Before I begin, I will say that although I had a vaginal birth with virtually no pain relief and no help, all births are amazing. I am going to talk about how empowering it was but I think all births can be empowering. Elective C section? I salute you. Vaginal with epidural? You’re amazing. So please don’t think I’m being all “vaginal is the only way to feel good about your birth” because I’m really not. Also, the hypnobirthing I did was from reading “The Hypnobirthing Book” by Katherine Graves and doing the exercises in there. I’m not calling contractions “surges” as I didn’t find this particularly helpful. Right! Get your raspberry leaf tea ready, this is going to be a long one!
On Thursday at 1pm, the day before giving birth, we had an appointment to talk about induction options as I was so-called “over-due” (full term +9 days). I wanted to wait as long as possible but by this point, I’d become very upset everyday that I had gone over and no amount of positive affirmations seemed to hep me through. When we talked about options like inductions and C sections, the doctor gave us loads of information to mull over but we were still a bit unsure. The doctor was lovely and was really patient with us. She could see that neither option appealed to us and offered me a sweep and examination, explaining that it would get us even more information about where my body was at and potentially being able to break my waters instead of having a proper induction. I accepted. This is the first test of hypnobirthing. It’s the chance to say “no” if you don’t want intervention but also to make informed decisions and ask questions if you do want intervention. I accepted because I wanted to know how far along I was. She did the examination and sweep, and to my utter relief she said that my body had progressed well, I was 1cm dilated and my cervix was soft. Because of this, induction would probably not be necessary and if I didn’t go into labour over the weekend, I could just get my waters broken. This sounded great to me as I was really struggling with after-due-date-pregnancy and it sounded a lot nicer than either waiting an age or getting induced. We booked breaking the waters for the following Tuesday and the doctor also said that if I was uncomfortable with it at all, I could still decline the waters breaking, which I already knew from practicing hypnobirthing but was reassuring to hear all the same.
Right after the examination, my whole body started to shake uncontrollably and we went home at 3pm. I was pretty sure I was having contractions but because I felt discomfort in my bump every day for about 3 weeks prior to this, I was unsure and was happy for my husband Roman to go to work. I started timing the contractions and was feeling them mainly in my back, it was very easy to deal with and I played “Animal crossing new leaf” to keep me calm and happy.
For the next two hours, I was absolutely beside myself with happiness, I can’t quite explain the joy it brought me to know that I had finally gone into labour! Even righting this, I’m almost being brought to happy tears remembering how giddy I was! I was laughing at everything and even smiling through contractions. Roman came home at 6 and finished off his work ready for paternity leave. I was able to keep busy, preparing an order of photos from Aldi and looking at funny things on Buzzfeed. I called the birth center to let them know that I had gone into labour and they told me to call back when the contractions were 4 minutes apart and I had to breathe through them.
At 9, we put on one of our favourite films “Howl’s moving castle” and I started to find the contractions quite hard. I became a little negative and worried at this as they weren’t regular. I was thinking that I wasn’t quite cut out for hypnobirthing as I thought contractions were supposed to be tough only when they were regular. Roman reassured me that I was doing well and we went up bed to try and get some rest. He read some hypnobirthing relaxation scripts which really calmed me down. We said a special prayer (we’re members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints) to reassure me that things were going well, I went to the loo and got into bed.
For the next hour and twenty minutes, I tried my best to get to sleep but I couldn’t. I was coping pretty well though, doing my up breathing and just hoping that Roman could get some sleep at least so he could be the best support possible when I really needed him. I found it good to say to myself “Let’s just get to 11pm.” and then “let’s just get to 11:30” and so on. It worked really well as time was going by really fast and each time, I was surprised and proud of myself that I’d gotten to the next time without waking Roman!
At 1am I gave up on sleep. Unfortunately, it was just bad timing! This is what I would describe as the “dark stage” which I’ve stolen from another hypnobirthing story I’ve watched. I like this description because I had to wake Roman as I was finding things quite difficult and our environment was of course, dark. On top of that, I then called the birth centre again as contractions were on average 4 minutes apart. “Surely, things have progressed nicely” I thought. I was worried that they would say I wasn’t ready yet and it was perhaps this worry that gave me one of the shortest contractions I’d had whilst on the phone to them- just lasting 30 seconds. They said I hadn’t progressed enough and was advised to take paracetamol, get in a bath and call back when the contractions were all the same length for about an hour. This really upset me but Roman was a great support and started running the bath at 2am.
I found the bath really uncomfortable as it didn’t cover my bump and lying down wasn’t very nice. The paracetamol also didn’t seem to do much. We tried watching “A Knight’s Tale” (a comedy) but this didn’t work either. This was were I really thought I wasn’t made for hypnobirthing as they always say that baths and laughter are the best pain relief and I felt I wasn’t doing well with contractions- I would use the word “pain” for them at this point. I don’t know why I thought this, hypnobirthing is meant to be about giving you a positive experience, whatever happens to you during birth. You don’t *have to* be a certain way, everything is your choice. But I’m a very literal person and took it that I had to like all the things it suggested. I tried going on all fours as that is hypnobirthing recommended but that didn’t work either and I was getting very negative. Roman kept encouraging me, telling me I was doing great and that I looked really calm. This was really reassuring! He was also saying “one more step to getting Jellybean” with each contraction -Jellybean is what we called our baby as we didn’t know her gender yet. This was great and I began to breath through contractions whilst also breathing out positive affirmations such as “it’s good”, “one more step” and “you’ve done loads of these now, you can get through another one”. This calmed me down quite a bit.
I had a second bought of “bloody show” at 4 am and my body was shaking uncontrollably. I vomited which felt good until I started another contraction, haha! Roman got me some apple room spray to smell on a cloth which was lovely. Then, I had bright blood and I realized that I hadn’t felt Jellybean move in a while. The contractions were consistent, lasting a minute and ten seconds so we called the birth centre and told them about the blood. Nothing at this point could’ve stopped those contractions! I had to breath through them without talking and sometimes making “moo” sounds as I’d heard that from a different hypnobirthing course- the positive birthing company with Siobhan.
I held my stomach, looked at Roman and said whilst crying “Jellybean”. I had always been worried about having a still birth and the bright blood and lack of movement wasn’t helping with these negative thoughts. I was scared. Roman knew what I meant, bent down, took my shoulders in his hands, looked me right in the eye and said “Elisabeth, Jellybean is going to be fine”. I didn’t know at the time but Roman had the strangest feeling that what he was telling me was completely true and it was perhaps the confidence in his eyes that calmed me right down. I was also reduced down to basically a child by this point- labour does strange things to you! So I think I would’ve believed anything and done anything he asked from this moment on!
The birth centre team told me to come in right away and I was SO relieved! Roman got together the things in the car whilst I got dressed, I was nervous about the car ride because the sitting position is apparently one of the worst for labour and we were a good half an hour from the hospital but as soon as I got into the car, I felt… relief! Bliss! Somehow, my body and my baby loved that position above everything else. I would now consider my contractions as “uncomfortable”, not “painful” and I felt Jellybean move. Now it all made sense as to why I wasn’t dealing too well with contractions before- I’d never even considered this position! We got into the hospital and couldn’t go into the birth centre because of my bleed but I didn’t actually notice, I thought we were in the birth centre as the room was quite spacious and I thought this was only a feature in birth centre rooms! I had to sit on the bed which was sort of folded up on a “chair” setting because they had to monitor Jellybean with a strap round my stomach. I knew that having a proper bleed in labour is no laughing matter so I was happy about hearing her heartbeat. I also miraculously found the bed in this position really comfortable!
I will say here that after the birth, Roman told me we weren’t actually in the centre and for some reason that really upset me as in the hypnobirthing book, Katherine Graves is really quite negative about anything other than birth centres or home births so again, I thought I’d failed at having a “hypnobirth”. I now have no idea why I thought this. I was happy in that room- happier than I’d been at home, even. A “hypnobirth” can be any birth, not just in a birth centre or at home, I’d taken Katherine Grave’s advice more as an order.
Anyway, we were at the hospital around 5:30 am. The midwife offered an examination which I declined- I didn’t particularly enjoy the sweep examination the day before and wasn’t ready to re-live that experience, especially in labour! The midwife was a little grumpy at this and I said in desperation- remembering from hypnobirthing that I had the right to decline no matter how grumpy the midwife was- “I don’t want any hands up there!”. And she grumbled something about wanting to know what pain relief I wanted, I said “birth pool” and she explained that because of needing to monitor me from the bleed, I couldn’t go in the water. I wasn’t that bothered about pain relief to be honest though and just wanted to be left alone so I took the gas and air more to keep her happy than me!
I will say here that it was right at the end of this midwife’s shift, they have 12 hour shifts which are incredibly taxing with not much time for rest or food. That’s not fun. So to have a woman come in and wail at you about not putting your hand up her when you’re tired and hungry… I honestly don’t blame her at all!
Here, it would’ve really helped me, I think, to look at some of the funny tumblr posts that I’d printed out but both me and Roman had completely forgotten about them! I breathed gas and air through a contraction and it didn’t do anything at all apart from making me feel dizzy and even more delirious. I was still finding the contractions surprisingly deal with-able and found that holding onto the handle of the gas and air and squeezing it was more effective than actually breathing it in! Roman asked if I wanted to hold the ears of a “Totoro” toy we’d brought because it was softer and thought it might be more comfortable but I was happier with the hard plastic. Then our midwife passed us onto another one so she could end her shift. This midwife oggled at me not using the gas and air through contractions and asked what course we’d been on, Roman told her and she said she’d actually been trained by Katherine Graves! Her name is Claire and she was absolutely brilliant! I felt the urge to push at 8am and Claire, without examining me, told me to follow any urge I felt. I didn’t need telling- I couldn’t have stopped the urge if I’d tried! My stomach clenched all on it’s own, but much like vomiting or doing a big poo, I kind of had to “let” my body push, I had to release it. But I couldn’t have stopped it. It’s indescribable. I did this release by doing down breathing from the Hypnobirthing book which helped immensely.
It was around here that was my husband’s favourite part of the labour. For a while I had been staring at two plugs that had their wires crossed with the way they were placed in the socket which had annoyed me for aaaages! I told Claire and although she found it very funny, she was obviously very experienced with crazy labouring women and asked me if I’d like them switched round. Call me OCD-y but her switching them round gave me more relief than breathing in the gas and air ever did!
I can’t remember what time, but somewhere between 8 and 10am I became very tired and frustrated. The pushing wasn’t really doing anything and Claire asked if I’d like an examination to see how far I’d progressed, I accepted and I was at 9cm, almost 10! This motivated me a LOT and Claire really encouraged me to push as much as I could. I did, but only with the pushes that came automatically. I had to have an in and out catheter at this point because I’d consumed a lot of water and pushing a baby out on a full bladder is never a good idea. Also, my body had literally forgotten how to pee! I had no idea that could happen!
At about 9:30 Claire told me I should push harder and for longer as me and Jellybean were both getting a bit too tired from being in the pushing faze for so long- most women only push for about 20 minutes to half an hour, I’d been at it for an hour. I had previously not wanted coached pushing as I’d heard that this was often the cause of tearing but at this point, I didn’t care, I wanted Jellybean out and my body wasn’t telling me to do it for long enough. I really needed that coached pushing and it felt good to do something a little stronger than what my body was telling me to do! I tried a squatting position on a birthing stool but neither me or Jellybean were liking it, her heart rate went down, and I got back onto the bed. These were more things that mine and my babies body were doing that was completely the opposite of most hypnobirthing experiences.
At 10, doctors came in to talk about giving me some “help” (episiotomy or ventouse) as I’d been pushing for a very long time now- 2 hours and both me and Jellybean were getting extremely tired by this point. My husband told me afterwards that Claire had told the doctors to be calm and positive before they talked to me. Episiotomy seemed to be better but I’d put in my birth notes that episiotomy’s really scared me and the look of panic in my eyes must’ve reminded Claire of this as she said “I know it scares you, but with the way you’ve been pushing now, baby will be out before you need to have one” and I knew that I could decline an episiotomy at any time, so I was more or less happy to have the anesthetic injection just in case I did need to have one.
The potential episiotomy gave me the strength to push harder and longer than I’d ever done before. Claire and all the doctors were quite literally cheering me on! They said “almost there now! We can see the head, baby’s got tons of hair!” I was over the moon and started singing “almost there” from princess and the frog. I could touch her head with my fingers but didn’t quite know that it was the head and with the next few pushes, she was out! I felt quite a bit of pain at the point of her coming and was saying “ow ow ow” but Claire telling me to push through the pain made it (almost) go away as I felt her arrive into the world.
I had done it. I felt incredible, tired and delirious all at once! Claire asked who wanted to announce the gender and we’d originally wanted Roman to announce it but he wasn’t at the right angle and asked Claire to do it instead as he was just too excited to go and look. It felt right, Claire had been so amazing this whole way through. She also cut the cord. “it’s a girl!” A girl?! I had for sure thought it was a boy! I said her name, Matilda, and had- in my opinion- a well earned skin to skin cuddle.
I had to have an examination to determine if I had tears and I genuinely thought I hadn’t torn at all. I don’t want to scare anyone but I’m not going to lie, that examination was harder than the actual birth. I used gas and air through it but again, it didn’t particularly help, it was more of a distraction than anything else. But as I said, it didn’t bother me- I had my daughter. I was also happy for them to do the examination so they could do a properly good job with the stitches so I could have a good recovery and knowing that that was why this was happening got me through it. They brought me into theater to get stitched up, I was more concerned about the spinal block than the tears but all the doctors were so supportive after I told them I was scared. I remember a Scottish Lady, Suzy I think, who held my hand through the spinal block and when it was done, I felt really calm and relaxed. People touching me under that anesthetic felt really funny and I was actually able to laugh through the experience! Suzy(?) sat next to me the whole time and I was encouraged to sleep but I just couldn’t with all the people around me so we talked and shared funny stories. They were honestly some of the loveliest people and I’m so grateful to every one of them.
So there we are. I was wheeled back to Roman who had just had a glorious 2 hours of skin to skin bonding with Matilda and I believe that really helped their bonding- she is so content with Roman even when she’s hungry.
To conclude, the thing I’ve found with hypnobirthing is, don’t be too literal. Always be open to changes. I thought I *had* to be all-natural, birth centre, positive all throughout the birth, no coached pushing ect. and that if I wasn’t, I’d somehow failed. My birth on a whole was extremely positive and empowering but I did have wobbles, I found parts of it painful and sad and because of that, I thought I’d failed. But now that I’ve had time to think and mull things over, it was a great birth! Just because I had some wobbles doesn’t mean I’m bad at hypnobirthing. Just because I would describe bits of it using “painful” instead of “uncomfortable” doesn’t mean I don’t have a positive story to tell. And if you’re an overdue Mum struggling, please feel my deep sympathy for you! As Matilda’s Grandad has said to us “it’s your baby exercising their independent thinking” 😀
Here are some of my favourite hypnobirthing stories: