(Note: I first wrote this post about 18 months ago, calling it ‘the problem with hypnobirthing’, because I hadn’t intended for it to be a birth story – more a look at how hypnobirthing has limitations within the NHS maternity system.
I didn’t put it live sooner because I think I felt there was more to say on the matter of birth and choices and the NHS…and now as I prepare to give birth to baby 2, with yet more incidents having occurred to compound my views, I definitely think there’s more to say. But I should probably focus on getting through these next couple of weeks first, with hopefully me and baby 2 coming out unscathed, before blathering on anymore…
There’s no ‘problem’ with hypnobirthing – it actually helps hugely when you might otherwise feel powerless, which is something I touch on in the post and will maybe write more about at some point.
But for now, here’s what happened around the end of May 2017, resulting in the birth of a fabulous boy by the name of Ted Norton.)
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(the original post)
I’d intended for my musings on ‘the problem with hypnobirthing’ to be a short paragraph tagged onto the end of my earlier post all about how hypnobirthing is brilliant. But once I started thinking about our experience, it all seemed rather complex for a short paragraph. So I inadvertently wrote Ted’s birth story instead.
Still, it’s a story which includes forgotten knickers, a cat who narrowly avoids drowning and Harry Styles from One Direction. All the elements of a modern classic, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It’s also a story which led me to think that hypnobirthing practice and standard NHS maternity care might not always be the cosiest of bedfellows: ergo, ‘the problem with hypnobirthing’.
Before we start, I would like to say that Ted’s birth wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but it was relatively non-awful and we got a lovely healthy baby at the end of it. I was/am fine, I am so very grateful for my gorgeous boy and I do not dwell at all (HONESTLY! DESPITE WRITING A LONG BLOODY BLOG POST ON THE MATTER…) on how things didn’t go exactly to plan.
Also, regardless of the hitches we faced, I absolutely remain a hypnobirthing advocate. If we were to ever do the whole thing again (!!!), I would definitely practice hypnobirthing again, and would probably aim for a successful home birth.
ANYWAY. I’ll crack on.
To try and set the scene succinctly: we’d planned a home birth; I went into labour – at around 5.30am on Monday 29 May 2017, to be precise – and things seemed to be going ok, as far as labours go.
I tried to do all the right breathing and not get stressed and not focus on the fact it was all a bit painful. We’d phoned the midwives early on, and a few different ones turned up then left again (at my request, because it seemed too early for them to stay). Eventually, one of them examined me – after I’m not sure how many hours – and I was found to be dilated enough to get into my birthing pool, which Graham had set up in the living room, and we were ON. Hurrah.
HOWEVER. Ted was positioned ‘back-to-back’, meaning he was facing up, not down, as he set about making his grand entrance into the world. Although a back-to-back position can often be more painful, it didn’t initially seem to be causing us any big problems. But then, after about 19 long hours of labour, I was told by the midwives that – because of Ted’s position and a decrease in my surges/contractions – they didn’t think my baby could be born safely at home and that I’d have to go to hospital.
Cue the whole scenario going from relative calm to massive stress very quickly. An ambulance turned up around midnight and our lovely living room birthing suite was abandoned as Graham frantically tried to gather up some bits that we might need in hospital. We hadn’t even got a hospital bag ready, so confident had we been about having a successful home birth. Idiots.
(When the panic was over several hours later, we realised how little we’d taken to hospital with us. We had nappies and a vest and sleepsuit for Ted, but no water to quench my RAGING post-labour thirst and no money to buy any with. And I had no clean pants. AGGHH.)
(G was dispatched from the hospital to pick up pants etc from home at the earliest opportunity, and also to check that we hadn’t accidentally locked the cat in the living room in our haste to leave. I had visions of us arriving home, armed with baby and balloons and joy, to find Chairman Miaow floating face down in the birthing pool among my bodily secretions.)
(Thankfully, he’d gone out.)
Anyway. When we arrived at the hospital it was all a bit One Born Every Minute. They hooked me up to the dreaded syntocinon drip (which didn’t do much), and shouted at me to PUSH (a swear word in hypnobirthing) and Ted arrived a couple of hours later – at 2.17am on Tuesday 30 May 2017, to be precise – thanks to a bit of help from a ventouse suction. Our healthy, gorgeous 7lb 12oz boy.
All’s well that ends well, eh? We went home that same day with our beautiful baby.
Hypnobirthing theory advises on creating a peaceful, stress-free environment and mindset. It explains how the body doesn’t always respond well to stress, and how in labour, we need to work *with* our bodies so they don’t turn on us and go WHAT THE FLIP is going on here then clam up a bit and make the whole thing more difficult (i.e. what we absolutely do not want if we want to ‘breathe baby out’ as per the hippy hynobirthing ideal).
Towards the end of (the home part of) my labour, before the panic and the ambulance turned up, I’d felt under increasing pressure and stress from the midwives. While I don’t recall the exact detail, I remember being told at several points that I only had another 90 mins/1 hour/30 mins to finish the job, as it were.
If that stress hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t been made aware of the ticking clock, could I have birthed at home – even breathed my baby out! – after all?
Was I told I HAD to speed things up – and eventually abandon my home birth – because we were in real danger, or because that’s just what NHS guidelines say, and because the midwives had been on the clock for too long?
And if we *were* in real danger, had we got there because my body clammed up a bit under the midwives’ increasing pressure? Hypnobirthing theory would say yes, probably.
Maybe I was just really bloody knackered after 16/17/18/however-many hours of labour, and was always going to need some sort of medical intervention. I don’t know.
And I’ll never know for sure, of course.
Once I’d been told that my baby’s safety was under threat, I wasn’t about to start questioning the midwives to see how much longer we could avoid the hospital, regardless of what I’d been taught in my hypnobirthing classes (which was to question advice and weigh up any risks yourself, rather than simply accepting what you’re told if you’re not sure it’s right).
There was always the chance that NOT taking the midwives’ advice could’ve led to a scenario that doesn’t bear thinking about. And there lies the crux of ‘the problem with hypnobirthing’ for me.
I still can’t help but wonder (who let Carrie Bradshaw in?) that if I hadn’t felt under increasing pressure and stress from the midwives, as the clock ticked on and their shift came to an end, that Ted might have plopped out without the ambulance and the stress and the One Born Every Minute scenario and whatnot.
But, as I’ve said, I’ll just never know for sure.
Of course it’s not the end of the world that I didn’t get to breathe my baby out in the middle of my living room.
And I don’t want to NHS-bash. The midwives and most of the medical staff we came into contact with were great.
Yes, there were a few other things that happened that didn’t exactly contribute to keeping my stress levels down. Such as the midwives choosing not to read my carefully-considered birth plan, where I’d stated that – apart from necessary checks and during the ‘transition’ phase – I wanted us to be left alone during my labour.
Instead, the midwives sat in the living room with us until we all had to vacate it in a bit of a panic. Graham offered drinks and the fancy M&S biscuits we’d bought specially for the occasion and brought me cold flannels; I mostly clung on to the side of the birthing pool, feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’ shall we say, while I listened to them chat. And chat. And chat some more. (I got a bit annoyed by the chat.)
At one point, G and one of the midwives realised they had some mutual friends and that there was a random connection somewhere to Harry Styles from One Direction. They blathered on about this for quite a while. REALLY? DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO HAVE YOUR HARRY BLOODY STYLES CHAT SOME OTHER TIME?
(Don’t get me wrong, normally I would’ve really enjoyed this conversation and its unexpected celebrity-tinged turn. Relished it, in fact. Yet as I clung, naked, onto the side of the birthing pool and tried very hard to expel a small human, I found it difficult to muster much enthusiasm.)
There were other things too, that were quite stressful. Like being told at the start of my labour I was ‘really lucky’ that they could send midwives to me for my home birth, because they were so short-staffed. It was a fab NHS midwife who first suggested to me, at one of my early appointments, that I might want a home birth; I might not have thought about it at all otherwise, but I’d obviously become set on the idea. I didn’t need to be told then, that the option had almost been taken away from me at the very last minute.
There was also the horrible episode that took place the day before I went into labour, when I’d had to go for a hospital check-up because I was 42 weeks on the dot, by NHS dates, but about 41 weeks by my own, and was refusing to be induced. (As I mentioned in my earlier post, hypnobirthing theory teaches you about the ‘cascade of intervention’ that can occur after induction.)
At the hospital, after a nice lady checked baby’s heart (all fine) and said “babies tend to come when they’re ready” (YES, NICE LADY), a registrar was sent to talk to me about the increasing risk of stillbirth of ‘post-term’ babies (he couldn’t back this up with stats when I asked him for some) and, presumably, to get me to agree to an induction as soon as possible. It was upsetting to say the least.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, I was told the following day – WHILE IN LABOUR – that I’d have to take myself off to hospital for another of these checks, and an even heavier talking-to, I expect, if my baby wasn’t born that day.
Thankfully, a few hours after this threat hung over my sweaty, pained head, I was measured and found to be dilated enough to get in my birth pool and it didn’t look likely that I’d be needing another walk-in check-up nor a lecture.
When I consider the above occurrences (not the living room invasion and the Harry Styles chat; I’ll let those slide), I think there’s no wonder that home births are so rare, and that so many births are probably unnecessarily medicalised.
It also makes me think that if you’re set on having a lovely, peaceful hypnobirth, then you have to hope for no hitches, and for labour to start before 42 weeks (and for your due date to be right in the first place), so stress levels can be kept down. AND/OR you need to be very tough, and very sure, that ‘baby knows best’ and you know best and to stick to these hypnobirthing principles and ignore professional medical advice.
I have no idea what I would have done if I hadn’t gone into labour when I did. That’s a whole other level of complexity for another time.
No wonder childbirth’s such a slog, and not just the bit to do with squeezing a baby out of your downstairs area. (“IT’S NOT CALLED LABOUR FOR NOTHING!” I hate it when people say that, but they may have a point.) It’s like the taster session for a lifetime of agonising over whether you’re making the right decision for your child.
I’m not blaming anyone. I think hypnobirthing’s great and I think the NHS is great. Just not always together, unfortunately, and this much-longer-than-a-short-paragraph post is me trying to describe the incompatibility as we experienced it.
It’s just MY experience, of course, and I’ve seen enough videos of amazing women breathing their babies out to know that lovely, peaceful hypnobirths are possible, and under NHS care too. I have no doubt that hypnobirthing helped me to labour relatively calmly at home for so long, and to remain calm when things went a bit tits up.
Maybe if I’d had a doula, or an independent midwife, they could have helped asked the right questions when I needed to ask them.
(And I could have told the midwives to read my birthing plan and to shut up about Harry bloody Styles.) Hindsight, eh?
Or maybe because of awkward Ted and his awkward positioning, it was always going to be an awkward kind of birth.
I am not dwelling though. As I said at the start, my experience wasn’t horrifically traumatic, and we were both healthy and good to go home just a few hours afterwards.
I have my gorgeous baby and I am grateful.
Hello, I'm Laura. I write about parenting, life, style, building a business and finding success on your own terms.
You'll find plenty here to get your teeth into. (Useless pun very much intended...) X
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