It's now Boxing Day and I can't believe how quickly December has gone! Three weeks ago I encountered an entirely new experience: a natural, drug-free hypnobirthing birth. The result: our gorgeous little girl, Elise was born!
Here's a pic of her at 2 weeks old:
Elise was 8 days 'late' but, despite talk from our midwives that they wanted to book me in for an artificial induction to 'get things moving', I was adamant that I wanted our baby to come spontaneously - when she was ready. After all, I had been lucky enough to have a straight forward pregnancy and Elise's heart beat was healthy and strong.
At 4am on 5th December I woke up with my first contractions. Having never been a mum before I wasn't sure what contractions would feel like. All I knew was that this was a different sort of feeling. I was so ready to have my baby that I was ecstatic to be feeling these pangs. I woke Ross to let him know that something was happening -and then, knowing all we could do was wait, we went back to bed.
In the morning, the spasms were still coming so I started listening to my hypnobirthing CDs, doing the specific breathing techniques through each contraction and staying as focused as possible on remaining calm and oxygenating my body.
By 10am it was time to go to hospital: the contractions were 5 minutes apart and strengthening. We left, got half way to hospital and I remembered I'd left a candle burning in the living room. There was no way I could relax and stay focused knowing our house could burn down at any minute (!) so we drove back home to blow it out! Back to hospital again... :)
Our delivery room was much more welcoming than I expected it would be. This would be our 'home' for the next few hours!
I was still comfortable enough chatting with Laura (our midwife) and as I didn't seem distressed she suggested we went home for another couple of hours. To be truthful I didn't fancy the car journey home twice again and anyway, my instinct told me to stay put.
I was linked me up to a machine to monitor the contractions (or 'surges' if you want to use hypnobirthing speak) and the baby's heartbeat.
Within ten minutes the waves of contractions started to come more quickly and harder. They sort of punched down from my mid-stomach and across my lower abdomen.
I was glad I'd listened to my intuition and stayed put. An internal exam revealed that I was already 6cm dilated (you need to be 10cm to birth your baby). I think Laura was surprised I was so far along and still calm!
Throughout my pregnancy I had seen my acupuncturist, Olivia Shurdova (who is exceptionally gifted). Amongst other things Olivia had shown Ross and I key acupressure points on my legs, hands and shoulders that, when pressed, would offer natural pain relief. It was time to apply what we'd learnt! Ross began to apply pressure to these points each time a contraction washed across my belly and it made a significant difference.
By about 1pm the contractions had sort of taken over my body. Every 1 to 2 minutes this tightening would surge across my lower abdomen - from the hips into the centre of my belly. Some women describe it as a strong period pain. My experience was quite localised to the lower part of my belly. From my hypnobirthing classes I knew this was the horizontal muscles at the base of my uterus being pulled open and up as a result of the vertical muscles contracting upwards.
I remembered the advice from our tutor: to imagine these muscles as ribbons (or anything flowing, limp and light... like running water or fabric blowing in the wind).
Any of my clients will know that I am a huge advocate of visualisation and mental preparation - I firmly believe in the power of the mind-body connect. Knowing how my body was naturally working to birth my baby, coupled with these visualisations, enabled me to stay totally focused and manage the situation more easily.
At this stage of labour some women like to stand, others to lie down. Many prefer to work through it hunched over an exercise ball. Quite frankly no position for me was comfortable at this point. The best option was standing with my hands on the end of the bed.
By 2pm I asked for the bath to be filled. "I think you've got another half hour before we do that," Laura said. "Nup," I said, "I need to get in the water!" I wanted the warm water around me to soothe the contractions.
Here's a picture of what a birthing bath looks like:
The warmth of the bath water was delicious. Not only did it ease the ache from each surge, it also helped me to feel weightless. Ross was an absolute godsend too at this point. He had also attended the hypno classes with me and knew what to say and when to say it.
In a hypno birth, the role of your birthing partner is vital. Well let's face it, in any birth it helps to have a birthing partner who is aware of your birthing preferences and to encourage you throughout!
Ross' voice became my main focus and enabled me to filter out all other voices and noise. He reminded me to breathe deeply to a count of ten and out for ten - not only did this saturate my body and uterus with oxygen (thereby keeping the muscles maleable as possible) it also brought calmness to my mind.
Every wave, he reminded me too that we were one more contraction closer to meeting our daughter.
Our baby was well and truly down in my birth canal when Laura suggested I stand up. Although gravity is a natural aid to birthing, standing up was the last thing I fancied attempting!
One of my friends had used 'active birthing' techniques, where you walk and stand as much as possible. It seemed logical - and it worked - as soon as I stood up, our baby started to be visible. Hooray - it was time!
In hypnobirthing terms, this is the point where you switch to 'J' curve breathing. This is where you inhale quickly and deeply and then exhale down hard whilst imagining baby is moving out in a sort of 'j' shape.
For me, this was a technique that went totally out of the window as my body's natural instincts took hold. All I wanted to do was push! I could feel the baby surging forwards each time, only to be sucked back in again! After that occuring twice, I twigged that I needed to make more of a concerted effort whilst still allowing time for my skin to stretch.
Within 20 minutes the baby's head was out. Her shoulders were soon to follow. It was only then that I really heard Laura's voice. "Mum you can reach down and pull baby out if you want." What? I thought. I hadn't imagined I would be able to do that! How amazing!
I opened my eyes, looked down and saw this little head and body in the water. Our baby was almost born! I reached down and clasped her little body. It was truly magical. With the next contraction I delivered our baby girl and lifted her out of the water and onto my chest. I think I was in shock - she was finally here and was absolutely perfect.
Here's another pic just after she was born:
Birthing Elise in a natural way was, as I say, a truly magical experience. It is true that I would have been desperately disappointed if I hadn't been able to bring Elise into the world drug free (I believe the combination of water and hypno birthing without drugs or intervention has resulted in an exceptionally calm and healthy baby).
But I was a very lucky mum and had no complications. So now she is here... the true challenge begins!
I hope you've enjoyed hearing about my experience. I would love to hear other parents' birth stories - feel free to post your comments below!