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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My Birth Story – v2.0

Birth Stories

The one where I met Arlo Bear…

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

That, I think, says it all.

Pregnancy Diary – Week 40

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Preparing to meet our water baby

Firstly apologies this is so delayed. As you can probably guess I had my baby! The last five weeks I have mainly spent breastfeeding, watching him sleep, falling in love and trying to squeeze in the occasional shower.

But let me rewind to my 40th week of pregnancy…

Monday

Today is my first day of maternity leave – whoop! It is also the week I am due to give birth. Everybody thinks I’m crazy to have worked so late into my pregnancy but I’m pretty sure I will be 2 weeks overdue like I was with my first… and 2 weeks is quite long enough to be at home waiting, especially since I am so impatient.

I am hoping to spend the week watching Netflix in bed (between school drop offs and pick ups) and possibly squeezing in a mani-pedi and the obligatory wax so that I am fully ready to meet our water baby.

Things don’t go quite as planned as my mother has decided to come and stay and so I find myself doing jobs around the house, having to plan what to do for lunch/dinner and generally being more social than I had hoped.

But this afternoon I have my appointment with the consultant at West Middlesex hospital. I have this because my bump has measured small throughout the pregnancy (just as with my first) and a few weeks ago I was referred for a growth scan, so this is just a routine follow up. I am hoping he might be able to give me an examination and see if my cervix is doing something because I have had lots of cramping over the weekend and episodes where my tummy goes tight and hard (not contractions but enough to keep me from sleeping and enough to get me excited… and then disappointed).

As I lay on the bed in the consultants room with my legs spread (oh the indignity!), I say to him; “I’m just hoping you’ll tell me I’m 2cm dilated already” being very overly optimistic. Realistically I’d be happy just knowing my cervix is no longer posterior. A second or so later he says to his student “and the lady’s right, she’s 2cm dilated”. I LOL for real.

But he’s being sincere – My cervix is fully effaced and 2cm dilated. I’m filled with joy. I could hug him. Jeez, I could kiss him! How happy I am! I clearly recall being 41+ weeks pregnant with my first and the midwife telling me that my cervix was like that of a non-pregnant person and that labour was quite a way off. I was preparing myself for the same news but this is beyond all my hopes. All the uncomfortable cramping of the last few days has been totally worthwhile – what a journey my cervix has undertaken already!

The consultant gives me a sweep and tells me I will likely be having a baby this week. He assures me that even if I needed inducing today, he would probably only need to break my waters, that I wouldn’t need to be put on the drip like last time. I skip out of the surgery, call my partner and tell him I’m 2cm dilated and that we are having a baby imminently!! He asks if he needs to leave work (I have the sense to say no, luckily). I am way overexcited.

I Google how long it takes for labour to start after a sweep, the results are very mixed. I have no pain or contractions, not even cramping. But I am still hopeful things will be kicking off soon…

Tuesday

Nothing happened last night, nothing happens today, nothing happens tonight. I got over excited and now I am feeling disappointed. My mother is still here and I have not yet been able to begin my Netflix marathon. I consider going out to beautify myself in order to be looking my best to meet the new arrival (if that’s even possible in my swollen whale state) but can’t be bothered. I have got a bad case of negativity after yesterday’s high.

Wednesday

My mother leaves today and I go to the day assessment unit at the hospital to have the baby monitored as the consultant advised on Monday. I feel this is unnecessary but since the baby has been quieter than usual yesterday and today I go along thinking the reassurance will be good. It also gives me something to do.

The midwife who sees me tells me that in her experience babies are often quiet before you go into labour. I don’t allow myself to get excited. I sit strapped to the machine for a while and everything seems fine with baby’s heartbeat. I tell the midwife I have been having cramping and tightenings and that I had a sweep on Monday. She tells me the best thing I can do is go home and do some nipple stimulation and have intercourse to get things going. I was thinking I might cook a curry but looks like the menu might have changed…

I go home and start twiddling my nipples (yes, really) whilst watching ‘The Missing’ which is pretty gripping…

And BOOM! There are contractions! Definite ‘waves’, (as everyone describes), increasing in squeezing intensity, before relief. After a while I decide to start using my app to time them (yes, there’s an app for that).

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For 3 solid hours I twiddle my nipples, watch multiple episodes of ‘The Missing’ and time my contractions. I notice that if I stop with the nipple stimulation they die off but if I keep that up, then they just keep coming. I am having one every 3 or so minutes and they’re lasting about 45 seconds. I am thinking THIS MUST BE IT!!!

My partner gets home from work and after a bit we decide to go out for a walk. My son is at a sleepover so we are relatively free to do as we please. I am initially reluctant preferring just to stay put as I am worried about doing anything that will make the contractions stop/lose regularity but then I remind myself that if this is true labour, a walk won’t stop it. And if it’s not true labour then it will stop eventually anyway. Either way a walk won’t do any harm and there’s possibly a Winter Pimms in it for me if I go, so… we head off!

As I feared it all dies off on the walk, but at least I get to go the pub and it feels a bit like a date night… of course I’m also feeling disappointed, frustrated and impatient!! I post on The Calm Birth School’s Facebook page asking for advice and am told by a lot of lovely people to be patient – baby comes when baby is ready.

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I go home to bed, feeling grumpy.

Thursday

Today is a mega day. A mega, magical day. So mammoth that I cannot fit everything that happens into this diary entry, so I’m not going to try! I am going to have to save all the in-depth details of my labour for my birth story post, which I promise to write very soon!

But to begin, the morning started disappointingly like any other. Me still pregnant. My partner off to work. However minutes after saying his goodbyes and leaving to catch the bus, he returns having decided it might be best to work from home. (Did the skeptic that he is experience some sort of premonition?!).

I wasn’t overly happy with this decision because I was certain nothing was going to happen and I didn’t want him distracting me from season two of Orange is the New Black, which I intended to work my way through uninterrupted.

However by 11am I was thinking perhaps he was right to stay because I found myself standing at the fridge with water running down my legs. At first I was unsure whether my waters had gone or if I had actually just wet myself! I put a pad in and waited.

Once I was convinced my waters had gone, I felt excited that there was now a deadline – I knew for sure I would either go into labour naturally or be induced within the next 48 hours (due to risk of infection). But I also felt the pressure of this deadline and worried that our happy homebirth might not happen…

At this point I decided the best thing I could do would be to write my Christmas cards, so that’s what I did.

And that’s where I’m going to leave things…! Call it a cliff-hanger

NB: I promise to follow up very soon with my full, no holds barred, birth story!