I do not believe that there is any amount of preparation that you can possibly do to ensure that you get the exact birth that you want. You can hypnobirth until positive affirmations spill out of your ears and you’re in a permanent meditative state and you could still end up having a birth complication and needing a caesarian. With all the homeopathy and acupuncture in the world you may still be begging for an epidural when you have a posterior baby who takes days and days to make their arrival. I know that, and absolutely believe that, but I don’t think that putting preparation into your birth is a waste. Not at all.
Before my first birth I had done a little reading, and gone to my NCT classes. Hell, I had even delivered ten babies myself as part of my medical training! Surely I was off to a flying start? And yet when it came to it I very much found myself doing what I was told when it came to my care, and feeling quite anxious about the whole process. I had heard lots about the possible complications and the fact that intervention levels were so high, particularly in first time mothers. I was far too scared to consider a home birth first time round, thinking it was almost inevitable that I would need help to be able to birth my first baby, and not having any idea what contractions would actually be like, I wanted to know that I had easy access to analgesia. When it came to, my first birth went better than I could have ever imagined.
So, when I looked back on it, why did I keep finding elements of it that upset me? The fact that I felt so vulnerable going into hospital, my work place, with the possibility of seeing people that I knew when in labour. The fact that I had had a total of nine vaginal examinations by the time my daughter was born. The fact that I had three catheters. The fact that I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom by myself because they couldn’t remove the monitors even for a few minutes. That I was initially told not to push for over an hour, and then told to PUSH PUSH PUSH, and that I wasn’t pushing properly. The fact that I ended up flat on my back with my legs in stirrups, despite the fact that was very painful for me, and ended up with a third degree tear that required a spinal anaesthetic, two hours in theatre, and a year of ongoing pain before it healed. But surely all of that was small-fry?
When it came to a second birth I had already learnt a lot more about the positive birth movement, and about the other side of a medicalised birth. I found that lots of the theory and research behind current medical treatment didn’t really stack up when it came to what felt important to me. I had met Gilly and decided I wanted her to be at my birth. I had known about doulas for many years, but I didn’t really see what they could offer me at birth. The second time I understood how hard it was for me, when I was in pain and feeling very vulnerable, to assert myself as I wanted. I found that it was hard for me to feel heard, and I had a habit of just doing what I was told and then regretting it afterwards. I also knew that I couldn’t expect my husband, when he was in a totally unknown situation and going through a very emotional experience himself, to be my advocate. I knew that I could trust Gilly to understand my feelings and what I wanted, and to help empower me to make my voice heard when it counted. I also knew that she had lots of techniques to help avoid the interventions that I wanted to try and avoid.
I learnt much more about the role of oxytocin in a physiological birth, and about how privacy, safety, and darkness have a big impact on getting that oxytocin flowing. I also learnt more about the course of normal labour, that my cervix was not a machine and that it did not follow anybody’s graphs when it came to dilating. I learnt that while having a positive frame of mind would never guarantee me a perfect birth, it could well help that oxytocin get going, and help me deal positively with whatever labour had to throw at me this time.
I took a number of steps. I made a definite decision to have a homebirth, with the plan to have a birth pool in my kitchen. When the midwife told me I should have an appointment with an obstetric consultant to see if I was allowed a homebirth after my third degree tear, I was brave enough to politely decline, and state I was going to go ahead with one regardless. I downloaded a whole load of hypnobirthing MP3s which I listened to regularly from very early pregnancy. I found it a wonderful way to relax when I was going through a very stressful time with my daughter. As my pregnancy advanced though I found it harder and harder to get into that calm state, I just wasn’t able to calm all the clamouring thoughts for long enough. Also as the reality of labour got closer all that talk of surges and pressure made me remember pretty clearly how exquisitely painful I found parts of my first labour. There was definitely pain involved, and I started to resent the way that hypnobirthing seemed to avoid that issue entirely.
I read a great book called Birthing from Within, which I found resonated far more with how I was feeling. It was clear about how painful and hard labour could be, but talked about positive ways to approach that. It also talked lots about the use of birth art as part of the preparation process, and I remembered how beneficial I had found that when I was dealing with difficult thoughts about my daughter’s early life. I got out my colouring pencils, and started drawing. Every evening my husband would do bedtime, and I’d get an hour to myself to try and get onto paper how I was feeling about things. Now, I’m not artistically gifted, not in the slightest, but I found this was one way that I really could slow down and stop all those thoughts whizzing in my head, a way that I could really focus on something, on myself and how I felt. I found those evenings incredibly useful, and despite all the things that were stressing me out in my life, I could shut all of that out for a little while.
As my due date arrived I found myself freaking out completely. I managed to convince myself that despite everything, it was all going to go horribly wrong. I would end up with a caesarian and a baby separated from me in special care, and people die in childbirth you know!! The wonderful Gilly dropped everything and came straight over. We talked through everything, every single bad thing that could happen, every complication, every intervention, every disaster and tragedy that my crazy brain could possibly find to worry about. And we talked about how we would deal with it. We talked about how we would all get through it safely, and positively, whatever happened. If anything I think that that chat over a cup of tea, plumming the depths of my fears and doubts, that was the most crucial step of them all. I needed to know that whatever happened, I was strong enough to handle it, and by this point I truly felt that.
So now, I felt prepared. My birth bag was packed, the birth pool was in the kitchen ready, the home cooked meals were frozen in the freezer, and the babygrows were washed and folded in the drawer. I just needed to wait for those contractions to start.