Present at My Siblings’ Home Births

This is a guest post from Fritha who blogs at Tigerlilly Quinn. When she mentioned that she had been present at her siblings’ births, I was intrigued as to what those experiences were like for her. On our KG Hypnobirthing course, Katharine Graves mentioned that often young children aren’t too phased by births because adults do a great many odd things and giving birth might be just another of them. Thank you, Fritha, for sharing your story here.

I am second eldest of a family of five children, all born at home. My mother is (as you might have guessed) a home birth advocate. She is also a midwife, a feminist and a Dr in Philosophy. My siblings and I are all five years apart, ranging from ages 32 to 12.

I remember being deeply annoyed by the birth of my first little sister when I was five. I couldn’t quite believe my parents would want another child being that they already had two really good ones (and one of each sex at that). My mum had arranged for her close friend and one time Philosophy lecturer to be present at the birth, along with my dad. The idea being that she could care for my brother Keir and I whilst my dad could be more present with her needs in labour. As it happened by the time my mum was in labour and called her friend she had set off for the day (no mobiles in 1991) and could not be reached, instead her husband Humphrey came round in her place.

I think perhaps Humphrey was a little out of his comfort zone and so my memory of my sister’s birth was playing lots of board games with him and Keir in our bedroom. I was aware my mum was having a baby but it wasn’t of a huge amount of interest to me in comparison to the games I think. When my sister had been born I remember being invited onto the bed for a family cuddle and having a cup of tea before heading off to back to our games.

I was ten when my second sister was born so perhaps a bit more interested in the matter. I had also gotten over my annoyance of not being the youngest by then and was used to having a little sister. We had moved away from the area so my parents didn’t invite a friend this time to help out.

My mum went into labour very fast and just had time to jump in the pool my dad had built before my sister was delivered. In fact the midwife arrived seconds after she was born and in the words of my mum ‘walked in and fished her out’. My sisters cord had snapped and so the pool was very red. There had been no time for any of us to be present to watch her arrive as it had happened so fast but we saw her at a few minutes old. I remember thinking she was the calmest thing I had ever seen. In fact she was always a remarkably calm baby. I barely remember her ever really crying. Although the pool was clearly full of blood I think we just assumed that was what birth looked like. It was all very everyday for us.

Present at my siblings' home births
Fritha, with her own son, Wilf

My brother had been staying at a friends that night so my dad called him at 6am to let him know his sister had been born. He thought it best to tell Keir first so didn’t explain to the parents of Keir’s friend why he was calling. Turns out Keir didn’t think it was that important to tell them either and didn’t come home until the evening. Clearly, we found birth a bit boring as children!

My little brother Madog was born when I was 15 and I was quite aware of my mum being in labour since that I was woken quite early by noises downstairs. She must have been in the pushing stage as it couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes before my dad came in to wake me and my sisters. I had been trying to go back to sleep (I was a teenager) but then remembered it was school day and I would get the day off which put a spring in my step. I was excited by his arrival and remember making tea for everyone before they headed upstairs to rest. One of my sister’s asked if she could still go to school later that day and the neighbours in the village left homemade meals on the doorstep in the evening.

I think I would have liked to have some kind of exiting story of really witnessing birth but perhaps the fact that it was so ordinary for myself and my siblings put me in a good frame of mind to believe that birth is just that: an ordinary process that does not have to be scary.

Thanks to Fritha from Tigerlilly Quinn for sharing her photographs too.

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Our KG Hypnobirthing Journey – Finishing the Course

“You realise that your eyelids are so relaxed they stay closed of their own accord. Even if you wanted to open them, you will find they stay shut. In fact you can try this for yourself in a minute and you will find the more you try to open them the more firmly they stay shut. Try now to open them and see how you cannot open them – they stay shut. That’s fine,” the calm voice of Katharine Graves reassured us.

My body is designed to give birth efficiently and easily.

I honestly tried and couldn’t. I relaxed into it. What a relief to just be in this space, to have sunk so deeply into myself that the work of letting go could be done. We were participating in a “Confidence and Power” exercise to release our fear. We’d been invited to bring to mind all of the things we feared about birth and simply see them vanish. For me, it involved taking a proper look at the baggage I was still carrying from the Talitha’s birth. I can honestly say it’s not with me anymore. Anytime I’ve looked ahead to the February/March, it’s been a mix of excitement and dread. Now, I simply feel calmly open.

This was the second half of the KG HypnoBirthing course and we got a lot more into the nitty gritty of practical considerations when it comes to birth. Vitamin K, delayed cord clamping, comparisons between the places you could birth in and so much more came into the picture. It made me realise that I really don’t want to go to the NHS antenatal course this time. Last time, many of the classes left me terrified rather than informed. The pros of medical interventions, including pain relief, were discussed but not many of the cons. The vision of birth I emerged with was far more One Born Every Minute than Spiritual Midwifery and it didn’t make sense to me at all. So, though I’d planned to go along this time to meet other pregnant women living in the area and to promote our breastfeeding support groups, I’ve declined the classes.

Birthing is a natural process of my body, my mind and my spirit, working in unison with my baby.

I also had a bit of a lightbulb moment talking about inductions. I had five membrane sweeps in the end. I also had acupuncture to induce labour. I’d already decided I’d not be doing this next time, planning to let my baby come when she’s ready unless there’s a clear medical reason why we need to act. I found the sweeps painful and invasive and though they each got a series of painful contractions going, they didn’t lead anywhere. In the end, I was in “labour” for days before agreeing to be induced because I was exhausted and had lost my confidence. Katharine talked about a potential link between longer labours and stretch-and-sweeps. I’ve not heard about it before and won’t dwell on it too much because I don’t want to misquote her but overall the question I was left with was: why not trust my body and baby this time around? Why not just wait? I have “failure to progress” written in my maternity notes in reference to my last birth. I’ve mentally scratched it out and written “impatience” instead.

With each surge I breathe deeply, focus upwards, and work with my body.

We have lots to talk about in advance of the birth. I already have thoughts on most things, like the natural third stage as mentioned in our reasons for choosing a doula. I need to do some more reading on Vitamin K – I’d forgotten about that and didn’t make a totally informed choice last time. We have daily exercises to be doing, we’re listening to the “Colour and Calmness relaxation” CD and I’m reading The Hypnobirthing Book (come back for a review and giveaway here on Friday). I’m also writing some of my own statements. I’m using the KG Hypnobirthing suggestions for “Statements for an Empowering Birth” – three of which punctuate this blog post – and incorporating my spiritual beliefs as a Christian. There’s loads of time, of course, but we can’t believe how quickly the weeks are passing, especially with Christmas on the way. It’s nice knowing we’ll be in good practice by the time this baby makes an appearance.

I can’t really read what Laurence thinks about it all. He says that the positive thinking can only be a good thing (I almost said “can only be positive”!) and he can see how that applies to lots of things in life. He doesn’t seem totally sold on all the visualisation and relaxation stuff but acknowledges that I seem very responsive to it and as I’m the one giving birth, that’s probably the way around it should be! And at the end of the day, whether he “believes in it” or not, the point is that we’re both happy to practise. Certainly, I’m already benefiting from a general feeling of wellbeing in my pregnancy.

Read about the first half of the KG Hypnobirthing course.

The HypnoBirthing Centre with Katharine Graves gave us a free place on a HypnoBirth course at St Thomas’ Hospital on South Bank. I was also sent a copy of The HypnoBirthing Book and the Relaxation CD, which are included for all participants, and one of each to give away to you, fair readers. Come back this Friday for the review and giveaway.


Seven Secrets of a Joyful Birth – book review

I know lots of people who say that when it comes to all things parenting, shut the books and just follow your instinct. I agree to an extent. I think we’ve got to be mindful about what we dwell on – does what we’re hearing ring true to us or does it make us unduly anxious? But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t read. Books make it possible for valuable knowledge to be passed across generations and cultures. They can challenge us to sort out instinct from social conditioning, which can sometimes feel like the same thing. They can tell us something new about something as ancient as birth. Certainly, that’s what I discovered in Dominique Sakoilsky’s Seven Secrets of a Joyful Birth.

Calling itself “The guide to preparing emotionally and psychologically for birth and early parenting your way”, Seven Secrets is not a prescription for a natural birth. It’s not a list of this, this and this and it’ll all be just fine. Instead, it’s a call to get to know yourself deeply and enjoy freedom, perhaps for the first time. It’s a radical point from which to start your parenting journey.

I have to say that at first it kind of grated on me. Dominique speaks in a vocabulary that’s so different to mine. Finally, I put the book down and asked myself what the problem really was. What was holding me back from being open to what it offered? Then it became apparent: I wasn’t sure that I believed that my emotional and psychological health could really impact on my pregnancy and birth, though I knew it doubtlessly did my parenting. And that made me wonder what I was so afraid of. Why was I so reluctant to face myself?

We birth how we live and we live how we birth, and our attitudes, beliefs and level of self-understanding are all integral to this.

So, I read on, allowing myself to accept my vulnerability, to notice the softening which happens in pregnancy and to consider that this could be a unique opportunity to take a huge step towards real change in my life – and I’m not even just talking about welcoming a new baby. I couldn’t have read this book at a better time. A number of difficult things have been happening in my personal life and I’ve been challenged to find new ways of meeting them, to put boundaries in place and to choose healthy relationships.

Bit by bit, I saw that there’s a lot of rubbish I’ve come into parenting with and I can see how it has affected all of us. I kind of always knew that but I think I’ve just been too busy to actually do something about it. That and I just didn’t have a clue where to begin. Seven Secrets is a beautiful invitation to let go, to repair and to heal.

And yes, you do find actual information about pregnancy and birth. She talks about perinatal massage, takes you through visualisations and yoga techniques. All of that is very useful but for me, the journey through seven words “No”, “Hello”, “Thank You”, “Goodbye”, “Please”, “Sorry”, “Yes” was just so necessary, so timely.

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Dominique Sakoilsky, the co-founder of Relaxed Birth and Parenting, sent me her book to review on this here blog. I honestly didn’t think I’d like it but it’s proven to be one of the most useful things I could have read.


Our reasons for choosing a doula

So, we met the doula we were checking out on Friday (23 weeks!) and got such a good feeling that we decided to go ahead with her. Just waiting to hear back from her now. I’m incredibly indecisive with these things, especially anything that involves money, so it was just as well we had all that time on the Megabus to and from London yesterday for the second half of our hypnobirthing course with Katherine Graves. All in all, it feels like a few pieces of a puzzle are coming together for this birth. Not that that’s a puzzle that can be complete. There is always room for mystery in the human experience, especially in something as important as birth.

For any not familiar, a doula (say doo-lah) is a birth companion trained and experienced in assisting women in childbirth and the postnatal period. They’re knowledgeable about a lot of the issues that surround birth and provide the mother and father with emotional and practical support.

This being our second time around, I wasn’t totally sure we needed a doula and wondered whether the skills we’re learning through KG hypnobirthing, coupled with our own experience and various other preparations I’m making would be enough. Laurence was keen though and, talking about it I realised that none of those things had to be mutually exclusive. They could all be part of the story.

Our initial meeting with our doula served to refresh our memory as why we wanted a birth companion.

1. It’s useful having another pair of hands you know and trust
It means that Laurence doesn’t have to feel that he needs to be with me all the time. He can go off to do other things or to get some rest. I found I didn’t respond well to too much contact with midwives during my last labour. Lovely as the ones I remember were, I didn’t know them and my body was very responsive to any change in situation. I’ve met our potential doula once, feel very comfortable with her and will hopefully have a couple more antenatal visits with her before the birth. It may well turn out that this time we’ll stay at home and I won’t want anyone with me but it’s reassuring to have the option there. We’re also open to Talitha staying at home so it’s just nice to know that another grown up will be around, should the need arise.

2. It’s brilliant to have a birth companion who isn’t too emotionally involved
Labour may be quick and simple this time but in the event that any surprises come up, we both think it’s useful for someone to be there who won’t find the situation emotionally exhausting, simply because she’s not that close to us. Having that distance also means that she can help us talk through our options if there are any decisions we have to make without becoming unduly overwhelmed.

3. Her experience and training will be valuable
Ultimately, I’m the one who has to make decisions about what happens in labour. However, I don’t expect to be in a position where I can have an extended discussion of options and if I am, I’m probably not in established labour! Last time, I was so out of it that Laurence had to make decisions on my behalf which he found quite stressful, googling various things on his phone and asking numerous times for more time as one often can in labour. While a doula cannot give medical advice, she has good training in the physiological aspects of birth and many things seen in birth won’t come as a surprise to her, so she can help us sort through the information in a calm, encouraging and respectful way. She can also offer suggestions (eg positions) we might not have considered.

4. She can act as an advocate
While the doula cannot make decisions for us she will be well-versed in our birth preferences and, as someone outside of the situation, can remind of what they are. Laurence did a lot of this last time but it was wearing. It would be nice knowing that someone else can make sure that low-lighting and a quiet atmosphere are respected as far as possible.

I’m particularly concerned about the third stage being respected. I understand that the midwives felt it necessary to cut the cord immediately and inject me with syntometrine as part of the protocol because there had been meconium in the waters. I get that. However, I don’t feel those options were presented as just that, options. Being exhausted by that point, I agreed to whatever but it was something I’d felt strongly about and, knowing what I do now, it’s even more important to me that I attempt to have a natural third stage and delayed clamping, unless there is a clear medical reason as to why not. And even then, the decision needs to be ours. I feel more confident about this stage knowing that we’ll have an advocate on our side, if needed.

5. A doula can help you de-brief
After the last birth, I had a powerful need to talk about the experience – about the things I remembered, about the things others there remembered. I needed to process it. It had been too huge an experience not to. My community midwife was amazing at helping me with this but she hadn’t been at the birth and I found myself wishing I could talk to someone who had been there who wasn’t Laurence or my mother. The doula we’re hoping to go with also writes birth stories so that should be pretty cool too.

There are a few other reasons but I think I’ll call it there as this post is getting pretty long now. I think it’s such a personal decision and this time round it feels like the right one for us. Would you have a doula? If you did, what was your experience?


Our KG Hypnobirthing Journey – The course, part one

Disagreements and skepticism were welcomed in the room as Katharine Graves confidently began the HypnoBirthing course we’d decided to attend. She acknowledged that the prefix “Hypno” was enough to make many people instantly conjure up “hippies, beanbags and chanting” and wonder whether it made any real sense. What there was no question about was that she had no question herself that KG HypnoBirthing works. Hers is certainty born of experience, not just intellect.

Laurence and I had come at it from sort of different angles. He wasn’t sure what it was or how effective it could be but was willing to go along because it was something I wanted to do. I had heard of it when we were pregnant with Talitha but didn’t really consider it, mainly because I’d underestimated the situation. I really didn’t think birth was that big of a deal and I didn’t yet know how deeply I’d be affected by a birth that was, for me, traumatic. Actually, his doubts about HypnoBirthing probably came from the fact that it was a traumatic experience for him too, only he had to look on, which I imagine was pretty disempowering.

“Hypnotherapy is simply words.”

Yet, in the lunch break, both of us agreed that this definitely didn’t sound like mumbo-jumbo. In fact, it was just common sense. Of course positivity during pregnancy and labour would affect the outcome and the baby. “Hypnotherapy is simply words,” Katharine explained, “Words are powerful.” Well, she’s got me with that one. I absolutely believe that. I don’t necessarily think that words always hold permanent, external meaning (I won’t go all academic on you there because that really isn’t what this is about) but I’ve absolutely experienced the power of language in my life. It’s helped me believe some amazing and awful (and, come to think of it, amazingly awful) things about myself and about my experiences.

Still, could birth really be pain-free? Could replacing the word “contraction” with “surge” actually affect the way the movement is experienced? I might accept that premise more readily as a first time mother but having been through a labour that was most definitely not without pain, I’m slightly taking a wait-and-see approach. I am definitely open, though. I don’t believe that the past dictates the future. For one thing, I’ve seen too many mothers successfully breastfeed after believing that they couldn’t since they hadn’t managed with a first child. So much of what we’ve learned about KG HypnoBirthing so far can be applied to all of life, which is why it makes sense.

“How does thinking in negatives affect your life?”

As Katharine pointed out, we often speak in negatives. An example she gave was a heavy snowfall which an adult might consider “the worst snow in years”. To a child, it could be “the best snow” – squealed with delight. She challenged us: “How does thinking in negatives affect your life?”

Well, I’d say it certainly affects your parenting! Thinking back to all of the things that I’ve found most stressful in parenting so far, so much of it was transformed by rephrasing. I spent vast amounts of time and energy in those first months at my wits’ end about naps. Once “she won’t let me put her down” got turned into “we get to enjoy this closeness”, I was infinitely happier. If I could look at her tears as a natural and desirable need for my compassionate presence rather than an inconvenience, I was more willing to slow down. When I began writing about motherhood on this blog as a beautiful gift and valuable work, and began to ignore anyone who asked if I was “just a mother”, I was able to see the meaning in our often repetitive days.

KG HypnoBirthing seems to work on the premise that we can change our perception of birth as painful rather than powerful. So much of this is simply about letting go of all the negativity we’ve accumulated.

I’m not sure that I was quite expecting the course to cover all the things that an antenatal course would so I was pleased to hear breech birth, back-to-back positions, the roles of midwives and obstetricians, pelvic floor exercises and so on, covered. These were all things I’d heard before both in NCT and NHS antenatal classes but not with such positivity. Katharine is straight-talking, not in the least airy-fairy and her confidence is infectious.

The second portion of the day was mostly spent doing exercises which involved relaxation and visualisation. We went through scripts that Laurence and I will practice here at home. We’ll be reading The Hypnobirthing Book (or I’ll be, anyway) and listening to the CD in bed, which has the upside of forcing me to actually go to bed when he does.

All in all, we’ve both left feeling a lot lighter. The day gave a chance to talk a lot about the new baby, which isn’t something we’ve done that much of. We were able to chat through some of the stuff that happened in our last birth and that helped too. I can’t speak for him but I’m actually looking forward to this second birth, whatever it brings. Whether we achieve the home birth we’d prefer or end up going to hospital, I feel certain that we don’t have to take the baggage of our first birth in with us. The past need not and will not bog us down with its accumulated fears.

The second half of the course is this Sunday. I can’t wait.

Read about the second half.

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The HypnoBirthing Centre with Katharine Graves gave us a free place on a HypnoBirth course at St Thomas’ Hospital on South Bank. I was also sent a copy of The HypnoBirthing Book and the Relaxation CD, which are included for all participants, and one of each to give away to you, fair readers. More about that soon. I don’t always bother to say this but since I’ve practically raved about Katharine in this piece, I feel like I need to say that everything I’ve said here is unashamedly my genuine opinion.


22 Weeks Pregnant – Starting to prepare

“Hello, baby,” Talitha says to my bump, “Having a nice day?” She catches me off guard every time. It’s not something I’ve taught her to do but I suppose she finds it natural to include the baby in our day-to-day lives as it becomes an obvious presence, i.e. I grow bigger.

Often, I find that she is the one to remind me that the baby is there. I am caught up in life with her. There are so many things happening. Her language continues to leap, she’s become obsessed with letters and their sounds, she’s potty training (successfully this time!) – it’s all more dancing, more walking, more collecting, more helping, more doing-it-myself, more, more, more! I don’t know how she finds the time in the busyness of her toddler brain to remember to ask her baby sister whether she’s having a nice day!

I’m not in complete denial, though. Little by little, we’re starting to put some plans in place. We’re going on a course at The Hypnobirthing Centre with Katharine Graves in London on the weekend. I’ve mentioned before that this was something I wanted to explore but we just didn’t have the funds to do it so I’m really grateful that Katharine has offered for us to come for free. I will be blogging about it as well as reviewing and giving away a copy of The Hypnobirthing Bookand CD soon. I think Laurence is really unsure about what to expect with hypnobirthing. He is wonderfully supportive though.

We also have an interview booked with a doula next week. I decided against a doula last time as I felt we’d have too many people in the room but this time we feel that having one is a good option for us. We hope a doula will take some of the pressure off and give us the support that overstretched NHS workers were unable to last time around. The one we’re meeting also does placenta encapsulation, which I’m really interested in having.

A friend who recently moved house generously gave me her baby clothes. It’s been so exciting sorting through them! We actually don’t have many girls’ clothes for the first year. Not that it matters but I remember slightly wishing that Talitha was wearing something to hint to onlookers that she was possibly not a boy. Mind you, once when she was a mosquito-bitten six-month-old out in Trinidad, she was wearing the frilliest, pinkest, floral sun hat you can imagine and a passerby still called out: “Oh, oh! Look de poor lil boy! He face bite up!” Ah well. It’s exciting looking through new (to us) things, anyway! Talitha loves it. She keeps putting things in the drawer for me and saying: “This one for the baby.”

22 weeks pregnant - getting prepared

I’m getting lots of kicks now. I feel like this one moves more than Talitha did and is more nocturnal but, in truth, I can’t really remember, even though it wasn’t that long ago. I’ve tried to help Talitha and Laurence feel the kicks but they can’t yet.

We’ve pretty much settled on a name. With Talitha we’d known from long before that that would be her name. This one has taken longer and involved more discussion but in the end, we’ve gone back to the first name we both liked and, now that we’ve agreed on it, it feels like hers. Unless when she’s born, it doesn’t!

The thing about thinking about a name is that it becomes real that we aren’t merely adding to our family or giving Talitha a sibling. We’re welcoming a new person into our lives – one who will change all of us forever. I’ve been reading a fantastic book, Seven Secrets of a Joyful Birth by Dominique Sakoilsky. I really wasn’t sure about it at first but now that I’ve read it, it’s given me so much perspective, not just on pregnancy and birth but on life and all its transitions. It woke me up to the reality that this isn’t just more of the same. I may already be initiated into motherhood but I am now moving into motherhood with this child.

Sakoilsky writes:

“But, within motherhood we will have the delight of exploring a new aspect of ourselves, and we cannot fathom what that might feel like until we are there, and even then it will continue to change and evolve. The only thing we can do, therefore, is to ready ourselves as best we can to be able to embrace these changes and allow ourselves the space and freedom to find ourselves where we enter motherhood with this child. Every child is unique and each can teach us new things about ourselves as women, as mothers, as parents.”

Bring it on.


Win a Mother and Baby Pack from Katharine Botanicals

Calendula. It’s a word that didn’t enter my life before I became a mother. Oh, I’d probably heard it before but I wasn’t paying attention. Becoming responsible for a whole new person, so fragile, right at the beginning of her journey, made me become a lot more conscious of the ingredients found in the lotions and potions that have become part of our everyday lives. Now, I’m enamoured of anything that leaves out the parabens, employs active, natural ingredients while still smelling and making me feel beautiful.

Win Katharine Botanicals

Katharine Botanicals seems to tick all of those boxes. The Stretch Mark Lotion, Baby’s Bottom Cream and Nipple Cream all share fresh scents and are luxuriant to the touch. Pregnancy and the postpartum period are times when all our senses and sensitivities are heightened. They’re also times of transition. These products offer another amazing way to pause during these periods and take time to nurture yourself and your baby. I really believe it’s important to do that.

Katharine Botanicals Stretch Mark Lotion

The Stretch Mark Lotion contains organic calendula as do the Baby’s Bottom Cream and Nipple Cream. I’ve been enjoying massaging it into my bump and thighs and just breathing it in. Just lovely.

Anyway, I’m giving away all three on this here blog. To enter, leave a comment telling me how you make time to pause and reflect, during the day or the week and fill in the Rafflecopter below. Entries close on October 23rd and a winner will be chosen at random and announced here on the blog the next day. Enjoy!

Over 18, UK residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED. Congratulations, Hannah G!

Katharine Botanicals supplied a Mother Baby Pack for me to try and one to give away.