My own hypnobirthing stories
Hypnobirthing my 5kg baby drug free!
‘Lily. My one and only. I can hardly wait til I see her’
The day before you were born, we quite literally spent the morning smashing pumpkins. I was 42+1 days pregnant and patience gave way to irritability. I watched friends putting up their photos of Christmas trees on social media, while I still had Halloween pumpkins rotting on my doorstep.
I found myself torn between wanting to wait, yet researching stats for babies born after 42 weeks. Our OB, Fiona said that I “definitely wouldn’t need” an induction this time, but she wanted to book one just in case. She used that exact phrase about your sister, and I ended up being induced anyway. Something I was keen to avoid this time. We’d stopped measuring at 38 weeks when scans estimated you were already 42 weeks. Having previously written an article about big babies, I knew scans could be unreliable. Yet, at barely 5.4” I never expected to have a big baby myself!
At 42+1 I’d been in pre-labour for a week. It kept seeming like you were close – I was 4cm dilated and with bulging waters, but you’d only descended a little. The week before we went for foetal monitoring and I started feeling crampy. The midwife who was monitoring me suddenly looked at me and asked if I was in labour. “What? I don’t know, am I?” I had no idea. Next thing I knew, staff were discussing keeping me in overnight. With your sister’s birth being so quick (1.5 hours), and us living an hour away, the fear was that we’d get in the car on that 30 degree afternoon in peak hour traffic and end up giving birth on the freeway. I excitedly called Angela, our doula/photographer and your dad started looking for a hotel. We decided a hospital room wasn’t optimal for encouraging birth hormones. Room service and a bath sounded like a much better idea.
The cramps, back ache and feeling of pressure continued into the night, but by morning, they’d gone. I knew this was normal, and they’d probably pick back up again with a walk. Except it was already 29 degrees out at 7AM. A little old lady in the park tries to engage me in “oh you’re big! Not long now” small talk and it takes all of my energy not to tell her where to go (not like me!). I decide I just want to go home.
I had spurious labour (or “false labour” as some arseholes call it) for the next week. I could no longer leave the house without comments about how huge I was, why “they” were “letting” me go so long, and why I don’t “just have an induction” or “just get a caesarean”. Night after night, I went to bed with cramps and every morning I woke up and nothing happened. Cue another OB appointment and Fiona said that the spurious labour was worrying her a bit. That the constant stop-start nature of pre-labour with a bigger baby meant you might need some help. The goal was still to avoid drugs and intervention, but her suggestion was to break my waters. I kept saying to myself “it’s ok. Even Sarah Buckley, one of my birth nerd idols, had her waters broken for two of her births! If it’s ok for her, it’s ok for me.”
At 42+2 weeks, on the morning of November 22nd, we got up at five in the morning. I gazed at the pink sky, and kept saying to myself “today is the day I meet my baby”. Fiona ruptured my membranes at 7.30. I had a moment of thinking “there’s no going back now”, and concerned that things would move quickly and Ange was going to miss it. I was her last birth client before going on hiatus, and I think I was subconsciously holding off labour while waiting for her to get there.
While waiting for Ange, I did all the things I knew not to do. I kept looking at the clock and letting my imagination run away with me. I got angry at myself for not doing hypnobirthing ‘properly’, and paced around drinking tonnes of water and going to the toilet a lot. I started having surges where I had to brace myself against the bench. Before too long, I opened my eyes from having a bigger surge and Ange was there. Her candy pink hair and lips transported me back to the image of the pink sky, and I felt better. In her excitement/panic she’d gone to the wrong hospital, and barged her way into someone else’s room. That’s Ange. That’s the doula I wanted. A presence that cannot be ignored!
Once I let go, things started to pick up, and Ange helped me through the restlessness by making decisions when I didn’t know what I wanted. She put music on, gave me sips of birthing tea, massaged oils on me and got me to move around. She had me doing deep squats, swaying and getting down on a yoga mat to move you down. I clung to your daddy’s shoulders, swaying, digging my face into his body and sniffing deeply to get more oxytocin flowing.
I kept doubting whether I was really in labour or not, maybe I was just pretending I was in labour because I wanted it so much? (hello, transition! lol). Around 10.30, I was on all fours with the bed raised – my face buried into the pillows. I felt hot. So damn hot. And thirsty. Ange was rubbing me with a cool cloth and it was magic. It felt like she was rubbing a thick, cold body scrub into my back and I wondered how she was able to keep taking pictures with her hands covered in body scrub. I remember being truly surprised later on that it was just a wash cloth.
Second stage onset was around 12.20, and your descent felt slow, and like I needed much deeper pushes than I did with your sister. At times, I felt the different shapes of your body coming down. I remember feeling smooth and then a bump (was that your nose? A chin?) At times I thought you must be crowning already because I could even feel you retracting a little. Then I felt confused when no one said anything about seeing your head. I still felt calm, but began to doubt why there were so many deep pushes and no baby. Second time around, I was also very conscious of the fact that I couldn’t hear Fiona’s voice. I took this as a sign I wasn’t “close enough” knowing that OBs typically don’t arrive until showtime.
By this time, I was vocalising – very loudly. It wasn’t something I imagined as part of my ‘gentle’ birth, but just as we teach in hypnobirthing, you can’t know what tools you’ll necessarily use on the day. Vocalising and using the “horse lips” technique helped me to keep my jaw relaxed, and focus on my diaphragm. It also helped to drown out sounds I didn’t want to listen to. It was quite freeing. Like climbing to the top of an isolated mountain and letting out all your tension with a cathartic howl.
I found myself drifting into images of strong women. Amazonians and all the primitive iconography I’d seen of birthing women from centuries ago. There was no giving up and saying I couldn’t do it. I was determined that you were going to be born without fear. I wanted you to trust that while this experience was intense, we could handle it. On the outside, I felt reassured by hearing a few times that our heart rates were in sync, and that you were quite happy. Ange and your daddy were encouraging me. Telling me to dig deep, not to fear and that I was doing a good job.
When it got tough, the sensation of two sets of hands on me, providing counter pressure and reassurance was so comforting. I felt such a protective shield around me. Like I was protected under a solid triangle of light. The triangle is the strongest shape, and with Ange on one side, and your daddy on the other, I felt solid.
I had another strong surge, I’m certain you’re crowning now and I can hear someone say you have dark hair. Before I can get too excited, Fiona says very matter-of-factly that I’m going to have to go on my back. Things moved very quickly and very intensely. I was aware that things were not going as they should be, but I concentrated on my breath and the goal of moving you down. There was an episiotomy, and an urgency in Fiona’s voice. We only found out after the birth the decision-making process that went on. Apparently, I was doing very effective pushing on all fours, but you kept retracting. Pushing for longer than an hour for a second time mum with suspected ‘big baby’ is considered a risk for shoulder dystocia (stuck shoulders). Babies with SD who remain in second stage for >1 hour are five times more likely to have brachial plexus injury (permanent damage to nerves that connects spine, neck and arms). As you were crowning, you presented with the ‘turtle sign’ (bulging cheeks and double chin) which is a strong indicator of shoulder dystocia. After seeing the turtle sign, you have less than 5 minutes to prevent hypoxia and permanent injuries to Mum and baby.
Given I had already been birthing on all fours, the Gaskin manoeuvre wasn’t going to cut it, so we went through five different moves to free your shoulders and get you out. Thinking about it now, I’m reminded of that HBA insurance ad with the ‘Crocodile kid’ saying: “my leg went that way and my head went that way!” All of that intensity lasted only three minutes. It felt like a lifetime. Again, I didn’t allow my mind to have the word “pain” come in. I focused on breathing (ok, howling) through it to get the outcome I wanted. The relief I felt when your body left mine was so cathartic that I didn’t even notice that the chord had been cut and you’d been whisked away. It took me some time to psychologically come back into the room and I could hear myself asking why my baby wasn’t on my chest. A quick resuscitation, and you were a lovely pink.
I had very few energy reserves left at this point, and birthing the placenta was uncomfortable, so I took a few breaths of gas and air. It didn’t really do anything except make me faint. I had the Hollywood movie experience of hearing people’s voices out of sync with what I was seeing, as everything slowed down and I passed out. Before I fainted, I could see Ange’s face looking concerned and it was then that I started to realise the seriousness of what had just happened. Everyone else (including your daddy) had very deadpan looks on their faces and kept asking me if I was ok. I remember thinking that I didn’t know why they were asking and needed time to think.
‘Lily my one and only. Love is in my heart and in your eyes’
As soon as you were on my chest, I began to drink you in. I knew that the best way to ameliorate any stress for the both of us was to sniff you and kiss your little face. I huffed down on that new baby smell like it was a pipe of the finest opium, and it worked a treat. I was sore and absolutely exhausted, but I felt quite blissed out. I was also feeling quite smug. Despite all the talk of “probable” diabetes, your blood sugars were absolutely fine. Just like with those pumpkins I’d assumed must be rotting, you showed no signs of being “overcooked”. You still had vernix and plenty of lanugo, which is almost unheard of for an “over cooker”. My placenta, like you, was huge, juicy and showed absolutely no signs of ageing. I knew my dates were spot on, so I was proud that we defied so many expectations.
Ultimately, those three minutes of unpleasantness helped me achieve a lot of the outcomes I wanted. You were absolutely unharmed. Not even so much as a bruise on you. In our case, your shoulder dystocia was quite severe, but I refuse to say that we were “lucky”. It wasn’t luck that got me the outcome I wanted. It came down to good physical and mental preparation, choosing the right care provider, and balancing our birth team.
Your birth taught me so much about finding your own personal strength. That the opposite of a gentle birth doesn’t have to mean a rough one. It taught me about choosing to let go and breathe into that vulnerability to dig deep and find a raw, primal strength. Your birth was the most powerful and the least fake I’ve ever felt. You can’t fake anything during birth! You taught me to ask for help if we need it, and to trust that others will support us through vulnerability.
Lily my liliputian (tiny) baby. Not exactly! You weighed exactly 5.0kg. Five delicious kilos of back fat and wrist rolls. To think that I lost 5.0kg in the first few months of my pregnancy from hyperemesis gravidarum. In the early days of pregnancy I was so worried about having a tiny, sickly baby.
‘And when I’m with her I feel fine. If I could kiss her I wouldn’t mind the time it took to find
My lily, my one and only’
For a few days after your birth, I felt completely energised. I kissed your little face over and over, and I was high as a kite on oxytocin and adrenalin. I felt I could do anything. I kept soul searching for the “should I be traumatised?” moment. But I relied back on what I know to be true about trauma. That where there is love, support, and positive reframing there’s often resilience. For those women and families who do experience trauma, it just makes me all the more passionate to support them. To work hard to ensure that every birthing woman has the opportunity for a positive outcome, no matter what journey her birthing takes.
P.S., I know your namesake song (Lily – Smashing Pumpkins) is probably about a creepy peeping tom, but can we overlook that and just focus on the nice lyrics out of context? Thanks.
Hypnobirthing with an induction
I wrote my birth story as a letter to my daughter, about one month post-partum. By sharing, I hope to empower my own daughter as well as other mums to be to be confident for a positive birth.
You were due to be born on the 16th November, 2015. Of course, it was just a guess date and only 5% of babies are actually born on their due date. Having said that, all your scan measurements were spot on, my dates were spot on and well, your daddy and I like to be punctual so we sort of thought you would show up. I was born on my due date, but daddy, being a twin was born nearly 3 months early!
When I was in my third trimester with you, I felt pretty good. I really didn’t feel too uncomfortable and I liked feeling you move around in my belly. When we moved to the country from the city in my third trimester I really had to get my drivers licence. I crammed the lessons in and passed the test at 38 weeks. I kept saying that you could stay in there as long as you like – just don’t come before I passed my test! Famous last words. You did stay in there for a while, but having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, our OB gently suggested you might need a nudge to reduce the risks. Thankfully, induction wasn’t discussed until we were past 40 weeks, and we compromised and booked an induction for 41 weeks, and 2 days with the ‘extreme unlikelihood’ of needing it, according to our OB. Ha!
After not sleeping much the night before, we got up at 5 am to be at the hospital at 7 am. I was nervous. I really didn’t want to be induced. I wanted labour to be as natural as possible, and knew there were risks with induction. Mostly I knew that the syntocinin could make contractions more intense and that we’d miss out on that early stage of labour. I also knew that you could get stressed at being evicted artificially and that this could increase the likelihood of a chain of other interventions. Yet, daddy and I were both really fed up by this point. People kept asking if we’d had you yet and we were both on high alert for any signs that you might be coming. I’d had 12 days of regular Braxton Hicks, and each day that passed I was sure they would increase, but they didn’t. I was dilating surely but slowly, practising the Baby Come Out track from Hypnobirthing Australia, sniffing clary sage until I felt woozy and doing everything reasonable in my power to convince you to make your debut. It became exhausting and disheartening. If it hadn’t been for the diabetes, you probably would have arrived at a leisurely 42 weeks, but unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of waiting. With my diabetes we needed to be careful that the placenta wasn’t breaking down too much or that we were losing too much fluid.
So, the morning of the 25th November, 2015 we drove to the hospital knowing we’d have a baby in the next 24 hours. It seemed like a good day to be born. The morning sky was a beautiful, rich pink and we watched as the rest of the world went about their business. Every time I’m up early (which is a lot these days!) and see a similar pink sky, I’m immediately brimming with love as I remember how much I couldn’t wait to meet you. So many times, we’d driven this route to go in to the hospital for monitoring and we’d thought that “one day” we’d be driving in and I’d be having contractions. We joked that we got to skip the nervousness of not making it to the hospital on time, and there was really no chance at you being born in the shower or by the side of the road now.
When we got to the hospital there were forms and lots of waiting. We met our lovely midwife, Julia who said she would be assisting with delivering you and that she might get to meet you if you were born by the end of her shift- 3 o’clock. At 8 o’clock our obstetrician Fiona came to break my waters. I reminded her that we weren’t supposed to need this scheduled induction, and she shrugged and said she was equally baffled. “Oh well, let’s have a baby now”. Her funny, casual approach was always great throughout my pregnancy. No drama. No panicking. No threats about what we weren’t “allowed” to do, and as much as possible it was a baby-centred approach to birth. She was always supportive of hypnobirthing and up to date with research. She was like the lifeguard who hangs back and allows you to enjoy the ocean, but my word, when things started looking a bit choppy (which I’ll get to), she dove in calmly and helped me navigate the water.
Having my waters broken was weird. There was a lot of warm liquid. Not the kind of thing you could miss. After that, I was given a drip in my hand, and I was given saline to start with. Then at 9 o’clock they started the syntocinin. I was hooked up to a portable drip and two monitors across my belly which measured the contractions and your heart rate. I got to put on some funny disposable underpants and Julia got me a birth ball to bounce on. It seemed slow at first – like period pain, or practice cramps I’d had before but it built fairly quickly after that. In hypnobirthing we learnt about using light touch massage, having a shower and listening to music. That all went out the window, and I very quickly wanted pressure on my lower back firmly and to use a heat pack. I stood up and leaned over the bed into some pillows as the contractions got stronger. Having my face in the pillow helped to tune everything else out. In hindsight I think I would have liked my pillow from home – even if it got gross.
Having practised with the Surge of the Sea track from Hypnobirthing Australia was a lifesaver. I would liken those strong contractions (surges) to being in the ocean with very deep, rolling waves. With the waves getting closer and closer together, I had a choice – panic, tense up and risk getting pulled under, or completely surrender, let my body flop like a rag doll and let the waves wash over me. Using surge breathing techniques really helped to stay in the zone without feeling trapped.
It wasn’t long before the contractions got stronger and Julia asked if I felt like I needed to push. I wasn’t sure that I did really- I just felt a lot of pressure – a bit like being really constipated. I knew that meant your head was coming down and I couldn’t wait for it to be out! I quietly went through transition where I thought it was going to take too long, I couldn’t do it, I wanted my mum and I started to get teeth chatters. I didn’t say anything at the time, and just tried to concentrate. At some point, I was asked if a student could come in to observe. At the time, I was screaming in my head “are you f&*#!ng kidding me?”, but I said a polite “no thankyou, not today”. Birthing women are so suggestible. It’s a funny place to be in thinking that you still need to focus on being polite to people when you’re in the midst of popping out a baby!
Julia suggested I get up on the bed because my legs had a bad case of the wobbles, and I leaned into the pillows again on all fours. The surges got stronger and stronger and I tried to concentrate on imagining that each one was a big wave I was jumping over in the ocean. In between being in a deep, concentrated but relaxed state I could hear Fiona come back in. The nurses had had bets that there was “no way” a first time mum was going to give birth by lunch, but you showed them. Fiona and the midwife were talking and I remember that it seemed really loud and almost wanted to tell them to be quiet but didn’t want to break my concentration. Melissa Spilsted had mentioned the same experience during the birth of one of her boys, so I knew things must be close!
At some point, the funny disposable knickers came off and the deep breathing turned into bearing down and pushing. I heard myself making deep noises I barely recognised as being my voice. In fact, at one point I thought “what is that noise? Is it a cow? No, gosh it’s me!!!”. Again, I’d read about this in Ina May’s book, but it hadn’t connected how primal birth is until I went through it myself. There was no screaming, or swearing or even moaning really just deep vocalisations. It was hard work. In between surges I had random thoughts like thinking I should tell your daddy to remember that we parked on level four, and the words to the song “true colours” in my head. So strange. Someone told me about expecting the “ring of fire” when your head came out and that I needed to listen to them tell me when to push and when not to. I remember thinking that I’d decide that for myself, and got distracted by the Johnny Cash song playing in my head. At the time, I didn’t realise that they were trying to prevent me from tearing since you just shot out so quickly, and, as it turns out, your little hand was in the way. I felt stinging and then relief. Phew! I felt like your head must be out- what a relief. The next push Fiona wiggled you around a bit to help your shoulders and said something along the lines of “there’s a little hand”. Your hand was poking out when you were born. Daddy saw it all despite previously telling me he was going to “stay at the top end”. I felt enormous relief when the rest of your body slid out. I sat up on my knees, and Fiona passed you through to me. We had a couple of minutes to look at each other and then we attempted the awkward task of turning over to sit upright while I held you and Fiona and the nurses cleaned me up. The first thing I said was “Oh, there’s a baby!”, then I said happy birthday to you and I thanked everyone for coming. I felt really relaxed, and happy and just kept looking at you. It was pretty cool. I was surprised to look and see Fiona stitching me up. At that stage I needed 2 stitches for a small external tear. Fiona asked if I even broke a sweat and said that I was meant to birth babies. Yes! We did it!
They gave me an injection in the leg to help to deliver the placenta (which I didn’t really want but hadn’t realised was necessary as part of an induction). It was ok, but the feeling of the placenta coming out was a bit weird. It looked healthy, with no signs of wear and I remember it was a lot bigger and “juicier” than I expected. There was no rush to cut the cord. Fiona actually had to remind herself that to move you over to be weighed we still had to cut the cord. It had turned from deep blue to pure white – like calamari! I cut into it thinking it was just like that.
We then had a bit of time alone as a family, and I don’t remember much about that. I do remember Julia saying it was an amazing, beautiful birth and I was in the zone and that hypnobirthing obviously really works. Everyone said what an amazing job we did and when I asked how long I was in active labour I was just as surprised as everyone else. A total of 1 hour, 35 minutes for you to be born. Induction or not, Fiona thinks you would still have come that quickly and noted that for future, I’d be best going to hospital soon because I birth babies quickly. Funny, your grandmother was in active labour with me for only 2 hours and also needed stitches because I came out quickly.
Thanks to your little hand presenting in the way it did, there were some unexpected complications in the hour after birth and I really needed to focus on the affirmation of calmly meeting whatever journey birth takes. I’ve dealt with this part separately, but here I just wanted to focus on the birth itself – which despite intervention was great. In sum, your birth was very calm, focussed and quick. I concentrated on my body and your body working together to meet a goal and when you came into the world you were very calm, alert and healthy. Without hypnobirthing I think I could easily have panicked at the intensity of it all. I can see why women are ‘warned’ that the contractions of synthetic induction are way stronger, but I think it’s dismissive and fear mongering to suggest that they ‘won’t be able to cope’ without an epidural or pain meds. By knowing what was happening to my body and what it needed to do, I was able to experience ‘pain’ as nothing more than sensation and focus on the joy of meeting you, rather than waiting for some awful experience to be endured. I don’t think I have a high pain threshold, nor am I stronger, or a better coper than anyone else. I honestly think the key to a good birth is preparation. Understanding the physiology of birth and relaxation – anyone can do it!