night but we hardly slept a wink (in hindsight we really should have, she didn’t do that again until she was one).
Amelie was the most content baby. A midwife we met at the three day check said that hypnobirthed babies often are because of the calm way in which they enter the world. The midwife also said those early tightenings I felt were most likely early labour surges and they stopped because I left the safety of my home and got into the car. That could be why the later stages of Amelie’s birth were so quick; my body had done a lot of the hard work in the two days prior.
Hypnobirthing (and a truly wonderful midwife) gave me the birth I wanted, even if it wasn’t the birth we planned. In some ways, it was better than anything we could have planned. My baby was born into the hands of a midwife we knew and trusted, with her Daddy and her Nanny looking on, all in the home we’d spent many months preparing for her. Then, while I stared in amazement at the perfect little human my body had created, grown and brought safely into the world, my husband put the kettle on and we all had a cup of tea.
Following the speedy, unplanned home birth of our first daughter, we were prepared for number two - we weren’t going to be caught off guard again! I knew what the early stages of labour felt like and if my waters broke, we were getting in the car; surges or no surges. Not to be outdone by her sister, baby number two had other plans and gave us another wonderfully different birth story to tell.
Towards the late stages of pregnancy with my second daughter, I started the conversation with my partner about the possibility of a home birth. The baby was sitting really low in my pelvis and I just knew she was going to come quickly. I was nervous about the 45 minute journey to the nearest hospital and I didn’t want her to be born in the car. Whilst I was keen to explore the possibility of a home birth, my partner was dead against it. He was also worried about the 45 minute journey but he was more concerned about the midwife who would have to make the same trip in the opposite direction to attend our home birth. He didn’t want to be the one catching the baby. Between our first and second baby, someone changed the rules. When my first daughter was born at home, the midwife on call only had to make the short journey from her house to ours. Now all midwives, even those on call for home births, were based at the nearest maternity unit. I understood his fears and I could see how uncomfortable he was at the mere discussion of a home birth. I trusted my body and thanks to hypnobirthing and my previous experience, I knew I could bring a baby into the world calmly and safely, be it at home, in a hospital or even in the car.
Decision made, we packed our hospital back and strapped the car seat into the car when I was 36 weeks pregnant. The same voice telling me the baby was going to come fast was also telling me she was going to come early.
As with my first daughter, I planned to work as close to my due date as possible to enjoy more time with the baby before returning to work after maternity leave. My job isn’t physically demanding and with my first daughter I worked until 38 ½ weeks. This time (thinking she might be early) I planned to work to 37 ½ weeks, hoping it might give me a little time with my daughter before the baby arrived.
I woke up on my last Monday of work and exactly 37 week pregnant. I walked the dog, had a shower and got dressed as usual. As I was eating my breakfast I felt a dull tummy ache but nothing like a tightening so I ignored it. At 7:30am and just as I was getting ready to leave for work I realised the dull ache was a little stronger and had started building and then almost disappearing in five minute intervals. I wasn’t in any real discomfort, there was no show and there wasn’t any sign of my waters breaking but the ‘tummy aches’ were acting suspiciously like surges.
My partner and I decided we would both feel more comfortable if we made our way into hospital so they could check the baby. We dropped my daughter at my grandparents - my parents were meant to be looking after her when I went into hospital but they weren’t due back from their holiday until that morning (I told them it was a silly idea).
We were on the road by just after 8am. I phoned my work and left a message on the answerphone. I explained we were on our way to hospital but it was probably nothing and I would most likely be in later that day. Next I phoned the hospital to say we were on our way in. Whilst I was giving my details to the midwife on the phone, I had another surge; I took a couple of deep breaths and then continued to talk. The midwife politely told me that it sounded as though I was in the very early stages of labour and we should turn around and make our way home. Just as politely, I told her that I would really like to be checked and we would see her shortly. The Hypnobirthing Book and my first birth taught me to be firm about what I needed and how I felt; no one knows my body like me.
As we reached the halfway mark, my surges became stronger and there wasn’t much time between them. I would describe them as powerful rather than painful but I could no longer talk through them. I concentrated on my breathing and visualisations to help me stay focused and remain calm. As we neared the city centre at rush hour, we realised the main road to the hospital was closed and we would need to take a longer route - seriously, you couldn’t write this stuff.
I was no longer comfortable sitting and needed to find another position. I turned around onto my knees and held onto the headrest. I could feel the pressure of the baby’s head - it was clear this baby was coming and she was coming now. I asked my husband to call the hospital; I found my position, I was in my ‘safe space’ and the midwives would need to come to me.
I remember my partner saying “three more corners”, which was really helpful in knowing how much further we had to go. I knew in order to birth the baby gently I needed to slow her down if I could. I controlled my breathing and harnessed my body’s natural urge to push hard, slowing it to a more gentle downwards movement. As we turned the corner to the hospital, my waters broke. The midwives were at the door waiting for us. They put towels up in the windows to give me some privacy, turned the heaters on full blast to warm the car for the baby (it was the first frost of the season) and told my husband to jump in the back to support me. I had one midwife in the driver's seat next to me and another knelt on the floor next to the passenger door. I knew my baby was in safe hands so I allowed my body to breathe her out gently.
Violet Rose was born at 8:59am, in the car, outside of the doors of the Centre for Women’s Health. She was perfect and she had well and truly upstaged her sister on the birth story. The midwives put her in my top and layered blankets over both of us. They discreetly transferred us into a wheelchair and pushed us inside for tea and toast. After a bath for me and a thorough check for both of us, we were home again before our daughter woke from her lunchtime nap.
I learned a great deal from my first experience of birth but I learned even more the second time. I learned that little voice telling me my baby would come quickly and early - that was my instinct and I should trust it. I’ve learned the power of mind over body and just how incredible both my mind and my body truly are. I’ve taken those learnings into motherhood. In a society that lacks body confidence, I will teach my daughters just how incredible their bodies are too. I have the confidence to ‘trust my gut’ because just as no one knows my body like me, no one knows my children like me either. Hypnobirthing moulded my positive experience of birth, it changed my mindset and it’s still guiding me as a parent.