We 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)
Rowan’s birth story – by Caroline
It was an amazing experience and one that I’d really like to share. Not to gloat, but to spread the idea that childbirth can be a wonderfully fulfilling and empowering experience. It’s so often we only hear negative stories, yet spreading positive childbirth tales is essential so that others aren’t scared of labour, or expecting the worst. ‘I did it, so can you,’ is more powerful than you can ever imagine.
After all, it is more likely that you will have a nice simple birth than that things will get complicated, it’s just that people sometimes feel guilty telling a good birth story when others have had a tough time.
I read several books on natural childbirth, two I’d like to mention are Spiritual Midwifery and a Guide to Natural Childbirth by Midwife Ina May Gaskin which as far as I’m concerned are books that could literally change the world, and are a must read for every pregnant woman getting you into a positive mindset in preparation for birth. Also Dr Gowri Motha’s The Gentle Birth Method, which gives you a plan to follow when you’re wanting to prepare for a natural drug free labour. I also trained in hypnobirthing with Guin at Mindful Mamma.
Here’s my experience…..
I woke up around 3.30am feeling a mild cramping sensation in my tummy. Even though I was 2 days away from my due date I put the cramps down to some wind and constipation. I was in denial that I would go into labour early. We’d being doing some major renovations in our home that had finally finished on the Friday. I’d booked for cleaners to de-dust the entire house on the Saturday, and Sunday was meant to be a day for relaxing as a family of 3 before we became 4.
I slept through the cramps, but at around 5.45am could no longer sleep, so went to the loo. It took me a little while to realise that the very mild cramps I was experiencing were exactly 5 minutes apart and each lasting for 30 seconds. My husband Alex woke up as I came back to bed and I told him that I thought something might be happening. We lay in bed cuddling and chatting for an hour or so. We timed the cramps as they got a little closer together. I turned and looked at Alex; ‘I think we better fill the pool’ I said. ‘I’m glad you said that because I was thinking exactly the same.’
We got up, and Alex began filling up the birthing pool, he made some toast and peanut butter as we thought it a good idea to eat whilst I still could. But as we pottered around the house, the contractions seemed to die down. I thought, ‘we could be here all day and night.’
At 8.45am we skyped Alex’s parents, and chatted for twenty minutes or so. My cramps were so mild I barely had to do anything to cope with them. Melissa our daughter had swimming at 10am and I managed to persuade Alex to take her. I also gave him a shopping list, as I was planning a roast chicken for lunch and had friends coming over. He reluctantly agreed, but insisted on calling the midwife just to let them know that something might be happening today.
When they left for swimming, I wandered around the house feeling a bit lost. Then I thought that if I was going to give birth today, I may as well have clean hair. So I jumped in the shower. As I was washing my hair Alex called back to say that the midwife would be with me in ten minutes time (around 10.30am) I thought, okay that’s fine, she’ll probably just check me then leave me to it until things pick up. Then I cleaned the shower!
Ann our midwife arrived just as I was drying my hair. She chatted away to me as I breathed through the contractions that were slowly picking up. She checked my dilation and found that I was already 4cm. ‘These mild contractions are obviously doing something…..Just carry on with whatever you’re doing’, she said.
‘I might bake a cake’ I said (something I’d done in labour with Melissa), we had enjoyed it with a glass of bubbly the day she was born).
Ann said she was going to pop up to the hospital to pick up the delivery box, but that she’d be straight back in twenty minutes or so. I thought that’s fine, but we’ve got a while left to go so no hurry.
When she left I decided to listen to my hypno-birthing CD, and settled into the ‘birthing room’ we’d prepared with dim lights, a birthing ball and a bed to lie on. Things felt manageable as I took myself off to my ‘safe place’ that I had visulised every day in practice for the real thing. After a while I soon realised that I was in no way capable of baking a cake. The cramps were strengthening. Ann returned and I was having to concentrate more on every contraction which had lengthened to around 40 seconds and were 2-3 minutes apart.
Alex returned with Melissa from swimming at 11.30, I was sitting in our ‘birthing room’ on the birthing ball listening to my CD. He made some lunch for us and I managed half a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. I wandered around the kitchen in a hypnotic state leaning on various pieces of furniture during a contraction; the piano, a bar stool, a kitchen chair, my husband etc.
By 12.15 I started to say I didn’t think I could do it any longer. Alex reminded me that I was doing it, and that when it starts feeling impossible, that’s because I’m probably very close to having the baby.
By 12.30 I was on all fours in the birthing room, growling a low growl which vibrated into my chest during each contraction. ‘I need to get in the pool now’, I said. ‘It’s not ready yet’ Alex said, and he and the midwife began boiling kettles of water to get it to the right temperature. I asked Ann to check me and she said that she wouldn’t like to do it for another 4 hours. 4 hours I thought! I’m not going to last that long!!
The pool was wonderfully soothing, I flopped into the warm water and hung on with my head resting on the side. Alex knelt beside me saying encouraging words. I kept saying I didn’t think I could go on and Alex said that it was the first time I’d said this in 9 months of pregnancy, and that I could do it, I was doing it, and plus I’d done it before. We kissed, and I felt a surge of oxytocin which sped up the contractions.
A second midwife arrived. I told Ann I wanted to push. She said go on then. I was surprised that she’d let me push without knowing if I was fully dilated, but she said to trust my body. I could do nothing else but push. I pushed with all my might, and felt my waters break into the pool. It was a wonderful feeling of release. I reached up and could feel the hard surface of my baby’s head.
Then I heard the midwives talk among themselves. I’m just going to call the delivery suite, your baby has pooh-ed itself in the womb. Meconium can be sign that your baby is in distress. I had had this with our daughter Melissa and as my waters had broken earlier in labour we had ended up in hospital even though nothing had been wrong.
A surge of fear overcame me and the next contraction was weak and uneventful, it reminded me of how the power of the mind can progress or stall labour. Alex reassured me – it’s just a formality, they are following protocol.
Then Ann said the magic words – I don’t think you’re going to have time to make it to hospital. She had faith in me. I gathered all my courage and declared out loud that this baby was going to be born right now. As I said the words I had a very strong contraction that pushed the baby’s head into crowing position. All I could say was ‘burn’ as I was stretched to the maximum. Nobody could work out what I was saying, and as I was in the pool, nobody could see at what stage I was at.
The midwives asked me to lean back (I had been crouching in the pool). I remember thinking ‘you’ve got to be joking, I can’t move out of this position’. Alex helped me move and they exclaimed that they could see the head. ‘I know’ I thought.
With the next contraction the baby’s head was out, and with one final push so was the body. I reached down and guided my baby up and out of the water and onto my chest. It was 13.13pm exactly. He opened his eyes and looked at me, coughed and spluttered a little, then with a small cry began breathing and turned pink all on his own – 10 Apgar score! The midwife checked and saw that he was a little boy. He was perfect in every way and we immediately fell in love.
We climbed out of the pool and cuddled up on the bed all draped in towels and a dressing gown. All the time, Melissa our daughter had been sitting at the kitchen table next door watching Hotel Transylvania with headphones on.
Shortly after I delivered the placenta naturally, and they checked to make sure I had no tears – what a relief. We settled down for cuddles on the bed and a breast feed. That’s when the last photo was taken. Later we weighed him and he was exactly 8lbs.
I celebrated with a cup of tea and a Snickers bar! Melissa met her little brother, once her movie had finished, we’d decided a name and put clothes on baby Rowan.
Four hours later I was making gravy for a roast chicken that Alex had cooked. We had a glass of wine and were in bed by 9pm. A perfect day!
Just to say that our beautiful son has arrived! My health deteriorated a lot during pregnancy, I had diabetes but more seriously obstetric cholestasis at a crazy high level (even on the maximum drugs my bile acids were over 300!) so they decided that I should be induced at 34 weeks and six days. To be honest I felt terrible so was pleased to start the process!
The induction went on and on ( 28 hours of it!) until they finally decided on an emergency c section.
Weirdly, for a generally anxious person, even for that amount of time I was calm throughout! I think the course had much to do with it. I found the counting (3,2,1 relax relax relax) particularly helpful. It helped my husband too- we did the counting down from 50 when they broke the waters which was particularly uncomfortable.
Thanks so very much for all of your help- we are all doing really well and needless to say it has all been more than worth it! I have recommended the course to many people already. I am truly loving being a mum!
Jasper’s birth story – by Kat
Our beautiful boy, Jasper, joined our family last Saturday morning 🙂 Despite all the medical concerns, he and I are both absolutely fine. He ended up being on the 50th percentile, not the 3rd as had been predicted!! Amazing that they could have got it so wrong really… But we felt well looked after and the mindful hypnobirthing was amazing for helping us prepare for/cope with such a medicalised labour induction.
‘321, relax relax relax’ was great for all the examinations, bursting of waters, and for the painful self-administered injections I’ve had to give myself since for my blood clotting condition. And it was really helpful to stay in the moment between contractions and focus on how short they really are, rather than dreading the next one (as was the case when I had my daughter).
Jasper quite literally flew out after just 4 hours without any pain relief or intervention, and I can honestly say that it was the most empowering experience of my life. All was calm and relaxed until the last 15 minutes when I started to transition, at which point both Christian and I forgot to employ any of the techniques – I ‘went a bit primal’, but even that was quite liberating and helped me to find the strength to get him out (just 2 pushes for the head and 1 for the rest of his body).
Thank you for helping us with this journey. It couldn’t have gone any better given the circumstances, and I’d recommend the course to anyone.
Francis William’s birth story – by Jude
My first birth was not what I had imagined it would be. I had gone into hospital after work at 37 weeks for a check up as I had been having a very small amount of watery discharge at night for a week or so. Naively, I didn’t think it was anything significant. I was totally unprepared for being told I was going to be induced there and then and wouldn’t be going home without a baby! And so followed the artificial rupture of membranes and the induction drip as well as the foetal monitors. Hooked up to all the paraphernalia, I was encouraged to lie on my back on the bed and think about taking drugs for pain relief. I accepted the gas and air and bit down hard. The contractions came thick and fast and at one point the drip had to be turned down as I was in so much relentless pain and not coping very well. When the time came to push I was being shouted at to put my chin on my chest and push as long and hard as I could. And when the baby was taking too long to come out, I was threatened with ‘assistance’. Luckily, he came shortly after. Then came the traumatic managed third stage – 1000ml blood loss and a placenta that wouldn’t come out when they pulled at it, so had to be removed manually, bit by bit. Afterwards, I felt like I’d been beaten up. After four weeks I had a secondary haemorrhage due to retained placenta.
After this, I was determined to have a different experience second time round. But after an appointment with the consultant at the hospital, I discovered that they wanted me to be on the delivery suite with a cannula and active third stage. All based on the complications during my first birth. I had a strong belief that the bleeding and retained placenta were due to the induction and my lack of preparation and that if this labour started naturally and all was well, I didn’t want any intervention unless it was absolutely necessary. We tried in vain to explain this to the consultant, head of midwives and birth centre manager, who all said it was absolutely necessary for me to have those interventions for a safe birth. They would not allow me in the birth centre (on the same corridor as the delivery suite) if I didn’t agree to them. This put us in a very difficult situation and caused quite a bit of stress during the later stages of my pregnancy.
I discovered the Mindful Hypnobirthing book quite late on but didn’t look back. I started listening to the tracks straight away and decided to book us onto one of the courses. We found the course incredibly useful and motivating. And we really appreciated the practitioner spending the time to talk with us afterwards about our plans for birth. Her advice was quite a turning point for us as I decided to speak to an independent midwife. After a teary few days of not knowing what we should do for the best, the midwife instantly made me feel totally at ease with my decisions not to have a cannula or managed third stage. It was so refreshing to be told that a home birth would be a completely viable, and probably the best, option. This, along with all the reading I had done, gave me the courage and strength to opt for a home birth against the hospital’s advice.
I’m so glad we did. I felt so relaxed and ready for the birth. We had affirmations on post-its all around the house – which I still can’t bring myself to take down! I have such wonderful feelings when I think about the process of hypnobirthing. The few weeks of preparation beforehand were invaluable and filled me subconsciously with power and ease. Like rehearsing for a performance, I have been feeling the post-performance blues when you just want to do it all over again!
I was 39 weeks and my mother had arrived from London to stay the night and help with pre-baby preparations. At 1pm she set about cooking and cleaning and I noticed I had had a bloody show. I put my two year old to bed for a lunchtime nap and as I was standing in the kitchen writing a shopping list, my waters started to trickle. I headed to the toilet where they continued to trickle for a while. I had no contractions at that point so mum suggested I rest while she did the shopping. I rang Dan to tell him what had happened and he headed straight home despite my reassurance that it may not happen for hours.
After about half an hour I felt a gush of water come with a pop. Within a few minutes contractions had started, fairly mild but they seemed quite close together compared to how often I thought they would be. I guessed about every 7 or 8 minutes. Dan appeared shortly after a few contractions and began busying himself with tidying and getting the front room ready. I told him not to put the sheets down yet as it would probably be ages until the time came to actually get the baby out!
He rang the midwife who arrived at 2.40pm. She timed the contractions as being 5 minutes apart, lasting 30 seconds and I felt fairly comfortable and able to breathe through them. After a little bit, she checked the colour of the water on my pad and noticed traces of meconium. Policy was that I had to transfer straight to hospital. Dan was an incredible birth partner. He asked lots of questions about the risks and what options there were, but with repeated concerns about the fact that we would be putting our baby at risk if we didn’t go, we eventually decided to make our own way to the hospital (and declined the ambulance she wanted to ring for us). I felt so disappointed at this point.
As Dan was packing the car and the midwife was packing hers, I felt like I really needed to do a poo so took myself off to the toilet. When they all came back in looking for me I think they realised that this baby was closer than I thought. The midwife then rang for an ambulance. I was still in a bit of denial as to just how close the baby was to coming but just couldn’t believe that it could all happen so quickly. Where were the hours of pacing around the house, listening to my hypnobirthing tracks and having a warm bath? I made my way back to the front room where the midwife examined me. I was 8-9cm. I knelt on the floor, leaning on the sofa and Dan. I could hear my son in the other room talking to Grandma which was lovely. The contractions had changed now and were pulsating surges making me want to push. I let out long low horsey breaths as each one came and went, trying to remember to relax fully in between. I breathed into a lavender scented hanky which helped so much. Dan was giving me prompts and encouragement the whole time. I was aware of the first ambulance arriving, which turned out to be a fast response car (the midwife was very panicked by this, realising that there was no way we were going to hospital now and the baby was going to be born at home!). The second ambulance arrived and so there were now three paramedics standing in the doorway watching my birth! I wasn’t particularly aware of it thankfully and managed to stay centred and focused on the task in hand. I remember Dan doing mirror countdown which really helped.
After what felt like a very short amount of time, I could feel the head crowning. With a few more contractions, our baby boy had arrived at 16.28. All 9lb 10 oz of him! There was no need for the resuscitation equipment which the midwife had so feared, as the baby started screaming loudly almost immediately! He was passed through my legs and I held him in my arms.
Now came the third stage. I had decided on a physiological third stage despite being told I shouldn’t due to what happened in my first birth. I had a deep sense of trusting my body to do this bit safely, and knowing that the labour had gone smoothly and naturally so far, the best thing to do was to let it continue. The cord wasn’t clamped and as I sat with Dan and our baby, in came our two year old to meet his new brother. He looked so pleased and proud and gave me a big hug then kissed the baby. I could feel contractions coming and going every now and then. I tried a few different positions to help aid the placenta out and pushed when I felt the urge. After 45 minutes the midwives were quite keen to give me the injection which we resisted. Standing up, I remember saying I could feel my body doing it with each contraction, and sure enough, with one more contraction and a fairly big push, the placenta appeared, in tact and complete, after 58 minutes of waiting. And I had only lost an estimated 500-600ml of blood. At this point I felt so proud. Proud of myself for breathing through the birth and feeling in control of our choices and proud of Dan for protecting our birth space so sensitively. The midwife gave me a few stitches and then we did transfer to hospital in the end in order to get the baby monitored for 6 hours just to make sure the meconium hadn’t caused any problems. All was fine and we were home at midnight.
I am so glad we discovered the mindful hypnobirthing resources and attended the course. It gave us confidence, calm and knowledge which enabled us to have the birth we wanted. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you to Guin, our hypnobirthing practitioner, for guiding us through the course and helping us on our journey to the birth we knew we had the potential to have.
Isla’s birth story – by Beth
The birth was incredible and I had her at home. All of the midwives were impressed with the hypnobirthing! I didn’t feel any pain throughout the labor -just intensity. And I focused on the time between the contractions, like you taught us, and it was heavenly. Thank you for teaching me about that. Isla was born over 9 pounds and I did the whole thing without pain relief. I didn’t even use the TENS machine we purchased. There were no signs of distress throughout the labor but once she was born, it became really clear that she was struggling to breathe and had inhaled meconium so we were transferred to the hospital. I also hemorrhaged and lost quite a bit of blood so I was unable to have a natural third stage.
Isla was in intensive care for three days and then was able to be in my room for an additional three days. All of the doctors said there was nothing that could have been done to prevent what happened because everything happened during delivery and the outcomes would have been the same for both her and I if she had been born in the hospital. In fact the doctors in ICU told us they were really pleased she was born at home because despite being very physically distressed, she was extremely calm and relaxed. Also, she had no drugs in her system.
We plan on coming to the home birth group meeting and sharing our story. We both have wonderful memories and feelings about the birth and are so happy with the home birth.
Joshua’s Birth Story – by Lauren
I was 5 days overdue and becoming increasingly impatient. Up until the weekend (this was Sunday) I had been fairly relaxed about when labour would start but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable and really ready for things to start happening.
I had declined a stretch and sweep at 40 weeks and as excited and impatient as I was feeling, I was fully geared up to refuse one again at 41 weeks and had armed myself with all the information I needed in order to decline induction until it was absolutely a necessity.
I went for a walk with my Dad during the day and remember joking about how it would save him a trip from London where he lives if I went into labour while he was already here. He left at 5.30 pm. Gary left for his night shift at 6 pm and I settled myself in for another night of waiting.
At 8.30 pm I went to spend a penny and on walking back down stairs felt a warm trickle. I ran back upstairs thinking ‘Oh my God it can’t be, can it?!’ My waters had definitely broken and I tried to stem the flow as instructed but water kept coming.
I hadn’t really prepared myself for my waters to go first as I’d read that it happens in 20% of pregnancies so, as a fairly average individual, I assumed I wouldn’t buck the norm and that my contractions would start first. I grabbed my copy of ‘What to expect…’ and looked up what to do. It said that labour normally follows between 12-24 hours later. Okay I thought, I’ve got a while but yeh things are happening, I was very excited.
I called the midwife at Chipping Norton who said that it would probably take a while to get going and to keep them posted but that she was on the night shift so didn’t expect to see me. I then called Gary and explained what had happened and what the midwife had said and told him to hang on at work as there was no rush, that I’d call him again in an hour and let him know how I was. I also called my Mum who was going to drive down from Cheshire and she said she’d leave then so as not to get caught in any rush-hour traffic in the morning but that she’d let herself in and see us in the morning.
As I couldn’t sit still I decided to bake a birth-day cake for my baby (I can’t take the credit for this idea – I stole it from my NCT teacher) and after an hour, as my sponges were cooling I called Gary again to say that nothing else was happening. We decided at that point though that it was probably a good idea for him to come home, if I went into labour in the morning he would have had no sleep and that wouldn’t be a good start.
He arrived home at 11pm. I’d taken two paracetamol as instructed by the midwife and was getting ready for bed. At 11.15 I felt something happening. I remember thinking ‘Thank God we decided Gary should come back’. The midwife asked what we would like to do with regards to coming into the unit and we said that our plan was to stay at home as long as possible.
My first contraction felt quite strong, like an urge to go to the bathroom. I spent the following hours between the bathroom (I found it comfortable to be sitting on the toilet) and lying prone (as much as possible with the bump) on my bed. Early on I said to Gary ‘I’m scared, it really hurts’. I had expected the contractions to start like period pain and gradually get worse but they started as they meant to go on, strong and steady. Once I realised that the intensity wasn’t growing I settled into a bit of a rhythm with them, the intensity remained the same for the whole of my labour.
I remember my Mum arriving and Gary on/off the phone to the midwife but I wasn’t really aware of what was happening except for the contractions, I lost all sense of time. At one point Gary said to the midwife on the phone okay we’ll see you in an hour or so and I clearly remember thinking ‘What?! We need to go sooner than that’ but the time went like a blur and the hour felt like just a few minutes.
I was dreading the car journey but I held my Mum’s hand in the back of the car and breathed through the contractions. The breathing techniques that we’d learned during the hypnobirthing course worked really well to keep me focused and to stop any panic from rising. Gary also put on my ‘anchor’ music in the car which I’d visualised so many times and I think that was comforting too. The only drama was that we got stuck behind a white van travelling 40 mph in a 60 down the windy country roads at 3 o’clock in the morning – I just remember Gary saying ‘What are the chances?!’
We arrived at Chipping Norton and went inside to meet our lovely midwife Lesley, I had written in my birth plan that I wanted to have one examination to determine how far dilated I was and I remember all I was thinking at this point was ‘Please be 5 cm dilated, please be 5’ as I really wanted to use the birthing pool and this was the condition. Before being examined though I had to breathe through a couple more contractions, Lesley asked Gary whether they were coming more frequently than before and he said he wasn’t sure but he thought so. When she examined me I was fully dilated – I couldn’t believe it. I was whisked straight into the pool – it was about 4 am.
The water felt really good and the next couple of hours felt in one way like they went on forever and in another way that it was by in a flash. It didn’t feel like very long before Lesley and my second midwife Stevie were telling me that they thought it was time to start breathing the baby down (I can’t remember if that’s exactly what they said but I knew the baby was on his way). The contractions were very painful but I concentrated on the affirmations I had made, especially the one which said ‘Every contraction brings my baby closer to me’. I tried to focus on each contraction and think that ‘Okay, that one is over now and I don’t have to repeat that one’. Gary was with me, holding my hands and reminding me to breathe, telling me how proud he was and how excited. I was definitely ‘roaring like a lioness’ but not out of fear, it came from somewhere deep and felt powerful, not panicked.
The stinging sensation when the baby came down made me thankful that we had practised perineal massage as I wasn’t scared of the sensation, I knew what it was and although it was more intense I knew again that it meant the baby was coming soon.
I think I was physically exhausted and it seemed to take a while for me to muster enough energy to push the baby out, the head came out and I was so relieved, we were about to meet our baby. Lesley asked if Gary or I would like to lift him out of the water and I said ‘Oh let Gary’ I felt so tired. When it came to that final push though I was on all fours (I had to keep shifting position because of cramp in my calves) and Lesley said that because of the positioning I should reach down and lift the baby from the water.
When he popped out he shot backwards and I reached down, I couldn’t find him… ‘I can’t find him, I can’t find him!’ I shouted so Lesley gently pushed him forward between my legs in the water and I took hold of this tiny, red, slippery baby and pulled him from the water. I was in total shock. I just remember looking at Gary and looking at the baby and tears filled my eyes. Our baby was born at 06.20 am on Monday 28th April 2014.
Lesley and Stevie helped him to latch on and I sat with him suckling in the water for about 45 minutes. When I was ready to get out, I passed our son to Gary who held him, skin-to-skin whilst the midwives helped me from the water. I delivered the placenta naturally with no problems and was very happy to come away with just two minor lacerations to my labia. My perineum, my worry throughout my whole pregnancy and for years before, had come though intact. I cannot say how relieved I was, I am.
We had the proverbial tea and toast and moved to another room to recover. I just couldn’t stop looking at the baby, unable to believe that he was mine. We left the unit at 2.30 pm and went home to see my dad, Gary’s parents and eat our cake!
It was a completely incredible experience, I have tried to capture it here but words cannot describe it really. I feel incredibly humbled to have had such a wonderful experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world and feel somehow more whole having been through it together with Gary. I am also incredibly thankful that I was able to have the birth I wanted, for me and for Gary and for Joshua. It was exactly as my birth plan was written, the only difference being that I chose to birth in the water instead of getting out. I am so glad that I didn’t have any intervention and that I didn’t have any pain relief, I wanted to fully experience the birth without any haziness and I was able to do that. Our baby was so alert when he was born, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Alfie’s birth story – by Claire
I just wanted to pass on our good news – the arrival of baby Alfie on the 6th January.
Well, the labour process was interesting and ended up being quite far removed from the natural birth I wanted but I felt so positive about the whole experience and that the right decisions were made at the right times. I remained in control, relaxed and calm throughout even when it became apparent the outcome was going to be different to what I had wanted and planned. We were able to communicate our thoughts and feelings to the staff at the JR and they were wonderful in complying with our wishes and ensuring all the other medical team also kept calm and didn’t rush anything.
In short I got to 8 cm dilated in the pool, just using the breathing techniques (and entonox), but after 6-7 hrs from onset of labour it was apparent there was a problem with it progressing. I then asked for an epidural as I couldn’t control the urge to push much longer, which was affecting the dilation of the cervix. I got to 9 cm assisted with drugs but then the final bit just wouldn’t happen! Labour had been approx 17 hrs by this point and we felt that every opportunity had been given for a natural birth but there was a reason he wasn’t coming! (He was looking the wrong way too).
I was then prepped for a C-Section and Alfie was delivered safely. He weighed 10lb 2ozs! His weight and position meant that he wouldn’t have come naturally, without dislocating his shoulders!
Unfortunately the epidural hadn’t really worked for the c-section and I started to haemorrhage, since I could feel them stitching/sorting me out, I then was put under GA and went for surgery. In all I lost nearly 2.5 litres of blood, so I am anaemic and still recovering but other than that we are both doing well.
I just wanted to share my story to say even if things don’t go as expected it is still possible to have a positive experience and sometimes medical intervention can be useful, necessary and carried out in a calm and controlled way! I wouldn’t have been able to keep such a positive outlook if I had not been to Mindful Mamma! So thank you for all we learnt on the day and the opportunity to use my new found skills to remain calm and relaxed throughout what could have been a very fraught time!
Bryony’s birth story – by Claire
I just thought I’d drop you a line to let you know about the safe arrival of our little girl Bryony Emilia and how the Mindful Mamma course helped us. You might remember, my husband Rob and I came to your workshop back in April because we were expecting our second child and hoping for a VBAC after an emergency c-section with our first daughter (I am the lady who embarrassingly burst into tears during the introductions at the start of the day).
With this 2nd pregnancy I went past my due date and having had an emergency c-section first time round, I agreed to be booked in for a c-section at 42 weeks if I did not go into labour naturally by then. Two weeks passed, the day of the c-section came and despite acupuncture, yoga and long walks I still hadn’t had a single contraction so I sadly resigned myself to another caesarean and planned to use the hypnobirthing background music and breathing techniques during surgery.
Then on the morning of the scheduled c-section as we arrived at hospital I started to get contractions! I was moved to the delivery suite where our little girl was born the next morning (8lbs 10oz and 15 days late) naturally with no pain relief other than gas and air. The experience was amazing, I was discharged from hospital the next day and nearly three weeks later we are all enjoying our new arrival and remain elated.
To a great extent, I attribute our successful VBAC to the things I learned from you and the Mindful Mamma course which helped us to leave behind the fear I had from my previous experience of birth and stay calm, confident and focused during my pregnancy and labour. I used a lot of the tips and advice you gave us and listened to the hypnobirthing tracks almost constantly during labour – after our little girl was born the midwives commented on how calm I was and one said ‘I don’t know what you were listening to on your headphones but I want some of it too’!