Physically I coped really well with the birth of my first son James. I had kept fit, done lots of yoga, eaten well, done my perineal stretching and had prepared my body as well as I possibly could have done. I was 3/4 cm when i got to the hospital, dilated to 10 in four hours and had a 15 minute second stage with no tearing. However, mentally I had the most horrific time of my life. There were no forceps, no flashing lights, no ventouse, but whenever I described the birth to anyone i used the words "hideous". I was in tears before i even got to the hospital, ran from every contraction, i screamed "make it stop" "I'm not coping", I doubled over and panicked about the next one, I was distraught about how long it would take. Although I knew it would be painful, I still felt extreme shock when every contraction set in. When my gorgeous baby boy James was born I was 99% happy that the "ordeal" was over and maybe 1% happy that my baby had arrived.
This time, my goal was to handle the experience much more calmly. While I thought I had prepared mentally before, I hadn't really appreciated the dedication and practice it takes to prepare mentally - the difference between knowing things as theory and having practiced them so much that the techniques and thought processes kick in all by themselves when they are needed. We all know we are more relaxed when we breathe properly, of course it's relaxing to imagine a nice beach, and yes dropping your jaw and shoulders takes the tension out of your body but I can;t stress enough - the difference between knowing and practicing them is MASSIVE ( I know - I'm sorry i'm preaching to the converted but allow me my little eureka moment!)
I started at about 30 weeks listening to the natal hypnotherapy cds. They hadn't done much for me last time but I hadn't listened to them enough - I almost dismissed them as being too obvious and wrote down notes from them once as if cramming for an exam. This time I listened about 4 times a week before I went to sleep and knew they must be doing at least something when i actually started falling asleep to them.
Then, on your recommendation, at 36 weeks I saw Lucy Symons - a hypnotherapist who comes to your home and records you your own personal cd. She talked me through tips for coping - again ones that sound obvious but need practice and repetition and i listened to her cd in conjunction with the other one.
So the day after my due date, after a wonderful sleep I woke up thinking what a wonderful day it would be to go into labour because it was a weekend and we had childcare on tap for my son James. At about 11.30 I went for a walk to the shops and started to feel a bit twingey. I called rob and told him it might be something, or it might be nothing but that maybe his sister should come anyway to take james. At least that way we were covered. I went home and ate bread and jam as that's what i'd eaten the day i went into labour with james and it felt somehow symbolic! I was feeling a bit period painy.
At about 2.30 I watched my sister in law drive away with james and at that point i started experiencing medium to strong period pains. Strange how my body waited till he was safe. They were coming every 3 minutes and lasting about a minute. With every one I did what Lucy taught me to do. I counted down from 10, to 1 with each out breath. It sounds really simple but it made my mind focus on the numbers and not the pain . And also by the time i got to 5 i knew i had broken the back of it. Meanwhile rob rubbed my back and put a hot pack on my lower back which was wonderful. I thought about relaxing my shoulders and jaw which made me relax into every contraction rather than run from it and it immediately helped. However Rob and I were still completely unsure about where i was with it all. He pointed out that i was much more compus mentus than last time. He called my midwife (I was lucky enough to have my own on the nhs - the same as last time) and I was able to talk to her normally - I told her i was coping fine and would come in when i needed gas and air - to ignore rob as he was just worried he would have to deliver the baby at home. The contractions stayed the same frequency and length. My only indication that things were progressing were that my out breaths were moving from blowing the candle out breaths, to "mmmmms" to sighs to groans. focusing on keeping my voice at a low humming tone really helped. We just weren't really sure whether i was in labour or pre labour.
At 3.30 i went to the loo. THe weirdest thing happened - i felt something moving down. "oh my god it's a head" i thought. So i had a feel but it felt too soft to be a head. "oh my god i'm prolapsing" i thought "and how unfair to prolapse when about to have a baby". "Rob", I shouted, "something strange is happening!" . He ran to the loo just in time to hear a plop and a splash "Oh my god" he thought "she's dropped the baby down the loo". Well it wasn't the baby - it was my waters breaking - i had felt them coming down in their sack. But it did show that if rob thought i could just "drop the baby down the loo" he didn't really appreciate the effort required for labour and childbirth!
Anyway at that point we decided regardless of how calm and normal I was and the fact that contractions were only a minute long we would go to the hospital as things progressed pretty quickly after my waters broke last time. The taxi ride was a bit rough - I kneeled on the back seat and as lucy had taught me, kept my eyes closed to keep myself in my own space.
At about 4.15 my midwife met us outside with a wheelchair which she quickly decided i didn't need so we put the luggage on it and went up to the birthing centre. WE all had a bit of a laugh about the "baby down the loo/prolapse" panic. Then we got to the room and between contractions I joked with her about how my son had told me she was going to dig the baby out with a spade. I am sooo being sent home, I thought.
Then I got up on the bed and she examined me. "Cath!" she said, "I have some very good news! - you're 9 CM!!!!!!!" My husband could NOT believe it (even though i had told him women often get turned away from hospitals when they've done hypnobirthing as people don't believe them. She said she wasn't going to examine me again - just to let my body do what it wanted.
At that point my body relaxed even further. And i think i gave myself a bit of a break. I stayed in one place, leaning over the bed and my contractions shortened (I was only able to count down as far as 4 with my out breaths and they spaced out a bit. After an hour my midwife stood me up and did some swaying with me - just the change in position was enough to start the guttural contractions again. I would count down to 1 and then have to count back up again. But one of the phrases from my cd kept popping into my mind "You can choose to perceive this contraction however you want". It would never have come so automatically to mind if i hadn't listened to it quite so much. And the phrase "you will give birth to your baby with joy and relaxation". It sounds like a load of rubbish until it's so deeply ingrained in your mind that you believe it! Then she suggested a walk across the room. Even the few steps I took were enough to deepen the contractions even further to that really grunting, pushing intensity. But instead of "make it stop" as i thought last time, I thought "that's good, my baby's moving even lower". I swear that kind of calmness is totally alien to me even under daily circumstances!
6.30: It was obvious it was time to push. I got up on the bed into the same squatting position i had with james. This time with rob behind the bed with his arms under mine, supporting my weight. I felt the head coming out and stay there for a little bit, i felt some stinging but all i could think was how amazing to feel my baby's head. then some panting, then one more push and that big satisfying slithery feel as gorgeous, perfect, amazing baby harry came into the world. My second stage was 5 minutes!! And again I hadn't torn. He was put on my chest immediately and all I could think was what an amazing incredible birth. I loved every second of it and often replay it in my head now because the whole thing was so calm and joyous rather than some flashback to a medieval torture chamber. My midwife was elated - I had made the whole thing very easy for her she said.
I used to think it was a bit of a myth that you could be prepared for childbirth but I am a classic example of someone who has been proven totally wrong and therefore call all cynics out there to give proper birth prep a go - but properly - with practice! Here are the things I am going to try and remember if there is ever a next time:
- Keep fit
- Yoga ( I did lots of seated forward wide leg bends and frog poses, as last time to get my pelvis open)
- Perineal stretching
- Closing my eyes with every contraction so people know not to talk to me
- Relaxing my jaw and shoulders
- Giving each out breath a number - Counting down from 10 to 1 with each out breath
- omming, hmmming and other such noises rather than screaming
- Realising that I don't have to DO anything - my body knows what to do and will do it all by itself
- Realising I'm in charge of how i perceive each contraction
- staying in the moment and not anticipating the next contraction
- Lots of hypnobirthing cds to remind me of all the above and make them instinctive when the need kicks in.
Lots of love, Cath, Rob, James and Harry xxxx