An open letter to The Observer…

motherhood

newborn

Safe delivery is not the ONLY thing that matters when giving birth.

Dear Observer,

I would have preferred to have been able to address this letter to somebody more personally but alas the article to which I’m responding was published anonymously. It’s not surprising given the offensive and archaic nature of the statements made, reminiscent of a time before women had autonomy, but I would have preferred the author to have had the balls to put their name to their words. Perhaps the author did have balls? Maybe that explains the anonymity. A man telling a woman that her thoughts and feelings about her birth, her body and her baby are irrelevant and unimportant might break the Internet.

Now to start, I don’t know what I’m more surprised about; the fact a supposedly left-wing and liberal-minded paper has so explicitly dismissed the importance of women’s feelings, thoughts and experiences when it comes to childbirth, ironically a uniquely female experience or the fact you published an article with the incorrect use of ‘to’ (it should have been ‘too’). Either way, your quality control is obviously on annual leave this summer.

Being serious though, my first issue is the discussion around the normal birth campaign and the decision by the RCM to change the word ‘normal’ to ‘physiological’ when describing natural vaginal birth without intervention.

The RCM acknowledges that the word ‘normal’ might make those that do not have natural births feel not normal and like they failed somehow. Being not normal is rarely perceived as a good thing and suggests something is wrong. This is the reasoning behind the decision to change the word to ‘physiological’ – a word which creates a less negative dichotomy.

I wholly support this decision because as a hypnobirthing teacher and psychology graduate I understand the impact language can have on wellbeing and therefore how important it is to be mindful of the language we use around birth.

I applaud the RCM for recognising the negative connotations around the word ‘normal’ and for taking appropriate action and substituting the word with ‘physiological’. They have done so because they value women and care about the way they feel. They recognise the importance of mental health and how women feel about their birth experience in the postnatal period. They care about more than just safety. They care about feelings, mental and psychological wellbeing and language. This change in wording is representative of their whole ethos; to provide women-centred care.

Now here’s the important bit: nothing about this change in word means there is going to be a change in approach, attitude or belief regarding natural birth. The RCM will continue as they have always done to promote natural childbirth. They might call it ‘physiological’ rather than ‘normal’ but essentially the work they do will remain the same.

I don’t think it’s too tricky a concept to grasp yet you seem to have somehow misinterpreted this simple change of word as some sort of acknowledgement by the RCM that they have been dangerously campaigning and pressuring women to have natural births even when it’s not been in the women’s best interest to do so. This is grossly incorrect and at complete odds with what Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, has stated on the matter. I notice you didn’t use any direct quotes.

The RCM promotes natural childbirth for low risk women because it offers the best outcomes for Mum and Baby. This is not based on dogma, personal experience or ideology. This is based on evidence and stats. This is based on scientific fact.

The birthplace study evaluated the outcomes for 64,000 women and their babies across the UK. in various birth places and found, for example, that for second time low risk women giving birth at home or in a midwife-led birth centre offered best outcomes for both Mum and Baby with fewer interventions.

There is nothing therefore dangerous or irresponsible about midwifes promoting natural birth to women for whom natural birth is statistically safest. The only thing dangerous that’s happening here is sloppy journalism misinforming the public.

Finally what happened at Morecambe Bay is more than unfortunate, it’s tragic. My heart goes out to the parents who lost their beautiful babies in circumstances that could have been avoided. I sincerely hope those responsible are brought to justice. There is no doubt that pursuing natural birth above all else is dangerous and irresponsible but it’s important to recognise that what happened at Morecambe Bay is not indicative of the culture in maternity services across the UK.

Yes midwives promote natural childbirth but midwives also work alongside obstetricians and support women through more medicalised births every single day. They recommend and even encourage interventions when that is best, following the evidence-based guidelines that exist. They ensure women are informed and treated with dignity and care.

They also recognise women as intelligent autonomous individuals and most importantly acknowledge their right to make decisions regarding their bodies and babies and support their wishes whilst ensuring they are fully informed.

As a woman, a mother and a human who believes in equality I will be forever grateful that we have midwives who work tirelessly to support women in birth. If midwives held the same opinion as The Observer we would be in serious trouble. Women’s voices in birth would be completely sidelined and their birth experience deemed irrelevant in a birth model where the only thing that matters is the safe delivery of a baby, at all costs. Where the safe delivery of a baby is the measurement of a successful birth. That’s what would be really dangerous, not to mention scary! I can’t help but draw comparisons to the dystopic future as seen in A Handmaid’s Tale where the handmaids’ wellbeing is considered a small price to pay for the delivery of a live child.

Birth experience matters. It’s very possible to have a safe birth and a positive and empowering experience. Birth doesn’t have to be intervention-free to be positive and for some women it will be necessary for their birth to be more medicalised, but what’s important is that women are fully informed and able to make decisions that are right for them and their babies and are supported in their choices.

That should be what we all campaign for. On that note, please see the RCM’s Better Births initiative.

Thank you for reading.

Best Regards,

Siobhan Miller

If you want to find out more about how hypnobirthing can help you navigate your birth calmly and confidently and ensure you have the best birth for you and your baby, however that birth may be, please visit The Positive Birth Company. I teach classes monthly in London, Devon and Birmingham and run the Positive Birth Retreat® – a 3 night luxury mini break for expectant couples; a babymoon combined with the fully comprehensive hypnobirthing antenatal course.

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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.

INTRODUCING: THE POSITIVE BIRTH RETREAT

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Where do I even start?! If The Positive Birth Company is my baby (and let’s be honest, it is) then the Positive Birth Retreat is the much longed-for younger sibling that I can’t wait to introduce to the world.

Firstly let me tell you what a Positive Birth Retreat actually is! It’s a 3-night, fully catered, luxury babymoon mini break combined with the ultimate, fully comprehensive, hypnobirthing antenatal course.

Babymoons, if you’re not familiar with the term, are much like honeymoons but instead of being post-wedding, they are pre-baby! A chance for Mum and Dad to get away and enjoy a bit of RnR before the mayhem of parenting begins (or parenting round 2 / round 3). A babymoon is something you should do whether you’re a first time or fourth time parent, because every baby is special and important just as every birth is, whether or not you’ve done it before. A babymoon mini break offers couples the opportunity to reconnect with each other (so important at this special time) and a chance to re-charge. Positive Birth Retreats encourage and enable couples to take a break from their busy lives to really slow down and properly relax, to take time out to prepare, together, mentally and emotionally, for the inevitable changes that come with bringing a new baby into the world.

Having had a couple of babymoons myself, I think I know what makes a good one! In fact if you’ve read Clemmie Hooper’s book ‘How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out‘ you will have found me in there chatting about this very topic. I believe there are three things every pregnant woman craves and those are a decent meal, a decent night’s sleep and some much-needed TLC! We have put real thought into how we can best deliver these things on the retreat and I’m happy to say we have incorporated them all.

When it came to choosing a venue we searched high and low (i.e. the entire internet) for the perfect place. It was important to us that the environment was super relaxing so we visited a number of hotels and houses before finally deciding on the beautiful Spring Cottage in East Budleigh, Devon. This beautiful house is easy accessible from Exeter but is situated in a rural setting, nestled in the stunning countryside surrounded by large gardens and woodland. The spacious bedrooms are gorgeous and are all en-suite, it’s truly a place where, once you’ve arrived, you can take a deep breath, slow down and relax.

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We have found an excellent chef who is going to cater for our lovely couples and the menu has been specially designed with pregnant women in mind. Think fresh, locally-sourced iron-rich veg and show-stopping puds!  Then we have our resident yoga teacher who will be running yoga sessions each morning to kickstart the day and our lovely massage therapist who will be offering full body massage treatments to the expectant Mums and Dads. In the evenings there will be opportunity to curl up on the comfy sofas and have a read in front of the open fire, drink a craft beer (or beverage of your choice) out on the terrace whilst watching the sun go down or even go for a gentle stroll in the surrounding woodland if you fancy it!  Each night there will be a lovely guided relaxation taking place in one of the communal spaces, open to whoever wants to join, so that everyone can go to bed feeling really relaxed and enjoy, what I hope will be, the most restful and comfortable night’s sleep.

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Then of course there is the hypnobirthing course! Hypnobirthing is truly amazing and not half as hippy as it sounds! It’s actually an entirely logical approach to childbirth and by doing a course you will learn so much about your body that you probably never knew and most importantly, exactly how it works in labour on a physiological and hormonal level. You will also learn how to best enable your body to do the job it has been so perfectly designed to do. You’ll be taught various relaxation exercises that you can use in pregnancy, birth and life in general and also come to understand the impact of the environment on a birthing mum, so that you can go on to create the best and most conducive environment for you. We will cover absolutely everything you need to know including interventions, induction, delayed cord-clamping, delivery of the placenta etc. You will leave feeling fully informed and excited for your labour to begin.

The course will help Mums to let go of any fears and learn to trust their amazing bodies and Dads will leave feeling confident, with a metaphorical toolbox, full of ways they can support their partner during birth. Giving birth is a team effort and hypnobirthing really helps birth partners understand how important their role is whilst equipping them with all the tools and knowledge they need to do be able to do their job.

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When I was pregnant with my second son, I took two Sundays out to do a hypnobirthing course and also took another weekend to go on a babymoon. I had to organise childcare for my eldest son so that I could do these things. I loved my babymoons (I’ve had two!) but both times I had to do the research and book the various bits and pieces (the hotel, the restaurants, the massage) which took time and some degree of planning. I thought back then how amazing it would be to be able to do it all in one go. To find someone / some place offering the whole package. A couple of years has passed since then and to the best of my knowledge there are still no hypnobirthing retreats out there. With hypnobirthing growing in popularity and more and more women empowering themselves and recognising the importance of a positive birth experience and more and more people looking for retreats as a way to escape the madness and the sense of being constantly on, thanks to social media and our mobiles, now seems to be the perfect time to launch the Positive Birth Retreat.

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I have talked about this for SO long that I am SO excited that it’s finally happening!! In fact last August I remember chatting to a couple with a young baby (who I met at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais!) about the idea. I was on my way from our family summer holiday and was raring to go. They were so enthusiastic which only fuelled my desire to make this happen. I can’t believe almost a year has passed since then but I guess using my original analogy, August 2016 was when the idea / baby was firmly conceived and it takes time to grow a baby, as we all know… 9 months in fact. Which coincidentally is exactly how long it will have been by the time May rolls around and we run our first retreat! What are the chances! We have quite literally spent 9 months growing this baby.

There are so many reasons why I love the idea of a hypnobirthing retreat! Apart from my own personal experience of struggling to find the time to do a course and then go on a babymoon and having to organise it all, I have also taught so many couples who are looking for this exact experience. I teach groups monthly in London and Devon and so many couples coming on my course actually book accommodation nearby to make a weekend of it. There seems to be such a demand already there for these kind of retreats so I’m hoping people will love what we are offering.

Another reason why I think a hypnobirthing retreat is a great idea is that so often I meet expectant couples on my course and see them enjoy learning in a lovely calm environment, see them visibly relax throughout the day until they are super chilled out after our final relaxation exercise, but then they dive straight back into their busy lives. Whether that’s straight back to replying to work emails on their phone or straight home to their children, time and time again it happens that the magic that is created during the day immediately evaporates as soon as couples go home and back to the demands of their day to day life. I know that people love the course and I know that people go on to have incredible births all the time but what I’d love for the couples I teach is to give them the chance to really enjoy the relaxation that is created on the course. To have the time to reflect on what they have learnt that day. The time to discuss between themselves what they have taken from the course and time to really think about and visualise how they want their birth to be. I want to create a little bubble in time where couples can really enjoy learning and thinking about the birth of their baby together. It’s such an important time, a life-changing moment, that having this space to mentally prepare is so beneficial.

There is always so much love in the room when I teach couples and I am desperate to foster an environment where that feeling can flourish beyond the course itself. That’s why we have created these retreats, to do just that. They are the space, they are the time, they are the place, where couples can relax, learn, reflect and prepare. They are all about promoting comfort and wellbeing.

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It’s always nerve-wracking putting a new idea out there and wondering whether it will be well-received or just sink completely and break your heart. I feel super anxious about the retreats because I have spent so long working on it and thinking about it and it feels like something really, really special. I know that the course itself works and the feedback I receive is always so lovely (which is amazing), but this feels a little different as it’s a bigger package and more to think about. Will it be as well received? Will people go for it?? I currently have the anxious, excited, nervous feeling that you get when you’re about to do something big!

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Whenever you support a small business by buying a product or using their service you know you supporting the person behind it and that they’ve put their heart and love into whatever it is that you’re purchasing. With the Positive Birth Retreat you know that I (and James who is onboard too) will try our very best to make sure every single minute of your time with us is wonderful. We want to give everyone coming the very very best experience. Everything we are offering on the retreat is stuff that we would really want ourselves, whether it’s the Bloom & Wild flowers on the dining table, or the scented Diptyque candles in the living room or the mini bar full of local craft beers or the selection of Teapigs tea in the bedrooms, we have handpicked everything based on what we would like and what we reckon is the best out there. So I want couples to know they will be so well looked after and supported if they choose to join a Positive Birth retreat.

Our next retreat is taking place Friday 13th – Monday 16th October in Devon. The venue is not far from Exeter, just 15 minutes off the M5 and only a short taxi ride from Exeter St Davids station (2 1/4 hours by train from London Paddington). All the information is available on the website but essentially it is a 3 night break, fully catered (all meals, snacks, drinks included), with a luxury massage treatment for Mum and Dad, morning yoga sessions, evening relaxation sessions, the fully comprehensive hypnobirthing course and a whole host of goodies to take home afterwards. The cost is £1095 per couple. We can only accommodate 4 couples on our retreat so spaces are extremely limited! If you would like more info or to book then please email retreats@thepositivebirthcompany.co.uk.

Preparing for Birth – The Birth Plan

Preparing for Birth

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Everyone needs a plan, right? For the big things, for the small things, for the day-to-day mundane things. I’m a big believer in a good plan. Usually my plans take the form of a list; stuff I need to get done. And yes, I’m one of those people who adds extra stuff to the list, purely for the satisfaction of ticking it off. Makes me feel productive.

So when it comes to GIVING BIRTH TO A FULL ON HUMAN BEING, of course I’m all about having a plan. Not only is a plan absolutely necessary in my mind when you’ve got two other kids and logistics to organise (like who will come mind them in the middle of the night?!) but I also believe writing a birth plan (or proposal or set of preferences) is an important and significant step in ensuring you are mentally prepared for birth.

This is because, by drawing up a plan, you are taking time out to really think hard about your birth in a focused way, for perhaps the first time in your pregnancy. It goes without saying that it’s really important to give some serious thought to your birth. Unlike day-to-day parenting, birth is not something you can wing; the more preparation you put in, the better the experience will be and the more you will get out of it. So by taking some time out to draw up your plan, you will be starting to visualise your birth and think about what you want in a really positive way. It’s not all airy-fairy either, you will have a number of things to consider and big decisions to make, from where you want to give birth and if you’d like to to use a birth pool to delayed cord clamping and whether you want a physiological third stage. You will need to research these things and understand the advantages and disadvantages of all your options so you can make informed choices. By drawing up your plan for birth, or at least outlining your preferences, you’re making important decisions for you and your baby, some of which will have a profound and long-lasting effect.

What I will say for those of you reading who like me love a plan, it’s important to realise that birth is unpredictable and doesn’t always go to plan. From when the baby will actually decide to make his/her appearance in that 5 week long period in which he/she is due (the concept of a single due day is such nonsense!) to how quickly you’ll dilate in labour, there are so many unknowns. That’s not to say your birth won’t be beautiful and amazing and empowering and positive, it’s just it might pan out differently to how you expected and you need to be prepared for this. This is why some people prefer to use the term ‘birth proposal‘ or ‘birth preferences‘.

I like the latter best and believe by drawing up my preferences I am making it clear what my first choice is, but also giving some thought to, and allowing there room for movement, if my birth takes a difference course. With this in mind I have a whole section in my birth preferences dedicated to having a caesarean section. Not because I’m planning for one or even thinking I will end up having one, but I’m taking into account it could happen and if it does, I have given thought to it and specified my wishes for how I would like it to be done. This feels empowering and means however my birth goes I will still have made my own choices and will be having the best birth for me on the day.

So to help those who are also nearing the end of their pregnancy (although it’s never too early to start thinking about your birth and researching!!) listed below are the things I believe you need to consider and include in your birth preferences. I have also posted my own birth preferences at the bottom to help you get started, which you’re welcome to use as a template…

THINGS TO CONSIDER/INCLUDE:

* Birth partner details – name, contact number etc.
* Environment – including where you plan to give birth and how you want the space to be
* Positions for labour and birth – as it says on the tin!
* Pain relief – what you think you might want / what you don’t want
* Birth pool – whether you plan on using one for labour and / or birth
* Monitoring – preferences for sonicaid or continuous
* Second stage – how you wish to birth your baby including thoughts on assisted delivery
* Third stage – how you wish to birth your placenta e.g. physiological third stage or active management and if you want delayed cord clamping
* Placenta – state if you plan on keeping your placenta for encapsulation or another reason
* Breastfeeding – whether you plan on breastfeeding and if you’d like support with this
* Special circumstances – your preferences if your birth goes off plan and you decide to transfer in to hospital from home
* Unexpected situations – include preferences for c-section if situation arises
* Vitamin K – confirm that you wish your baby to have this or state if you do not.
* Aftercare – your wishes for afterwards e.g. whether you’d like a private room if on a ward

It’s a really good idea to involve your birth partner in devising a birth plan. Not only so they are involved in the decision making but also because it is their job on the day to ensure your preferences are known, understood and adhered to. It’s a big (and vitally important) job but near-impossible if they are not totally sure what your preferences are! Also, please make sure you do your research before making decisions/writing out your preferences so you are making informed choices that are right for you and your baby. This is most important.

NOTE: I am planning to have a water birth at home and have been practicing hypnobirthing with my birth partner. We have a birth photographer attending and I am having my placenta encapsulated. I also have a history of postpartum haemorrhage and have anaphylaxis. Obviously this is not the case for everyone! You will need to adapt this plan to make it your own and most importantly add any medical information that is relevant for yourself.
 

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Birth Preferences

We wish to have a calm, quiet, water birth at home with no intervention. We are using Hypnobirthing for our birth and therefore the environment and language is very important to us. Please note that we would appreciate it if you could avoid using the words ‘pain’ or ‘contractions’, and instead talk about ‘comfort’ and ‘surges’. I may describe the power and intensity of a surge but I do not wish to think about or feel pain, as I do not believe birth needs to be painful.

Birth Partner

My partner (insert name and phone number) will be my birth companion and we would like to be left alone whenever possible.

Environment

I would like my own choice of music to be playing (including Hypnobirthing audio tracks), candles burning and a birthing ball and aromatherapy oils to use. We would like to take photos and videos throughout and have a birth photographer booked to attend. We will also be using a birthing pool when labour is established and I have a TENS machine to use in early labour.

It is very important to me that the lighting is dimmed throughout.

Positions for Labour and Birth

I would like an active hypnobirth and to use positions that mean I am upright, forward and open which facilitate an easier and quicker birth. I’d like to remain mobile throughout. If I need to rest, I would like to use my birthing ball and lean over the sofa/bed. In the birthing pool I wish to be upright and leaning forward over the side or on all fours.

I do not wish to be lying on my back.

Pain Relief

Please do not offer any pain relief to me.

I DO NOT WISH TO HAVE AN EPIDURAL. I do not want Pethidine/Diamorphine or any other drugs. I do not like Gas and Air because it makes me sick.

***I developed Anaphylaxis to Paracetamol after giving birth previously and carry an epi-pen***

I do not want any drugs introduced during my labour or afterwards.

I have a TENS machine I can use but please do not offer this to me.

Please remind me of the tools I do have which include: my breathing techniques, visualisations (of a balloon filling as I inhale and a golden thread as I exhale), light touch massage, heat pack, cold flannel, essential oils, relaxation scripts, relaxation audio tracks, positive affirmations, the birth pool etc. These will all increase my comfort level.

Please remind me of my desire to feel and experience this birth and of my previous positive birth experience if I have a wobble.

Birthing Pool

I would like to use the birthing pool during labour and would like to give birth in the pool.

Monitoring Baby’s Heart Rate

Sonicaid please. There is no need to ask when you want to listen in. I would prefer not to be asked questions in labour unless necessary.

I wish to be as mobile as possible / in the pool so only continuously monitored if absolutely necessary. If continuous monitoring is necessary and I am therefore in hospital, I would like to use the wireless monitoring if this is available so that I can continue to move about.

Second Stage

I would like to breathe my baby down so he is born gently and calmly. I would like to follow the lead of my body rather than be coached to push.

I would like to be able to bring my baby to my chest immediately after delivery. If it is not possible for me to hold the baby then I would like the baby to have skin to skin time with James.

It is vitally important to me that the calm and intimate environment is maintained after the baby has been born as I have a tendency to lose blood, so plan to do what I can to encourage the flow of oxytocin: baby to breast, a little placenta to place against my gum, calming touch, warmth and reassurance, low lighting, relaxation track playing.

Assisted Delivery

I would rather wait longer than try to rush the process unless the baby is in obvious distress and needs to be born. I will accept assistance if there is no other option.

Third Stage

It is my preference to have a physiological third stage. I would like to birth the placenta without any drugs being introduced to my body. I would like to wait until my baby has received all of his blood before the cord is clamped and cut.

When the cord has stopped pulsating, please assist James in cutting the cord.

I would also like to place a small bit of the placenta once it has been birthed, against my gum to aid the flow of natural oxytocin and encourage my uterus to contract, as it has a tendency to relax after birth.

I am having my placenta encapsulated so please be mindful of this. It will need to be stored in a sterile container which we will provide and placed in the fridge as soon as possible and certainly within half an hour.

In the event that I experience another PPH, I accept that I will need to have the injection. Hopefully this will be enough intervention. If I continue to lose blood then I accept that I will need to transfer to hospital in order to receive syntocinon via a drip.

It is really important that my epi-pen is with me at all time if transferring to hospital and that the hospital staff are aware I have anaphylaxis to paracetamol and am allergic to latex.

Feeding the Baby

I wish for the baby to be put to my breast immediately after delivery.

I feel confident with feeding my baby and do not need assistance with breastfeeding.

Special Circumstances

If I chose to birth my baby in hospital because of special circumstances, I would like to request a private room with a birthing pool. The environment is very important to us so we would like the room to be as similar as possible to our preferences outlined for home birth. Most importantly we would like the room to be dimly lit, quiet and with as few people as possible present. We would like people to knock before entering and to speak in hushed voices. All communication is to go through James please so that I can labour undisturbed.

I do not wish for students to be present, only those who absolutely need to be there.

I do not wish to be cannulated unless it is essential to do so.

Unexpected Situations

If absolutely necessary, I give my permission for an emergency C-section to be performed.

It would be my preference to be awake for this and to receive my baby to my chest immediately after delivery, certainly before weighing him or cleaning him.

Please ensure any electrodes are placed on my back to they are not in the way and do not inhibit skin to skin time.

I wish for only those who are absolutely necessary to be present in theatre. I would like to be able to see my baby be born so would appreciate if the curtain could be lowered at this stage. I would appreciate it if the lights could be dimmed at head end so when the baby is delivered and brought to my chest, he is not subjected to bright light. I would like my choice of music/relaxation track to be playing in theatre during the birth of my baby.

If there is time beforehand, I would like to be given a pack of sterile gauze strips so that I have the opportunity to seed my baby with bacteria and stimulate microbiome development, which would happen if he were born naturally.

I would still like my placenta to be encapsulated after birth, so please bear this in mind and ensure the theatre staff are aware of my wishes. My placenta will need to be stored in a sterile container and kept cool until collected.

If my baby has to be in the Special Care Unit, then I want to be able to care for him as much as possible and to ensure he receives my breast milk. I would like help with making sure this happens.

Vitamin K

I am happy for my baby to be given Vitamin K by injection.

Aftercare

If in hospital, I wish to request a private room if one is available.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my birth preferences. I am looking forward to the birth of my baby and planning for a positive and empowering birth experience where my baby is born safely and calmly. I believe this is possible however my birth story pans out.

Thank you for supporting us at this very special time in our lives. We will be sure to appreciate all you do for us, now and for the rest of time.

Siobhan and James.

 

PREPARING FOR BIRTH – THE WET RUN

Preparing for Birth

So I’ve mentioned the birth pool before, in a previous post about stuff you might need to buy/borrow/hire/hopefully-not-steal, for birth. If you’re headed to a birth centre or hospital then you won’t need to get your own birth pool but if you’re planning a home birth then this might be something you want.

There are a few options on the market but I really rate the Birth Pool in a Box from The Good Birth Company. There are two size options – regular and mini. Both come with a liner. I used the mini last time and have gone for the same again. If you’ve not got a lot of space then the mini is perfect and plenty roomy (see photo below) but if you think you might want company in the pool then you’ll probably want to go for the regular.

Here I am enjoying the pool the other evening and feeling totally relaxed…

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Once you get your birth pool, it’s recommended you do at the very least a dry run! This is for two reasons: 1. to check the pool is intact and not damaged in any way. This is highly unlikely but it would suck massively to discover in labour that you were unable to inflate it! 2. to check you have everything you need and know what you’re doing! Again you don’t want to be having to figure this out in labour or popping off to B&Q for the right tap adaptor. When I say ‘you’, I obviously mean your birth partner! This is his/her job. You will be somewhat preoccupied.

Now if you’re going to the trouble of doing a dry run, in my mind you might as well make it a wet one! For one reason it’s good to get an idea of how long it will take to fill and secondly you get the chance to enjoy your pool before the big day! Oh and thirdly you can familiarise yourself with what it feels like to be in the pool so it’s not totally alien on the day and maybe even practice some of your breathing and visualisation techniques, imagining that you are experiencing surges. I think this kind of practice beforehand is really beneficial because sometimes it’s hard to visualise being in labour before it happens – even for a third-timer! Being in the pool with the lights down low and my playlist on really helps me get in the zone and feel excited and believe this is really happening… very soon!!.

I can’t speak for all the pools out there but setting up the Birth Pool in a Box is really straightforward and doesn’t take very long at all – approximately 20 mins from opening the box to being fully inflated and ready to fill. Filling it with warm water takes longer. On our recent wet run, it took 45 mins but this will vary from house to house.

Here’s a little time-lapse video (featuring my birth partner James) that we made the other day to show you just how easy it really is to inflate…

And here’s James’ top tips (in his own words) on getting set up:

  1. Make sure you have all the bits you need as you unpack the box.
  2. Check the tap adapters for the hose! Neither of the ones that came with the pool worked with our taps so I had to take a trip to Wicks. You don’t want to be doing that when your other half is in labour. It won’t be appreciated.
  3. Check the hose will reach from the tap to where you are planning to have the pool.
  4. I really recommend getting the electric inflation pump as one, it will take a fraction of the time to inflate and two, you don’t want to be exhausted after manually inflating it. The midwife should only really be concerned with the breathing of one person.
  5. Inflate the pool from the bottom up, so start with the bottom level and then inflate the floor and seat after this, then move on to the middle level and then last of all the top level.
  6. Don’t inflate the top level all the way at first. Inflate it to about 3/4 done then put the liner in. Once the liner is in place, inflate the top level fully otherwise you will struggle to get the liner over.
  7. Start filling! It’s takes about 45 mins with our taps so don’t expect it to fill up quickly, it’s a big pool with a lot of capacity.
  8. Keep checking the water temp as it fills and adjust accordingly. It takes quite a lot of water to cool it down/warm it up, so best to monitor as it fills instead of trying to correct the temp towards the end.

 

IMPORTANT: If you’re doing a dry run only, then you don’t need to use the liner (keep it in its protective packaging). If you’re doing a wet run it’s recommended that you use a liner, which means you will need a second one for labour as you can only use the liner once. You can buy a new liner here.

I did not use a liner this time but we cleaned the pool with anti-bacterial spray and dried it thoroughly before packing away. We will use our liner for labour. Also we made a milton solution and circulated this through the electric submersible water pump (that you use to empty the pool) and hose for half an hour to ensure it was all clean and ready for its next use.

The electric submersible water pump comes with the standard kit. There is also a basic kit option which includes tap adaptors, the hose and a thermometer, which is cheaper. If you go for this option you will have to empty your pool with a bucket. In my opinion/experience it’s worth getting the electric water pump as it makes emptying the pool so much easier and quicker. The water just gets pumped right out, back through the same hose you used to fill the pool, and then goes down your sink/drain. The standard kit also comes with a few other extras including mats and a sieve!

You can find some more info about the pools and accessories on offer here.

If you’ve got any questions just leave me a comment below and I will be sure to reply or contact the team at The Good Birth Company.

Most importantly if you’re planning a water birth at home, ENJOY! x

SOPHIE’S IN THE (MOTHER) HOOD

In the (mother) hood

She’s young, hot (mega legs), creative, talented and Mama to little Luna. She’s the owner, maker, admin doer and everything else in between, behind the creative homegrown brand Sophie & Co. This week we’re privileged to have the gorgeous Sophie Cummings in the (mother) hood, telling us what mama life is like for her…

Name: Sophie Cummings

Age: 26

Location: Highbury, London…for now. Soon to be Hemel Hempstead…

Number of Kids: 1

Names & ages of aforementioned: Luna Mary Jean, 15 months

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Was motherhood planned, a lovely surprise or somewhere in the middle?

Somewhere in the middle of a lovely and a not so lovely surprise.

Initial feelings on finding out you were pregnant?

Oh, shit. Then, f***.

How did you tell your partner?

We were walking back from a romantic trip to our local Sainsbury’s when he pointed to a banged up people carrier for sale and jestingly suggested ‘we’ll be buying one of those next…’. Naturally, I made it all super awkward and let him know it may be sooner than he thinks.

His reaction?

Radio silence.

Did you glow your way through pregnancy or was it a complete bitch?

I spent the first few months unaware I was pregnant and drinking all the alcohol and eating all the seafood, soft cheeses & rare meat I could get my hands on, some of which was spent in Australia & Tasmania, so my body didn’t seem to react too badly to growing another human! I bloody loved being pregnant, I was very lucky it felt pretty natural.

Tell me about your birth experience?

I didn’t plan much for birth, the pregnancy seem to fly by and I really didn’t want to read too much in to it. Whatever happened, I had to squeeze another human out of my vagina and I didn’t really care where or how that was going to happen as long as I didn’t die. My two (loose) wishes were to have a water birth in the birthing centre and to be the first person to touch her, I wanted to pull her out. And that all happened after a 39.5 hours of contractions and half an hour of pushing, can’t complain…My only wishes for next time are to do all of that at home!

Describe motherhood in a few words:

Oh god where do I start; exhausting, hilarious and unpredictable. They’ll do!

Can you share any highlights?

This probably counts as a parent fail but I laugh every time I think of it; Monday afternoon having a smear test (go, me!), Luna’s safely strapped into her pram while I decide a packet of raisins would be the best snack to keep her distracted…except she can never get the sodding things out the packet so I spent the entire duration hanging over the bed drip feeding raisins to a toddler who perfectly timed working out how to get the lid off her sippy cup perfectly with a nurse inserting a plastic tube up my vagina. Water, raisins, everywhere. Dignity = zero. Once upon a time that may have been mortifying, I’m expecting worse.

Can you share any low points?

Oh probably the time I forgot I’d undone Luna’s straps to her pushchair, she fell face first onto a cold concrete floor. Never felt so guilty in all my life.

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What do you do when baby sleeps?

Complete orders & drink lots of caffeine.

Have you got a business?

Yes! Sophie & Co; I started it when Luna was around 6 months old, the thought of leaving Luna and returning to an incredibly underpaid job with a total lack of creativity made my heart hurt so I put my skills to use and started making infant and toddler clothing. Lots of exciting things to come and I can’t wait for the year ahead!

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What’s the best bits of being a Mama?

Aside from watching Luna learn new things, which seems to be daily at the moment, my absolute favourite part of being a Mother is watching her eat so well. Is that weird? I get so much joy out of her not being a picky eater. She wouldn’t survive in an Italian family if she was but I’m also very aware that she will have her moments so let’s not all burst my bubble just yet, OK?

What are the worst bits?

The game changing. Why oh why do they change the rules all the time? One minute she self soothes and has 2 regular naps in her cot, the next she refuses to nap anywhere but strapped to my chest. And…tantrums.

What was the biggest surprise that you wish you’d been warned about/known before becoming a Mama?

That bonding with your child can take a few weeks, sometimes it’s not instant and that’s ok. So many people want to warn you about Post Natal Depression but no one seemed to shed a light on those first few weeks…

Have you got any advice for mamas-to-be/new mamas?

Stand your ground, say no, and tell family members when they’re stepping over the line or downright rude. Looking back, I see now how important it is to have space and time to bond in those first few days…don’t let anyone jeopardise that. Also, go with the flow because it will all change next week.

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What’s do you reckon the most essential item mamas-to-be need to pack in their birth bag?

People get SO into this don’t they? I had some clothes for Luna, a pair of leggings, fresh pair of knickers and my camera. Snacks went untouched, a nightie? For god’s sake why did I buy a nightie I was naked bar my bra which came off the moment she was born. Bare essentials ladies, bare essentials.

What’s been you best baby product?

Ergobaby 360 Sling, sleepy dust I tell you!

What was really useful in the early days?

My mum!

Who inspires you?

Again, my Mum. She’s a hardworker. If there’s anything I want to pass on to Luna it’s to not be idle, do something, anything! Be innovative!

How many children do you dream of having?

Always wanted 4, now I have 1 I think I’ll be happy with….1. No I joke, 3? 2? Ask me in a few years!

If you could go back to your pre-child life, where you weren’t so tired, for a short period of time, what you do?

EVERYTHING. It’s amazing how much you manage to squeeze in to nap time, just get shit done. Stop procrastinating and do it. I’d also be really spontaneous. Childless people don’t realise how lucky they are to just…go out. Even the thought of taking Luna to a coffee shop these days sends me into a cold sweat.

What do you miss about life before kids?
Friday nights and sleep. Nothing new there, hey?

What do you wish you were better at when it comes to parenting?

Patience. I can be quite hot headed and struggle to keep calm when Luna’s being frustrating, I’m really crap at just ‘being’ with her and not constantly thinking of the other thousand things I need to do. I also don’t take her to enough groups and feel forever guilty about that. Basically, lots! Parenting is tough?!

TOO RIGHT IT IS!! Big thanks to Sophie for sharing her experiences of Motherhood, from taking time to bond with her new baby to going for a smear test with her toddler in tow! Hope you all enjoyed reading what she had to say as much as I did.

Make sure you check out her shop Sophie & Co where you will find some absolutely gorgeous pieces of clothing for babas and toddlers, all available in a variety of fabrics, and all handmade by the lovely lady herself.

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And if you’d like to take part in this ‘In the (mother) hood’ feature, please drop me an email – thedoublemama@gmail.com – I’d love to hear from you!

 

Preparing for Birth – The Shopping List

Preparing for Birth

We all know you need a shedload of equipment for the baby, God, where do I even begin?! Cots, Prams, Car seats, Changing tables… It’s amazing how such a small thing requires such a vast amount of space-stealing equipment! Then comes play mats and baby gyms and baby bouncers and let’s not even start on the Jumperoo! (WHERE DOES IT ALL GO???). But what most people don’t think about is the stuff they might need to buy (or hire) for birth. Luckily you don’t need a lot. In fact, there’s just four things you might want to consider getting and if you’re having a hospital birth, then there’s just three. So please don’t worry, this list is a short one (in numbers, not words).

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First up, a birth ball. I got mine from Birth-Ease and they come in two sizes depending on how tall you are. The 65cm one is for women up to 5’8’’ and the 75cm one is for women over 5’8’’ i.e. the supermodels amongst us! The Birth-Ease birth ball is great because it’s reinforced and designed specially to support the weight of a pregnant woman. And let’s face it, you’re going to be using this ball right up until the end and by then you’re going to feel pretty whale-like (even if you don’t actually look it).

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The birth ball can be used in labour and is one way of resting while remaining ‘active’ and upright. You can bounce on the birth ball or simply sit on it by the side of a bed and lean forward resting your upper chest and head on the mattress/a pillow.

It is important in labour to stay in an upright and forward position for as much as possible. This is because you have gravity on your side which will help the baby descend and be born, which is what we are aiming for after all! Also the weight of the baby’s head will encourage the cervix to open, therefore speeding up the whole process. If you do choose to lie down on the bed, try and avoid lying on your back, as it’s least optimum position. This is because not only do you not have gravity helping you but by lying on your back you prevent your coccyx moving out of the way, which is what it does to create more room in the pelvis for the baby to descend and be born. Clever design our bodies. It’s almost like everything has been thought of!

So using the birth ball is great because it keeps you in this optimum upright forward position without you having to stand the whole time. And there’s something quite therapeutic about bobbing up and down whilst breathing your way through labour.

I was once (9 years ago with my first) told to remember the acronym U.F.O. when in labour and it’s stuck with me. U for Upright, F for Forward and O for open. Any position where you are upright, forward and open is great. By open I mean your legs are apart and you are creating room in your pelvis rather than restricting the space. Upright you obviously have gravity and by leaning forward you’re encouraging baby into the most optimum position for birth, as the weight of the back of the baby’s head will be round to the front of you as opposed to resting against your back. This will all make life, or at least labour, easier for you.

The birth ball is also great in pregnancy for encouraging baby into the most optimum position for birth. If you think about our ancestors they would have always have been in a slightly tilted forward position; walking, cleaning, farming, tending to children etc. In our modern lives we spend more and more time being tilted backwards or reclined; we drive in a slightly reclined position or we slouch on a bus or train seat, we sit at desks and then we come home and flop on to sofas. This is having an effect on the position of our babies in the womb.

The most usual position for birth is a baby that is head down, looking towards mum’s back. So the spine of baby runs almost parallel with the front of mum’s tummy. You may have heard of a back to back baby? This is a baby who is head down but instead of facing mum’s back, they are facing mum’s tummy, meaning their spine is running parallel to mum’s back. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this position, it’s simply less usual and means the mother is more likely to feel the pressure and sensations of labour more intensely in her back, as opposed to round the front of her uterus. There are also other positions babies can be in such as breech (bum/feet down rather than head) or transverse but we can’t discuss them all here as this blog post would never end!!

How the birth ball helps in regards to the above, is that by sitting on it, as opposed to slouching on a chair at a desk or flopping on a sofa, we are in a more forward position, just like our ancestors were. The heaviest part of the baby is the back of its head so if we spend time in this forward position, gravity will pull this weight down and round to the front, meaning baby is in the most optimum and usual position. If we spend all our time reclined, then gravity will pull the heavy weight that is the back of baby’s head round towards our backs meaning baby will be in the back to back position we have just spoken about.

So the best thing you can do in pregnancy to encourage baby into the optimum position for birth is buy a birth-ease birth ball and use it at work if you can, but certainly at home in the evenings. Again the more you use it and assume this forward position the more effective it will be at encouraging baby into optimum birth position.

Second item on the list is a TENS machine. I have used a TENS machine for both my labours and absolutely love them. Weirdly however when I have tested them (when not in labour), I find them quite irritating with their buzzing and almost too much to bear. But for some reason in labour, that buzzing sensation is comforting and really helpful and I’ve come to rely on it a lot.

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The TENS machine is essentially a form of pain relief but it doesn’t involve any pharmaceuticals, so has no effect on baby and also means the mother is able to be fully present and is not left feeling out of control in any way. It also doesn’t inhibit the mother from being active during labour. It works because the electrical pulses it produces stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relief and far stronger than morphine. If you use the TENS machine from early on in labour you’re essentially filling your body with endorphins, meaning you can enjoy a more comfortable labour, even when everything is established and surges are coming thick and fast.

The TENS machine also works because it is distracting. This doesn’t sound very scientific but it’s true. If you concentrate on the surge, you will be more aware of its intensity as you’re giving it all of your focus. If you’re using the TENS machine which has a boost button that you can press during a surge, then you are thinking of that and the change of sensation that you will be experiencing when you press the boost, as opposed to solely concentrating on the power of the surge. It’s like if you get a small cut on your finger, sometimes you won’t even notice that it has happened. But as soon you do and you start examining it, it starts hurting. Where you place your focus in labour really matters and has a big effect.

You can buy a TENS machine either new or second hand. I got mine on eBay this time but I’ve got one before at a nearly-new baby sale. They also sell them in places like John Lewis if you’d rather get one new. You can also hire them from the NCT, or sometimes from your local hospital. So ask your midwife or have a Google and give it a go. If you buy one second hand, you can always sell it on afterwards for much the same price, so there really is nothing to lose in giving it a try.

Third on the list: a Birth Pool in a Box. This is the one you won’t need if you’re having a hospital birth. You can pack all kinds of things in your hospital bag but I think the general consensus is that the birth pool and kitchen sink are off limits! Hopefully if you want a water birth, you’ll be able to use a pool at the hospital (just make sure you or your birth partner tell the midwives when you ring up, before going in, so they can get it ready as they do take a long while to fill!).

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However if you’re having a home birth, as I’m planning, then getting a birth pool of your own is definitely a good idea. I use Birth Pool in a Box and you can either buy a single use one new from The Good Birth Company or hire a professional one (just Google for companies that offer this). They come in two sizes – regular or mini. I’ve got a mini one again and it is definitely spacious enough for me. However if you’d like your birth partner to get in too, consider getting the bigger version.

WARNING: If you do get one second hand, you must make sure it is thoroughly cleaned and sterilised (you’ll need to inflate it to do this properly) and that you buy a brand new liner and hose kit. This is really important as you do not want any bad bacteria in the pool! You can buy a liner  and hose kit for The Birth Pool in a Box direct from The Good Birth Company.

Once you’ve got your birth pool, I’d definitely recommend doing a dry run (no need to use the liner for this!). I also like to do a wet run but if you do this it’s recommended that you use a liner which means you’ll need another for the birth. The upside is that if you do a wet run, you can enjoy a little relax in your pool once it’s full. This might be a good time to ‘pretend’ you’re in labour and practice the breathing techniques  and visualisations or the other relaxation tools you’ve got such as light touch massage, relaxation scripts, relaxation tracks etc. You could also try out a few birthing positions in the pool and see how they feel. Basically it’s nice to familiarise yourself with your pool and how it feels to be in water if that’s where you plan to labour and birth.

The other reasons for doing a practice run are that you’ll want to know how long it takes to inflate and fill. Usually inflating doesn’t take very long but the filling can take a couple hours! Another way of working out how long it will take to fill if you don’t fancy the wet run is to time how long it takes to fill your bath. The regular sized birth pool takes approx 4x bath fulls and the mini birth pool takes 2.5x bath fulls. This is actually the reason I didn’t get to have a water birth with my second – my labour was too fast and the pool was not full in time! So it’s good to know how long it will take so you can plan for that in labour. You’ll also want to check your house can produce enough hot water and most importantly that your birth partner knows EXACTLY what he/she is doing because they will be in charge of this on the big day. You’ll also want to know the hose connector for your tap is the right one because there would be nothing worse than discovering this when in labour!! And I’ve been told this happens, all the time.

I will be posting a video to my YouTube channel soon of my pool’s dry and wet run so you can see how to do it! Don’t worry, lots of parts will be sped up so it won’t be a feature length film! You can find my YouTube channel here.

The main benefits of having a birth pool are that women usually relax in warm water when having a bath so we are conditioned to associate warm water with relaxation so the birth pool helps women relax in labour and we know labour is more comfortable, easier and efficient when our bodies are relaxed. The warm water also softens the muscles and tissue making them more relaxed and flexible so the risk of having a tear is reduced when birthing in water. Finally from a psychological perspective, the birth pool is quite nest-like and makes a woman feel safe and protected which, because we are essentially primal mammals, is really important when giving birth. Our bodies won’t birth a baby if there is even the smallest sense of being endangered.

Final note on the birth pool, people often ask how you go about emptying the pool after the baby has been born. It’s really quite easy! You can get a hose kit with the birth pool in a box which has a pump and you just use the same hose you used to fill the pool and simply pump the water out again and it goes down the drain of your sink! It takes a LOT less time to empty than it does to fill.

Fourthly and finally on the birth shopping list: a Birth Photographer! Eyebrows immediately raise. Everyone is thinking the same: YOU WANT SOMEONE PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR VAGINA?!! And I don’t. Not at all. I do however want to document one of the biggest and most significant days of my (and my baby’s) life and have photos to look at it in the future so that I can remember this most special time.

Nobody ever thinks it strange that people getting married hire a photographer or videographer and yet that’s just a wedding. I know I’m cynical but couples can get divorced. But giving birth!! Becoming a mother!! BIRTHING A HUMAN BEING!!! That’s far bigger than any wedding no matter how much cash was splashed. And you can never un-mother yourself. Having a baby and becoming a parent really is for life.

But enough of doom, gloom and divorce rates! Birth photographers! Birth photography! It’s really common in Australia and America to book a birth photographer but less common here. Perhaps because we are all so British and inhibited or possibly because there just aren’t many birth photographers out there? I found it really hard to get one in my area, and I’m in London! But birth photography is beautiful, you only need to look at the winning entries of this recent Birth Photography competition to see that. The images are powerful, raw, magical and the women look incredible.

I want to be able to look back on my birth and remember the day I brought my baby into the world forever and ever, and I’m sure if you think about it and get over the whole vagina thing, you probably would like to be able to do that too. Also I’ve never felt as good as when I had just given birth; I felt invincible, like some kind of awesome superwoman. Now I know the flood of oxytocin helped (not even the best orgasm will produce anywhere near as much oxytocin as giving birth does) but also just the fact I had just produced another human. Birth is amazing and I just think, why would you not want to photograph and treasure that moment?!

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So I’ve met with my birth photographer, the lovely Susie Fisher. She knows my birth plan and how important it is for me to have a calm and quiet environment where I can birth uninterrupted and she is going to respect that and capture my birth story without being intrusive. It’s really important if you are booking a birth photographer to meet with them first so you know you’re a good fit and explain what you want from them and also to give them an idea of how you want your birth to go (because you definitely don’t want to be having to explain when in labour).

Birth photography doesn’t come cheap but it gives you something that will last a lifetime. And there’s not much in life you can buy that comes with that guarantee.

So there we have it; birth balls, birth pools, TENS machines and birth photographers. The four things I believe you need to get when preparing for birth.

Preparing for Birth – Hypnobirthing

Preparing for Birth

Today is a VERY exciting day on the blog because it is the launch of the brand new ‘Preparing for Birth‘ series!  I will be posting a new blog post every Monday in the lead up to the birth of my baby (and possibly beyond) covering all things from breathing techniques for labour to packing birth bags to booking babymoons! I’m super excited about this series, (and the fact that I will be having a another baby in a matter of weeks!!) and I really hope you enjoy reading the posts and find them useful as you also prepare for the births of your babies!

So today’s post to kick things off is all about Hypnobirthing and more specifically the breathing techniques you learn in Hypnobirthing which are so valuable in labour. Breathing, in my opinion, is the single most important thing you can do in labour to help yourself and your baby. It really is that good. So that’s why I have chosen to focus on it and why I’ve even made a tw*t out of myself on camera in an attempt to show you all how to do it! That’s right! My first ever vlog. It was painfully embarrassing to do so please make me feel better about the whole thing by watching it and at least pretending that it’s useful…

Finally, as most of you know, I’m a massive Hypnobirthing advocate having had an amazing hypnobirth myself,  after a relatively stressful induction first time round. I subsequently trained as a Hypnobirthing teacher and have recently founded The Positive Birth Company which is based in SW London. So if you would like to chat more about Hypnobirthing or book classes then please do get in touch!!

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Ok, sales pitch over. Here’s the blog…

If you’re in the latter stages of pregnancy, especially if this is your first pregnancy you’ll no doubt have shopping lists coming out of your ears. You’ll be needing stuff for the baby like clothes and blankets and nappies, stuff for the nursery like a moses basket and/or cot, stuff for feeding like bottles and a steriliser and maybe a breast pump, equipment like a car seat and buggy, stuff for your hospital/birth bag like granny pants, arnica and big fat pads and then there’s all the DIY stuff you want to get done before baby’s arrival… It’s overwhelming, not to mention wallet-wreckingly expensive. So it’s no wonder at all that preparing for the actual birth of the baby can be overlooked and even forgotten about.

So today  I’m going to be talking about what I think you should be doing in the lead up to birth to ensure you have a positive and empowering birth experience however and wherever you choose to birth your baby. There is no doubt that giving birth is a huge and important day for both mother and baby (and birth partner!). Becoming a parent is such an enormous life event and the actual act of giving birth, besides being mind-blowingly miraculous, can be quite a scary thought because we hear so many horror stories and because there are so many unknowns. In our lives where we have so much control over everything we do, it’s hard when it comes to birth because we do not know when the baby will come or how the baby will come and if you’re a first time Mum what it will even feel like. The best thing we can do is allow events to unfold naturally in their own time, trusting that our babies and bodies know best, whilst ensuring we are fully informed so that whatever happens we can navigate our births feeling empowered and positive.

The best way of doing this in my opinion is to attend Hypnobirthing classes where both the mother and birth partner learn about the physiology and psychology of birth (it really is quite scientific and not much to do with hypnosis at all!). Mother and birth partner, once they understand how the muscles and hormones work perfectly in labour, then learn how they can help the process so that labour is allowed to progress efficiently and comfortably. Hynobirthing equips mother and birth partner will a range of tools they can use in pregnancy and birth to remain calm and relaxed, which is so very important. There are many many reasons (and benefits for mother and baby) as to why it’s important to be relaxed in labour but one simple reason is that relaxed muscles will work and open far more easily than tense muscles. In Hypnobirthing classes you also learn about inductions, caesareans etc. Even if you’re planning for a natural birth it’s good to be informed because knowledge is power! And if these things come up, you’ll be in a position to make an informed decision as to whether you accept or decline the various interventions on offer. It’s always important to know the benefits and risks of doing and not doing.

I could talk (or write) for hours on the subject but in short, the best thing you can do if you’re pregnant to prepare for birth is to GO TO HYPNOBIRTHING CLASSES! You will not regret it. In fact I’d go as far as saying it will be the best money you will ever spend.

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A key tool you learn in Hypnobirthing is a breathing technique that you can use through surges (a nicer and more accurate word for contractions). We call this breathing ‘up breathing’ because it is used during the ‘up stage’ of labour. The up stage of labour is also the first stage of labour and it is where the muscles of the uterus are lifting up and the cervix is relaxing and opening to 10cm dilated. This stage is most commonly the longest stage of labour.

I have posted this little video on my YouTube channel where you can learn more about Up breathing and how to do it. When preparing for birth, it is so important that you practice this breath so it comes naturally to you in labour. Make time, even just 5 minutes, to practice it every day.

This breathing technique not only helps you remain calm and therefore allows your muscles to work more easily and comfortably because they are not tense and tight, but it also ensures that you are filling your body with oxygen which we know all muscles need to work effectively. If you hold your breath through your surges, then you are denying the muscles of your uterus this much needed oxygen which will only make it more difficult for them to work efficiently. Finally, if you’re filling your body with oxygen and sending it all to the uterus, guess who else is benefiting? Yes! Baby! Which means you’re a lot less likely to experience foetal distress which can happen if baby’s oxygen is reduced over a long period of time.


Then there is the down breathing which we use in the down stage of labour. The down stage of labour is the second stage of labour, where the baby moves down the birth canal and is born. So up breathing is for up stage where the uterus muscles lift up and the cervix opens and down breathing is for the down stage of labour where the baby moves down and is born. Makes sense, right?

The benefits of using this breathing technique to birth your baby rather than following the instructions of a midwife or doctor to push, are numerous. For one the baby will be born more gently rather than forcibly ejected. That’s why many hypno babies are born asleep or still in their sac, because their delivery has been so gentle and calm. Secondly rather than force and push the baby out of a cervix/vagina that is not ready, breathing the baby down will mean the baby’s head slowly kneads the cervix open until it can pass through. This means the mother is a lot less likely to suffer any trauma to the perineum or vagina and is a lot less likely to tear.

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Again it is important to practice beforehand! Best place to practice the down breathing is on the toilet when you need to go for a… you guessed it! Especially if you suffer with constipation in pregnancy, you might find this actually really helps! So I will be posting a little video on my YouTube channel soon (probably not whilst on the toilet) showing you how to do this so please have a watch and give it a go!

Now this is not intended to replace attending a Hypnobirthing course because you will learn a lot more than just breathing but this is just to give you an idea of the kind of tools you will learn to help you in labour. The most important thing to remember when preparing for birth is to practice. I can’t stress this enough. It’s very simple but very true: the more you put in, the more you will get out of it.

The thing I hate to hear most is when people say ‘oh I tried Hypnobirthing and it didn’t work for me’ or ‘I tried the breathing thing but it didn’t work so I had to have an epidural’… just before it transpires that they did little or no practice. If someone showed you how to play an instrument one time, or drive a car, you couldn’t then go and perform or drive like an expert. It’s exactly the same. Of course it will not work if you do not practice. That’s not to say it won’t or can’t work. The key thing is practice, practice, practice and it’s so worth it! Not only will mother benefit and have the most amazing, positive empowering birth experience but so will baby who will be born gently and calmly to a mother who is happy and fully present, ready to meet them.

Finally when I say practice, I mean literally just taking a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes at night to practice this breathing technique so it becomes second nature. I’m not saying you need to find hours every day. And the down breathing is something you can do on the loo! So that’s just a matter of multi-tasking and we all know women are experts at that 🙂

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I hope you’ve found this little bit of Hypnobirthing knowledge useful (and had a good LOL at my first video!). Please do get in contact if you have any questions and make sure you check out the video on my YouTube channel and then give it a go!

GOOD LUCK!
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