Guest blog post by second time mum Rachael Head. Rachael had a difficult first birth and really wanted a calm and positive water birth story the second time round. Read how her and her husband used Wise Hippo hypnobirthing techniques to stay in control of their birth experience
Birth number two: my Wise Hippo baby
I came to Wise Hippo hypnobirthing, as a second time mum following a difficult first birth experience. The first time round my husband, Nick and I, were fully prepared for labour (or so we thought!). We’d been to other antenatal classes, read the books, and watched One Born Every Minute…we were ready.
What we weren’t anticipating was an exhausting week long early labour (yes, it can happen!), a back-to-back baby and being up against the NHS’s clock (in my case I was allowed 12 hours in the midwife-led unit before being shipped off to Delivery Suite, which dramatically slowed the final stages of labour).
I’ll spare you too many details, but after many, many hours of discomfort, hardly any sleep, maximum stress levels and an unsuccessful epidural (again, who knew they don’t always work?!), our beautiful baby daughter, Annabelle, made a safe arrival via forceps delivery. The joy we felt was immense, but unfortunately the trauma we also felt stayed with us to the point where neither of us could talk about the birth in detail for months afterwards.
When we were fortunate enough to find ourselves expecting again 18 months later, I tried not to think about the birth part, but as time crept on I began to face the inevitable and made the decision to not let my fear of a repeat performance take the lead. Although my previous experience had led me to believe that my body wasn’t one of those wonderful bodies that birthed naturally and efficiently, I was desperate to give it my very best shot.
First things first we asked my mum, Kim if she would be a second birth partner to support us both when the time came. I had read that women who were supported in labour by another woman/women they trust had resulted in a much more positive birth experience. Plus, my mum is usually pretty unflappable so having her present was almost definitely going to be a calming influence on both of us jitter bugs.
Doing things differently
What else could I do though? As I said before, I’d read the books, I’d done the classes, I’d watched TV, I’d done it once before already for goodness sake! What else could we do to help us through the experience again? I’d heard of hypnobirthing through a few friends who raved about their ‘beautiful’ birth experiences (I scoffed at their use of the words beautiful and birth together. “Seriously, what planet are they on?!” I remember thinking) It sounded too good to be true and if I’m completely honest potentially a big too ‘hippy dippy’ for my tastes, but it had to be worth a go.
It turns out attending Wise Hippo hypnobirthing classes was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Not only did the classes help change our view of birth from something to be feared, to birth as the most natural and beautiful (yes, beautiful!) things us human beings can experience, but it also set both Nick and I up with the tools to stay focussed, in control and calm, and made us picture the birth we both wanted.
We really enjoyed practising our breathing techniques together (although I saved the infamous poo-humming for moments alone. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!), and I made listening to and reciting my birth affirmations part of my daily routine in the run up to the big day. We were surprised to find we were actually really excited about the birth!
I’d been having Braxton Hicks on and off for weeks, but on Wednesday 2nd December I felt the beginnings of the first proper surges. I didn’t tell Nick when he got home from work in case it was a false alarm, or indeed the start of another week long labour like last time. So, I carried on, business as usual.
I put Annabelle to bed, ordered pizza (it’s important to carb-load before a marathon dontcha know!) and bounced on my exercise ball while watching The Apprentice. Maybe it was Alan Sugar, maybe it was the pizza…who knows, but my surges ramped up and by the end of the episode I couldn’t hide what was going on any more. I announced “I think I’m in labour”, to which Nick smiled and told me he had guessed already as I’d been using my breathing technique for the past hour, roughly every 5-10 minutes. I hadn’t even realised I’d been doing it!
We agreed we’d go to bed for some rest and see how the night panned out. Surges came every 10 minutes through the night, but I managed to relax by picturing my relaxing place and using the wave breathing for each surge. At 4.30am the surges had been coming every 5 minutes for an hour and by 5.30am we made the decision to assemble ‘Team Mum’. Both our mums arrived by 6.30am, Nick’s mum, Jill would be taking care of Annabelle.
Peter Kay and The First Wives Club
Annabelle woke at 7am completely bemused as to why both her beloved grandmothers were suddenly in her house and why mummy was pacing the house. We explained that her baby sister was on her way and I snuck in my last cuddles and kisses with her for a while, knowing that the next time we’d be together she’d no longer be my one and only.
As she left for nursery at 8.30am and waved to me from the window of her Grandma’s car, my heat broke. This was my first ‘wobble’ of the day. I let the sadness I felt at the end of the most important chapter of my life so far wash over me completely and the surges slowed down. It took lashings of tea, Peter Kay and The First Wives Club (thank goodness for Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler!), plus Nick reminding me of my birth affirmations to get things moving again.
I tried not to focus on how regularly the surges were coming and to focus instead on meeting our new baby, but by 1pm I was growing impatient for things to progress. “It’s exactly like last time,” I complained. “My body is useless!!” Wobble, wobble, wobble. Nick’s Wise Hippo hypnobirthing partner skills and confidence really kicked in at this moment. He reminded me that everything was happening as it was supposed to and encouraged me to eat and to head out for a walk in the fresh air. Like a sulky teenager I followed orders.
When they tell you to stay active in labour you really should! For every five steps I took on our walk I was hit by an intense surge that literally stopped me in my tracks. I was in no doubt that it was time to go to the hospital. Hooray! We called ahead and were informed there was no room in the midwife-led suite. Boo! Sadly that meant no water birth for us, but the Delivery Suite were happy to take us. I tried to not let this new information dishearten me. The main thing I was focussing on was that I now felt certain our baby girl was going to arrive that day.
We arrived at the hospital at 4pm to be told they now had no rooms in Delivery Suite. I couldn’t believe it! “I know it’s December, but really there are no rooms at the Inn?!” It was at this point that I put on my ‘cloak of protection’…”Nope NHS, you are not slowing this labour down for love nor money!” I focussed inwardly on staying calm and let Nick and my mum try to sort things out. Then a midwife appeared out of nowhere and said she’d found a room they hardly ever use and led us to the end of the ward. She led us to the birthing pool suite!
I was examined at 4.30pm by a midwife I later nicknamed ‘Textbook’, as she showed no flexibility or empathy towards me at all. She informed us that I was “only” 1-2cm dilated and advised that I probably should go home. This was not an option for me. Despite my own self-doubt and disappointment at this slow progress, I was also listening to my body and my instincts told me that leaving would be a big mistake. So Textbook let us stay, but only if I had a sweep and went walking around the hospital for an hour or two.
The sweep and the walk increased the frequency and intensity of the surges and after an hour I was back in the room. 7pm came around very quickly and Textbook handed us over to a new midwife and a student midwife at the end of her shift. “I might see you tomorrow,” she joked as she left. Cloak of protection back on, I shrugged off her comment and general dismissiveness and focussed inwardly on my affirmations.
The arrival of Mrs Wonderful
The new midwife, who we’ll call Mrs Wonderful, took a totally different approach to my labour. I’d asked Textbook for gas and air two hours previously, to be told I couldn’t have it until I was further along, but on asking Mrs Wonderful for it she said I could have whatever I felt I needed. Gas and air hooked up, Nick encouraged me to move around and my mum set about creating the most relaxing birth environment possible.
Mrs Wonderful had clearly studied our birth plan and left us mostly to our own devices, at one point offering some aromatherapy. She gave some oil for Nick to massage my shoulder and arms with.
I was so relaxed and felt totally in control, breathing through every surge calmly, knowing I was one more surge closer to meeting our baby. At one point I hear Mrs Wonderful and the student midwife ask my mum “Is she always this calm?” to which my mum quite rightly laughed and said no. Time flew.
I was re-examined at my own request at 8.30pm as I was sure I must be at least 8cm along by now. WRONG! I was 4cm dilated. Everyone else in the room was excited at this, but all I could think was that I had another marathon to run on top of this marathon I’d already run. Plus, I was told at this point that the baby was in the back-to-back position, which was what had led to a whole host of complications last time. WOBBLE TIME! All my self-doubt began to creep in.
I kept breathing calmly through the surges, but I was dejected. I lay down on the bed, on my side and pretty much gave up. Nick got down next to me and talking to me, helped me to focus on each surge and not the negative thoughts running through my mind.
A few minutes later I was hit by a huge surge and I felt a huge jolt in my tummy (turns out it was the baby flipping over to fit through my pelvis the right way). I vomited and at the same time my waters broke. It was at this point I decided I’d quite like an epidural now please. Nick did really well at humouring me, telling me he was off to get an anaesthetist, but actually popped next door to see that the midwives had filled the birthing pool. It seemed everyone knew I was going through the transition except me.
Moments later, at around 9.30pm I started to feel an unfamiliar pressure down below. I was quickly ushered into the birthing pool where I realised with excitement what was about to happen.
My wonderful water birth story
The warm water felt wonderful around my body and I relaxed as I let my body take over. It felt like an out-of-body experience as I felt our baby move down and before I knew it I was humming (it was probably more of a guttural moo sound than a hum, but we’ll say I hummed) her down further with each surge until I felt her head emerge. I didn’t feel any pain, well I certainly wasn’t aware of pain. I was elated! My body works!
Phoebe was born at 22.14 on 3rd December. She floated up to me and into my arms. I looked up to see both Nick and mum in tears and I realised with huge pride and amazement I had done it. We had done it together.
The midwives said it was a wonderful birth experience for them too. Mrs Wonderful and my mum even shed a tear together. It was also the student midwife’s first hypnobirthing experience and she said she was going to make a point of focussing some of her studies on it having witnessed first-hand how calm, controlled and happy we were throughout.
Birth IS beautiful. No two births are the same and you should be prepared for some things to not go exactly as you’ve planned, but if Wise Hippo hypnobirthing has taught me anything it’s that if you find your birth experience veering off the ideal path and there’s no medical emergency causing it, you have the power to steer back onto the right path.
Hypnobirthing also puts the birthing partner front and centre with the mother. Nick was my absolute rock throughout. As well as providing me with emotional and physical support he helped to orchestrate the practical elements of Phoebe’s birth, providing me with the perfect environment to bring her into the world.