First pregnancy and birth
My first pregnancy was when I was 18 and I went into hospital anxious and wanting to have an epidural ASAP so that there was no chance that I would feel I needed one at a later stage and it would be too late.
I went into spontaneous labour 10 days after my due date. When I got into hospital I was 3cms and was given some gas and air, which I found made me totally pain free whilst I waited for my epidural.
I was examined again before the epidural and was 5cms. Once the epidural was in I never progressed any further. Timescales dictated what happened next and it was also believed that baby was in the back to back position. Eventually I was given an emergency CS when they felt there was no point in waiting any longer.
After this I blamed myself for the choices I had made as I felt this had resulted in the CS. I felt it likely this would not have happened if I had not had the epidural. I thought about this everyday afterwards.
Second pregnancy and birth
The relationship with my son’s father ended shortly after my son was born and I met my now husband shortly afterwards. Eleven years later I fell pregnant again – this was 2012. At the booking appointment with all that had happened first time round on my mind, I mentioned to the midwife that I would like to have my baby in the birth centre this time and use the pool. I was flatly told that certainly wasn’t an option available to me, as they ‘only listen in every 15 minutes’ and that I would have to see a consultant and give birth in the hospital and that it was unlikely I would be ‘allowed’ to use the pool there either!
I remember feeling incredibly deflated but picking myself up and progressing with the pregnancy as per the advice. I was told at subsequent consultant appointments that I could try for a VBAC and that I would be monitored very closely. When I got to 36 weeks, I was then given further information about booking an elective C-section if I were to go postdates etc. I felt I had been ambushed with this information at a very late stage. At around 38/39 weeks I was then advised to have a sweep and told that if my cervix was ‘favourable’ they would advise to go ahead with VBAC, if not, I should book an elective section, and in fact they booked the date there and then. Again I felt ambushed – why had they not mentioned this at the outset?!
When I got home I felt sick. My instincts were telling me this was all wrong.
Fortunately, I went into spontaneous labour at about 3am, 3 days prior to the planned section date, which was term plus 4.
I called the hospital about 8am (fearing uterine rupture could occur at any moment based on the way it had been explained to me) and I was told to come straight in (despite the fact my contractions were only every five minutes or so and not really causing any discomfort!)
As I arrived in the hospital car park I felt the discomfort increased immediately and increased more as I went into the hospital. When I was examined, I was not dilated at all. I was still told I had to stay in. Then I was strapped to the monitor which made the pain all the more as I couldn’t move and had to sit on the bed.
I was transferred from triage to antenatal ward and then left for hours. I was so anxious about uterine rupture etc. and because nobody had checked me or the monitor, I requested some pain relief. I had some diamorphine at 15:50 and was told I was 4cm and transferred to delivery suit shortly afterwards. Once there, a cannula was inserted etc. and then I was told they needed to break my waters to put a clip on baby’s head to get a better trace on his heart rate.
After my waters were broken, there were some heart rate decelerations and then all hell broke loose – several people ran in and I was told I had to have another emergency C-section. This was followed by the midwife pulling off the TENS machine before turning it off and electrocuting herself, and then my bed being wheeled into the operating theatre and crashed into doors and walls multiple times. It was horrendous and it was obvious that everyone was panicking. Once in the theatre I was given a general anaesthetic and as I was falling asleep I was being asked questions about what weight I was now and pre-pregnancy so they could administer the correct amount of drugs! In short, it was pretty traumatic.
Afterwards I discovered that the decelerations appeared to be a false alarm as my son was fine (Apgar was 9 on delivery) and there was no uterine rupture.
I suffered afterwards too – hospital stay and recovery were not great, I was given strong painkillers which I had to stop because I couldn’t function, I had to inject myself every day to prevent clots etc. The longer term recovery and psychological impact were worse. I was discharged with paperwork stating ‘not for vaginal delivery next time’. I had constant intrusive thoughts and was down and anxious for about 13 months afterwards. I wondered over and over how it could all have gone so wrong. I started to research extensively about VBAC on the internet and found the truth about everything and started to understand what had happened.
During the process I found and joined a support group for those with an interest in VBAC/HBAC. This gave me the knowledge, confidence and empowerment that I needed. Firstly it helped me to see that I wasn’t alone and there wasn’t something strange or wrong with me in feeling so bad about having ‘failed’ at VBAC and not having achieved a vaginal delivery first time round (although I had 2 healthy children). That was what helped me take the first steps in my journey. Armed with my research I saw my GP and asked to be referred back to the obstetricians to discuss advice for next time, because if it were C-section again I was not sure I wanted to have any more children.
I was convinced home birth was best for me after everything I had learnt. I wanted to ask questions to firm up this view and see if there was anything they could say that would change my mind (whilst I was not pregnant and vulnerable and could be fully objective).
In short there wasn’t, and I knew I would have a home birth if I ever had any more children.
I fell pregnant again in 2016. I told the midwives about my plans for home birth and declined obstetric input at booking, and the midwives were surprisingly supportive.
However, I encountered one midwife antenatally (which happened to be the same one that I had encountered in the previous pregnancy) who tried to influence my decision in all the usual ways and in fact did try to mislead me on the effectiveness of continuous foetal monitoring. She even advised that if I went ahead with home birth I would ‘have to’ have 2 midwives there from the start of labour and a 3rd person to take notes throughout and in addition a supervisor would have to attend for the delivery! What a circus!
After this, I emailed the SoM and went to see her. We discussed previous births and my plans for this birth. The SoM did feel that instead of rushing me straight in for a cat 1 section in my second birth, I could have tried changing position etc first, and that the traces showed that the heart rate picked up again anyway before the section was carried out!
The SoM didn’t directly try to influence me but subtly suggested that the baby wasn’t happy in my 2nd labour and perhaps there was a reason that the previous births had resulted in section (I believe in an attempt to sew the seed of doubt over my plans and to make me question whether my body could do it). Considering she was the birth centre manager, I was disappointed that she was not more pro-natural birth and pragmatic and more trusting in the natural process. She also confirmed she would not admit me to the birth centre if I had wanted to birth there.
The next day I booked my private midwives. They were far more relaxed and encouraged my home birth. They had supported HBA2C many times in the past. One of the midwives even lent me a book on natural childbirth and mental birth preparation which complimented the hypnobirthing ethos and was very helpful.
I really wanted to give myself the best possible chance of an intervention free birth and so during my pregnancy I practised hypnobirthing and worked with my hypnobirthing teacher and doula to prepare for the birth, I also exercised. I swam and I remember I felt very relaxed in the water and practised relaxing and my visualisations whilst my body was under stress. I thought about how relaxed I would be in the water when the day of the birth came.
During the last few weeks of my pregnancy I remember remarking that I was so relaxed – the midwives would visit on my day off work and would let my 4 year old son ‘help’ to do my blood pressure and they would listen to his heartbeat too, which was lovely. There was no stress at all which was completely different to the last weeks of my second pregnancy!
The day of my due date we spent the day preparing the house for the home birth and other final preparations for the baby.
During the early hours of the next morning, I started to get some mild tightenings but remembered that I had learnt in hypnobirthing that you needed to try and conserve energy in early labour and to sleep, and so managed to go back to sleep. We had planned a day out that day with family and cousins and kids etc., and although the tightenings were regular that morning, I still decided to go as they were not causing me any discomfort. We walked around all morning and it was a really lovely day. By the time I arrived home at 13:30, the tightenings were about every 3 minutes and lasting more than 30 seconds. I still didn’t really have any major discomfort. I had called the midwife and doula earlier to let them know that I thought things were happening, but that I didn’t need them to come yet as I wasn’t really having any discomfort, so thought it would be quite some time before things progressed.
I sat on my birth ball looking at my positive hypnobirthing statements, particularly one which said ‘With each surge I breathe deeply, focus upwards, and work with my body‘, and when the surges came I noticed that it really helped to bounce on the ball very slowly. I noticed that they seemed to be getting more intense, but they were still very manageable and I was very relaxed and calm. I used my breathing techniques (up breathing) and visualisations and really focused on the muscles of my uterus rising upwards. I really felt that I wanted to physically work hard with this process to ensure it happened effectively.
At about 14:30 my husband suggested that I go and lie down and get some rest. I thought it likely I was still in early labour and because I had spent all morning walking round the farm I agreed that would be a good idea. However, as I had attempted to get onto my bed my waters broke. I called my midwife and doula and asked them to come.
Once I was changed I went to the front room and lay over my birth ball. My husband was rushing round trying to clean up and prepare the room for the birth. He had to inflate the pool between contractions/surges, as things seemed to take on a new intensity since my waters broke, and he had to come and be with me during each one. I remember recalling my doula’s comments about producing more oxytocin on the out breath and tried to make the out breaths longer than the in breaths and this focus and belief it would help did seem to get me through each one at a time.
When the surges were coming at this point I noticed I could feel myself doing a bit of a push at the end of each one whilst I could hear myself making a shouting noise, although I was not consciously doing any of it!
When my doula arrived around 15:30 this was a huge relief for me and especially for my husband! She gave me some clary sage oil to smell which was a great distraction.
The midwife arrived at 16:05 and at this point contractions were strong and every 2 minutes.
She set up the gas and air which I started using although I did not really notice any huge benefit. When it came to the point in the surge when it changed and I wanted to push, I wanted to make a noise to aid the effort of pushing and (strangely to minimise the pain) and I couldn’t make noise and breathe the gas and air simultaneously so I had to stop breathing it. I think it was possibly too late on in the labour for it to make much of an impact but I carried on using it as it wasn’t doing any harm either and also helped to bite on the mouth piece at times!
The midwife advised that she didn’t need to examine me because the head was visible and she could see loads of dark hair! I think I had known that we were at around that point but it was good to have confirmation.
At this point it was like the peak of all my emotion – everything flashed through my mind – all my regret over previous births, the doubting I could do it and the almost not allowing myself to contemplate that I could or would, all the people who had said I could not or made me feel that way, all the exercise, time and effort I had put into preparing for the birth, and the power of the positive people that had helped me and wished me well, all came together. All that past negative and positive emotion turned into the strength and effort I found and used.
The midwife listened into baby’s heart rate and took my pulse intermittently and both were fine.
At last the pool was full enough and as I was on the way to get into the pool I remember thinking “I’m going to do this!”
I got into the pool at about 16:15 and was lying over the edge of it pushing for a while. At about 16:30 the midwife suggested that I perhaps turn round and try pushing in another position for the next few surges.
I turned round so my back was resting on the side of the pool and I was upright.
The midwife got her mirror out and after a few attempts to get the angle right I eventually saw all the hair on the baby’s head which was quite visible.
At about 16:35 the midwife said to reach down and feel the baby’s head which I did and gasped in disbelief as I felt the head there.
With the next couple of pushes the head was born. I do remember feeling a bit of stinging (I was expecting much worse)! With the next push the baby was born – he was delivered onto my stomach at 16:45. He felt all slimy and chubby and he was gorgeous! Someone put a towel over him. He cried very briefly and then stopped.
I could not believe I’d done it and everything was fine. I was half expecting something to be wrong or to haemorrhage or something, considering everything I had heard or been told previously. Apgars were 9 (1 min), 10 (5 mins), 10 (10 mins).
Everyone was quite emotional especially me. I think I was still in shock and disbelief at everything that had happened and how quick it had been!
We waited for the cord to go white before it was clamped and cut by my husband and I had a natural 3rd stage – placenta was delivered in the pool about 20 minutes after the baby. My husband had skin to skin with the baby whilst I was helped out of the pool etc. My doula showed me how to position the baby and he did the ‘breast crawl’ which was amazing and he fed for about an hour.
I had a second degree tear but was given the option of stitches which I declined and healed naturally.
Baby was 7lb 3oz and was so calm. We all thought this was because of his calm entrance into the world and the fact that no drugs had been passed onto him during the process.
I was amazed at the difference it made to the first few days and weeks compared to my previous experiences – no stitches, no pain from a major surgery and no painkillers being passed on whilst breastfeeding. No inconvenience of not being able to drive for 6 weeks. I was not stressed or anxious this time and I didn’t find the tiredness anywhere near as bad as a result. Baby was calm anyway and must have fed better / me being well must have made my milk better, as when baby was weighed in the few days after the birth he had actually gained weight which the midwife advised was rare! Not having the long term anxiety resulting from the birth and feeling positive was amazing, I was up and about and out and about and happy from day one. Benefits I truly feel are largely underestimated/disregarded by the NHS when advising on / making decisions for birth method antenatally.
In my view the whole picture is often not presented by the medical profession. It’s such a shame that people are not always provided with all the options and the evidence regarding risks and benefits of each one (including the benefits of home birth), and told they can decline medical advice/interventions should they wish to (such as continuous monitoring, ARMs, sweeps, induction etc. etc.)
What helped me to achieve a positive birth experience third time round?
I think the key things that enabled me to succeed at having a positive birth experience and avoiding unnecessary medical intervention were: –
1. Doing my own research, deciding what I wanted, and then declining anything I didn’t want (such as consultant input) and remaining resolute in those decisions
2. Hypnobirthing / birth preparation / having a doula
3. Choosing the right environment for the birth (for me home birth)
4. Trying to eat well / exercise as much as I could
All the reported benefits of hypnobirthing, for example reducing the length of the labour, being calm and in control, reducing need for pain relief, reducing tearing, being highly energised after birth, baby having higher Apgar score, baby being very calm and feeding and sleeping better – all came true!
When I did a visualisation with my hypnobirthing teacher/doula where you visualise the birth happening perfectly, the birth happened very similarly to that! During the visualisation, where it is suggested that you choose the length of your labour – is it 6 hours, 8 hours etc etc., even then I didn’t believe it would be possible to have such a quick labour.
I remember visualising my midwife being there and checking the heart rate etc and everything being fine and being surprised that it was fine (due to the past experiences and how it had been implied by medical staff etc that that was possibly down to me, and that it was not possible for me to give birth naturally).
I felt confident that I was in no worse position having a home birth because I was 10 minutes from the hospital and (when I had been back to see consultants after my second son was born) it had been confirmed to me that it would take at least that to prepare the operating theatre and so emergency delivery would be no quicker if I had been in hospital. I also knew that intermittent monitoring was as effective in terms of outcomes as constant monitoring.
For me, having a home birth and keeping everything as natural as possible really made the difference.
My labour and birth were so quick considering it was the first vaginal delivery – I understood it would be comparable to a first time labour and birth. If you count from about 9am in the morning as being the start of the labour, then it lasted 7 hours 45 mins until baby was born. I would say the active labour probably started around 12.30/45pm so that makes it about 4 hours. My doula told me it was the shortest time she had spent with a client before delivery! Completely different from my experiences under consultant care and in hospital. I feel like this has proved that the process for me was slowed down and impeded by being in hospital and everything that comes with that.
The biggest surprise was the impact of experiencing the miracle of a natural birth. Going into the process my real goal was to avoid another unnecessary C-section due to the benefits for me and baby of natural delivery – I never actually anticipated that the experience itself would be so profound. I think I would have felt that even without my history.
I really hope my story encourages other people because positive stories really encouraged and helped me.
PS – I was told by an obstetrician that short stature and small shoe size decreased prospects of VBAC – I am 5’1” and size 3 shoes!