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Luke’s birth story – by Jane
Baby Luke was born on his due date! Pre-labour started on Monday and proper labour started on Tuesday evening. I happily laboured away by myself for a few hours – Christophe had gone to bed early as he had an early start the following morning – and then went to bed for two hours before waking him up to inform him this was the real deal and he wasn’t going into work!
I carried on labouring at home with his support and encouragement and was able to use the techniques you taught us, plus the MP3, to keep a calm head on my shoulders and appreciate the experience as it came to me.
Eventually, at about 10am on Wednesday, the time came to head into the MAU and I carried on using my breathing techniques, visualisations and so on on the way there. Unfortunately, however, despite us timing the contractions at more or less three-in-ten, the rhythm wasn’t holding quite strongly enough for the midwives, so we were sent home. About 12 hours later, we headed up again, but it was the same story and I was told to come back when we had a proper long, strong, close together pattern happening. We hung on at home again as long as possible before returning again on Thursday evening, because I was starting to get quite tired and the pain was ramping up. Fortunately for me, my waters had also started to break just before we left home, so I was admitted to the delivery suite that night (I really couldn’t have stood going home again!).
I laboured with just entonox and hypnobirthing techniques for about 3 hours, with Christophe helping with the “3-2-1 relax” guide in particular, but a steady rhythm of contractions still wasn’t happening (was more of a foxtrot than a steady metronome) and I was getting very tired – I had only managed to get two hours sleep on Tuesday and really nothing since, plus I’d not eaten in quite a long time, so the midwife did an artificial rupture of the membranes early in the early hours of Friday morning to try and pick up the pace a bit. That worked, to the extent that the contractions got longer and stronger but, you guessed it, no steady rhythm. However, this was marked down as the time I officially went into labour, which is kind of amazing in retrospect, as my notes say I was only actually in labour for 15 hours!
The gas and air gradually became less and less effective and eventually, I got to the stage where I wasn’t so much resting or sleeping between contractions as passing out from exhaustion, so I bypassed diamorphine and went for the epidural. We had a bit of a wait for the anaesthetist, so Christophe was managing to keep me kind of on the ball and the midwife managed to keep me sort of with it using chamomile as a sort of aromatherapy smelling salt.
That worked wonders, not just in terms of pain relief, but also it allowed me to get some sleep.
But, after several hours (not sure how many, time had ceased to have any meaning) there was still no steady rhythm to the contractions (in fact, they stopped completely for about 10 mins at one point) and I got stuck at 7cm dilation. With all that taken into account and the fact that Luke’s heart rate was starting to drop between contractions, I had an emergency caesarean and we finally met Luke at 18.42!
I know this straight-up sounds like one of those labour and birth horror stories – it’s certainly not what I had in my birth plan and I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t difficult – but overall I feel incredibly positive about it, not just because I got a healthy baby boy out of it at the end but because I never felt that things were completely out of my control, or particularly scared or panicked.
More than anything, though, I wanted to say thank you as I am so glad that we took your hypnobirthing class; I really don’t think I would have known how to cope without it and it could have been quite a harrowing experience. I felt really confident that I had the tools to get me through and I was even able to crack jokes for quite a long time (not sure how good they were in real life, but the drugs and exhaustion ensured I thought they were pretty funny and everyone else at least humoured me!). Even on the operating table, I was still feeling super calm and confident. I also used some rhythmic breathing to help bond with Luke and keep him calm when we were in the observation unit together.
Have you ever heard a song on the radio and been transported instantly to another time and place? I’m showing my age here, but Frankie Goes to Hollywood ‘Relax’ always takes me back to the supermarket where my mum did her weekly shop in 1984. I don’t normally think about this place at all but whenever I hear that song there I am, tagging along behind the shopping trolley. Or Simple Minds ‘Don’t you forget about me’ says school disco, with the smell of dry ice and feeling that teenage mixture of awkwardness and excitement.
We’ve experienced millions of these moments in our lifetime and couldn’t possibly be thinking about all of them at all times. But a simple prompt can open up any particular memory and immediately we’re remembering what we saw, heard, smelt or tasted, and felt, and we’re feeling the same emotions. And as we’re feeling those emotions, our body is showing a physiological response to that too. All this happens so quickly, it’s an automatic response and may be prompted without us even realizing.
These automatic associations work in just the same way for concepts. The experiences we’ve had and ideas we’ve heard relating to the concepts we encounter throughout our lives are all stored away somewhere in the back of our minds. Ideas like ‘work’, ‘home’, ‘baby’ and of course ‘birth’ spark a pattern of thoughts, feelings and physiological reactions that can set the course for how we respond to whatever happens next in our day.
We may have collected a lifetime’s worth of negative and fear-inducing ideas about birth, so the thought of labouring and giving birth might well prompt a feeling of nervousness and the accompanying physiological fear response. But what helps the hormones of labour and the birth process flow smoothly is the opposite state of mind – feeling relaxed, calm and connected. With hypnobirthing we have a way to do some de-cluttering in that mental store, to take a good look at the material we’ve collected over time relating to labour and birth, throw out what’s no longer useful and add in new things that boost our confidence. This allows us to look forward to and actively engage with the birth process, which helps us tune in to our inner experience mentally, emotionally and physically, and work with our bodies through pregnancy and birth. We then have the opportunity not just to endure labour as a means to an end, but work with it in a way that feels satisfying, calm and in charge, even enjoyable, blissful or euphoric.
Once people understand what hypnobirthing is about, it generally makes perfect sense to them. These are the most common questions I get asked.
If I do hypnobirthing will I have a pain-free birth?
You might… or you might not! But you might well discover that whether you describe the sensations of labour as painful or not, this bears little relationship to how satisfying the birth is. Women’s experiences with the sensations of labour vary a lot – it’s absolutely true that some women don’t experience labour as painful, and don’t find the word ‘pain’ a useful or accurate descriptor of their experience. It’s also true that some women have what they describe as a painful birth that is at the same time a thoroughly positive experience. Most (though not all) women experience contractions as an intense sensation – but that doesn’t necessarily amount to pain, and even when it’s pain that doesn’t necessarily amount to suffering. It can be really useful to explore the factors that make the difference here.
What if I don’t get the birth that I want? Will I feel like I’ve failed?
Birth, like life, doesn’t always go to plan. It’s normal and understandable to feel sadness, disappointment, even grief, if things don’t work out the way we hoped. But the concept of ‘failure’ in birth is something our culture really needs to get rid of as it helps no-one. Do we talk about ‘failing’ at digestion, or walking, or hugging? Do we think we’ve failed if it rains on our wedding day, or a delayed train means we’re late to meet a friend? Of course not, so let’s root out this unhelpful cultural narrative. Hypnobirthing is about having the tools to respond in the way we would like to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and that’s why it can be especially helpful if labour takes an unexpected turn. It can help us get into the best frame of mind possible to decide on the wisest course of action, should we need to.
Can I do hypnobirthing by myself or do I have to do a class?
There are many good hypnobirthing methods out there, and lots of practitioners locally. You can download hypnobirthing mp3s for free here https://www.mindfulmamma.co.uk/free-resources/free-downloads/ and hypnobirthing books are widely available in paper and audio formats. While some people choose to DIY, there are benefits to attending a class or workshop. Of course I would say that! But many people have told me they found the workshop helped them have a deeper understanding of the techniques and how to use them, and helped their partner engage actively with hypnobirthing.
My partner thinks this sounds a bit airy-fairy
(or) I’m single, will this still work for me?
Many birthing women comment that using hypnobirthing was a great way to involve their partner in birth preparation and help them feel confident about what they will actually be doing during labour. Partners like the way it gives them clear information about how the birth process works, and practical tools for supporting the birthing woman. Most women find the support of a birth partner invaluable during labour, but it’s not always the woman’s life partner who does that job. Some women are single, and some women choose to have somebody else supporting them, for example another close relative or friend, or they hire a doula.
I’m already 39 weeks pregnant! Is it too late?
I’ve seen this approach have amazingly quick results for people, one woman I worked with went into labour the day after our class and was able to use what we’d covered. That said, most people find the greatest benefits of these techniques with repeated practice over weeks and months. Although the workshop I run is just one day, most people are listening to mp3s regularly before the workshop and then stepping up their practice afterwards. Practice is really important, but it’s easy – little and often is most useful, and that might be spending a few minutes practising techniques every morning then playing an mp3 to relax to in the evening.
What is the link between hypnobirthing and mindfulness for birth?
While different approaches drawn from different traditions, both are ways of practising the art of letting go, physically and emotionally, and tuning in to our inner experience in the moment with kindness and openness. I find they work very well together as an integrated approach, and that’s what I enjoy teaching.
If I’m hypnobirthing can I still use movement/ make a noise/ use a TENS machine/ have an epidural?
One of the things I love about hypnobirthing is that it’s so adaptable – you can be really creative with it and use it in combination with anything else you want to do, and any other comfort measures that take your fancy. It’s a common misconception that hypnobirthing means keeping very still and quiet. While some women do make very little sound or are physically quite still, others combine hypnobirthing with a lot of dynamic movement, a lot of sounding (or mooing or roaring!), or periods of movement and stillness, sound and quietude. You can do it in the way that’s right for you, the way that works for your body and your baby on the day.
Will you make me cluck like a chicken?
It’s incredible how persistent this myth is! It’s a hangover from stage hypnosis, which is very different. Hypnobirthing and hypnotherapy are about harnessing the resources you already have, to help you achieve the things you want – I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, and I’m not interested in trying. What excites me is seeing how people can use these simple techniques to take big steps in the direction they want to go.
Is this just for hippies?
This really is for everyone, people who use hypnobirthing come from many different walks of life and use the techniques in many different types of birth. Hypnosis and hypnotic techniques are widely used by all kinds of folks from sportspeople to business executives. Hypnobirthing is becoming much more widely known, I would say almost mainstream now. Over a decade ago when I had my older children I’d never heard of it, but in the 5 years I’ve been teaching hypnobirthing in Oxford I’ve seen it go from a bit left-field to a completely normal thing to do. Most midwives are very well aware and supportive of hypnobirthing.
Is this about having a perfect birth?
Hypnobirthing is about getting the best out of the birth circumstances you find yourself in, optimizing the chances for your best possible birth. You really can use it for any birth, from the planned caesarean birth to birth in the sea with dolphins, and the many varieties in between. Birth is part of life, and I don’t know about yours but my life is rarely perfect! While life isn’t generally perfect it is often good. This isn’t about setting ourselves some kind of standard we have to achieve. There are many different ways to have a positive birth experience and hypnobirthing can help us make the most of whatever unfolds on the day.
“I got to 10cm without any pain relief and found the breathing techniques were able to help me cope with the experience and keep me as calm as possible during intense contractions. Before doing a hypnobirthing workshop I was terrified of labour but after the class we both left feeling more positive and able to think about labour in a rational way.”
“Well, the labour process was interesting and ended up being quite far removed from the natural birth I wanted but I felt so positive about the whole experience and that the right decisions were made at the right times. I remained in control, relaxed and calm throughout even when it became apparent the outcome was going to be different to what I had wanted and planned.” (Claire and Ian)
Guinevere Webster is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher specializing in birth and parenting. She runs mindful hypnobirthing workshops in Oxford through Mindful Mamma, and volunteers for Positive Birth Movement Oxford and Oxford NCT Home Birth Group.
This article was first published in the May 2018 of NCT Oxford’s digital newsletter.
Before the birth – preparation
When I first got pregnant, I was surprised to find I wasn’t feeling nervous about birth at all; that it was just part of the rite of passage of having a baby. I thought to myself, if I could keep this level of calm for the birth, everything would go well. After a lot of research, I decided on a home birth, but I felt that in order to pull it off, I needed to do a lot of mental preparation.
Fairly early on in my pregnancy I had stumbled across a hypnobirthing video – it focused on the mother in a pool, alone, and showed her breathing deeply and calmly at the latter stages of labour. I was stunned – I wanted to give birth like this! How had she stayed so calm? Every time I heard the term “hypnobirthing” from then on, I heard a positive story.
I read Marie Mongan’s and Sophie Fletcher’s hypnobirthing books, downloaded the Mindful Mamma meditation MP3s (which I listened to most nights to help me drift off to sleep), and also booked onto a Mindful Mamma course to get some practical techniques to use. Not only was the workshop useful for me to learn how to apply the techniques, it also gave my husband Andy something practical and proactive to do during labour.
I also prepared for my birth choice by going to a local home birth group, which increased my confidence in feeling that home birth was the right choice for me, and with support from hypnobirthing, I could do it.
As we approached the birth, Andy and I gathered everything we had learnt together. I picked out the techniques from the course and books that I liked the best and thought would work and talked them through with Andy. We started thinking about the birth space – our kitchen – and how to set up a pool in there and make it really relaxing (which meant leaving up the Christmas fairy lights!). Soon my kitchen was covered in visual and mental aids – mantras, paperwork with tips for labour, scan pictures and pictures to remind me of the meditations I’d covered.
As my due date approached, I was ready but not desperate for my baby to be born. One of the mantras I’d found during hypnobirthing was “my baby knows the right time to be born” and therefore I trusted him/her to arrive when they were ready. So instead of worrying or being impatient, I channelled my energy into enjoying maternity leave instead.
The night before I went into labour, I told a close friend that I felt suspicious that night that something would happen – and it did!
I woke up on the 10th January at 4am with what I described to myself as “painful bowel movements”. I tried to go back to sleep, but I kept feeling the same uncomfortable sensation so eventually around 5am decided to get up and eat something. Having never experienced labour at this point, I wasn’t yet convinced that this was it. I warned Andy that I was feeling something, but decided to wait until 7am to wake him up properly in case it was all for nothing.
As time went on, the feeling was starting to become more of a period-pain like cramp rather than bowel movements, and quite frequent but irregular. To take my mind off things I picked up my knitting, listened to my meditation MP3s and labour playlist, and also tried out some deep breathing. I started to become more convinced something real was happening, so just in case, I began to prep and de-clutter the kitchen, turned on the fairy lights, moved the fold-out mattress and my birth ball into the kitchen, and woke up Andy with a cup of tea. I also set my oven timer to display 0:00 so that I didn’t clock-watch throughout the day as I wanted to experience the “time-distortion” that can happen with deep meditation.
Whilst Andy finished prepping the kitchen by bringing out the pool and mats, I started to think about using the TENS machine I had bought to see what it was like and if it did anything, and told a friend of mine (who was a big fan of TENS). Her response was “do you really need it?” – and this really caught me in my tracks. If I tried the TENS now, would this lead to a spiralling of different types of pain management and a different direction to where I wanted to go in? As I didn’t *need* it, I decided against trying it out and I really thank that friend for catching me there and then!
After timing the sensations I was feeling, Andy suggested we call the midwife as I was still having 3 of them in 10 minutes. Still not really believing I was in labour, I agreed that he should call them, but tell them it’s probably nothing. When the midwife turned up at around 10am and did the first internal examination, I was 4cm dilated! I couldn’t believe it.
The next few hours were mostly tea and chat whilst the birth pool was filled. I continued to bounce on the birth ball or laid down during what I now knew were contractions. I was still mostly using long inhalations and exhalations to get through them, but occasionally led by Andy who did the 3-2-1-relax-relax-relax exercise and helped me visualise blowing a feather across a lake. I remember smiling at the end of each contraction and reminding myself that each one would be bringing my baby closer to me.
By 1.30pm I was 6cm dilated and the half-filled birth pool was starting to look enticing. Once it was full and I got in, I immediately relaxed into it and it gave me a chance to have a breather as things slowed down for a while (as generally happens in a pool). I also found that I now had control over when I had a contraction. If I stayed still, I didn’t have a contraction and could relax and rest. When I decided to change position, it triggered another contraction. I used this benefit of the pool to pace myself for a while.
I was still using long in and out breaths to breathe through contractions at this point. My helpers had been feeding me water and fizzy Lucozade – I soon asked for the fizz to be taken out of the Lucozade as it made me burp when I was trying to breathe deeply!
Another breathing technique I used was breathing through the phrasing of the music of the tracks on my labour playlist, which had been playing quietly in the background. My choice of tracks was based on slow, relaxing songs and music with deep personal connections to me – such as our first dance song and some of my all-time favourite tracks. Each track made me smile for different reasons – and I remember smiling after most of my contractions. If a part of the music I really loved came on during a contraction, I really went with it, allowed myself to get lost in the sound for a moment and breathed along with the tune.
After an hour or so in the pool, the midwife suggested I get out for a while to get things moving along again. After having gained control over my contractions in the pool, I was reluctant to get out at first as I knew they’d start coming fast again, but I also didn’t want things to slow down to the point they stopped. I decided to get out and got dressed, and sure enough they started up quickly again.
My next check was at 5.30pm and at this inspection I was 8cm dilated but the midwife managed to stretch me to 9cm. My waters still hadn’t broken at this point but were bulging and ready to go any second. I could feel the pressure myself and could feel some frustration building. There was some talk about the midwife breaking them for me, but because they were so close, we decided to wait. Sure enough, as I was stood by the pool, they finally gave way and the pressure and frustration subsided quickly.
After that, it was time for me to get back in the pool again and back to having control over my contractions. I began to think about what other breathing techniques I had covered in my preparation, and remembered watching a useful video about sounds women make during labour. I decided to try out some “mooing”, conscious that the video had explained that the deeper the noise was, the better – so I focused on trying to keep the noise I was making relaxed and deep. I “mooed” my way through the next couple of hours through to the pushing stage. I also had my first “urge to push” soon after getting back into the pool – it took me by surprise as my body did just take over me for a second and there was nothing I could do about it.
At around 9.30pm, the midwife explained to me the “purple line” some women have on their lower backs when they are fully dilated, and that I had a very clear one showing in the pool, so there was no need to do another internal examination or get out of the pool again.
As things progressed further and I started feeling the urge to push again, I switched to balloon breath (clenching my fist and blowing into it), which I loved as a technique and had practiced before going into labour – I liked the fact you could feel that breathing that way changed the feeling of the out-breath internally, and would help during pushing. My body switched from letting me have control over contractions to doing what it needed to do – it told me when to push, and using balloon breath, I just had to guide it, hold it and go with it. I spent most of my time in the pool at this point on all fours/kneeling with my arms over my side as it felt the most comfortable, though I was recommended to “squat” a couple of times to allow gravity to give a little helping hand.
I started to feel like the head was beginning to come, and the midwife was really encouraging and guiding me at this point, telling me how “open” my body was, to go with the breaths and what my body was trying to do. She seemed to completely get what I was aiming to do with my birth and birth plan. Andy was using the mantras “we’re going to have a baby soon” and “we get to find out if it is a boy or a girl”, and we also used another anchoring technique we’d developed where our foreheads touched and sometimes making eye contact. It really helped me engage with him and what we were doing.
My breathing at that point was switching between balloon and deep breathing, and when I felt the stretch as the head started to come, I remember it made me gasp (like stepping on something sharp) – but I still managed to maintain control. As the cycle of the head coming out and contracting continued, I got to a point where I could “hold” the breath and push to stop it retracting in so far again, and each contraction then made the next push and stretch a little stronger and motivated me to keep going – our baby would be here soon if I kept doing this.
As the stretch got bigger and bigger, eventually there was one more “argh” from me, and the head came out. I was encouraged to give one more little push to get the chin out, and remember it felt like a little “pop” as it was born. Andy remembers that seeing the head there staring out of the water was a very strange experience! With one more big push, the baby came out and was guided straight up onto my chest and wrapped in towels in the water.
I asked the time and was surprised it was still the 10th January, at 11.29pm – I thought I’d laboured into the next day. At this point, I was sitting back in the pool and Andy was round me, with the baby on my left side. We looked at each other and then I held the baby back slightly so we could see – and as we suspected (and secretly wanted, but wouldn’t admit it), he was a boy!