Posts tagged ‘birth’

The post-birth re-birth

One of the benefits of giving birth in the depths of Winter is that your journey through parenthood chimes nicely with the changing seasons. The first couple of months is all about recovery and hibernation – perfectly timed during Jan and Feb. In those grey chilly months, who wants to leave the house anyway? Wrapped in the warmth of the mother-baby cocoon, the outside world melts away, as you care for each other and recover from the physical trauma of birth.

Before you know it, Spring has sprung. You emerge, blinking in the sunlight, feeling ready to embrace the world, but also mildly conscious that your midriff resembles a deflated balloon with a road map of London on it.

However confident you are, however comfortable you are in your own skin, giving birth will give your body image something of a battering. As a pregnant woman you were the glowing epitome of beauty. As a new Mum you are the epitome of “slightly dishevelled”, complete with over-sized leaking boobs, a wobbly tummy, dark under-eye bags and outfits chosen at random in an effort to leave the house on time.

Now, perhaps I’m guilty of a little vanity here, but I kinda miss walking down the street with a “I know I look hot today” swagger. It’s not about looking good for anyone else, it’s about feeling great in myself (though it’s been a while since my Husband bought me flowers for no reason.. y’know, just saying).

As the celebrity fitness instructor/wife of the bloke from Desperate Housewives/great philosopher Erin O’Brien once said “Mental and physical health are inseparable”. Therefore, it’s time to feel the burn, work it and (insert further exercise video clichés here..).

With a low cringe threshold I’m not normally an exercise DVD kinda gal, but I have really enjoyed doing Erin’s pre and post natal workout sessions. Both are well designed and leave me feeling energised. Just ignore her patronising advice on post-natal nutrition. “Now ladies, I want to erase two things from your vocabulary – I’d like fries with that and can I see the dessert menu (complete with extra patronising big red cross visuals). Now I know, being pregnant was the first time in your adult life that you weren’t on a diet..”.

Excuse me? Does Mrs LA Celebrity seriously think that normal women spend their entire adult lives counting calories? And more importantly, why should pregnancy be deemed as a lovely break from healthy eating? The subtext seems to be that supporting your baby nutritionally is less important than what you look like. You look fat anyway when you’re pregnant, so who cares what you eat. Never mind that you actually need more calories to sustain your breastfed baby once out of the womb. OK, rant over.

So, I’ve bought an industrial strength sports vest to ensure I don’t knock myself unconscious while jogging the pram round my local park. I am doing Erin’s post-natal workout. I am dragging myself to the park for Buggy Bootcamp classes every Tuesday morning (doing Pelvic Floor exercises while staring up at a clear sunny sky isn’t a bad way to start the day). I am doing all this because I want to feel great. I am doing all this, Erin, because I will be having fries with that, and I am going to see the dessert menu.

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The beautiful Barkantine

Like most Mums-to-be I followed a simple process when deciding where to give birth – which is my nearest hospital and does it have a birthing suite (with birthing pool and the works please). Bosh – done. That was until I happened to overhear my Yoga instructor talking about the Barkantine Centre in the Isle of Dogs, East London.

Apart from the immediate attraction that its name included a pun (the Barkantine in the Isle of Dogs – geddit? Arf), it sounded like a wonderful place to give birth. Now having given birth there, I can confirm that it is, and I am inspired to shout from the rooftops of the interweb about how great it is.

Before I launch into the positives, let’s start with the cons. The Barkantine is a standalone midwife-led birthing centre. Therefore it is not part of a hospital. This means that they will only accept mothers who are low risk (this is assessed at 36 weeks). If there are any significant complications during the birth, you will need to be transferred to the nearest hospital – the Royal London. They have a special arrangement to ensure that the transfer is as speedy as possible, but obviously it won’t be quite as quick and convenient as getting wheeled down the corridor from a hospital birthing suite to its labour ward. As of 2009 data, the chances of transfer are 28% for a firstborn child, and 5% for women who are already mothers.

So those are the cons – what are the pros? The Barkantine has a birthing pool, en-suite, double bed, birth aids and access to a large balcony in each room. So far, so similar to the birthing suite in many hospitals.

So what makes the Barkantine special?

Firstly, there is no postnatal ward. From the birth stories I have heard, no-one seems to have anything too positive to say about postnatal wards. The impression I have is that they are noisy, depressing and rather lonely as your partner gets swiftly dispatched home just when you need them most.

Once you arrive at the Barkantine and are given a room, that room is yours until you leave. This means you can recuperate and get to know your new baby in a calm peaceful environment. More importantly it means that your partner can stay with you.

The hours after the birth of my baby were truly magical. My Husband was able to support and help me as I recovered from a lengthy labour, and his assistance was key to finding the right position for Baby’s first breastfeed. We even had a romantic meal of takeaway Fish and Chips together. Being able to take the time to recover and bond in the privacy of our own room was priceless – quite literally as the Barkantine forms part of the NHS. So even though it feels like a privately run service for people of wealth, it’s free! It was like we went away to a nice hotel and came back with a baby.

We could also enjoy calling friends and relatives with our news and updating pictures of our little one to Facebook. As it is not a Hospital then it’s fine to use phones and electronic equipment – a nice bonus!

Aside from the novelty of a rather dashing male Midwife, the other thing that makes the Barkantine stand apart is the standard of care. The Midwives and staff are not only consummate professionals, but they are warm, friendly and welcoming. Of course the staff at my local Hospital are also caring and professional, but you often got the feeling they were reading from the NHS textbook, and were more focussed on explaining what should happen, as opposed to listening to what we wanted.

In contrast, the approach at the Barkantine is much more personal – the Midwives are there to support you to have the birth experience that you want. It felt like asking an incredibly knowledgeable friend for advice. It was comforting to know that while options of intervention were always available if needed, we would not be pressured into taking steps purely to speed up the process. By the end of our stay there, we knew the names of everyone we dealt with and hugged them goodbye.

It was telling that, in discussion with a Midwife at our local hospital, she admitted “I don’t like the way we do things here – it’s efficient and it works well, but it’s like a production line. It has to be, because of the number of babies we deliver. In an ideal world, all maternity services should be like the Barkantine”

Barkantine website

My birth story

Here is my birth story recorded for posterity, and future emotional blackmail (do you realise what I went through to bring you into this world young lady?!). It’s not meant to be a horror story, or a smug proclamation, but an honest account of the highs and lows of labour. Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on the gory bits..

Sunday 8th Jan

At 4:30 AM I had my very first contraction proper. For a few days before this I had been gearing up with plenty of practice contractions (aka Braxton Hicks), but this was clearly different – it had the Ouch-Factor. I continued to get these on an irregular basis through the morning, and embraced each one as a new friend that was bringing me closer to meeting my baby. It was hard to contain my excitement. With what turned out to be a highly unrealistic view of the timings involved, I declared “We’re going to meet our baby today” as soon as my Husband awoke.

At lunchtime I had a scheduled check up with the birthing centre, and as planned we had a stretch and sweep to nudge things along. This involves giving the cervix a bit of a poke to help release more birthing hormones. As much as we were keen to let nature take its course, we were a week overdue, and wanted to avoid the risk of more intrusive interventions if we could.

My friendly contractions continued to pop along on a semi-regular basis throughout the day. All my preparations and positive approach to birth were paying off and I was coping well.

I found it strangely relaxing to sit and watch my Husband playing Mario Galaxy, and was particularly entertained by how stressed he was getting on the difficult levels. This lead to a bit of role reversal..

Me: Breathe deeply and stay calm. I know you can do this, just be strong and believe in yourself.
Husband: Arrrgh! [swearing] [sound of Mario dying]

Towards the evening my newfound chums were getting more frequent and uncomfortable. I hooked myself up to my TENs machine which was really helpful. A TENs machine helps to release your body’s natural painkillers by sending electric pulses via some pads stuck to your back. I tried to go to bed and sleep, but at this point the contractions were coming thick and fast. My husband became obsessed with timing them. After a few hours of contractions coming in every 4 – 5 minutes, we felt it was time to head to the birthing centre.

Monday 9th Jan

We arrived at the birthing centre in the early hours of Monday morning – hopeful that this was it, our baby was coming. After letting us settle in for a bit, the midwife gave us a check and declared me to be 1 and a half CM dilated. This was miles off the 4 or 5 CM we needed to be classed as in established labour. Disappointed and tired, we trotted back home with our tails between our legs.

Top tip: If we were to do it all again, we would not have got so over excited on the first evening. Instead of spending hours scribbling lists of contraction times and rushing to the birth centre, we should have concentrated on getting rest, and waiting till contractions were 3 to 4 minutes apart before going anywhere.

When home I had a lengthy hot bath and spent the day relaxing in front of classic comedy shows (Fawlty Towers, Spaced, Alan Partridge – great pre-labour viewing).

Top tip: Shouting Alan Partridge catch phrases (Cashback! Kiss my face..) is a great way to celebrate the ending of each contraction. High fives are also good.

By the early afternoon the contractions had slowed to about every half an hour. We made a few half hearted attempts to encourage them back (reflexology, yoga poses) before realising that it would probably be better to accept the situation and try and get some rest.

As I found it to be more painful when lying down, I managed to doze between the contractions by sitting up in bed using a complicated arrangement of pillows, soothed by the relaxation playlist I had put together on my iPod.

Tuesday 10th Jan

We were a little despondant to find that on Tuesday morning, my contractions were still coming only every half an hour or so. Luckily we had an appointment booked in at lunchtime for a further stretch and sweep – we were keeping up our spirits in the hope that this would get things moving again.

At the check in we were declared to be 2 – 3 CM dilated – at least all of yesterdays efforts were not in vain! We were also informed that the baby, though head down, was not quite in an ideal position. Her back was almost aligned with mine (her back to my front is best) and it seemed like her curious nature was prompting her to want to enter the world face first. The midwife reassured me that these factors were adding to the discomfort of my contractions, though perhaps the knowledge of this reduced my bravery in the face of them, giving me an excuse for self-pity to start creeping in.

As on Sunday, the stretch and sweep did the trick. By the evening we were back in the realm of regular contractions. However, after 3 days of pre-labour, I was losing my ability to cope with the pain. Even though we knew that it might still be too early, being on the brink of night number 4 with no proper sleep, desperation was kicking in and we needed guidance and support.

So back we went to the birthing centre. We had come on a little since the afternoon’s check and were 3CM dilated. At this point, my spirit needed a boost. Here’s what I wanted to hear from the midwife..

“Considering the length of your pre-labour and the position of the baby, you must be in extreme discomfort. In all my years of midwifery, I have never seen such bravery in the face of pain. You must be a super-person from the planet amazing, and I bow down to your inner strength”

Here’s what I needed to hear and actually did hear..

“Your contractions aren’t even that strong. You need to calm down and breathe normally”

A note on my breathing. For most of my pre-labour I had been utilising the yoga technique of using vocal sounds to help me stay calm and focus on my breathing. I would breathe in through my nose, and then maximise the length of my out-breath using a gentle “aaaaaaa” sound. For the most part this had worked really well. Until now, when I realised that the “aaaaaa” had turned into more of an “AAAARRRRRGHHHH!”, and instead of keeping me calm it was just helping me to lose myself in the sensations of pain.

Top tip: Staying relaxed through the contractions really is hard work, especially if you are exhausted. You have to work pro actively to make it happen, and it does help to ease the discomfort. Once my Husband saw the benefits, he took on the role of an American war movie drill sergeant, and was all up in my face forcefully demanding that I keep my muscles and breathing soft. This may not sound relaxing in the normal sense, but is really what I needed to stay focussed and strong. I would have benefited from being coached in this way from earlier in the process.

Thankfully the Midwife recognised my need to get some rest, and instead of sending us home she let us stay and gave me some drugs. Pethidine to the rescue! In the ideal world of my Birth Plan, I did not want to take pethidine, being an opiate that crosses the placenta to reach the baby. However, when taken enough in advance of labour so that the effects have fully worn off by the time the baby is born, the benefits can certainly outweigh any risks. My story is a textbook case of how pethidine should be used.

Pethidine does not take away the pain, it just puts you into an altered state of consciousness which allows you to accept the pain without an emotional response to it. You feel a bit drunk and very floaty. It meant that I could sleep or at least rest properly between the contractions.

Top tip: Always keep an open mind and never be a slave to your birth plan.

Wednesday 12th Jan

In the early hours of the morning the pethidine was wearing off and we had another check. I was 4 CM dilated and officially in established labour – hurray! This meant we weren’t going anywhere and I could finally make use of the birthing pool. Slipping into the warm water was just blissful, and gas & air replaced my TENs machine as the tool to help me get through the contractions. The water and gas & air combo worked wonderfully, especially with my relaxation playlist in the background. I kept up my altered state of consciousness, losing awareness of time or anything that was happening around me. Enjoying the head rush after each contraction and falling asleep between them. I would find myself waking up trying to explain something I was dreaming about to my suitably confused Husband.

After a few hours, the time came to push. I was surprised to find the pushing phase is much less painful than the preceding contractions. Suddenly you are in the driving seat. The contractions aren’t just inflicted on you, they are a powerful tool to help you bring your baby into the world.

At the beginning of the process, there was a little confusion about what pushing actually involved. I had read a Hypnobirthing book and faithfully practised my birth breathing – where you maintain oxygen flow and push on an out breath.

Midwife: You can start pushing now
Me: I am pushing
Midwife: You’re not
Me: I am, I’m birth breathing
Midwife: Err, no. Maybe if it was your second baby you could breathe it out, but you need to push. Hold your breath and pretend you’re doing a poo
Me: OK

After an hour or so of pushing in the birthing pool with insufficient progress, our dream of a water birth was abandoned, and we moved to dry land. Surrounded by midwives and Husband cheering me on like an Olympic athlete, I pushed with every ounce of what little energy I had left. Various positions later, we were still making slow progress. Normally midwives will only allow two hours of pushing, and we were knocking on two and a half. Again, intervention became necessary, and I had an episiotomy. In the spirit of sparing you the gory details, I won’t explain what this is, but feel free to look it up. The effects were instant, and a Baby’s head appeared.

During the pushing phase I had retracted so far into myself, and was so focussed on the task at hand, that when my Baby emerged and was handed to me, I recoiled in shock. I had actually forgotten that there would be a child at the end of all this!

It was thus that my beautiful Daughter made her entrance to this world – calm, alert and healthy. Ready to be wrapped up in our arms and in our love.

The making of a birthing partner

As my pregnancy can be divided neatly into three trimesters, my husbands approach to impending fatherhood can also be categorized by three stages. Stage 1 was supportive partner phase. The concept of parenthood hadn’t really sunk in for either of us, and we had the stark reality of my Morning Sickness to contend with. Shocked at seeing me so ill, he rallied. He gave sympathy and toast, cleaned up sick (all good practice for baby) and brought me junk food when I couldn’t face eating anything else.

Stage 2 is where we diverged somewhat. Morning sickness over, I was filled with joy and enthusiasm for my newfound status. Project pregnancy had begun! I went to yoga classes, read books and created spreadsheets. My husband, on the other hand, translated the nesting instinct to an all encompassing focus on the practical. DIY a-go-go.

Man make baby, man feel proud. Man travel many journey B&Q. Man remove fireplace from bedroom – make space cot. Man feel proud cave now baby ready. Man ignore strange ramblings of hormone woman. Man watch snooker.

Many a Saturday morning played out like this.. I would return bounding home from my morning yoga class, brimming with news of some new pregnancy thing that I had learned. Husband would respond with good humored cynicism, remarking that women have been giving birth for centuries without the need for [insert breathing / stretching / psychological preparation technique here]. Off he would trot to B&Q, returning to find me in floods of tears, accusing him of not being supportive enough. I was a tad hormonal at that point.

In my darkest hours, I would mull over my options for alternate birthing partners. Could my best friend be persuaded to move back to London from New York? Would it be too weird for my brother to see me naked?

I don’t know whether it was the reality check of my expanding girth and the wriggly contents of my bump, or if we just ran out of DIY. But luckily for all involved (especially my brother), from the chrysalis of DIY-man emerged a zen-like birthing buddha.

This is now a man who has done yoga. A man who asked so many questions at our NCT class, the tutor turned it into a running joke. A man who has read a hypnobirthing book and who reminds me to do pelvic floor exercises. Most importantly, he is a man who has understood that supporting his wife through every step of her birth journey will lead to a happier Mum, Baby and significantly less physical injury inflicted on his person during labour.

All future Dads would be wise to heed the wonderful tradition of the Huichol Indians of North Central Mexico, where pain relief for birthing mothers consists of a piece of rope – with their hand at one end, and their partners balls at the other.

I feel hippy, oh so hippy..

On the scale of Earth Mother to Jeremy Clarkson, I normally skip through life at a happy medium. However, something about being pregnant has got me shuffling ever closer to the Earth Mother end of the scale, and I am unashamedly harboring the wildest possible fantasies of a joyful, pain-free, natural birth. Maybe with a few orgasms thrown in to boot. Yes, you read that right. According to the authority that is You Tube, orgasms during childbirth are completely possible.

There are a bewildering array of methods and techniques out there – Hypno-birthing, Conscious Birthing (involving Russian ladies emitting their offspring into the Black Sea, apparently), Orgasmic Birthing (yes please), Natural Birth Method, Active Birthing, the list goes on.

They all seem to have a similar underlying principle. Fear = pain. Here comes the science bit. Adrenaline causes the blood flow to move away from the uterus and the muscles to tense, making everything less fun. It also goes to war with the body’s natural painkillers, making things altogether less fun. Less fear, ergo, means less pain.

Hypno-birthing is based on the idea that you can use self-hypnosis techniques to achieve a state of complete relaxation. Luckily, this does not involve some dude with a moustache waving a pocket watch around, and then asking you to behave like a chicken. It just means you need to listen to someone else, a relaxation CD or the voices in your head telling you to relax, and then you do it.

Now if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s following instructions. My capacity to follow recipes has fooled many a guest into thinking I’m a good cook. As hard as they may try, even Ikea self-assembly pamphlets cannot outwit me. I’m that good. So if it really is as simple as learning some breathing techniques and telling myself to relax, I reckon I’ll have this whole thing nailed.

To those Mothers out there smirking to themselves at my wanton naivety, yes I am fully aware that any number of complications (or my own prerogative) may see me end up surrounded by doctors, machines and hardcore drugs.

But until then, my dream will live on. To have a peaceful and beautiful birthing experience, in 5-star hotel like surroundings, and in an ergonomically designed birthing spa tub. Just as nature intended.