Hypnobirthing: The Birth of Xavier
I decided to kickstart my new blog two years after my first son Xavier was born by telling his wonderful birth story. I actually wrote this birth story a couple of days after he was born as I didn't want to miss a single detail! However I wanted to share this with you now, two years on. One of the most important things you can do in pregnancy is read plenty of positive stories to counteract all the negative stories we are often told about giving birth. Therefore I want to add to a growing library of growing positive birth stories to help other pregnant mamas!
This is the story of a positive, natural birth using hypnobirthing techniques at the wonderful Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford - enjoy!
Once I hit 30 weeks pregnant, I had the strongest urge to nest and prepare for baby. My husband Cyrille and I spent our time preparing the nursery, practising hypnobirthing techniques, writing our birth preferences, and buying baby supplies. At 32 weeks I started drinking a couple of cups of raspberry leaf tea per day and munching on dates, while bouncing on my birth ball at any moment I could.
It was August and major heatwave hit London when I was 33 weeks. My hands and feet really swelled up and I found the heat difficult to cope with. After a pretty breezy and active pregnancy (I kept running until 28 weeks, plus prenatal yoga and HIIT home workouts), it was the first time that I started to feel uncomfortable during pregnancy.
At 34 weeks I packed my hospital bag, and remember feeling content that if the baby was to arrive now, we would be ready for him. Of course, we would have liked him to stay in for a few more weeks, but it seems Xavier had other plans!
That weekend, we had a couple of friends over from France. I was 34 weeks + 4 days. The heatwave finished just as they arrived and it poured down with rain all day, so we spent the Saturday chilling at home, playing board games and catching up. We went out for a curry that evening and stayed up chatting until about 2am. It was just the loveliest most relaxed day and I like to imagine that our little one felt the chilled vibes and just couldn’t wait any longer to come and join us!
Start of Labour
03:30 - I had been lying awake in bed unable to sleep, listening to the foxes barking in the garden. I was just finally dozing off when I suddenly felt my waters break in a huge gush all over the bed! There was so much water that there was no doubt in my mind what this was. I rushed to the bathroom and saw the waters were pink and tinged slightly with blood. On my way back to the bedroom I saw I had got bloody water all over our new carpet and that there was an enormous patch on the bed! I woke Cyrille and told him what had happened and asked him to try and scrub the carpet while I called the hospital! The midwife on the phone asked me to come into hospital for monitoring but no need to hurry, so Cyrille and I grabbed a few bits of food and checked I had everything in my birth bag. Through all the commotion we were making, we woke one of our friends up who came downstairs to see what was happening. It was a surreal moment, the three of us on the stairs completely stunned, wondering what was about to happen next.
04:15 - We arrived at hospital after a 20 minute drive. During the car journey I had felt two very mild period-like cramps lasting maybe 20 seconds, that felt definitely different to Braxton Hicks. Cyrille dropped me off at the entrance and gave me a big hug (he couldn’t come in with me due to Covid restrictions). It was an emotional moment, wondering what would be happening next time we saw each other!
Once in triage, I was met by two lovely midwives Melissa and Kellie who checked my pad and confirmed it was indeed my waters that had broken. They set me up on a bed for continuous monitoring for an hour. It was so reassuring to hear baby’s heartbeat which was stabilising after being a little high to start with. I was having mild period-like cramps throughout but the machine didn’t pick them up. They weren’t sure whether the mild cramps were the sign of the start of labour or if this was my body reacting temporarily to the waters breaking and that the cramps would die off. The working theory seemed to be the second one, so I was started on an antibiotics course and had a steroid injection to protect the baby’s lungs from infection.
I had blood tests, and a quick presentation scan to double-check baby was head down. At this point I was told I would be staying for at least the next 12 hours for monitoring.
05:15 I had an internal examination where they found that my cervix/os was closed; 0cm dilated. I didn’t feel either disappointment or relief - while I was excited to potentially meet our baby soon, I knew it would best for him to stay in my tummy for a few more weeks! I just kept thinking “my baby will come when my baby is ready” and used my breathing techniques to stay calm, not overthinking what may or may not happen. After this I was taken off the monitor, went to loo, and had a couple of slightly more intense surges while in the loo.
I went back to the bed in the triage room to put the monitors back on. At this point I needed to start focussing on breathing through the surges, so I lay on my side facing the wall to block out the lights, smelled my essential oils and shut everything else out. I felt myself go into my own little world and felt very peaceful and calm, and sort of lost track of time.
05:50 - The midwives had been observing me without me knowing and said I could call Cyrille to come in to keep me company! Yay! I knew he had only gone back to bed at about 5:15am so I waited 10 minutes so that he could get at least 45 mins sleep, as I wasn’t sure I was actually in labour anyway!
06:30 - Melissa walked me down to labour ward, onto a shared space where a couple of other ladies were sleeping. I was conscious I didn’t want to wake them, but I felt like I needed to stay active. I put on my hypnobirthing tracks on my headphones and kept on my feet, walking around, smelling my essential oils and focussing on my breathing. The surges started to feel more distinctive now, building and rising to a definite peak, and then melting away - surge is definitely the right word for them! I was getting hot so held a cold wet flannel with lavender essential oil to my face and neck and leaned against an open window to feel the fresh air on my face and watch the early morning sun rising. It was a beautiful view over a playground and fields with the city skyline in the distance, and the morning light was warm and golden.
07:00 - Cyrille arrived which was the best thing ever! He immediately knew what to do to start helping me through the surges, doing light touch massage on my back and whispering encouragement in my ear as I stood up leaning on his chest through each surge. At some point I ate an orange and someone brought me a lovely cup of tea. No-one came in to examine me or ask questions, it was just the two of us together. Even though we were on a shared ward, it felt so peaceful and intimate. In between surges I felt calm and in control. I wasn’t really thinking about what may or may not be happening, I was just in the zone, focussing on breathing and riding each surge.
Things Start Ramping Up
07:30 - Surges were getting more powerful and I had to work a little harder to get back to a relaxed state between each one. I found staying on my feet and walking around or swaying my hips between and during surges was the best - sitting down or lying on the bed did not appeal at all! The positive affirmation “Every surge brings me closer to my baby” really worked for me and I found myself consciously welcoming each surge in a “bring it on!!” kind of way! They weren’t painful, but powerful and all-consuming, and I found myself somewhat enjoying this new whole-body sensation – it was unlike anything I had ever felt before.
08:00 - I felt I like I needed the loo so went to the bathroom and this is when everything got crazy! Suddenly I felt my body involuntarily bearing down as if to poo but the sensation was definitely in my birth canal - I could feel baby descending!! I freaked out and had a couple of back-to-back pushy surges in the toilet by myself during which I struggled to keep calm for the first time. I now realise this panic was “transition”, but at the time I thought there’s no way I could already be in transition and starting to push - I had been 0cm dilated only a couple of hours ago and no one was even sure I was in proper labour, including me until then!!
I shouted for Cyrille to get a midwife. The ward midwife Hydie came quickly and once I’d calmed down enough to be coaxed out of the loo she asked if they could do an internal examination. I actually caught up with Hydie a few days later and she said this all took place right in the middle of the midwives shift handover which caused absolute chaos!! I had another surge during the examination so I was breathing through it in my own little zone and didn’t really notice the examination happening until I heard the words “yeah that’s fully....!”
I asked “did you just say what I think you just said?!” The doctor doing the examination grinned at me and said “Yes lovely you are fully dilated! We’re taking you to delivery suite as you are having this baby right now!!”
The panic was gone and I just felt so excited at this point. As I was wheeled out, the other ladies in the ward called “Good luck!” and I shouted back “So sorry about the noise!!”
Down Stage of Labour
08:25 - We arrived in the delivery room - I remember feeling a surge arriving as we got into the room so I called out for Cyrille who was hurrying behind with our bags, and then as soon as he was next to me I gripped his hand and immediately felt awesome! This was the exciting part where we’d get to meet our baby!! I had to be strapped up to a CTG monitor for the first couple of surges on my back so they could check baby’s heart rate, and I was keen to get off my back as soon as possible to get myself into an optimal upright birthing position.
Once they were happy baby wasn’t in distress, I moved onto all fours which made me feel so much more powerful, especially with gravity on my side! Gripping Cyrille’s hand and making the most insane animal roaring noises (I couldn’t believe I was making those noises but it’s true you just lose all inhibition and really don’t care!!), I started actively pushing and could feel baby descending little by little. I was offered Gas and Air but I said no thanks as I was feeling good!
I asked our lovely midwife Rupali to hold a warm flannel to my perineum to help soften the skin and prepare for crowning as it was obvious at this stage that I definitely wasn’t going to be having a water birth! I couldn’t believe how “normal” I felt between surges - Rupali explained that our bodies are incredibly well designed to give us the rest and recuperation we need before the next surge. It was crazy, I felt like a normal person in between surges and then as soon as the next surge came on, the roaring animal came back!! It felt awesome, I loved every minute of it. The baby was descending well and Rupali switched to a foetal scalp electrode to continue checking his heart decelerations once he got too low down for the CTG monitor to pick up.
At this point, Rupali said that we needed to get the baby out in the next couple of surges as he was now taking longer to recover from each surge and given he was premature and potentially getting tired, I would need to actively push extra hard. She encouraged me to hold my breath as I pushed with each surge, and then breathe out at the end to keep the push going as long as possible. It wasn’t painful but it was incredibly intense and definitely exhausting - I tried to treat it as a HIIT workout (which it sort of is I guess!!), giving 3-4 massive pushes during each surge and then a giving a final extra-long one by myself as the surge faded away. I was exhausted at the end of each surge, and breathed deeply to recover as quickly as possible in between surges, finding myself impatient for the next surge to arrive!
I felt like I needed to be more upright and pulling down on something, so knelt up on the edge of the bed and wrapped my arms around Cyrille’s shoulders. After one push like this, I felt in between my legs and could feel the baby’s head! This was incredibly motivating and I’m so glad I got over my squeamishness and did this! At this point Rupali said the baby needed to be born on the next surge or she’d have to prep me for an episiotomy. Pushing even harder on the next surge, I felt him crowning further and reached down again - it felt like his head was almost out, but then suddenly popped back in. I remembered my hypnobirthing training, when they explained how babies bob down and up again to massage the soft tissues of the perineum and prevent tearing. But honestly at this point I couldn’t care less about tearing, I just needed to get him out and I knew that I could do it – I had never been more certain about anything in my life! As he hadn’t come out on that surge, Rupali asked me to move onto my back to get prepped for an episiotomy. I tried to move but it was impossible whichever way I tried as the baby’s head was so low. At this point I just 100% knew I was going to get him out on the next push and told Rupali I was going to push one last time.
This final push was so so hard but it was fine as I knew I was going to do it this time and finally meet our baby!! Still with my arms around Cyrille’s shoulders, him supporting my back as I knelt up on the bed, our son came out peacefully and calmly, all in one go at 9:13am on Sunday 16th August 2020. I’ll never forget that moment of looking down and seeing our son for the first time all slippery on the bed between my knees. Cyrille said I made the weirdest happy-sounding cry as I reached down and picked him up and held him to my stomach. It was just the best moment of my life!!!! He let out a couple of little cries and we could clearly see he was a lovely pink colour and was really alert so fortunately they didn’t need to take him away for any checks. We had skin-to-skin cuddles on my stomach (the cord was a little short) and he stopped crying and snuggled up to me, while I just looked between him and Cyrille in amazement. We had done it!!!!
Cyrille cut the cord after a few minutes and they took our little one for checks on a table next to me with Cyrille standing over them. After a couple of minutes, they were happy he was in good health so passed him to his Papa for skin-to-skin cuddles. Meanwhile, the midwife saw I was losing quite a lot of blood and hit the emergency button, although I didn’t realise this until later. A team of amazing people arrived and got to work on getting my placenta out quickly and stopping the bleeding. This part was more uncomfortable than actual labour but I didn’t even care, I was just on cloud nine watching our son snuggled up on Cyrille’s bare chest on the armchair next to the bed, Cyrille gently singing him French lullabies – it was so beautiful to watch, I felt euphoric!
A doctor told me I had no tears (yay!) only a small labial graze - which they gave one stitch to prevent that adding to the blood loss. They offered me pain relief a couple of times while they were doing the palpitations, catheter insertion, stitching, and everything else and said they were surprised when I said no thank you! In the end, they had to do a manual removal of the placenta which is normally done under local anaesthetic or epidural, but I didn’t need anything, not even gas and air. Honestly I had all the pain relief I needed just looking at my little family, breathing deeply, and wriggling my toes (a trick I used to use during smear tests to help relax and distract myself). Oxytocin and endorphins are absolutely magic!
Eventually, they got the placenta out and the blood loss under control - it turned out to be a major haemorrhage of 2 litres blood loss! I felt absolutely fine though- Rupali said it was another incredible superpower of pregnant women that allows us to lose so much blood and still feel ok - she said if a man had lost 2 litres of blood, he’d be on the floor passed out!
Cyrille brought our son over and put him on my chest for his first feed. He latched on pretty quickly, once I had gotten over the worry of accidentally suffocating him with my boob! Shortly after, they brought me the famous NHS tea and toast which was as delicious as everyone says it is!
We decided to call our new arrival Xavier. He weighed a chunky 6lb 1oz, which is a normal full-term birth weight, even though he was 6 weeks premature! We stayed together just the three of us for a few hours in the delivery room, basking in the most intense happiness and love, enjoying Xavier as our own little secret for a little while before calling our stunned parents to tell them the wonderful news of his early arrival!
Fortunately, I had a very easy recovery. The hardest part was going for a wee after the catheter they had put in after Xavier was born to help the placenta come out! I was walking about less than two hours after the haemorrhage (albeit attached to an IV drip for a few hours to give me back some fluids), drinking orange squash and eating jacket potato followed by jelly and ice cream – absolutely the best-tasting meal of my life!
Hypnobirthing completely changed my perspective on labour, something that had always terrified me before. It allowed me to relax and enjoy my pregnancy and actually be excited for labour rather than dread it. While we never made it anywhere near a birth pool, and there was clearly no time for soft lighting and music in the birth room, the relaxation techniques and positive thinking worked amazingly.
At no point during labour did I feel anything that I would call pain. I felt calm, focussed and able to birth without fear, despite the premature labour being less than ideal. Being completely lucid, feeling empowered and in control during Xavier’s birth was the most special gift and I’ll treasure the memories of his birth and our first moments together for the rest of my life.
An hour after the birth I said I would do it all again tomorrow and I really meant it! Ladies you have got this, our bodies and our minds are incredible!!
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