Giving Birth at UCL Hospital

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Natural birth into water? Leo is not Cancer!

At long last I was about to give birth! (Article is continuation of previous one.) Although my first regular contractions started at around eight that evening and were six to eight minutes apart, I wasn’t sure if they were ‘Braxton Hicks’ contractions (false labour) or the real thing. Around the 40th week of pregnancy, I had had the feeling that my body was already preparing for childbirth, but it seems Lucas only bedded in more and my pelvic floor was preparing for the final stage. For this reason, I told my mother: “It will be better if you stay at home, I think they will send us home anyway.”

In any case, midwives emphasise that women in labour should stay at home for as long as possible in the first phase, preferably until the cervix is open by 6 to 7 centimetres. Many mothers criticise this stance as being characteristic of a lack of interest and responsibility on behalf of British obstetrics. But actually, this approach reflects the British view on natural childbirth processes. If the mother goes to the hospital maternity ward too soon, the birth is much more likely to slow down or even be interrupted in the busy, unfamiliar environment, or it could even be a false alarm.

In my case, as we rushed by taxi at midnight through the empty London streets, my contractions got stronger, and at this point I was sure that this really was the beginning of childbirth! Our great luck was that on the night of 30/31 July  the birthing centre was practically empty, so we were taken to one of the two rooms with a birth-pool. A calm midwife named Rachel checked me over and confirmed that baby Lucas would be with us at any moment! It didn’t take long, and at around 1am my body reached seven centimetres.

Rachel, with a magical smile on her face, wondered at how the birth was progressing so quickly and how I was coping so well. I was trying to be as calm as possible and to focus my mind on the techniques of hypnobirthing. In this part of the labour, the pregnancy ball helped me the most, while Rachel quietly switched on aroma lamps with lavender essential oil in the delivery room. The lights surrounding us were dim and the midwives respected our privacy. Until that point, I thought I was coping with the labour pains very well.

At around 2am I started to feel something like pregnancy sickness and the strong urge to vomit made me go to the toilet. I was very surprised by this, but the midwife reassured us that it was completely normal during labour and happens to many women.

At this point the contractions became more intense. I even had a feeling of entering into another state of consciousness. I was able to concentrate my mind only on the birth waves that came and went. In the meantime, Jacob was being a great support for me. After a while, Rachel quietly asked me if I wanted to try acupuncture, so in a short time I had tiny needles on each of my legs at three acupressure points. The combination of dim lighting, battery tea-lights, a scented delivery room with relaxing lavender oil, and especially the aura emanating from Rachel, was utterly dazzling and the whole ambience made most of my first stage of childbirth a lot easier.

Later, the contractions intensified again, while the midwives quietly did their work, measuring the pulse and the baby’s heartbeat, filling out the forms about the birth on the computer. All the while, they followed my birth plan exactly. However, stronger contractions made me change my position from sitting on the pregnancy ball to walking slowly around the room. Jacob also applied patches from the TENS machine onto my back. Initially I had switched the TENS machine onto a gentle vibration, but later, as the contractions progressed, I pressed the plus button on the remote control more and more.

The labour pains were coming stronger and stronger, so Rachel filled the birth-pool with water about 37˚C in temperature. I floated in the warm water and it made it much easier to manage the strongest, final, pains. However, the pain was more and more intense and I was becoming more and more exhausted so the midwife offered me ‘gas and air’ as a form of pain relief, or, more accurately, pain distraction. In retrospect, I am not sure to what extent gas and air did or did not affect my perception of pain. I had a sense of blurred consciousness, feeling that time was running faster. Maybe that was the purpose, as I was utterly exhausted.

To be honest, I was very surprised by the intensity of the final phase of the first stage of labour, and to be even more honest, I didn’t apply my hypnobirthing techniques very well from this moment, even though Rachel said I did a great job. The pressure on the pelvic floor was so strong that I focused on my own pain management, rather than an active transition from the first to second part of the birth.

I don’t know what happened or what slowed down the end of the first stage of labour. Probably, I thought that the labour pains in the initial phase were the ‘real thing’ and would not worsen significantly. Maybe it was even my inner fear of something unknown. At one point I felt that my body had taken control over me and my consciousness asked in astonishment, “So, this is what labour pain feels like?!” The midwives guided me to breathe through each strong contraction and to rest after each one, letting my head lay on the edge of the birthing pool.

At around seven in the morning Rachel’s shift ended and I think the change of midwives distracted me even more, because the second phase of labour did not go so quickly and I was unable to handle it very well, physically. Although three other midwives were encouraging me, and Rachel bade me a warm goodbye, the second stage was not going as well as it should and I felt I was taking a backward step.

The next stage of progress happened at the moment when the amniotic fluid suddenly broke and this gave me more positive energy. The lead midwife advised me to do my best and help the final contractions. However, I was already becoming exhausted and it was now nearly 9am! I still believed that I could do it alone in the birthing pool and that at any moment I would hold my baby in my arms. As time went on, the midwives started monitoring the baby’s heartbeat more frequently. After 9am, however, they advised me to get out of the birth-pool and lie down on the bed, where they would try to help me more with the pushing stage. Although I had assured myself a thousand times “I will definitely avoid the episiotomy!”, I must confess that at this moment it was a great relief and help for me. The second stage of labour was already going on a long time, I was exhausted and more importantly, Lucas’s oxygen level had started to drop. The midwife explained to me exactly what would happen next and when I should go for the final push. So, I summoned all my remaining energy and concentrated my strength into two huge pushes, while the midwives made a mild and completely painless episiotomy.

It was 9:22am on the clock and Lucas’s first cry echoed through the delivery room. Just as he did not want to be born at the predicted date and during the astrological time of Cancer, he also chose another type of birth, maybe more natural for the fiery zodiac sign. He was born on the bed under a window, through which the summer rays illuminated my little sunny Leo cub. As soon as I held him in my arms, all the pain and exhaustion were gone and I was completely overwhelmed by incredible feelings of love, happiness and gratitude.

During the third period of labour Jacob managed to cut the umbilical cord like a proud father. While Lucas lay on my chest, the midwives completed the necessary work, including sewing a few stitches which I wasn’t even aware of. One midwife looked at my birth book and turned to me: “You have an appointment for tomorrow for induction?” and added with a smile on her face: “So, I can see that I should cancel it, right?” My husband and I looked at each other and both nodded in absolute happiness.

Summary: Keep calm when things don’t go as planned

In conclusion, I would like to send an important positive message to all pregnant women which I have learned from my pregnancy and childbirth: accept things as they are and as they come to you without any resistance or pressure. Today I view life in a different way. I try not to cling unnecessarily to impressions and ideas about how things should be and I am open to anything that comes my way. Because, whatever it is or it will be, it will always teach you something. For example, any kind of pressure and clinging on to an idea of how childbirth ‘should’ be will cause you stress during  the birth if things don’t go as planned.

Of course, how I have described the preparation of my birth plan, how I chose the hospital and made the other pregnancy and antenatal preparations is all true. Again, doing these things are all very important for having a positive birth experience! BUT, whether you want your birth to be natural or not, your birth plan will change: just be open to these situations. The techniques of hypnobirthing can be used in any childbirth, whether natural or medicated. In the end, you will hold your little bundle of joy in your arms and above all she or he will need a calm, satisfied and loving mother.

And what really worked for me and Lucas? The pregnancy affirmation cards which I read every night before bed were really helpful. So too was making an effort to stay positive during the pregnancy. I completely stopped watching negative programmes on TV and I only turned on the news on the morning show, which is more upbeat. I also started watching comedies and sitcoms like Friends regularly, and I followed the motto: “eat well, laugh often, love much”. I have discovered a new devotion to the methods of hypnobirthing and know that the female body contains incredible strength and abilities to manage a natural, successful and positive birth. The knowledge that throughout human history there have been billions of women who have also given birth, or that a new life is being born somewhere on the other side of the world at this very moment, gave me a lot of motivation and positive energy.

Soft sport and pregnancy exercises also helped me. Once I was overdue it was raspberry tea with cinnamon, positive thinking, walks with the dogs, nature, family support and, of course, my dear husband. In the final days before the planned induction, it was really just our hope that everything would turn out well and at some point that ability let all the pressure and stress flow away. Just let in the ‘universe’ or God, and it helps – at least, it worked for us.

And what would I change if I could? I would definitely practise hypnobirthing methods more regularly or attend a course on natural childbirth. If I had more money and could afford it, I would definitely use the services of a private doula. It would be she who would supervise everything around your childbirth in the maternity centre, would communicate with the staff at the hospital and be another pairs of eyes and ears, so that she could confirm whether or not interventions were necessary or avoidable. The psychological support a doula could also give you confidence, perhaps to the extent that interventions or medication would not be needed.

I would also practise more with the pregnancy balloon, Aniball. In the event, I rejected it after the tenth unsuccessful and unpleasant attempt. I would also take some sports drinks and energy bars to the birthing centre; I left them at home because I thought they would send us back. They would definitely have helped me a lot at the end of the first stage of labour and at the beginning of the second stage. Consuming these things would have helped me to manage the release of energy, and If I will give birth next time, I would have saved more energy for the second stage of birth, just as a marathon runner saves energy for the final finish – because that’s what childbirth is really about!