Alicia had practiced hypnobirthing techniques and prepared for a natural birth in the birth centre – but when she went into labour nothing went as she’d planned. Here’s her story.
Alicia, London, mum to Magnus born in January 2016
“I wanted to have a water birth in my local birth centre”
This was my first baby, and I really wanted to have a natural birth if possible. So I practiced hypnobirthing techniques and attended an active birth class.
I put in my birth plan that I ideally wanted to have a water birth in my local birth centre. I’d been on a tour and liked the feel of it, plus I had a few friends who had given birth there and had positive experiences.
My antenatal appointments were also at the same hospital as the birth centre and it made things easier to be so close to the maternity care. Particularly towards the end, when I found it hard to travel long distances on public transport.
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“My husband and I walked around in the hospital corridors for hours”
When I was 40 weeks pregnant, I had a session of acupuncture at the hospital to try to get the birth started. Nothing happened straight away so a couple of days later my midwife did a stretch-and-sweep – and I went into labour 11pm that same evening.
I was measuring my contractions on an app and soon started to focus on my hypnobirthing techniques. A few hours later, I woke up my husband, he was massaging my back and we were excited thinking about how we’d soon meet our baby.
At 6am, the contractions were three minutes apart. I tried to call the birth centre but there was no reply, so we went straight to triage. I was examined by a midwife who said that I was only two centimetres dilated and had to go home again.
I really didn’t feel confident going home as contractions were already very intense and I did not know how fast things would progress, so I decided to stay in the hospital even though I couldn’t be admitted.
My mum and my husband were going to be my birthing partners, so my mum stayed in a corner with all our bags and then my husband and I walked the corridors for three or four hours with a Tens machine. I was really struggling to walk at that point – I had to stop every time I had a contraction and hold on to the handrail.
“Both the birth centre and labour ward were full”
At 11am my waters broke and I started to feel quite desperate, not having a room and being in busy public hospital space. I went back to triage and was told that both the birth centre and labour ward were full, but that I’d get a room as soon as one was available.
I kept thinking: “Ok, they’re busy, I’m sure it won’t be for long and that I’ll soon be moved.” But I was feeling distressed about the fact that I didn’t have a midwife there with me. I started to vomit regularly and it felt like nobody took notice. My husband was chasing after a midwife in triage to see if they could put me on a drip so I wouldn’t be dehydrated. My mother could not be with me at all as only one birth partner was allowed.
At that point, I was really disheartened and started to feel quite desperate. Everything I had planned for – active labour, getting help from the midwife to get in different positions, trying a birth stool and birth ball – none of it was happening. I really wasn’t coping with the pain because I couldn’t explore the options that I had prepared for.
While I was still in triage, I felt like I had to push, but I was so angry and upset that I was fighting the impulse. I didn’t feel safe as there were no healthcare professionals right there with me, so I really didn’t want to give birth.
“As soon as the epidural kicked in it was a massive relief”
At nearly 6pm in the evening, I was finally transferred to the labour ward and I was looked after by a lovely and very caring midwife. By that point, I was desperate to have an epidural, even though I was fully dilated. I just wanted to regain control over the situation again, somehow.
This also took quite some time as I was told there was only one anaesthetist on shift and he was not immediately available. As soon as the epidural kicked in it was a massive relief, and after about 45 minutes of rest I said: “Right, now I’m ready to do this.”
My mum and my husband were both with me, and now that I had a supportive midwife I felt ready to give birth. As I was pushing, the midwife said she’d like to do an episiotomy, and I felt that I would prefer that to tearing so I gave her the go-ahead. I was more scared of a ventouse or forceps delivery, so I was happy to accept anything that would help the baby come out without those interventions.
I was only pushing for around half an hour before he was born and I thought that this would be the end of the bad 24 hours we’d had.
“My son wasn’t breathing when he came out”
When my son was born, he wasn’t breathing and I started bleeding a lot, so the room very quickly filled with medical staff attending to both of us. I’d wanted to get him straight up on my chest and wait for the cord to stop pulsating before they cut it – but none of that came true.
I could hear him making little sounds which was comforting, but I couldn’t see my baby. I was desperate to hear him cry and for them to hand him to me, and that never happened.
Once he started to breathe on his own they did let me hold him very briefly before taking him away again. “We’re so sorry, we have to take him to the neonatal intensive care unit overnight,” they said.
At that point, I really needed some recovery time, so although I was sad I also felt like it would be ok to be apart for a few hours. I asked my husband to go with the baby as I didn’t want him to be alone.
“He was hooked up to many wires and a feeding tube”
I was transferred to an observation ward overnight where they made sure my blood pressure was stable and the bleeding didn’t come back. At 6am I was transferred to the maternity ward where I had a small private room with my own bathroom. I had a shower and was then able to go see my son for the first time. That’s when things started to get really difficult emotionally.
He was hooked up to many different wires and had a feeding tube. I wasn’t at all prepared to see him like that. The doctors also told me that he couldn’t come stay with me that day but had to stay in intensive care to receive a five-day course of antibiotics and to ensure that he didn’t have meningitis.
All of this worried me, but I could tell that he was being very well looked after; both the paediatric nurses and consultants were really good. Sometimes when I’d go to see him I would see the nurses cuddling him, and I felt that it was really lovely – they weren’t just looking after him medically, but actually caring for him.
They also encouraged me to come see my baby as often as possible, I would only go back to my room for a quick rest and most of those days I spent with him.
“The nurses supported me feeding my baby in intensive care”
Although my baby was in the intensive care unit, I was able to establish breastfeeding with him the very first morning. The nurses supported me by holding his wires while he was feeding, and it was an amazing feeling when he latched on. I had already extracted colostrum overnight and sent it to him, I just knew that once he started to be fed he would start to heal and feel better.
It also helped that my husband was with us for the whole six days, so when I couldn’t be with our son he was there. There wasn’t a bed for him to sleep in, but he did have a reclining chair. He didn’t seem to mind, mostly he was just caring about me and our son.
In total, we were at the hospital for six days before being discharged, but the last couple of days I had my baby with me in my room which was a wonderful feeling. Getting home was also amazing, I was so relieved. I remember saying: “I’m never going to stop crying!”.
“Even though we had a very difficult first week, I am home with a healthy baby”
Looking back on my pregnancy and birth, I think the hypnobirthing really helped me feel positive about the birth before it happened. But because things went completely off the rails, I didn’t feel like it was particularly helpful on the day.
I think it’s important to be very open-minded about the birth plan and be aware that things may very well not go the way you’ve planned.
Even though I’m still disappointed with the way that the birth went, what I try to focus on now is that after a very difficult first week, I am home with a healthy, adorable baby. So many women don’t have that joy. He is a wonderful boy and I am absolutely delighted to be his mum.