BEING WITH THIS WOMAN

Birth Stories, motherhood

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Today is International Day of the Midwife and I couldn’t allow the day to pass without acknowledging a woman who has had such a huge impact on my life. This woman who I now consider to be a dear friend, is my wonderful midwife Natalie, who has supported me through my last two pregnancies, births and postnatal periods. When I state that having Natalie as my midwife changed my life, I don’t say that lightly. The birth experiences I have had with Natalie’s support have changed me profoundly as a woman, as a mother, have inspired my career and shaped the path my life is taking.

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Natalie was with me for the birth of my second baby, who was born at home under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree (you can read my home birth story here). Unfortunately I ended up transferring into hospital due to losing too much blood. The decision therefore about where to give birth third time round was complicated. I loved my home birth experience but the advice and medical recommendation was for me to be on labour ward due to being at ‘high risk’ of having another bleed. I did not want to be on labour ward and so Natalie created what is known as an ‘out of guidelines care plan’ to accommodate me in the birth centre.

I went on to have the most incredible and peaceful water birth with Natalie by my side, feeling safe and supported in my choices (you can read that birth story here). In the end I lost so little blood, far less even than what is considered normal blood loss after birth. Which just goes to show that what has happened before, doesn’t necessarily happen again! However I don’t ever regret not giving birth at home third time around. The birth centre was like a spa and I loved my beautiful water birth. Mostly I’m happy knowing I listened to my intuition and I chose a birth place that felt right for me. I am forever grateful that I was given a choice and supported in my decision. I have no doubt that I would not have had the same experience had I followed recommendation and been on the labour ward under continuous monitoring.

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In the period where I was making the decision about where to give birth, I don’t think I ever considered how Natalie was feeling about things in her role as midwife, which is shameful to admit. I suppose I was naive and a bit ignorant, thinking that what I was processing and going through would not be having an effect on her. I was wrong and it turns out Natalie was feeling just as torn as me. In this wonderful piece, written by Natalie herself, it becomes clear just how heavy the weight of responsibility weighs on the shoulders of midwives. Not just their responsibility to follow guidelines and ensure a safe delivery of baby (which is big enough!) but to also consider the value of the birth experience itself for the mother, to respect and support her wishes even when they go against medical advice and to recognise the importance of mental wellbeing as well as physical, and how achieving that enormous balance can sometimes be extremely challenging, leaving midwives questioning themselves.

The world is lucky to have such wonderful midwives like Natalie in it, so on this day, International Day of the Midwife, I’m sharing these insights, in Natalie’s own words…

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To be a midwife, to be ‘with woman’, is to support her, inform her, hear her, nurture her and sometimes challenge her. There is an art to this delicate balance of support. We want women and their babies to be safe and healthy, in mind, body and spirit. None of us should ever underestimate the power that the birthing experience itself has on a woman and her state of ‘health’. What happens then, when recommendations for safe care are in conflict with a woman’s dreams?

This woman, Siobhan, will tell her story. I am the voice of her midwife and we have been through two pregnancies and births together. Siobhan had a very empowering and healing homebirth with her second son, an experience which I believe will fill her with joy for the rest of her days. But she also had her second haemorrhage at this birth and required a transfer to hospital for ongoing care. As we began her journey into her third pregnancy I knew that birth planning would be harder this time around, I knew I was going to ‘pop’ her bubble.

It is a great responsibility to be a midwife; even the language and singular words I choose to use can have a life lasting effect, good and bad. How do I begin to say, I don’t believe it’s safe for you to have your baby at home again? When I know she’s living and dreaming the experience already! Do you approach it sooner rather than later, to allow time for consideration and thought, or does that stress take away a part of their pregnancy? There is of course no easy answer to this and knowing the woman helps immensely.

I spoke of it early, around 28 weeks, I knew she would need time. My hospital guidelines strongly recommended labour ward care after two haemorrhages. I would of course support her in any birth environment and it was entirely her choice to make, but in the event of another haemorrhage, which seemed more likely than the last time, was home the right place for birth? I needed her to consider all her options, do all the necessary research and then feel safe in the place she chose. I think this challenge devastated her, the home birth vision slipping away amid fears of a catastrophic bleed. I am responsible for that, rightly so I think, but it doesn’t feel good, nor does the worry that you’ve used the wrong language, biased or pressured them?

Thank goodness for birth centres ☺

It’s not home I know, it never will be, but it’s a great middle ground. A protected space to make your own, a home from home with the philosophy of care to match but with medical assistance for that higher risk woman just around the corner, should you need it. Turns out, Siobhan didn’t need it, not this time. The birth of her third son was beautiful, she was beautiful and I was honoured all over again to be her midwife. It was calm and peaceful and this woman showed once again the immense strength that she has. But it wasn’t at home, and she didn’t bleed. Was I wrong, does she wish she’d made a different choice? Only she knows……

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(All photos by Susie Fisher: http://susiefisherphotography.com/)

Another factor that played a huge role in my experiences of giving birth was my hypnobirthing practice. Hypnobirthing is a bit like the psychology of birth and nothing to do with hypnosis or hippies! You learn how birth works on a physiological level so you are informed about your body. You learn how to let go of fears you are holding on to that are detrimental to the progression of natural labour. You learn techniques you can use to make your labour more comfortable. I guarantee by the time you finish a course with me, that you will be feeling excited and looking forward to giving birth! Because it can be amazing. You can find out more about hypnobirthing and the classes I run on my website The Positive Birth Company. I teach monthly in London, Devon and Birmingham.

Positive Induction Birth Story – Charlotte & Jacob

Birth Stories, motherhood

I was recently contacted by Charlotte, after posting my own birth story to celebrate Fox turning one. She told me that she recalled seeing my Instagram post about the birth of Fox last year and feeling a little frustrated at the time, as she too had planned a water birth and was practising hypnobirthing but was 12 days past her due date and desperate to meet her baby. In the end Charlotte chose to accept a little help in getting labour started but still used everything she had learnt and gave birth to her baby boy in the birth pool just as she had hoped. Her experience was a very positive one and she credits hypnobirthing for helping her achieve the calm and empowering birth she wanted. She also said that hearing about my birth inspired her to keep calm when she was in labour. Therefore she has kindly agreed to share her birth story in the hope that it will similarly help and inspire others who might find themselves in a similar position.

So here we have the beautiful birth of Jacob, in Charlotte’s own words…

I discovered hypnobirthing when I was around 5 months pregnant and prior to this I had no idea that birth could be anything other than the noisy, dramatic ordeal that is usually found in TV and films! I became obsessed with reading any positive experiences I could find, even when things hadn’t gone to ‘plan’ women felt empowered and in control and hypnobirthing was a common theme. It was a lightbulb moment for me and from then on I knew I wanted a calm and positive birth experience.

We did a hypnobirthing course in Sheffield in January 2016 and from that point I told everyone who would listen that I was excited about giving birth. Most people thought I was bonkers and were quick to tell me how unbearably painful labour is. This only made me more determined and I practiced my affirmations and visualisations every night in the run up to our due date (18th March 2016). This date came and went and I became increasingly impatient for labour to start.

At 40+4 weeks pregnant my community midwife gave me my first sweep and told me I was already 2cm dilated – whoopee! I thought, and waddled off home expecting contractions to start imminently. But nothing happened. The following week (41+4 weeks) I had a second sweep and was still 2cm and apparently “very stretchy” (lovely!) – I had had a couple of ‘shows’ in the days running up to this but still nothing changed. 

By this point friends and family were calling and messaging me daily and I was growing more and more frustrated. We were going for long walks every day, I was frantically bouncing on my birthing ball at every opportunity, I had a course of induction acupuncture (and continued to practice acupressure at home) – we tried everything, but this baby was not shifting! I knew how important it was to be calm and positive for things to progress naturally but I was finding it increasingly difficult. I had not prepared myself for how negative this would make me feel, I felt my body was completely letting me down.

We were booked in for an induction on Wednesday 30th March when I would be 41+5 weeks. I was incredibly anxious about this as my research (no thanks to google) told me inductions usually meant one thing – intervention – which I desperately didn’t want. We arrived at Chesterfield birth centre early in the morning and after a couple of hours of monitoring and another sweep were told as I was low risk they would send us home. They were busy with emergencies and thought we would be better off at home relaxing, this was of course the best place for us but I was about ready to demand they broke my waters and put me on the drip (thankfully my partner, Mike, talked me out of this option!!)

A good nights rest was the best thing and even though nothing changed overnight I felt much more positive. On the morning of Thursday 31st March I was given another examination (still 2cm and the midwife said she was surprised I wasn’t contracting on my own – me too!!) and we decided our best option was a slow-release hormone propess (a bit like a tampon which is placed close to the cervix and left in for a number of hours to start contractions artificially). This was put in at 11am and over the next number of hours they monitored the baby’s movements and if there were any ‘tightenings’ (their word for contractions). In that time Mike and I played card games and went for walks around the hospital grounds but I still didn’t feel like I was going into labour…

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At 6pm we asked if we could go for another walk and the midwife told me to find some stairs and go up and down them as many times as possible. This clearly resonated with Mike as he found the hospital’s outdoor gym and had me on the stairmaster!! It was either this or the fit of giggles that ensued but on the walk back to the ward I began to notice the elusive tightenings, finally I started to believe I might actually be going into labour!

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These tightenings continued for the next few hours but were in no way painful, they also weren’t very consistent so I still wasn’t holding out much hope that I would have a straightforward labour. I was inhaling clary sage and lavender oils and listening to my favourite hypnobirthing mp3s and was allowed to sit (but not bounce) on the birth ball whilst on the monitor. I tried not to obsess over the tightenings the monitor was showing but I knew things were progressing and at 10pm (just as Mike decided to leave me to make a phone call to his business partner) I was hit with my first proper contraction. It was intense but I was elated! I was finally in labour! 

An examination at 10.30pm put me at 3-4cm dilated, up to this point we had been on the ante & postnatal ward and when we had asked the midwives when we should go to the birthing centre downstairs, their response was always “when you feel like you need more pain relief” which I didn’t feel like I needed at all! The pressure had been building in my back but Mike had filled my hot water bottle which I had pushed to my back while I leaned over the bed walking my legs and concentrating on my breathing techniques which was helping me keep control. I had mentioned intermittently to the midwives that I hoped to try the water in a birthing pool but since this was off limits if you are induced and need continual monitoring I wasn’t pinning all my hopes on it. By some miracle though the one room at Chesterfield Birth Centre (Room 5) with a mobile and waterproof monitor was available for me to use – I was overjoyed and so relieved! My contractions were now coming very close together (probably because of the hormone propess which was still in) so we had to move quickly – Mike grabbed all of our possessions (it was at this point I realised we’d brought far too much stuff with us!) and I somehow managed to waddle down the stairs breathing through the contractions. We arrived in room 5 and I honestly felt like we’d just got to a 5* spa hotel!!

The next hour passed in a bit of a blur, the midwife who had shown us to the room had started to fill the pool but very politely left us to it and told us our labour midwife would be with us shortly. I think she showed Mike how to refill the water (with a hand sensor on the wall – very hi-tec!) and said I could get in when I wanted. I had in my mind that I should wait till I was 5cm before getting in the pool so I decided to continue leaning over the bed and breathing with my hypnobirthing MP3s in my earphones. My contractions were coming one after another by this point but I was honestly enjoying every single one. It might have been because of the two weeks I went overdue willing labour to start but I felt stronger with each surge. All the pressure was in my lower back but somehow Mike knew exactly where I needed my back rubbing which helped immensley. He was also trying to help me into my bikini but by this point I think my body was struggling to catch up with how fast things were progressing and my legs were shaking and I was sick. 

Thankfully our lovely labour midwife, Liz, arrived around this time and encouraged me to get into the water. It was now 12.01am on the 1st April which meant our baby would most definitely be born on April Fool’s Day!! The water felt absolutely amazing, such a comfort – like a warm blanket wrapped all around me. Liz told me I would need to keep my bump immersed in the water which was quite a challenge because even though I am an avid yoga fan and practised religiously throughout pregnancy my legs ached so much crouching in the water – I actually found this more uncomfortable than the actual contractions! Nevertheless I needed all my focus to get a deep breath before each surge began to manage the intensity of them. I had learnt about ‘humming’ instead of pushing but I started humming my out breath sooner than I had planned and much noisier than I ever thought I would be but for whatever reason it worked for me (and thankfully all the labour rooms were sound-proofed!!). The lights were dimmed and an MP3 player was found to connect my iPod to put my favourite tracks on repeat and I rested my head against the side of the pool, fully in my birth zone. 

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At around 2.30am I was managing the contractions fine but was keen to know if I was progressing and since it was 4 hours since my last examination Liz suggested I get out of the water for this. Lying on the bed was extremely uncomfortable and I remember thinking how glad I was that I didn’t have to labour like this the whole time. My legs were shaking again but I was extremely pleased to hear I was 6-7cm dilated! I was quietly confident that I was close to meeting my baby but knew it could still be a while yet. 

I still had the mobile monitor on so our baby’s heartbeat was also providing a soundtrack to my labour so as much as an inconvenience it was to have this on it was also of great comfort hearing a strong and sound heartbeat in the room with us. 

I was ridiculously thirsty but thankfully had packed a bendy straw so Mike could hold a cup of water for me to sip from – much easier than the effort of actually lifting a cup to my mouth! I was also aware that I needed to keep going to the toilet as I had remembered reading that a full bladder can stop things progressing. So as much as I didn’t want to leave the water I got out a few times to use the toilet. 

Soon after the 2.30am examination something changed and it was clear that my body was beginning to push without me even being conscious of it happening. It’s hard to describe but I could feel my baby moving further down with each push. Having watched countless episodes of ‘one born every minute’ though I knew this stage could take quite a long time. I continued using my humming and didn’t do any forced pushing, I had written in my birth plan that I didn’t want to be guided in how to push but after a while I stopped feeling the full intensity of the contractions and was getting nervous of things slowing or even stopping so I asked my midwife for some assistance at this point. Since we still weren’t sure if I was fully dilated or if my waters had broken she suggested she break my waters and examine again to check if baby was really ready to be born. I didn’t have to get out of the water for this as there was a corner of the pool where I could step up. Apparently there was very little water when they were broken but Liz confirmed I was fully dilated and this process must have made a difference because things definitely changed again from them. 

I was still crouched in a squat position leaning against the side of the pool and remember asking if the room could be any colder as I was so hot (apparently the air con was as cold as it could go though). I was drifting in and out of my “relaxing place” but heard bits of quiet conversations Mike and Liz were having. And I think Mike was slightly over-relaxed by the calm environment we had created as I remember hearing Liz offering him a coffee a few times so I think he was dropping off – unbeknownst to me!!

Liz had a mirror to check how things were progressing but she suggested I change positions and try laying on my back in the water holding my knees to see if this would help baby move down that last bit. I remember seeing her put an apron on and a second midwife arriving which were all signs that we were nearing the end. At this point I remember needing to push with all my might but I still had no clear indication of when the contractions were coming and the midwives told me I was the best judge of when and how long to push! Somehow though they finally said they could see baby’s hair and when I noticed them looking at the clock I pushed so hard, knowing they were getting concerned. The crown of his head was born and while I rested between the final two contractions the midwives and Mike laughed out loud because his head started slowly turning side to side – I was clueless as to what was going on though but glad that they had no cause for concern! Waiting for the last contraction felt like an age but it finally came and with that I felt my baby’s whole body emerge from me and my midwife said “you can catch your baby if you want” – something I originally hadn’t thought I’d be able to do – and I’m so glad I did and was the one to bring him out of the water to be the first person to touch him and see his face. It was the most incredible moment and I just remember saying “oh my god” over and over. 

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It was 5.21am on Friday 1st April 2016. I feel like my whole labour was around 7 hours as I had first felt a proper contraction at 10.30pm the previous evening. I remember feeling like I could have gone on for a few more hours but was obviously overjoyed to get to the end and meet our baby. As intended we waited a few minutes soaking him in before we checked if we had a boy or a girl and were so happy when we saw he was a boy. After probably about 10minutes, which felt like 10 seconds, Liz told us the cord had stopped pulsating and could be cut. Mike didn’t want to do this so the midwife did but instructed me in cutting it a bit shorter which felt very strange but I’m glad I did it! The water was drained from the pool and I passed baby to Mike to keep him warm while I waited to deliver the placenta. I was going to stay in the pool for this (I thought this would mean less mess for the midwives – ha!) but without any water it was really uncomfortable for me and there were no signs of it so the midwife suggested I get out and move to the bed. I asked if she thought I should have the injection at this point to speed things along but since I hadn’t had any other drugs before this she suggested I try and do it naturally. Lo and behold a few moments later I felt some period-pain-like sensations and after a few pushes my placenta was delivered. I was so intrigued to see it and asked the midwife to explain all the different parts of it to me which was fascinating.

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Whilst the midwife checked me for tears (all hail perineum massage as I had one small graze which I hardly noticed post-birth) Mike was able to have some skin to skin time before they weighed him (8lb 2oz – even more miraculous that I didn’t tear!) and put a nappy on him. He was then handed to me for skin to skin and first feed which was just the most amazing feeling. We were brought tea and white bread toast (the best I’ve ever had!) and after this Mike looked at me and said “I’m just so tired Charlotte, do you mind if I have a nap?!” He then slept on a big bean bag in the corner of the room and I was alone with my baby boy who we decided to name Jacob Peter. Our hypnobirthing mp3s were still reverberating around the room and I remember feeling like I was still in a dream as it all felt too good to be true.

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I know luck was on my side with certain factors that led to Jacob’s birth being so straightforward but I also know that without putting in a lot of time and effort to learning the techniques of hypnobirthing I would not have had such a positive experience. I am so thankful for that and I’m sure it helped my first days, weeks and months of motherhood to also be the best of my life. I will forever be an advocate of hypnobirthing and will try and tell any pregnant lady willing to listen to me to give it a try!!

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Many thanks to Charlotte for sharing her beautiful birth story and wishing baby Jacob a very happy first birthday.

Sharing positive birth stories is so important as reading them helps women feel more confident in pregnancy and as they approach their own births. The more relaxed women are, the better when it comes to birth and positive birth stories really help with this. Hypnobirthing also really helps by equipping you with practical skills you can use in labour. If you’d like to do a course with me please visit The Positive Birth Company to find details of courses I have running including dates and availability.

If you have a positive birth story you’d like to share please send it to me at thedoublemama@gmail.com. 

BIRTH STORY: The beautiful birth of Ailbe Fox

Birth Stories, motherhood, Preparing for Birth

My little Foxy turns one tomorrow and on the eve of his first birthday I have sat down to write his birth story. I cannot believe that a year has passed already and I know us Mums always say that but this past year has honestly flown by quicker than any before.

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I always tell women that they should write their birth story down as soon as possible whilst all the memories are still clear. I think it’s great to capture the way it felt to give birth when all the feelings are so fresh and then you have it down on paper / the internet to look back on whenever you want to remind yourself of that time.

I’m gutted I didn’t take my own advice.

Life has been so busy since the birth of Fox in March last year, what with three children (two of them under 18 months), a relocation from London to Devon in September, a school appeal followed by another school move in January for my eldest, renovating a house (ongoing) and running a growing business and becoming the family breadwinner, there hasn’t been much time to come up for air. Let alone write a birth story giving it the time and attention it deserved.

So for 12 solid months I’ve had this on my mental to do list but because Foxy’s birth felt like such a big thing, such a special thing, I wanted to have the time to write it properly, not rush it and do it for the sake of getting it done in a 5 minute window I managed to find. But that time never came and even now – it’s almost midnight, which is far from ideal but pretty much reflects how mental busy my life is at the moment.

But I am determined to have it done for his first birthday and I’m going to do my upmost to honour it as best I can. So here it is in full, the beautiful, calm, peaceful birth of Ailbe Fox…

Monday 28th March 2016 (Easter Monday)

Approx 10PM – I was sitting on the sofa watching something on the telly with James when I first felt a gentle surge. I’d love to say ‘and then I just *knew* it was happening’ but I didn’t. Even though this was baby no3 I still thought it was just my body warming up. Fox was due on the 1st April – my April Fool’s baby! James’ birthday is on the 7th April and every single year something major seems to happen on his birthday. For example, on his 30th I was running the Paris Marathon, another year it was a best friend’s wedding, another year it was a big deadline for me at Uni. It seems his birthday is never about him so he was convinced Foxy would arrive on the 7th and that would seal the deal forever.

I had finished work on Thursday 24th for the Easter weekend and the start of the Easter holidays, and was looking forward to doing some nice things with the boys. I had tickets to see The Witches at the theatre with Oisin for the next day so labour was not on the cards for me.

We went to bed however I did not sleep well as the gentle surges continued through the night. Not strong enough to warrant me waking James and telling him this was *it* but enough to prevent me from drifting off into deep sleep. I reckon I must have been drifting in and out of sleep throughout the night but I remember telling James in the morning that I had not slept at all!!

Tuesday 29th March 2016

In the morning James wanted to know whether he should go to work or stay home and we had the same dilemma as we did before Arlo was born. You’d think I’d know by no3 whether or not this was *it*. I wasn’t 100% sure though and also didn’t want the pressure of James taking the day off and then *it* not happening. So I told him exactly that. I said I didn’t want him waiting around waiting for me to go into labour as that would make me feel stressed out. He said he would stay home as he thought it might be happening but would work downstairs and tell his work he’d be working from home so I didn’t have to worry about him taking time off for nothing. I decided to stay in bed and try and get some sleep…

The kids were both at home as it was the Easter holidays so I could hear them watching TV downstairs so I didn’t get any sleep but I felt tired so just rested upstairs in bed. James came up to check on me every now and again and suggested calling his brother over to mind the children incase this was *it*.  My last labour was very quick so I think James was anxious that if things really picked it up it might all happen very fast so he wanted to have things in place like childcare organised. I on the other hand felt like I was not in labour and didn’t want to waste people’s time. I worried that if his brother came over and I didn’t go into labour then we would have wasted his day and potentially ruined plans he might have had.

James called his brother and then informed me that his brother and girlfriend were both free all day so would come over anyway as they’d like to see the children. He assured me it didn’t matter if labour didn’t properly get going because I wouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time.

I continued resting bed and experiencing gentle irregular surges. I used an app timer and sometimes they were very spaced apart and sometimes I would get 3 in 10 minutes and the app would alarm and tell me I needed to go to hospital! It was all very gentle though so I didn’t feel like I needed to go anywhere. I stopped using the timer.

11AM – My waters broke! Unlike last time when they caught me by complete surprise as I opened the fridge door (!), this time I felt them pop! In the middle of surge it felt like something hard grinded against something else (baby’s head and pubic bone?!) and then I swear I heard an actual noise as they released! The water didn’t gush but somehow I just knew they had broken. I stood up and slowly made my way downstairs whilst trying to quietly call for James without alerting everyone to what was happening!! He joined me on my way to the bathroom (ours was downstairs – very inconvenient when pregnant!) and I told him I thought my waters had broken. As soon as I got to the bathroom and pulled down my pants they started to trickle. It looked like I was just standing in the bathroom involuntarily wetting myself. It went on and on and on, leaving a big puddle of clear water on the floor. I realised at this point it probably really was *it*.

I spoke to midwife Natalie who was at the birth centre. Natalie was my midwife through my pregnancy with Arlo, after I signed up with the Home Birth team and she was there to catch him when he was born. I was really lucky to have been able to see her for all my antenatal appointments with Fox too. I was desperate for her to be with me for this birth. She made me feel calm and safe and I trusted her absolutely. She was keen for me to come in, knowing that last time had been so quick but I was still feeling really calm as the surges, although growing in intensity, were still really spaced out.

I decided to take a shower and get ready to go. I wanted to feel clean and fresh and ready to meet my baby. I had a shower and got dressed in my comfy clothes. My birth bag was packed and I think I put on some make up. James called an uber and I said my goodbyes to the boys. Ben, James’ brother, kindly agreed to take Osh to the theatre. I’ll admit I was a bit gutted to be missing it!!

The uber came and we loaded up the boot with our bags and baby carseat. When I waddled out of the house and confirmed we wanted to be taken straight to the maternity wing at West Middlesex Hospital, I’m pretty sure the uber driver had a small heart attack. He was so anxious to get us there, he drove as though I was about to give birth – including up a one-way street!! He then took a back route to avoid the traffic but it involved speed bump after speed bump. I was quite honestly the calmest person in the car. I only had one surge all the way there and I was pretty sure that once assessed, I would be sent home. I didn’t feel like I was in active labour, just early labour. I listened to my relaxation tracks and felt very chilled out with James sat beside me holding my hand.

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I have never had to travel to hospital before in labour. With my first I was induced for dates (oh what I know now!!) so I was not even close to being in labour when I went in for my induction. With my second I had a home birth so didn’t need to worry about the journey in. When I had thought about travelling in to the birth centre I had always imagined I would be in established labour with surges coming thick and fast, potentially on all fours in the back of the uber! It was so different. I was so calm and didn’t even feel / believe I was in labour.

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1PM – We arrived at West Middlesex Hospital in the drizzly rain. As I got out of the uber another surge came. I stood by the wall, eyes closed, breathing in and out. James called and beckoned for me to come in but I just waved him away. The surge required all my focus. So instead of going inside, James stood beside me holding my hospital notes over my head as some sort of make-shift umbrella!!

As we went in we were greeted by Claire who was waiting for me. She took us straight to the birth centre which was a relief. I was dreading having to wait in triage! We walked down lots of corridors before reaching the peace and quiet of the birth centre. I was to be in the Daisy room. As soon as Claire opened the door I knew we had made the right decision about where to give birth. The place looked like a spa! The blind was down, the lights were dimmed, the pool was full. In fact the only light in the room was coming from the lighting in the pool, which made the water glow blue. It was magical and a calm haven in comparison to the noise and chaos back home.

Claire offered me an examination and I took it to see where we were at. I was approximately 3cm dilated but instead of being sent home, Claire said they would leave me have this room for a while to settle in and to see what would happen. She said she would return in 4 hours to assess if there had been progress but that if we needed her before she would be right outside. Not long after Natalie popped in to see me and I was so happy to know she would be there with me.

I wasn’t disappointed about being 3cm at all because I didn’t feel like I was in active labour. I was happy we had the place to ourselves to just relax and were able to make it our own space. James strung up our fairy lights, put our spa music on and took the tealights out (battery operated ones – I really recommend these!). Then I put on my tens machine and we just spent some time doing our relaxation exercises. This was a pretty blissful time. With Arlo there was no time for any of this so I was grateful for this. James did a reading for me, I had some light touch massage. It was really lovely.  I remember needing to go to the loo quite a bit so I was in and out of the bathroom. There were beanbags on the floor so I tried using them to rest on but didn’t find that so comfortable. I found I preferred walking about and standing up. Previously I have loved using the tens machine but this time I found it really annoying. I have no idea why but I soon removed it.

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Last time I relied heavily on my visualisations when doing my breathing especially the golden thread when exhaling, but this time I came to rely on James counting for me. I don’t know why that was… Perhaps last time I had to use my visualisations as James wasn’t by my side throughout as he was busy attending to the birth pool, inflating it, filling it etc. This time because everything was done for us and we weren’t ‘hosting’, James was able to be with me throughout. This is one of the reasons he says he preferred Foxy’s birth at the birth centre to Arlo’s birth at home! (I think I still preferred my home birth!!).

So eventually the surges got stronger to the point that they were no longer completely comfortable and they became more frequent and regular. They didn’t become 3 in 10 though, they stayed at 2 in 10 but each one lasting quite a long time. I was keen to get in the pool now although remember thinking it was too soon as I should wait for things to be more established. Natalie told me to listen to my body and reminded me I could always get out if things slowed down.

Claire and Natalie had been in to check on me but until this point we had mostly been left alone which had been lovely. Both had reminded us that they were just outside should we need them but they had respected the fact we wanted to be by ourselves. Once in the pool though, they both stayed with me.

2.50PM – I got in the pool and my god, it was glorious. Complete relief. Utterly weightless. I had wanted a water birth with Arlo but ended up birthing him on the sofa, looking at my birth pool. I had dreamt of this feeling and now it was finally happening. I adopted the all fours position which I found so comfortable, and was able to rock back and forth in the water.

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The surges were strong but didn’t build in frequency. I got what I called the ‘little brother’ often though. I would have a big surge and then very soon after another mini one that wasn’t as intense and didn’t last as long. I was silent for the most part although I took to saying “that was the little brother” or “here comes the big brother”. No idea where I got that from. I kept my eyes closed and occasionally had a sip of my coconut water. The room was pretty silent apart from the spa music playing away in the background. It was incredibly calm and peaceful.

At some point the surges changed and instead of feeling the muscles lifting up, I felt them pushing down and I began to feel Foxy’s head descend. I wish I could remember the exact timings of when this stage of labour began but sadly I don’t. It felt like the whole ‘pushing’ stage only lasted a few minutes though (last time it was 4 minutes! This time was a little longer as I just breathed and breathed).

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I was now face to face with James and wholly focusing on breathing, in and out, in and out. I resisted the urge to push, which was tricky. When your body is pushing involuntarily and you feel something moving downwards (the baby), the urge to just try and expel what is coming out is immense. I resisted because last time I suffered tears and a big bleed and part of the reason for that I believe was the fast delivery. I was desperate to keep everything calm and controlled and slow, so I just breathed and breathed and breathed. I didn’t actively push once!

The room was silent throughout this time (unlike last time when I made loud primal noises for all neighbours to hear!). The only time the silence was broken (which apparently everyone found very funny) was when I broke out of my zone for a split second and uttered “fuck me”. James tells me he and Natalie looked at each other and raised their eyebrows but stifled any laughs. It was so out of character as I was the picture of zen and totally in the birthing zone at the time and then I finally broke my silence but what came out was so unexpected and so un-zen. I think it’s a hilarious story. I wasn’t even aware at the time that I’d said anything. I immediately returned to breathing silently, without having even opened my eyes, leaving everyone wondering if it hadn’t even happened.

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3.36PM – Foxy Bingo is born!! Calmly and gently he is born into the water and I am able to catch him myself and bring him up to my chest! The most incredible feeling. I feel very lucky to have a photo of the exact moment so I will never forget it. His cord was wrapped around his neck a few times so we had to unravel him. He was silent and a little floppy like he was still asleep. I think his birth had been so calm and into the water, that he didn’t even realise he had been born for some time!! Oisin was dragged out screaming, Arlo came flying out screaming. I was a little shocked that Foxy appeared to be sleeping. I remember asking a few times if he was ok and was reassured that he was. I held him to me and it was bliss. I had finally got my water birth. Third time lucky!

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My labour was recorded as 51 minutes which is probably about right. I felt established labour began just before I got in the pool. A PB compared to my previous births but also completely different. If you count from the first surge, my labour had been going since 10pm the previous night. There was a lot longer of a build up but as a result the whole labour felt less fast and furious and more gentle and peaceful.

The birth of Foxy was so straightforward and easy that it was almost uneventful. That’s how it felt! I know that giving birth is pretty much the most eventful thing one can do; you’re bringing a whole new human into the world via your vagina FFS  (!!) but the whole thing from start to finish was so uncomplicated that it felt uneventful. I simply made my way to the birth centre, not even in established labour and then 2.5 hours later he was born and then a couple hours later I was home. Easy.

After Fox was born I stayed in the pool for a little while. I was conscious of doing what I could to stimulate the production of Oxytocin in order to make my uterus contract and to reduce the risk of bleeding like last time. We kept the environment after birth the same as beforehand; low lights, spa music, hushed voices, calm manner etc. I put Foxy to my breast as that is one way to get the oxytocin flowing and waited for him to get all of his blood from the placenta. Once the cord was empty, James was able to cut it. I then got out of the pool.

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This was the first time I got to have a completely natural, physiological third stage.  With my first, he was born in theatre and I think the cord was cut pretty quickly and I know I was given the injection to make the placenta come out. I don’t remember having a choice in the matter. With my second I wanted a physiological third stage but I was losing too much blood so Arlo only got a few minutes of delayed cord clamping before I had to have the injection. With Fox it seemed to be a case of third time lucky again – or the prep finally paid off! There was such little blood loss. I think bleeding was the thing I was fearful of the most. I had a post partum haemorrhage with both Oisin and Arlo so I knew the stats were not in my favour; I was high risk for another bleed. It didn’t help that I knew women died from blood loss and only 2 weeks beforehand one of my best friends had lost so much blood in childbirth she required multiple transfusions! As a consequence some part of me was expecting some degree of blood loss and for the water in the pool to turn red. However it remained totally clear.

Once the cord had been cut and I had been helped out of the pool, I sat on the birthing stool. This is a bit like a toilet seat but without a toilet bowl underneath. The placenta came away within a few moments. I felt it coming and the urge to push once more and it passed easily. James cut a little bit off for me to place against my gum should I need it (would help reduce blood loss) but I didn’t need to use it. My placenta was then packed away and put in the fridge ready for collection (I was having it encapsulated).

I had a full hour of cuddles with Foxy before he was weighed and had his first nappy put on and before I was inspected for tears. Just as I had wished.

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Once the golden hour was over, James got some skin to skin time whilst I was examined. Having torn relatively badly last time, this time there was only a very small tear that required just one or two stitches. I didn’t want any drugs introduced to my body so I declined the local anaesthetic and just had the stitches done right there on the floor of the birth centre.

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The reason I didn’t want any pain relief was that I had gotten this far without any drugs being introduced to my system so I didn’t want to start messing with anything now. This was massively influenced by the fact that after Arlo was born I developed a crazy serious allergy to paracetamol!!! I now have to carry an epi pen as I have anaphylaxis. I have had two anaphylactic reactions and they are the scariest thing. Not being able to breathe is horrific and makes me feel like I’m going to die. I know that nobody is allergic to paracetamol (or so say many people), but I am. I never was before, I took paracetamol in pregnancy even! Nobody knows how or why this has developed but after Arlo was born I was given paracetamol and BOOM! That was it. So I was super cautious and still am, about taking anything.

The sensation of having the stitches done was unpleasant but not dissimilar to having your ear pieced. The needle piercing the skin is over very quick, it’s feeling the thread pull through that really gets me. What’s amazing about this though, is that on any regular day the thought of having stitches through my perineum without any pain relief at all would make me scream. Doesn’t even have to be an area as delicate as the perineum. Take my arm! The thought of having stitches through my arm without pain relief? NO WAY! Yet somehow, after giving birth, you’re so full of oxytocin and endorphins that you can handle it! It’s incredible. It’s like you get real super-human strength.

After the stitches were done I was wrapped up in my fluffy dressing gown and had a little snuggle in the bed with my beautiful boy. James popped open the champagne but I decided to down a coke instead – haha! I’m nothing but classy.

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The time passed quite quickly and my memory is hazy. I remember Natalie coming to say her goodbyes and then texting me to remind me to take my placenta! I remember Claire telling me it was an honour to be at my birth because it was such a lovely experience. I remember another midwife bringing me cups of tea and even giving me her own teabags after telling me the NHS ones were weak and tasteless! Everybody was so kind and lovely. After wanting a home birth for so long, the irony was that in the end I didn’t even want to rush home! We were so well looked after at the birth centre and were loving being in our little bubble with our newborn baby. I knew once we got home it would be straight back to business with the boys so I wanted to enjoy this special time for as long as I could.

We did finally go home though after a few hours of relaxing! James walked through the door first and Oisin rushed to ask him if the baby had been born. James said not yet, and then I walked through the door casually swinging the car seat by my side with a little Ailbe Fox tucked up inside. Oisin was over the moon! We then lay little Foxy next to Arlo in his cot who immediately transformed from a baby himself into a fully grown child!

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It was quite surreal returning home, having only been gone a few hours. Everything was simultaneously exactly the same yet completely and utterly different. We were all wearing the same clothes, everything was in the same place, just as when we had left earlier but this monumental thing had happened since. We were now a family of five! I was a Mum of THREE boys!! Life as we knew it had changed forever.

Reflecting on my birth, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced a perfect, textbook natural birth. It has taken me three times but I finally did it, exactly as I had hoped, from start to finish. There are so many variables in birth and so many things that can go off plan. Ailbe Fox’s birth was truly perfect throughout. There is nothing I wish I had done differently. I finally got my water birth, I felt calm and relaxed throughout, not just externally in my demeanour but internally in my mind also. I was in a completely relaxed state of mind and there was no internal noise or mental struggle about whether or not I could do this; I needed no convincing, I believed in myself entirely for the first time. I also got my physiological third stage and Foxy got all of his blood. Most amazing of all and the least expected, was that I had such minimal blood loss. The midwives estimated I lost 125mls in total, far below the average which is 500-1000mls.  So many people told me I was likely to have another haemorrhage but I remember saying to James a number of times throughout the pregnancy that I just didn’t feel  like I would this time. Nothing tangible at all to go on, just a feeling but it was profound and reminds me that a woman’s instinct is a powerful force.

The ‘downside’ of Foxy’s birth was that I didn’t get that huge rush of overwhelming love or the amazing high I experienced after giving birth to Arlo. This bothered me for some time. Why did I not get the amazing feeling this time when everything on paper had gone so much better than Arlo’s birth at home, where I had to transfer to hospital afterwards due to losing too much blood?? I wonder if being at home contributed to the oxytocin? I wonder if the fact I was so consciously aware of the need to remain calm after birth, to reduce the risk of bleeding, meant I didn’t allow myself to experience the rush and the high? I wonder if the fact that I didn’t know if I could do it with Arlo, meant that when he arrived I was couldn’t believe I had done it and so was full of feelings that overwhelmed me including pride and amazement. Perhaps this time because I knew I could do it, and believed in myself, that I was less amazed when I then did it?!

That aside, I will forever remember Foxy’s birth as being the most profoundly peaceful and calm experience of my life. It was like time stopped and I was suspended in this little bubble in the birth pool. In contrast, Arlo’s birth felt intense and fast and despite appearing calm on the outside, inside there was a storm going on! I had to remind myself that I could do it through each surge and had to consciously pull my mind back to positive thinking each time it wandered. My experience with Foxy’s birth was so different. I didn’t think of needing pain relief once. I didn’t experience pain severe enough. My internal mind was calm and still and peaceful (which it never normally is!).  My body was relaxed and I trusted in it completely and knew what I was doing (most importantly how to help and not hinder progress).

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Hypnobirthing really has given me the most amazing experiences of my life and I feel privileged that teaching other women at such an important time in their lives, is now my job. It’s the most rewarding job and I love it! If you would like to do a course with me then please have a look at my website for details of dates, locations and availability. I also run the Positive Birth Retreat which is a luxury babymoon mini break for expectant couples combined with the full hypnobirthing antenatal course. Details of the next retreat can be found here.

Finally I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Natalie Carter my midwife for going above and beyond, for creating an out of guidelines care plan and accommodating me in the birth centre and supporting me throughout two of my pregnancies and births. You are quite simply the best midwife I have ever met. Thank you also to Claire who supported me in the birth of Ailbe Fox and especially for taking the time to read my (very long) birth plan!! Thank you to James for being the best birth partner a mum-to-be could wish for an even more amazing Dad to our three boys. Thank you to the whole midwifery team at West Middlesex Hospital Natural Birth Centre who offer outstanding world class care. Thank you to Susie Fisher for being my birth photographer and capturing moments I will now be able to treasure forever, the most precious of memories preserved, thank you. Finally thank you to my little Foxy! Thank you for choosing me to be your Mama. It’s the biggest honour. (And thank you also for looking like me. I was beginning to think I’d never have a child that looked like me).

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To all the pregnant women out there reading this, KNOW THAT YOU CAN DO THIS TOO! Sign up for hypnobirthing classes! Get informed! Practice your relaxation exercises so they become second nature! And consider booking a birth photographer. You’ll never regret the photos you had taken of this most special day but you may well regret not having any.

Positive Birth Story – Katy & Joshua

Birth Stories

I’m totally honoured to be able to share this positive birth story with you all. Katy contacted me after reading my post Thoughts on Birth. She says it inspired her to share her story. She also had this to say:

“The whole time I was pregnant I was extremely excited at the prospect of giving birth. Everyone I met thought I was nuts, and, more annoyingly, wrong to be positive about the idea of labour. A lot of people gave knowing looks and smirks as if to say JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY DO IT..!”

So here, in her own words, is Joshua Stanley’s birth story (and what a testament it is to having a positive attitude and approach to birth):

My due date was the 4th of November, moved from the 11th of November after a 12 week scan showed the baby to be “too large” for my dates. My dates were pretty crystal clear accurate as we’d used fertility treatment, and not to put to fine a point on it, I knew exactly when we’d conceived. My midwife wasn’t too fussed about that detail though, and the revised date of the 4th was kept to.

The 4th was a Tuesday, and I went for a sweep at the surgery. My midwife (who was really lovely) tried valiantly to stretch the membranes, but I was tight as a clam. She said she wouldn’t be surprised if I went 2 weeks overdue, given how unready for labour I was. I felt pretty disheartened by this, as I didn’t know anybody with a good labour story that started with them being massively overdue, but went home to watch numerous episodes of Teen Mom in order to lift my spirits.

Wednesday arrived and I’d been reading The Guardian’s “Perfect” recipe series. That wednesday the featured recipe was for the perfect grilled cheese sandwich (maybe all the cheese would tempt baby out?), which set me into overdrive. I walked (maybe the walk will encourage baby out?) a three mile round trip to my local shop to collect all the required cheese and sourdough bread, then went home to make the world’s most awesome sandwich. My husband came home and we ate leftover chilli burritos (maybe spicy burritos would smoke baby out?), and caught up on The Walking Dead (maybe the scary zombies would terrify baby out?).

As I toppled my massive pregnant carcass into bed around 11pm, I heard a pop. I instantly knew it was my waters breaking, so I waddled to the bathroom. I shouted for my husband, who genuinely thought I was joking. I was annoyed at his low opinion of my comedy skills. I rang the hospital and they said to keep an eye on the waters for meconium, and to give them a call back if there was any blood.

We were both too excited to sleep, so went downstairs to watch The Lego Movie. About 10 minutes into the film, I started with the TENS machine, as I could definitely feel something going on. By 00:30 the movie was off and my husband ran me a bath, lit candles, and I sent him to bed. I set up the contraction timer on my phone and tried to relax into the labour. At 1am I checked the app and it showed that I was contracted at the rate you’re supposed to go into hospital at (I can’t remember exactly what this is – 3 in 3? 2 in 3? something like that). I shouted for my husband, and we had a debate about whether to go to hospital. I vehemently did not want to drive there and then be sent home. I rang them and they did not sound like they wanted me to come in, given the short amount of time that had elapsed, but it was getting to the point where I was aware that we didn’t know what we were doing at all.

We got in the car for an horrendous 15 minute journey, including a detour because my husband is really terrible at directions. I had all the windows open and was on all fours in the front passenger seat, like a crazy person.

When we arrived in hospital it was 2am, and the midwives took us into the most amazing room I had ever seen. It was like a spa, with an enormous birthing pool, dimmed lights and en suite bathroom.

The midwife got me onto the bed for a check.

I was at 1cm.

She and my husband both looked at me like I was a lunatic.

I got down off the bed and cringed in the bathroom, feeling like I was in full labour, but baffled because I knew people who walked around completing every day tasks at 1cm dilated, and I felt like I needed an epidural.

The midwife told us to go home and I refused. Luckily my husband must have seen a crazy look in my eye, because he advocated for me really well – we were moved to a side room, and I was given a shot of Pethedine at 4am. The midwife said she would be back to check my progress in another 4 hours, at 8am. I don’t recall the Pethedine doing anything to my pain levels, but it really focussed my mind. I lay on my side, in the quiet, dark room, and held onto my husband’s jumper with both fists and my eyes closed. It seemed like no time at all had passed, but in reality it was 5:55am, and I felt the urge to push.

I said to my husband… um… I feel like I need to push and I don’t know what to do. He volunteered to take a look, and I pleaded with him not to, as it’s not the type of thing I think a marriage can survive. Nevertheless, he did go down the business end. “OK..” he said, extremely calmly “…I’m just going to pop outside to the midwives, as I can see the baby’s head.” Then he left (very quickly).

As soon as he left the room I felt the strongest sensation to push, so I just did (rookie mistake). I have never been more terrified or elated in my life when I looked down and saw my baby’s face staring up at me, blinking away. Apparently (I have no recollection of this) I then started screaming loudly that the baby was coming, and at that point my husband and several midwives ran into the room. Almost simultaneously I felt another urge to push, which I did (why!?) and my baby just arrived in an instant. As I was still lying on my side, the midwife grabbed him and flipped him onto my chest, an 8lb, bloody wet bundle.

It was amazing.

The entire pushing stage of labour had lasted 30 seconds, and it was the most insane time lapse of my life.

The after effects were not great – 3rd degree tearing due to the lack of assistance during the pushing stage, but I can accept a few stitches when the experience is so overwhelmingly positive.

I don’t blame the midwives for not being there during the labour – who would expect someone to go from 1cm – fully dilated in 2 hours, with minimum fuss?

Nevertheless, I’ll be having a home birth next time.

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How incredible is that??? First time Mama delivering her own baby! If you’ve enjoyed reading this story please let us know by leaving a comment – that would be awesome. And if you’d like to share your positive birth story please email thedoublemama@gmail.com – it would be an honour to publish it.

Siobhan x

What I’d do differently in birth

Birth Stories, motherhood


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I had a pretty spectacular 2nd birth. I kind of want to tell everyone and shout it from the roof tops because I believe everybody can and should have a wonderful birth experience (whether that’s a homebirth, a hospital birth or an elective c-section). No doubt every woman deserves it. (You can read my birth story here). However I also don’t want to come across as an insensitive, smug dick because I know so many women have had less than ideal labours.

Therefore I always like to explain how I had a traumatic first birth and then went on to have a wonderful one. Basically I know what both ends of the birth experience spectrum look like. Now I just want every woman who is scared of giving birth to know that in actual fact it can be the best day of your life! For those women who did not have the birth of dreams first time round (I was one!), know that all hope is not lost and if you go on to have another bubba then a brilliant and healing birth experience is most definitely possible.

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Anyhow, that all said, there are still a few things I’d definitely do differently, so here they are:

1. I wouldn’t spend the entire afternoon after my waters had gone writing Christmas cards whilst having/ignoring ‘twinges’, then sending my partner out to post them just a few hours before I gave birth.

Next time I will use that time to deeply relax. Maybe have a bath with the lovely Lush bath bomb I’d been saving in my birth bag, have a rest, have a cuddle, have my partner do a relaxation reading like we’d rehearsed, listen to some positive affirmations, have a massage with the lovely Neil’s Yard ‘Mother’ oil I’d been given as a gift, inhale some lavender spritz that I’d prepared etc. etc. Because all those lovely things I had planned… Guess what??? Never did them. Why?! Because in the end there wasn’t time! I wasted the lovely early stages of labour doing life admin.

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2. First sign of labour I’d get my partner to start inflating and filling the birth pool. Oh the pool of dreams! What happened in my labour was we thought of inflating the pool too late. My partner spent most of my 2 hour labour attending to the pool which I then didn’t use because by the time it was ready for me to get in, it was time to push! So yeah, I’d get him on that case a lot quicker.

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3. I forgot to drink in my labour. And my partner, like I mentioned, was busy attending to the birth pool, not me. When the midwife gave me a cup of cold black sugary tea, just before I delivered, I swear it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

So yeah next time I’m going to have some cool fresh lemonade prepared or something similarly refreshing to sip. Oh and champers in the fridge! We forgot that too (I’d only just finished work – I wasn’t expecting to go into labour ‘on time’).

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4. I’m going to remember that just like everyone says – when the baby is coming out it genuinely feels like a poo. I went to the toilet naked like a mad woman, insistent that I needed a number 2. I had my midwife outside the door telling me not to push too hard as I didn’t want to deliver on the toilet. She was right. Of course. It was baby’s head.

Luckily I made it to the sofa.

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5. Finally and most importantly, the thing I would definitely do differently (if there’s a next time) is get a birth photographer!! You are so in the zone when in labour that it’s a bit of a blur. I wasn’t aware of what was going on around me and that was a good thing. But I wish I had a load of photos that I could look back on to remember that miraculous day.

For me giving birth is more life changing than getting married and if I wouldn’t think twice about hiring a wedding photographer to capture the day, why not splash the cash and book a birth photographer ! There are so many gorgeous birth photos out there and beautiful videos to watch. I really regret not having someone to record my special day.

Sure I have the shaky, slightly-blurry, happy after-birth pic that my partner took (see up top) and the I’m-dead-to-the-world first birth photo (below) but I want more! I’m not talking blood and guts, I’m talking beautiful sensual photos that truly capture the magic.

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Oh, and 6. I’d remember to blow the candle out before going to hospital.

I transferred to hospital after giving birth as I needed some stitches and had lost a bit of blood. We left without remembering the lovely Diptyque candle we had burning throughout my labour, which then remained going all night…

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House did smell nice though when I got home 😉

Things I loved about my Hypnobirth

Birth Stories, motherhood

HYPNOBIRTH

In light of The Guardian’s article today on the rise in popularity of hypnobirthing, I thought I’d share exactly why I loved having a hypnobirth…

1.The calm, serene, dimly-lit, lavender-scented environment we created for birth. In the weeks leading up to our birth, visitors always commented on the chill vibe we had going on.

2.The practice we did beforehand – light touch massage, relaxation readings etc. – basically taking time out each evening to relax together and prepare mentally for the arrival of our baby.

3.Going to sleep each night listening to a relaxation MP3 – worked every time and became such a lovely routine in the months leading up to the birth. To be honest I sometimes still listen to it now when going to sleep and it instantly transports me back to that calm place I was in.

4.Giving birth without any pain relief meant I was totally present in the moment and it was totally empowering. I felt like a wonder woman. In my previous labour the gas and air made me feel really out of control and by the time baby arrived, after hours and hours of being pumped full of drugs, I was out of it. This time I was euphoric when baby arrived and was instantly able to bond.

5.Being so relaxed meant my labour was able to progress naturally and quickly which resulted in my labour lasting just 2 hours from start to finish!

6.In the lead up to giving birth I had no anxiety whatsoever, only excitement. Which is a truly lovely thing.

7.I got to give birth at home in front of the Christmas tree as I dreamed of. A hundred million times better than a harsh clinical environment.

8.I felt I had a whole array of tools at my disposal that I could use so I didn’t feel I needed a drug option. It wasn’t that I felt I had to be strong and cope without anything, I felt I had a great number of alternative methods to help me cope.

9.How close the whole journey brought my partner and I – because we were working together each evening in the lead up by doing our hypno homework, and also when it came to birth he was so involved.

10.The opportunity it gave me to have an incredible birth experience – something every woman deserves. It was genuinely the best day of my life and one I’d do a million times over without hesitation. I felt my birth was genuinely amazing.

11.It gave my partner a real role in my labour – to protect the space, to aid my relaxation, and to supply the tools to help me remain calm. So he didn’t feel like a spare part but an absolute necessary part. We felt we birthed our baby together.

12.A hypno baby is a calm baby! I honestly believe a traumatic birth is traumatic for baby as well as Mum. My hypno baby was the most chilled out baby and we totally attribute that to the calm journey he had into this world.

I went on a hypnobirthing course 2 months before I was due but you can do it earlier. I did my course with Hollie from London Hypnobirthing who I would definitely recommend. If you can’t attend a course in person then there’s always The Calm Birth School, an online video course, which I’d also recommend. 

My Birth Story – v2.0

Birth Stories

The one where I met Arlo Bear…

Thursday

So my waters had gone, I’d managed to convinced myself it wasn’t wee, based on the fact I’d gone to the toilet mere moments before fridge-gate (so low was my trust in the stability of my bladder), and I’d just sat down to write my Christmas cards… You can read about that here.

It is about 1pm when I finish writing all my cards, and messaging friends and family for their addresses. This year (since I’m transitioning from young-mum-of-one to woman-with-two-kids), I have done the unprecedented and invested in an actual, physical, address book, so decide now is the perfect time to copy all the addresses I have into it. This leaves me feeling very organised and happy with myself (does this last-minute life admin count as nesting?!).

Because I’m not having any contractions and time is of the essence, I get to work on my nipple stimulation with an electric breast pump in an attempt to bring some on (upping the ante on the simple nipple twiddling of the day before). I am now listening to my Hypnobirthing affirmations, having decided the BBC’s ‘The Missing’, albeit totally gripping, is just a tad too tense and possibly having a detrimental effect on my uterus.

At about 2pm I call my midwife as I have not felt the baby move all day and she had said to keep an eye on baby’s movements. I tell her that I don’t need her to come out because I’m not having regular contractions but says she will pop by anyway to have a listen to baby… (Reflecting now, I clearly remember making this call. I would never in a million years have believed I would be holding my baby in a matter of hours!!).

Whilst waiting for my midwife to arrive I am having some contractions but not take-your-breath-away ones. They are however coming of their own accord since I have stopped pumping. I’m not convinced it’s the real deal though and feel I need a professional (i.e. my midwife) to tell me whether this is it or not.

We do crack open the birth bag at this point though, figuring we might as well make use of our nice things because whether or not this is it right now, since my waters have gone, I am going to be in labour in the next 24 hours or so. We light our lovely Diptyque Pomander scented candle that we chose for our birth (recommend doing this by the way!), pull down the blackout blinds in our bedroom and I start bouncing on my birth ball, whilst applying some make-up (obvs want to look good just in case it is happening!).

At this point I’m welcoming each contraction and when there’s a bit of a gap between one ending and the next one starting, I actually worry that it’s all died off and this isn’t it at all. So each time one comes I’m like YAY, GO BODY! I am doing my up breathing through each one but they aren’t in any way painful.

My midwife arrives at 2.30pm and has a listen to baby. All seems well. Around 3pm she says she’s going to make a move but to call her back when I need her. She tells me she thinks it will be soon. I ask how soon??!! She says she thinks that it will be tonight. I realise baby might actually arrive ON his/her due day (which is tomorrow) – how amazing would that be!

Just after 3pm James says it’s time for him to go and do the school pick-up. My midwife kindly offers to wait with me until he returns. At this point I’m thinking my son will come home, we will have dinner together later on and he will go to bed at his normal time.  Then hopefully (fingers crossed) my labour will kick off in the night. My midwife advises me to have a bath to ease the discomfort once she has left and to try and get some sleep to conserve my energy for later.

By the time James is back at 3.30pm, less than half an hour later, EVERYTHING has changed. I’m not having a bath or a sleep – it’s time to inflate the birth pool – and quick! My midwife has decided she is staying now and it’s not long until she is calling the second midwife.

At one point the contractions were irregular and pain-free, then very quickly they increased in frequency and then very suddenly they increased in intensity and I was not welcoming them any more.

I say hello to my little (soon to be big) boy when he gets back from school but am not able to say much else. I quickly feel like I need him out of the house because I need to focus all my energy and attention on each surge* so my friend is called to collect him.

*I will call them surges from now on because they are powerful and not just little contractions/tightenings.

At 4pm I ask my midwife to examine me. She warns me that it will not tell me how long my labour is going to be, but I need to know something is happening. The surges are intense. My midwife has a poke around and tells me I am approximately 5cm dilated. I am slightly disappointed to hear I am only half-way, especially since I was already 2cm on Monday. I this this means I have a loooong way to go (little do I know).

At 4.10pm my friend arrives and I say goodbye to my son. James is busy inflating and filling the pool and over the next half an hour or so I do feel quite alone as I deal with each surge standing at the dining room, gripping on to the edge. I just want the pool to be ready so I can get in, believing it will feel amazing. The surges are really intense and between each one I give myself an internal pep talk, reminding myself that I want a natural homebirth, that I can do this, that I am in control etc. Then the surge hits and I’m screaming silently in my own head very negative things like I can’t cope, I need pain relief. This internal battle goes back and forth like this for a while whilst I stand bent over the table, rocking backwards and forwards, channeling all my energy into my breathing. I’m not really aware of what is going on around me and am not making conversation with anyone. At this point I really have gone within myself. I do notice that a resuscitation area has been set up on the dining room table but try to put it out of my mind.

After a while I move into the living room, kneel on the sofa and hold James’ hand and tell him I need him to stay close to me now. I don’t care about the pool anymore, I just want him to help me. He crouches down next to me, holds my hand, applies pressure to my back, as I rock backward and forwards over the arm of the sofa, breathing in and out with all the strength I can muster. The surges now are relentless and totally consuming me with their power and I am just fighting to stay on top of them.

A visualization I was taught in pregnancy yoga really helped me at this point: I rocked forward on all fours as I breathed in through my nose and then rocked back onto my heels as I exhaled through my mouth, visualizing a long golden thread extending into the distance. To keep myself breathing out for a long time and not hyperventilating/losing control, I imagined that each long out breath was pushing this golden thread further and further.

At 5pm the pool is finally ready for action. (I only know this from reading my notes because by this point I was not aware of time). The long-awaited, much-anticipated, pool of dreams. I step in and in my memory step straight out, but apparently I was in there for a few minutes. I don’t like it and in any case I feel I need to go to the loo for a number two.

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My lovely midwife tries to convince me it is my baby but I am having none of it.  How could it be the baby, I think, when I still have so many hours to go?!

I hate the idea of poo’ing in the pool and think I know when I need the toilet. Turns out I don’t. As I sit on the toilet with nothing happening, James and my midwife stand outside the bathroom door telling me not to push too hard because I don’t want to give birth on the loo!

I am aware I have only been in labour for a very short while so cannot believe baby is almost ready to make his/her entrance. I ask my midwife to check that it really is the baby but at this point I can’t lie down on my back or even sit down(!). She kindly obliges and examines me standing up. She tells me I am fully dilated and the baby’s head is just centimeters from its exit! I have gone from 5cm to fully dilated in under 1 hour!!! This might go some way to explaining why it is so intense.

Only after being examined and being told me I am good to go, do I believe and give into the urge to push. And boy did I need to push.

At 5.15pm I start pushing, on all fours, on the sofa, completely naked (and not caring in the slightest), in front of the Christmas tree. This baby is not going to be a water baby after all! As I push I bite down hard on a pillow and roar. At one point I scream, “It’s not going to fit” but am reassured that it will. And, “It can’t stay there” when the baby’s head crowns just as the contraction ends, leaving me momentarily at full stretch (probably the most painful moment).

But after just four minutes of what feels like a surprisingly hard, brick-like object, descending down a tunnel that is far too small to accommodate it, at 5.19pm, my gorgeous, perfectly formed, beautiful, baby boy flies (literally flies) into this world and is caught (just) by Natalie, our midwife. James who has been crouched by my head, whispering encouraging and lovely things into my ear, calls “It’s a boy!”, tears flowing, as our baby flies out, little arms up by his head and legs open like a froglet, revealing what we’ve waited 40 weeks to know. He is then passed immediately through my legs and I bring him up to my chest, bloody and beautiful. James captures the moment on camera and it is without a doubt my favourite photo.

I am so happy. There are no words. I birthed our beautiful baby just as I dreamt (albeit not in the pool), at home, in front of the Christmas tree, with no pain relief necessary. This couldn’t have been more different to my previous experience.

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With my first I was almost two weeks overdue, my labour was induced and it lasted 2 long days. I was attached to a drip, pumped full of artificial hormones, strapped to a monitor and endured a number of invasive procedures. I couldn’t sleep and wasn’t allowed to eat. It was a very stressful experience. I ended up having an epidural so felt nothing and my poor son was finally born by forceps delivery in theatre, narrowly avoiding a c-section, under bright lights, surrounded by people I had never met. Arlo James, on the other hand, arrived the day before he was ‘due’, into a completely calm environment, in the comfort of our family home and my labour lasted just 2 hours and 19 minutes.

It was however the most intense 2 hours and 19 minutes of my life. The surges came on hard and fast and good God were they hard. I breathed for my life and could do little else but focus on that. The pushing was the most acutely painful part yet, ironically, the part for which I am most grateful I felt. To feel his head descend was so real and unlike anything else and I am so glad I got to fully feel and experience the miracle of giving birth. I have never felt more in the present in my whole life. It wasn’t calm or sensual, there wasn’t any incense or oms, (it progressed far too quickly for that!), there was no water baby but it was incredible and intense, powerful and primal (and quite bloody painful). My birth experience was, put quite simply, amazing.

Something I learnt in labour was that Hypnobirthing and all our practice didn’t make labour pain-free, but it helped me to feel in control and awesomely powerful and it gave James a real purpose. Also, I talk about ‘pain’ but at no point did I ask for pain relief, not even a paracetamol. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat, in fact, I wish I could(!).

Doing Hypnobirthing meant we were prepared and ready, excited even, for labour to begin! At no point was I truly scared or afraid: I knew I was capable and I trusted my body and baby completely. When it came to pushing I made these loud, primal, roaring/grunting noises. Although I had imagined quietly breathing my baby down as I’d seen in hypnobirthing videos, my body just took over and I could do nothing else but push. It was instinctive. It was powerful. And I went with it.

Had I not done Hypnobirthing I don’t think I would have gone with it. I would have been nervous of the pain. I would have doubted my ability to do it. I would have been worried about the baby. Instead I embraced it, I pushed, I roared like a lion, and then my baby arrived and immediately all the pain just stopped and pure elation flowed.

I had just experienced the most incredible moment of my life.

Things didn’t go quite so well afterwards. I lost 1.5 litres of blood and was transferred to hospital by ambulance. I had 3 tears unfortunately, which needed to be sutured and just when I thought we could go home, I had a huge allergic reaction to something in hospital and went into anaphylactic shock!

But why dwell on the negative?! I know what part I want to remember.

Friday

After a lot of waiting around in a very small and very hot and stuffy hospital room (shouldn’t complain, we did get a private room and James was able to stay with me overnight), we were finally allowed to go home.

And then I’m not sure what happened later that day, or the next, or the next. They all just sort of ran into one another.

We existed in this beautiful bubble for the next week or so and it was just gorgeous. It was like we had just opted out of real life with all its routine and demands. We slept when we wanted, we ate when we felt hungry (even if it was 4am) and we just allowed our home to fill with all of this love.

I miss it already. Those precious early days. I tried so hard to cherish every single moment, knowing it all goes far too fast. I will treasure my memories of that special time for the rest for the life. As James says, it is worth having another baby for (and we have had a LOT of sleepless nights!).

That, I think, says it all.