Disclaimer: If you are not comfortable reading about the intimate details of labour, then please feel free to forego this post. I want to be able to share the experience because I had a positive birth and I found it helped me immensely to read other women’s positive birth stories before my own experience. *For anyone practicing hypnobirthing/hypnobabies, I will refer to pain only towards the end, but my pain was very minimal. I appreciated knowing this up front in the stories that I read :) Also, FYI, in keeping with hypnobirthing I’ll be using the term “surges” instead of “contractions”.
The night before Wesley was born, I had a really hard time getting to sleep because it felt like he was trying to claw his way out of my cervix. In retrospect, this might have been what the thinning and opening of my cervix felt like and not actually Wesley at all….although he was born with quite long fingernails, so who knows! Either way, it was distracting and made it difficult to sleep. In an effort to soothe him in utero, Steve and I sang him songs until the feeling passed.
The next morning, because of the experience of the night before, I felt like we could try to kickstart things using the old-wives tale methods we’d read and heard about that may or may not work. We’d tried this earlier in the week and I had strong surges throughout the day and ended up loosing my mucous plug that evening so we felt it was worth a try! I did end up having lots of surges, but because I’d been having practice surges for weeks already, and these still felt like those, I just focussed on practicing my hypnobirthing breathing and distracted myself with making cinnamon buns and reading. I think it really helped that I had practice surges (Braxton hicks) for pretty much the whole last trimester. They weren’t like the surges I later felt in labour, but they were a different enough sensation to anything I’d ever felt before that they were a good practice (ha!) for being relaxed during unfamiliar bodily sensations, which helped me to stay relaxed during real labour.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, one of my closest friends who I rarely see randomly called from a block away from our house and asked if he could pop in for a few minutes. If it were anyone else I would have said no because I was having stronger surges and felt like “this could be it”, but since he doesn’t live in Ottawa anymore and I never know when I’m going to get to see him, I said yes. He stopped by very briefly and we made plans to have breakfast together the next morning, with me warning that the baby could come at any time so I might need to cancel (a good warning since we ended up needing to cancel!). After he left, my surges were strong enough that I felt like I wanted to lie down so that I could fully relax through them (part of hypnobirthing). The surges felt more like waves now, with a build up, a peak and then a release. We decided to email Pia, our doula and hynobirthing instructor, to give her a heads-up that I might be in labour, but we still didn’t want to get too excited in case it wasn’t the real deal. I started to feel I wasn’t able to fully relax because I felt the pressure to pee all the time. Pia, had suggested that sitting on the toilet was good for getting your pelvic muscles to relax because then you don’t need to worry about the sensation to pee. So I moved to the toilet and set myself up with candles and my hypnobabies tracks (I learned both hypnobirthing and hypnobabies and will later write a post comparing them). This did feel a lot better and I was able to fully relax again. Steve came upstairs to find me on the toilet and we realized then that this was really happening. I could no longer talk during the surges but needed to relax fully. We decided he should set up the birth pool. While Steve set up the birth pool I concentrated on breathing and relaxing through the surges, which were getting stronger and more frequent. I found listening to the hypnobabies “Easy First Stage” track very helpful during this time. I wasn’t worried or afraid. The surges were completely manageable and I really felt ready to meet our little guy.
Meanwhile downstairs, Steve was having some trouble with the birth pool. It turns out Kimba (one of our cats), had jumped in and punctured the bottom. We had specifically chosen that birth pool because it had a nice thick bottom so that I wouldn’t have to worry about my knees touching the hardwood floor (something Pia had recommended). Luckily the pool came with a patch kit and although it said it needed 24 hrs to dry, Steve used the hair dryer to quickly dry the glue and hoped for the best (spoiler alert: the patch held). Upstairs I was wondering what was taking so long since when we’d practiced filling up the pool with water, it took about 30 minutes, and it seemed to be taking longer than that. Once Steve came and got me I learned about the hole. By that time, the surges were strong enough that I didn’t want to be going down the stairs when one happened because I wouldn’t be able to fully relax, so we waited until a surge had just passed before I moved to the pool.
It felt great to be in the pool. The water was soothing and I could get into whatever position I wanted. Being on the toilet that long had started to get uncomfortable. In order to be fully relaxed, I had straddled the toilet backwards so that I could rest my head on a pillow on the back of the toilet, but after awhile even that position was uncomfortable. So the pool was a welcome relief. Steve still needed to do a bunch of stuff to prepare – get the home birth supplies (a big tupperware we filled with the stuff the doula and midwife recommended), set up a mattress on the floor in case I wanted to get out of the pool and I wasn’t able to make it back upstairs to our bed, and other little preparations. I was still able to handle the surges myself, using the hypnobabies “Easy First Stage” track on repeat. Once he was done, we put on soothing music and he read me a hypnobabies script during the surges. I started to feel really nauseous and hot in between surges. Steve got ice water and cloths to put on my forehead in between the surges and that helped a lot, but eventually I was so nauseous that I needed to throw up. I still felt a little nauseous after that but not quite as bad. I needed the cold cloths on my face and forehead throughout the birth. We had a nice routine going; I would feel a surge coming on and alert Steve so that he could start reading the hypnobabies script, I would go limp and breathe and relax through the surge and then once I came out of it Steve would put cold cloths on my face and give me water. Then I would go limp again until the next surge. I found I had to tell Steve when the surges were happening because otherwise he didn’t know to read the script, this was how relaxed I seemed from the outside despite the powerful surges happening inside me. Pia later remarked that she couldn’t tell when I was having surges until Steve started reading the script. I found it distracting to have to tell Steve when a surge was happening but I needed him to read the script to keep me focussed on the breathing and relaxing. Doing it again, I would come up with a signal like me squeezing his hand or tapping my index finger so that I wouldn’t have to come out of my relaxation too much in order to alert him to a surge. I was also distracted by Steve’s worrying. I could sense that he was worried the baby would come any minute and it would be just the two of us. So when he suggested we call Pia and give her another update, I agreed. We still decided that we would wait until the surges were the standard 4 minutes apart, for 1 minute, for an hour (4-1-1) before getting her to come. It was important that I stay relaxed and I worried that having Pia there would hinder that. In retrospect, I would have her come earlier because it was hard on Steve to worry that the baby was going to come and he wouldn’t be prepared.
We continued our routine for another hour, with Steve timing the surges. We decided to call Pia at around 8pm because the surges had reached 4-1-1. Since we’d given her a heads-up she was able to get to our place in pretty good time. I did get tense when she first arrived and the surges felt more intense. Steve later said he could tell I wasn’t as relaxed because the next two surges after she arrived were shorter and seemed less progressive, even though for me they felt more intense. But once Pia was settled in, I relaxed again and Steve said my surges went back to being longer (and more progressive). Pia congratulated us on how great we were doing, saying that we should be videotaping it to show others. She took over the timing of the surges and with that and her presence alone I sensed Steve relaxing, which was good because things soon started to get more intense for me. However, they later told me from the outside looking in it was still hard to tell I was having surges. I can honestly say I wasn’t experiencing pain, just an intensity and power in my body that I’d never experienced before and which, at the peaks of the surges, felt overwhelming. But the overwhelm was brief and soon the surges ended again and I could rest.
Soon after Pia arrived I started to feel the bum pressure which she had warned me about. No one ever talks about how it feels like you’re going to give birth to your baby from your bum! Despite knowing this ahead of time, it was still a surprising and weird feeling. The surges were very powerful at this point and I was finding it harder to relax through them. Pia started to become more actively involved, giving me cues and reminders of breathing techniques, which helped a lot. Steve said he noticed the difference in my surges after she cued me and I noticed as well. I still wasn’t able to fully relax from this point on during the surges so they felt a lot more intense, but after each one I would go limp and relaxed again (after getting water and having my face cooled off) and that allowed me to rest up before the next surge. I never felt completely overwhelmed by all the surges because I was able to rest between them. Pia had stressed how important this would be. She explained that a lot of the time women start worrying about the next surge before it’s even happening and then they’re never able to fully relax. I started to feel the urge to push but didn’t vocalize this right away (not quite realizing what was going on) so Steve and Pia had no idea. Eventually I realized that I should probably tell them what I was feeling and at this point Pia said we should call the midwife. A funny thing happened when Steve paged the midwife. He paged her and hung up the phone and then a minute later the phone rang. So expecting it to be Diane, our midwife, Steve answered. But it was his mom on the other end of the line! Not wanting to have the phone tied up he quickly exclaimed “we’re a little busy right now mom, I’ll call you back later!” I had heard this exchange but didn’t hear that it was his mother. I worried who it was because I didn’t want anyone knowing I was in labour. He assured me it was his mom and not to worry. I actively pushed that out of my mind so I could stay relaxed.
Our midwife, Diane, arrived at around 10pm. Again I got tense when she first arrived and I came out of my relaxation enough to become aware of my surroundings for the first time in hours. I realized how dark it was and how Pia had set up fake candles in addition to the candles we had going to help light the room. I had no clue what time it was (it was in our birth plan that no one was to mention time) so I was quite surprised by how dark it was. Also I saw for the first time that Dante (one of our cats) was lying on the arm of the couch, just hanging out watching. Later he made himself comfortable by sprawling out on the resuscitation area the midwives set up). I said hi to Diane and then worked on getting back into my relaxation. The whole time I could hear her setting up, asking where to put things and where things were from our birth kit. At several points Steve had to break his concentration with me to aid Diane, even leaving my side at one point to help her move one of the chairs out of the way to make space for the resuscitation area. This stressed me out a little because I felt acutely in need of his support at this point and I felt I couldn’t handle the surges as well without him. After he had left my side once he realized that he really had to pee and so he went upstairs to do that. Pia helped me through a surge while he was away, but I was grateful when he came back. Poor guy barely drank any water, ate only two muffins the whole time, and only went to the bathroom that one time throughout the whole birth. Once Diane was set up she used the doppler on me to check Wesley’s heartbeat, which was nice and strong. I didn’t know this at the time but Pia informed us later that usually midwives insist on doing a vaginal exam to determine how far along things are but Diane didn’t, respecting the calm, relaxed intervention-free birth experience we were aiming for. A vaginal exam would have brought me out of relaxation for sure and disrupted the progress of the birth. As it was, the birth progressed quite quickly from that point on. The pushing urge was undeniable at that point and the surges were the most intense. I was vocalizing through the surges, and was quite tight in my jaws. Steve noticed this, aware that I put stress in my jaws in general (I grind my teeth at night) and he mentioned it to Pia. I wasn’t aware of his tip-off but did hear Pia tell me to open my mouth and relax my jaw, which helped through the next surges. At 10:30pm, half an hour after she arrived, Diane decided they should call in the second midwife. I knew this meant that things were getting close, and certainly it felt to me like things were progressing – my urge to push and the amount of bum pressure I was experiencing were very very strong. The second midwife, Suzanne, arrived at 10:55pm. I heard her arrive but was so in the zone that I didn’t see or greet her until after Wesley was born. I hadn’t met Suzanne before so I had no idea even what she looked like at this point. I heard everything that was going on around me but focussed on staying relaxed between surges and trying to let my body do its thing during the surges. I felt like Wesley was close to coming out and Diane told me to feel with my hand to see if I could feel his head coming. When I felt inside I felt what seemed like a bubble. It turns out my membranes still hadn’t released and so Wesley was still “in the caul” – this is a very rare phenomenon (1 in 80 000 births) and there are lots of stories and myths around people who are born “in the caul”. They are thought to possess special abilities and that they are destined for great things. In terms of birth, the experience is much more gentle for the baby since he is cushioned by the membrane as his head pushes through the birth canal. We feel very blessed that our special little guy got to have this special birth experience.
After the next surge or two (I can’t remember), Wesley’s head started to emerge. I did feel the burning sensation that I’ve heard described as “the ring of fire”, but I think because I was in the water it might not have been as bad. I remember asking if they could do perineal massage, so it definitely hurt, but unfortunately because I was in the water I don’t think it was possible for them to help. Even though I knew this would happen, I was disappointed when his head went back in again after each surge and I expressed my disappointment. Everyone encouraged me and told me this was ok and exactly what was supposed to happen. In retrospect, it would have been better if his head had taken a little longer to come out because I ended up having a tear, which is more likely to happen if the perineum doesn’t have the time to stretch. After two more pushes his head was fully out. The midwives suggested that I catch Wesley myself and at first I said I shouldn’t because I was worried I would do something wrong, but they encouraged me to do so. They had me switch positions to facilitate this. The next push I was so excited to “catch” Wesley that I don’t even remember if I felt anything at all. He slid out and the membranes (the caul) released at that moment. I lifted him up out of the water and he gave two sweet little cries and then settled and calmly stared up at me in my arms. It was absolutely amazing. I will never be able to describe how beautiful, and empowering that moment was. He was born at 11:17pm, approximately 7.5 hours after active labour began. I feel so very fortunate to have had the natural, home birth experience that we’d planned.
*A note on pain. I know it will seem crazy and unbelievable to many of you that I didn’t experience a lot of pain during my birth. But it’s true. And it is possible. And if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone. I worked to prepare my mind and body ahead of time using the principles from hypnobirthing, and I believed that it was possible to have a calm, relaxed, natural birth. This last part is key. Even if you practice hypnobirthing, if in the deepest part of yourself you doubt that it is possible, then it won’t happen for you. That’s why I wanted to share my story. We’re bombarded by the media, by family, friends, and even strangers (I know because strangers did this to me) with stories of painful birth experiences. Painful birth is the norm. But it’s the norm because that’s what we think birth is supposed to be like. I urge you to read and inform yourself as much as you can about positive birth experiences, about midwifery care vs. traditional (in North America) hospital births under obstetric care. You’ll be surprised and amazed at what you learn!