Dear Kat

Our dimple-cheeked boy was born hollering in the early hours of 24 June at 42 weeks. I felt his head as he emerged, covered in thick fuzzy hair, and soon afterwards he was handed up to me, his mouth sucking furiously. It was an electrifying moment for us. I’ve never felt anything so intensely. Writing this has been a cathartic process. I hope that sharing our experience might be useful for other couples who conceived with IVF as there were a few bits of hospital policy I wish I’d been prepared for. It also shows how useful hypnobirthing can be when things don’t go ‘to plan’.

We were lucky to enjoy a happy healthy pregnancy. At 20 weeks we had a consultant’s appointment.  I thought this was just routine but turns out it was to inform us that if we hadn’t already given birth we would be induced on our due date because IVF pregnancies are automatically treated as high risk. I’d gone to this appointment alone and not really prepared to ask the right questions. Later we also found out that IVF mothers are not allowed to use the birthing centre and that home births are advised against. Not being allowed to use the birthing centre really upset me at the time because if all was well I wanted to have midwife-led care in as homely an environment as possible. If you find yourself in the same position reading this – it really is possible to make the rooms on delivery ward just as comfortable and the midwives were amazing at keeping interruptions to a minimum. It’s not something I’d worry about a second time around – hypnobirthing helped us realise that you can use your mind to take yourself to a place of safety and security regardless of where you are (and the rooms are nice anyway!).

With your support, we did a lot more reading around induction and potential risks associated with IVF pregnancies. At 40 weeks I felt well, Viggo was moving as he always did (a lot!) so we decided to wait and continue to be closely monitored. We wanted to give him time to arrive when he was ready. I didn’t feel any warm ups in week 41 but still felt comfortable waiting. The following Monday, I agreed to a sweep but my cervix was closed. The midwife booked us in to be induced at the end of the week. I hoped we go into labour naturally before then and carried on practicing my breathing and taking gentle walks around the park. Friday arrived and still no signs of labour. We went to the induction clinic but after monitoring decided to wait another 24 hours and were booked to come back at 9pm the next day. At this point I’ll admit we tried the raspberry leaf tea, hot curry, pineapple and brisk walks but Viggo was comfortable where he was!

That night I had some spotting which I’d not had before. Around 5 or 6 in the morning I started to feel anxious so we went to be monitored again. The heartbeat was steady and all appeared well. We were about to go home to get some rest before returning in the evening when the duty doctor asked to do an internal examination. This was incredibly painful and I had to ask twice for her to stop, the second time much more forcefully. She said we were 2cm dilated and she wanted to give us ‘some medicine’ because at 42 weeks we were putting our baby at risk. My husband had to ask 3 times for her to clarify if ‘some medicine’ meant starting induction. By now I was experiencing heavy cramps and was keen to keep our 9pm appointment in case things started naturally before then. I was encouraged by the fact that my cervix had started to open. When I explained this, the doctor said that she had opened my cervix when she did the examination. 

The doctors changed shifts. The next doctor reiterated the risk of us waiting any longer in an increasingly alarmist way. By now I was extremely tired and emotional, starting to doubt the decisions we’d made. We were given a scan where the doctor pointed out 3 things: spots in my waters which she said were a sign of meconium, white areas on my placenta which were apparently a sign of calcification and loss of fluid around the baby. She said it was too late to use the induction gel (now my cervix was open) and I should be admitted to the delivery ward straight away to have my waters broken. I was terrified for our baby and felt a total loss of control. We asked to see the consultant who reiterated the doctor’s advice, so we agreed to go ahead.

We had about an hour to wait before a room became available. We sat downstairs in Costa and I just remember feeling numb, tears streaming down my face. At that point my sister-in-law, who’d also done hypnobirthing with you, dropped off our bag. This was such an important moment for me. She was so positive and excited for us and her parting words were ‘you’ve got this’. Suddenly I felt like I could take back control and use everything we’d learnt. Don’t get me wrong – I was still very scared – but I felt like we had agency again. The strangest thing was being admitted to the ward ahead of women who were clearly in the early stages of labour when I wasn’t experiencing anything. It was about 1pm by now.

Contrary to how it sounds, having my waters broken was a very gentle pain free experience. The fluid was clear with no sign of meconium. Surges started almost immediately – they felt like strong period cramps at first. We used all the breathing and light touch massage techniques that really helped and made sure to stay hydrated. Vanya put on the Wizard of Oz – not planned and slightly surreal – but a good distraction. At one point the surges started to tail off and further intervention was mentioned. I went into the bathroom alone, turned off all the lights and put your tracks on, holding onto the sink and running the tap as the surges returned more forcefully. I feel sure this helped get everything back on track.

The surges intensified very quickly. We’d hoped to use a birthing pool but there wasn’t one available despite our midwife’s best efforts. The hot water in the shower was also on the blink. Panic briefly set in again and with the adrenaline came a lot of pain. Vanya asked if we could transfer to a room with hot water but the ward was very busy. It was around this time I lost all my inhibitions. Just a few hours before I’d been too shy to get undressed in front of the midwife, now I was swaying half naked in the middle of the room demanding an epidural. Apparently I kept telling Vanya I was going to run down naked down the corridor. The midwife was convinced it was too late for an epidural and the baby was about to arrive but when I was examined I was 2cm dilated. The anesthetist came quickly. Vanya had to lift me into the right position on the bed – I could have had an army of people in the room at that point and not cared!

After the epidural kicked in, the relief was enormous but I also felt an incredible sadness –I can’t explain exactly why. Luckily, although a bit wobbly on my feet, I was still able to move about so we carried on as we’d planned – low lights, breathing, walking and swaying on the birthing ball, following the rhythm of the surges on the monitor. You can’t eat with an epidural but Vanya kept me drinking lots of water. About 8 or 9pm, the midwives changed shift and I persuaded Vanya to take a break and get himself some food. Everything was kept very quiet and calm. We listened to music quietly and chatted. When I reached 8cm, the midwife asked me to stand leaning over the bed and rock my hips from side to side. I did this for about an hour and then they started to let the epidural wear off so I could push.

The midwife, who was amazing, gave us a long talk about how she was going to be very bossy when the time came to push but she would look after my perineum. She said a lot about avoiding cutting, tearing etc – all of it kindly meant but I found hypnobirthing very useful when I wanted to zone out and not focus on her words. The way she coached me to ‘push’ used the same breathing technique we’d practiced with you – channeling the breath down through your body. It was about 3 or 4am by now. We tried lots of positions, kneeling on all fours, sitting on a birthing stool but I eventually ended up lying on the bed on my back when Viggo’s heartrate briefly rose after 2 hours of pushing and the doctors got involved. I had an episiotomy and they used a ventouse in the final few minutes. Viggo was born just before 6am, a healthy 9lbs, and passed to me for a few minutes before being checked out by the baby doctor with his dad by his side. I don’t remember anything about birthing the placenta – when the midwife showed it to us she said it was healthy with no signs of calcification.

I don’t regret having my waters broken – we’d already weighed up the risks and decided to be induced that day. I do wish that we hadn’t been treated as severely irresponsible for getting to 42 weeks. Risks were explained as if they were facts (your placenta has calcified, there is meconium… etc). It meant we started out from a place of anxiety instead of groundedness. For a while, I was overcome with fear but I’m certain that hypnobirthing helped me regain a sense of control and helped Viggo have the mostly calm and peaceful entry into the world that we’d hoped for.

Thank you for all your support during class and afterwards – it has meant so much to us.

Anna, Vanya and Viggo x

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