‘I would do it all again in a flash’

Yasmine’s birth story – by Christina

By the time Yasmine emerged on the first day of spring, she and I had been working on it for about five days, and we’d had a colourful journey involving walks in the park, cake with friends in a pub, nearly two days of belly dancing, showering and resting in a midwifery led unit, and a final sprint in the labour ward, culminating in a forceps delivery with me on my back, numb from the waist down and surrounded by people in scrubs.

That last step contrasted sharply with what I had hoped for – to do all the physical work myself, to feel everything, and to avoid drugs and other interventions. But shortly after Yasmine was born I was saying that I would do it all again in a flash. Three months on I feel just as positive.

I put my happy experience down to the preparation I did using mindful hypnobirthing and belly dancing techniques; the invaluable conversations with Guin, my main source of wisdom on hypnobirthing and positive birth, and with Sarah, a doula; the attitudes of the staff at the John Radcliffe; and the efforts of my birthing partner, Matteo, who worked very hard to help ensure that my birthing preferences were respected, despite not understanding the reasons for some of my choices. I never felt pressured into doing anything, and when it became clear that interventions might be wise, everyone continued to show respect for me and my choices. I felt I could trust the people surrounding me in scrubs, and that we were working as a team through those final pushes and pulls.

I’m sure there are many reasons why bonding with Yasmine has been effortless for me, but I do know that if I hadn’t prepared as I had, or had the support and respect of the people around me, I may well have felt nervous and disappointed about some aspects of the birth, and, importantly, Yasmine and I might not have been able to breastfeed as quickly and successfully as we did that morning and continue to do.

‘Simple, undisturbed, raw and beautiful’

From Becky

The day finally came and we flourished! It has been a hard few weeks though on the run up to the birth! After the positive birth movement meeting at your home I set about getting my ‘head game’ in shape and rereading sections from Hypnobirthing, Ina May, Sarah Buckley and others. I really felt like I was getting a handle on things by that week and felt ready and positive about what I wanted for the labour and birth.

Unfortunately it was now my body that wasn’t playing ball- the days and then weeks were passing! At the end of the 40th week, midwife was beginning to make murmurings of inductions and I (reluctantly) agreed to be evaluated for one at the JR on Friday 21st (41+6). I really didn’t want to be induced, so on Tuesday I had a stretch and sweep, booked acupuncture and shiatsu for Wednesday and another stretch and sweep on Thursday. By Thursday afternoon, I was beginning to feel wave like period pains coming at 20 min intervals on a long walk around Blenheim grounds. The hospital called while we were on the walk to confirm my appointment for Friday and then based on my symptoms, agreed to push it back to Saturday 22nd to induce if I didn’t go into labour naturally before then.

That night by enormous blessing, the labour did start properly! Went to bed early but was woken by the first strong contraction about midnight. Less than an hour later Ian was sticking the TENS electrodes to my back and we both quietly slipped downstairs leaving the sleeping Ella in our bed. We lit candles, made tea, put some soft jazz on and Ian fed me bananas and dates while I laboured through the night. Every new contraction, I would go to another sunset on another beach or sip my margarita under a different palm tree on a different island…. 🙂 This went on until about 2am when we called Spires to pre warn them that I would likely be coming in later, and though my contractions were 5-5.5 mins apart, I was coping using my Hypnobirthing methods and was able to breathe well through each one. My bowels were starting to clear with gusto by this point with a few contractions over the toilet!

Ella woke up at 3am and I had my mother sleep with her in our bed and went back downstairs. When it got light in the early hours and with an hour of slide lying rest on the sofa, the contractions grew further apart to 6-8 mins and were mildly less uncomfortable but I needed the rest and was grateful to have an hour or so dozing (as I am sure Ian did too!).

Morning came and with Ella awake, my mom took over her breakfast needs and Ian and I took a stroll up and down my garden in laps. I would inhale the lilac in bloom at the bottom of the yard and then moan though another contraction holding Ian before resuming walking. Contractions were back to 5 min intervals and I took myself upstairs to call Spires to let them know I was coming in. I now felt increasing rectal pressure, wasn’t breathing as well through the contractions and knew this was the time to go. We left at 9:15am.

On being buzzed in at Spires the midwife greeted us and I had a whopper of a contraction that was like none previous to it. I felt I had arrived, I felt safe and was ready to abandon myself to birth the baby. Very quickly we were brought to a room for the paperwork and vital tests and then brought to a birthing room. From there I soon began to bear down to push her out. It all happened very quickly and with barely time to get the hang of what I needed to do to make the gas and air have some kind of analgesic effect for me. Our little girl was born less than an hour after arriving at the JR and with no need for any intervention or examination of any kind. Just simple, undisturbed, raw and beautiful. Just as I hoped it would be.

The Hypnobirthing refresher course alongside the accompanying book and Positive Birth Movement meeting prepared me very well this time. I was capable and in control of my birth from first contraction to first latch! Thank you so much, Guin, for all your support. May many women get to experience (and enjoy!) positive and undisturbed birth through this method and through your teachings.

‘I found the hypnobirthing techniques really helpful’

I just wanted to let you know that our lovely daughter arrived safe and sound last Tuesday. I had a natural birth after a spontaneous labour – no inductions – hooray! I did need to have my placenta manually removed in theatre afterwards but even that was fine. I found the hypnobirthing techniques really helpful in managing the last few weeks of pregnancy and the early stage of labour. I may have panicked a little when the second stage was quicker than expected and needed a swift dash to the Spires! But again the techniques helped once we were at the Spires and the BRAINS checklist was really useful in making an informed choice about interventions for placenta removal.

Our doula was brilliant and we were both so pleased to have her on our ‘team’. Thanks for talking through the benefits of doulas with us!

Thanks also for your support at the positive birth sessions I attended and at the hypnobirthing course. I really feel these made a difference to our experience and we are really enjoying our time with our lovely baby and her big sister.

‘Focus on the now, you’re okay’

Ava’s birth story – by Nina

I didn’t find labour too bad at all. I kept waiting for it to become unbearable but it never did and I believe that it is all because of the Hypnobirthing class.

It was 14 hours in total, 10 I did with nothing but oils and 10 to 1 affirmations and the last four I used Gas and Air, continued playing the Mp3 clips, 10 to 1 affirmations and oils. My contractions were regular from the start at 7 mins and 50 secs for each one. Waters broke at 0.50 am and got to JR at 8am. I was 10cm dilated by 1pm (and this is the only time I was examined), she was in a bit of a funny position but thankfully moved.

I believe it was all about being in the right mindset, and the bit that helped me the most, especially in the pushing and crowning phase was saying to myself, focus on the now, you’re okay, and I was okay and breathing into my hand to bear down.
I also found myself making that mooing sound, which made me chuckle inside.

I unfortunately had to have stitches for a 2nd degree tear, as Ava came out with her hand on the side of her face. She weighed a healthy 7.5 lbs. And I have sprained my Coccyx bone, all of this has been more painful than the delivery itself.

Thank you so much! We are forever in your debt!

‘Hypnobirthing made such a difference!’

Tomás’s birth story – by Margarita

I am very happy on how my home birth went. Hypnobirthing made such a difference! Together with all the information/preparation I did. Tomás was born in the water after 8 hours of soaking 🙂

I made a birth panel and was so useful for keeping concentrated. Also I bought some wireless headphones! With them I didn’t listen to the boiling kettle or the midwife chatting! I wanted to kill people chatting around 🙂  Also had a shift change and hated the new midwife but was too late to say something. She kept trying to intervene and do more examinations than needed (my doula said she might have been new to homebirth). Well the thing was that luckily I was too confident!

From all the visualisations I learned, I used one that came to my mind just there. As I was using gas and air I imagine that I was a fire extinguisher and I with my out breath I was trying to turn off a big fire by making a fan movement with my head from left to right. It was so powerful!
Ignacio was perfect, he kept calm (or at least pretended) all the time and was very helpful. He translated me very politely to the midwife. I was so glad to have a second language 🙂

For me all this experience has been amazing! And still can’t believe it sometimes.

‘Welcoming the contractions, the stronger the better’

I did one of your October classes and am writing to let you know that our baby was born into water at the Spires on Saturday (40+2), weighing 7 lbs 13 oz.

My contractions started on Friday around 6.30pm, and I used a TENS machine from about 9pm onwards, mostly walking in circles around our extension and watching the moon come and go behind white clouds. During this time I mostly did 321RRR for contractions (which I had found helpful during dental work the previous week!) as I couldn’t quite mentally hang on to the other exercises. I found the music very helpful and kept it on throughout, until stage 2 when I wanted quiet. We went to hospital at about 1am and I was only 3cm dilated but the midwife said that that means nothing with a third baby! I was finding by then that the TENS wasn’t enough and I wanted to get in the pool. My husband and I were both worried that this would slow things down (as it did with my first baby). By this stage I was already exhausted because it was so late and life at 9 months pregnant with 2 small boys is hard going! In fact I was fully dilated 2 hours later. It was a very intense 2 hours and I felt like I was mentally working hard to stay positive and calm, helped by the music and images of welcoming my baby, opening the door, welcoming the contractions, the stronger the better. But it was hard work! My waters broke at 3.05 and he was born at 3.35, latched on minutes later. Despite the injection, I had no after-cramps and so at 50 mins post delivery I still hadn’t delivered the placenta. Fortunately the baby latched on again and I had enough contraction to work with, and pushed the placenta out 58 mins post delivery, 2 mins before they would have rushed me to theatre. Phew.

Now at day 5, our baby boy remains a peaceable little chap and we are delighted with him. Looking back at my births, the first was by far the longest and hardest. From this distance the second seems easy. The third felt very mentally challenging despite the hypnobirthing, but I think without your course it would have been considerably harder. The midwife was certainly impressed – she kept saying she didn’t know why she was there, really, I was doing so well by myself, and she couldn’t believe how calm and chilled I was. I didn’t feel chilled! I think objectively I was quite calm, and in control, even though it wasn’t easy. Also, I managed to breathe through the crowning much better this time without pushing, and just got a small nick to the forchette, which didn’t need a stitch. In fact, I think I’m already basically healed, and that was due mostly to staying calm and focusing on breathing and letting my body do its thing.

‘Just wanted to say how effective it was!’

From Victoria

I’m delighted to say that we now have a beautiful baby girl. I just wanted to get in touch to say how extraordinarily invaluable hypnobirthing turned out to be.

The music and the meditations were central to the early stages of labour and made such a difference to how I managed the pain; to the extent that pretty much all the midwives and doctors I encountered throughout labour were continually surprised by how far I had progressed as the techniques I used kept me much, much calmer than I would have expected.

Just wanted to say how effective it was! A million thanks from us all.

A guiding STARR

One of the most challenging situations during birth is when something unexpected happens that necessitates a radical re-think of approach. I have heard so many examples of this in birth stories – and the way in which labouring women and their partners are able to negotiate these twists and turns in the birth journey seems to have a significant impact on their birth experience, both in the moment and in their memories of the event.

I’m not just talking about the big dramatic denouements – the unexpected breech baby who prompts a dilemma about c-section versus vaginal breech birth – the very quick labour with a baby who arrives before the midwife does – the labour that starts spontaneously hours before a planned c-section. It’s also the seemingly smaller events that nonetheless change the course of a labour, or introduce elements the mother wasn’t expecting – a birth pool that can’t be filled for some reason, meaning the mother must seek alternative sources of comfort – a labour that is proceeding so quickly and smoothly as to make a planned epidural pointless – a partner stuck in traffic on the way home from work – a chosen birth centre that happens to be full on the night.

Almost anything could happen – and most probably won’t. It would be impossible and even counter-productive to try to prepare for every possible situation, and perhaps what is more useful is the ability to stay flexible with the unfolding of events, adapting to the circumstances as they arise in the moment while staying true to the spirit of our wishes for this birth. In Mindful Mamma courses we do a visualisation based on the idea of a tree, which represents a woman’s wishes for her birth experience – firmly rooted in well-practised mindful hypnobirthing techniques, able to bend and sway with whatever the weather happens to be on the day, but remaining its essential self.

What can help us to harness this mental flexibility when it’s most needed? I’ve been thinking about a way to capture the steps involved in this kind of mental manoeuvre that’s practical and easy to remember. Maybe what we need when everything is at sea – when we seem to be pulled away from familiar shores on tides we didn’t know were there – is a guiding star: something we can re-set our co-ordinates by, a light in the fog.

This approach is loosely based on the RAIN acronym, suggested by various mindfulness teachers for dealing with difficult emotions (explained here by Tara Brach). But these steps are specific to a mindful hypnobirth, and expressed as STARR.

Stop – the first step is to stop and acknowledge the situation – step outside it for a second to recognize that in this moment, something unexpected is happening. It can be tempting in such moments to rush forward with some kind of action. Instead, take a moment to press pause, and label the situation as an event we weren’t expecting but still have a choice in how to respond. This step might also involve asking others who are involved to press pause – for example asking the midwife or obstetrician for some time, to let this turn of events sink in, before you continue the discussion.

Techniques – use your practised techniques to calm your body and mind. Unexpected events often create anxiety, but any decision is better faced from a place of calm and focus. Perhaps 321 Relax, the lengthening breath, or the shoulder anchor.

Allow – accept that this situation, whether we like it or not, is happening right now. As Tara Brach puts it, “allow life to be exactly the way it is” – because it’s already that way. When we allow a situation we can bring our full attention to it, seeing clearly how best to respond.

Re-plan – it’s time for plan B. How can you adapt your birth preferences in light of what’s happening now? You may well find that many of your wishes can be carried out in a slightly different way. Even in the most medical of birth scenarios there is room for negotiation and choice. Small changes to the atmosphere in the birth room (lighting, sounds, the way people speak or stay quiet, how the baby is greeted and welcomed once born) can make a big difference to the parents’ experience of their baby’s birth. This is the moment for BRAINS – you may need to gather more information (for example to make a decision on a suggested intervention) and for re-planning. If you could summarise your key birth preferences in one or two bullet points, what would they be? Now express that to the people who can help you achieve them. As Sophie Fletcher writes in Mindful Hypnobirthing (p.195), it can help to clarify the following three points (and write them down if possible): ‘1. These are the facts I was given. 2. This is the choice I made. 3. These are the reasons I made that choice.’

Relax – use your mindful hypnobirthing practice to help you through this twist in the journey. What techniques will work in harmony with any interventions you choose to accept? What techniques can you use in place of something you’d planned that is no longer available to you? Using your skills can help you stay calm and focused, enabling you to get the best you can out of any situation.

Women deep in the zone of labour probably won’t be thinking about what all the letters of an acronym represent. This one’s for birth partners – as the labouring woman’s supporter you’re ideally placed to pull this out of your back pocket if it turns out it’s needed. ‘Ok – let’s do STARR’ – you can guide your birthing woman through each step.

There is little point spending a pregnancy preparing for all sorts of birth scenarios that are unlikely to happen to you. But some forethought on the steps you would go through in any situation that requires a change of tack is time well spent.

 

 

 

‘I felt such a natural high afterwards’

Nell’s birth story – by Jen
The thing about hypnobirthing through Mindful Mamma was that I found in the weeks and days leading up to birth that I wasn’t fearful or concerned at all. I carried on doing very normal things (although that’s a must when you have a pre-schooler anyway) and felt positive towards birth.My waters spontaneously broke on Friday 16th around 6.30pm, two days before my due date. Funnily enough it was a full moon. I’ve since seen that many midwives (and is there some research?) say that full moon = more women’s waters breaking. My expansions (my favourite word) started about 2 hours later. After settling Ada to bed, we actually got my parents round pretty quick and were on route to the JR by 9.45pm. Everything felt like it was ramping up and a hot water bottle just wasn’t doing enough. We listened to the instrumental music from Mindful Mamma in the car which I found calming. During an expansion, I focused using the golden thread breath. I found labour more intense than I imagined, which although was a lot to cope with, it still didn’t alarm me too much.I didn’t love the maternity assessment unit (stark, uncomfortable and bright) at all, but fortunately once I was taken to the delivery suite (4cm at 11pm) we set about making the room cosy. I liked my midwife, she was quiet and calming and I had written my requests in my birth plan which she did take time to read. We brought our warm nightlight from home which instantly made the room feel calm. We played the Mindful Mamma music on the CD player. Apart from that, I just bounced on the birth ball and used gas and air. The noise of gas and air was helpful to keep focused on the breath.She was born at 1.59am on Saturday 17th September. I have never known anything as intense, as this was a VBAC and I had not experienced labour before. Despite having shoulder dystocia right at the end (ow) all was well, and I felt such a natural high afterwards. I couldn’t believe I had pushed her out. 8lbs 2oz with a full head of hair. She breastfed within the first hour and I was keen to do this skin to skin. She wasn’t even weighed for a couple of hours which was nice. We have called her Nell which means bright, shining one.

Loving means letting go – Babyloss Awareness Week 2016

dandelion-wind-blown-seeds-333093We are not on this earth to accumulate victories, or trophies, or experiences, or even to avoid failures, but to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are. This is the only way we can find purpose in pain and loss, the only way to begin to mend a broken dream, and the only way to keep returning to gratitude and grace.

 

This insight from Arianna Huffington, whose son was stillborn, brought me strength and solace after losing my baby girl at 15 weeks of pregnancy last year.

At the time of writing, I have sought and celebrated nine pregnancies, felt nauseated during six, formed a tiny but recognizable human in five, and brought a baby to birth in three. I have taken on board myriad suggestions for improving my childbearing fitness, and found that with pregnancy, trying harder bears little relationship to success. I have come to rely much more on the wisdom and information from within my own body, mind and heart, than on the ultrasound screen’s cold staring black eye, or the well-intentioned advice of people who don’t really know, because there is no answer to be known. I am deeply grateful to everyone who was willing to see my suffering and offered me kindness, whether expressed in words or otherwise.

 

It may feel an intensely private grief – the loss of this child who was known only to us. For many families this is a lonely and isolating experience, something that is difficult to share or talk about, perhaps even more so for fathers and partners as Mark Zuckerberg has pointed out. But pregnancy loss is incredibly commonplace. While stillbirth (the loss of a baby after 24 weeks’ gestation) is much rarer, miscarriage is estimated to occur in at least 1 in 6 pregnancies. Some parents find comfort in connecting with others who have had similar experiences, via the Miscarriage Association or SANDS for example.

The term ‘babyloss’ includes pregnancy loss as well as neonatal and infant death. ‘Pregnancy loss’ refers to both miscarriage and stillbirth because while the physical experiences differ, research in this area suggests that there is no linear relationship between length of gestation and depth of grief (Moulder, 2001) and it is important not to make assumptions about how parents may feel after the loss of a pregnancy at any stage. People deal with these events in different ways, and the same parents may have different feelings about different pregnancy losses. I hope that these words may be a source of comfort to some who are going through the pain of losing a baby. I know they are also likely to strike some wrong notes with others. In the end we can only speak our own truth, and listen carefully to others speaking theirs.

 

To begin with, mothering seems to be all about holding close. ‘I can’t believe my baby needs me so much!’ ‘When will she sleep through the night?’ ‘How can I get time to have a shower?’ ‘Can he really be hungry again?’ Mothers often find it difficult to imagine how and when their babies might begin to develop some independence, and may feel pressure to push them towards faster progress with sleep consolidation, developmental milestones, and moving on from the sources of emotional comfort enjoyed in babyhood.

Eventually there is a subtle shifting of gears and we begin to realize that our job as parents is gradually to let our children go. It can be startling to feel the strength of our child’s will to follow their own destiny, of them pulling away from us towards the future. How to continue loving while allowing and encouraging growth out of the family?

Our job, as Goethe said, is to give our children ‘roots and wings’. Scientific explanation of how this works can be found in Why Love Matters and The Psychology of Babies. It seems clear that the more children’s needs are responded to in infancy (thereby giving them firm emotional roots) the more confident they are to spread their wings and fly out into the world when the time comes.

 

The paradox of parenting is that in order to let go, we must first hold close. The shock of pregnancy loss is that this letting go happens just at the very earliest time when we are starting to learn to hold on. In fact we may not realize how much we have begun to hold this baby close in our hearts until we are suddenly forced to switch gears and find a way to let go.

The physical letting-go of pregnancy loss may feel brutal, and something our bodies are struggling to do. The emotional letting-go may feel almost impossible as we acknowledge the depth of our inner connection to this person we know both on the most intimate level and also not at all. The yearning to meet this baby face-to-face may be unbearably strong, and the deepest sense of loss may result from the knowledge that this can never happen.

 

However intense the pain of the loss, the tender shoots of love for our babies endure. Throughout our lives we feel the imprint of this baby on our hearts, and a lasting connection with this person known so briefly. Fascinating research indicates that there is a physical element to this felt connection: pregnancies of any length give the mother a lasting gift of healing cells https://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/06/12/mother-child-are-linked-at-the-cellular-level/

Both my grandmothers suffered stillbirths and miscarriage at a time when the emotional pain of this was often unacknowledged, but it was clear that they carried this with them throughout their lives. In her eighties my father’s mother was able to travel to Wales (where she had been evacuated during the Second World War) to find her stillborn son’s grave, which at the time she had been discouraged from visiting. My mother’s mother died aged 95, and as she was dying spoke of her joy at preparing to be reunited with her late husband and their lost babies.

 

Times have changed and although the pain and grief of pregnancy loss remains just as powerful, we now have greater resources and support to enable us to grieve and say goodbye. Many parents find it helpful to have a way to acknowledge the emotional upheaval they have been through in letting go of a pregnancy, even when their feelings about the pregnancy were more hesitant or ambivalent.

In an increasingly secular society it isn’t always obvious how we might acknowledge the passing of babies lost in pregnancy with some degree of ceremony or ritual. If we have a religious or spiritual faith we can draw on its support and customs. Otherwise, we may wish to create our own ceremony, however simple, perhaps on our own or maybe with the support of a celebrant. Many families find comfort in simple rituals such as lighting candles, reading a poem or text, singing or music, creating artwork, or planting a tree, and naming the baby. Jackie Singer’s book Birthrites is one of the few to address this subject and contains some rich ideas for simple but beautiful ceremonies for marking pregnancy loss.

 

My physical terrain has been changed forever by my children’s passage into the world, bearing the scars of their birth journeys. Some of these changes weren’t ones I wished for, but since having children I appreciate what my body can do – how it works – in ways I couldn’t before.

In the same way, my emotional landscape also bears the wounds of my babies’ losses – scars of pain, anger and sorrow that are slow to heal, and will never completely fade. There will always be empty spaces around our kitchen table, tears in the fabric of our family that gape wider every time someone comments on the age gaps between our children or asks whether we thought about having a fourth. Perhaps these numb areas, ridges of hurt and bitterness, will be part of me forever. But I can also accept the possibility that these scars might change my capacity to love – for the better. In stretching against this scar tissue, my heart may open wider.

While I realize with deep gratitude how fortunate I am to have three children, I’ve learned the hard way that one child does not replace another. Each one is uniquely his or her own self. So I really know how amazing it is when a baby forms, grows, journeys through birth and arrives into the world. What a miracle each child is. And how lucky I am in the work that I do to witness each day this miracle in its countless forms.

 

Moulder, C. (2001) Miscarriage: Women’s experiences and needs. London: Routledge.

Special thanks to Becca Bevis for her thoughtful comments on a working draft.

Picture credit: Blickpixel (Creative Commons)