From the beginning of my pregnancy (actually before I ever got pregnant) I knew I wanted a natural, unmedicated and unmedicalised birth experience. I wanted to trust my body and my ability to do things as nature intended… unless a medical necessity arose.
In recent years I have become extremely intolerant of how our society pathologises everything to do with the body. The fitness industry is particularly guilty of this. It bugs me how we're always looking for what's wrong with us instead of seeing what's right, normal, and non-threatening. Pain, for example, is a normal part of life. In and of itself, pain is not a pathology; it's information.
Unfortunately, I have still grown up in a society that bombards us with messages of the fragile body, fear of pain, and the exaggerated portrayals of labor on TV, and well-meaning women giving me the "oh you ain't seen nothing yet" spiel to, you know, help me feel better about my ability to do it -_- So, I was naturally anxious about how I would cope with the pain of birthing. It's just so drummed into us women to fear it, but I am so done with that.
I began researching natural comfort measures, and after weeks of reading and buying MANY books, I settled on Hypnobabies to induce hypo-anaesthesia during my birthing time. I bought the home study course and began the program around my 5th month of pregnancy.
This is an EXCELLENT course! I can't say enough positive things about them. I highly recommend them if you want a natural birthing experience with tools that promote self-efficacy and body-confidence. While the practice is very time-consuming (especially if you have other children and also work a lot), I found it doable as a before-bed-routine. I was determined for this to work, so I stuck to it religiously every day.
The practice not only helped me feel calm and confident about what lay ahead, but I think it also reduced my other chronic pains. I TRULY believed it would help me through the experience. I think Jonathan was skeptical about the hypnosis to begin with, but he went about checking the research and soon found it to be a viable pain management tool for surgeries, dental procedures, chronic pain, and child birth. Knowing this, and reading other Hypnobabies birthing stories from the Facebook support group, served to strengthened my belief and commitment to my chosen path. Just search Youtube for Hybnobabies births, and you'll see some wonderful calm and comfortable births.
So did it work for me?
Well, at the time I thought not since the experience was, well, INTENSE (as my friend Rachel Godfrey wrote about her recent birth experience "Labour is fucking savage"), but looking back (and hearing what Jonathan saw), maybe it was helping me more than I thought. Sure it was painful and in many ways primal and savage in the moment, but I also knew it was not pain to be feared. It wouldn't last forever, and I had no choice but to go WITH it. I'm sure every woman who has been through it can attest to the strangeness of it being painful and limbic yet wonderful and spiritual all at once, like a whole new dimension in space-time.
Toward the end of my 39th week of pregnancy, I started feeling like baby’s birthing time was approaching. I had visualised her arriving promptly or earlier than her guess date of March 13th so I was trusting my instinct. Everyone kept saying that first babies are usually late, but the statistics actually show that this is not true. The timing for any birth is usually around week 41. 30% are born before their guess date (or something like that).
As we got closer to the date I began experiencing mild cramping at night which would come and go every hour and then totally stop during the day time. I read that these can happen hours, days or WEEKS before the actual birthing time begins, so I tried not to get too excited.
However, on the Sunday into Monday night (11th-12th March), I was kept awake/semi awake all night with stronger cramping like bad period cramps. Still coming every hour or so, but this time they were different. By around 4.30am they had become much more regular at 7-10minutes apart for about an hour.
When Jonathan woke up for work I told him what was happening, and he decided to begin his paternity leave that day. I was worried that the cramping would stop again and he’d waste a day off, but I’m so glad he went with his gut and stayed home with me because it turned out to be the birthing day.
A note about Hypnobabies:
For anyone else thinking of using Hypnobabies: You MUST begin listening to your hypnosis tracks VERY early into your birthing time to deepen your hypnosis enough before birthing waves become too intense. AND try not to get drawn out of hypnosis by dealing with things around you that others can do instead. My birthing time ramped up so quickly and so intensely that I really think this became a barrier to me creating effective hypo-anaesthesia. It REALLY helped me relax and stay calm between contractions, and I believe it helped me stick to my natural birthing path, but I confess: I was also very easily distracted, and I just couldn't get "in the zone" during some of the intensity, me being too tuned into timing my contractions and thinking about other things during early labour. I was sadden about this at the time, but now looking back I am grateful for it going this way (which I will explain later).
Back to that day.
I lay in bed listening to some of my Hypnosis tracks from maybe 6am-8am as I timed each birthing wave (Hypnobabies language for contractions) and tried to catch a little sleep. During this time I was able to relax and go with the flow of what was happening. But I still wasn’t convinced this was THE day. I kept expecting it to be another false start. My mind was wandering and I was very obsessive about timing my own contractions. In hindsight, I think this kept me from really going with the hypnosis tracks.
Within the time I was relaxing, my contractions got to 5-6 minutes apart lasting for 60-90 seconds. Jonathan called the birth centre to explain how quickly things had increased in frequency. They suggested I take a bath for comfort, and wait it out. They wanted the waves to be 4 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute for 1 hour. I was constantly playing it down because I didn't want to act on a false alarm. Us Irish don't like to be a bother to anyone even when we should, so I was really reluctant to take it seriously for fear of "overreacting" ... maybe this is just a me thing LOL.
Off I went to the bath.
Jonathan went about packing the car and preparing to leave. I thought he was being overanxious about how quickly things were moving. I expected to be “labouring at home” for most of the day. I remember being worried about going the birth centre too early and being sent home, or things slowing down under stress. Luckily, I didn't convince Jonathan.
I was in the bath for about 10 minutes and I listened to my hypnosis tracks for early birthing time. Soon I realised the waves were more like 2 minutes apart, but not as intense and lasting only 45 seconds. This is when I started to realise this really was THE day.
Jonathan called the midwife again and this time I talked with her briefly (I think she wanted to hear how I was during a contraction). She suggested drinking some water and eating something to encourage longer, more efficient contractions (of that 1 minute and 4 minutes apart) before we came in. This conversation only reinforced my fear of overreacting.
I had some water, tried to eat (but I had lost my appetite and was even feeling nauseous), and I rested on the sofa with my hypnosis tracks. Jonathan was sitting near timing my waves because I was going into myself more and more. Within 20 minutes or so they'd reached 4 minutes and 1 min and they were much more intense. I was starting to have difficulty lying still, talking, or walking through them. In fact, I remember I was starting to shake when they happened. So Jonathan decided we needed to leave since the birth centre was 40 minutes away. I think I protested a little because I was still terrified of being told this was actually early labour, but I'm now VERY glad we left when we did.
This is when things got real but at the same time, this car ride was my best time in hypnosis. While every bump on the road felt like the child was making her way down, I used the hypnosis PEACE and RELEASE cues a lot to stay calm and relaxed. These were my favourite cues, and they helped me stay positive between contractions. That's what I loved most about Hypnobabies!
We arrived at the birth centre at 12.15pm and we were immediately brought into our suite. The midwife asked to check my cervix, and just as I got undressed my water broke. I remember being surprised... maybe it was yet another reality check that THIS WAS HAPPENING! On examination she said I was already 5cm dilated and -1 station. I had originally written on my birthing "hopes and dreams" (aka plan) that I didn't want to know how many centimetres I was out of fear it would disappoint me, but the midwife didn't have time to read it and had already told me. I'm so glad it wasn't at 3cm or something... 5cm was fine by me.
The midwife and nurse ran me a bath for comfort as the waves were beginning a whole new level of intensity after the waters broke.
While the deep, warm bath was very soothing, I was finding it more and more difficult to get back into my hypnosis tracks. I made the mistake of removing them while we got checked in. The contractions were so close together that it was annoying me (and worrying me a little) that I just wasn't getting a break to deepen my hypnosis.
Shortly after Jonathan took this ^ photo during a contraction, I got very annoyed with everything and threw the iPod and earbuds across the room HAHA! Think Jonathan got worried about how I'd cope without the hypnosis.
It was at this point that I was starting to feel frantic. Maybe the hypnosis tracks had been helping me after all. I think I was freaking out a little because I didn’t know how long things would be this intense (in hindsight I now know I was close to transition, which is often when women feel this way because it's the most intense part). I knew it wouldn’t last forever (even if it did feel like it was) but at the time I still thought I was in early labor and had hours and hours of this. I cried out very loudly “help me Lord” a lot. In fact, I was very vocal which surprised me, since I’m normally so quietly spoken.
(I realise this sounds scary to anyone who hasn't gone through it, but please rest assured that it really doesn't last forever and you get through it).
Soon I was starting to feel pushy, restless, and like I needed to sit on the toilet. Jonathan called the Midwife and nurse back in and they suggested I sit on the toilet for a while (it was amazing how comforting it was just to sit there)… while they prepared the bed.
A few minutes passed and it was killing me not to push, so they helped me walk to the bed to recheck my cervix. I was now 9cm dilated with just a small lip. This was torture because I really REALLY wanted to push, but they kept telling me to try to wait and pretend to "blow out candles" instead o_O That was the last thing I wanted to do haha!! It was so difficult NOT to push. Being told not to go with your natural instinct made me angry in the moment, but I trusted them. I relied a lot on Jonathan during this time.
I remember spying the entanox gas across the room and I said to Jonathan “maybe I need to take something”. He reminded me that I could do this, and that I had set out to do this without. I remember thinking "they'd have to hook it up and that'll take too long, so maybe let’s just get this over with” - Then a contraction came so I had no time to consider it again. I also remember there was basically no time between contractions shortly after this point and I was feeling more nauseated and shaky (definitely transition). Looking back I now know that is also a sign that the worst of it is coming to an end soon because many women want to give up right before the pushing stage. Had I understood this better at the time I think it would've made me feel better.
I positioned myself in an upright kneeling (think full kneeling press) during pushy contractions, and then I leaned forward onto my hands and knees (arms draped over a birthing ball on the bed) during rests. I couldn’t find comfort in any other position and this felt like the best way to birth for me.
Then it was FINALLY time to push (I don't remember when I started pushing) but at some point after the blowing of candles, the midwife suggested I sit on the squatting stool to get better leverage for pushing. This was intense as they brought me a mirror so I could begin to see her head descending. I was expecting to see her crowning, but her head was still “coming round the bend” LOL. This really discouraged me a bit because I really thought she was closer to being out already!
Seriously, it felt like an eternity, but it really was happening very quickly. I just had no reference for what to expect.
The whole day was one big battle between expectations (and my denial) and reality!
Then I got too uncomfortable on the stool and wanted to return to kneeling on the bed to push, so back I went. Maybe I was pushing for about 20 minutes, but I can’t really remember.
I do remember a few distinct moments/things:
- I pooped. TMI? Sorry not sorry LOL. Ask any midwife and you’ll soon hear this actually happens a LOT of the time. I feel strongly about removing the social shame/fear about this because many MANY women worry more about this happening that it may actually impede your pushing progress. Being a nurse myself, I can tell you that no bodily function or fluid (except maybe gross, green sputum) bothers us. So if you’re worried that you’ll poop, just resign yourself to it being "highly probable" and let it reassure you that it means you’re pushing in the right place 😀
- I made a lot of vocalisations and I remember shouting “IS THIS NORMAL?????” because I felt like the pushing phase was taking way longer than I expected haha. Nobody tells you this, and time perception is very strange during childbirth. I felt very embarrassed about my loudness afterward. It was like remembering something you did when you were drunk and feeling totally mortified by it. Jonathan reassures me I wasn't "that bad", and the woman in the room next to us was louder HAHA (well, in fairness, she had started before me and was still going a good hour after I was done, so I bet she was really wanting it over with).
- Most of the pushing was totally involuntary…. like my body just went into automatic drive and I went along for the ride. It’s truly powerful! It's crazy how your body just bears down. I had DOMS for days because of the forcefulness of these pushes.
- I regained control of pushing during crowning and this part wasn’t as bad as I expected. The so-called "ring of fire” really didn't feel like anything bad and it actually helped guide me to slow down and prevent tearing (which it did - yay!). I also think my position helped prevent tearing. During my hypnosis practice, I remember visualising there would be positive feedback to reduce pain and tearing during this part... so I guess that also worked? I know a lot of women also fear this part, but for me it really wasn't too bad. And sure, I had a small baby, but it's still the biggest thing to ever pass through there o_O
- I was totally absorbed by the experience and had no choice but to "go with it". While I totally understand the fear of going through it (if you are approaching birthing for the first time), it's reassuring that you just get carried through and do what you need to do. It's quite amazing! When you don't have any reference for the experience and the normal things that happen (in our society we never get to see real women giving birth) the unknowns are more scary. But your body really does "know what to do"... it just happens.
Anyway, then I hear the Midwife asking if I wanted to reach down to feel her head. For some strange reason I said no (I think just wanted to finish the job). I felt the stretching and some warmth as she was crowning, then her head popped out. I thought "finally, it's over", but then they asked for one more small push for her shoulders. I think I let out a "OH NOT MORE" groan HAHA.
Then, almost like magic I see this tiny crying human appear through my legs. I was honestly in total shock by this point. It wasn't bad, just surreal, like I wasn't expecting all this to result in a baby LOL. But instinctively I reached down and scooped her up to my chest. I hear them suggest I go and lie down with her on my chest, and as they were about to help me, I basically dove across the bed (Jonathan says this was the funniest moment because of how instinctual it was). I must’ve looked in complete disbelief, because the midwife mentioned it in her notes LOL.
A minute later the midwife mentioned the placenta, and I think I asked her if it would hurt. She said "it's right there, just give a small push"... and the placenta was born. Jonathan cut the cord as it had already stopped pulsing.
Eviana Erin Kane-Fass was born 90 ish minutes (at 13.52) after we arrived at the birth centre. It felt like a flash and an eternity all at the same time, but I did it. We all did it. Jonathan was a rock for me throughout, even though I wasn’t peaceful, and I was in pain.
So why do I think it's a good thing that the hypnosis didn’t stick?
Because I set out to give birth naturally, and I did. I had no pain meds, and no hypo-anaesthesia; no medical interventions. This taught me that I am able to face anything! And my body did everything it was meant to do. I don't know why giving birth naturally was so important to me, maybe because I've struggle with pain a lot of my life, but I am so very proud of myself for trusting in the entire journey, even when it didn't go as planned (with the hypnosis).
It also gives me a reference point for the next time, when I learn how to apply my hypnosis training sooner and stay more calm throughout.
And if I can’t, I still know I can do it without.
Eviana was 5lbs 14oz and 18 inches long.
The funny thing is, in one of the hypnosis tracks you're guided through visualising your birthing time, and I visualised having a fast labour... and that’s what I got. The midwife and nurse were so amazing and supportive. I, of course, was embarrassed about being so loud and I felt like I did a bad job “keeping it together”. To me I seemed that way, but they’ve seen it all, and they kindly reassured me that quick labours are often more intense. They advised us to come to the centre earlier if there's a next time since second labours are often even faster o_O
For years prior to this, I really didn’t think I was able to do it. The portrayal and horror stories of birthing scared me, and I sometimes struggled to deal with bad period pain so labour must be so much worse, right? But women are built for birthing. We are strong and resilient and capable of doing what we need to do.
If I had birthed at a hospital, and was being offered medications, I can see how I would say yes. If my labour hadn’t been moving so quickly, I may have opted for that gas and air. For me an epidural was never on the table because I’m more afraid of having a needle in my spine than labour pain… and, while I briefly thought about that for the next time, that fear is now back after some time has passed and I've "forgotten" just how intense it was at the time.
To maximise my chances of succeeding with my birthing preferences, I made sure my birthing team at the centre did NOT offer me anything or even ask me about my pain. Even though I would’ve taken gas and air, I'm glad I didn't just so I now have no doubt that I did it. I chose a birthing centre to reduce the odds of interventions and c-section. Like many women, I dreaded being induced, so I am so grateful Eviana arrived on her own.
Now all I need to do is figure out this breastfeeding business… sometimes things don’t go the way you hoped… and, while that part has really challenged my ability to trust my body (since we have not achieved a successful latch, and I struggle with supply, even though I pump and take all the supplements etc etc), I realise there are more factors at play than my natural biology. I still hope things will work out, but I am also very happy she is thriving with formula and some breastmilk. It's not the end of the world.
Every woman’s birthing journey is unique and amazing. And I got to face my own “demons” in the way I needed to. At the very least to gain a whole new respect and understanding of the raw beauty of birth.
Finally, I am so honoured to be part of an amazing "club" of women who share the name and role of Mother.
Thank you for reading our story <3