First baby, vaginal birth in hospital delivery suite
I learned hypnobirthing as a way to avoid panic during labour. I like feeling in control, and I was afraid that the unpredictability of labour (when it would start, how long it would go on for, what it would feel like etc.) would cause me to spiral into anxiety, making the whole experience really unpleasant. I also didn't really want to use any pain relief as I was put off by the negative side effects, and I hate being in the water, so I was keen to find alternatives.
I did the hypnobirthing course at the end of my second trimester. For the rest of the pregnancy I listened to the hypnosis tracks every day, usually straight after coming in from work - which was a great way to relax and wind down. I worried at first that it might not be 'doing anything' but I noticed that I found it easier and easier to relax into hypnosis each time I listened. I read positive birth stories. I stuck birth affirmations up all over the house and I protected myself from other people's horror stories, telling them I would hear all about it after my own baby was born!
I stopped working at about 36 weeks as I was very tired by my commute and felt strongly that my body needed to rest. I had acupuncture and reflexology from 38 weeks, to prepare my body for the birth. My due date came and went and I became very impatient. I wanted to avoid any kind of induction so I declined the offer of a cervical membrane sweep at 40 weeks.
At 40 weeks 6 days I went about my normal day. I went to a reflexology appointment and commented to the therapist that I was noticing some crampy feelings. Then I went to the hairdresser (this must have been me nesting and getting ready for the baby!) where I noticed the crampiness again. I went home and relaxed on the sofa. By the late afternoon I noticed that the crampy feelings (not painful, just achy) were coming in waves and decided to time them. After an hour of them being 5 minutes apart and lasting around 40 seconds, I texted our doula to let her know. She told me to relax as it might be the start of something, or it might just fade away again. She suggested I have dinner and an early night. I got into bed at about 9pm and went to sleep.
I woke at around 1am with a mild contraction. I knew instinctively that it was different. I woke my husband and asked him to stick the TENS machine on my back. I put my hypnobirthing relaxation track on and went back to sleep with my earphones in. I woke every now and again with a contraction and used the TENS machine. After a couple of hours I felt restless and was finding it difficult to sleep. I wasn't in terrible pain but I couldn't get comfortable. By 5am I was kneeling on all fours resting on a mountain of pillows and using my TENS machine with each contraction, but I could still talk easily during them. They were closer together (about 3 mins apart) and lasting around one minute. I asked my husband to call our doula but I didn't feel I needed her to come over yet.
By 8am I wanted her to come, and my husband rang her again. My contractions were becoming gradually more intense and I was increasing the strength of the TENS machine and really focusing on my breathing during contractions. I took a couple of paracetamol and was sipping lucozade. Our doula arrived at around 9.30 and encouraged me to eat a bit. I had a few bites of toast with honey but I didn't have any appetite. I moved to a kneeling position on the floor, resting on the side of the bed. Our doula applied counterpressure to my sacrum (bliss) when I had a few contractions which I felt in my back. The contractions were much more intense now and two minutes apart, lasting a minute, I went to the toilet and had three back-to-back contractions and a big bloody show which was a bit of a shock!
Immediately afterwards I felt a shift. I came out of the bathroom and had a contraction standing up, holding on to my doula for support. I was making low moaning noises during my contractions and swaying. Our doula suggested that this would be a good time to go to the hospital (we had asked her in advance to guide us on this) and called them to advise we were coming. I was booked into the birth centre but we were asked to attend triage first. It took my a while to get out of the house and into the car as the contractions were coming more closely together. I knelt down in the rear passenger footwell as I didn't feel able to sit on the seat. The drive took less than ten minutes, and I only had a couple of contractions in the car. I told my husband that I could feel pressure and he encouraged me to take deep breaths and listen to my hypnosis track (I still had my earphones in).
When we arrived at the hospital, our doula told us not to bother unloading the bags and to just go straight in. I had a few big contractions walking to triage, and the midwives watched me have one and told me to go straight up to the birth centre. I was moo-ing away like a cow, but even then I was still asking our doula whether this was the 'real thing' and whether I was really in labour. I think I had imagined that it would be so terrible that I was waiting for that to happen, but it never did. She said I definitely was in labour and we headed upstairs.
When we arrived at the birth centre we were greeted by a midwife who asked for a urine sample (impossible!). The sensations were extremely intense and I was feeling immense pressure at this point (probably bulging waters). I asked for some gas and air to take the edge off the intensity and to help me relax but the midwife insisted that I needed to be examined first. I now know that vaginal examinations are always optional, but in that moment I submitted and allowed her to attempt to examine me. Our doula advocated for me and I was given some gas and air. The midwife said I was 5cm dilated although I can't imagine how she determined this because I was not able to stay still and every time she touched me I had another contraction. Our doula suggested that this may not be accurate and in any case reminded me that this could change at any moment.
The midwife then listed to the baby's heart rate and said that there were decelerations that she was not happy with. I was rushed on a bed up to the delivery suite. I had my eyes closed the entire time and was listening to my hypnosis tracks. I had the gas nozzle in my hand but was not using it as it made me feel like my head was spinning and I didn't like it. I told the midwives that I felt like I wanted to push and they told me to breathe through the sensations, but my body was pushing involuntarily with each contraction.
When we arrived in the delivery room I could hear a lot of commotion (my eyes were still closed). I could sense my husband next to me the entire time. I asked our doula to tell me what was happening. She quietly and calmly talked me through the people in the room and encouraged me to just relax and focus on my breathing, reassuring me that I was safe. It took quite a few attempts for the midwives to break my waters, and when it did the relief was huge. But just for a moment because then I heard someone say "that's the head". I was in shock as I had in my mind that I was only 5cm dilated and I thought I had lots more labouring left to do. I asked my husband if it really was the head and when he said yes I thought he was lying to me!
I could hear the baby's heart rate dropping with each contraction and I began to panic. The midwives and the consultant who had been called were telling me to push - instructing me to put my chin on my chest, hold my breath etc. which I found confusing and unhelpful. I tried to listen to my body and pushed as hard as I could for the next couple of contractions. I learned afterwards that at this point the consultant had started to prepare the forceps but my husband had told her that I wanted to avoid an instrumental delivery so to allow me some more time if possible. I gave consent for an episiotomy (didn't feel it at all despite only being given the local a few seconds before) and head and body were born with the next two contractions. The relief was immense.
The cord was around the baby's neck twice but the APGAR scores were excellent. I couldn't believe I'd really done it! My husband announced the sex and we were thrilled to have a baby girl. We had planned on delayed cord clamping but I consented to the syntometrine injection to speed up the birth of the placenta as the midwives wanted to test the cord blood gases. The placenta arrived shortly afterwards. I had to have quite a lot of stitches and found this very distressing, so I used the gas and asked my husband to hold our daughter while our doula gave me support and reassurance. I felt quite shocked immediately after the birth and emotional. I was worried that I was thinking of myself and my own feelings, when surely I should be overwhelmed with instant love for our baby? Our doula reassured me that it was normal, that my body had been through an intense experience and it was normal to feel this way, and that it didn't mean there was anything 'wrong' with me as a mother.
Looking back on the birth I would definitely say that it was a positive experience. Despite things not going quite according to our plans (which they hardly ever do!) I was very happy that I managed to stay calm right until the final moments. I didn't feel panic or anxiety. My pain was manageable throughout the labour. I am convinced that the hypnobirthing practice I did meant that being relaxed became an automatic behaviour which I found easy and familiar, even during the intensity of labour. I tell everyone that if hypnobirthing can work for me then it can work for anybody!