Growing a human is a big deal. Birthing a human is a mighty big deal. The entire process is incredible! Right at this very moment, as I sit here typing, a good friend of mine is in labour, about to experience birth through a mother’s eyes for the first time. I can only hope that she gets the right birth for her, it all goes smoothly and she starts her journey as a parent feeling empowered, not fearful, in control, not fretful… time will tell.
Birth is too often portrayed as scary and negative, with the most horrifying stories grabbing our attention. But it isn’t always like that. Although vastly different, the births of both my boys were positive – so why hadn’t I heard more positive stories before I was pregnant? My experiences didn’t result from luck alone, and it turns out I’m not the only mum to have had good births. I met with Lynn Warren from Birtheasy to find out the truth about positive birth.
Hi Lynn, thanks for talking to me today. Please tell us a little about your family.
There’s myself and my husband, Ashley. We have seven year old twins, Maisie and Miley and four year old, Ruby – there’s lots of girls in the house! Ruby has just started school, so now I can have a little bit more time to myself. We’re a very close-knit family, we do a lot together. Myself and Ash have just bought bikes so all five of us can go bike-riding together, which was our little dream.
Your first birth with the twins was a positive experience. Can you tell us a little about that?
I was booked in for an induction at the QEII Hospital, but went into labour naturally four days before. I had been completely terrified about birth, but actually the whole experience was really surreal and calm and not how I expected it to be at all. It hurt a lot, but on the whole it was a very positive experience. I let the midwives tell me what to do, so I spent nine hours on my back with three straps around my stomach (fetal heart monitors). It wasn’t the most comfortable but it was all very calm.
It was a blur. There were a lot of people – probably twenty people in the room with us. Even though I had the twins naturally, I had to have them in surgery just in case there were any complications. From that perspective, I think especially for my husband, it was probably quite scary. One of our babies was whisked away because she was really small and then contracted a stomach bug at the hospital. She was quite poorly for a month, but the hospital were amazing and with regards to the birth itself, we came away thinking it was quite a good experience.
How did this affect your feelings towards labour and birth when you discovered you were pregnant again?
I couldn’t wait to give birth a second time because I’d since discovered hypnobirthing. I’ve been teaching it now for almost seven years. In the meantime I’d taught lots of people and knew how empowering birth could be; even if you have a c-section or assisted delivery or things change, I knew how positive it could be. I couldn’t wait to try it myself. I did feel pressure that I had to have an amazing birth, so it did make me feel a bit worried. It probably sounds bizarre, but I honestly couldn’t wait to be in labour. Hypnobirthing definitely made me look forward to my next birth.
Even though your first time was positive, had you hoped your second time would be any different?
Yes, I just wanted to have my husband and a midwife, or two midwives, like everyone else; we decided to opt for a home birth. The community midwives were really supportive about it. I didn’t actually think that we would achieve a home birth because I thought my blood pressure or baby’s heart-rate would be bound to drop, so I thought we’d be transferred in. But actually, it was very quick and we did manage to have her at home… and we just had my husband, myself, two midwives – that was it.
Did you do anything differently to prepare for the second time?
Well, I was doing my hypnobirthing, so I did all the techniques I teach my couples, the breathing, relaxation, etc. which actually – I had two year old twins at home – I’d recommend, even if you’re not pregnant! So, yes, I did lots of preparation. Apart from physical preparations and mentally preparing, there was a lot less to do because we were just going to be at home. Aside from organising for the twins to be at my mother-in-law’s, that was it really. I had a hospital bag just in case, but it wasn’t needed though.
What can you remember feeling as your due date grew closer? Was this different to how you felt the first time?
I definitely had a wobble about two weeks before, but I spoke to another hypnobirthing lady who completely reassured me and reminded me of all the extra work I was doing this time. I was quite fearful leading up to it the first time and apart from my wobble, not at all this time. I was looking forward to it more, I felt more excited and positive.
How did you reach the decision for a home birth? Were there any additional factors that you had to consider?
It was mostly the fact that I didn’t want lots of people in the room with us. Also, around that time, a lot of my hypnobirthing mums were not quite making it to the hospital on time. I went through a speight of having quite a few home births that weren’t planned – all very positive, but not planned. I taught my best friend for her second. When she got to the Lister Hospital, they weren’t quite convinced that she was as far gone as she was so sent her home. As soon as she got home, she said, “We need to go back,” and she ended up giving birth in the car – that was three months before I had Ruby. I said to my husband, Ash, I didn’t want to stay at home for as long as possible and then go in for the final bit. I’d rather just stay at home for the whole of it. I did want to make sure that my husband was completely for it as well, because the first time round one of our babies – she was tiny – and she contracted a stomach bug at the hospital. These were all factors. I needed to know he was comfortable with us not being in hospital, just in case anything was needed.
Was he comfortable?
He actually was comfortable. I think because he didn’t like the fact that there were so many people in the room with us before and because the midwife had been so positive, he said as long as I know they’ve got everything with them and that the baby would be safe if anything was to happen, then he would be fine with it. We researched it, got all the information from the midwife, he had a chat with them and they really put our minds at rest.
I think if you’re watching someone go through something, it’s almost worse for you, because when you’re dealing with something you just deal with it. Just like when one of our babies was poorly she got transferred in the neonatal ambulance to the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, and she was there for a month. We’d come home in the evening and they’d be food in the fridge, dinners, ready for us to cook. People were sending us cards and I was saying, “Why are they sending us cards? She’s okay. She’s here.” I think we were just dealing with it, but it is a bigger deal to somebody watching someone go through something that big – like the dads.
With hypnobirthing, the birth partners are so involved. In the classes I teach, the majority of class 4 has so much to do with the birth partner – they’re massively involved. I think whatever route the birth path takes – if things take a turn and change and you need an assisted delivery or emergency c-section – the birth partners, they’re on board. They’re calm, they’re the ones asking questions. And if everything is fine and you’re having a lovely hypnobirth, that natural birth you wanted, the birth partners are involved: they’re doing some massage, they know what breathing techniques the mum is doing. They are not just more involved, I think they’re a lot calmer as well. They feel prepared, just like mum does.
With Ruby’s birth, when did you realise you were in labour?
I questioned it for a while. I’d taken the kids to the supermarket in the morning because we were going to do some baking so we went to buy ingredients. I remember standing in the queue at the till and I had this almighty… it felt like a punch in the bottom of my stomach – just one. It took my breath away. I remember someone in the queue next to me looking at me and then it stopped. We got back and started baking. I think about twelve I was starting to get a few really mild period type sensations. They were coming and going, they were very erratic. But they carried on, so after an hour or so I thought I must be in labour. I was seven days over, but I was still umming and ahhing for a while until the sensations started to get closer together. That was my first sign. I was literally on my hands and knees mopping up the flour off the floor. My neighbour had come by and she said, “I just can’t let you do this,” so I had my neighbour on the floor instead. We’d called my mother-in-law at that point, my husband works for himself so he had come home. I remember her and my husband sitting on the sofa, talking. I was in the kitchen and I could hear him saying, “We’ll probably just get the kids back later, because I don’t think we’re in labour.” I am, I thought. But obviously, I just wasn’t showing it.
So, what happened next? How did you convince your husband you were in labour?
My mother-in-law took the girls and then about four o’clock, my husband set up the birthing pool we’d hired in the kitchen. We hadn’t filled it up or anything, just put it all together. It got to about four thirty and it started to feel a little bit more intense. I said, “I’m just going to lie on the sofa now.” The house was spotless, there were candles lit everywhere, it was lovely. I laid on the sofa and put my music on and started breathing through my surges – that’s what we call contractions in hypnobirthing. Then quite quickly afterwards I said, “I think we’d better call the midwives.” It took them about an hour to get here as I’m sure even though I kept telling the lady on the phone I was hypnobirthing, I’m not convinced she believed how far advanced I was. Then, about half past five, I went upstairs, laid on the bed and the midwives arrived about half an hour later. They came upstairs, checked me, said that I was five centimetres. Thirty five minutes later we were holding our baby.
They only give you an hour to birth the placenta when you have a home-birth. I got to fifty-eight minutes and then I must have really been squeezing – I thought I’m not going to hospital now!
I have to say, I know that a home birth is definitely not for everyone, but it was the right choice for us. Our twins weren’t here, it was just me, Ash and baby Ruby lying in bed; the midwives left an hour or so later and were just like – wow, this couldn’t have been more different to the first time. It was just amazing.
I think for my husband as well, it was such a lovely experience. Even though the first time was a positive experience, it couldn’t have been more different for us. He’s all for home-births now, he tells all his friends to do it; but I appreciate it’s not for everyone. For us though, it was quite an easy decision. The statistics show that for low risk mothers and babies, home-births tend to end up with a lot less intervention. It’s quite easy to go into that cascade of events if you’re in hospital whereas, if you’re at home, you’re going to get yourself more into that zone and it’s not as easy to be offered or to ask for interventions.
Was your mindset different the second time?
I remember the first time having it in mind that we were going to meet the babies soon. I was so excited by that, that even the first time I couldn’t wait to get the labour out of the way. Even though I was really fearful the first time, I think I was very lucky that my mindset both times wasn’t in a bad place. For lots of women it isn’t, because it can be really petrifying… but I just couldn’t wait to meet the babies!
Knowing the second time exactly what was happening inside helped too. Knowing that every time I had a surge – each contraction – was actually bringing me closer to having the baby made the biggest difference to me. I was thinking, “Bring the next one on, bring the next one on…”
What would you say are the key elements to a positive birth?
Education. Understanding what happens in the birth process. Understanding that you have choices. The first time round I didn’t understand that we had choices and I very much arrived at the hospital wanting the midwives to tell me what to do – which they did: I got on the bed and I stayed there for nine hours. So, understanding that you have choices – as long as mum’s okay, baby’s okay, it is very much your birth. It’s also important to have some key skills to get your mind in a good place, and to practice them beforehand. Do some affirmations and learn some breathing techniques. It’s no good just having someone saying to you, “Breathe, breathe!” – obviously you need to breathe – but understanding why you’re breathing in a certain way, how it’s going to help you, how it’s going to speed the labour up. So, yes, they’re are key elements to a positive birth: education, preparation and relaxation.
Are there any items you would advise a labouring mother to have nearby?
Anything that makes her feel relaxed: Some relaxing music, a pillow from home, anything that makes her feel comfortable. It’s one of the things we go through quite a bit in hypnobirthing. For some mums it’s really important to feel like they’re birthing in the dark, even if they’re birthing in the day; so I tell them to bring an eye-mask. But only if they’re used to using one, otherwise they’ll feel awful on the day. Whenever they’re doing their relaxation before the birth, they should put the eye-mask on then too. Anything can be an anchor for a positive birth – water, music, a pillow, a photograph, your dressing-gown – whatever it is that will keep you calm. It’s a very unique choice. Some mums like to have positive birth affirmations that they listen to; some mums like to write them on post-it notes and pin them to a cork-board, with a picture of the baby in the optimal position or a picture of a lotus flower opening. Whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed is what you should choose.
Are there any hypnobirthing principles that you think also apply to motherhood?
Yes, definitely! We try to teach mums when they’re hypnobirthing how to manage their emotions and understanding that it’s okay not to feel amazing all of the time. Sometimes in pregnancy we have to learn to deal with our emotions on those harder, stressful days, just as we eventually do as mothers. If we are feeling really excited and really happy then the babies get a big shot of endorphins and they feel that excitement and happiness just like we do. Also, the breathing techniques you can use any time, but you need to practice them – it not always easy managing your emotions when you’re a mum!
Please share some sparkly words of wisdom that motherhood has taught you.
Motherhood has made me think about other people more. But on the flip side, it’s also made me appreciate me a bit more as well. I think it’s important for mums to make sure you look after yourself as well as your baby or your children, because a happy mum equals a happy baby!
And ultimately, we all just want for our babies to be happy! Thank-you so much for talking to me today Lynn and sharing your birth story – you are a true inspiration for all the pregnant mums out there, and I really hope your story helps them to have the ‘right birth’ for them on the day.
Have you got a positive birth story to tell or are you considering a hypnobirth? Tell me about it in the comments below.