Birth Story: Hospital Water Birth of Phoebe
Updated: Feb 6, 2023
"The whole concept of hypnobirthing just seemed like a logical approach to me, and echoed what I already felt - that birth is a natural, normal process, and I didn't need to be fearful of it."
The first time I encountered hypnobirthing was next to the water cooler at our twelve week scan. I'd had plenty of time to read the posters on the wall there, because I was spending the best part of two hours trying in vain to find the balance between a too-empty and then a too-full bladder. (That was my first glimpse into pregnancy indignities, when the sonographer instructed me to go away and do half a wee. HALF A WEE.)
The whole concept of hypnobirthing just seemed like a logical approach to me, and echoed what I already felt - that birth is a natural, normal process, and I didn't need to be fearful of it. I'm convinced it was the practice and preparation we put in that enabled me to have such a calm, empowering and relatively quick first birth experience - Phoebe was born after only two hours of active labour.
My due date was November 6th, but all along I'd had a feeling she'd arrive sooner. We'd done the classes in September, and I made time to practice daily, so as the end of October approached I was feeling ready - both mentally (*I relax and breathe* on loop in my head) and physically ("ooh, you look like you're ready to drop, love..." said the Asda checkout lady.)
Nesting klaxon, NESTING KLAXON...
For a week or so, I'd been getting some discomfort in my back towards the end of each day, which I put down to normal late pregnancy aches and pains from pottering around putting shelves up instead of taking it easy (erm, nesting klaxon?) On the afternoon of October 25th, it was a bit more uncomfortable but I thought nothing of it, since I'd spent most of the morning on my feet buying new bedding in Asda, filling up the fridge and getting the boiler serviced. (NESTING KLAXON.) Simon came home from work that day to find me ironing atop the birthing ball (NESTING!!!!! KLAXON!!!!!)
We went to bed as usual that night, but an hour later I woke up to a weird popping sensation and the feeling of, erm, *dampness*. "Oh good," thought poor, unwittingly-dilating me, "More dignified late pregnancy shenanigans. Now I wee myself." I got up and went into the bathroom, made a puddle on the floor, and my brain flashed one of those cartoon light bulbs above my head. OH.
I woke Simon up, and after some mild dithering on my part ("I'm not even feeling anything so it'll be ages"), he convinced me to phone the hospital, who suggested I come in to be checked, since it was midnight so we could always go home again without hitting traffic. I really, *really* didn't want to faff about going back and forth to the hospital half an hour away, but I reluctantly agreed, and as we gathered things into the car "just in case", I felt some tightening in my back. "Oooh!", I thought, excitedly. Then some more, as Simon finished loading the car. And then some more... halfway to the hospital, I had to stop talking to consciously breathe my way through them. I was trying not to clock-watch, but they were coming every four or five minutes, and by the time we’d reached the hospital, I knew we weren't going home again. The labour ward was about the furthest possible walk from the car park, and as I paused in the corridor to try and discretely ride out yet another surge, all I could think was THANK GOODNESS IT'S NIGHT TIME SO THERE IS NO-ONE AROUND TO NERVOUSLY BACK AWAY FROM ME IN CASE I DROP THIS BABY ON THEIR FEET.
At the labour ward, we were shown into a room by the midwife, Leah, and I handed over our birth plan, which explained we had practised hypnobirthing techniques and that I hoped to use the pool if available. Leah left us to it for a while to see how things progressed - I was pretty calm, which I think belied how far along I actually was.
We plugged a speaker into my phone for music, and I leant into Simon with each surge while he coached me through it. Within an hour or so, they became so much more intense, and I found myself kicking away the birthing ball, kneeling on the floor and burying my face in the end of the bed to get through the massive waves of pressure. I vaguely recall some embarrassing grunting noises too, and thinking "oh God, am I MOOING?", but also not caring. I knew things were moving very quickly, because despite being half naked on all fours I was still very aware (and a bit miffed) that I seemed to have missed the part in One Born Every Minute where I got to have a nice chat and a rest between surges. It all felt very primal, and soon (I think a couple of hours after we arrived) I wasn't able to speak in anything more than odd words or head nods. I assume this set off Leah's BABY IMMINENT alarm because she suggested I be examined to check on my progress.
By now, the feeling of pressure was overwhelming and I knew I needed to be in the pool. Somehow, I got onto the bed, and I managed to survive the one surge that came as I lay on my back while she examined me. That was hands down the hardest part of the entire birth.
"...but I haven't had time to get in the zone yet!" In hindsight, I'm pretty sure our hypnobirthing practice meant I had been firmly "in the zone" for weeks.
Leah asked if I wanted to know how far I was, (YES PLEASE), and told me I was at 8cm. "Goodness me*!" I said (*paraphrased - like Keanu Reeves in Speed when he sees the bomb underneath the bus.) I still don't know exactly how long it had been by this point, but at a guess from my notes, it was about three hours after my damp wake-up. In any case, it was quick enough for me to hilariously lament to Simon "...but I haven't had time to get in the zone yet!" In hindsight, I'm pretty sure our hypnobirthing practice meant I had been firmly "in the zone" for weeks.
While Leah made a hasty retreat to start filling the pool, I turned onto my side on the bed and curled up into a ball through the surges, which were coming every minute or so by now. There was a shift in them, and I felt my body instinctively starting to push in response to the intense pressure. Knowing I wanted to deliver in the pool, I did quietly panic a bit and try to stop pushing but it was useless - at this point, I felt like my body had taken control of proceedings and I was just a bystander. All I needed to do was breathe through the surges, and I don't mean zen-like quiet breathing with a few cross-legged oms in between. It was so full-on that my instinct was to panic and be overcome, so I really had to fight myself to keep my focus on each breath, and stop the fear and tension rising. It was hard, really really unbelievably HARD, to "just breathe".
A few minutes later, the pool was ready, so I shuffled out of the room with Simon and Leah holding a sheet around my waist (hashtag birthing toga?), still leaking water all over the floor but somehow more aware that I had socks but no trousers on, HOW EMBARRASSING. A recently-arrived partner stood in the hallway, trying to avert his eyes from the sneak preview of six hours into his future I was giving him.
The relief as I clambered elegantly (um) into the pool was instant. The surges, which were so overwhelmingly intense that I was teetering on the brink of losing It, became immediately more manageable again. I have no idea how long I was actually in the pool before Phoebe was born, but Simon reliably informs me it was about half an hour. Most of that time was just spent kneeling head down against the pool edge, breathing/mooing through the surges as they did their job bringing her closer, and I only felt the need to consciously push right at the end when I could feel her, almost there but not quite. She kept slipping back and I had to really push to keep her there, so that the next surge would bring her out. It wasn't exactly a pleasant feeling, but it was the only part that was really, properly painful, and it was over in minutes. Then I knew her head was out, and I could feel her looking around under the water, which was about the weirdest thing I've ever experienced in my entire life. (I should have noted it as a precursor to what a nosy kid she's turning out to be.) So at 3:31am, four hours after my uterus woke me up, our daughter was here. It was the Bake Off final that evening, so I guess she didn't want to miss it?
I can't really remember the moments that followed very clearly, and that's the only regret I have - I'm not sure how I would have felt about anyone else in the room, but I do wish I had some pictures of us meeting each other, because it was such a blur. Simon told me afterwards that I delivered her myself, then Leah helped to pass her under the water between my legs and up into my arms, where my first thought was to clumsily check she was "still a girl". (She was.) We sat in the pool for a bit, me looking at her and feeling absolutely stunned that I grew this person and she just came out of me, her just curled up against my chest. She was so calm, she just looked back at me with her sleepy little potato face as we sat together in the water.
Home for Bake Off final...
I had aimed to have a natural third stage, but by then I was mentally finished from the speed and intensity of it all. So I was grateful that the midwives still checked with me, and gave me the chance to change my mind and have the injection instead. Once out of the pool and settled in bed, Simon managed to cut the cord without breaking out his Chandler impression ("ooh, spongy!") and Phoebe latched on like a pro, while the midwives busied themselves "down there" relieving me of the placenta and patching up a small tear. Nobody warned me about the part where they ask if they can stick a finger up your bum to check for damage, so consider yourself educated if you didn't know this already. You're welcome.
We were able to move into a private room a few hours later, where I was too full of adrenaline to sleep, but Simon promptly passed out on my shoulder while I waited for an acceptable hour to phone my family. After a crash course in what newborn poo looks like, we were allowed home early that evening*, but in hindsight I do wish we'd stayed in hospital for that first night. We were hilariously naive about what newborn babies actually do, and it was a very long, wide-eyed night while Phoebe fed and cried and sleep-grunted next to us.
*Yes, we got to watch the Bake Off! Residual birth hormones + three-tier cakes = emotional times.)
I look back on the experience a year later with so much awe at what we are capable of. I knew what I wanted to achieve, not just for me but for our family, and hypnobirthing gave me the tools to do that, and it made me feel INVINCIBLE. I know how lucky I was to have a medically straightforward birth, and I know not everyone will be in the same position, and I know I might not be so lucky another time. But I honestly believe the biggest factor in my positive experience was my mindset, not the favourable performance of my uterus. It was the best, most empowering experience of my life, and I want to tell everyone I meet to shut their ears to friends and co-workers' anguished tales of their prolonged, exhausting births yelling for drugs, because all it does is promote fear. And it’s not always like that.
This birth story has been written by Phoebe's mum Emma, and shared with her permission. Thank you for sharing your story Emma. You are amazing!
If you'd like to talk about how hyopnobirhting can help you and your birth partner throughout pregnancy and during labour and birth, do get in touch.