To prepare for the birth of our first baby my husband Geoff and I went on a hypnobirthing course and the resulting birth was such a formative experience it spurred me on to train as a KG hypnobirthing teacher. During my teacher training I found out I was pregnant again. How’s that for timing?! Christmas 2017 my training was put to the ultimate test with the birth of Betsy. What follows is a story which could have been very different, but thankfully the stars aligned.
Birth rarely goes according to plan, that much I know. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan. Quite the opposite. Physical and mental preparation are non-negotiable. Educating yourself on the risks and benefits of interventions is a no-brainer. And to the nay-sayers who tell you it’s pointless writing a birth plan? Well I concur; you should write two! Always have a plan B.
However in the wondrous, unpredictable beauty of birth, there is usually something you hadn’t banked on, some sort of curveball. When expecting, one must expect the unexpected.
Betsy was born at home (planned) in a warm, dark room (planned) with my husband and two super-duper midwives present (planned). My mum arrived unannounced just as Betsy entered the world (not planned), bum first (NOT PLANNED!) The bum first part refers to Betsy rather than my mother, in case you were wondering. So, no my birth didn’t go exactly as planned. Believe it or not, it was better. This is the story of how Betsy’s breech, home, hypnobirth ‘unfolded’.
Aside from having antenatal check ups in the comfort of your living room…one of the huge advantages of a home birth is knowing your midwife. My midwife Kelly was a godsend; positive, knowledgeable and relaxed. Throughout the duration of my pregnancy she got to know not only me, but my entire family. Kelly and I discussed my first birth at length, she understood my approach to birth and she read and upheld my birth plan. This meant when it came to my labour she was able to support me in the way I needed to be supported. I cannot praise her and the Croydon Crocus home birth team highly enough. This is 5*, VIP, gold-standard midwifery care!
On the morning of the 29th December, when I was 39 weeks pregnant, I met Rose. She was my second assigned midwife. I instantly warmed to her. As she left she mentioned that if the baby arrived in the next week it would be highly likely that her and Kelly would both be on call to attend the birth. The dream team! My body was listening. Bam! Within a couple of hours I was in labour!
It started at about 2pm with a low down feeling much like a menstrual cramp. These sensations were coming every 20 mins or so and I soon found myself ‘up-breathing’ my way through them. I ventured downstairs and told Geoff it ‘felt like something, but may well be nothing’. I called mum and asked her to pick up my toddler Cece as we were all expected at a family shindig. By the time mum arrived (2.45ish) the surges had ramped up and were happening every 3 mins and lasting just over a minute. I calmly informed my parents that I was in labour and off they popped to the party. We called Kelly to say it might be time. She sounded excited. The next half an hour was a hive of activity. Geoff busied himself with playlists, candles and the birth pool. He sent a group message to the close friends and family who were at my ‘mother's blessing’ to let them know labour had started and that they should light their candles. Each of the seven ladies/candles had been assigned a relevant chakra and the intention was for them to light their candle and send me positive thoughts and energy. Candles were lit from Brixton to Brooklyn. Yes my friend had taken her candle on holiday all the way to New York and had instinctively known to take it out with her that day!
As the surges increased in intensity I felt every emotion, mainly excitement at the prospect of meeting our new baby and relief that it seemed we were going to achieve our dream of a home birth. Naturally I felt some nerves, but if any worry came to mind I would acknowledge it and let it pass. The surges were strong so I kept telling myself to surrender to them. Don’t fight it. I walked and wandered. Circling the dining table. Stopping every few mins to do my up breathing. For a moment I imagined how it would feel to have to step out into the bitterly cold night to go to a hospital. I also considered how uncomfortable it would feel to lie on my back for an internal examination (I had agreed with Kelly we would only have one if there was a medical indication). It was something that during my first labour I had just taken as a given, but during my second pregnancy I felt strongly that I wanted to avoid an internal examination during labour unless it was necessary.
In a scene that wouldn’t look out of place on Call the Midwife, Geoff had kettles boiling and pots and pans on the stove, trying in vain to get the pool filled as our boiler had failed us. Thankfully I was in my bubble and just blissfully happy to be at home with Geoff and Kelly. After a couple of very expulsive feeling surges, my waters pretty much exploded with a loud, spectacular sound which had everyone gasping and giggling! I was drenched from waist to ankles! Kelly suggested I make myself comfortable somewhere. Baby was coming! I knelt down in front of the sofa and leant over a mountain of cushions. I had about 10 mins of respite or ‘rest and be thankful’ then the second stage took over.
By this time Rose arrived…quietly and discretely. Both midwives were very respectful of my request for minimal chat and hushed voices. For birth to progress it's imperative that you feel calm and safe in your environment: ideally somewhere quiet, dark, warm and private...so your hormones can do their job. Bright lights, unfamiliar people/places, feeling like you are being observed and being asked questions all activate the neocortex, which releases adrenaline and inhibits the production of oxytocin - the love hormone which you need to release in abundance during and after birth. It's not a wonder that labour can often slow down or even stop when you enter a hospital. As Michel Odent keenly observed, the first intervention is leaving your own front door.
The next surges were so powerful and I was acutely aware of the sensation of the baby descending down the birth canal. It was an odd feeling. It felt different, somehow more difficult than my first birth. This baffled me as I felt my second birth should be easier. However I could feel my body was doing the hard work. I focused on breathing down, I was calm but loud. No screaming, no pain. More of a primal roar with each one of these intense surges. There’s a connection between the jaw and pelvis, so I guess my vocalising was helping to open up my pelvis.
I felt totally connected to the feeling that my body was giving birth without any need for pushing…this is known as the ‘fetal ejection response’. This is the natural, physiological process which happens when birth is truly undisturbed and a labouring woman is left to birth instinctively. It’s a crazy feeling, but truly awe-inspiring, an unstoppable force.
It was all going far too smoothly. Enter the curveball. I heard Kelly say: ‘Rose, it’s breech’. My mind raced. How is this baby breech?! Both Kelly and Rose had thoroughly palpated me very recently and found the baby head down. This baby was a little trickster! As a hypnobirthing teacher I knew enough about breech to know this was likely to be a heart-stopping moment for my midwives…I doubted they had attended a breech home birth before. Women are advised to have C-Sections so midwives have become de-skilled by not having the opportunity to attend breech births.
Everyone remained calm. I just continued with my down breathing. I knew I had to stay in the zone. Rose called an ambulance (protocol for this situation). I said to myself there’s no way I am getting into an ambulance now! I could feel the baby was so close to being born. Now I understood why the sensations had felt different. Kelly reassured me that baby was almost here and everything was fine. Geoff stroked my arm and gave me some gentle encouragement. Mentally I replayed a birth video I had seen of a natural breech birth, I remembered how it made me wince a little, but I also remembered how easily that baby emerged in all it’s bizarre, folded up, bum first glory!
As if we hadn’t had enough surprises, the front door then opened and my mother walked in! She had been at the party when her mother’s instinct had kicked in, for some reason she had hot-footed it over to my house. This meant that she walked in just in time to witness what happened next...
With the next surge I felt that the baby’s bum had emerged. Almost there. Then the exquisitely odd sensation of legs flopping out, followed by arms. A bit like giving birth to an octopus. It was bizarre! Kelly told Geoff to have a sneaky peak. He peered through my legs and saw our baby…a very long back and a little bum just sitting pretty on the living room floor! Baby’s head was still inside and Kelly could see baby trying to take a breath so she asked me if I could push before the next surge. I gave a little push and ta-da!
Kelly passed me my baby and I actually didn’t know what to do with myself or with…her. A baby girl! Another thing I wasn’t expecting. I was convinced I was having a boy. I just stared at her. She looked as surprised as I did. Is she ok? Is her colour normal? Is she breathing? 'She’s fine!', Kelly chirped. Reassuring as ever. The whole room then breathed a collective sigh of relief. And exhale!
My mother (who is very naughty and didn’t obey my request for hushed voices) screamed with excitement, then she was gone as quickly as she arrived. I always wanted her at my second birth but only ever for the actual baby coming out part. Partly because I wasn’t sure she would behave and obey the rules of being calm and quiet. So for her to just waltz in and be present for the birth felt like such a magical moment.
Within an hour the living room was back to normal, Geoff and I were cosied up on the sofa waiting for our take-away to be delivered, sipping prosecco and smooching our beautiful baby girl Betsy.
Did I really just give birth to a 8lbs 8oz breech baby, at home, on the living room floor in under 3 hours…?I suppose the most unbelievable thing about it was how normal it felt.
I am very relieved that I was at home with a midwife that I knew and trusted and most importantly that she knew me. I am also massively relieved that the breech presentation was unknown as I feel like the odds would have been stacked against me having the beautiful, undisturbed, home birth that I had. There is so much fear and scare-mongering surrounding breech and who knows how that would have affected my state of mind and my choices. Breech presentation is unusual but normal. I thank my lucky stars that I listened to the inner voice that told me not to have any internal examinations as that would have meant discovering the breech presentation and setting us on a different path. Blissfully unaware I was able to birth safely, swiftly and comfortably.
I attribute much of my wonderful life-affirming experience to hypnobirthing and The Crocus Home birth team. When I teach I always tell women ‘trust your body, your baby and your instincts’. That is now even more deeply ingrained in my psyche. Birth is not an emergency, it’s an emergence…