When we found out we were expecting number two, the excitement quickly gave way to anxiety about the birth as our first experience had not been a terribly good one.
Our first born gorgeous girl arrived following a pretty traumatic birth. With no early labour signs, labour started with a pop, quite literally. My waters broke at 10:30pm and immediately started pretty intense, regular contractions all in my back.
After a call to the hospital, they said I had to go straight into hospital (due to waters breaking) so we set off in the car fully expecting to be sent home; I know now this was the first of the ‘you have to do X’ scenarios we faced in our first birth that so many first time parents blindly follow as gospel truth without realising what their rights are.
Once in hospital we were set up in a little triage side room with only a curtain for privacy, with a constant flurry of staff coming in to do extraordinarily painful VE’s (which they shouldn’t have done given my waters had gone), strip lighting and the sound of so many other people milling around. I was quickly thrust the gas & air, which didn’t leave my grasp for the entire labour but sent me completely loco - I asked my husband to go and get Sherlock Holmes at one stage!
The intensity was almost unbearable, which I know now was due to the little one being back to back but I was obviously terrified, thinking that if the pain was so great so early on, how could I possibly cope when labour ramped up another level? Had I known it would just be constant I don’t think I would have been so scared, but nothing was communicated to us.
After a few hours in the side shack I was walked down the corridor, past goodness know how many people in the most undignified manner (picture shirt, no pants and socks, classy!), into a labour room, finally at about 3am. There past 4 hours bouncing on a ball, sitting on the loo and fighting my way through the pain, never relaxing in the rests because I was so scared of the next surge. The lights weren’t low, the midwives were kind but noisy and interfering and I was never allowed to get into my rhythm or just hide away and progress. When they declared i was ready to push at 7am, they decided it was the right thing to do to put me on my back and couch me through pushing - we didn’t question the advice but are now patently aware of what an awful position that is for giving birth, especially given the back-to-back positioning. Our little girl just kept coming down a little and then slipping straight back up. This went on for 90 minutes before the red button was pressed and the ants came swarming and my husband understandably freaked out to a new level. Cue me signing my life away on a consent form (would love to see that signature!) being whisked into surgery, the surgeon trying to manually manipulate the baby to no avail and an eventual emergency C-Section.
Suffice it to say, that was not something either of us was keen to repeat in a hurry and I was in a state of panic at having to give birth again.
So we looked into hypnobirthing as a way to silence those fears and it was the best decision we could possibly have made. I wanted calm, quiet, continuity of care, safety, low lighting, minimal interventions and minimal fuss. Hypnobirthing not only helped us process what had happened and lay the demons to rest, but enabled us to inhabit a state of calm and truly believe that a positive birth experience was entirely possible and a completely normal thing to hope for.
It was also through hypnobirthing that we learnt about home birth, not as some hippy and ‘brave’ concept but as something completely normal and natural, just as our Grannies and their Grannies before them would have done. My husband was a little harder to convince about the whole 'birth pool at home business’, as he was, understandably, in protection mode (we’re all societally programmed to think that hospital equals safety). However, looking at all the information, reading between the lines of the stats and reading up as he does, he too was fully on board.
Before I was signed over to the Home Birth caseload team I had a meeting with the consultant midwife. She was incredibly lovely but also gave quite a lot of confusing, contradictory advice, as she is somewhat restricted by hospital protocol, which advises that any VBAC take place on the Labour Ward - not something I was willing to concede to!
We listened to the advice and decided that the best course of action for us was to proceed with our plan for a Home Birth and, from then on, received the most amazing, continuous care that felt so personal; I really can’t explain clearly enough what a huge difference it made to us knowing all the people who would eventually be part of our birth, completely priceless. The other huge difference we made was hiring a Doula to help guide and support us in the lead up to and during the birth and I cannot recommend it highly enough; they provide another level of continuity of care, a feeling of safety and like you’re wrapped in a love blanket and my goodness they have all the tricks for easing labour, all hail the Doula!
Enough of the waffly back story, and on to the best bit, the incredible story of our complete opposite second birth, our successful HBAC.
After a few weeks of maternity leave I was definitely getting itchy feet but really relishing the daytime baths and last few nights of full sleep this time round.
On day 39+4 at around midday I started getting some real burrowing period type pains and that all too familiar lower back pain that i had feared so much in my first birth - number 2 was also stubbornly back to back. But I didn’t fear it this time; messages with our Doula and everything i’d learnt in hypnobirthing made me believe the baby would turn in it’s own time. So passed a few hours of me rocking to and fro, bouncing on the birth ball and just generally carrying on with my day, with toddler in tow. I even baked some maltese brownies.
The surges became increasingly intense over the course of a few hours and I called my mum; she was coming to take our daughter away so we could fully focus and, given she lives a few hours away and I thought things would probably kick off that night, I thought the timing was right. So super Granny arrived and took our daughter away, my husband came home and our Doula popped by to assess things - she arrived as we were coming back from a walk (I was walking like John Wayne!) and came in a massaged my back, got me in a few good positions to turn the baby, put wooden spoons in pressure points on my shoulders to relive the aches and just generally made me feel calm. Everything was super manageable at this stage - the early labour I’d never experienced first time around. She headed off after putting me in the bath and we knew at that stage she knew it probably wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Post bath everything turned off like a tap, so we had supper and few glasses wine, watched some mindless TV and went to bed, to wake at 8:30 after the best nights sleep we’d had in months (no toddler to wake up!).
Feeling completely normal and energetic I was a little frustrated, I can remember my overriding feeling was of guilt for wasting my Mum’s time - but after a quick call with her she obviously told me to stop being silly and that she had our daughter until at east 24 hours after the baby arrived and to just enjoy this extra gift of time our baby was giving us. With guilt assuaged, we did just that, a gorgeous, un-February sunny walk, lunch out, an afternoon film, a few games of scrabble, a bath and a spicy curry before heading off to bed. I woke at midnight with pregnant bladder and could feel a few niggles and that grinding, burrowing feeling but went back to bed and slept through the light waves. It wasn’t until 5am that I really woke up and thought, this is happening now, my breathing woke up my husband and within half an hour he was messaging our Doula as he could see change.
I headed to the bathroom and within another half hour things had really changed up a gear and I had to concentrate but knew I wanted to get out of the bathroom and somewhere more comfortable for the rests. I created a pillow fortress on our bed and rode the waves that were coming on thick and fast; whilst silent being fed camomile tea, fanned and having ice rubbed on my lower back. I managed the surges by deeply inhaling lavender oil and really moaning (i’m not quiet in labour it turns out!) then enjoying the brief rests by collapsing and letting everything go.
I didn’t notice her arrive, which was just incredible (I was never disturbed and left to continue my rhythm) but our midwife arrived half an hour after the Doula and softly and calmly went about her checks and notes and just observed from a distance, trusting mother and baby to continue undisturbed. When full on active labour started, at about 7:30, I felt the need for a change and some relief and made my way downstairs to the haven my husband had created in our sitting room, being helped into the birth pool - while it didn’t relieve the intensity, it lifted some weight and gave me the most amazing sense of privacy. After a few more intense surges I clearly felt another monumental change and muttered the classic ‘I can’t do this’ before feeling the most incredible relief as the baby burrowed completely down ready to make its entrance; at which point I shouted ’something’s coming’; this was the moment my husband says my expression changed completely from disbelief to pure determination and belief that I really was about to do this. Two surges later and the little one’s head was born.
I held it in disbelief waiting for the final surge and final Grrrrrrrrrr until our perfect little baby was born, into my hands. I was able to lift her to my chest and discover her sex for myself and just stared in utter disbelief and pride, revelling in the most incredible moment I had only hoped was possible; I had done it in a very rapid 1 hour 26 minutes. The fourth stage was a very uneventful tiny pull of the chord about 15 minutes later on our sofa after which we were wrapped in towels and set up in a ball of love in the safety of our own cosy home. A truly euphoric experience. I believe one thing that has enabled me to remember it so clearly is not using any gas and air this time around, I’m not saying that to sound tough (because it was ridiculously intense and there were moments I would have taken any drug under the sun) but I was able to focus more without feeling high.
After a quick check that revealed all my work with the Epi-No and perineal massages had paid off - no tears - I had the best shower of my life and set myself up in bed, cuddling and feeding my gorgeous little girl whilst eating honey toast off my own plate and drinking the best ever cup of tea out of my own mug. Theodora had her newborn check in our bed and my husband then clambered in and we spent the afternoon feeding, napping and watching the Six Nations, it was utterly perfect.