A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a lovely lady who had really enjoyed the 5 Days to a Better Birth Challenge. She said she would love to hear more about my own births. Specifically, she wanted to know more detail about how I used my own techniques to birth, my three children, naturally, and if I had any tips about how to navigate the Irish hospital system.
So I thought it might be really useful to share more of that detail with you today. Make a cuppa and get cosy :-)
My first birth, like for most people, had the biggest impact on me and shaped my whole birthing experience. It was in 2009, and not much has changed in the Irish hospital system (apart from Covid!), in so far as the staff are blooming awesome, but sadly for them and for us, they are desperately understaffed and there is a growing tendency to treat birth as a heavily medicalized event. Therefore, giving birth in Ireland (and most of the Westernized world) can currently be a little tricky to navigate.
Firstly I'll share with you my experiences, then I'll give you my top tips on how I achieved 3 safe, beautiful, active birthing experiences, where I felt in control...most of the time!
The type of birth I wanted: so my mindset was to have as natural a birth as I could, in as calm a birthing environment as I could.
On my first birth, I created a birth plan - I like to call it a birthing preferences document. I highly recommend you do this. If you'd like to know more about this, I go through this is The Empowered Birth program. It's really important to keep it as open, short and realistic as possible. Discuss it with your caregivers during your pregnancy so you can start to find out what is a possibility in your hospital, or birthing centre. It was down to one specific point in my document that meant I could have a natural birth with no interventions on my first...so let me tell you it bloody works!!
Ok, so zoom back to 2009. It was a Sunday morning in November (on my estimated due date!) and I was so excited to wake up naturally in my bed about 5 or 6am with the start of little twinges. I had had a show about 3 days prior to this so I knew my amazing body was getting itself ready to birth my first baby. I'm actually getting butterflies in my tummy as I write this! I adored the whole experience from start to finish! I rested in bed until about 7 or 8am when I woke up my husband. At 9am, I got out of bed and got onto my ball and practiced some yoga. I kept really relaxed and mobile. What I felt was pure excitement and joy at this stage, as my first pregnancy had ended in miscarriage so I could not wait to meet this little one! This was all in my bedroom, where I was super dooper relaxed and excited. Around 11am I whacked on my tens machine which really helped me take the edge off some of the stronger surges. I combined my prenatal yoga, with being on my yoga ball, and walking around the garden. It really was all very relaxed and manageable. I was always upright, either sitting, standing or on all-fours. When I had a contraction I'd do one of the following:
I was living with my parents where I grew up at the time as we had moved back from the UK and were saving to buy a house. I distinctly remember then quickly losing my appetite when my husband and parents were eating lunch, and announced we were going into the hospital right now as I could start to feel my body physically opening up. I was astonished that I could feel myself dilate...it was crazy!
So my husband and I arrived at the hospital about 2pm, and I was examined. I was 3cm. Now I'm going to pause for a moment to let you know just how crucial this is...particularly on your first birth. What most women don't realise is that getting to those first couple of centimetres dilated can be incredibly challenging and slow. The cervix just doesn't start to dilate at the start of labour. It has to thin, become soft and squishy and also begin to move from a posterior position to an anterior position...basically it starts out pointing towards your lower back and has to move to pointing towards your feet! ALL of this work takes contractions and many women can feel this early labour, and think that they are opening up...only to be told that they are almost at 1cm, and can feel so disheartened. But it's a great thing as we know that your body is starting to get ready, and will open shortly!
So back to my labour! I was delighted that I was at 3cm as I knew that my body was working so beautifully and had already done SO much work. I walked up to the delivery ward and got slightly freaked out when I saw the little cot beside the bed!! I continued keeping active, using my tens, walking around the corridor outside my room, breathing slowly and deeply, and leaned into my husband when I felt a surge coming. I had my yoga mat and ball in with me too, but didn't end up using them much during the active stage of labour. I just wanted to stay standing. After a couple of hours I got really tired, so I lay on the bed on my left hand side for a rest. I was in a world of my own here, allowing all the amazing natural painkillers in my body, and the hormones do their thing! The room was dark as I requested, with just one light being shone on where I was located. Before I knew it, the midwives were putting on their plastic aprons. They broke my waters which was the only part of the whole process that, looking back, annoyed me. I wasn't asked permission, but I think that my bladder was a bit full so they broke the waters as I know that can get in the way...supposedly. Anyway, once that happened, the contractions were WAY more intense so I started to use some gas & air. This got me through the more challenging 'transitional' stage of labour.
Then I needed to push. I could physically feel my baby coming down the birth canal...it was phenomenal and so powerful! It was just after 7pm on Sunday evening and I loved the pushing phase as I could be so physically active with my contractions and push against them. I was side lying, half sitting up on my left as I was knackered! He was just on the verge of coming out but then things paused. The head midwife was called in who helped his head super gently emerge as she supported my perineum. In three pushes at 7.13pm, my angel was here! It was amazing. There really are no words for feeling that gorgeous, warm baby being placed on your chest. I felt like superwoman, empowered, strong, f**king amazing!!!
What happened with the head midwife being called in, was that the midwife looking after me was concerned as she thought my son's head was a bit big (which it was!), and knew from my birthing preferences document that I did NOT want an episiotomy unless absolutely medically necessary. So the lovely midwife in charge came in to support my perineum and super gently ease him out. Afterward, she said, "did you massage your perineum during pregnancy?" I said I did! She could tell and found it amazing how beautifully I could stretch open without a single tear or any trauma at all to the area.
My first birth was the most incredibly empowering experience and shaped the rest of my births, but also was the catalyst for a change in career direction, resulting in me being able to help over 1000 women give birth on their terms.
My main tips for an active birth are:
Tip 1 - create a birthing preferences document, highlighting those things that are extremely important to you
Tip 2 - practice yoga and stay upright for as long as possible - upright can be on the hands and knees, sitting, kneeling or standing
Tip 3 - keep relaxed and mobile. If you aren't relaxed, your beautiful birthing hormones will not flourish, making your labour progress slowly
Tip 4 - stay at home during labour for as long as you feel comfortable. This is HUGE! Particularly on your first labour. At home is where you will most likely feel the most relaxed and can create your 'love nest'. This is only scratching the surface on how I can advise and support you, as I talk a lot about this and how important it is in The Empowered Birth.
Right - on to births 2 and 3!
So in bed late one night, 3 days past my "due date", my waters leaked just a tiny bit. He wasn't moving around much in the morning so we went in to get everything checked out. He was absolutely grand thank god, and apparently, I was contracting but couldn't feel anything. I absolutely said no to staying in the hospital, and said I'd stay close enough to the hospital just doing my own thing. I knew I was super early in the process, so did not want to stay and be interfered with, which is how I saw it. So we went and did a bit of shopping, every now and again I felt a few niggles but not much. One funny moment was we went to a gorgeous 5* hotel in Dublin which I love, and ordered a soft drink and a glass of white wine. This was during the day in July. The poor waiter came over and gave me the soft drink as I was moving gently around as a few little surges began! The poor fella...I said "oh no, the wine is for me" - mortified, he said "oh I'm so sorry madam"! I didn't drink alcohol at all during my pregnancy but for some reason, I wanted a little glass of white wine! I had half a small glass which I enjoyed and the hospital started calling me telling me to come back as they had a bed for me. I really didn't want to go back as I knew I wasn't much further along. I put it off another couple of hours, trusting myself and my own body in the process. I was right. The hospital was only a few minutes away from us at the time.
Eventually, I went back around 6pm, to be shown into this TINY bed, in a packed ward. I was miserable. So I got up and walked every stairs in the hospital I could find. My husband was told to go home around 9pm after visiting hours as nothing was happening. I had a hot shower and got into bed. At about 2.45am, I got the mother of all contractions and boom, my waters broke! It was a strange experience. I asked for access to a bath to be told there wasn't one. But eventually, after a little persuasion, I found one :) So I stayed in the bath from about 330am until 630am. I was completely on my own, totally relaxed, and super chilled. I even got a request played on the radio!
My husband was just waiting to come back in and arrived about 7am. Just as breakfast was being served I started to feel pretty rotten. The contractions were fairly hefty and I started to get sick! The staff was all changing shifts and I wanted to get out of this antenatal ward where nobody was in labour apart from me! I felt I was progressing but nobody was listening to me which I found really frustrating. I was told to wait until the new staff were on and then they'd see if they could bring me up to the delivery ward...I kept saying that I didn't think I'd last that long. They reluctantly examined me and said I was 4cm, but I knew I was much further along. I got down on the floor and did my pregnancy yoga lunges and then started grunting saying "he's coming"!! All the pregnant ladies around me had to run out of the ward and the staff was legging it in trying to support me as I birthed my baby! My gorgeous Sebastian arrived swiftly at 845am after an extremely overwhelmingly speedy birth!
And last...but by NO means least, baby Nico...the most relaxing labour in the world:-) After another 2 desperately sad miscarriages, my 3rd baby was en route, almost 7 years later! This time, I decided to go privately with an obstetrician who I trusted implicitly and who I knew would respect my wishes for another natural birth. I went privately for a few reasons, mainly because I wanted to be listened to, and be in control as best as I could, plus I was older and had the miscarriages. My god, what a glorious birth I had with Baby Nico. I bloody loved it!
So you aren't reading this email forever, I'll shorten it down! I woke up with a few niggles and a 'show' on Sunday morning 25th March about 530am. I got the hubby to make me a nice cuppa and some yummy toast as I had a feeling this would be quick! Popped the tens machine on, did a little Pregnancy Yoga, and went into the hospital nice and early as I knew it should be quiet on a Sunday morning. The surges were strong so I knew I was going to progress nicely and I was just super positive & happy as I knew I was going to meet my angel baby soon :-) I went up to the lovely labour ward, met the gorgeous midwives, was on my ball, had a little breakkie and breathed my way through. I have to say I was smiling all the time. I got into a hot bath, used my oils and listened to my relaxations. It was bloody blissful. The midwives popped in and out of the bathroom and said they felt it was like a spa - peaceful, smelled heavenly and it was such a relaxing vibe. I actually fell asleep for a few mins! My amazing consultant was around and chatting to my husband, checked in with the midwives, but everyone just left me pretty much alone as I requested. I had a feeling I should get out of the bath, so at 10:10am, I stood up and then boom! All of a sudden, the intensity increased massively and the surges came without much of a break. My husband came in and put my tens back on and when I eventually got out of the bathroom the midwife instantly saw the change in my behaviour and asked to examine me. I was a "good 4-5cm" which I knew for me meant I could give birth really quickly! We gathered my stuff and I walked slowly but happily down to the delivery suite. A new midwife was there and asked to examine me. I was pretty relaxed so I didn't mind. 10 mins later I was 8cm and she said to call my consultant. He came up and at 10:49am and my waters broke pretty much straight away as I was standing up and leaning into my husband. 10 minutes later my angel arrived! We had a few minutes of hairiness as Nico got into some distress just as he was about to emerge, but thankfully all was well!
So there you go, three big babas, all birthed naturally. They weighed between 8lbs 10oz and 9lbs 2oz. All were either on their "due date" or up to 4 days after...so they were big fellas. I never had any tearing or any trauma to the perineum or pelvic floor.
During my pregnancies, I focused on keeping happy, relaxed, as fit as I could and made sure I did as much as I could to get baby into a good birthing position. That meant practicing a lot of Pregnancy Yoga and watching my posture.
I also meditated a lot, practiced my relaxations for birth, particularly with my 3rd baby, and importantly I ALWAYS was excited and really looked forward to my birth. So my mindset was always in a great spot.
During labour then, I used my mantra RUM - Relaxed, Upright and Mobile as often as I could!
If you'd like help getting baby into a good birthing position, feeling comfortable and strong during your pregnancy, enjoy an incredible online community of ladies, and having an active, short labour, check out The Empowered Birth, the 5-month complete pregnancy and antenatal preparation program. Our weekly check-ins, LIVE Yoga & Fitness classes, and Pre-Recorded education bundles will give you everything you need for the pregnancy and birth you desire.
Helen Plass is a Pregnancy Yoga & Postnatal Yoga Instructor and Fitness Specialist, working with women and their birthing partners to achieve a comfortable, healthy & happy journey into Pregnancy, birth and Motherhood. She is known for her very practical & non-judgmental approach to pregnancy and the crazy times of motherhood. Check out all her communication at NurtureMamas.com.