Pregnant! Now what?
Like most first time mums, I was nervous about giving birth. I had never really thought about the actual process. I knew the result was (hopefully) a healthy baby, but I had only ever seen labour in movies and on TV (a woman rushing frantically to the hospital as soon as her waters break and being yelled at to ‘push’ while laying down, sweating on a hospital bed).
Isn’t that just what happens?
There must be some better stories out there, right?
A couple of friends suggested a local Hypnobirthing course, and we liked the sound of it so signed up. We are so glad we did! It was a great way to prepare for the baby’s arrival together and we learnt all about the physical process of childbirth, the hospital procedures and processes as well as practical things such as changing nappies and breastfeeding. It was a really lovely experience to share and we felt really relaxed and excited about our baby’s arrival. We also did a ‘fear release’ exercise which helped me to expel the worries I had, including coping with the pain and possible complications.
I was quite set on a water birth, in a lovely local birth centre with a dedicated midwife and doula. Our plan was to stay home as long as possible during early labour, listening to our prepared playlist of music, practicing my birth affirmations, maybe watching some movies, having a bath, trying to get as much rest as possible. We were mindful that the birth centre was a long drive away so we didn’t want to leave it to the last minute. It felt like we had planned as much as we could, knowing anything might eventuate.
Plus, first babies are usually a little late and take a long time to arrive; that’s what we’d been told anyway.
Of course, babies have their own agenda, which we were about to find out…
Saturday 26th September 2015 (3 days before my due date)
On the morning of our daughter’s arrival, I had lost a little blood but otherwise felt fine. We took the dog for a walk, had some lunch, did some chores around the house and started to watch a movie.
Around 2pm, when I started to feel some mild tummy twinges, I got the yoga mat out and kept moving around on my hands and knees to ease some back pain I had. My husband asked if I thought things might be starting, but I said no, it was just mild discomfort at that point. I hadn’t had any practice surges (aka Braxton Hicks) or any kind of twinges or pain, and it was 3 days before my due date so I thought it might just be a slow introduction to labour.
We had everything set aside for my hospital bag, but hadn’t packed it at this point so my husband did that. I thought he might be panicking a little as I didn’t feel like I was in labour. I just thought things might be starting soon. In fact, I remember thinking ‘if this is the beginning, and I could be hours or days like this, then I need to pace myself for the long haul.’
But at 4pm, things suddenly escalated rapidly and I began to feel strong surges (Hypnobirthing term for ‘contractions’) every few minutes and an immediate need to push. Looking back, I can’t quite believe how quickly things went from ‘mild twinges’ to ‘oh wow this is really happening!’
I kept breathing through each surge and hubby counted me down – after each one I kept saying ‘wow that was amazing‘ as I felt such an overwhelming feeling of pleasure, contentment and excitement, which I was really surprised about (although we had learnt about the oxytocin rushes experienced by women during labour, I hadn’t known exactly what to expect).
Hubby was trying to track my contractions but they had started off by being only a minute or so apart! He asked several times if it was J breathing (pushing) time, even though it felt way too quick, and I said no because I couldn’t believe things could happen that quickly – amazing that he had realised before me! We called my doula and the midwife and they suggested we head in to the birth centre.
Thank goodness for doulas!
My doula arrived 20 minutes later, lucky she only lived in the next town. I was on my hands and knees while hubby was doing my affirmations and counting me down from 40 – this simple technique was probably the single biggest thing to bring me back to my calm little bubble – it was amazing how quickly his counting and his voice did that. (I later learnt he was doing this while also frantically messaging my doula and the hospital, poor guy!)
We got ready to leave and packed towels in the car (for the 45-60 minute journey), just in case the baby made an appearance on the way, but as we got out the front door I knew I couldn’t go anywhere – I felt the head! My amazing doula calmly asked hubby to call an ambulance and I quickly made it back inside and to the bathroom; I don’t really remember much at this point but I just knew instinctively the bathroom was the best place. I felt one last (and my first really powerful) surge, my waters released and out slid our perfect baby girl into my arms. I caught her with my doula while standing up and she then supported me to sit down on the bathroom floor with the yoga mat and towels that had been quickly thrown down! Our daughter’s time of birth, as recorded by the call to the emergency services was 6:05pm, just over two hours after I went into active labour, and just four hours since starting to have mild tummy twinges.
My husband had been calling the ambulance and came in just in time to see her arrive (we later requested the call recording and it was amazing for me to hear how things unfolded as the memories were a bit hazy!) We were immediately skin-on-skin and hubby and doula quickly covered me in towels and sheets as I was so cold.
Shortly after, I felt more twinges and the placenta was birthed (luckily intact). About 20 minutes later (although it felt a lot longer!) the paramedics turned up a little bemused at what had happened but impressed at how calm we all were. They checked my blood loss, made sure I was warm enough and that baby was breathing ok (she already had her first feed too), and then hubby was able to cut the cord (it had stopped pulsing) and took the baby while I had a quick shower, got dressed and walked myself to the ambulance (at the time I didn’t think anything of this, but afterwards, I realise how lucky I was to have the strength to do this after just giving birth).
We all then headed to the hospital for some checks but four hours later, we were back home in bed, and in shock at what had just happened! And of course, we were totally in love with our little girl!
I cannot recommend Hypnobirthing (or any kind of calm birth / active birth course) highly enough – it offers amazing preparation and insight for those wanting to understand more about their body and what happens during birth. I certainly didn’t plan an unassisted home birth, but I felt completely at ease when it became clear what was happening. Hubby was also amazingly calm (on the outside anyway!) and just seemed to know what to do to keep me on track and relaxed. The whole time I had complete trust in my own body and never once panicked about the events that were unfolding – my baby was ready to join us and I was ready to receive her.
I’ve had people ask all sorts of questions and make comments such as ‘how did you not know you were in labour?’ and ‘do you wish you had gone to the hospital earlier?’ I honestly don’t think that I could have done things any differently because everything happened so quickly. If someone had told me at 11am that day, or even at 2pm, that by 6pm I would deliver my baby girl into my arms on the bathroom floor at home, there’s no way I would have believed them.
I never really felt ‘in labour’ until around 4pm. In hindsight, yes that’s probably when I ‘should’ have gone to hospital, but at the time, I was happy, safe and comfortable at home and the thought of trying to be on my hands and knees in the back of our car was too much. My doula later said that while she helped and encouraged me to leave the house, she already knew things had progressed too quickly to go anywhere and I was already in ‘labour land’; but it had to be my decision, not hers to make. Looking back, it was never a conscious decision that I made to stay at home, things just went so quickly and my body took over.
I’m now fiercely protective (and proud) of my daughter’s birth story. While I would never advocate unplanned or unassisted home births (or unattended births anywhere), I also know first hand that things can very quickly escalate and what seems logical to others, isn’t the same for the woman who is actually experiencing it. I’m also really grateful that my husband and I took the time to learn about childbirth in the way we did; otherwise panic could have really set in and things may have turned out differently. I don’t think that doing the hospital classes would have been enough to cope with what happened. I’m also really happy that I had my doula throughout the pregnancy and at the birth; their value is never to be underestimated.
I look forward to sharing with my daughter the story of her arrival one day, it’s certainly an experience my husband and I will treasure forever.