The 7th May 2019... the most empowering day of my life. My biggest ever achievement. The day that's changed me, hopefully for good, and proven to me that you really can achieve what you want, with the right attitude, support and determination.
At 7.16am on the 7th May I birthed my second child, a 9 pound 8.5 ounce child, in a birthing pool, in my living room, in the comfort of my own home...and on my terms. I did it my way...with my biggest advocate by my side...my midwife Stacey Budd.
As I'm writing this now, 7 weeks on, I can still feel the oxytocin searing through me just as it did throughout my labour and post delivery. I'm sat feeding my baby looking at her little face, staring into her piercing grey eyes and to this day I still say to her "we did it!"
I am a happy, confident, good mother. I am enjoying life as a mother of two. But sadly, this hasn't always been the case.
In May 2017 my husband Jack and I discovered we were expecting our first baby. After months of hypremesis (persistent nausea and sickness) we couldn't wait to meet our baby.
Having been under a consultant for low foetal movements in the third trimester, I immediately requested midwifery-led care when at last the monitors and extra scans confirmed that baby and I were both fine.
I opted for a birth at the midwife-led unit and my birth plan stated that I would like minimal intervention and to have as natural a birth as possible. I went to three antenatal classes with my husband and felt like my midwives would guide me on everything I needed to know. I wholeheartedly put my trust in the healthcare providers.
The morning of 1st February 2017, I had my first contraction. By 2.30pm that day, I had lost my mucous plug, my midwife said I was doing well and by 3.30pm I was making my way to the hospital, with contractions 5 minutes apart. On arrival, a midwife took one look at me and said 'you won't be long...this baby will be here tonight.' I was excited by that but also calm and relaxed. Instinctively I was breathing deeply and getting myself into all sorts of comfortable positions.
The contractions got stronger and I felt that I needed some help with the pain. I had my heart set on a water birth but was advised the pool was broken and out of action. I was offered the gas and air but not shown how to use it. Things had got very strong and now I couldn't open my eyes, or engage in conversation or sit down. My contractions were constant - there was no rest in between and some were lasting eight minutes or so with only a few seconds break. Something just didn't feel right but the midwife was nowhere to be seen there was no one to ask.
My husband then spent several minutes trying to find someone. The pain in my back was terrible. Eventually a midwife came and told me to lie on the bed to be examined. I was in agony. I could not put my bottom down on the bed but it was like my discomfort and pain were not taken into consideration at all.
The check revealed that I wasn't in established labour. This completely confused me, especially when they said I needed to go home. How could I cope if it got worse than this? There was no reassurance, and certainly no advice on how to help myself. I was petrified.
Soon after this, I started to feel an urge to push but it turned out to be the baby, pressing into my back and after a check, again on my back in bed, I found I was again, hardly dilated at all. I had pethidine, and then eventually around midnight and after about four more hours of extreme pain without any change, an epidural. I felt so helpless. I had no clue what was going on and neither did my husband or mother, who were all the time trying to help me.
The epidural was a godsend, relief from what was pure agony. I remember being scared that the pain would come back, but I was reassured by the anaesthetist that it wouldn't.
Hours passed and baby was continuously monitored. I was checked hourly throughout the night, which I now understand is against protocol. I recall having a consultant in the room and both she and the midwife were guessing the gender and weight of our baby.
Both of the view I was having a 'big' lazy boy around the 9lb mark...a daunting thought for someone about to push a baby out! I recall being told I was 10cm and that I should start pushing. I did as I was told and was informed that the baby would be born very soon. I was lying on my back and pushing with all my might. I was never encouraged to sit upright slightly or advised as to whether I could get into a better position to assist with the birth.
The next thing I know I was told I was going to have a spinal and that I was going to theatre for a forceps delivery. I had no idea what was involved in a forceps delivery but I knew they looked scary. I was confused and shocked. I recall feeling worried and asking if I could have the ventouse instead. I was told that this wasn't an option but I was never given a reason why. Nothing was discussed with me and I was scared. Was something wrong with my baby? Why couldn't I push the baby out? Had I been given a choice I would have opted for a c-section rather than a forceps delivery as the thought of those things around my babies head was worrying. The atmosphere in theatre was calm and happy. There didn’t seem to be an emergency and it felt like I was there for a routine procedure. This was all so confusing.
After being guided to ‘push’ when my contractions were happening, my little baby was delivered (I use this phrase intentionally, as I did not birth her.) My husband announced that she was a girl and I briefly recall seeing her for a few seconds before she was taken away to be weighed. My birth plan had asked for delayed cord clamping and immediate skin to skin. I was never given this option. I remember my husband looking back at me concerned and unsure as to what was happening. Where has my baby gone? Immediate anxiety kicked in again.
I was informed by the Doctor that he was going to examine to ensure there was no damage and I consented to this. I could see Jack with the baby at this point and she was being weighed and changed and so I assumed she was fine. I was then taken to recovery where I had some skin to skin and finally got to hold my baby. Baby was alert and instinctively rooted towards me for a feed. The delayed skin to skin didn’t seem to affect her too much, this had been a real worry for me since she had been born.
My recovery from the birth was long and difficult. I developed an infection, my baby had bruising and damage. It was dreadful and I felt very emotional, for a long time, I was in shock I guess. Though there were kind people caring for me at times, I was amazed by how much indifference and dismissal I was met with too. How can it be that way. It shouldn't be that way, not when women are as vulnerable like that, unsure and in need of simple, compassionate guidance. I just don't get it.
My husband and I fell pregnant again in August 2018. What should have been a happy and exciting time for us was quite the opposite. I was afraid, my anxiety grew and I knew I would spend the next 9 months feeling nervous and afraid.
I am extremely gutted to be admitting to this, but I had become so anxious and afraid that I recall wishing I would miscarry. I was so uptight that I was arguing constantly with my husband as I was feeling so low and afraid. By Christmas 2018 we were considering getting divorced and considering couples counselling as we felt we were at breaking point. We worked hard to help each other but we both felt so low we were struggling. We had another de-brief in the January in an attempt to get some answers as I still didnt feel like I knew what had happened during my first birth.
I had a debrief about my first birth with a consultant who went through my notes. To summarise, he advised that my labour had taken a ‘normal’ amount of time from being 0cm to fully dilated and that surgery was recommended to deliver the baby to ‘speed things up’ as the staff were all getting ‘impatient.’ There was no mention of any emergency and I asked her if at any stage there had been a big enough concern to warrant a quick delivery in theatre. I was advised no, that I was just taking a while to birth her and so surgery was the easier option.
My husband and I were really shocked after the de-brief as we had been under the impression that there was great concern over the babies health and surgery was the only option. I left this appointment feeling angry and unsettled. So I was taken to theatre, and my baby suffered a huge amount of pain because the staff were getting impatient?
I was at a total loss as to how I was going to cope having another baby. I was afraid that scar tissue I had would stop me from being able to birth a baby, or that I would tear if I tried, and I was scared that the ‘dragging’ pain I had constantly would be exacerbated by another pregnancy.
My second pregnancy was difficult. I was battling demons and trauma from having Evelyn. My marriage was falling apart and I was desperate. All I can say is that I have huge gratitude towards my Powys midwives. Without them I dread to think how I would have felt.
At my first booking in appointment I was offered to see a counsellor Jess who worked with Mind to deal with my birth trauma. I made an appointment and I was extremely lucky that Jess had contacted the consultant midwife for Brecon, Shelly, who attended at our appointment. She was wonderful and I was able to tell her my story in my own time and she sat and listened.
She addressed some of my concerns and reassured me that whilst I had a traumatic experience the first time around, as long as no one had told me I definitely couldn’t have a natural delivery, then there was no reason why I couldn’t try and achieve that.
She was patient and seemed to sympathise with me. This gave me confidence to explore further and I was offered a further appointment with Jess which I gladly took. It was at this very appointment that I realised I had been suffering with anxiety and depression as a result of the trauma from my first birth. I recall telling Jess I didn’t find enjoyment in anything I did which made me feel awful, and I would get stressed and irritable, and my poor daughter would have a bad-tempered, grumpy mother who was always in pain. I constantly felt awful and guilty and it was refreshing to be able to admit I was struggling.
Jess recommended the Mums Matter course, which was also run by Mind. I reluctantly signed up, dreading going and knowing my daughter would go into childcare with staff I had never met before. I didn’t even tell my family what this course was for as I was embarassed. I couldnt bear the thought of people thinking I wasn’t coping and I felt frazzled.
The first Mums Matter session was daunting. The session lasted two hours and was uplifting in so many ways. I was having ‘me’ time with no responsibilities or worries. I had a lovely cup of coffee and sat and talked to other mums who were all in the same boat as me. We were all struggling in one way or another and it was lovely to feel that I was not alone. We were all extremely open and honest in the sessions, but as a result of Debs who ran the session. She was a delight and so easy to open up to.
I left the course feeling like a good mother, a confident mother and a mother that had been through an awful lot, but also had achieved an awful lot. I was going to start feeling proud of my achievements, and not beat myself up over little things. I was good enough.
Once the Mums Matter course ended I attended some one to one counselling sessions with Mind in an attempt to deal with my anxiety and birth-related trauma. The sessions were again comforting and helped me address and come to terms with what I had been through. I was finally able to accept what I had been through and that I was suffering as a result, and that I had a right to feel let down and hurt. I was also more accepting of the feeling that I had been abused and had intrusive treatment without my consent.
My midwife suggested I attend a hypnobirthing ante-natal class. My husband came with me and we were taken through the basic principles of hypnobirthing and taught some exercises and practices to try out before and during labour. I was also reading Katherine Graves’ hypnobirthing book in an attempt to deepen my understanding.
I learnt all about the negative affects that fear and adrenaline can have on the oxytocin that is produced as a natural pain relief during birth. I was extremely calm and in control the first time around before I was told I was ‘not in active labour’ and told to go home. I was dealt with in a negative way at hospital the first time and not once was I positively encouraged with ‘you’re doing so well, keep going, how about you get into this position...etc.’
My mother and Jack were not given any helpful advice either which left them feeling useless. I started to panic, which clearly slowed my labour down and stopped me from dilating as I would have done if I were calm. I understand that baby was not in a good position but there are positions I could have adopted to help turn things around. I learnt many things from that book that left me feeling like I had been let down the first time round. I was grieving. I had lost so much during my first birth, and the first year of my daughter's life was a painful blur of hospital appointments and discomfort.
I then met Stacey. My wonderful, wonderful midwife. I had not met her before and I was around 7 months pregnant when she came out to see me. I had finished my hypnobirthing research and was ready to greet Stacey with a new found confidence.
I remember saying to her ‘Stacey I am really sorry, but I have a very specific birth and pregnancy plan and I am going to be a complete pain in the bum and seem really demanding but I am determined that this experience is going to be different from my first, so I apologise in advance if I seem like hard work!’
Stacey was so calm and she invited me to tell her exactly what I wanted. When I finished reeling off my long list of what I wanted, she kindly laughed at me and said ‘well darling, then that’s what we shall do.’
I was expecting her to roll her eyes at me...oh dear another mum with her head in the clouds who wants the ‘perfect birth’. But instead she sat with me as I told her my story. She was sympathetic and could see how affected I had been. She was such a breath of fresh air.
She told me that together we would come up with a very specific birth plan and that she would circulate it to all the Brecon midwives that I could come across. That in itself was a relief, as my first birth plan had been totally ignored and my wishes were not taken into consideration.
She then told me me that I could plan the birth that I wanted and that I could always ask questions. My husband was petrified, and was firmly of the view that I should have a hospital birth as he was so traumatised after last time.
He sat with Stacey and discussed his concerns with her. Later on I could not believe what I was hearing when he said he would be supportive of me having a home birth. When I had mentioned previously that I was considering a home birth he told me I was mad and that our baby could die and how would he ever forgive me if our baby died.
I asked him what had made him change his mind and he said he told Stacey everything that he was worried about and she addressed all of his concerns which led him to the realisation that having this baby at home could actually be better and safer than a hospital birth. He had also read up on home births and the success rates. So that was it, we had our plan of action:-
- - a home birth with a birthing pool (the water was Stacey’s idea as she thought the water would help me with the pain in my perineum and act as a heat compress)
- - a hypnobirth where there is minimal talking and interruption, no one was to speak to me and any concerns were to be discussed with my birth partners, so that I could stay focussed and in the zone.
- - no physical intervention, unless medically required (both Stacey’s suggestion and my wish from practicing the hypnobirthing principles)
- - dim lighting, candles, blankets and a comfortable safe ‘nest’ - again Stacey’s idea. She even went to the extent of helping me plan where everything would go in my living room, which made me feel even more organised and at ease.
- - Gas and air available for additional pain relief if required. Stacey went through how it was used and showed me how to breathe it in and out. She also reassured me that whoever I was with would talk me through using it again. She even went through it with Jack so that he could practice with me and count me through it.
- - Delayed clamping of the cord – for obvious reasons.
- - Physiological delivery of the placenta – again, to keep things as natural as possible, but I was not against assistance if it was taking a while and I wanted the placenta removed sooner.
- - Aromatherapy oils to assist with pain relief and to assist with the birth.
- - No induction or interventions to encourage labour i.e. a ‘sweep’
I felt elated that I had a birth plan, and whilst I was not being naive thinking ‘nothing could possibly go wrong’ it was a great comfort to me knowing my wishes and feelings were being considered – and actively encouraged! Stacey left me feeling excited – a feeling I had not had before about this pregnancy. She had worked a miracle!
- Stacey and I discussed ‘what ifs’ as I was afraid of what could possibly happen if things didn’t go to plan. What if the baby is back to back again? Without hesitation Stacey showed me a couple of different positions which could help move the baby. She was so helpful and always had an answer to every question I had. Don’t get me wrong, we knew that things could go wrong – but Stacey made me feel prepared, and I was feeling so positive that I could have dealt with a negative situation in a positive way. Had I needed a section or intervention I was well equipped with coping mechanisms and I knew that I would make sure I was fully informed second time around.
- Stacey met a vulnerable and scared woman. Within weeks she had helped to turn me into a positive and empowered one.
At every appointment Stacey was attentive and I felt like I could be really honest with her. If I had had a down day or a ‘wobble’ as she called it, she would reassure me and get me feeling excited and confident again. She was getting my oxytocin flowing just by reassuring me and making me feel happy and better about everything.
In February/March Shelly had contacted me about a new technique that she was trialling, called the re-wind technique. She said that I was more than welcome to try it and that she would come to my home and take me through it.
I gladly accepted the kind offer, thinking every little bit of work I did would help me battle my demons. She came to my house and talked me through the technique. It was in line with the hypnobirthing mindset and so I really believed it could benefit me.
I felt comfortable with Shelly as I had already met her and she talked me through the process fully. The following week we did the re-wind hypnosis and when Shelly left I felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. I initially felt distressed when revisiting my birth experience as it felt like opening up old wounds but it soon disappeared towards the end of the technique and I could not believe how quick I went from feeling distressed to feeling calm and happy.
It was such an odd sensation but such a positive one. This was a really good technique for ‘battling demons’ as it was so easy for me to try and squash all my emotions and hide them away and try and forget what had happened, but this had just made it worse.
I really felt like all my hard work was paying off. My counselling had ended. Mums Matter had finished and I had done the re-wind therapy. I continued practicing my hypnobirthing by listening to the tapes and practicing the visualisations.
I was ensuring I had plenty of ‘me’ time and I did activities that made me feel happy and boosted my oxytocin levels. My husband was encouraged to be more affectionate towards me as this would also help. We were finally supporting one another and our relationship was well and truly solid again. We were a team and we were going to do this!
My due date came and apart from the occasional ‘wobble’ I was doing so well. I was struggling with pain in my hips and pelvis but again my hypnobirthing techniques were helping me cope with the pain, as well as a great physiotherapist.
I went a week over my due date and started to struggle to keep my anxiety at bay. Stacey was coming and I knew she would have to talk about inductions. I did not want to hear this, I needed to stay on track. As soon as Stacey came in she reassured me that she was not hear to talk about the ‘I’ word and that we still had time. It was as if she could read my mind!
I explained that I was really hoping that she would be on call when I went into labour and she reassured me that she was working for the next few days. I was starting to lose hope that I would go into labour any time soon and was starting to worry that she would be off when things started.
She offered me a sweep on the following Monday morning as she was on call the next day and it was likely that I could end up giving birth during that time. I told her I would think about it and she reassured me that I should be 100% comfortable with my decision, and bear in mind what I wanted in my birth plan.
It was a stressful weekend and on the Monday morning, Stacey suggested we go and relax and have a lovely family day out together - to just let the baby come when she or she was ready. So we did..we had the most lovely day out, went for a long walk, went to a lovely country pub for a drink and then for a picnic in the park.
That night my husband and I watched a romantic comedy and laughed all evening. We went to bed around 11pm but I could not sleep. I was so restless and enviously watched my husband next to me snoring away. I was up and down having little ‘niggles’ and tried desperately to sleep.
By 2.30am my husband woke to me listening to my tapes and doing my breathing exercises. ‘You’re in labour’ he said, and I was adamant that I wasn’t as I felt so calm and relaxed, and didn’t feel any pain.
He did not listen to me and off he went to start filling the birthing pool. He also downloaded an app on his phone so that I could time my contractions, although I was not convinced I was even having proper contractions. I was timing my ‘mild discomforts’ using the app when a message flashed up saying ‘emergency – hospitalisation required!’ as my contractions were close together.
My husband and I were laughing at the app telling us there was an emergency and how ridiculous it was that the app instinctively viewed this stage of birth as an emergency. I felt quite the opposite, there was no emergenc. It was just relief that I was progressing so well.
Eventually, we called the hospital and Stacey turned up half an hour later at 5am. I was sat on the sofa, still feeling really calm and I was really happy to see her (not because I was in labour though – because I wasn’t!!) She was so quiet coming in and we barely knew she was there. I couldn’t tell you if she had any equipment with her as she kept everything so discreet.
She also discreetly called the second midwife, Debbie, and told her she needed to come (although I knew nothing about this she just left me doing my thing while she did hers!) My husband needed reassurance that I was genuinely in labour, and Stacey gladly told him she had already rung Debbie so that she could make her way over. Music to his ears!
Stacey sat next to me as I was having a contraction and she helped me to relax whenever I would tense my body. All I ever remember her saying was ‘relax your forehead’ ‘drop your shoulders,’ she was really helpful. She did not need to say anything else as I clearly had it all under control!
In between contractions I was walking around the house, cleaning, pottering around and offering everyone drinks. It was such a contrast from my first labour. I recall apologising to Stacey for wasting her time as I was convinced she was going to tell me I was still in the latent phase and nowhere near 10cm. She laughed and reassured me that I was definitely in labour and that she could tell without examining me.
To convince me, she told me that the purple line going up my back from my bottom was as big as it could be and that in her eyes I was around 10cm. She was so convinced I was nearly ready that she was discreetly following me around the house concerned that I would have the baby outside of the pool.
She gently encouraged me to get in the pool, afraid that it would be too late if I left it any longer. I got in the pool still feeling like a fraud, and I was secretly feeling for a head, as I really did not think I was anywhere near the end.
Within minutes I felt different and started feeling the urge to bear down and do my second stage breathing. I remember shouting that this was all ‘stupid’ and my mum and Jack laughing at my reaction to the realisation that I was finally in labour.
As I felt the pain and pressure intensifying I was finally convinced that I was in labour! I even remember the song which was playing from my birth playlist at this stage as I was so tuned in to my relaxing surroundings. Stacey and Jack were encouraging me to have some gas and air but I had come this far without anything and I felt ok, so I held on to it and could use it if I felt like I needed it.
Within minutes I felt immense pressure and then felt a pop, and I heard Stacey telling my husband that my waters had broken. I was slightly dissapointed as I was hoping that was the head! I tried to birth the head a couple of times and eventually after around 3 contractions her head came out. The pain was very intense and the worst I had ever experienced but the minute her head came out I felt better again.
I remember it all so well as I was in tune with my body and what it was doing. I remember Jack and my mother sounding amazed as they watched my baby's head being born and saying that her eyes were closed and her mouth had the perfect pout.
She had no idea that she had been born. I felt so happy that her head was out and seconds later her body was born. Stacey encouraged me to turn around and pick up the baby out of the water. As she was under the water I was able to tell everyone that she was a little girl. I pulled her straight to my chest and had immediate skin to skin contact and she began feeding almost immediately.
She was born at 7.16am, half an hour from getting in the pool. My husband cried with relief and happiness and I could not believe she was here! My legs were like jelly and my hips were in a lot of pain. The babies cord was quite short and I was struggling to keep her above the water and so everyone helped me to get out of the pool. I opted to have the injection to remove the placenta as I was in a lot of pain because of my hips and bottom, the same pain which I have had since my first birth only a lot stronger.
Stacey and Debbie were very gentle and explained everything to me. I was then helped upstairs where I was put in bed and given some toast and carried on breastfeeding. I had a grin from ear to ear. I couldnt stop saying ‘I did it!’ to everyone. I felt the full effect of the oxytocin and I was literally buzzing with happiness and excitement.
Stacey knew that I was intregued by the placenta and offered to show me it when she examined it. This was really lovely to see, and it was amazing to understand exactly how that organ had looked after my baby for 9 months.
When Stacey, Debbie and my mother left, I lay in bed, grinning like a Cheshire Cat staring at my sleeping baby and husband, who were both exhausted. I was on cloud nine. I wanted to tell the world but I also wanted to savour the moment alone and enjoy the peace.
The breastfeeding was established really easily this time, and four hours post birth I was getting dressed and able to walk downstairs and see my other daughter. I invited family around as I felt so much better and the pain had eased.
The following day we took our eldest daughter swimming and the day after to the community farm! I could not believe how good I felt considering I had felt so poorly after my first baby.
After having my baby I was looked after so well. I felt important and that I was really being cared for. I felt so empowered and my oxytocin levels just grew and grew. I had a midwive one day called Jo, again another lovely kind lady who knew all about my history and was thrilled when I could tell her my birth story. She was fantastic and went above and beyond to make sure I was ok.
What was hugely lacking in my first birth was positivity, communication, explanations and consent. To this day I am angry and I feel like I was obstetrically abused by professionals who I trusted.
Women are being pushed into obstetric units, not being fully informed and it is resulting in huge interventions. What a huge drain on the NHS purse and no wonder so many mums have post natal depression following birth – and the statistics on post natal depression in my view are hugely incorrect, as most mums won’t realise they have post natal depression, or admit it, or like in my case, won’t realise it until they are treated properly and have a good positive birth experience. Negative treatment leads to costly medical intervention and mental health problems that can be so easily avoided. The cascade of interventions is huge and continues for years. Why are the basics being ignored?
Seven weeks on I am writing my story and I am still on a high. Looking after my baby has been an absolute pleasure. When she is screaming hysterically from wind, it is a pleasure trying to console her. My bond with her was immediate and I could not do enough for her. I felt so different this time around. When she cries I rush to her, I don’t get anxiety or feel upset or angry. When she is sleeping soundly I want to wake her up to see her because I miss her! I have so much more patience, and it has helped me with my first baby.
When we have visitors I don’t want to hand her over as I want to savour every moment with her and keep her to myself. It breaks my heart that I didn’t have the same feeling with my Evelyn. I was not able to bond immediately with her, and it still affects me to date, as I will forever feel guilty for having an amazing experience the second time round. I never thought I would describe my birth as exciting and amazing. The days surrounding my birth felt like a wonderful dream that I never wanted to end. Every woman should have the opportunity to be listened to, and try and have the birth they want.
So there it is, my story. Two polar opposite stories. One where I can’t explain in words how angry and hurt I am that me and my daughter were put in harms way and deliberately hurt. And one where I cant put into words my elation, gratitude and sense of achievement to those who helped me finally learn what it feels like to birth a baby the way it should be done.
I have read that birth shapes a woman and I could not agree more. I am a completely different person now, having given birth to my second baby. I am a better mother and my baby is happy – a far cry from the story the first time around. When I tell my positive story to people I am constantly being told stories similar to my first birth. But why are women being treated this way? Why are women not being informed of procedures being done to them? How hard is it to say to a woman in labour ‘you are doing great, you can do this.’ Why have we become so removed from trusting that a woman knows her body and from listening to her?