When I was pregnant with my first baby, and like many new mums, I did not know much about birth, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Most of my ideas about birth was from what I had seen on TV, or heard from other people, and generally consisted of hospitals, pain, and large needles.  I had never heard of a doula. I had no clue what a perineum massage was. The idea of birthing ‘naturally’ felt alien and unusual to me. Why would anyone want to?!? I had never heard of 'hypnobirthing'. Home birth felt too big of a risk. I did not know that I had options. I did not know that I was not the permission seeker, but the decision maker over my body, my baby and my birth. I did not know how to write a birth plan. I did not know how to plan for the unknown.

Until, a few things started to change.

As my pregnancy progressed; so too did my knowledge. I was taking tiny pigeon steps into my new identity as an expectant mother.  It was like a dim little light bulb above my head got a little brighter and brighter each day with every new thing I learned about pregnancy and birth. Right up until the end of my Birth Wise antenatal course, I had got so far as narrowing my plan down to a natural birth, in the hospital.  It wasn’t until my experienced midwife, suggested, that given I was having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, why not consider homebirth.

Her proposal triggered self-reflection about my socially conditioned reason for going to hospital, which was ‘because that’s what you do’. As time passed, this just didn’t feel like a good enough reason. I wanted a more informed reason. So, we talked. I read. I researched. I felt an increasing sense of empowerment, as the informed decision maker. I realised that I didn’t have to go to hospital ‘because that’s what you do’. I learned that home is just as safe for a healthy Mum and baby, and that I would actually increase my chance of a natural birth by staying away from the hospital.  My midwives were there for the ‘what ifs…’. There was so much learning. And from that, came an decision based on information. Not fear.

So, with Dom’s support, we started to prepare for birth plan A - a water homebirth (as well as having a hospital bag ready at the door for a birth plan B or C!). One of the things we started reading about was this thing called ‘Hypnobirthing’. I found a book in the Birth Wise library, liked the philosophy behind it, and started practicing daily relaxation. I had no idea that Hypnobirthing courses were a thing, could not find any other types of Hypnobirthing books.

It was funny how many other benefits of a home birth soon came crawling out of the wood work! Not having to face an uncomfortable car journey to the hospital. Not changing from feeling like a strong birthing woman, to a permission-seeking patient. Avoiding the risk of infection. Avoiding feeling inhibited, fearful, observed and controlled. The principles of hypnobirthing told me that an environment filled with fear, unfamiliar people and lack of love and compassion, can stall, or even reverse labour progress.

In the final couple of months, my pregnancy felt very spiritual. I loved being pregnant. I felt amazing, and important, and I took my job seriously. I did pregnancy yoga and antenatal hydrotherapy *amazing!* which are totally complementary to hypnobirthing. I swam, I took gentle exercise, I ate well, I priortised rest and relaxation and was mindful of my posture. I went for massages. I talked to my baby. I nurtured my mental health as much as my physical and made birth art (this is hilarious to anyone who knows me as I am the least creative person I know), watched incredible birth documentaries or empowered women, and wouldn't listen to anything else but the hugely uplifting Soweto School Gospel Choirs, Seteng Sebida.I sought out a good support team around me so felt respected, safe and listened to. I was feeling confident and optimistic as a first time mum. I surprised people with my admission that I was looking forward to birth and felt very up for the challenge! The look on the face of the older gentleman lifeguard at the swimming pool when he looked down at me treading water and asked “when is your baby due?” and I said “today actually!”, was pretty priceless – shock, disgust and concern that he may have to evacuate the pool at any given moment.

Like most first time mums, the ‘due date’ came and went and emotions were running high. A scan at 41 weeks left me a crumpled mess because the shadows on the image gave my baby’s face the appearance of a disfigured and sad clown! Trying not to get hell bent on the self-induction methods, I enjoyed spending time with girlfriends as well as quiet time in my own company. My mucus plug had come away much to my delight and I kept it in a take-away tub and showed it to anyone willing to see it, with pride!
After a couple of days of having lots of tears, a stretch and sweep, some cuddles with my friend’s newborn baby and some sideways stepping in the hills of Island Bay, on November 27th 2011, I woke up. Labour had started. As a first time Mum, I was thrilled, relieved and excited for what was about to unfold over the next day or two (so I thought!).

Right from the start, the sensations I was feeling came every couple of minutes, lasting around 20 – 30 seconds. I had already agreed to having CTG this very day, so when I called the midwife to confirm the time, I explained I was having mild sensations of labour. We agreed to meet at the hospital at 14:00, but if things intensified between now and then to let her know.
So Dom and I tried to pass the time as best we could and headed out to get the groceries. I remember waddling up and down the aisles, scribbling notes of the frequency and duration of each sensation.
11:15am - 23 seconds, 11:20 - 18 seconds, 11:21 - 24 seconds, 11:24 - 20 seconds, 11:28 - 20secs, 11:30 - 24 seconds, 11:32 - 25secs, 11:34...11:36...11:38.....11:42...11:44...11:48....

This pattern continued until 14:00 when we met the midwife at the hospital who confirmed I was in early stages of labour and two centimetres dilated, wahoo! The CTG showed baby’s heartrate was steady and healthy. Double wahoo!

After having a stretch and sweep to encourage a continued momentum of labour (a decision I question in hindsight), we left the hospital with the midwife’s advice to keep in touch as things progressed. To continue our efforts of ignoring the sensations and to pass the time (thinking this could go on for days!) Dom and I decided to take a detour on the way home and we grabbed a couple of ice creams and had a walk along Island Bay. By this stage, the surges were really strong, requiring my full concentration and breathing while hanging off of Dom’s neck.

A friendly woman obviously caught on to what was happening and approached me and with a gentle hand on my arm said “Good luck”. I never saw her face. This female energy was incredibly powerful and gave me a big oxytocin hit, which I can only describe as the feeling of melting into a hot bath.

We got back home and our good girlfriend came round. Now the surges were very intense and I was pacing around the flat, leaning over furniture, using my Up breath with each surge which were still no longer than 45 to 50 seconds, but coming every couple of minutes. And then at around 17:15, from out of nowhere while sucking an ice cube, I dashed to the bathroom where I was violently sick. And as soon as it had started, it finished, and I was fine again! I heard my experienced friend say the word 'transition' (end of the first stage of labour), and the next thing I knew Dom was on the phone to the midwife. She reassured Dom that this was a normal event, that we were doing really well and to carry on.

Realising she might actually end up catching the baby if she stayed, our friend then left, and we thought it would be a good idea to put a funny movie on to pass the time (Kick Ass to be exact). Sitting on the birth ball, I couldn't sit still for long. It felt much better to be walking and moving around. After a few minutes of doing this, my surges intensified again and this is when I remember starting to make low pitched ‘ooooooommmmmmm’ noise. (As a side recommendation - if you scream like you’re in medical pain, you’ll scare yourself. Plus you will waste your energy by making high pitched that are not conducive to how the muscles of your uterus are working. A low pitched ‘ooooooommmm’ or mmmoooooooo like a cow like you’re just acknowledging the sensations, it feels much easier to handle. Plus this sound comes from deep down within you, and can help with the process of labour!). By this stage I was all consumed and 'in the zone', and using up breath, movement and ooommmmming to ride them out. I kept my body moving by circling my hips and kept leant over a chair. Soon enough, I started to feel the need to poo. Yep, you heard me. Often when a parent says they want to poo, midwives and doulas get very excited, because it probably means you actually want to push out your baby (which does actually feel like it is coming out of your bum, but don’t worry, it’s not!). One thing that concerned me a little alongside this new sensation to take a massive dump - where were the midwives?! Although my surges did not meet the criteria outlined by our midwives to be called (lasting for 60 – 90 seconds and 3 in ten minutes), I knew that some female energy, reassurance and support from knowledgeable midwives was now needed, so Dom made the call. It was a good job he did! On hearing ‘Anna says she wants to poo’, the midwives were now speedily on their way and suggested I get in the pool (see, told you they get excited!). But, hah! What pool!?! We had been so busy keeping ourselves busy distracting ourselves, thinking we’d be in labour for days, that the pool had not yet been filled! So the next thing I know, Dom was frantically racing around our flat trying to quickly fill up the birthing pool with saucepans of hot water from the kitchen, in between pausing to support me through my surges (what I didn't know was that the hose kept bursting off the tap by the force of the water at which it was required, which is why saucepans were used!).

At 18:45, we decided to finally utilise some of the hypnobirthing tools, and with the hypnobirthing positive birth statements playing to the room, the first midwife arrived. I'll always remember how she greeted me with such positivity and praise “You’re doing so well!” which just sounded wonderfully reassuring, and again I melted from the oxytocin rush. I agreed to be examined me and she confirmed I was fully dilated. Wahoo! The surges now felt like an incredible pressure being exerted down through my body, like you were being drawn from me by a magnetic force. Pushing with these surges was beyond my physical control, and immensely satisfying. It was like my mind had been removed from the equation, and 'went with it'; allowing my body to do what it needed to do for my baby’s calm and physiological arrival. You were on your way!

My student midwife provided some massage and wonderful acupressure on my lower back.

Although we had a birth plan A, B and C, my baby was coming along safely and at this point I knew I wasn't going anywhere. We were going to have our Plan A after all! At 19:04 the pool was ready and I sank into the water. Bliss! The warm water and soft inflated floor felt wonderful, taking the weight off my joints, making me buoyant and giving me a cocoon of private space. With the positive birthing affirmations playing to the room, I (as well as the rest of the birth team!) was washed in calm, confidence, and control. Dom was great. Holding my hand, placing cold flannels on the back of my neck, and telling me how well I was doing. Our baby’s heart-rate remained steady and chilled, he was a happy baby! I used movement and positioning, and leaned forwards over the edge of the pool for most of my time.  Although by this stage I wasn’t really consciously thinking about anything. I was in a primal place, and my body was doing the work without any need for me to control it. I was encouraged to reach down and feel my baby’s head sitting felt in the birth canal. Sure enough, there was my baby in my vagina! My waters broke on his way down, although I didn't notice at all.

A couple more powerful surges, and big pushes (fuelled by a shot of panic right at the end) my beautiful baby popped out like a cork from a bottle, in the water and placed directly onto my chest while taking a celebratory meconium shit all across my squidgy postpartum stomach. It was 19:34. His skin was velvety soft. He had a full head of hair on a perfectly round head and scrunched up little face. He didn't cry, just took it all in! I couldn't stop smiling and laughing, and I remember repeating the words to my baby “we did it”. We were a team in the birthing process, and I have never, ever, ever, felt so proud of myself, and my baby, and Dom.

We got out of the pool and with the placenta still inside and clutching my baby, I waddled into the lounge and waited for the placenta to be born (which we kept and later buried). With my beautiful baby boy in my arms, it was from this point, things started to change.

I lost some blood (about 600mls), so after the birth of the placenta I agreed to an injection of synthetic oxytocin to help stop the bleeding. The force of my final couple of pushes had caused a perineal tear, and as my midwife was struggling to assess the severity, made the recommendation to go to hospital. At 21:00 I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, with my new baby and Dom driving behind. I don’t mind telling you – this short journey felt like a lifetime, and totally and utterly sucked. The chatty young male paramedic was telling me all about his partner who he had an 18 month old with and some anecdote about going to the beach… I couldn’t give a flying f**k! I had just pushed a human being out of my own body and didn't know what damage had happened down below! It was a confusing and lonely 10 minute drive. I was overjoyed to be reunited with my new baby and Dom at the hospital.

While I was checked over, I watched our baby having wonderful skin to skin with Dom and was weighed. He was a healthy, happy little boy weighing 3.94 kg! My perineum was given a thorough examination and turned out I had a 2nd degree tear. I was relieved, having been fearing it was much worse given the nature of our speedy hospital transfer. The injected anaesthesia for the stitching was the f***ing worst (by far the hardest part of the whole birth!) so I found breathing exercised helpful for this bit. I also had a cannula successfully inserted into my hand after two bodged attempts as a precautionary measure, and ended up not needing it for anything.

While I was disappointed to need to go to hospital after all my preparation to birth at home, there turned out to be additional health complications. As I’ve come this far and am in the mood for sharing, I don’t mind telling you that during the course of my labour I totally forgot to pee. Did you notice how there was no mention of going to the toilet in my story?! That’s because I didn’t! Not once in about 12 hours! So my baby was born, speedily, against a full-to-busting bladder. Subsequently I damaged all the nerve endings and lost all sensation of my bladder. So I stayed in hospital for 2 nights having regular bladder scans, drinks, pee practice and catheters until I could go by myself like a big girl. Not having much else to do but drink and pee, stay in bed with my baby, have meals brought to me, get help with breastfeeding and get support to tend to my sore perineum were definitely the plus points to a mini postnatal hospital admission. I was in the best place I needed to be postnatally and am grateful to the amazing hospital midwives for their care and support.

My antenatal education and limited hynobirthing knowledge had supported me to have the best possible birth for me, based on the circumstances I was in and how much I did or didn't know as a first time Mum! I feel my first birth experience makes me a well- rounded teacher and doula. I know that sometimes there are compromises to be made. There are highs and lows. There are new plans coming out of nowhere even after your baby has been placed in your arms. My experience of the crowning stage of labour, the postnatal period, and need for after care gave me even more insight and more knowledge, so that when it came to birth planning for baby number 2, we knew we wanted to increase our hypnobirthing knowledge beyond just reading a book, in hope it would make a bigger difference.

You can read the birth story of my second baby here.