So here’s our full birth story Kat – it’s quite long! But before I start, I wanted to say thank you for everything. Whenever people ask me to explain hypnobirthing, I say that it’s far more than relaxation techniques: the huge amount of knowledge we picked up from you regarding not only birthing but also hospital procedures and protocol meant that we were well prepared for what felt like a three week-long labour!
As you know we’d been hoping for a home birth and were ready with our pool for the estimated due date of May 9th, though I wasn’t surprised when the day came and went with no baby. I wasn’t feeling the heaviness, boredom or desperation I’ve heard other post-date mums talk about, so was quite content to wait it out – until an appointment with a registrar at the Whittington at 40 + 4. He wanted to know what our ‘plan’ was, and was keen to book us in for induction that week or the next – and when he saw my age in my yellow notes (I’m 39) he was equally keen to book us in for monitoring asap, as I was a ‘high risk’ case. He also told us that the placenta starts to die as soon as a woman is past her due date, but fortunately I knew enough to question him and he admitted he’d made a mistake and that the placenta didn’t start to die until 42 weeks (!!). We rejected induction but agreed to come in for regular monitoring. After a bit of a wait were told that our consultant had ‘agreed’ to our plan of waiting for another week before making any decisions, though the registrar was clearly not happy – all very stressful and demoralising.
And so began our daily trips to the hospital for monitoring, which I didn’t mind too much – the day unit was a peaceful place and the midwives were lovely, though clearly anxious about our relaxed attitude to extended pregnancy. We were warned daily about the dangers and repeatedly asked about our ‘plan’. I threw a few strops but eventually learnt to listen politely and just go home. One registrar managed to book us in for induction at 40+13, by telling us that if we went any later than that we wouldn’t be allowed access to the birth centre and I’d have to be monitored throughout my labour (it seemed we’d already blown our chances of a home birth). That was a real low point – I felt bullied, blackmailed and helpless. But I called AIMS and the Whittington’s Supervisor Of Midwives, both of whom said that the hospital could indeed bar me from the birth centre but could not refuse to send midwives to support a home birth no matter how overdue I was, so I rang the hospital, cancelled the induction and carried on planning for the birth we’d originally wanted.
At this point, our consultant got involved – I’d emailed the hospital to complain about a couple of registrars and the pressure they were putting us under, so she gave me a call. I told her I’d cancelled the induction and we had a long chat about how to move forward. She said that although she wouldn’t like to see me go past 43 weeks, we had a little while to go before we got to that stage and was happy for us to carry on as we were.
But then things started to get really complicated. My Dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer a year earlier, and although we always knew that things might get difficult around April/May, we hadn’t anticipated quite how bad the timing would get. We’d already been told to think in terms of weeks rather than months, but on the morning of 40+13 I had a call from my sister to say that he’d been taken into hospital in Oxford and we were now looking at a couple of days. I have to say that the Whittington were great. They let us come in for monitoring early that day so we could drive to Oxford as quickly as possible, and they got in touch with the maternity unit at my Dad’s hospital to arrange for us to be monitored there – and for us to have the baby there if necessary.
My wonderful dad died the next morning – we were all with him when it happened, and I played him a recording of the baby’s heat beat, which I hope he heard. His death is starting to sink in a little more now, but at the time it felt as if I had no time to grieve – I just had to get on with having our baby. But still nothing happened. Looking back, it really was the most stressful period – I spent hours poring over the AIMS website or reading about ’10 month mamas’, trying to relax, going for walks on Hampstead Heath, and listening to my birth affirmations. I did have very low moments but I was sure we were doing the right thing in waiting, despite pressure from the hospital and 4 uncomfortable sweeps. And I had an amazing network of supportive women to call whenever I needed a boost – Debbie from AIMS, a lovely lady called Sam who runs a local NCT homebirth support group, a wonderful massage therapist and doula called Sue, and of course, Kat.
But by the middle of the 42nd week I was finding it harder and harder to relax – and the less relaxed I felt, the less likely it seemed that the baby would come. I finally agreed to go in for induction on the morning of 43 weeks – and then went into quite a meltdown. Induction felt so very wrong to me, but even my boyfriend had started to worry by this stage and I didn’t feel I could hold out any longer. We went in for our final monitoring session on the morning of 40+20 and decided to take our hospital bags in case they could bring the induction forward by one day.
Looking back, it almost felt like I was having my own version of a transition at this point – I couldn’t communicate, just kept hiding myself away to cry and cry. I didn’t think I could take any more, or that I was capable of going through labour, however it happened. I even went a bit berserk at a traffic warden on the street outside the hospital (I really did call him the most horrible name you can think of) but my boyfriend gave me a gentle pep talk, and I tried to focus on the affirmation ‘I serenely accept the birth that is best for me and for my baby’.
We’d agreed to meet my consultant for a couple of scans that morning. The amniotic fluid was low but ok, and my placenta was still functioning really well but my cervix was still shut tight with no sign of change. The consultant also estimated that the baby could be anything from 9 – 11lb (she had to manipulate the computer into giving a reading as the software wasn’t built to deal with anything beyond 42 weeks!). With those things in mind, she recommended a caesarean that day. I think everyone expected me to kick up a fuss but I’d started to feel a bit out of my depth by this point, and was so relieved that we might be able to sidestep induction that I agreed – and suddenly felt the most enormous wave of peace. We met the doctor who’d be performing the c-section and she agreed to all the things we asked for: our music playing, no talking, low lighting, immediate skin-to-skin, delayed cord clamping as much as possible, and for my placenta to be handled gently and kept in a fridge until we could take it home (I wanted to have it encapsulated).
After a bit of a rocky start the procedure was calm and gentle – though it felt a little bit surreal to see a beautiful big baby pop up from behind a screen and land on my chest! I’ve been asked so many times whether I was disappointed to have ended up in an operating theatre rather than my own living room, but although I would have loved the experience of a home birth, and do sometimes wonder what it must be like to breathe a baby into the world, I have to say that I don’t feel as cheated or unhappy as I thought I might. The fact that we’d been able to have some control over the birth really does count for such a lot – and I like to think that we made the experience as calm and trauma-free as possible for our baby, who showed no signs of being harmed by her extended stay inside (no meconium in the waters, no flaky skin, and a reasonable birth weight of 8lb 13oz – so not the whopping 11lb they were afraid of! And the lady who took my placenta away to be turned into pills said it was in perfect condition).
We stayed in the hospital for two nights before taking her home and the staff all remarked that they’d never seen as much skin-on-skin contact, which I’d been told was especially important after a caesarean. They were also surprised at how quickly I recovered from the operation, and how well we both took to breastfeeding, which went smoothly from the start. She’s a calm, beautiful and alert little thing, though at time of writing (almost four weeks) she still doesn’t have a name (Clementine is in the running). We’re clearly not a family that responds well to deadlines!
In retrospect, it was a huge slog at times, and quite an endurance test, but I’m content with the way everything turned out – we put up a good fight but eventually knew when to go with the flow, and now we have a very special baby! Thanks so much for everything you taught us Kat – we would have had a very different experience without you.
xx Alex, Ali and baby