The Birth Experience Co. course graduate Liv demonstrates how valuable hypnobirthing skills can be through a long labour which involved some decision making and moves away from her birth preferences. She did an amazing job at staying calm and keeping her mindset positive to welcome the gorgeous baby Rupert into the world.
I found out that we were expecting our first baby on 26 September 2020 and as I'm sure is the same for most expecting mums I felt a mixture of joy that we were finally pregnant and panic about the prospect of giving birth! I knew straight away that I would want to do a hypnobirthing course as I had heard such positive things particularly from my good friend Abi who co-founded the Birth Experience Company. I was incredibly lucky to have a really straight forward pregnancy with consistent midwife led care as I was classed as low risk, however I did spend a lot of time feeling anxious and worrying about the things that could go wrong. I am sure that spending most of my pregnancy in lockdown due to the pandemic and the concerns around Covid-19 in pregnancy didn't help! My husband James and I started our hypnobirthing course with Abi when I was 24 weeks pregnant which meant that we had plenty of time to prepare and practice the techniques. We didn't know what to expect and I'll admit that part of me did wonder whether this really would work for us. We quickly realised that hypnobirthing is SO much more than 'breathing' and that its true purpose is to educate and really empower women and their birth partners to feel more in control of their bodies and births. For me personally knowledge helps me manage any anxious feelings so I found learning about the anatomy and physiology of birth so empowering. Abi encouraged us to watch positive birth videos which completely changed my mindset and expectations of what I thought birth would be, I was definitely expecting it to be the horrendous experience screaming on my back as you see on TV. I completely changed my social media too and began following birth educators who supported women to take charge of their births. By the time we finished our course I was actually feeling excited about birth which was not a feeling I ever thought I would feel! Over the next few months, I continued to practice the breathing techniques which we had been taught (which helped with work stress too!) and I went to sleep listening to the relaxation tracks most nights. As the end of my pregnancy drew nearer, I began listening to positive birth affirmations which made me feel more confident that my body was designed to do this. In my hospital bag I included a note with my birth preferences which was just a simple bullet point list so that any midwife could pick it up and quickly see what I wanted. We had decided to give birth at the birth centre attached to our local hospital (Stoke Mandeville) as this was where I thought I would feel the most comfortable. I had multiple versions of my birth plan as it made me feel more in control and I prepared for pretty much every eventuality. My ideal scenario was to have as natural a birth as possible with little intervention and ideally in a birthing pool, but I also had completely prepared for the fact that this might not happen and knew I would need to be able to be flexible on the day.
Once I passed my due date (2 June) I started to feel more anxious about the prospect of an induction, which I really wanted to avoid as I knew from my research that being induced would likely mean a longer and more uncomfortable labour. At my 40 week midwife appointment I declined a sweep which luckily my midwife was fully supportive of, she agreed that we wouldn't even discuss induction until my 41 week appointment as I was classed as low risk. I knew from our course that I needed to keep calm and relaxed and get oxytocin flowing in order for the baby to come so I spent most of that week lying on my side on the sofa or bouncing on my yoga ball binge watching Netflix series and rom-coms. I also booked in for reflexology and acupuncture on 5 June to try and encourage labour to start as I hadn't felt so much as a twinge so far so was keen to do whatever I could to move things along. I woke up at 8am on 6 June needing the loo and noticed that there was a small amount of bloody mucus on the tissue, I remember feeling really excited that I was finally having a sign that labour was near, but I managed my expectations as I knew it could still be a while. It was a Sunday so James and I decided to go for a long walk through the woods. As we were walking, I started feeling period type pains in my lower tummy and back and for the first time in my whole pregnancy actually felt uncomfortable walking. When we got home I sat on my yoga ball which was more comfortable for me than the sofa and watched the new Disney film Raya and the Lost Dragon! The period and back pain was starting to become more noticeable so I knew things were starting to happen!
At 8pm I felt a bit of fluid trickling out and wondered if this was my waters breaking, I called
the maternity unit for advice and they asked me to come in to be assessed. I had a moment of panic at this point because I really didn't want to go to hospital this soon as I had planned to stay at home for as long as possible but I took some deep breaths to calm down and James reassured me that he would advocate for me if we decided we wanted to go home (I am not very good with confrontation). Luckily Stoke Mandeville had changed their Covid-19 policy for maternity just a few weeks before so James was allowed to stay with me in triage when he showed them a negative lateral flow test. The midwife examined me in a similar way to a smear test and advised that my waters were actually still intact so what I had felt was just more of my plug coming away. I used this opportunity whilst they were examining me to practice my breathing techniques which really helped me stay relaxed.
The midwife offered to do a vaginal examination which I declined as in that moment I didn't feel like I needed to know how many cm dilated my cervix was and I was keen to avoid too many VEs. The contractions were starting to become more noticeable at this point but I declined monitoring and asked to go home which they agreed to as we live very close by and I was managing fine at that point. We got home at around 10pm, my mum and sister had arrived at this point as they do not live locally and were keen to be close by once I went into labour. As soon as we got home I noticed that the contractions were feeling stronger so I started timing them using the Freya app they were roughly 15 minutes apart so I decided to have a bath and go to bed to try and get some sleep. The contractions continued throughout the night and were still 10-15 minutes apart so unfortunately I didn't get any sleep but I rested in bed listening to relaxation tracks and audio books to stay calm. At 6am (now 7 June) I went downstairs with James who helped put on the TENS machine as I was really feeling it in my back at this point. The TENS machine took the edge off and I would turn the boost on each time I felt a contraction coming.
At 12pm James called the maternity unit as my contractions were now 3-4 minutes apart but they advised to stay at home until they were regularly 3 minutes apart as I was still coping ok. I used the Freya app to time the contractions and count the breaths in and out which really helped me focus. By 14:30 I asked James to call again as they were now lasting for up to 90 seconds and I wasn't able to talk whilst they were happening which I knew was a sign that things were ramping up. At this point I was torn between wanting to stay at home where I was comfortable and worrying about getting stuck in school traffic so we made the decision to go to the birth centre. We arrived at 15:30 and the triage midwife wasn't particularly reassuring as she was pretty sceptical as to whether I was actually in active labour as I didn't look like I was in any pain despite my explaining that I had been contracting for 24 hours at this point. Upon examining me she was shocked that I was already 4cm so I was moved into a room in the birthing centre.
Unfortunately, there were no rooms available with a birth pool as they were so busy that afternoon, I initially felt really disappointed and upset that I wasn't even going to have the opportunity for a water birth but I asked to be put on a waiting list if one became available and then channeled my energy into getting through the contractions. I was offered gas and air which I used at first but found it made me feel very sick so I stopped using it. I spent the next few hours moving around keeping as upright as possible either standing or on the yoga ball and found leaning against James whilst he put counter pressure on my lower back the most comfortable when I had a contraction. I continued using the breathing techniques and listened to the Freya app in between as I found focusing on another voice really helped me stay calm.
At 8pm I was examined again and was 6cm dilated so things were progressing but I was starting to get very tired as it had now been almost 30 hours since my first contraction and I hadn't slept at all. At this point the midwives shift changed and the midwife who took over my care was a community midwife called Amy who had been on call that night, she was absolutely fantastic and was really supportive and encouraging of the hypnobirthing techniques that I was using. Rather than just observe me she made suggestions as to positions I might find comfortable and gave me advice on my breathing (I wasn't relaxing my shoulders enough) which really helped. At midnight she confirmed that a room with a pool had become available so we moved there, I instantly felt more relaxed as the lights were dim with electric candles around the pool.
Whilst the pool was filling up Amy reminded me to try and go for a wee even though I didn't really feel like I needed to go; not very much came out and when Amy tested my urine it showed that I was quite dehydrated. She advised that I would need to rehydrate myself before I could go in the pool as the heat would only make things worse so encouraged me to drink a lucozade sport and try and eat something. I had felt extremely nauseous since my contractions had started so had barely eaten anything. I really struggled to eat the toast as I felt so sick but did drink as much as I could. In the meantime, Amy encouraged me to try and rest leaning over the bed as I really didn't want to lie down and she showed James how to do an aromatherapy massage on my lower back. After an hour she tested my urine again and unfortunately there wasn't any improvement and I now had protein showing up which ruled out being able to go in the pool. I was so disappointed as I really had been banking on the relief that the hot water would give. Amy advised that I needed to go on a drip to get my fluid levels back up and that this would need to be done on the labour ward as they would need to now continuously monitor the baby's heartbeat. I had a bit of a meltdown at this stage (later realised I was going through transition too) as I felt so panicked about going to the ward, as in my mind that would mean medical intervention, that I started shaking uncontrollably. Amy was so incredibly supportive at this stage and didn't make me feel stupid at all for my irrational reaction, she reassured me that the rooms were very similar and she would make it feel as calm as possible for me but that I really did need to take a break and have these fluids, or I really would end up in an emergency situation as I would be too exhausted.
When we arrived in the new room Amy helped me get comfortable on my side using a peanut ball and hooked me up to an IV of fluids, she also gave me an anti-sickness injection which made a huge difference to how I felt. I also tried gas and air again at this stage and after being shown how to use it properly found it actually really helped take the edge off.
At 2am I was examined again before the shift change and was now 8cm dilated but my waters were still intact. I managed to get some rest (unfortunately no sleep) for the next few hours using the gas and air for each contraction whilst James snored in a chair next to me! At 6am I was examined again and was now 9.5 cm dilated but my waters were still hanging in there. The midwife offered to break them for me but I asked to wait a few more hours to see if they would go naturally and started bouncing on the birth ball again. At this point my mum arrived and it was great to have her there as additional support. Unfortunately, 2 hours later my waters still hadn't gone and the midwife recommended she break my waters and then see if they could move me to a room with a pool as I was still very keen on a water birth. I eventually agreed and it took literally seconds as they were described as bulging. I straight away got up again to start moving around as the midwife handed over to a new midwife (now on midwife number 4!), I heard her say "I've just broken her waters she's almost there but I think it will still be a few hours" and I just responded saying "no this baby is coming now" as I had suddenly felt a crazy urge to push like I was going to the toilet. The new midwife who was called Abby took one look at me and knew it was time.
As there was not going to be enough time to get to a pool, I decided to kneel on the bed leaning over the top, the contractions were coming thick and fast now so I was using the gas and air whilst squeezing either my mum or James' hand. With each contraction I could feel the baby getting closer and I remember at one point my mum shouting "I can see lots of hair"! I could feel myself getting exhausted so on the next contraction I pushed with all my might which unfortunately put a bit too much pressure on the baby and the heart rate monitor started beeping, the next thing I knew the emergency alarm had been set off and at least 10 doctors came crashing into the room.
At this point I vividly remember thinking "oh my god this is going to end in an emergency c section" and I could feel myself panicking but I somehow managed to re-frame my mindset and knew that I needed to keep calm despite the chaos going on around me. I tuned into the Freya app which was still playing in the background and just focused on the birth affirmations completely blocking out what was going on around me - my mum and James said I looked like I was in a trance! The doctors decided that they needed to intervene quickly so helped me turn onto my back and coached me through some breaths (the opposite to hypnobirthing breathing) whilst they used a ventouse to help me birth the head, it only took one push and our beautiful baby boy Rupert was born safely, at 09:11 on 8 June 2021, weighing a healthy 7lb12oz. He was put straight onto my chest and we spent some time skin-to-skin whilst the episiotomy was stitched up, I was advised to have the injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta and I barely felt a thing.
Giving birth was the most intense but exhilarating experience and I understand now why it is described as instinctive and primal, I made sounds and moved my body in ways that I never have before and my body really did know what to do. Despite labouring for over 40 hours and the dramatic delivery, I still feel incredibly positive about my birth experience and the lead up to labour and know that is due to the hypnobirthing techniques, I feel so proud of what my body achieved and I will most definitely be considering a home birth with any future babies