How many women tell you that they had an amazing birth? We’re overwhelmed with horror stories the moment you announce your pregnancy to the world, and it’s no wonder women are turning to birthing methods that help minimise the pain of labour. When you’re continually told that it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and that it will be excruciatingly painful, why wouldn’t that scare you and make you doubt your ability to do one of the most natural things your body is made to do? I was fortunate. While I had heard all the horror stories, I’d also heard one story – that’s right, just one – where the woman said to me “my birth was amazing”. I had never heard anyone say that before! This was 2 years before I fell pregnant, but I asked her straight away, “what made it so amazing?”. She told me about calm birthing and the skills she had learnt that helped her during her labour. I made a mental note of it and forgot about it, but that mental note was filed permanently in my brain. I’ve told this woman since that I am so grateful for hearing her say this, but I really can’t sum up what it felt like to hear you could have an amazing birth. Something just clicked in me.
Fast forward to earlier this year, 5 months pregnant and thinking about what I wanted from my birth. Remembering that conversation all those years ago, I started searching Google to learn about calm birthing and found Kate from Positive Hypnobirthing. My requirements were pretty basic – I didn’t really know what this was about, but Kate’s picture looked nice and she lived locally to me. I sent off an email enquiry and left it for the day. Kate rang me almost straight away. We chatted about what I was looking for – I think my words were, “I’m not an airy-fairy earth mother, I just want to have all the skills I can in my birthing toolbox” – and Kate laughed and reassured me that wasn’t what this was about and that my approach was exactly what she loved to see. I was sold, and booked hubby and I in for a course in the months leading up to my due date.
We were lucky enough to be able to complete the course over four Sunday’s in the
comfort of our own home, with just the three of us. This one-on-one focus was so incredible, and really allowed us to feel comfortable to “release and let go” and just embrace everything we were learning about. My husband is an engineer and is very scientific and technical. At first he just went along with the course because I’d asked him to, but I remember at the end of the first session his words were “this just makes sense. I get it.”. We learnt about the mechanics of the body, how people through history had changed the way birthing happened (for the worse) and if we understood our body and the mechanics of birth we could ensure we helped the natural process along, rather than hindering it. With a good understanding of how the body births, we then moved on to understanding how our mind works and the natural responses to stress, pain and fear. We learnt tools to help calm the mind, release the fear and use focus and self-hypnosis to get through pain. We were given self-hypnosis audio tracks, relaxation music and positive affirmations which I listened to religiously every day. We learnt breathing techniques for different stages of labour and worked on practicing these whenever we could. We understood how to make our birthing environment more comfortable through the senses – incorporating scent, familiar objects, sound and darkness. Bit by bit, we filled up our toolbox until the course was complete.
When Kate left, she promised to keep in touch and encouraged me to follow up with her if I had any questions or was letting self-doubt creep in. I took advantage of a follow up fear release session with Kate, just to make sure there was nothing underlying hindering me from having a positive birth. I kept calm, positive and active in the weeks leading up to my birth – taking baths, using scent during my relaxation sessions, and walking. I remember people that I was talking to in the days before hand telling me that I seemed so calm, yet excited about the birth. I wasn’t afraid. I was ready and knew I could do this.
On Friday 4 May (39 +2), I saw my obstetrician for a stretch and sweep, and my acupuncturist for a session meant to bring on labour. I went home and watched a movie and about 4pm felt my first little twinges. I didn’t want to get excited as I knew it could take a while, so I decided to hop in the bath and watch another movie. By 7pm I was certain something was going to happen that night, so the ever practical me decided it would be a good idea to go to bed and try to get some sleep. By 11pm I was wide awake and knew I was in labour. I started walking around the house, bouncing on my birth ball and generally just distracting myself. Breathing through the still irregular contractions, I set myself a target – at 3am I would wake my husband and get in the shower, I could get through this with breathing until then. I don’t really know what I did during those 4 hours, but the time seemed to fly by. 3am came and things were more serious then. My contractions were about 5 minutes apart and starting to feel pretty strong. We rung the hospital to let them know I was in labour but that I was comfortable at home and would stay there as long as I could. I stayed in the shower for the next 3 hours, draining the hot water system while my husband timed the contractions. By 6am I was out of hot water and thought it was as good a time as any to go to the hospital. We packed the last few things in the hospital bag and headed off, arriving at the hospital at 7.30am.
We were greeted by a midwife named Emma. She told me later that she wasn’t sure how advanced my labour was as I gave her a big smile and seemed pretty together when she first saw us. She took me into a birthing suite and my husband gave her my letter of birth preferences. She was completely on board with what we were hoping to achieve and made me feel at ease. The birthing suite I wanted (with a bath) wasn’t ready yet, so she asked if I was comfortable staying in the first room while they got the other one ready for me. She also asked if she could do some non-invasive monitoring, just to see how my contractions were going. I agreed to this and got hooked up to a machine which showed I was definitely in labour, and progressing quite well! I found out that even though I was having contractions in front of the midwife, I was able to breathe through them so easily that she wasn’t sure I was very far along. I moved into the birthing suite that I had requested and hopped into the shower while the bath filled up. I’m not sure how long this was, but that bath took FOREVER to fill!! The midwife asked my husband if he would talk to me about having an internal examination to see how dilated I was (which was something I had asked to only be done if absolutely necessary) and we agreed that I would get out of the shower, have an examination and then get straight into the bath.
I had asked not to be told how I was progressing during labour, in case it wasn’t going well and I got disheartened. Our instructions were for the midwife to talk to my husband about how I was progressing, and fill me in only if I needed to know. The midwife called my husband out of the room to chat to him, while I got into the bath. Little did I know, the midwife told my husband that I was already 8cm dilated and heading to 9cm during the examination. This baby was about to arrive. When my husband came and sat by me in the bath, I asked him how I was going (I was never not going to ask!!) but he stuck to our plan and just told me I was doing well and to keep doing what I was doing. A few moments later, the midwife came over and quietly spoke to me, “Lara, you know the hospital has a policy about no water births. I’m going to have to ask you, when you’re ready, to hop out of the bath”. That was all I needed. I knew this was go time and I was nearing the end. I had no idea how long I’d been going for, nor how much longer this would take, but my baby was nearly here. I got out of the bath and headed for the shower again. A little under an hour later, after much breathing, bearing down and some quite vocal screams, my waters broke with a bang, and my baby was born a few minutes later on the floor of the shower, with my obstetrician perched on the toilet beside me, hubby standing in the corner of the shower holding the hot water on my back and my midwife catching bub as he arrived with great speed!
Baby and I were both a bit stunned initially, it happened very fast and baby took a moment to breathe and I had no energy left to hold him. The midwife held him beside me while hubby cut the cord (the cord was short and couldn’t reach to my chest) and they were about to give him a little oxygen to help him out when he suddenly let out an almighty cry and all was good with his breathing without any need for assistance. Hubby and the obstetrician helped me into the hospital bed where I collapsed – it had been 5 hours since I’d last sat down – and spent the next hour cuddling my baby boy. Our baby was calm and alert, looking around and taking in his new world. I was elated. Not only did I have my baby in my arms, I had managed what I had hoped for, but wasn’t sure was possible: a calm, positive and drug-free birth and no need for any interference or assistance.
In the days following the birth our baby was sleeping and eating well, quite alert and generally just an easy baby. I was able to reflect on the birth and chat with the midwives and soon realised I was one of those few people who had a good story to tell!! My doctor and midwives told me how wonderfully I had done and how smoothly, quickly and calmly my birth went, especially considering it was a first. I could say that my birth was amazing!
The skills we learnt through the hypnobirthing course were no doubt what helped me to get through my labour. I went into my birth with a positive mindset and knew that I could do this. I can honestly say that while yes, the contractions hurt, they weren’t unbearable because I knew why they were happening, what they were doing and how important they were. I took each one as they came and focused my energy on getting over each one, one at a time. I won’t lie, I did have one moment where I yelled that I didn’t want to do it anymore and they could just pull the baby out of me now, but we all knew I was close then! I really feel that hypnobirthing should be part of all new parents ante-natal classes, the skills learnt are incredible and empowered both myself and my husband to have the birth that we wanted.
Lara and Andrew – Hypnobirthing parents