Birth Stories No. 18: Gulya’s Active Birth

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I gave birth to our daughter Cassandra on a Monday evening at the Whittington Birth Centre in October. Unlike our expectations of a ‘likely’ arrival post-EDD, Cassie arrived in week 39.

Three days before Cassie’s birth, on Friday, I had my second reflexology session with Sophia Smith at the Active Birth Centre, which was wonderfully relaxing. Later that night I leaked some water, and thinking that maybe my waters had broken went off to the birth centre. The midwives examined me and let me know that my waters hadn’t broken and that it was probably that my cervix had started to soften.

I had no further symptoms that weekend until Sunday night, when I started to feel some very mild and nondescript sensations in my belly but nothing crampy or overtly ‘birth’ like. I went to bed and woke up a couple of times during the night to go to the loo, feeling the same sensations but thinking nothing of it.

I then woke up at 5am and realised that actually what I might be feeling are very mild contractions, but I still wasn’t sure. I thought perhaps these were Braxton Hicks, which I’d not experienced before.

The surges started to build up over the course of the morning however (I let my husband sleep until 8am as it was his first day off on paternity leave) so by the time he got up, I knew these were actual labour surges. I asked him to put on the TENS machine.I don’t know how much the TENS helped physiologically but it felt great being able to ‘interact’ with my contractions and made it easier to ride through them, giving me a sense of control.

Thanks to the antenatal yoga classes that I’d done from week 13 onwards at the Active Birth Centre with Janet, my body memory kicked in and I instinctively found myself on all fours during contractions – on the sofa, leaning over the back of the sofa, breathing deeply through the surges. I also found standing up and leaning over onto the coffee table really helpful.

cassie2My husband tried to make me eat some food, but I even found tea unpalatable. I didn’t feel nauseated but found the idea of food simply incompatible with how I was feeling. I managed to have some sliced fruit in the end but not much.

My contractions stayed fairly consistent until 12pm, averaging at every 8 minutes or so. By this point I’d moved up to the bedroom and constructed a supportive structure made of pillows onto which I could lean, and drew the blackout curtains. Once again, I was very much on all fours, often in child’s pose, and leaning over and into the pillows during the surges.

Despite learning about pain-relieving pressure points and massage to use during contractions, I actually didn’t want any physical contact during my surges and wanted to be left alone to go through them by myself, and only wanted company during the rest periods. Luckily this enabled my husband to get on with preparing our things for the hospital.

At midday things escalated very suddenly and my surges started kicking in every 2-3 minutes. My husband called the birth centre and we were told to attend triage straight away. By the time we got our stuff together and I got into the car, I was feeling both hot and cold and the surges felt incredibly intense. I breathed and vocalised through my discomfort all the way to the hospital.

My husband dropped me off in front of the birth centre and went off to park the car. I went in and made my way through to the lift, waddling in pain and holding onto my pillow. At the lift entrance I bumped into a nurse. Her facial expression said it all. She said, “You need the labour ward, not triage. You’re in labour!” She and another nurse held me and guided me to the labour ward where my husband caught up with me.

I was examined at the labour ward where I was told that I was already fully dilated. Upon examination my waters broke, so it was all go from there. I was transferred to the birth centre in a wheelchair. This bit did actually feel like one of those Hollywood labour depictions with me breathing heavily whilst being wheeled quickly through various corridors and swinging doors!

In the birth centre suite, I stripped off immediately. It didn’t even cross my mind to put on the birth shirt I’d bought or the bikini top I’d brought with me. I immediately got into the pool fully naked and was amazed by the difference the water made to the surge sensations.

I was in the pool for about 4 hours during which time the baby gradually moved down the birth canal. I used gas and air for pain relief, which I also found a really useful tool for concentrating my inhalations and exhalations during surges (and of course which my husband periodically took hits from!). He would also press a cold water and clary sage compress on my forehead during the surges, which really helped, and also made sure I was having an occasional teaspoon of raw honey (the only food I could stomach) and stayed hydrated.

After about 4 hours I’d felt that whilst the water was incredibly soothing, it may be slightly slowing things down…or rather keeping them going at a slower pace than they would otherwise. I decided to get out of the pool as by this point I was keen to ‘get on with it’ and was willing to pay the price of increased discomfort.

I found myself standing up and doing diagonal lunges, which I remembered from one of the yoga classes covered by Lola. After a while I got onto the birth stool to push. This was quite hard and at times dispiriting, as it felt like a lot of effort with little progress, but progress was slowly being made.

After a while, when the baby had finally made its way down and was ready to come out, I transferred onto the bed and got onto my knees leaning forward onto a pile of pillows and my husband’s arms. This was the final pushing stage.

I breathed through this part as much as I could but at some point the animal part of the brain took over and I started to vocalise the pushes. I didn’t know I could make such noises! Or so loudly! But it really helped.

As it came to pushing through the head, this was the only bit I found truly painful but luckily it was quite short. Once the head came out and then the body, I suddenly looked down and there was a baby in between my knees.

cassie3I was sat down and handed Cassie for immediate skin-to-skin. The cord was left to empty out into her and when it had stopped pulsating, my husband was helped to cut it. The midwives really made the effort to follow my birth plan which I was grateful for.

We were left alone for about an hour, with only unobtrusive observations and checks taking place.

I used this hour to try some laid-back breastfeeding but with no luck. This, it turns out, was due to the fact that Cassie was born tongue-tied (and therefore couldn’t latch on) but this wasn’t confirmed until later.

As per my birth plan, I’d been left alone to birth the placenta physiologically. However, after an hour, it still hadn’t emerged so I agreed to the injection. The placenta came out very quickly after that, although I still had to get up and squat and push to help it come out. My midwife remarked that it was heart-shaped.

The three of us stayed the night at the birth centre, with Cassie sleeping on my chest, and we went home the next day.

Funnily enough, although during labour I didn’t end up consciously using any of the imagery, mental relaxation places, birth affirmations etc that I’d worked on during my hypnobirthing practice, I felt hypnobirthing had been immensely useful and played a key role in the positive birth experience that I’d had as the 2 months of practice prior to the birth had led me to be in a very peaceful, calm and confident state of mind which I stayed in throughout the entire birth journey.

I really wanted to thank Janet, Lola and Sophia for all their help during this entire process. I feel like my husband (with whom I attended the active birth weekend course and a hypnobirthing session with Janet) and I were incredibly well prepared for the birth and had a wonderful and positive birth experience as a result, for which I’m really grateful.

An extra note on tongue tie and breastfeeding difficulties

Cassie was born with tongue tie and couldn’t latch onto my breast. In the birth centre and for the first 2 days at home I had to hand express colostrum into a syringe and feed it to her off my little finger.

When we were visited by the midwife at home she confirmed the tongue tie, referring us to the relevant NHS tongue division consultants. She warned us however that it could take up to 2 weeks to get an appointment!

We had to give Cassie some newborn formula that day as she hadn’t been getting enough colostrum and was in danger of becoming dehydrated, nor had she peed sufficiently. Luckily my milk came in on day 3 (the following morning) and I was able to breastfeed her straight away using nipple shields.

We really didn’t want to wait 2 weeks to resolve the tongue-tie issue (and in the end the referral from the NHS was actually for an appointment 2 months off) so we decided to go private. I recalled reading about one of the consultants on the Active Birth Centre website and we got in touch with Regina Covington who was able to see us on day 5, when she also performed the tongue division. Cassie was able to latch on straight away and we’ve been carrying on with the learning process of breastfeeding ever since.

After six weeks we’re still using nipple shields as Cassie’s jaw isn’t strong enough yet to extract the milk on her own so she gets frustrated and gives up after a few minutes, as she missed out on weeks of swallowing practice in the womb. The other side effect of the tongue tie is that Cassie has a narrow palate making it difficult for her to take in the nipple deep enough into her mouth. Using nipple shields enables her to breastfeed for the time being.

I’m also having to do breast compressions during feeds at the moment to ensure she’s getting an adequate supply of milk until she gets big and strong enough to efficiently extract the milk on her own. We’ve visited a local breastfeeding support group a couple of times and they’ve been wonderfully supportive and helpful with practical advice and guidance on these issues.

We’re hoping as Cassie grows she’ll get big and strong enough to breastfeed ‘on her own’ but for now we’re just happy that she’s breastfeeding and getting her nutrition from my milk.

**update**

It’s taken us 8 weeks but Cassie and I finally got there and are breastfeeding as should be! It was a long and difficult journey but we finally got there! And of course it was totally worth it. I’m glad I persevered…

 

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