All of Sarah & James’ plan to birth at home was shattered at 38 week but that did not stop the arrival of their baby being ‘about as peaceful as we could have hoped for’.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Sarah and James when they attended my Hypnobirthing workshop. Their story is so inspiring as things absolutely did not go to ‘plan’ however through their commitment and team work their story is testament that, with the right preparation, you can have a positive birth regardless of where it happens. In sSrah and James case this was on labour ward, despite having booked for a home birth.
Sarah’s birth story:
I always knew I wanted to practice hypnobirthing for the birth of our first child. A friend had done it for her babies and even though her first birth didn’t go to ‘plan’ she sang hynobirthing’s praises and insisted we give it a go. Gemma’s course was then recommended to us specifically by another friend who had done it and with one look on her site we knew it was the one for us! The course proved invaluable in the birth of our little boy, Kai.
Kai’s birth story actually started three weeks before he was born. My husband, James and I had been planning a homebirth and our midwifery team had been completely supportive of our decision. Our midwife came to the house the day before I turned 38 weeks to drop all the homebirth supplies and also do my 38-week check. When the midwife checked my blood pressure it was up at what would just be considered high blood pressure, but this was an increase for me compared to the rest of my pregnancy so she wanted me to go along to the hospital to get further checks.
We therefore headed along to the hospital that afternoon; they monitored my blood pressure regularly for half an hour, tested my urine and sent off bloods to the lab as well as monitoring our baby. We thought everything was going to be fine as my blood pressure had dropped right down again so we figured we’d just be heading home shortly. Then the doctor came in and said some of the levels in my bloods were higher than normal. They weren’t overly clear but they seemed to suggest their concern was pre-eclampsia. The doctor said she wanted to keep me in overnight and monitor by blood pressure regularly and then check my bloods again in the morning. She then said if everything was still raised they may have to consider delivering me early. This came as a complete shock to James and me as we thought we were about to go home and now I was staying in overnight and they were talking about possible induction!
The following morning, they ran the tests again and my levels were still up. A different doctor came and spoke to us who clarified that my bloods suggested my kidneys weren’t working properly which could be a sign of pre-eclampsia but my blood pressure wasn’t high now and there was no protein in my urine so they weren’t sure. They did a scan of the baby which showed there was plenty of fluid and he (though we didn’t actually know what we were having at this point!) was perfectly happy in there. Despite the tests not confirming anything the doctor was still concerned that my reduced kidney function could get worse and make things more difficult in labour for me so she said they would send me home for the weekend but I was to come back on Monday for more tests and if the levels were still up they’d want to induce me.
What followed was a reasonably frantic weekend of research, long chats with everyone who would speak to us about induction and organising everything just in case we did need to be induced and have a baby that Monday! I spoke with Gemma about whether induction was necessary and also how to handle a labour where you are induced. Homebirth was now firmly off the table but we were more concerned about avoiding induction where it wasn’t necessary. We were using a Doula, Rhiana Laws, who was an invaluable resource and support in assessing what the best course of action was. We finalised a plan that we would discuss everything with the doctor but if my levels were just the same we did not want to be induced. So long as there was no risk to me or the baby we would be happy to come in for continued monitoring and avoid induction.
When Monday came and the doctor returned with my blood results we were all ready for a direct discussion and to put our views across that we did not want to be induced. In the end the doctor pre-empted us and said she didn’t want to induce while my levels were as they were! Which suited us fine and we agreed that I would come in for monitoring regularly.
Over the following three weeks we attended at hospital every two to three days. I was formally booked for induction twice but on both occasions my levels had dropped or blood pressure stabilised and the reason previously proposed for induction no longer stood – we were therefore very clear that we did not want me to be induced. The pressure to be induced increased further as I moved past 40 weeks but the whole time no one could say to me our baby or I was at risk, I was not prepared to be induced. We had a discussion with the lead consultant overseeing my care the Wednesday before Kai was born and he was actually entirely supportive of my decision to not induce so long as the baby seemed happy and I felt fine. He was happy that I didn’t have pre-eclampsia and was happy enough to leave me all the while which was a relief. He just wanted me to continue being monitored which we were happy to do.
On Saturday 27th January we were in hospital in the morning for further tests and I was given what was probably my tenth sweep since this all began! All my levels were still the same so I was booked in to come for further tests the Monday after. I had been having Braxton Hicks and irregular tightenings for weeks and over the course of the last three weeks had dilated to two centimeters. After the hospital we went and walked our dogs and I was getting pretty strong tightenings but everything stopped after the walk. We went home and had a normal afternoon at the house, ate dinner and eventually headed to bed about 9:30pm as I was feeling tired.
Once in bed I felt a pretty strong sensation that I thought could be a contraction but as I’d had so many over the weeks I just ignored it. However, after half an hour I’d had about 5 of these and mentioned to James that this could in fact be the start of something! I started to find it too uncomfortable to be lying on my side and felt quite nauseous. I got James to text our Doula just to let her know things might be happening and we put the hypnobirthing track on. I relaxed for a while but felt very sick so went to bathroom and was sick a few times. I then decided I would like to get in the bath and started to run it. I went to the loo and had a large show so phoned the labour ward with a few questions and to let them know I didn’t want to come in yet but that I was in labour. They advised to come in once my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart.
I found the bath really helpful. James put the hypnobirthing track on in there and turned all the lights off and laid on the floor on a duvet while I worked through my contractions in the bath. After an hour (though I was no longer really aware of time now) I started to really feel my contractions in my back and wanted to use the TENS machine. I got out and James hooked me up to that and I told him to time how long there was between my contractions as I felt they were coming pretty quickly.
I used my birth ball and the TENS machine for the next 45 minutes or so before James said my contractions were coming every 2 minutes and lasting 45 seconds. He called the hospital and advised them of this. He was sitting on the floor next to me and the midwife asked to speak to me just as a started another contraction. I was humming through all my contractions which really helped and the midwife could obviously hear me as they told James not to bother giving me the phone and it was ok for me to come in!
It was now 1am and James packed the last bits in the car and we headed for the hospital. We had the hypnobirthing track on loud speaker and I used the TENS machine all the way in. We went straight up to labour ward and were met by our midwife. We gave her our birth plan which she read completely and advised that the baby needed to be monitored for half an hour and I could be checked if I wanted. The monitoring was uncomfortable but didn’t last long and she confirmed I was 6cm. I quickly made the decision that I would like to use the pool which was thankfully available and got in the pool about 3am.
The rest of my labour is a bit of a blur. I was on my back in the pool with James and our Doula either side of me and I had to work hard to get through each contraction as they were very intense. We had the perfect environment with low lighting, hypnobirthing tracks on and lots of quiet encouragement from everyone. Our midwife was outstanding, she completely respected our birth plan for a natural birth and left us to it for the most part.
At 6:15am she asked if I wanted to be checked again. I had started to feel the urge to push strongly so wanted checked to ensure I could push without issue. She checked me and advised that I was fully dilated but my waters hadn’t actually broken. She said she’d leave me another hour and we could discuss whether I wanted her to break my waters then but she was happy to leave me. As things were progressing well on their own.
I got back in the pool and allowed my body to push when it felt it wanted to. After a while James suggested I try on my knees again, when I first got in the pool I found this made my contractions too intense but knew gravity would help things move along now. I got on my knees and managed to get a handle on my contractions and use the urge to push to bring down the baby. I suddenly felt his head coming and advised the midwife of this. With one more push he popped out completely into the pool still in his waters! The midwife spun him under the water as the cord was round his neck before I lifted him out and discovered he was a little boy! It was without a doubt the most amazing experience of my life seeing him for the first time.
Kai’s arrival into the world was about as peaceful as we could ever have hoped for. After all the discussion of induction in the weeks leading up to his birth we managed to have a natural pool birth with no pain relief and he slipped into the world peacefully at 7:10am. Gemma’s course didn’t just prepare us for labour, it prepared us for everything in the lead up to Kai’s birth and allowed us to make informed decisions and ask the necessary questions to ensure we got the best possible birth experience for us. We consider the course to have been invaluable for us and Gemma’s ongoing support has allowed us to feel confident we were making the right decisions. Sometimes induction is absolutely necessary but there are occasions when it is proposed as the best option for the treating team without the consideration of the individual who they are inducing. Gemma’s course allowed us to determine what the best decision for us was.
James’ birth story
It was truly the most wonderful and pure thing I have ever been fortunate enough to be involved in.The experience of birth for me doesn’t translate into words. People have asked me a few times now ‘how was it?’ and I’ve struggled to answer. Words seem entirely insufficient to capture the experience, and I’m sure many parents feel similarly. Reading positive birth stories online begins to give you a sense of it on reflection but for me even the words I would use like pure, presence, inspiring, focus, awesome, wonderful, powerful, primitive, connecting, love, joy etc. don’t really capture the experience. The experience of birth for me was like experiencing these emotions for the very first time: they felt like entirely new experiences rather than a stronger version of what I had experienced previously.
The Positive Birth Scotland course, and particularly Gemma’s delivery and support after the course, were absolutely fundamental in achieving our experience I feel. My Wife’s, Sarah, story gives more of the details and I feel like our birth could have been a very different story without all the support we helped create around us. Whilst there is a large element of luck I’m sure, I also feel like we facilitated our desired birth as much as possible and gave ourselves the best chance by extensively practicing hypnobirthing, repeatedly speaking to Gemma and other experts and parents, hiring a Doula, reading lots of books, attending sessions to hear about positive births, getting chiropractor sessions, acupuncture and reflexology etc. Each of these contr
ibuted to us feeling as positive as we could about the experience and gave us the confidence to be able to relax and focus (on un-focusing really) during the labour which made it the incredible experience it was. As highlighted by everyone else, these techniques really can work and now I know (and believe!) what Gemma meant when she said she was jealous that we were all going to experience labour again.
Additionally, the lead up to the labour was equally important for us I think and again the course and Gemma really helped us through this. From initially planning a home birth I felt like Gemma provided us with the fountain of neutral knowledge I had been looking for. She was able to speak with deep knowledge from both angles of approach whilst recognising the benefits of the other as well as giving us some confidence in when we should switch from a natural approach to a more medicalised one. This gave us the confidence to enquire about the Doctor’s recommendations and use that information to make our own decisions whilst taking on board as much information as we could, rather than just accepting their initial proposals. I have to say that our medical staff were excellent and I didn’t feel like we were arguing with them: they would present us with the information and then make their recommendation, but based on Gemma’s support we were able to take this on boa
rd and take some time to process, questioning what the risks were of waiting based on our understanding of the benefits of a natural birth. Understandably, the medical staff’s primary concern was the health of mum and baby rather than the experience of labour, and so they seemed to err on the side of induction which, from the outside at least, perhaps provides the same labour. But we were able to come to an entirely agreeable course of action each time we (repeatedly) met with the staff over the course of three weeks based on understanding their position and explaining ours – the doctors involved with these decisions were still supportive of our decisions from a medical perspective, despite us often choosing an alternative course of action to what they had initially proposed. By drawing on the knowledge given to us from the course, and with back up contact with Gemma, we were able to make the best decisions we could and stayed relaxed and positive throughout this process: I think it could have easily developed into quite a stressful time given our reluctance to be induced for what seemed like a worry of something potentially maybe going a degree of wrong rather than any clear signs of something being wrong. Without the confidence we gained from the course and contact with Gemma (along with advice from our Doula, reading lots, speaking to others etc.), I’m sure the experience would have been very different.