Birth Story Of The Week – Heather and her Twins Felicity and Caitlin

“Having read Holly Shawyer’s (an old school friend) blog about her home birth with Mabel, I had a strong desire to share my very different birth story, which was somewhat traumatic but with a happy ending.
I knew early on that mine would be a very different story, because I was expecting twins. No home birth for me, not even the midwife led birthing unit and birthing pool. I was marked as high risk and was expected to deliver in the hospital delivery suite, where I would be hooked up to plenty of monitors to ensure both babies stayed well throughout labour. I had been to all the NCT classes and was hopeful that even though it might not be a text book labour, I would at least have some opportunity to follow a birth plan.
But my little girls had other ideas… at 30+6 weeks pregnant, with my husband away on business in Malaysia, they decided to put in an appearance. We knew that with twins there was a likelihood of premature labour, but we hadn’t realised how premature. With perhaps some sort of subconscious foresight, I chose to stay with my parents that night. With no sign that anything was wrong I went to bed, but was woken at 12.30am when my waters went with a gush. With my Dad muttering that he thought he was done and dusted with midnight dashes to the hospital, both parents rushed me to the hospital, whilst I rang James to tell him he needed a plane home!
At the hospital they were incredibly reassuring and even managed to get me to relax a bit. It didn’t seem like I was having contractions so they were hopeful that they might be able to get me to hold on until James got back. However, when they had a look they found a foot already on it’s way out! At 3cm dilated there wasn’t enough room for them to come out safely even though they were tiny. So a c-section it was and because my blood pressure was so high, it had to be under general anaesthetic. They pushed the button and suddenly the room filled with 20 people. My mum was whisked out, someone undressed me and gowned me and I was wheeled down the corridor, yelling that I couldn’t lie on my back due to pelvic girdle pain. Before I knew it I was asleep and then awake again. Two and a half hours from my waters breaking to the arrival of my girls.
An anxious time followed whilst a kindly midwife reassured me I would soon see my baby. I had to keep checking there were definitely still two babies, panic increasing each time she referred to “your baby”. But after what felt like forever, they wheeled me on my bed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and pointed at two incubators, telling me they were mine. They reassured me that 1.3kg (3lb) was a good weight, that they were healthy and that they expected them to do well.
It was another 24 hours before I saw them again, as I lay recovering on the post-natal ward listening to everyone else’s babies scream. I had high blood pressure and low iron levels. But 24 hours after they arrived, my husband appeared by my bedside and we went to visit them together and were able to name them Felicity and Caitlin. Holding them for the first time, tucked against your skin inside your shirt, whilst they are connected to what feels like hundreds of tubes and monitors, is the most amazing experience. Panicking each time the monitors bleeped, whilst the nurses continued to reassure you all was well.
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They spent six weeks in special care and the nurses and doctors were amazing, never forgetting that although they were providing the twenty-four hour care, we were the parents.
They came home at 6 weeks old, still 3 weeks before full-term and weighing 4lbs and we couldn’t be more grateful for the care they received there. Now 5 months old and weighing 11lbs our little miracles are thriving.”
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The ‘Before’ The Baby Blues


For some pregnant women, far from feeling the excited anticipation of expecting a baby, the state of pregnancy itself can create up negative feelings. This can lead to confusion and sadness that the expected emotions in pregnancy are absent. We read and hear a lot about postnatal depression, which occurs after the birth of a baby, but little is known or documented about depression during pregnancy.


Katie and Nancy

This guest post is written by a fellow midwife who when found herself pregnant 2 years ago, couldn’t understand why she felt, flat, emotional and depressed. Unaware of the signs of antenatal depression she almost ended the pregnancy altogether. But with the right help and support she is now loving being a Mum to a beautiful little girl and wants to share her experience of antenatal depression.


‘I’ve always known I was meant to have children. It was as natural to me as breathing. Of course I’d be a mother. Watching babies – and mummies – be born every day it’s always at the forefront of your mind.

Admittedly, when it did happen, I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I had a wonderful, supportive man, a good job and a new house, so no reason not to, right? It was a bit of a shock but we shrugged our shoulders, took a deep breath and said lets do this.

Whilst it was a secret (we didn’t even tell our parents until after the 12 week scan) it was fine. No one expected anything of me. I felt a bit sick, really tired and cried at the drop of hat but that was normal.

After the scan I started to notice I didn’t feel quite right. People kept saying how excited I must be – I’d been complaining about how broody I was for the past couple of years – but I felt nothing. Just flat. No emotion. I couldn’t relate to the tiny, fluttering fetus inside me. I put it down to the fact that it had been quite a shock and we needed to get our heads round it still.

A month later and I was fed up. Fed up of the fake smile and nod, fed up of crying, of feeling guilty and most of all, fed up of not being me. I came home from work, sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed. I resolved to go to the GP the next day to book an abortion. I couldn’t cope with the emptiness and numbness inside me any longer. I hated my life and my situation and this was the only way I could see out – I never felt like ending my own life.

Sitting on the laminate floor, I cried and text my best friend. Perhaps if I knew there was an end to this ‘phase’ I could cope. If she said she felt like this too, but it went away, I could stick with it. I could be brave. She rang me straight away. Luckily she is a midwife too and recognised that the way I felt wasn’t normal. We agreed I would go and see the doctor the next day, but I would ask for help inside of seeking a way out.

After more sobbing at the doctor, a phone call to a very understanding matron at work and a referral to our perinatal mental health team, I felt a bit more positive. I was going to have a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), lots of support and potentially some medication if things didn’t improve. I also had a diagnosis. Antenatal depression.

Around 1 in 10 women experience postnatal depression and we are getting so much better at looking out for it and supporting women in the immediate post partum period, but did you know that the same number of women will suffer from antenatal depression? We assume that in pregnancy women will be suffering from the physical symptoms of pregnancy, but how many of us pay close enough attention to their mental health?

If you are worried about a friend, loved one, colleague or patient, please, please speak to them. After 3 months of therapy and almost a year of medication, I am now the mother of a beautiful, hilarious, vibrant little girl and when I think of what could have been I am so thankful for good friends and great support.’

For more information and support please check out PANDAS Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support.

Birth Story Of The Week – Ellie and Ida

Phew, that was a quiet few days…… my last post The truth about maternity leave obviously hit home to so many of you out there, and not just here in the UK. All over the world, it went viral! In fact that post in total was viewed almost half a millions times. I’m completely and utterly blown away with that, I can’t even begin to contemplate what that even looks like in numbers. Apart from some negative comments left on the blog, many of you said it described exactly how you were feeling as new mothers. So to all of you who shared my blog on either Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or just by word of mouth I thank you. You’ve reached out to many many mothers, fathers and grandmothers out there. I hope we can all continue to be honest and support one another when the going gets tough.

So today is a lovely birth story for you all.

This is the birth story of me (Ellie) and my second born (Ida). 


I was 38 weeks pregnant and the ladies at toddler group were starting to comment that there was no way I would make it to 40 weeks! I was huge! I had worn out two pairs of jeans over the month playing trains with Rufus my 2 year old, was spending most weekends as a ‘single mum’ as my husband travelled up and down the country to work, and was certainly ready to have the baby out rather than in!

We had spent weeks deliberating how we would manage if I went in to labour while Gav was in London working. Friends and family had offered to be on hand to drive me to hospital if necessary, hold the fort until Gav got back, and I had a rota of potential babysitters for Rufus. Nothing to worry about.

That weekend, we had a couple from America staying. They were new to England and we had offered to show them around Leeds and help them to find accommodation. It would be nice to have company while I was heavily pregnant.

I spoke to Gav that evening, him in London suburbia, me in Leeds. ‘If anything happens, keep me in the loop Ellie’. ‘Nothing is going to happen tonight Gav, I’m 38 weeks’ said unsuspecting me.

It was a strange night, I kept waking and having pain across the top of my tummy, not like contractions. I felt worried and started to push the poor baby around with my hands, desperate to feel some foetal movements. I slept on and off until 4am, when I felt a kick….no…a pop? Had my waters broken? I stood up and there was a trickle. When I made it to the toilet there was more of a gush. I decided to call the maternity assessment suite, who said it sounded like it could possibly be my waters and to give it an hour until I came in to be checked. Convinced my waters had broken, I called Gav, ‘Get the first train back from London’ (he could be back in 5 hours. Plenty surely? Especially after a 24 hour labour with Rufus). I called my mum (in the Lake District) ‘my waters have broken, please can you drive over?’ It is only a 2 hour journey for her, so decided I would wait for her to arrive before we head in to the maternity suite.

I tried to sleep a bit more but wasn’t really tired, the adrenaline kicked in. I got myself dressed and decided to get some toast and watch some telly. At 5am contractions started but I called the midwife who said there was no rush to go in unless I thought I was in established labour. From this point on, I think I was delirious! My toast lay uneaten, the tv was never turned on. Gav kept calling telling me to use my contractions app. It was telling me that my contractions were 2 minutes apart but I kept thinking that can’t be right and clearing the whole history to start timing again! He told me to wake our visitors, but I thought it was too early in the morning and I’d be labouring for ages. I straightened my hair(?!), then felt an urge to push and went to the toilet. At this point I called my mum. ‘I don’t think I can wait for you (she still had an hour to go), I think I’d better call a taxi’ to which she replied ‘I think you’d better call an ambulance’. I crouched over on the stairs on the way up to my bedroom, the pain taking over my body and called 999. ‘I’m bearing down’ I told the emergency services, ‘I think I’m going to have a baby’! (Whoever says I’m bearing down???) She replied ‘I’m going to talk you through how to deliver your baby!’ ‘I’m not having it here!’ I cried! She asked me if I could feel any part of the baby, I thought, hmmm can I feel the baby?…oh can I feel the actual baby!! She directed me to get sheets and towels out on the floor, which I did but all the while I was thinking this really is stupid….then woaaaaah….it’s coming. ‘Arrrrrrrggghhhh!’ I screamed. Yep, that woke our visitors up for sure and she rushed up the stairs half asleep only to be greeted with ‘I’m really sorry, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but is that a head?!’ ‘I think that’s a head’ she replied! She was amazing! She took the phone from me and (whilst struggling to understand all the Yorkshire twang) delivered Ida Rose Evelyn right there and then on my bedroom floor at 6am. And wow! She was safe, she was beautiful, she was healthy, it was so peaceful. I lay with her in my arms for 8 minutes until the paramedics showed up.

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I called Gav. ‘I’m so sorry, I’ve had her!’ Poor Gav, having paid £50 taxi fair to get to kings cross sat in the back of the taxi, gutted. The burly taxi driver comforting him.

The paramedics treated me like a queen, scurrying round my bedroom finding me bits and pieces (including the toblerone), I was in shock! They delivered the placenta and put it nicely in a  plastic bag and cut the umbilical cord. Rufus woke up, the timing could not have been more perfect. He saw the paramedics and immediately said ‘my baby sister? I go upstairs?’ To which I replied…’ummmm, I’ll be down in a minute!’

What a precious moment, walking down the stairs, Ida wrapped in a towel only to be greeted by her big brother munching his breakfast. What joy radiated from his face!

Off Ida and I went to hospital, she fed beautifully all the way there and I felt such a surge of love and such completeness. Our American visitor had warned my mum to go straight to the hospital, but omitted the finer detail that I had given birth! As the ambulance doors flung open, she thought I was nursing my bump, then ‘you’ve had her?!’

Gav burst into the hospital at 9am. ‘We have to have a third child now so I don’t miss the birth again’ he said whilst cradling Ida and musing at all her petite, dark features. ‘Lets not talk about that right now Gav!’

The Truth About Maternity Leave

The other day I discharged one of my women on day 23. This may sound quite late to still be visiting women after they’ve had a baby but personally I feel that day 14 is too soon. Most women’s partners are back at work after 2 weeks and that first week flying solo is really tough. You feel like you are constantly breastfeeding and the thought of even getting dressed and leaving the house is too much to cope with. So you stay in your pj’s watching day time tv and eating chocolate biscuits, checking Facebook, taking selfies of you and your new baby and using those amazing Instagram filters to hide your bags.

I gave my usual schpeel about seeing your GP at 6 weeks, contraception, pelvic floor exercises, baby clinic and asked what her support network like. She rolled off all the classes her and her pals she’d met at NTC are going to do. Baby massage, baby sensory, baby yoga, swimming, power pramming, baby cinema. I was exhausted just thinking about all of that. I can barely fit in the 3 runs a week I am trying to do as part of my get fit routine this year. But I smiled a knowing smile and walked away thinking she will be just fine. It’s all a big learning curve.

Because all that stuff you throw yourself into during maternity leave is really to keep you sane and get you out of the house. And you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out or that you’re a bad mother for depriving your baby of any of those classes which are scientifically proven to increase their IQ (ahem).

So as a mother of 2 having gone through maternity leave twice and hated some days so much I wanted to scream and run back to work, I want to share with you the truth with some tips thrown in too, for your own sanity.

Not even Instagram's filter could hide how tired I felt

Not even Instagram’s filter could hide how tired I felt

Maternity leave is expensive. Once your mat pay starts to dwindle, all those coffees and lunches out start eating a hole in your purse. But where’s the pleasure in sitting at home drinking a Nescafe? Think wisely to saying yes to meeting friends for lunch. If you’re meeting work pals in town during their lunch break they should really offer to pay as they’re on a full time salary. If some of your new ‘mum mates’ live locally, take it in turns to host coffee mornings at each other’s houses. Offer to make a cake or if you’re living in the real world and have been up all night with your baby take a packet of chocolate Hobnobs. Chocolate always makes things better.

Baby classes are great but again so expensive. I paid for 10 mother and baby yoga classes at a local private gym. Total waste of money. My baby screamed during every position the teacher got us to do, even bouncing her on an exercise ball whilst singing ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ didn’t end her screams. I ended up sitting on the side breastfeeding her for the rest of the class and lying when the teacher asked me if I was doing my pelvic floor exercises. And you know what I learnt? I learnt that my baby was highly strung and hated the echo and noise of that place and at that time of the morning she wanted to be fed and then sleep in her sling. Lessons learnt.

Maternity leave is a competitive game. It’s a constant battle of who’s losing their baby weight quicker, whose baby is playing with what toy, who’s getting more sleep, whose baby is reaching the next milestone. With my first baby I joined a postnatal already established group of 7 Mums. You know the saying ‘too many cooks?’ Well it was a bit like that. To this day 2 of them are still my really close friends but I found the big group meet ups stressful and one girl far too controlling and bitchy. It was like being back at school. With my second baby I already had friends with babies so I saw them separately and it was perfect. Everyone was a little more chilled and more into meeting up and swapping gossip rather than weaning tips.

Sleep deprivation pushes you to the lowest of lows. And once the night is over the day comes and babies don’t sleep for long in the day unless they’re being constantly pushed in their pram. This is tough. There were days were I wanted to be at home, getting house holds chores done, maybe do some cooking but my daughter like all babies wanted to be held, CONSTANTLY. Because that’s what babies do. They don’t really like those bouncer chairs for more than 2 minutes 24 seconds and no one can shower and wash their hair that quickly, never mind shave their legs. So my advice is get a sling if you have shit to do, or leave the washing and watch box sets whilst breastfeeding on the sofa. Stock up on loads of them now if you’re pregnant and reading this. Ask for them if your friends want to buy you presents for your baby shower. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are my top recommendations.

Self help books made me feel like an idiot. ‘How to get your baby to sleep through the night’ books and ‘How to get your baby into a routine’ are more challenging that the task itself. Don’t get me wrong, I know and have heard of many babies who have been trained to do this but not without a lot of stress and tears. A vivid memory of this was when my first baby was 6 weeks old and I was reading a certain book to try and established a routine to our misery. I was holding her in one arm as she screamed and scanning the pages of the book in the other trying to find the bit that said what I should be doing at mid day with her. The book clearly states that she can’t be hungry as I had fed her only an hour ago and she needs some ‘tummy time’ on her play gym. It was mid day, she was screaming and screaming on her tummy under her horrible garish play gym. I looked at this hideously stressful situation I was putting her and myself in. So what did I do? I listened to my maternal instincts, picked her up cuddled her and fed her. And I promised her that I would throw that stupid book away and never do that to her again. We made it through the rest of the day just fine.

You will feel like a failure and that you can’t do it. You know in labour when you said ‘I can’t do this is’ and your partner and midwife said ‘You can and you are doing this’, well remember that. Because all over the country and the world other mothers are thinking the same thing. You’re not depressed, you are just climbing the huge mountain of motherhood. And no one said it was easy, and maternity leave is on some days boring, and lonely and unfulfilling. And you crave your old life, and the job you left behind because you used your intelligent brain and felt stimulated and had proper lunch breaks and went for a wee without having a baby attached to your nipple. But you are doing just fine. Who cares if your baby is wearing a stained baby grow and you haven’t done the baby massage your were taught in those stupidly expensive classes today. All your baby knows and needs is you. And that can feel overwhelming in itself. And the sleep does get better, and adjusting to motherhood takes time, plenty of time. Mine are 6 and 3 and I’m still adjusting. Share your fears and anxieties with your mum mates because we need to be sisterly in all of this and be honest with one another.

And just when you’ve got into the swing of it all and your baby is eating solids, and sleeping better and holding toys and actually enjoying going to play groups, your maternity leave is almost up. And you can’t believe how fast the past 11 months has gone and you’ll be riddled with guilt and questioning everything. ‘Why did I complain that it was so awful, I’m going to miss my baby so much. Will my baby be happy at nursery/the childminder? Did I do enough? The answer is yes you will miss that small human you have spent every second of the day with for the past year and yes your child will be happy with the new routine of nursery/the childminder. And yes you did enough you survived, you will get a piece of your life back. And you will be a stronger human for it.

Birth Story Of The Week – Holly and Mabel


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I have to admit that I am one of the lucky ones. My first pregnancy had been about as text book as you could hope for. The birth of Florence was remarkably quick. In fact, it is safe to say that I was able to stick to my birth plan from start to finish. Florence was born at my chosen Birthing centre (the only woman there), in the pool listening to radio 2 after about 6 hours of labour. Perfect.

Of course the only problem with this is the more I spoke to my friends who had subsequently had their babies, I realised that I was just that – LUCKY. I know everyone tells you the horror stories, but I really started to feel ashamed of my ‘perfect’ birth. So when I became pregnant not long after (there is 19 months between my two) I was actually more worried than I was the first time round. Surely, I couldn’t be that lucky twice…

Well, turns out you can! Aside from some pretty horrific varicose veins (I came home in tears when my midwife was so shocked at seeing my swollen and purple veins that she actually told me they were the worst she had ever seen – yeah thanks!!), my pregnancy was uncomfortable but otherwise uneventful.

My plan had always been to have this baby in the same Birthing centre, in the same pool. What I didn’t know was that funding had been cut so the centre was only open in the day and the pool was out of action with no plans to fix it before my due date. Another trip home in tears. I was point blank refusing to go to the local ‘monster’ of a hospital unless I had to, so when I asked my midwife about options for a home birth , expecting her to give me a big thumbs up, she remained indifferent and gave me little information about where I could buy/hire a pool (I was told to ‘goggle it’) or even how this thing would work. Again, panic set in.

I quickly emailed the lovely Clemmie, who I know through school friends. Thankfully, she gave me all the information and reassurance that I needed, so much so that my husband wanted her number on speed dial ‘just in case!’ With this I found my ‘birth pool in a box’ on gumtree and told my midwife I wanted a home birth. Decision made!

I finished work on the Wednesday with exactly a week to go before my due date. On the Saturday I was walking around Sainsbury’s with my toddler thinking, hmmmmm, this hurts a tad. I put Florence to bed as normal, with a few intervals during the bedtime story as the ‘waves’ came and went. I still hadn’t mentioned anything to my husband – God knows why. He was cooking me a nice dinner and I didn’t want to ruin it, so again I ate my tea, getting up a couple of times to make myself a drink (not normal behaviour). We had had a particularly tiring night with Florence the night before, so when I got up off the sofa halfway through ‘Take me Out’, the hubby asked if I was off to bed? I told him no, but it’s time to call your mum. I have never seen him looked so shocked!!

I’m not sure what made me leave it so long to get the ball rolling. I guess I was sort of in denial, but things soon got moving. Darrell put up the pool and started filling it after my mother in law came to collect Florence, all the while I was hugging the walls with my TENS machine electrocuting me. The midwife arrived (after a very tense conversation with the coordinator who told me there were staffing issues and she wasn’t sure if anyone could come to me – another tearful moment in this story). She took one look at me and called for the 2nd midwife to come right away. She hadn’t even examined me – I guess I had that ‘fully dilated’ look about me!

I got in the pool,  which was just as amazing as I remember, with my favourite Yankee candle burning and the ipod playing, all the while hubby made everyone tea and toast. Very civilised. That was until the midwife piped up to say that there was no mouth piece for the gas and air, and could I do this without it? At first I felt brave and said yes. However, 10 minutes later the husband was looking around the house for something that could be used instead of the mouth piece. Another 10 minutes into the story, I was so desperate that I was sucking on the tube direct from the tank!! Who needs a sterile mouthpiece when you are minutes away from giving birth??

And after a remarkably short time, I caught our second daughter, Mabel. A beautifully purple Winston Churchill lookalike. What an amazing feeling to get out of the pool in your living room, feed your new born daughter while the midwives drink tea and tell you how amazing you are.

I guess I know how lucky I am to have such straight forward births – but to anyone who is considering a home birth, if you can, “please do it”. I promise it’s not as scary or as messy as you think it is going to be.

holly and florence holly and florence 2 holly and mabelIf you would like to share your birth story, any birth story is welcome then please email it to me and some photos at



Sometimes the universe is just amazing. It does things to you when you’re least expecting and bang you meet another human being who you feel is so well connected to you, it’s amazing that you haven’t crossed paths before. Cosmic. Well this is exactly what happened last November when I tweeted Hollie and I wanted to find out more about her Hypnobirthing classes. She lived and worked in the same area as myself, and some of my women had been raving about her and her classes. We met during my lunch break in a coffee shop and it was like meeting up with an old pal. We talked and talked and hardly drew breath, our mutual passion for positive births was palpable (not to mention fashion trends) and we swapped numbers with the promise of meeting up next time over a drink. The meeting was cut short as my pager went off calling me to a beautiful home water birth. Here Hollie tells us why all pregnant women should consider hypnobirthing and Paul McKenna is nothing to do with it………

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So what is hypnobirthing? If I’m honest, I think the name puts a lot of people off. There is something about it that suggests I will probably be a mung-bean-eating, tie-dye-wearing pocket-watch wielder. In fact, I’m just a normal mum to one, with a background in graphic design who has stumbled across something wonderful and wants to share it. And that something wonderful happens to be hypnobirthing – an entirely logical antenatal eduction programme based on physiology – how the body works. There is nothing strange about it – no voodoo involved – it is simply understanding how our birthing muscles are designed to function and moreover, how they have become impaired by fear and unfounded expectation.

I came across hypnobirthing when I was pregnant with my son. It’s fair to say I was terrified at the prospect of giving birth. I used to type “horrific birth videos” into YouTube, watch them, and then think “okay, that woman survived, that means I have a good chance of surviving too.” I don’t even think I seriously entertained the idea of giving birth until I was at least 6 months pregnant. I then remember having a conversation with a friend who had just given birth, and that conversation changed my life. I asked her how the birth was, bracing myself for the standard unfolding of traumatic events. She said “it was the most romantic, peaceful experience of my life”. I assumed she was being sarcastic, but in fact she went on to tell me what a calm and intimate experience it had been as she beamed with happiness and pride. Hypnobirthing was apparently the answer, and so with a good amount of curiosity and apprehension, I booked us onto a course.

The course, which ran over two weekends, totally changed the way I viewed birth. I realised that all of my visions of birth were based on other people’s experiences. I was conditioned to believe birth would be awful, with very little understanding of how the physical process of birth even worked. Both my husband and I felt completely enlightened and empowered by what we learnt, by the hypnobirth videos we watched, and it helped us to bond enormously. This was a team effort. We could do this and enjoy it. In the space of two weeks, I’d gone from burying my head in the sand to being excited about going into labour. I think a lot of people around me thought I was slightly off my rocker. How could I possibly be looking forward to this? But I was. My husband and I practiced the techniques daily, and the three of us grew closer all the time. All of this practice paid off entirely when my son decided it was time to make an appearance, and I can honestly say that the journey of his birth was the most rewarding, joyful and life-affirming thing I have ever experienced. At no point was I scared or in unbearable pain. I have never felt so close to another human being as I did with my husband through labour, and my son’s calm temperament, from day one, is something I definitely put down to hypnobirthing.

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Having had this experience, I absolutely knew I had to share this with other women. It made me sad to hear other women talk so disparately of their births, knowing how fulfilling and joyous it could be. I made the decision to train to become a hypnobirthing teacher, and had qualified by the time of my son’s first birthday. I launched London Hypnobirthing two years ago and have been working with mums and their birth companions ever since. I cannot think of a job I’d rather be doing. I love my work and I am proud to be making a difference to the way we approach birth in this country.

So what kind of things does hypnobirthing embody? I always like to begin by acknowledging couple’s concerns about birth, or even about the course. We introduce ourselves and it’s absolutely fine for dads to say “I’m here because my wife told me to come, and I have no idea what this is all about”. A lot of mums say “I’m not sure if I believe in this, but if there’s a chance it can help then I guess it’s worth a try”. Also fine. What I do ask is that couples approach the course with an open mind. I am offering them knowledge, understanding and tools for a better birth, not promising them a “normal” one, whatever that may be. It is their responsibility to take what I offer and practice it, and also to let go of their limiting thoughts around birth. It’s kind of like learning a foreign language – it’s all very well buying a CD, but if you practice speaking it you’ll of course progress so much more.

We talk about where our fear of childbirth comes from and how this fear affects the way our muscles work. We ask if birth has always been this way. We explore the roles of adrenalin and endorphins – and the significant part they play in the birthing body. We look at how programming the mind with certain messages will trigger corresponding chemical reactions in the body – think of placebos, blushing, salivating – and relate this to how we can train our bodies to work in labour. Over the four week course, we learn lots of practical tools to use during labour, a gentle endorphin-inducing massage, breathing and visualisation techniques, and practice the art of self-hypnosis in different forms, which allows the mind and body to work harmoniously, just as nature has designed it to.

There’s a lot we can draw from nature – looking at how animals birth their babies – most often at night, when it’s dark and they feel quiet and safe. It’s no surprise then that most women go into labour at night, and that women often labour so well at home only for things to stall when they make the transition to a bright and noisy hospital where there are lots of strangers buzzing around. It’s so important to get the birth environment right, and this is where dads or birth companions have a huge role to play. I remember during my labour my husband simply whispering “you’re completely safe”, and it was like the warmest embrace I’d ever had. It’s sad when dads feel helpless, or merely a bystander in bringing their baby into the world, and I really encourage couples to embrace this as a total team effort. Your birth companion is there to create a safe space and protect it, to advocate for you and your baby, and to offer gentle encouragement and security – helping to maintain mum’s relaxed state so that she can turn within.

Another important element of hypnobirthing is gaining the confidence to ask questions and ensuring you have the best birth experience for you. Birth is such a personal journey and should be treated as such, wherever and however you choose to birth. I strongly believe that every woman should be entitled to the same level of care and respect during pregnancy, and understanding birth enables parents to reach decisions from a place of knowledge. There is no right or wrong – if it feels right for you, it probably is. Unfortunately we live in a society where we are all too often dictated to by authority, and scared or even embarrassed to question it. Expectant parents should be vary wary when they hear the words “not allowed to”, or “have to” – remember that this is yourbody and your baby. Of course it’s important to listen to medical opinions, but make sure you take the time to tune into your own instincts, to ask questions, and to make decisions based on the interest of you and your baby, rather than handing over such a precious experience because it feels like the only option. So many women in the UK for instance are needlessly induced because they are “late”. Or actually not late as it happens, with recent research highlighting that a woman’s due time can be anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks. To expect all babies to pop out bang on 40 weeks is like expecting 100 people to walk a mile in exactly the same amount of time. Nature doesn’t work like that, and I encourage the parents I work with to respect that their baby knows when and where is the right time to be born.

Another issue that our society has a lot to answer for is the pressure put on women, and especially mothers. From the moment you’re pregnant you will start facing outside advice or opinions on doing things a certain way. From people you don’t even know. Women are judged if they have pain relief, or are “taking the easy route” if they’ve had a caesarian (i.e. major abdominal surgery). You’re letting your baby down if you don’t breastfeed, because formula is apparently poison, and if you cuddle your baby too much you’re sewing the seed for a high-maintenance adult. Hypnobirthing is about stepping away from this outside pressure and doing what’s right for you and your baby. It’s about challenging these social judgements and about making decisions based on the knowledge you have gained, and ultimately what feels right. Women should never be made to feel like failures, and if one woman feels that way, it’s society that’s failing.

Hypnobirthing is also not about prescriptive birthing, we are not anti-medicine (we are lucky to live in a country where assistance is readily available if required), we don’t say you have to home birth, you’re not required to be quiet, we’re just there to open up the way we enter the birthing process. We’re there to support and encourage women to believe they are designed to give birth naturally, a belief that society is sadly losing sight of. Ultimately hypnobirthing is looking at how fear affects labour and addressing it. It’s about programming our mind to accept the journey of birth and make way for it. So many women don’t get the birth they want because they are limited by fear. For example, despite most first time mums going over their EDD with their first babies, 66% of London Hypnobirthing first time mums have had their babies on or before their EDD. There’s so much to be said for being emotionally ready for the physical journey to begin – a clear reflection of how the mind and body work together.

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So, I hope this has been able to dispel some of the rumours you may have heard about hypnobirthing. If you’re pregnant and would like to know more about my courses, or what couples I’ve taught have to say, have a look at my website or drop me a line at I am always very happy to talk. My friendly and informal group courses run twice a month (four 2.5 hour weekly sessions) in East Dulwich, alongside private/one-to-one courses in the comfort of your own home should you prefer. I also offer a free daily affirmations service – providing you with a new positive statement for birth every day. To recieve these, simply follow me on Twitter @lovelybirths, or like London Hypnobirthing on Facebook.

Hollie Stroud MHbA
London Hypnobirthing

Birth Story Of The Week – Quin and Ari

Hello 2014! How exciting is the beginning of a new year? I’m embracing this month by banishing those January blues and looking forward all the amazing birth stories that I have to share with you every week. And kicking off this week is a fabulous story by Quin.

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‘It was 2.30pm on Monday 3 October 2011 and I was just walking from the kitchen into the hallway, wondering when my friends and their son would be arriving for tea and cake. Then it happened – and it was just like it is in the films. Water gushed and I thought for a split second that I’d wet myself, until I remembered I hadn’t needed the loo 2 seconds earlier. And then the doorbell rang.

My first thought? SHIIIIIIT. I grabbed my phone and rang my husband, breathlessly conveying that not only had my waters gone and it was ‘happening’ but I had three lovely people waiting on the doorstep. We agreed he’d leave work pronto and I waddled to the door. Being on the top floor and the owner of a broken entry system, I hobbled down 4 flights of stairs and greeted my friends with a ‘my waters have gone’ and they came rushing in. ‘Don’t panic’ came from the gent. My girl friend, in all her calm, experienced glory was a very welcome sight. After calm was restored and I realised I wasn’t going to give birth imminently, we sat down to tea and cake – but as you can imagine, conversation wasn’t relaxed. We called the hospital and they told me to come in for a check. They asked if the baby was moving normally but to be honest, I couldn’t tell – it was probably snoozing and I was hardly feeling normal about things.

A friend at work had told me to ignore all the books and to not pack my hospital bag until I was in labour. ‘You’ll need something to do’ is what she said. So, with no hospital bag to grab, my friend dutifully packed it whilst I paced around, and off I hopped into a taxi, wearing my slippers (which I’d forgotten to swap for shoes) and sitting on a towel. I’m sure the driver thought something was up – but I certainly wasn’t going to tell him.

I met my husband at the station and we drove to the hospital.

I waited at St Thomas’s for a while, experiencing extremely mild period-pain like twinges, and thinking ‘this is so easy. I can totally handle this labour thing’. I was assessed and told I was not in labour and was booked in for an induction 24 hours later. ‘Go home, relax and put your feet up’ was the advice given. So that it what we did.

Home at about 6pm, we settled into an evening of lists. Lists and times. Timing and listing every single twinge and pain. By about 11pm I was well into labour with contractions and throwing up galore. I couldn’t sit, stand or do anything except for throw up everything I’d eaten that day and wish to God that it would be over soon. I was determined to stay at home for as long as I could so at about 1am, we went back into St Thomas’s for another check. I was sure I was in proper labour. The contractions were like nothing I’d even dreamed off and the ‘surges’ of pain were more like deep waves that penetrated every fibre of my body. Even my finger nails ached.

I was greeted at Tommy’s by a really unsympathetic woman. She curtly told me (as I threw up again) that I was not in labour and this was ‘nothing like established labour would be’.

I honestly didn’t know what to think. How could I cope with any more pain? The advice she gave me ‘to go home, get some sleep, have a long lazy breakfast and come back in 12 hours for the induction’ stuck in my throat, along with the useless paracetamol. We went home. I felt lost, dark, lonely and a little despairing. As my husband tried to sleep, I lay on the bed unable to think straight, my body felt like it was being torn in two each time I contracted, and at one point I remember thinking throwing myself out of the window was a better option than this dark and lonely place I was inhabiting.

At about 5am, I really could take it no more and was beginning to lose my mind. My husband called the hospital again and told them we were coming back in as I was in need of serious drugs. We were then told that labour ward was closed as it was full and they’d call back in a few minutes with an alternative. I didn’t care at this point. In my mind my husband was about to deliver our child, and any alternative was a blessing. Ten minutes later we were told to go to Kings and we hobbled off one last time. I remember not being able to sit in the car as each contraction propelled me out of my seat. We got to Kings and I was assessed on camera first whilst I waited (they do this sometimes to see how often you’re contracting apparently!) and when assessed by the midwife was told I was now 3cm and not in established labour. I nearly lost it at this point but, finally being in a safe environment, I did calm down and managed to persuade them to let me stay. Hurrah for the midwife as she was within her rights to send me off again as I hadn’t reached 4cm. As a birthing room was free, they welcomed me in – and much to me delight, began to fill the birthing pool so I could hop in and relax.

I got in the pool at 7am and was only there for about half an hour when I felt the strangest sensation – I needed to push and had no control over it. I told the midwife who said I needed to try and chill as much as possible – if I pushed too early, I would certainly tear. I tried to relax as much as I could and got chatting to the really lovely trainee doctor who was sitting in on my labour – his first. But there it was again, that urge to push. Under instruction I got out of the pool and was assessed.

When she said ‘ok, the baby is in the birth canal, you need to get back in the water and push’ we couldn’t believe what we were hearing. I thought I’d be there for ages yet (and was told I would be) and was just waiting for 4cm so I could have some serious painkillers – I had been dreaming of an epidural since about 1am. I remember saying ‘is it too late for any drugs’ and she said ‘yes, you’re baby is almost here! Get back in and push.’

After what seemed like an eternity pushing (it was about 2 hours), my beautiful little frizzy-haired bundle of loveliness came swimming out and straight into my arms. She was clean, plump, had huge blue eyes and pouty red lips. We were so grateful to the amazing team at Kings for having faith in my assertion I needed to stay. We were told if they had told me to go home, they are sure my husband would have delivered her – and that we are all grateful for! 3cm-10 in an hour is scary – especially when your body, as only you know really know, is clearly doing a lot of the hard work in the pre-stage.

Roll on 3.5 weeks, a nightmare with feeding, a saint in the form of a Lambeth breastfeeding counsellor, and a now happy, plump-once-more baby, I’m sitting on the sofa one evening when I get the strangest feeling, as if my waters have broken. I think it strange, that surely my waters broke nearly a month ago… I run to the loo to find I’m having a major haemorrhage. Losing what seems like pints of blood, with hormones raging, a newborn in the next room and what seems like my entire body ebbing away, I fly into a major panic. My husband rings 999 and an ambulance team arrives and whisks me – blue lights and driving on the wrong side of the road – all the way to Kings. A Code Blue is what they called me, catastrophic haemorrhage.

They stem the bleed and get me back onto post-natal, and keep me in for a few days. I have an operation to remove any ‘retained goods’ leftover from the birth – and have so many drugs pumped into me – including a spinal for the operation – that I think how ironic it is that I manage birth on no drugs and this on every drug going.

I can’t help thinking that 100 years ago I may not have made it to see my daughter’s first month – and for that I am more than eternally grateful. I’ve since discovered many friends and acquaintances who’ve had similar experiences, whether they be pre- or post-birth complications – all of whom may not be here today if it wasn’t for advances in medicine, and the incredibly hardworking NHS teams across the country.’