In 2008, just one week before my due date, it was found that my baby was breech. I had planned a birth-centre birth, so was a bit disappointed to have to go to hospital for the birth, but I went along with the ‘rules’ – though when my baby refused to cooperate when we tried an ECV (external cephalic version) and the doctors and midwives started waving a C-section consent form in my face, I declared that I didn’t want them to decide the date of my baby’s birth and would wait for labour to start naturally, then promptly went back home. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a wise thing to do for all sorts of reasons. However, on the day labour started (a whole 4 days later!) and I went to hospital, I was basically scared into a C-section with alarming (and inaccurate) statistics. I didn’t know better at the time – I wasn’t a doula, I wasn’t a HypnoBirthing practitioner, I thought I knew a lot about birth and babies thanks to my NCT classes, but I didn’t! – so I had an operation and my baby was born (this is exactly how it felt at the time).
In 2012, when I became pregnant again, I planned a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) at home, using the HypnoBirthing (the Mongan Method) techniques. Labour started in the evening of 12th November but green meconium was present in my waters so after a few hours of labour, I was transferred to hospital. I was not dilating at all, despite strong, regular surges, so I decided to have another C-section. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but at the same time it was an easy decision to make, because it had always been clear in my head that if labour didn’t progress normally or safely, I would only have one choice: another C-section. It was disappointing because I had prepared for a VBAC for so many months and because I was a HypnoBirthing practitioner, I so wanted to ‘show and tell’ my clients that I had ‘done it’ and that HypnoBirthing ‘really works’! But the experience and its teachings have actually made me an even better practitioner. I truly understand the birth affirmation ‘I accept whatever turn my birthing takes’ now, and I truly know how HypnoBirthing can help any pregnant woman – whatever she plans, whatever her fears before taking the course, whatever her circumstances on her birthing day and beyond.
So no, I did not have the natural, vaginal home birth I had planned, visualised and so hoped for. Some people use birth stories like mine to discount the effectiveness of natural birth choices, and even more of HypnoBirthing, but this is a gross misunderstanding of both. Here is how these choices helped me have a positive birth experience:
- I had planned a HBAC – a home birth after Caesarean. Yes there were risks, but HypnoBirthing gave me the confidence to look into this, research it, talk about it and share ideas, opinions and suggestions. It also gave me the confidence to keep it quiet from a few people – those who would probably say I was mad, what was I thinking etc. I didn’t want to be distracted. I had a few wobbles on the hard, treacherous VBAC path, especially after I saw the consultant midwife at 7 months as she tried to convince me to plan a hospital birth, or at least a midwife-led unit (attached to the hospital) birth, but in the end, I was going to stay at home for as long as possible anyway (this is what the midwives in hospitals and birth centres recommend), so I might as well plan a home birth and see what would happen on the day. My first experience had taught me that things can change at the last minute, so there really was no point worrying about what and where. Knowing the outcome now, I am really glad I planned a home birth. It made me feel safe throughout pregnancy and in early labour.
- I slept really well throughout pregnancy (apart from the odd night), much better than first time around, and I had a very calm baby in my tummy who practically never stirred at night! I had a very pleasant pregnancy and found it easy to move even at the end, despite being much bigger than first time around. I put most of it down to my relaxed attitude to pregnancy and the upcoming labour and birth – all thanks to HypnoBirthing. I had also managed to carry on my yoga practice until the fifth month, and then did pregnancy yoga until about 35 weeks, so it probably helped with my flexibility too.
- Just like the first time, I had a prodromal labour (prolonged practice labour, in my case for three weeks), but this time HypnoBirthing helped me stay calm, focused and comfortable (of course, I did have a few wobbles but they were quickly eradicated thanks to appropriate visualisations and fear releases).
- I laboured at home for 6 hours, and HypnoBirthing helped me stay calm, focused and comfortable, taking each surge as it came, each piece of news as it came (green meconium in my waters, no dilation despite the prodromal labour and the 6 hours of proper labour, recommendation of a transfer to hospital).
- The birth affirmations playing in a loop on my MP3 kept me calm, focused and comfortable through my surges and in between. Some surges were stronger than others, and that is when the breathing and counting really helped. I wouldn’t have known what to do or think with the more intense surges. Thanks to HypnoBirthing, I knew exactly what to do: breathe, visualise beautiful things, think positive, relax, be patient, enjoy.
- I was transferred to hospital, with my doula but without my husband as he had to stay behind to wait for our elder daughter to wake up and to organise her day, and HypnoBirthing helped me stay calm, focused and comfortable, to the point that some of the staff at the hospital didn’t think I was in labour (blatantly ignoring the readings on the monitor!). I remained so through all the discussions with the anaesthetist, surgeon, midwife and nurses.
- I was again examined and told that decidedly, no, my cervix was stubborn and wasn’t opening, not by a millimetre, and HypnoBirthing helped me stay calm, focused and comfortable, as well as clear-minded – ‘No, I agree with you, obstetrician, I really don’t think it would be wise to be “induced”/“augmented” with synthetic oxytocin since I had a C-section last time (it increases the risk of scar rupture), so I will go for another C-section, even though I really don’t want to.’ I couldn’t stop to concentrate and breathe through my surges as I had to focus on the forms to fill in, the questions asked and the answers to be given. But throughout, I remained calm. My doula was a reassuring presence, for sure, but mainly, I attribute my calm and composed attitude to HypnoBirthing and to months of preparation for a calm birth, no matter what happens, no matter how it turns out.
- After I had made my decision and signed the forms, I had a good cry for a couple of minutes, supported by my doula, but HypnoBirthing helped me get back on track, visualising a happy outcome and a good recovery, despite my fears (my first C-section had gone so well, I was worried that this time the surgeon would ‘mess it up’ – I even told him not to mess it up, poor man!), staying calm, focused and comfortable.
- I was alone (no husband, no doula, as per regulations) in the operating theatre during the prepping, and HypnoBirthing helped me stay calm, focused and comfortable, despite the surges still going strong and despite my worries just below the surface. I patiently went through each phase of the prepping, breathing through each surge, taking in the atmosphere, taking each second as it came, reassuring myself at every step, just focusing on the goal – a safe, happy baby. I was grateful that the nurses and midwives were so kind to me, explaining exactly what was happening. The HypnoBirthing techniques also saw me through that lonely time thanks to visualisations – a calm me, a relaxed me, a good, quick, easy operation, a healthy baby, a good recovery. ‘All is well, and all will be well’, I kept saying to myself.
So on the whole, it was a calm, comfortable birth – which is just what HypnoBirthing, the Marie Mongan Method, helps you aim for and achieve. It was a very positive experience, especially compared to my first C-section. I am convinced that HypnoBirthing was pivotal in having a great pregnancy, in preparing me for the birth, in making the best of my unexpected circumstances and in making my recovery from the C-section and my emotional recovery from the turn of events quicker.
In spite of having a C-section again, I feel so good about the birth that I even consider I had a HypnoBirth. Not in the ‘pain-free, natural’ way that it tends to be perceived as, but just because I used most of the techniques on the day (and before!) and because I had an extremely positive experience as a result of all the preparation and practice. It was a calm, comfortable, even exciting birth, despite the circumstances. First time around, I couldn’t even consider that I had ‘given birth’, so unprepared and shocked I was at having to change plans at the last minute (from a hoped-for birth-centre natural birth to a hospital C-section birth) (of course it is possible that I could have ended up with a C-section anyway, even if my baby hadn’t been breech and even if I had started at the birth centre – and perhaps that would have been even more traumatic) and at suddenly having this creature in my arms. I felt somewhat distanced from her because of how she had come out of me – so in my eyes, I hadn’t given birth, which is so disempowering. This time, thanks to being prepared for ‘any turn my birthing may take’, I wasn’t in shock and I was so relaxed that I could be in the moment. It all felt real, I was very ‘present’ during the birth, I saw her come out of me and the pre-birth bonding that HypnoBirthing classes insist on must have really helped during and after the birth (I had done some pregnancy bonding with my first but perhaps it wasn’t in the same way or to the same extent…). This time, I made all the decisions, so I felt empowered.
So yes, it’s not because I had a C-section that I didn’t have a HypnoBirth. And so in the HypnoBirthing classes that I give to parents-to-be, this is the one thing I insist on: just by attending the classes and just by practising from then on until the birth, they will have a HypnoBirth, no matter what the outcome is: they will use at least some of the tools, they will feel closer to their baby, they will feel closer together, and no matter what happens, they will feel positive about their birth because it will be a calm, comfortable, exciting one.
As for the benefits to my baby, they are not negligible either. HypnoBirthing babies tend to feed and sleep better, and so far this is also true for my baby. Apart from a colicky phase between weeks 3 and 7 in the evening (but even that wasn’t too bad – the really traumatic colicky episodes only lasted a week when she was around 4 weeks), she has been a really pleasant baby, and not just with us. She is very smiley and easy-going, and so far not much fazes her! Even during her colicky phase, she was a little angel and slept really well during the day. Then from 7 weeks, she slept through every night from about 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. Then from 17 weeks, she started going to bed earlier so she would wake up once a night for a feed, at about 4 a.m., but now at 6 and a half months, she sleeps through most nights, from 8 p.m. till 6/6.30 a.m. I’m happy with that!
Postnatally and beyond, HypnoBirthing has major benefits too. I still use some of the techniques, even now, six months on: the calm breathing helps me calm down or stay calm and remain focused on the present moment, enjoying whatever it brings rather than focusing on the feelings of tiredness that sometimes pervade my body and spirit. Of course, second time around, it is a lot easier to stay calm anyway, because you know for sure that this won’t last for ever, because you know what you’re doing and what to expect (more or less!), and because you’re even busier than first time around so time passes very quickly and you just want to hang on to every precious moment you get with your precious jewel of a baby. I do anyway! But still, I can feel in my body and my mind that HypnoBirthing has helped me develop a sense of general calm and confidence that I didn’t have first time around – that I didn’t really have in my life before I had children, even. The breathing techniques also help keep fatigue at bay – deep breathing and relaxation make you feel more energised and more positive. You feel on top of the world, even through sleep deprivation!
Of course, the other major difference compared to last time is that I had a doula during pregnancy and at the birth, and now also postnatally. There is no doubt that this has helped me stay calm, on top of using HypnoBirthing. My doula initially came twice a week for 3 hours each time, for about two months. Now she comes once a week for 2-3 hours, and it means I can do the extra things I never have time to do, or have some more quality time with my daughters. This presence has undoubtedly made a huge difference in my daily life and in my recovery in the postnatal period, both physically and emotionally. The support I got and still get weekly, and in between by phone, text or email if necessary, and the invisible support I get just because I know that I will have a bit of help at some point during the week, are a real bonus. I so wish I had known postnatal doulas existed 4 years ago. It would have made my first experience of motherhood so much more enjoyable, so much lighter.
Please spread the word about birth doulas, postnatal doulas and hypnobirthing – they will change the face of birth and early motherhood!