Paula's second baby, Fraser, was born at home in February 2004. Paula prepared carefully for the birth, using yoga and hypnotherapy, and she was attended by an independent midwife. Her hard work paid off - Paula writes that "I still marvel at how wonderful Fraser's birth was. I will always remember it was a truly euphoric experience, and have no memory of pain".
I could not begin to explain quite how different the birth of my son Fraser was to the birth of my gorgeous 4 year old daughter, Mia. Although there were no major complications with Mia's birth, it was so unlike I had expected it to be. I attended Active Birth Yoga classes and from discussion at the classes towards my due date decided I would like to consider a home birth. Mia, however, came two weeks earlier than my due date, the day before the midwife was due to come and see me to discuss having her at home. As my waters broke before contractions started, I was told to go into the hospital straight away because of risk of infection. I spent most of my time in the postnatal ward in a tiny curtained booth, as there was no room on the antenatal ward.
Despite this being demoralising, things seemed to progress well, partly, I believe as I was allowed to get on with things on my own, using Tens and yoga positions. But the moment I was moved to the labour ward things changed. Mia was monitored and that meant my movement was restricted, and before long I was "encouraged" to lie on my back on the bed. My midwife's approach was the opposite of what I had hoped for. She tried to get me to push Mia out at a point it subsequently transpired she was posterior, and shouted "don't you know the breathing you were taught in your classes ?" She also scoffed at my homeopathic kit. I felt bullied and belittled.
My partner Alan was wonderful, but as bemused by the stream of different doctors and bleeping equipment as I was. Essentially I became very scared, and convinced I was doing something wrong. I became obsessed by gas and air, so much so they had to virtually rip it out of my hands! In the end I narrowly avoided a caesarean. They prepared me for one, but I managed to push Mia out with the aid of ventouse whilst lying on the operating table with my legs in stirrups. The antithesis of an active birth ! Although I pushed her out, I felt nothing and was rather disconnected from the experience. I also hadn't really realised that, due to the epidural they had given me in preparation for a caesarean, I wouldn't be able to move for some time and had a catheter in.
After the birth was also a completely different experience to that I had imagined. I had problems with breastfeeding and when I moved to bottles, I felt a failure. I spent most of the following year suffering from postnatal depression, scared of talking to anyone about it. Luckily Alan was incredibly supportive and helped me a great deal. He now has a very close relationship with his daughter, which I believe is partly due to the strong bond they developed in the first few weeks and months when I was essentially in shock.
When Alan and I decided to have another baby, (and it took me over three years, despite the fact that time was against me, to feel I could even consider it) I was determined to do all I could to make the experience different. I was inspired by a friend, Stephanie's experience. She had had a similar first birth to me, but during her second pregnancy had taken on an Independent midwife, attended yoga and a hypnobirthing course. She had a wonderful home birth. I agreed with Stephanie that rather than assume my second birth would be the same, I would do all I could to change things. I felt the major issue with Mia's birth was that I had lacked any control over what ended up happening in hospital, and I was determined that would not be the case this time. Even if I ended up giving birth in the operating theatre, I was going to make the experience unique and as good as it could be.
I found out about a fantastic Independent Midwife based in Brighton, Val Taylor. With 20 years experience. I felt total confidence in Val, and she was very encouraging about the possibility of doing things differently. I decided I wouldn't set my heart on a homebirth. What would be, would be. If I stayed at home, wonderful, if not, Val would come in to the hospital with me. I attended a Breastfeeding workshop at the Active Birth Centre as well, hoping that my experience with feeding would also be different.
I was interested to attend a hypnobirthing course, and was recommended a course in Brighton and in London. However, I then attended a Baby Show in London at Olympia and came across Maggie Howell's stand (www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk ). I had a chat with Maggie and felt her CD's and course were exactly what I was looking for. I listened to the Pregnancy Relaxation CD religiously. I have always found it hard to relax, but found within a short period of using the CD's that I really looked forward to listening to them as I felt afterwards that I had had a really refreshing sleep. Towards the latter part of my pregnancy I moved to listening to the Birth Preparation CD. I really felt I wanted to learn more about self-hypnosis and the benefits for birth, so I decided to attend Maggie's Birth Preparation course. Alan had been rather sceptical about the use of natal hypnotherapy before he attended the course, but afterwards was completely converted!
We had to attend a shortened version of the course due to Alan breaking his arm badly. We both came away very motivated and, as Maggie suggested, I created my own tape. In the tape I visualised how my perfect birth would be, at this point scared to even believe this could be possible, lest I be disappointed. Birth. I used Maggie's Birth Music CD as background music when I created this tape, as by this point I had developed a strong connection with being relaxed and the music. I listened to it up to twice daily during the weeks before the birth.
Fraser was actually two weeks overdue, by which time I was really uncomfortable, and concerned about how things would turn out. I kept having flashbacks to Mia's birth and the memory of pain, fear and loneliness I had experienced during labour. Would the hypnotherapy really work?
On the night on the 18th, I began to have an instinctive feeling that Fraser was on his way. By 7.45am of the 19th, I had a show and called Val. I had prepared in my mind how I would deal with the early labour and set about creating a "nest" in our basement, with bean-bag, cushions, blankets etc. I had also decided to create a photo album of my daughter's first year for her, something I had been planning for ages.
Contractions were pretty regular but not a problem to cope with. Maggie had recommended a few books on her course, one of which was Birthing from Within by Pam England, which I found really inspiring. Using Maggie's great notes and this book, I had trained myself to feel the contractions were part of the natural process of giving birth and something I could work with rather than fight.
During my pregnancy I had attended Active Birth Yoga classes with Karen Sykes and Karen had shared with us some great birth affirmations which I had also used daily. I made sure I had these with me. When Mia came home from nursery I was able to chat with her, and Alan explained her baby brother was coming soon. Alan then put her to bed, at which point I felt I could really relax and focus on the birth. I had decided that I would be more focussed if Mia didn't attend the birth, but I had watched a fantastic home birth video with her, which Val had given me. Mia was completely unfazed by and very interested in it. She simply said she didn't want to clean up the mess afterwards !
I was so glad I had practiced the pain-control techniques. Every evening I would hold ice-cubes to my pulse points, mimicking as far as it is possible, the sense of a contraction. These enabled me to practice which techniques worked best for me when I felt pain. I felt I had a number of tools at my disposal to work with during labour and this was very empowering. For me, what worked best was visualising a place that I associated with calm and happy times in my childhood. This really kicked in during the labour. I felt a sense of ease that I had prepared myself like an athlete for this momentous experience. I had done all I could. What would be would be.
One of my biggest fears had been that Fraser would also be posterior, as Mia was, as this can make labour more painful and lead to intervention . Sadly Fraser spent most of the pregnancy in that position, clearly comfortable that way ! I had tried burning Moxa as recommended by an acupuncturist, and crawling around the living room on all fours daily, and always sat on my birth ball rather than slouching on the sofa. Nothing changed Fraser's position, but Val had helped me feel that even if he was posterior, we could work with that. I had also written in to my tape the belief that I trusted my body and Fraser to move in to the best position for birth and used Maggie's visualisation techniques to reinforce that.
Val arrived at 10.30pm at which point the contractions were not at all painful, but I had bad backache. Alan held a water-bottle on my back and this helped. What was wonderful was that, being at home, I felt relaxed, and Val largely observed me and let me get on with things, and I felt so confident with her there. At one point I complained that the back pain was bad and Val simply said "everyone gets something in labour". This really helped as I thought - "right -re-focus and accept what you are dealing with. You are a strong capable woman - you can do this."
Later during the labour when Val examined me she was amazed that he had turned into into the right position, although I never felt this happen. I am convinced that the visualisation helped this happen.
By 11.30 the contractions were pretty close together, but I really felt that, due to the techniques taught in the natal-hynotherapy course, I could rest between them and had time to recover. I felt completely in control and was very quiet. None of the shouting and swearing that you see on the television when someone is giving birth ! Val commented that when I moved to the second stage of labour the only sign was a slight change in my breathing. What I found most amazing, was that I had been really quite frightened about the second stage of labour as I was so disconnected from it and drugged up the first time. This time I can honestly say I enjoyed the second stage and have no memory of pain at all.
There was some sense at this time that I was indeed going to have exactly the birth I wanted, and there was a wave of euphoria as I gave myself over to my body. The visualisation techniques kicked in a major way, and I had a really strong image of my wonderfully amusing grandfather (sadly no longer here) encouraging me and wanted to laugh! I grabbed on to the downstairs banister, leant against my beanbag and breathed my baby boy down until I could touch his head, which was an incredible and completely empowering experience. At that point Val said his head was going purple and we should get him out quickly, at which point I pushed. Still no pain, but I did tear. Both Val and I believe that if we hadn't needed to get him out quickly I probably wouldn't have torn. Then there he was - a big baby boy - 8lbs 8 - the second biggest head Val had ever delivered - born gently to euphoric parents at 12.33 in the morning.
I don't have the words to explain how I felt. Only one thing was different from the tape I had created, which was the cord had to be cut before I could feed Fraser as it was too short. Other than that, it was truly amazing, that it was almost word for word, feeling for feeling, exactly as on my tape. What was additionally wonderful was that it was a shared experience. Alan said and did exactly the right things to help make the birth perfect - which we both believe was almost entirely due to the preparation work we had done at Maggie's course. He did not feel the need to say something for the sake of it, but when he encouraged me his words were well chosen and helped me keep focussed.
The placenta came away pretty easily. There was some brisk bleeding, but things settled down. I don't know how Val did it, but it seemed moments later that everything was neat and tidy and I was feeding Fraser. I had a bath in my own bath, which was blissful and before we knew if Alan, Fraser and I were sitting in bed eating pizza and drinking a glass of champagne. In the morning Mia got up and came into the bedroom to meet her brother for the first time. It felt exactly as it should be.
It is now 8 months on. Everyone comments on what a wonderfully sunny disposition my son has and I think it is in large part due to the wonderful way he was born. Val said he was very calm and happy he was born and scored top marks on the tests for alertness etc. There have been tough days, but there has been no postnatal depression, in fact far from it. Many people commented on how happy and healthy I looked a few days after the birth. A few days after Fraser was born I was having problems with breastfeeding. It was really tough, but with wonderful support from Val and using visualisation techniques and reading Maggie's notes, I persisted (it took nearly 10 weeks) but I am so glad I did. In terms of tiredness, the relaxation techniques really helped and when Fraser slept I could listen to the CD's and feel really rejuvenated after 30-40 mins.
I now want to stop every pregnant woman I see and tell her she can play a huge part making her birth experience a more positive one if she chooses to do so. If you can dare to believe it is possible and are prepared to invest some time and preparation into making it happen, you really can have the birth you deserve. I did have a wonderful natural birth at home, no Tens, no gas and air etc but at the end of the day that wasn't what mattered. What mattered was feeling in charge of my son's birth, rather feeling I had no control over what happened and my body wasn't even really mine.
I still marvel at how wonderful Fraser's birth was. I will always remember it was a truly euphoric experience, and have no memory of pain. I am proud that I made things different this time, but it would not have been possible without my friend Stephanie's inspiring story, and without Val and Maggie's expertise and guidance. There was also great support from my mother, who had given birth to me at home and encouraged my belief that the natal hypnotherapy could be a really positive way to make this birth a better experience. To these four people - I owe you so much and will be eternally grateful.
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Hypnosis for labour and birth
Pain relief options at home
Home Birth Reference Page