Ruby’s first big adventure – her journey to the outside world! This was something I knew was very important for the three of us, I wanted to be well prepared, like I do with most things in life if i’m honest. We see so many scary births and horror stories portrayed through the media – when in truth it is a sacred event. A totally life changing experience that can be approached in a number of ways, many of which I had never considered until I was pregnant.
To begin, I would like to acknowledge that every birth journey is different and valid – there is no right or wrong way to bring new life into this world, all stories of birth are unique and equal. It is a very personal topic and I am in no way an expert, I solely seek to share my experience of HypnoBirthing and home birth with you all, in the hope that it may inspire a new way of thinking about child birth. It has taken me some time to write this post, now almost three and a half years since Ruby was born, I am finally doing it. Since sharing my last piece with you all, on Mother’s Day, we have seen a nationwide lockdown amidst a worldwide pandemic and although the extra time we have spent together has been lovely, it didn’t leave much mental space for creativity. On top of that, having already lost my Mum to cancer in January, Ruby lost another grandparent during lockdown – my kind, loving and honest father-in-law, Alan, otherwise known as ‘Gramps’. Sadly, more bereavements were to follow for us this year and dealing with grief on a day to day basis has been a necessary priority.
Time is the master and honestly, now feels like the perfect time to be writing this. The COVID-19 lockdown has seen home birth rates rise dramatically in recent months, especially among first time mums. Birth has been completely changed by the pandemic and concerns about the virus have inspired more women to give birth in the comfort of their own homes – with their partners by their side. Changes to the rules mean that partners cannot attend scans to see the first images of their unborn offspring, nor hear their heartbeat for the first time as they hold their partners hand in loving support. Not only are fathers missing out on this whole process, but mothers are having to go through it all alone. This has sparked campaigners to call out the government in the recent ‘#butnotmaternity’ campaign which supports women in their pursuit to call out the government rules on maternity care, which still state birthing partners are not allowed until the final stages.
We have been persuaded for centuries to fear childbirth, when in fact, it can be a peaceful experience for both mother and child. This is what I wanted for Ruby, for her to enter the world awake and alert, naturally. Having spent our pregnancy being extremely careful about what I put into my body – and my baby – I didn’t want to change that during labour. I knew I had some work to do in order to prepare for this and so on the advice of a friend, we contacted a local HypnoBirthing practitioner, Glenys Underwood – who I can’t recommend enough. She empowered me and armed me with the knowledge and confidence I didn’t realise I was lacking. Before meeting Glenys, I would never have considered a home birth and it wasn’t a decision I took lightly.
I remember being told by a friend, “people like you put pressure on the system wanting to do things differently like that”, as if it was somehow dangerous and a burden to others to do something so perfectly natural. I’m sure he didn’t mean it how it sounded but in reality he couldn’t have been further from the truth. Home birth is a way of trusting your body and allowing your feminine instinct to show you the way. It was my birth he was referring to, nobody else’s – birth belongs to the mother, she is nature’s expert and I wanted to enter into it with my preferences a priority, not an afterthought. Thanks to Glenys, I trusted in the female body’s natural ability to give birth. I was able to understand how to use breathing techniques to aid a natural birth, eliminating fear which has been linked to pain in childbirth. Breathwork works! Instead of feeling scared, I felt excited.
During our HypnoBirthing sessions I learnt a lot about how stress affects our whole body and our baby. It was especially interesting to learn about how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems affect us, or more widely known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. As soon as a mother arrives in a hospital, her body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode triggered by fear – this is so bad for our physiology. Learning about the physiology of my body and how it can impact on birth was very empowering. Even the position women typically use to birth is counterproductive and only good from the doctors point of view. I knew if I ended up in hospital then I wouldn’t get the birth I wanted. Hospitals just aren’t designed for natural, physiological, mother centred births. I didn’t want the stress of a hospital environment, or for my choices to be influenced. Whilst I acknowledge that in some situations hospitals are life saving and there is a definite need for them in high risk births, I wanted to stay relaxed in my own surroundings and for Ruby to take her naturally intended journey. Towards the end of labour I did feel some pain but I remember that whole day, the whole process. It was sunny so I was in the garden a lot. I chose my positions, my music, even my snacks! I remember Alex making the best sandwiches. To have Ruby that way, in our living room was a privilege and I am so grateful. I look back and know I made the right decision for us.
Alongside our sessions with Glenys, I read Marie Mongan’s book, ‘HypnoBirthing – The breakthrough approach to safer, easier, comfortable birthing.’ I was shocked to learn more about how women’s rights to a peaceful birth had been stripped away when midwifery was abolished in Europe at the end of the second century. New government, influenced by the church, brought with it contempt for all things related to the worship of nature. Birthing ceremonies were made illegal and land marks were destroyed. Healers, doulas and midwives were living symbols of the connection of women to nature and were punished by death, which was usually in the form of a public burning. Doctors were forbidden to assist and those that were deemed to have conceived babies in sin were totally isolated during birth, many women were left to die. Only the goat gelder could assist in the event of a complication, cutting the baby from the mother and leaving her to die. In Germany, one church leader was quoted to have said, “….if a woman suffers and dies in childbirth, so be it. That is what she is there for.” Even by the 15th century, as things were improving, the poorer women would be shown no mercy. The pain of child birth was sometimes referred to as ‘the pain of Eve’ and thought of as a punishment. Later, during the 19th century, under Queen Victoria’s rule, she insisted women be given anaesthesia for births. The use of anaesthetics became routine for doctors with the obstetrical goal of “getting the baby out” and upper class mothers began to birth in hospitals while the lower class remained at home being cared for by midwives. The surgical procedures performed by doctors were largely responsible for high mortality rates during childbirth as well as the spread of Puerperal Fever.
My midwife had previously suggested a home birth but I suppose I’d been conditioned to believe that was a wacky idea – not for me! The truth is our bodies are made to birth but throughout history, medical professionals have been instilling fear and doubt into women. This over medicalisation of birth often does more harm than good in the birthing process, with total respect for the profession, doctors and surgeons are not trained in the same way as midwives. They are trained to medicalise and look for problems, which in turn creates stress for the mother and baby. Stress then slows things down. A slower labour causes more concern and so the cycle continues. It’s about speeding up the process in hospital to get bed space but the paradox is, women that are relaxed in natural birth often have shorter labours.
On reflection and with the benefit of hindsight there are a few things I would have done differently and although I don’t agree with regrets, I think it is important to pass on lessons learnt from experience. I would have looked into having a doula to help ensure my choices were respected fully. I let the midwives become more involved than I would have liked – constantly measuring me and then taking Ruby away to rub her cheeks and make her cry. She was born in such a calm way that she wasn’t crying, she was intrigued by the world, she wasn’t distressed, medical professionals are worried by that and will prompt a cry if there isn’t one. I feel a doula would have made me feel more comfortable and helped me say no when I was feeling vulnerable. My last and biggest ‘regret’ is that I didn’t have any photos during or immediately after the birth as I was too insecure. The first photo of Ruby was taken over an hour after she was born. At the time it seemed weird to want a photo of us, I felt so exhausted and honestly, it felt like the last thing I wanted to do – even as a photographer! All things considered, the on duty midwives were caring, helpful and over all – they were wonderful. They were doing their job and they did it with love. I birthed the placenta naturally and Alex cut the cord but not until the time was right and there was no more blood pumping through, as we had requested. After all the initial checks were done, the midwives left and we were alone – in the comfort of our own living room – with our beautiful daughter for the first time, which was scary and exciting in equal measures. If you are a low risk pregnancy I think it is a lovely way to birth your baby and certainly something to be considered. It felt for me, like the way it is meant to be. Of course things can change and may not go to plan but just be prepared, enter into it with an open heart and mind and have a hospital bag ready, just in case. Speak to a local professional or your midwife if home birth is something your family is considering.
Now, almost three and a half years on, as we plan to move house next year, I’ve realised that there will always be something in the way of writing these blog posts and I’m feeling pleased that I have taken the time to sit down and do this one. It’s been such an emotional year. There have been so many lessons in detachment for us and after losing loved ones, moving house should be one of the easier lessons. The emotional attachment to this house still feels very real – we even have the best neighbours! We are moving because as with everything else in life – priorities evolve. I’ve gone through some of my biggest transformations here, Riches to Stark, wife to mother, mother to motherless (in the physical sense at least). We could never have envisioned how our lives would change as a family but with the prospect of home schooling next year and the yearning to be in a greener space – closer to nature – we approach the dawn of another new beginning. We prepare to leave this house and I am grateful to be able to share our story of how two became three here. I birthed a baby and a mother was born, all within these four walls, brimming with love.