Giving Birth, Fear & Changing The Narrative
Today marks the day in this pregnancy when I went into labour with Levi in my pregnancy with him. SHEESH. At 37.5 weeks my waters broke, total cliche movie-style as I sat in the car waiting to pick Dave up from work. He got in and I told him that either I had just peed myself or my waters had gone (glamorous). Oddly, I knew even if it was my waters breaking that nothing was going to be too imminent so I reassured him I'd be fine for a few hours while he worked and so I dropped him off at his next job (he had a lot of jobs back then to keep us going). I headed over to his sisters house which was nearby, not wanting to be alone in case 'this was it'. As soon as I stepped foot out of the car at her house the trickle became a flood and I arrived at my sister-in-laws door with my leggings soaked through.
Over the last few weeks as things have started to feel more real - cots arriving, baby showers, washing tiny clothes, finishing work, approaching this same mark in the pregnancy as last time - I have realised that Levi's birth story has probably had a bigger impact on me than I realised. An impact that wasn't filling me with any kind of excitement or anticipation of going through a similar experience again. And rightly so...
From soaked leggings on a Monday night, to patchy contractions, pessary-induced labour, back labour, endless internal examinations, the baby facing the wrong way, student doctors observing, exhaustion, full dilation, pushing, an eventual caesarean section in the early hours of Thursday morning, a postpartum rash that saw me scratching myself in my sleep until I bled, a stapled up wound, tiger-claw stretch marks and a body that felt like it belonged to Frankenstein - it's not hard to see that giving birth again was something that filled me with fear. It was a traumatic and aggressive experience and I knew I needed to do something about the narrative in my head if my mental health is to survive this time around.
So, over the last number of weeks Dave and I have spent some time with our friend Hollie, who is a trained doula and registered hypnobirthing practitioner (and who has also had 2 incredible unassisted births of her own girls) . She has studied under some of the best natural birthing doctors and doulas in Europe and is a massive advocate for birthing without fear. It just so happened that Hollie and her family are back in Northern Ireland for a while (Hollies husband is from here but she is from Scotland and they travel a lot) and so she offered to take some time to talk through the basics of hypnobirthing with us as a way for us both to understand how we can feel more prepared and empowered when it comes time for this baby to come out. I don't think I realised just how much I needed this until we dug into what happened the last time and were able to understand how and why things were so difficult.
Some of the things that I have learned & really been empowered by:
+ It's OK to exercise your rights in a hospital setting. There is a balance to be had between letting a mum do her thing, to have any element of fear reduced so she can have a focused and calm experience and allowing medical professionals to intervene when it's good and important to do so. Some intervention is unnecessary, disruptive and can really bring fear into a room and situation and I see that now and how so much of that was part of my story.
+ Birth plans are not stupid. I am a reformed birth plan eye-roller. I used to think they were pointless and of the mind that "whatever happens happens", but now I see that having your preferences and the things you are really firm about wanting and not wanting written down for your midwives and doctors to be aware of is really important. It can make the difference between a disruptive birth experience and a calm one. We prepare for so many big things in our lives - maybe it's OK to give some serious thought to how you want to experience birth.
+ Our body, when fear is reduced around the situation, is incredibly capable of doing what it needs to do. So many of the complications in birth come from intervention and not trusting that our bodies are capable given the right support and chance.
+ That even if things get complicated again; even if I end up on a surgeons table, I can still have a calm experience and use what I've learned to be at peace. C-sections are not failed births. The shame around mothers having c-sections is something that really pains me to see/hear.
+ The language and discussion around birth being this terrible thing that we should fear only adds to the issue and perpetuates it being scary and hard. I am trying to change my own language to start with and turn any conversations around with others that are weighing too much on the negative because I know it's not good for my head to have those thoughts dominating as the time approaches.
+ That Dave is my advocate. He is not just my water-fetching, worried-faced stereotypical one-born-every-minute husband that is helpless and out of control and at the mercy of the medics, but my voice and the upholder of my rights when this thing is going down. He has a massive role to play in supporting me, speaking for me and making sure I have the space to do my thing. I love how interested and honest he has been about all of this and I really feel like it has been important for us as a couple to voice these things out together.
I don't know what the next few days or weeks hold or how this birth is going to play out but I do know that I am less fearful and feel so much more empowered about what's ahead and that's enough for me.
I would really love to hear about your experiences of fear and giving birth. Any other hypnobirthing supporters out there? How can we change the narrative around birth being scary and something to dread?