Updated: May 2, 2020
Olivia had a lot of anxiety about giving birth when she found out she was pregnant in autumn of 2018, even leading to tearful panic attacks. Following a HypnoBirthing course she was equipped with relaxation and decision making techniques and had a natural positive birth experience bringing baby Freya into the world in June 2019.
Here is her story:
When I first heard about HypnoBirthing I was convinced that it wouldn't work for me. I would hear stories of women saying that they had given birth with no pain relief, using only breathing techniques and I was sure they were lying or exaggerating, or even that the pain must have felt "less" to them than it would be for me. Like so many other women, all I had been told my whole life was how horrendous child birth was and that the worst pain unimaginable or 100x worse than any period pain. As someone who suffered from severe period pain during my teenage years (being frequently signed off school as it was so bad) and in addition to having a history of anxiety issues, I became absolutely petrified of the thought of giving birth. However, in the end my birth experience was actually very positive and my surges weren't anywhere near as bad as my periods!
I was first introduced to the idea of hypnobirthing in early pregnancy by Abi, after a particularly bad week where my husband came home from work to find me crying on the sofa, terrified about the prospect of giving birth. We did an online hypnobirthing course together from when I was around 16 weeks pregnant and I started to feel so much more comfortable learning about the actual science behind labour, if still a little sceptical as to whether the techniques we learned for managing the pain would work in practice. I was determined to give it a chance and we practiced the breathing techniques and light touch massage every night before bed for the remainder of my pregnancy. I found the breathing techniques particularly useful and even used them to get through several blood tests during my pregnancy (which would normally have caused me to pass out) and I continue to use them to this day to manage my anxiety.
What I really liked about hypnobirthing was how scientific and factual it was and, unlike a lot of other antenatal courses out there, it didn't have a hidden agenda about how you should give birth. It could be applied to any birth; a C-section delivery, epidural, induction or completely natural birth.
As well as the breathing techniques, one of the best things I took from the course was the B.R.A.I.N framework for making decisions, being able to ask questions and advocate for yourself and not just agree to whatever is being recommended. One example of how this helped us was deciding where to give birth. After taking the course I decided I wanted to give birth at home, however I had tested positive for group B strep, which I was would mean I needed to give birth on the labour ward in hospital, hooked up to a drip of antibiotics. Using the B.R.A.I.N framework, when we met with the consultant we asked whether there was any possibility of having the antibiotics at home. Although they weren't able to do this, she understood our want for as natural birth as possible and suggested I could have the antibiotics at the hospital and use the attached midwife led unit rather than the labour ward. She even agreed that we could use the birthing pool, providing I kept the cannula out of the water. We were happy with this solution and this became our birthing plan, although in the end it didn't go to plan but still worked out well anyway!
At 38+1 I woke up at around 7am and went to the toilet to find a lot of blood. We rang the hospital and they asked us to come into the day assessment unit. On the way over in the car I suddenly felt a dripping sensation, which they confirmed in hospital was my waters breaking. I wasn't having any surges at this point and, being group B strep positive, the hospital wanted to induce me immediately. Again the B.R.A.I.N framework came in handy, as we asked the consultant whether I could be given any time to see if things progressed naturally, and in the end we agreed I would have the first dose of antibiotics and be given 4 hours until the next dose to see if things got going on their own.
As they expected me to need an induction, we were taken to a room on the labour ward, but quickly set the room up with our fairy lights and one of the midwives offered to get us some lavender oil from their aromatherapy room. This was around 1pm and not long after my surges began on their own. The surges were not pain-free, but unlike my period I found the pain manageable as it came in peaks and troughs. My husband counted me through the upbreathing during each surge and after about an hour the midwife asked if she could examine me to see if I was making progress, which I agreed to. At this point I was 2cm dilated and told my cervix was very favourable.
We started to use the TENS machine after this, which wasn't perfect but it really helped with the pain in my back. When the 4 hours were up, I was examined again and was 5cm dilated and officially in established labour, so would not need to be induced. The midwife offered to break my hind waters at this check to help speed things along, which I agreed to. We didn't want to move rooms to the MLU at this point, but knew they had an inflatable pool on the labour ward, which they were happy for me to use and one of the midwives went to inflate and fill the pool for us.
After this check, my surges intensified and I started to use gas and air, which really helped and it still felt manageable. About an hour later I suddenly had a moment of total panic, where I told everyone I couldn't do it and wanted an epidural. They brought in the anesthetist and I went to have a last wee before they put the catheter in, when I suddenly felt this overwhelming urge to push like I needed to do a massive poo. In hindsight it is obvious that this panic I experienced was my transition phase, but at the time having only been 5cm dilated an hour before, I didn't realise.
After my urge to push, my husband suggested that they examine me again before giving the epidural - the midwives didn't believe I could be fully dilated after only an hour! It turned out I was fully dilated and so couldn't have the epidural. We asked whether I could use the pool for the final stage, but unfortunately when they did a few last checks my blood pressure was too high and I had to continue without.
After panicking at transition I suddenly felt very calm, with my surges changing and my body starting to bear down with every surge. It's hard to describe but the feeling was so overwhelming! My whole body would just push down on its own - I couldn't have not pushed during these
surges, but I also knew if I tried pushing between the surges it wouldn't work. I don't know exactly how long I was doing this for, but not long at all as my official established labour time was just 2.5hrs! The worst bit by far was pushing out her head -they call it ring of fire for a reason - but it lasted for a matter of seconds and her body came out easily after, which actually felt weirdly satisfying.
Before I fell pregnant, another aspect of the birth I had been really scared about was the possibility of tearing or needing an episiotomy, which is normal during birth. In the end I actually didn't even notice I had a second degree tear. The midwife could have stitched it up herself, but I had other complications post birth that required a trip to theatre and so they stitched me up in there. I had no problems healing after and I wouldn't even know now that I had torn or needed stitches.
I won't go into a lot of detail about my theatre trip, but I think if there was anything more I would like from the hypnobirthing course it would be to learn about some of these possible complications post-birth, in a scientific and factual way. I understand why some courses don't cover these issues, especially as retained membranes which happened to me is rare, but I personally think knowing more about what was happening and what I could expect would have helped me to remain calm.
However, I can safely say that doing hypnobirthing was so worth it - if you had told me before I was pregnant that I would manage to give birth using just gas and air and a TENS machine I would probably have laughed in your face!