Alice, Tom and Riva's birth story
I supported Alice and Tom as their doula for the birth of the second baby, Riva. They had an induced labour at Preston Birth Suite and show just how positive an induction can be.
Me and my partner started Hypnobirthing classes with Meg during my third trimester and we were completely new to it. We were in national lockdown at the time so classes were over Zoom, but Meg made us feel comfortable and relaxed none the less. We really looked forward to the classes each week as it was time out of the day where we could think about nothing else other than the upcoming arrival of our new baby. We learnt so much about birth and how important it is to visualise a positive birth and how breathing techniques can help through labour.
In my first pregnancy we’d practiced hypnobirthing throughout, and after lots of reading I was set on having a beautiful unmedicated water birth. Unfortunately, I developed high blood pressure at around 35 weeks, which I was started on medication for. It was recommended that we had an induction at 38 weeks as my blood pressure was continuing to rise, and we opted for this after weighing up our options in the best interests of baby.
I had read lots of positive induction stories beforehand, but unfortunately our induction did not quite go to plan. Despite the pessary, having my waters broken, and being on the Syntocin drip for nearly 18 hours I didn’t dilate past 4cm. I ended up having an emergency section due ‘failure to progress’. Baby Orla arrived and was perfect, and it was a huge relief- especially for my husband Tom who had felt pretty helpless throughout. Although I knew that we were so lucky to have her arrive healthy, I couldn’t help feeling completely deflated in that moment. I felt like the birth I had been longing for was taken from me, and that I had failed myself. Looking back now, I know my body just wasn’t ready to give birth.
I stayed in hospital for 2 days before being discharged. As I hadn’t anticipated having a section, I hadn’t ever really considered this option, and so I was shocked by the recovery. My milk did not come in until day 5, and this really upset me as I was so desperate to breastfeed. Again, I felt like this was because my body had not been ready to give birth. Luckily, my sister who I am exceptionally close with was also breastfeeding her baby at the time, and so she moved in with us and fed Orla until my milk had properly come in. This is such a special memory for me, and definitely helped me emotionally at what was a difficult time.
I really found the first 3 or 4 weeks hard, and I had not expected to. Instead of a blissful baby bubble, I felt detached and low. I felt so guilty that I hadn’t experienced instant love, and worried I would never fully bond with her. Luckily for me, this only lasted a month or so. Soon after, all those maternal feelings I had expected came flooding in, and to this day we have the most exceptionally close bond.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy! This time round my pregnancy was smooth sailing (other than sickness), and my blood pressure remained completely normal throughout. Initially, I was unsure about what kind of birth I wanted this time round. I felt that my body had proven that it was incapable of giving birth, and I had lots of negative memories surrounding my induction. I told myself that I ‘might as well’ have another section to avoid the disappointment, and risk of things not going to plan again.
At 34 weeks we saw our consultant (the same one we had with Orla). We were so lucky to be under her care. She was softly spoken, a great listener, and really receptive. We spoke about how I felt for a while and then explored our options. She stood up and came and sat next to me on the bed and told me that she thought I should try for a vaginal delivery. I suddenly felt empowered. She let me into a secret, that she herself had gone on to have a vaginal delivery after two previous emergency sections. That was it! I came out of that consultation fired up and all of the sudden adamant that I was going to experience a vaginal delivery after all! I realised that I’d been telling myself I wanted a section out of fear of ‘failing’ again. But, I’d been imagining my birth since I was a girl, after hearing my Mum talk so positively about her 4 births, and I was desperate to experience it for myself.
From then on, I spent every spare moment devouring every piece of information I could about VBACs. Reading guidelines, studying statistics, listening to podcasts, and most importantly listening to hundreds and hundreds of positive VBAC stories. By the end it felt like I had read every single positive VBAC birth story there was online!
I was so focused on achieving a VBAC that I wanted to throw everything I could at giving me the best chance. From the birth stories, I had been convinced that a doula would help me to achieve this, and so I decided to look into finding a doula for ourselves, and this is when we found Meg! We knew as soon as we met her that she was a perfect fit for us.
I probably wasn’t the ‘typical’ Doula client. I’m a self-confessed overthinker, and this coupled with my medical training as a Doctor means I am quite risk averse. I think Meg sussed this out very early on and was so understanding and supportive of this. I knew from the very beginning, that being a VBAC with the chance (albeit it very, very small!) of having a uterine rupture, I would feel more comfortable and reassured by being on the delivery ward with continuous monitoring. Although this would probably be counter intuitive for most people, my overthinking and predisposition to anxious thoughts meant I felt I would feel safest in the more medicalised environment, and that this would be more conducive to labour progressing well.
Another thing that massively reassured me was just how knowledgeable Meg was. Not just about the wonders of natural physiological birth, but also her scientific background and medical knowledge. Every topic or scenario we spoke about (and there were many!), Meg was completely clued up on the most recent research findings, as well as the NHS/RCOG guidance. We had two lengthy meetings with her, talking about everything you could imagine. These chats were really useful for my husband too. He wanted to support me in the best way he could, and Meg really helped him think about ways in which he could do that.
Meg also supported us to write our birth plan, again this was really helpful because she made us think about aspects and scenarios we hadn’t thought about. I knew from my own research, and from my discussions with Meg that our best chance for a successful VBAC would be if I went into labour spontaneously. This coupled with my negative induction experience meant I was adamant that I would not be induced again. I booked in for an elective section at 40 + 10 in case I hadn’t gone into labour by then. I felt excited and confident that we would finally get our positive birth that I’d longed for!
Time went by but I had a sneaking feeling that baby was a little too comfortable and wouldn’t be making her entrance anytime soon! As we got closer to the elective section date (40+10), I found myself repeatedly visualising myself being wheeled down to theatre and feeling disappointed that I hadn’t exhausted all options in my quest to have a vaginal delivery!
So a few days after my due date I chose to have a sweep. Unfortunately, my cervix was too far back. I had another, two days later, and this time the midwife said my cervix had started to move forward but she was still unable to do a sweep. I felt really deflated and although I knew that cervixes can become favourable very quickly, I felt that I wasn’t going to go into spontaneous labour anytime soon. That night I went home and researched balloon inductions in depth, and after some serious consideration I decided I was going to go for it!
At 41 weeks I was admitted to start the balloon induction process. I had the balloon inserted mid-morning, which was a pain free and quick. The doctor said that my cervix had been closed, although a few hours later I started to feel regular cramping in my back every 5 minutes which I thought could be the start of contractions. I was disappointed that they seemed to disappear around 11pm, although it meant I could get a full night’s sleep in preparation for labour. We went up to the delivery unit at about 9am to have the balloon removed and I was 3-4cm dilated, with baby’s head low and pushing on the cervix. Our midwife and student midwife were both absolutely lovely. So attentive and positive and they made the room dark, and left us alone, which is what we wanted. A couple of hours later contractions had not started and so we decided to start on the Syntocin drip. We had been in touch with Meg updating her, and were planning on asking Meg to join us when my contractions had become properly established. From our previous experience of being on the drip for 18 hours we thought that this would be a long process, how wrong we were!
When the drip was started, things progressed so fast. The contractions became intense and all-consuming very quickly. The hypnobirthing breathing was a game changer for me. Tom sat right behind me, and he operated the Freya contraction timer for each contraction. Although we weren’t timing the contractions, the calm, repetitive counting voice on the app really helped centre me as I was breathing through each contraction. Tom also applied really hard counter pressure to my back/hips which really helped. I felt really reassured having him so physically close to me, and we were in the zone with each other, and I felt that we were doing it together as a team. I did try gas and air briefly but I felt that this disrupted the flow of my breathing techniques which was my main coping strategy.
I did move around on the birthing ball initially, but I spent most of the labour led on my side on the bed. Through all my VBAC research, I had seen many parents and healthcare practitioners share how helpful they had found peanut balls in achieving successful VBACs by opening up the pelvis, and so I had bought one with us. I really feel that this played a huge part in labour progressing so well. I laid on my side with my legs around it and all of the sudden I could feel her moving down the birth canal with each contraction.
It was this moment that I suddenly began to feel out of control. I began to feel pressure in my bottom and I needed to get down from the bed to kneel on the floor. This all felt very instinctual and was obviously my body doing what it knew it needed to do. I started to tell Tom and the midwife that I couldn’t cope and that I needed an epidural, however as I was saying those words out loud, I knew that was not what I wanted at all. I knew at the time from reading all of the birth stories that I was transitioning, but looking back I wanted them to know that things were about to change and that they needed to take what I was saying seriously! I could tell that the midwife seemed sceptical that things would have changed much given I had only been experiencing established contractions for an hour, but given my change in behaviour she asked to examine me, I was glad about this because I wanted to confirm what I was feeling. Although I knew I was fully dilated from how different things had suddenly begun to feel, it was still a reassuring feeling when she confirmed this.
I initially knelt leaning over the back of the bed. I was a lot more vocal than I anticipated during this stage. For the first stage I went silent and in on myself through each contraction, however for this second stage I felt that making noises throughout each contraction really helped me get through them. Tom and the midwives were so reassuring at this point, and felt like a team of cheerleaders, cheering me on when it felt overwhelming. This pushing stage felt so quick and intense and feels like a blur looking back. As baby began to crown the midwives applied a warm compress on my perineum, I felt the dreaded ring of fire and then her head was out! I couldn’t believe it, it was only at this point that it finally dawned on me that she would be delivered vaginally. With the next contraction her body was delivered easily, and she was lifted up to my chest and started crying- Baby Riva, she was perfect. The euphoria I felt in that moment is indescribable, and just thinking about it almost 7 months later, still makes me teary. I felt like the ultimate superwoman, like I could achieve anything in the world.
I had chosen to have the injection to deliver the placenta because after all I had achieved, I didn’t want to risk having to go to theatre anyway if it didn’t deliver naturally (as had happened to my sister a couple of years earlier). I didn’t want anything to take me away from the most perfect bubble we had entered. I delivered the placenta easily and pain free. I didn’t suffer any tears from the delivery, just a very minor graze. The pushing stage had lasted only 20 mins, meaning from my first established contraction, to when she was in my arms was less than 1.5 hours!
We were left in peace and she began to latch and fed beautifully straight away. I then had a bath, which was lovely. I sat there taking in what had just happened, and I couldn’t believe the difference from my previous section. If it wasn’t for the blood in the water, I wouldn’t have believed I had just given birth, as I felt no pain or discomfort.
Following my first birth we had stayed on the maternity ward for 2 days after my section, and I had lots of negative memories from then. These likely stemmed from me feeling disappointed by our birth, the physical section recovery, and also the noisy ward environment which was not conducive to sleep or comfort! This time round we wanted to avoid this if we could. The midwives were fantastic at making this happen and even though it meant leaving hospital in the early hours of the morning we were discharged home and back breastfeeding in our own bed only 6.5 hours after giving birth! The dream!
That feeling of empowerment lasted for months, and I felt like I was walking on cloud nine. Looking back, although it sounds very cliché, the birth was transformational and very healing for me. I think I had underestimated how my first birth/pregnancy had affected me, but I can’t wait to give birth again if we are lucky enough to!
Meg came to visit us for a postnatal visit, where she had cuddles and I relished in re-telling our beautiful birth story. She also brought with her delicious food which went down very well!
If you’re on the fence about hiring Meg as a doula, go for it! She couldn’t have been a better match for us. She has the most lovely personality, is a great listener, is so easy to be around, and is highly knowledgeable. But most importantly, she is completely non-judgemental and adaptable, she will support you to achieve the birth you desire, whatever that looks like.