My birth story

Mara and me.jpg

One question I’ve been asked a lot since giving birth is, ‘Do you think it will change how you teach?’ So I’ve decided to share my (rather long) birth story here to give some insight into how my own baby came into the world, and how I used hypnobirthing techniques to support me through what was a tough but incredibly positive home birth.

From 28 weeks, my pregnancy was marked by an awareness that my baby was in a back-to-back position. Around this time, I felt her move from ‘head up’ to ‘head down’, with her back towards my back on the right-hand side. From then until the birth, she more or less stayed like this.

For a while, I busied myself with trying to ‘improve’ her position – I walked for miles, practised yoga, and used the techniques recommended on the Spinning Babies website. But as the time of my birth approached, I realised – with a nudge from my friend Jodi (aka mindfulnessformums) – that it was time to make peace with the idea of a back-to-back labour (which are often described as being longer and more uncomfortable), and move away from the idea that my baby was in the ‘wrong’ position. Jodi shared with me the affirmation, ‘Everything is perfect and just as it should be’ - she had, herself, had a back-to-back labour and was helped by these words.

A few days before 40 weeks, I started having on-off tightenings that felt like period cramps low in my abdomen. They would intensify as the day went on, peaking in strength and frequency by the evening, but then at some point in the night they would ease off, and I’d wake up the next morning surprised that I still wasn’t in labour. Each night, I listened to the hypnobirthing scripts, and this helped me sleep well in the days leading up to the birth. I felt relaxed, trusted that things would get started soon, and got on with my usual business. I even managed to help redecorate the bedroom. Around this time, I started to see traces of my show, which I took as a sign that my cervix was softening and getting ready for birth.

On the evening of one Sunday in May, this discharge started to look a little more watery, and I wondered if my waters had perhaps gone. Then, around 2am on the Monday morning, I went to the toilet and saw that my pad was definitely wet.

Although I was booked for a home birth, my midwife had explained that, if my waters went before I was in labour, I should go into the hospital for a check-up. Assuming all was well, they would then send me home to wait for my labour to progress naturally. I was happy with this plan, so I woke up Lee, my partner, and we made our way into hospital. After years of fielding calls from women in just this position, it felt exciting and more than a little odd suddenly to be on the other side!

I was seen quickly in the hospital triage area, but even during this short time, things were getting more intense, and it was now obvious that my waters had gone. I agreed to an examination, and the midwife confirmed I was in early labour, with my cervix dilated 2cm. Throughout, I used the breathing techniques I’d practised, and imagined jelly fish drifting slowly upwards (my preferred ‘up’ visualisation). Before going back home, I asked for a sick bowl to get me through the journey, as I was feeling nauseous with my surges. The midwife offered me a piddly little cardboard pot, and we joked that I was going to need something bigger than that!

This was the point in my birth experience where things started to feel a little bleak and out of control – and I want to explain what I mean by this to illustrate how you can have a big wobble in early labour and still feel fine later on…

Shortly after I was back home, I was vomiting with each surge, and had bad diarrhoea. The surges were STRONG but irregular – there was no pattern for me to hold on to, and although I tried to keep using my hypnobirthing breathing and visualisations, I just couldn’t find a rhythm. My body was shaking with each surge, and I knew that I still had a long way to go. So I took a deep breath and decided with Lee that it was time to call Phoebe, a friend who was going to be at the birth as my doula. Lee and I both felt we needed some back-up. We also decided that, although it was only about three hours since I was last examined, we wanted the community midwife to come and re-assess me so that I knew where I was at, and could make decisions accordingly. 

I called the hospital again and said that I wanted the midwife to come to see me, as I didn’t feel I was coping very well – this was probably my biggest ’wobble’ of the whole day. Even so, I remember laughing, thinking, ‘All this preparation, and I’m going to be banging on the hospital door begging for an epidural at 2cm’. Teasing myself with this thought was part of me making peace with it. Because, although my preference was for a home birth, of course it was quite possible I would want an epidural. I had to accept that there were a number of different ways that this birth could play out.

Within minutes, I’d had a call back from a lovely community midwife, who said she would come over as soon as her morning shift started. Then I called Phoebe and told her, ‘Things are getting tough, we need you!’

The community midwife and Phoebe arrived at around the same time, and it was soon confirmed that I was still in early labour. In fact, I had the disheartening experience of being told that my cervix was less dilated than it had been three hours earlier - this midwife put it at 1cm. Far from making things worse, getting this confirmation that I still had a way to go actually strengthened my resolve. I had an, ‘OK, this is how it is, I’ve just got to get on with it’ moment. Plus, Phoebe reminded me, ‘Whatever your cervix says, you are in labour, this is labour’. This was hugely helpful, as I’d been drifting into a self-pitying, ‘I’m not even in labour’ frame of mind. Anyway, I knew I didn’t want to spend the next few hours vomiting and shaking my way through surges on the living room floor, so we took a look at what ‘comfort strategies’ were available to me.

Phoebe suggested we run a bath - amazingly, despite having recommended this to hundreds of other women over the years, this hadn’t even occurred to me, which just shows what happens to a woman’s brain in labour. Lee was sent off to get a couple of hours sleep, and, what felt like moments later, I was in a warm tub of water, sipping icy coconut water, and in a totally different state of mind. I was still occasionally vomiting, but the out-of-control shaking had stopped the minute I got in the bath. I was breathing steadily again, and now using my other favourite ‘up’ visualisation – a big smile spreading into a sunrise over a sea.

Looking back, I’m convinced that my body had been shaking before because I was unconsciously trying to stop myself from doing a poo in our recently-decorated living room. My thinking mind was telling my body to, ‘Relax, relax, breathe in, breathe out’. But at the same time, from somewhere far deeper, another message was getting through, and this one was saying, ‘If you do relax, you’ll poo yourself’. And so my body and mind were in tension. Once I was in the bath, I really didn’t care what came out of me - and so finally, I relaxed!

Now, when the surges came, I lay on my side and pushed my lower back against the side of the bath. It felt great. I gently moved my arms around, in and out of the water, following the energy of the surges – Phoebe said it looked balletic, which made me feel really good about myself! Letting my arm just drift in that way was lovely. I made noises here and there, occasionally had a little vomit, but overall things felt calm, and I could finally use all the techniques I had practised.

A couple of hours of this – maybe less, things were moving quickly at this point – and I started feeling strong urges to bear down at the end of each surge (one mum I worked with once described the urge to push as an ‘upside-down heave’, and that’s the best description I’ve ever heard!). My friend Jodi, who had also had a back-to-back labour, told me that she was convinced the early pushing was what helped her baby to turn, so I shouldn’t let anyone tell me not to push if it was what my body wanted to do. I don’t think I could have stopped if I’d tried – the feeling was totally irresistible.

We called the midwife again at this point, and I carried on just doing my thing in the bath. I found the downward pressure quite incredible, and really, really interesting. As I occasionally grunted and pushed, I felt my baby shift inside, working with me to get into position. I tried to explain to Phoebe how wonderful it felt, and cried a little – I think this was the first point that I really believed I was going to give birth that day.

The midwife arrived and – yes! – it was my very own community midwife whom I’d got to know and trust over the previous months. What amazing luck! The first thing I said when she walked into the bathroom was, ‘Don’t tell me not to push!’ She said she wouldn’t, but that maybe I’d like to have a bit of gas and air just to make the urge less strong. I tried it, and it worked – as though everything had been dialed down a notch or two – and the gas made me feel nicely heady.

At some point we agreed that my midwife would do an examination while I was in the bath, and I think she found that my cervix was about 7 cm dilated - I was well on my way.

Around this time a few things happened. I knew that I needed to wee, but couldn’t. I had started getting a pain around my lower belly during the surges, and it was a sensation that I found much harder to manage that what I’d been feeling before. I requested an in-out catheter, and a short while later, after I’d tried and still not managed to wee, we went with this plan.

Throughout, I had a really positive, strong sense that we were all a team working together. After his short nap, Lee was up and supporting me again. Together, he and Phoebe were getting me drinks, dealing with my occasional pukes, topping up the bath with warm water, and gently encouraging me. I found the gas and air offered light, welcome relief, and remember feeling quite comfortable through much of this stage.

Immediately after my bladder had been emptied, I had a big surge and felt my baby turn a little more and then firmly clunk down in my pelvis. There was a feeling of relief and happiness in the room, as we all thought she had completed her journey round to take on a more common front-to-back position, ready for the birth. Now, when my uterus contracted there was a firm line down the front of my belly, which looked like her back. Suddenly the urge to push – my ‘upside down heave’ – was there with every surge.

What came next was intense and very hard work. I certainly did not breathe my baby down. I pushed in the bath, on all fours, on my side, out of the bath, leaning back on Lee. I started to get tired and disheartened, as, despite my efforts, I could feel that something wasn’t quite right. The urge to push was stopping too early, my surges felt too short, not powerful enough. My midwives encouraged me not to hold back, and I explained to them, ‘It’s not that, I’m not holding back, it’s just not there, they’re not long enough’. By now I’d been pushing for a while, maybe an hour and a half. The bathroom was getting hot and suddenly felt crowded – Lee and Phoebe were still there, and my midwife, and a wonderful second midwife I’d only get to know later. We were at a critical moment – a kind of ‘will she, won’t she?’ – and I think they could all feel it, and were perhaps running out of ideas. Then Phoebe did something very sensible – she helped me stand up straight and asked me, ‘What do you want, where do you want to be?’ I didn’t even need to think, my body knew the answer. I said, ‘I want to go downstairs and lie flat on my back and rest’. So that is exactly what I did.

(Phoebe later told me that she was watching me kneeling, surrounded, on the floor, and could see I was starting to panic a little, so she and Lee helped me to my feet so that I was above everyone again - a perk of being tall. Then she put these questions to me, and apparently I snapped back into ‘Julia in control mode’ and just marched off downstairs.)

So, with me in the lead, we all traipsed back down to where we’d started, and everyone apart from Lee left me. I lay flat on my back on a futon mattress on the living room floor, and for about seven minutes everything stopped. No surges. I rested. Then, whoosh, the biggest surge yet. I pulled my knees back, still on my back, and this time I really felt the baby move. Now we were getting somewhere, but I still had a way to go.

The midwives joined us again. I leaned back on Lee, pulling my knees right back, and worked as hard as I felt I needed to. The midwives said, ‘Listen to Lee,’ and he kept on encouraging me, telling me to keep going, that I was doing really well. His words become the fuel that kept me going while my body and mind just got more and more tired.

My baby’s head would move forward when I pushed, then slip back between surges, then with the next one it would quickly fill my perineum all over again. This was a strong feeling, and I was finding it hard to manage, so I said to Lee, ‘With the next one, you have to kiss me!’ With the next surge he kissed me hard on the mouth (this was definitely not Spiritual Midwifery-style ‘smooching’), and the pressure on my lips gave me something to focus on. I was still working hard. I groaned, ‘Screw you, Libbi with your three pushes!’ (Libbi was a good friend of mine who’d given birth after very little pushing). This made the midwives laugh – I was exhausted, but I hadn’t completely lost my sense of humour. More of the head was visible now, I think I touched it, I can’t really remember.

‘Everything is perfect, everything is perfect,’ I muttered out loud, as I worked and roared and worked and rested. Then I hit what I call the ‘Bear Hunt’ moment – when you realise you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go round it, you have to go through it! I felt like if I pushed any harder, I’d burst. But my only options now were to get that baby out myself or transfer into hospital. I knew which I preferred. So I kept going, past the point where I thought I would break, and out onto the other side.

‘You’re crowning’, the midwives told me. And then, with the next surge and the next, ‘nearly there, just another millimeter…’

‘How bloody big is this baby’s head?’ I wanted to know.

Then, when I felt I was stretched as far as I could go, my baby’s head passed through me and out into the world. This was when the penny dropped (for everyone in the room apart from me) – the little tinker had not, after all, turned, but had come out in her preferred back-to-back position. So I felt every detail of that tiny forehead, nose, lips, chin pass across my most sensitive parts, and I remember saying that it was a feeling I would never forget (of course, I have forgotten it). And her head was born not by extension, as is the norm, but instead she passed straight through, like tooth paste out of a tube. Now the midwives knew why I’d had to work so hard to get her out.

But, whatever, the head was born, and what a relief! The body slid out next with that jelly ‘blobloblob’ feeling. It felt great after the firm pressure of the head. She was passed straight to me, and I remember seeing the craziest moulding on her head. (At some point, the midwives prompted us to check if we’d had a boy or a girl, and we saw it was the latter). She made some noise, so we knew she was OK, and Lee said, ‘I love her so much!’ I felt the same - she immediately felt like such a big, strong personality to us and, looking back, I’m surprised to see how little she was. I remember trying to push out the placenta and doing the biggest wee, squatting, still holding her, then deciding I’d have the injection after all and let the midwives do the work. I was done for the day.

I remember getting her - Mara - straight onto my breast with a kind of dogged pragmatism that comes with the trade, keeping her on me for ages, skin-to-skin, and at some point eating a mini Magnum. I felt bruised and tender, but I was high as a kite, and couldn’t quite believe the journey we’d all been on. In the photo above, I’m actually on  the phone to my mum, who had been eagerly awaiting news of the birth since I’d messaged her at 5.00am telling her that things were getting ‘quite intense’.

I spent the next two weeks in that same room where Mara was born, camping out on the futon mattress, dressing her in just those clothes we’d packed in the hospital bag. It’s the same room that I use to teach hypnobirthing, which, with its pinkish light cast by the thin red curtains, had always been called my ‘womb room’. Now it has really earned that title!

And that’s it. My very long birth story. I’m relieved finally to have it down on paper – in another month, Mara will be a year old, and I want to remember every detail of it.