My empowering birth story
So every year on this day, the birth day of my youngest, 8th July, I am reminded of an extraordinary experience that I am so grateful for. The birth of my son at home and only with my husband and the company of Maggie Howell in the form of Natal Hypnotherapy tracks.
I listened to Maggie’s tracks just at the onset of labour and when contractions started and I went to sleep and managed to stay asleep for 2 hours during the first phase of labour.
When I woke up I was in active labour and contractions were 3 minutes apart. They were coming fast and strong and I was breathing through them and in between them. I was breathing calmly i.e. without panicking but in a sort of “heated” or “ecstatic” sort of way as my whole body was “on fire” in the sense that I was hot and a lot of activity was going on, nothing other than labour.
My amazing doulas
I had hired a doula for the occasion as I wanted to heal from the more traditional and traumatic birth that I had with my first son, which happened all in hospital and doing some things which we shouldn’t have done, had we been advised correctly.
For example I shouldn’t have been told to lie in a bed at the start of labour, instead I should have walked, or go up and down the stairs, or sit which would have definitely helped progress labour (with the help of gravity). Instead lying in a bed, didn’t progress labour and it did what they call “stalling or failing” and I was hooked on the hormone to “speed things up” and then epidural and then a forced final delivery where I had to push till my face went “purple”. My son managed to come out with the help of a ventouse and helped by episiotomy.
So to go over that first birth trauma and the fear that I still had, I wanted to have a doula the second time around.
The lovely lady that I hired, worked together with another doula, so we had two instead of one.
They were so knowledgeable and helpful and handed me a folder with lots of information about birth, the physiology of birth etc and I spent many hours studying the notes during the last weeks of my maternity leave.
The actual birth
Although not present at the birth, I had exhausted the many questions and worries I had with my doula over the phone. My main concern was around how to manage pain and how to do it without drugs. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that it seemed that labour was some sort of major operation (which it sort of was with my first) but at the same time I wanted it to be natural and without drugs.
How could I do that? How could you do a major surgery without drugs?
The point I missed and that we all very easily miss is that labour is not a major surgery or is not a surgery at all. For low-risk pregnancies it is a natural process that the body is equipped to do.
We all believe the same, scary stories
But here is the catch, the problem is not only what we believe but what we have been told. All the stories, the failures, the emergency cesarians, the pain and stitches and the blood, all the visual things that we are exposed to over the years, as children, young girls which prepare us to what will inevitably be a bad story.
However it doesn’t need to be like that and many women are and have been campaigning to change the way labour is treated.
The physiology of birth
This brings me on to the physiology of birth something that I read a lot about in the notes my doulas handed me. Basically women’s bodies are prepared and programmed to give birth, which is a natural and physiological process in the same way as our bodies carry out all the vital functions without us paying any attention to it. We breathe, our blood circulates, our organs function without our knowledge or involvement.
The same goes for birth and labour. In fact the least we do, the better it is so that the body can do what is programmed to do.
What I learnt from the notes is that our bodies have an amazing mechanism of coping with the pain and effort during labour. As long as we are not scared or in a state of panic (which encourages the productions of adrenaline) but relaxed and in a zone of trust (that encourages the production of oxytocin, the love hormone and also the hormone that facilitates childbirth), the birthing process will happen as it does, based on pure physiology.
ThisÂ completely changed my perception of childbirth and made me believe that I can do it, my body can do it and all I have to do is trust it. Suddenly I didn’t feel all the fear that I had felt so many times before and I was not worried to go through labour when it would happen.
The altered perception of pain
Now this is the juicy bit, for me this was crucial and it is what really happened during my labour.
In the notes from the doulas there was a section about the “altered perception of pain” which is a mechanism that happens in the brain.
During labour there are two types of messages that reach the brain. One is the pain / effort from the contractions and the other is the ‘I can cope with this” signal transmitted after going through a contraction. Apparently the second message of “I can do it” reaches the brain faster than the first (the message of pain) causing what is known as the “altered perception of pain”. So the brain has less time to perceive the pain and it perceives more of the breathing and I can do message. For me during the active labour phase that translated into less pain and no panic.
In practical terms what I was doing was breathing through and during contractions
Something I didn’t have with my first were contractions. I never experienced them and I had a ‘stalled’ labour. With my second and following the 2 hours of totally relaxing and sleeping in my bed and my womb doing all the hard work of contracting and pushing the baby out, when I woke up the contractions were powerful. They were so strong and proper full on.
They could have taken my breath away if I wasn’t prepared mentally and in a sort of a sleepy haze. When contractions came they lasted for almost 2 minutes and I would call my husband, hold on to him and breathe quite visibly and strongly.
Being in my own bedroom with dimmed lights and with no interruptions from for example going to the hospital, getting ready etc I didn’t have anything disturbing me. I was totally in the zone and all I was doing was breathing and going with what was happening.
A phone call away
At some point there was a show of blood, something we didn’t know and didn’t expect and something that surprised us.
Let me tell you that during this whole time we were not thinking that the arrival of the baby was imminent, in fact I had no idea of time and how long I was going to labour for.
After the blood show my husband called 999 just to check whether we should go to hospital. In fact in our heads since I woke up that was the plan, we called the doula and we agreed that we would meet her in hospital. She made her way to St Thomas’s while we were not doing much but dealing with labour, breathing in between contractions and my husband was trying the get the hospital bag ready. He also called the childminder to pick up our eldest who was in his room asleep and oblivious of what was going on.
When he called 999 they could overhear me and the noises I was making, which by this point were getting louder. The lady on the phone asked my husband where is your wife and asked him to tell me to lye down on my back. She could tell the baby was coming.
I am not sure I heard that bit as I was on all fours on my yoga mat but I did eventually lye down on my back.
And I was pushing, I was not forcing anything but I was pushing. I had no idea and couldn’t believe that the baby was being born. From the phone call to when the ambulance crew arrived it was about 30 minutes. When they arrived I just saw them appear in my living rom and they handed me the air and gas machine. I had never used it before so they explained how to do it.
A few breaths and he was born
I took a few breaths of the gas and air which made me quite dizzy and laughing. No wonder it is called the laughing gas. The gas gave me some more strength and power and I felt that I could control it. I breathed some more and I held the breathing out until, in my head I could count to 10. Apparently the baby was crowning and the paramedics could see his head. I wanted to feel his head, which I did and I could feel he was there.
The last breath out was long, I held it until I felt a big contraction come in and out and I wanted to breath at the same time as it was out and with the baby. Which I did. A great feeling of something like snapping and popping came to me as I breathed that last breath out and there was the baby’s head out.
He was actually out on the number 10 in my head. With another breath his body came out and both my husband and I were ecstatic, we couldnt believe it that the baby was born and we were holding him.
We had thought that this was going to be long, take many hours etc etc.
The first moments together
The ecstasy continued as the paramedic put my son onto my chest and I held him for the first time, thinking “oh my god, I cant believe that you are here and that I did it”. My body did it and I gave birth without drugs, without tearing and in my own house.
I cuddled the baby and I was totally in love. He was like a little creature all curled up, holding on to me, resting on my chest and looking for warmth. He cried a bit but he was quiet, and he was soon looking for the breast. We spent almost an hour on the sofa, looking into each others eyes and he started breastfeeding. Another thing which didn’t come naturally the first time, it took minutes this time.
My husband had cut the cord and everyone was waiting for the midwife from St Thomas’s to arrive and check the baby and me. But before that we had an hour of bliss, just with the baby, and the paramedic in our lounge engaging in banter conversations with both of us.
The midwife and the doula arrived
They both arrived almost at the same time. They checked on the baby who was getting a little cold and on me. We were both fine but for the baby they suggested we go to hospital for some checks.
My blood had cooled down after the immense activity my body had gone through during the last 2 hours, I started feeling a little weak and I was hungry. At some point I tried to get up and I passed out which is a little freaky but it has happened to me before when I am weak. I came to my senses and my husband was doing skin to skin with the baby and we were then getting ready to go to hospital in the ambulance.
At the hospital with the baby
I was very happy to be going to the hospital with the baby in my arms. We spent from 10am to 4pm in the hospital and I had some intravenous which helped with my weakness and blood pressure. Then we were discarghed and came home at 5pm.
I had a shower and got into bed with the baby in my arms and I couldn’t quite believe that we were there, not even 24 hours after I had gone to bed the night before.
My son was born at 4.15am and the active labour started at 2am when I woke up. I went to sleep at 11.30pm and stayed asleep until 2am. His labour was only 2 hours 15 minutes long and by the next day he was breastfeeding and getting used to being home with us.
I couldn’t have had a better and more beautiful birth and it is what I desperately wanted. I am so grateful and I send heartfelt thank you’s to my body, my husband, my doulas, Maggie Howell and the energy of birth that gave me a powerful and uplifting birth.
It is within your reach
I feel strongly about positive birth and undisrtubed birth. This is what we do, our bodies can do it and we shouldn’t intervene. Also we should educate young children and young girls that birth can be beautiful and empowering. How many of us have birth traumas? Many, almost everyone. But having a great positive birth is within our reach.
We can do it!
I strongly believe that giving birth to Elliot has given me new powers and a new perspective that I can do things, I can take on challenges and succeed. Since I managed to do the biggest and hardest thing I thought there was on Earth, give birth naturally I can manage about anything else after that.
In terms of energy and positivity and empowerment definitely, enjoying that huge sense of achievement and feeling amazing has made me want to feel that again and again.
Thank you so much for reading!
I feel a little vulnerable having written about an intimate story publicly but I feel strong for doing it and I hope I can give you some courage to do the same. To look for the challenges, to face them and to find the solution that your heart wants.
A newborn photographer
One of the reasons I love working with newborn babies and pregnant mums is because I feel that I have a story to tell. If I can make a small change and help one other woman have the birth they want and deserve I feel like I have achieved something big.
Every woman deserves to have the birth they want and it is within our reach.
I share with every pregnant mums the amazing Maggie Howell and her Natal Hypnotherapy CDs and tracks.
Maggie Howell and her website
My amazing doula is Callie Fountain from Second Nurture and although she has moved out of London she is still practicing as a doula and can help with questions or resources.
Her website is http://www.secondnurture.co.uk/
And finally if you are looking for newborn photography, I would be delighted to help. Please take a look at my “Newborn” pages and let me know more. The photos above are photos I took of my children when I was practising and they are very different… how we change and how learning a new skill can be such a great experience.