This is a long one folks and it includes some quite specific details of actual human births. We appreciate this feature won’t be for all our readers because there are many people who choose a childfree life. That said, we very much hope this piece will be of value to any of you who might be trying for a baby, are about to have a baby or who have recently become parents.
It’s 12 years since I was pregnant with my third (and final) child. The passage of time has worked it’s magic and left me with nothing but sugar coated memories of my pregnancies and birth experiences. I was lucky as all three of my pregnancies were pretty straight forward and complication free (aside from an induction with my third daughter, which was not planned and was super painful, although very quick!). I do not take this for granted and appreciate that discussion of both pregnancy and birth is an acutely emotive subject and the last thing I want to do is come across as some irritating show-off with no empathy for women whose pregnancies and births did not go according to plan. That said, I also strongly believe that as women we should empower each other by allowing positive birth experiences, whatever that may look like, to be discussed and celebrated.
So many women I have spoken to over the years have expressed a deep fear of giving birth, particularly those who are embarking on this exciting journey towards motherhood for the first time. In fact, I cannot recall one person that has ever said to me ‘I’m really looking forward to the birth as I know exactly what to expect and I’m totally down with that level of pain. Yeah!’. I don’t doubt that those women are out there, but I am willing to bet on the fact that they are a minority.
For me, one of the scariest parts about giving birth was the unpredictability of the situation. We can muse over our birth plans for months and share them with our loved ones and medical professionals, but for many, once that first contraction comes, let’s be honest – the birth plan goes out of the proverbial window. It was only when I let go of the idea of a perfect birth (whatever that is?) that I began to relax both physically and psychologically – and I know that this had a huge impact on my ability to cope during labour and accept whatever was meant to be. I felt and still feel very strongly about women being exposed to the positive effects of feeling mentally in control (perhaps through hypnobirthing or simply through discussion with others) when giving birth. This may not work for everyone, but it certainly had a hugely positive impact on me and on many other women I have spoken to.
So, the purpose of this feature is to collate stories shared by real women about their ‘positive’ experiences of birth.
Positive does not mean text book
Positive does not mean perfect. Positive in this instance is a subjective matter, understood only by the woman herself who is giving birth. By sharing these experiences we hope to help alleviate some of fears that some of you may have and encourage a positive and useful dialogue about all aspects of pregnancy and birth.
One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.
– Professor Stephen Hawking –
Over the coming weeks we will focus on other areas that may affect women experiencing pregnancy and birth such as use of pain relief, induction, when the plan goes out of the window, emergency C-sections and first few days with baby, amongst many other areas. On that note, here are some real life examples of ‘positive’ birth experiences.
A heartfelt thanks to these gorgeous women for sharing their birth stories with us…
Despite being a premature birth (30+1) and therefore very scary circumstances, I had an absolutely text book emergency c-section. The procedure went extremely well and I only needed an epidural. I had no complications following the operation and healed very well indeed. I was very nervous to have a c-section, but I would not hesitate to have one again in a future pregnancy.
I went into hospital with reduced movements and was booked in for a routine scan to check all was ok. There was low fluid levels around the baby and because I was almost 39 weeks pregnant as a precaution I was induced. There and then!!
This was FAR from my birth plan, I couldn’t have a water birth, I was laid on a bed the whole time being monitored and I knew the risks with induction and intervention. However I needn’t have worried. My labour was fast and painful, but it was manageable and throughout I felt positive!
Amelie was born within 8 hours of active labour, one round of prostaglandin gel (not the 18 hours they told me it could take to work!) and minimal stitches. I was told how an induction usually ends up with an emergency c-section or forceps etc but I didn’t need any of that! I had the birth that I feared but in reality it was magical and I’d do it again tomorrow.
– Kelly and Amelie (5 hrs old) –
So I guess I’ll start at 40 + 4. The pool was in the nursery already to go, we were going for a home birth, and a midwife was coming along to see me for possibly the last time. She checked me over and told me despite what the charts said all along (an average baby) she thought he’d be more along the lines of 6lb 10… great! This is going to be so beautiful!!! FYI the charts can be wrong, he came out at 9lb 4!
The following evening my waters broke, around midnight and then it started. The surges were fine, nothing I couldn’t handle. Not close together but felt fairly strong, strong enough to not allow me to have any sleep, sleep which was strongly advised by the midwife at the end of the phone at 2am.
Now basically that was that for this part but unfortunately this part lasted 24 hours. Surges strong, but with no rhyme or rhythm, 3 in 15 minutes – 1 in 20 minutes. Hopping in and out the pool to get things going, walking around and around the street, up and down the stairs, in and out the shower! I hadn’t been so active in weeks.
Eventually things started to crank up a notch, apparently I was making “transitional sounds” and our gorgeous midwife kept disappearing behind me to see if he was here yet, nope, still no baby. She checked his heartbeat and at this point, as I relaxed in the pool between the surges 24 hours in, there was a dip in his heart rate. We changed positions, this time out of the pool and onto our bed, heart beat checked again… another dip.
And this is the point the beautiful ideal changed. It was standard procedure to have to transfer to the hospital at this point, two heart rate dips and constant monitoring is required. As we waited for the ambulance I had my first examination.. 7.5cm wow!! All that way with nothing but a bit of gas and air… a new calm came over me. I remember the midwife saying “he might still arrive before the ambulance” ha! Nope!!!
When we arrived at hospital it was back to where we were at home, surges sporadic and no more dips in the heart rate… typical! So I carried on doing what I was doing for another 6 hours.
So here we are 30 hours in… I can’t keep doing this. I’ve been awake for almost two days. So what are the options? My birth plan said I can do this at home with gas and air…. I think it’s time that plan got adapted. I remember Lynn (ah Lynn) another gorgeous midwife asking me if I could do this for another 30 hours, I think the look on my face suggested otherwise! An epidural was ordered so I could try and get some rest… 3 hours later a second examination, guess what, you’re 7.5cm. Whoopie di do, I was that 9 hours ago!
This birth needed to happen, so out came more drugs, the induction drug, cranked up to the most they could give me. Another 3 hours later, still no baby…enter Ian.
Ah Ian, Super Consultant Ian, who had informed me for all the attempts I was making this baby “is a toad, and has decided to come out with his head on the side. Basically you can carry on trying but it’s looking highly unlikely you’ll be able to do this without any help.” I remember at this point begging for a c section! Me, the only natural/water birth/hypnobirthing mum to be, begging for a c section. Must’ve been serious!!!
I didn’t get the c-section I (apparently) wanted, instead Super Ian got him out with a fair bit of force and some forceps. Which in the end, resulted in a fair amount of blood loss and a stay on the high dependency ward for myself… but that’s another not perfect but positive story.
Anyway, the main reason I want to share my birth story is because even though it was at times stressful and pretty scary, it may seem strange that I can say it was nothing but positive.
We took a class in Hypnobirthing at 20 weeks pregnant and I honestly think if it wasn’t for that course my mind would’ve been in a very different place. It helped me tostay calm and focused when things weren’t going to plan.
– Amy and Theo –
I remember telling my mum that I had torn and had to get stitches, thinking it meant that my birth hadn’t gone as well as it should have. She set me right but it has made me reflect on how powerful the words and language around birth really is. There is actually quite a lot of research going on at the moment about the language used in hospitals.
It’s very interesting that the British Medical Journal recommends using more inclusive and empowering language with parents to help them to take control of their birth experience. Good communication has been shown to reduce the woman’s feelings of failure and leads to more positive outcomes in general.
– Caoimhe and her Ultan –
I went into my first labour with quite high expectations from myself of what kind of birth I wanted. It turns out I was very lucky and it couldn’t have gone any better for me. I spent most of my labour in the water with just gas and air. I breathed my way through and focused on my prize but, I would say the most positive thing about my birth, if I had to pick one, would be the bond I made with my amazing midwife.
I felt like I bonded with her immediately and I know I wouldn’t have got through it the way I did without her. She seemed to know just what to say and do at the right times, she was so gentle, caring, kind and reassuring every step of the way. I still think about her all the time and if there was anyway I could guarantee she would be my midwife second time round I would do it in a heartbeat!
– Toni and Hugo –
I was quite young when I had my son (27), and so maybe I was just blissfully naïve, or perhaps I was also led by the experiences of my mum and my sister – both of whom had had home births – and so it just never occurred to me that if I wanted a home birth that I would have anything other than precisely that. I often wonder whether it was that naivity (and a prominent stubborn gene) that meant I got what I expected. I suppose in retrospect it could have easily gone another way, but luckily for me it did not.
The part that didn’t quite go to plan was the part about my son arriving a week early and labour starting whilst I was in the wrong county! It was a full week before my due date and I was in Kent, preparing for my brother’s wedding (scheduled for the coming Friday) when – on the Monday morning – I got up to go to the loo and thought I’d, err, had an accident. I almost didn’t even tell my then husband about it, but when I did, he suggested I ring my soon-to-be sister-in-law (a trainee midwife) and ask her advice. By the time she came to see me, I was pausing for breath every few moments. She spotted these for the contractions they were almost immediately. Pretty much all I remember at that point was her handing me several towels to sit on (oh, the glamour!), a paracetamol, a package of brownies and shoving me into the passenger seat of my car. My ex-husband drove like a lunatic, and we were home within an hour and 40 minutes. I remember throwing up the brownies and the paracetamol somewhere along the side of the A3 around Hindhead! By the time we passed the birth centre we had briefly considered using, still over 20 minutes from home, my contractions were a minute apart and were lasting about 40 seconds. I was oblivious, but my husband lied to me (bless him) and said that probably didn’t mean much at all, and we still had ages to go. By the time we arrived at our flat, on the water front at Hayling Island, we’d phoned the midwife and told her what was happening – she’d offered to be with us within two hours; at the time, that seemed reasonable!
Garry got to inflating the birthing pool and filling it (and, no, we hadn’t practised this AT ALL), and then dug out the tens machine, which it transpired was devoid of batteries! He left me, naked on the bathroom floor, puking into the loo, whilst he went to the shops to find some AAs. By the time he got back (now about 2.30 pm, having set off from Kent at 10.30ish that morning), I had been in labour for five hours. He took one look at me and rang the midwife to suggest that perhaps waiting two hours was a bit ambitious; he politely suggested that ‘now’ would be better. She and her colleagued turned up at our flat at 3pm, and looked me over – more or less immediately informing me that if I wished to make use of our (now beautifully filled) pool, I had better get in it. She had just enough time to get some gas and air out and into my mouth, and out my whopping great 8lb 10oz heffalump came. He was born at twenty minutes past three… almost exactly six hours since my waters had gone.
By mid afternoon, our whole worlds had changed forever, but I was sitting on my own sofa, with my own duvet, and my new baby tucked up against me, looking out over our balcony onto the Solent. The waves were crashing and the sun was shining in through the French windows, and every memory I have of that day was just how wonderful it was to be there and not in a hospital.
We turned around two days later and drove back to Kent so that we were there in plenty of time for me to accompany my sister-in-law down the aisle to marry my little brother… but my goodness did I look awful in that pale silk bridesmaid’s dress, five days post partum!
Not everything went swimmingly for Monty and me after that – breast surgery meant that feeding was a real struggle and we battled with that for months; I developed post-partum hypothyroidism and we had various other issues to contend with along the way – but I am so so pleased with our birthing story. I think it made an enormous difference to the way he and I bonded, and I also swear his water birth, at the seaside, has a lot to do with his ongoing obsession with water and swimming!
Interestingly, I am now some nine years down the line and about to have my second and I am terrified! I worry constantly that this first birthing experience has lulled me into an entirely false sense of security about everything, and that no.2 will be the equal and opposite experience. I’m terrified, so it’s good for me to recount the first experience and remind myself that it might just possibly be okay this time too.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this post because for me, ‘positive birth story’ has a different connotation to what perhaps most people usually think it means (a natural birth with no medical intervention). I’m feel quite strongly that the media’s overuse of the term ‘positive birth story’ needs to be redefined, to minimise anxiety for pregnant women. I also feel that we need to be honest about what can, might and often does happen during the experience of bringing an actual human into the world.I quickly realised after giving birth to my first child that the raw reality of birthing a human being is not a text book experience (no text book I read mentioned that you might actually poop yourself when trying to squeeze out a child, for example – but that this is a totally normal thing to happen and midwives are experts at accidental poop discretion!). Both my birth stories below are a little graphic so, but giving birth can be a messy business.
Baby number 1 – the perfect text book pregnancy. I finally went into labour 10 days past my due date and half a day before I was due to be induced. This labour lasted over 40 hours and despite me being utterly convinced I would be fine (because my mum and sister had both had natural births – my mum birthed me as a breech baby with absolutely no anaesthetic but that’s a whole other story), I was convinced I’d have no issue too. We’d fallen pregnant within 3 months of trying. How wrong was I.
Looking back, I realise my pain threshold was very low and I simply wasn’t coping from the off. I recall the midwife getting quite stroppy with me when I was only 3cm dilated and literally screaming for all the pain relief in the world. The TENS machine I’d hired was a total waste of time. I went on to have gas and air, a Pethadine injection, an epidural and an episiotomy (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth, to aid a difficult delivery and prevent rupture of tissues. Said cut is later sewn up whilst you are cuddling newborn baby and you barely notice it happening because of course, you’re under local anaesthetic ‘down there’). The relief brought by the epidural was like heaven after my struggle to cope with the pain. I remember telling the Anaesthetist I wanted to marry him! I was able to birth my baby relatively pain free and her arrival remains one of the most magical, unbelievable experiences of my life.
Baby number 2 – this was definitely not a text book pregnancy. I bled heavily for the first 18 weeks – cue 4 months of stress, hospital visits and scans. My waters ended breaking at 35 weeks and after being monitored every other day at the hospital after this ahead of a planned induction that was due to take place at 36 weeks, I found myself going into labour naturally. Only I didn’t realise it at the time. I had so desperately wanted to do it naturally this time that I was so focused on being in control of the pain, that I wasn’t fully acknowledging the extent of that pain. That, and the fact I’d had a scan that very day where the Sonographer had categorically told me ‘this baby is definitely not arriving naturally within the next 24 hours’. Twelve hours after those words were spoken, my baby had been born by emergency C-section.
I had gone through the night experiencing what I thought were ‘Braxton Hicks’ contractions (like, not real contractions, but your body preparing a warm up, so to speak, in preparation for the real contractions ahead). But by morning time, I was experiencing pain that could not be ignored. It was our youngest daughter’s first day at school and her Grandparents had fled over to take her there whilst we drove to the hospital. I remember screaming out in pain ‘GO SLOWLY’ as my husband attempted a speed bump on the road whilst the sound of 2001 Space Odyssey blasted out on the car radio. You honestly couldn’t have made it up.
On arrival at the hospital, I was taken to an assessment room and duly seen to by a midwife with a trainee present. By then, the contractions had stopped and I was advised to prepare to go home and wait once more for the planned induction the next day. The next thing I remember is concern spreading across faces in the room and my babies heartbeat lowering (you could hear it on the monitoring machine they’d got me hooked up to). Then a Consultant being called in and him doing a quick ‘internal’ test and immediately demanding ‘Code 1 Emergency’. And then the biggest most painful contraction I could imagine happened. I vaguely remember my husband being told to follow the nurse to theatre and being rushed down the corridor on the trolley to theatre myself. I was in some weird, seminal place – I had shut down to the outside world – it felt almost like an out of body experience. I was focused purely on survival by that stage. I’d had no pain relief at all, no gas and air, nothing. I remember being told quite forcefully to SIT UP and being assisted into a forward slump whilst I was injected in my back (an epidural). I remember apologising to the nurse whose boobs I groped as I lunged forward to try to hold myself up – I couldn’t see her face as she had a theatre mask on. And then I remember feeling this sensation, like my baby had moved down a shaft inside and was about to come out. I was helped to lie down again and then I felt that feeling they tell you to expect during a c-section, ‘like a washing machine in your tummy’ as the consultant makes his incision and goes inside and pulls out your baby!
“Here she is!” he said for all of 2 seconds, holding her above the divide that separated the upper half of my body from the bottom (designed to prevent you from seeing the operation happening – and that part was fine by me, by the way). The consultant had hold of my daughter at the base of her neck and ankles – she looked so long, and deep red in colour. She was then whisked away and all I recall is a mask being placed gently over my face “I’m sorry Miss Annabel, we’re going to have to send you to sleep to finish off, relax, just relax…….”. I was given a general anaesthetic because whilst removing my daughter from inside, I had experienced a ‘complex tear’ that required stitching. It’s graphic sounding, I know but, I woke, not too long later (2 hours maybe?) to the sound of my husband singing to our daughter as he cradled her in his arms. I hurt like mad and the next 2 -3 days were all about learning to get out of bed and go for a wee myself (important to get the blood circulation going after a c-section). THAT was hard, but oh my goodness, I didn’t care. I had the most beautiful baby lying next to me in a little cot in the hospital ward.
Both my birth experiences were challenging, and I shall not deny that the second birth experience felt traumatic in the immediate aftermath. Psychologically I felt impacted by missing out on the last month of pregnancy. I also struggled with feeling not present during her actual birth – but to me, it is still a positive birth story because my child was born healthy and, thanks to the quick action of the medical team, avoided anything life endangering.
A few weeks after my second daughter was born, the consultant who had delivered her agreed to meet me to talk through the timeline of events that had happened on the day – it was then she explained that the emergency c-section was required to avoid potential birth injury like cerebral palsy due to worryingly low oxygen levels. This really put things into perspective for me personally and there’s not a day that goes by where I think my little girl is my little miracle baby. I think it’s important to share honest stories like mine to add balance to the birth stories we feel such a hunger to seek out when we are expecting a baby. I also want to share my birth experiences to encourage other mum’s that whilst things might not go to plan, things can and more often than not absolutely will turn out wonderfully positive. Here’s a picture of my little 5lb 3oz baby girl – she’s 7 and a half years old now!
– Annabel and Leanora –
I had my baby boy just after I turned 30. I believe all women should hear about positive birth stories, but that doesn’t mean they should be kept in the dark about birth and the realities of motherhood. It’s the very fact of getting through something difficult, unexpected or painful that makes it all the more amazing and empowering.
I’d had a difficult pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum (severe vomiting) and Symphysis Pubic Dysfunction, and my birth story ended with an emergency transfer to hospital to get my placenta removed manually. So I’m not looking at this with rose tinted glasses. But the actual labour and giving birth bits were fine! Incredible even.
I was a week overdue and eating my evening meal at home when my contractions started. At 8pm they were seven minutes apart and I called the birth centre to let them know. By 8.30pm they were four minutes apart and I called back to say we were coming in. I hadn’t managed to practice any hypnobirthing but I’m familiar with meditation and was able to breathe through these contractions. I was in the birthing pool by around 10pm and 4cm dilated.
What follows was a slightly blurry, but dare I say blissful, few hours. I was in the pool which was exactly where I felt I needed to be. We had relaxing spa music playing. I cycled through asking for sips of lucozade, water, lip balm and a cold flannel while I laboured in the dim light. My body just took over and did its thing. I focussed intently on breathing deeply through each painful contraction, nothing else. Lucozade. Water. Lip balm. Flannel. My waters burst with an amazing release of pressure in the pool. The midwife popped in and out, pretty much leaving us to it, which I liked. Lucozade. Water. Lip balm. Flannel. At one point I asked for paracetamol and the midwife chuckled, but that’s all I had. Everything was calm. She checked me again around 2am and I was 8cm. I was ecstatic that things were progressing.
Just before the pushing stage my contractions slowed, which is common, giving me a little break and I kind of dozed off between the surges. My midwife asked if I felt the need to push and I wasn’t sure. But soon I started to feel this unbelievable downward energy. Not the baby pushing down but my whole body, as if I was a force of gravity. They call this the ‘mooing stage’ and I could not replicate the noises I made now if I tried. Low, guttural, unstoppable. I honestly wasn’t doing anything myself, my body took over.
I personally couldn’t feel the baby moving down the birth canal – which I think is unusual. I was still in pain but I couldn’t really see or feel what was happening so I was surprised to reach down into the water and feel the top of a head, which was encouraging. My husband and midwives were cheering me on. At this point I was pushing with all my might and after over an hour of pushing the midwives decided to get me out of the pool which was no easy task with a baby right between my legs!
Things got intense as I hit transition- the point where women say they can’t do any more, I remember shouting ‘no-ooooo!’ as I was guided to a low birthing stool on the floor. Now I could feel the baby’s head crowning! The last 15 minutes were an out of body experience and I couldn’t really tell you what happened. I floated above myself in the dark room and my next memory was seeing my baby boy on the mat at my feet. He was alert and calm, looking around. It was only a split second before he was placed in my arms but that moment is imprinted on my mind forever. Time slowed down as I saw him. My husband said the feeling of relief in the room was huge. Our baby was born at 4.17am weighing 9lb 2oz. It was a calm, empowering birth, by no means perfect, but I am just in awe of what the female body is capable of doing.
– Joelle and Leo –