Finding out I was pregnant a 2nd time came as quite a shock. We had only just discussed having another baby and 2 weeks later I was looking down on a positive pregnancy test. I had naively assumed that conceiving would take its time as it had with our 1st. I was in shock, how would we cope with 2 under 2? How would I cope? My husband was over the moon about the news. I already had concerns about the birth after my experiences with my 1st, my little boy. I knew I couldn’t spend the pregnancy in a state of anxiety and fear.
I was only 8 weeks pregnant at this point, but instead of wallowing in my anxiety I needed to know that I was taking action that might help this journey to motherhood be a smoother one and keep me calm in the forthcoming months. I knew there was nothing I could do to change things physically about the birth, but I needed to change how I felt mentally about the birth and prepare myself for what might happen. I didn’t want to struggle with PND again with 2 small children. I needed to find strength and stay strong.
I reached out to my Hypnobirthing trainer. We revisited my memories of last time and my anxieties for this time. I felt that I missed something along the way in the journey to become my little boy’s Mum. Friends and family had tried to make me feel better by getting me to focus on my beautiful little boy but I felt that something was missing. I had taken a journey from A to B, but wasn’t aware of how I had got there. I hadn’t heard his first cry, I hadn’t been able to give him his first cuddle and ease his discomfort after a long labour. I likened these feelings to the transition that a vaginal birth offers. The fluid on a baby’s lungs is squeezed out at birth and the mother’s body is given a kick-start to produce milk. If a vaginal birth can do this physically, I felt that it was perfectly natural for me to feel the way I was mentally having missed out on this transition.
My hypnobirthing trainer encouraged me to talk with the Head of Midwifery at the Hospital I’d had my 1st and where I hoped to give birth to my 2nd. The HOM was very supportive and wanted to do as much as possible to ensure a more positive experience, especially as I’d had an Emergency C Section under a General Anaesthetic. When we met, although she had my birth notes in front of her, she was keen to hear my recollection of the birth (not rely on the facts that were written down) and how I felt about it. She felt it was important to hear how I felt, in order to work out how she might be able to ease my concerns over the next 7 months and for the arrival of our second baby.
We discussed my experiences with the various Registrars and Consultants that I had seen during my pregnancy. Fertility investigations before my pregnancy had discovered that I had a bi cornuate uterus, a malformation that can cause issues regarding the growth of the baby, breech presentation and premature labour. I had also had a placenta abruption in the early weeks of my pregnancy so the midwives felt that my pre natal care should be under a Consultant. My experiences of these appointments were that I felt I wasn’t listened to and that I was made to feel by the Consultant that I was a naive first time ‘Mum to be’ who didn’t know any better. Towards the end of my pregnancy when breech presentation and premature labour had been ruled out I asked about going on the birth centre under midwife care. I was made to feel like I was acting cavalier about my health and the health of my baby and that I should want to be on the delivery suite under consultants so that I had lots of pain relief options and could be taken into theatre in an emergency. I knew by this point from a tour of the maternity facilities that only a short corridor separated the birth centre and the delivery suite. I wasn’t being cavalier. I was merely asking a question about the type of birth I was hoping for. I wanted it to be written into my notes that I could go on the birth centre to avoid any deliberation when I arrived at triage in labour. The midwives told me to ask my Consultant and the Consultant told me to ask the midwives. I was frustrated and if I wasn’t being listened to now, would I be listened to when I was in labour.
In response to these experiences and how I felt, the HOM arranged for me to be seen by the Consultant who I’d had a great experience with during my fertility investigations. I hadn’t realised that I could have asked to have been seen by her. In addition, she organised for me to see a midwife that I’d received great post-natal treatment from and it would be this midwife that I would see throughout my pregnancy. It was such a relief to have this continuity of care. I wouldn’t have to keep repeating how I was feeling and why I was feeling it to different medical professionals. I felt as my pregnancy progressed that my Midwife really got to know me and could tell if I was having a good or bad day. The HOM also sought out answers to questions about why things had happened the way they had during the 1st labour. There were question marks over the kind of infection I had which had led me to not being able to have an epidural and which subsequently meant having to have a general anaesthetic during my c section. She also encouraged me to be positive about what I had achieved in my previous labour. I had felt that I had failed in using Hypnobirthing and that I wouldn’t be able to successfully birth a second baby because I had only reached 8cm with my first with whom it had been discovered was brow presentation. She pointed out that I had successfully dilated to 8cm despite him being brow presentation and that in itself was no mean feat. If I had only reached 2-3cm then she would have her concerns but reaching 8cm was a pretty good stat to base a successful VBAC on.
Aside from my appointments I felt I needed to practise a way of relaxing, take some time out for ‘me time’ and focus on my body and find my inner ‘Mummy’ strength. I chose to start Pregnancy Yoga and revisited Hypnobirthing using a new CD and simpler techniques. The yoga class I attended was led by an inspirational teacher who instilled confidence in my body’s ability to birth, gave me the opportunity to practise breathing through contractions and feel empowered and accept that if the inevitable was another c section then so be it, it was just mother nature being given a helping hand.
My husband and I decided to opt for a Doula, thankfully my Hypnobirthing trainer is one, so we didn’t have far to look and it felt like a very natural choice having now known her for 2 years. Tracey is very passionate about positive birthing experience and on several occasions she encouraged me to believe that whatever was going to happen, sticking with my birth plan or not, I would feel different about this birth compared to last time because she would ensure that we would be involved and in control. Tracey came with me to a few of my Consultant appointments. She knew my wishes and early on was my advocate when it became all too much for me emotionally. Medical professionals had assured me after last time that this birth would be different because it was a different baby but tried to make decisions about my forthcoming birth based on last time. This left me feeling confused and frustrated. Over time at my appointments, my confidence grew and I was able to speak for myself. On my own, at my last Consultant appointment I politely and confidently declined an elective C Section (again!). This felt like such a big deal for me as my decision came from a well-informed place and I wasn’t scared to speak my mind. I told the Consultant and anyone else that asked “let the facts lead decisions, rather than making decisions based on what ‘might’ happen”.
Towards the end of my pregnancy the HOM arranged a tour of the delivery suite. Up until this point I had avoided this part of the hospital for meetings, choosing to meet elsewhere. I felt anxious being anywhere near the room I had been in last time. Tracey and I met the Head of Delivery there to discuss the use of the birth pool, a sign off that we were struggling to get from my Consultant. I assumed it was because the Consultant was being stereotypically obstructive but as it turned out it was because the hospital had no guidelines for VBACS birthing in a pool. It may have not been the news I wanted to hear but I happily accepted this. I didn’t want to push my choice to use the birth pool and end up with a midwife on pins at every deceleration of my baby’s heart beat . After we had discussed the use of the birth pool, the HOD took us to look at one of the rooms on delivery. It had been described to me as one of the lesser medicalised rooms on delivery, with its birth pool, bubble tube and larger open space. I felt anxious being in the room, even though I had thought about giving birth a lot in the last few months, reality certainly set in being stood in the room that everyone hoped I would give birth in. The moment lifted for me as the HOD had clocked that Amanda, the final midwife that attended my son’s birth was on duty. I knew from my husband’s recollections of events and what the HOM had told me that Amanda had tried a change of tactics during my labour to avoid the inevitable outcome and was very supportive as I went into theatre. The HOD gave her a recap about my 1st labour and her involvement and how I was feeling about my impending labour. Amanda immediately put me at ease by suggesting ways of making it a positive experience even if we went down the C Section route (by putting heart monitor pads on my feet so my chest was free to enjoy skin to skin immediately). She also suggested emailing all the band 7 midwives and filling them in about my history and to be aware of my impending arrival around my due date. It was such a lovely thing to suggest and I took a lot of comfort in knowing that a team of people would be aware of me and my background and for the first time I felt excited about giving birth, a feeling that I believe baby shared with me as I had really strong Braxton Hicks on the way home.
To avoid feeling like a watched pot and feeling anxious that I might go over my due date again we told a white lie to our friends and family. We added a couple of weeks onto our due date. As the waiting game started this helped me avoid conversations with people about whether or not I would have to have another C Section and what would happen if I went overdue. I wanted to stay positive. I was hoping for the best but felt I had become prepared (because of last time) for the worse. As my real due date loomed I could be relaxed with friends and family who didn’t know the real truth but could be as anxious as I wanted to be with those that did, such as my Doula, close friends who were on round the clock call to look after my little boy and obviously my husband.
I quietly revelled in every symptom that labour might be on its way in hope that this time was going to be different. This time I had a show 4 days before my due date, I knew my baby’s head was engaged and then 3 days before at my own baby shower I started having contractions. Disappointingly these stopped after 2 hours. Nothing then happened until a day after my due date when I had another 2 hours of contractions and then nothing. I was getting despondent and worried that there was a reason that my contractions weren’t sticking around and building. Tracey reassured me that it was a good thing as it could be my body slowly getting everything into position and then it would all kick off. The pessimist in me needed more convincing.
3 days after my due date it took a friend who was visiting me to point out that I was having regular contractions. I was occupied with getting lunch ready for my little boy. She offered to hook me up to my tens machine but I dismissed the offer as I didn’t want to mess around with the sticky pads only to have to put them away again, as I assumed that once again, my contractions would disappear. It was when my little boy was down for his nap, my friend had left and I was sitting down for my lunch that I started to think differently. I finished my lunch and decided to call my husband. During the phone call I had to stop talking to breathe through my contractions. Neither of us wanted to get excited so I decided that I would download an app and time my contractions for an hour and then call him back. It took less than 10 minutes using the app to realise that my contractions were coming thick and fast. The text that I sent to my doula sums up my panic ‘Every 2 mins. 45 secs in length. Just started timing. Reuben sleeping. Rich at work’. My Doula heard panic in my voice on the phone as she tried to get me to think practically. I needed to call Rich and get him to leave work and get my friend back who had only recently left, to come and look after Reuben. She then added, that if anything changed drastically I should call an Ambulance. Eeeeek! More panic set in. I clocked the time and told myself that I could cope on my own for another 20 minutes. I listened to a Hypnobirthing track and breathed through the contractions using the shush breathing I had learnt at yoga.
Tracey arrived to a slightly emotional labouring me! I was so relieved to see her and felt a lot better after some paracetemol and being hooked up to the tens machine. I felt even better 10 minutes later when I had a brew in one hand and slice of fruit cake in the other whilst I was sat on my birthing ball. Normality existed between strong and powerful contractions. I loved being at home surrounded by supportive and loving people.
At around 4.30pm Tracey observed that my contractions were building and we discussed whether I wanted to go into the hospital or not. I was wary about going into hospital too early as I knew being a VBAC that some control might be taken away from me sooner than I wanted it too. I also couldn’t decide whether the pressure that was building down below was because I needed the toilet or if it was the baby. I also wondered if a bath might help. Anyway 4 or 5 contractions later I got upstairs and went to the toilet. I considered the bath briefly but dismissed it because I realised that in order to get in the bath I would have to make the tens machine redundant and I didn’t want to do that. This confirmed to me that it was time to go to the hospital.
We pushed through local rush hour traffic and I endured every bump in the road whilst having contractions. I got to triage at 6pm and it was confirmed that I was 6cm (amazingly this ended up being the only examination I needed). I cried tears of joy. I was in established labour. I had done 6cm all on my own. I was so relieved and proud of what I’d achieved. I still wasn’t sure I could finish the job and surely something would happen like last time. This was topped off by the fact that Tracey went to find a midwife and came back with Amanda. It was lovely to see a familiar face. Sadly Amanda was only able to stick around for an hour but she involved me in the handover to the next midwife, Jess with such sensitivity that this wasn’t an issue.
It was a slow walk to the delivery suite, stopping frequently to breathe through contractions. Whilst being continually monitored I had the freedom to shuffle around the room that had been reserved for me, leant on the bed and leant on Tracey and Richard and frequented the toilet several times. The pressure down below was building and I was getting quite anxious about it. Tracey encouraged me to make more noise if I needed to. I tried this and it really helped. After a couple of times making a noise I dropped an octave or two so that the noise came from a lower place in my diaphragm and this seemed to create a downward pressure to break my waters. I felt excited and amazed when my waters broke, shocked at what my body was capable of.
I knew now that I was in unchartered territory, I knew that the next part involved a baby being born and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it. I doubted myself. I asked for gas and air, not because of pain but because I needed to relax and go with what was happening. I felt that I was mentally stopping my body from birthing. I needed to switch that doubting voice off in my head. Equipped with gas and air I moved to the floor and got on all fours. Using the gas and air distracted me. I could feel my baby moving downwards and the feeling amazed yet filled me with fear, I looked to Tracey and Richard for reassurance. It wasn’t long before Tracey pointed out to me that the midwife was getting the delivery pack ready. Our baby’s arrival was close. 29 minutes after my waters broke, at 9.04pm, our baby girl arrived. I couldn’t believe it.
I was in shock that I had actually given birth. I’d done it. I was elated that I’d birthed my baby and then had the complete surprise that we had a girl (I know it’s a 50/50 but in that moment I was just pleased we had a baby!). I am grateful to Tracey for her support throughout my pregnancy and birth and even more for the fact she grabbed her camera phone and captured Imogen’s first few moments of life and my realisation with Richard that we had achieved the birth that we had dreamed of. In the hours that followed, in amongst laughter and love and NHS tea and toast I breastfed Imogen for the first time, we enjoyed skin on skin and Richard cut the cord after delayed cord clamping. By 2am the following morning we were getting into our own beds with our beautiful baby girl sleeping next to me.
It took me a while to process how I felt about the birth. It was such a euphorically amazing moment in my life. Even though I already had Reuben I feel that the act of giving birth to Imogen gave me a smoother ride into ‘becoming’ her Mother. I think I floated for months with fulfilment as I pushed Imogen around in her pram. I felt complete rather than feeling broken, lost and wading through grief as I had done with Reuben.
There were times during my pregnancy I feared not being listened to and choice not being given to me. I was also made to doubt my own body. In my fear I empowered myself to take charge. I lent on Tracey, professionals at the hospital and my own personal network for support and guidance. Often through tears I had to discuss and fight for the birth I wanted. It didn’t seem fair to have to fight, it was emotionally draining and a huge rollercoaster but somehow towards the end of the pregnancy I found my voice and made people listen. It was hard, but so worth it. I learnt so much about myself.
I needed this ‘text book’ style birth to get over my 1st. I feel privileged in some ways to have experienced two such different births. My children made two very unique entrances into the world and both stories will be retold to them when they ask with much love and happiness. Despite some internal stitches, I felt healed.