I wasn't sure whether or not to write about Freya's birth. I love reading other people's birth stories, but it is also a very private affair and I didn't know if it was for me to share with thousands of people.
But, I have decided to do it, because I want to talk about how positive it was. There is so much talk about the "positive birth" these days and that is a wonderful thing. However, I find that this sometimes means people assume it goes hand in hand with having a water birth / little to no pain relief / avoiding inductions and other interventions.
For a lot of women, this type of birth is not possible and then they feel like they have failed if they haven't achieved this. They can also feel traumatised by the birth experience (especially first time mothers), as it has been built up to something that might not be the reality of childbirth.
So, this is why I am sharing with you all my birth experience - it was a very positive and happy birth. It was also an induced birth, with an elective epidural.
When I found out I was pregnant with Freya, my thoughts immediately went to the birth. I had a pretty difficult birth with Alfred and I really wanted it to be different this time. I went through a list of changes that I wanted to make, to make the lead up to the birth and the birth itself more manageable.
I took up hypnobirthing, decided I wasn't going to give birth in a hospital and that it would be in a birth centre (simply because that was the opposite to my first birth, not because hospitals are bad) and that I would know my choices and make myself heard if something felt wrong in any way. I wanted to change my attitude towards it too and try to develop a more positive mindset to the whole thing.
The pregnancy went very smoothly for the first few months. Then, at my 30 week appointment, I was told that I was measuring small for dates and that an extra ultrasound would be needed. I tried not to panic at this news. But your mind can't help wondering about all of the potential catastrophes that could happen. Even so, I was sure that at the ultrasound we would be told that all was fine and that would be the end of it. As it so happened, we were told at the scan the she was indeed measuring small and that we would need to see a consultant. It wasn't that she was necessarily small compared to other babies, but she was measuring small for me. Someone of my size is expected to have a much larger baby, so there were concerns about my placenta or maybe some other underlying issue that couldn't be detected.
It was decided that I was to have a scan every two weeks from that point on, to keep track of the baby's progress and to make sure my placenta was still ticking along nicely.
At about 36 weeks pregnant, she was still measuring small for dates and my midwife gently suggested to me that I shouldn't get my hopes up about having the baby at the birth centre and that I should prepare to give birth at the hospital. We talked about the chances of a potential intervention and early induction. She knew about my previous birth experience and really wanted me to feel good about it all this time. I think she was concerned that I would be upset at this news. What surprised me, was that I actually felt fine about it. I just wanted my baby to be safe and if that meant having her at the hospital, where extra monitoring could take place, then I was all for it.
My approach and attitude to this birth was so different from the first time. The first time, I was convinced that I wouldn't need an epidural and had to fight to get one when I decided I did need one. The hours of unmanageable pain were what caused most of my trauma. By the time Alfred was born, I was off my face from pain and exhaustion and I could barely connect with him at all. This time I knew that I needed to be positive and confident with all possible avenues this labour might take me. I knew to also listen to my body and what it could physically take and to ask for things that might help alleviate any pain and prevent more distress.
By 38 weeks pregnant, we knew that I would definitely be induced, we just weren't sure when. They didn't want me to go past my due date, for safety reasons, but were keen to also leave it till as near my due date as possible, to help potentially prevent any problems with the induction and to let the baby keep growing as long as possible.
It was suggested that I have an elective epidural written on the front of my birth notes, due to the induction being early and the potential intensity of it. After reading about the pros and cons, I decided to go for it. As I have previously mentioned, the extreme pain I felt with Alfred's birth made the whole thing so much more traumatizing for me. I was glad to potentially avoid that this time, to help me be more present during the birth and to help me connect with my baby when she was born.
The date for the induction ended up being set for two days before Freya's due date. The night before, I was a bit antsy to say the least. I was feeling many emotions - I was excited to meet our baby, I was apprehensive about the induction and there were a lot of nerves starting to kick in about giving birth again. I was also feeling sad that it was my last day with just Alfred. I tucked him in that night and when I left the room, I cried and cried. I felt terrible that his life was about to change dramatically and he didn't even know it.
The rest of the evening, I practised hypno to keep me calm and eventually fell asleep listening to one of my hypnobirthing tapes.
We left at 6.30am the morning of the induction, leaving Alfred at home asleep with my mum. We got to the hospital at 7.45am and by 9am, I had been given the first pessary. I was told not to expect much to happen that first day and that I could be in hospital for a few days. So Dan and I hung out and chatted, read magazines and I napped. Dan had a lot of energy to burn so did some very interesting hospital ward workouts, much to my amusement.
That night, Dan had to leave and I spent my first ever night in a hospital on my own. I must say I felt really lonely and found it hard to sleep. All of the midwives were so lovely though and really kept my spirits up.
The next day, the second pessary was administered and Dan and I spent the day pretty much doing the same as the day before. My midwife came to check on me around mid afternoon and took one look at me and ordered me to nap. I'm so glad that she told me to do that, as a couple of hours later, everything started kicking off.
At about 5pm, I was checked by a midwife and a very nice doctor and was told that things were starting to happen, but they would give me one more pessary to help ease thing along. Within half an hour, I realised that I wasn't having Braxton Hicks anymore, they were proper contractions. An hour later, I was having to breath through them and couldn't talk anymore. After talking to the midwives, it was decided that I would be transferred to the labour ward to have the epidural, sooner rather than later.
Whilst waiting for the transfer, I sat on a birthing ball and Dan and I breathed through each contraction with our hypnobirthing techniques. It really helped me so much and I also think it helped Dan feel more in control too.
By the time we got to our room in the labour ward at 7pm, my contractions were very strong. I felt them all in my back, with little relief in between them, as I was now getting almost constant back pain. I think I am one of those women who get "back labour" no matter what position their baby is facing. It made me feel glad that I was getting an epidural!
I got ready into my hospital gown, with the help of Dan and then the midwives gave me gas and air to help relieve some of the discomfort. I think every few seconds I was exclaiming to Dan, "I bloody love gas and air!"
When the anaesthetist turned up to administer the epidural, I was feeling pretty off my face. He kept making jokes to help me relax and as he was wiping iodine onto my back he joked, "I hope you don't have your best pants on!" I replied, "god no, they have holes in them!" and he said, "well I should hope so too, otherwise you wouldn't be able to put them on!"
It was such a bad joke, but I couldn't stop laughing at it. I think I appreciated his jolliness and was also starting to feel slightly hysterical at the idea that I was able to have a needle put in my back.
I got through the epidural by practising my hypnobirthing techniques and breathing in the gas and air. I started to freak out towards the end of it being administered, but that was my imagination making it worse. It doesn't really hurt having an epidural, it's more of a strong pressure in your back. I recall starting to imagine what was happening behind me and shouting, "woooahhh woahhh ohh no argghhh- oh! Your done. That wasn't that bad actually."
Once I was lying down again, Dan called one of my sisters, telling her it was a good time for her to come on over. I had decided to have a second official birth partner this time, so there was more of a "circle of support" if you like. I liked the idea of someone else being there, to take the pressure off Dan, so he could then in turn, be a better birth partner to me. Plus, my mum ended up being an unofficial second birth partner at Alfred's birth and I remember feeling so grateful that she was there. For me and for Dan.
By the time my sister had arrived, my waters had spontaneously broken (which I hadn't realised, because of the epidural) and I was chilling out on the bed, feeling very zen. She looked at me and said, "I can't believe you are in labour right now! This isn't what I expected!"
We spent the next few hours chatting and eating McDonald's (well, my sister and Dan ate it, I wasn't allowed because of the epidural). I became concerned that I could feel a pressure down below, but when the midwife checked for me, I hadn't progressed any further than before and still had a while to go.
At around 2am (ish) my sister and I were talking about finding bargains at charity shops and our favourite make up. I was in the middle of telling my sister about the time that I put too much eyebrow gel on and looked like one of those babies whose parents have drawn felt tip pen eyebrows on them, when I suddenly felt a "sensation" of some kind.
The sensations became more intense and before I knew it, I was having to breath through them. Another midwife came in to give my main midwife a quick break and she was concerned that maybe my epidural was wearing off.
"Would you like me to check the epidural for you?" she asked. "Yeeeeesssssss plleeeeaaaasseeee" I replied, through gritted teeth. Becoming aware of the tone of my voice and the sounds I was starting to make, she suddenly changed plan and said, "I'm actually just going to check down there for you, just in case... oh! I can see the babies head!"
She rang the buzzer and it was all actions go. Poor Dan had finally decided to go to the loo, after not leaving my side for hours and hours. He could hear all of the commotion going on and ran out just in time!
I could feel the pressure bearing down, but I didn't need to "push" per se. I just breathed deeply and was essentially "breathing the baby out". She was coming out really fast and the midwives firmly told me to slow down, so I changed my breathing to short, sharp breaths. Then, just like that, Freya was here. She was placed on my belly, as my cord was too short and I remember feeling so alive and joyful and victorious! I was completely high on elation and as soon as I saw her, I fell in love.
I looked up at Dan and my sister and said, "that felt really quick to me... was it quick?" My sister laughed and told me that it was indeed very quick, I had pushed her out in eight minutes!
One of my immediate thoughts after giving birth, was that I wanted to do it again! I never thought that I would ever feel that way, straight after having a baby.
We left the cord to stop pulsating and once the cord was cut, we put Freya on my chest, skin to skin, to help us bond and initiate breastfeeding. We were lucky to be able to leave her on me for over an hour, before she was taken away to be weighed. Once all of the checks were finished and she had fed successfully, we all got some well needed naps in, before the drive home that day!
I am so happy with the way Freya came into this world. I felt looked after and I felt in control, even though there was a lot of uncertainty during my pregnancy. I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that I knew my choices, I listened to the medical professionals and read up on everything after each appointment. I knew the pros and cons and ultimately, I knew that the medical professionals were working in our best interests. I had decided very early on in my pregnancy, that no matter what kind of birth I had, I would approach it with a positive mindset - whether that was an unassisted birth with no pain relief, a birth with an epidural or a C-section. I practised hypnobirthing, which aided me in staying calm in the lead up and actually became even more essential for me when I was waiting around for the induction to work. I can imagine it would have been an amazing tool for if I had needed a C-section too. Birth doesn't always go the way you planned for, or envisioned, but if you know that in advance, you can be mentally ready for all that might happen and approach it all in a more empowered and confident way.
This time, I had amazing care via all of the NHS midwives and doctors during my pregnancy and birth and can't fault them at all. They were all wonderful and did their best to make it as good an experience for me as possible.
There really isn't one way to have a positive birth. All births are different and every woman is different. Giving birth is bloody hard work, no matter how you do it. But being as knowledgeable as possible about the process beforehand, can help make it less scary and remember, you aren't a failure if you needed pain relief or a C-section. No matter how your baby was born, you did a fabulous job.