I started writing this email many months ago but it was put on the back burner and never sent! Apologies, new baby and all that ; )
Many thanks for your email! I've been meaning to email you. Delighted to report that we had a beautiful baby boy, Rowan, on October 9th weighing a very healthy 9lb 9oz! Also delighted to report that thanks to both the Gentle Birthing and the Domino Scheme, the birth was natural, intervention-free and a really positive experience - tough going of course but worth it.
I've been meaning to write my experience down so will do so now - sorry it's a bit long!
I think I always thought I was someone who wasn't really capable of giving birth naturally. Doing the GentleBirth course and reading up on it did make me feel more confident and let me dare to think that maybe I could do it, but I think I was still quite plagued with self doubt as to whether my body could actually 'work' and bring a baby into the world.
I really enjoyed the lead up to the birth. I felt really calm, healthy and well, and enjoyed being finished work and having this lovely time off. I was very much looking forward to it all and I know that is all thanks to embracing the Gentle Birth philosophy. After I passed my due date people kept asking if I was "going mad", or saying in surprise that I seemed to be in great form. I genuinely was in great form. I think the Gentle Birth course was worth it alone for this feeling of calm and positivity before the birth, even when I went two weeks overdue! I was not afraid at all and felt I had nothing to fear. I spent a lot of my overdue days reading positive birth stories, listening to the CDs, going for lovely walks and enjoying long warm baths. It was a really nice time.
I was booked in to be induced at 40+13 (under the Domino Scheme they will allow you to go as far as this). I was really hoping to avoid induction, both because of its implications and because it would mean coming off the Domino Scheme. However, I also felt that I wasn't going to let being induced ruin the experience for me, so when I got past 40+10 I changed my mindset, started to accept I would be induced, and embraced some of the positives that would bring (e.g. knowing when it was happening and being able to plan accordingly.) This was a tip I read in the Gentle Birth book and I think it's a good attitude to have. As it happened, I actually ended up going into labour naturally at 40+13, a few hours before going into hospital to be induced! I woke up at 3am with cramps. I had taken the dreaded castor oil the day before in a last attempt to go naturally, and so for quite some time I was convinced what I was experiencing was my bowel contracting, rather than my uterus : ) After about two hours of regular contractions coming every two and a half minutes, I finally dared myself to believe that maybe I was in labour. I was thrilled to have gone naturally at the 11th hour. It made the pains of this early stage not seem so bad at all.
Early labour was a lovely experience - I had a really long shower, my husband Declan made me a lovely eggs Benedict, I read affirmation cards that I had written out and watched some of an old Disney movie (Beauty and the Beast), which had been in my plans! At about 9am contractions slowed down for a while, so we went back to sleep for a few hours. My hospital appointment to be induced was for 2pm, and when I rang the Domino midwife to say I was having contractions she asked me to come in anyway, because she felt I still might need the gel. The reason for this was because over the previous few days, my baby's head was very far down and my cervix was found to be very thin, but it was also very very posterior, to the point where sweeps were attempted five times but could not be completed. Apparently I have a 'very unusual' cervix : ) The Domino midwives later told me that they thought I didn't have any chance of going naturally, and that they had even discussed this with each other as they thought I would have to be removed from the Domino Scheme. I'm glad they didn't tell me that at the time, it would have been disheartening! As they told me later, they were delighted to have been proven wrong.
We made our way into hospital for 2pm, but my contractions had really slowed at this point. A sixth sweep was performed, which kick started contractions again, and after much back and forth it was decided that I didn't need any intervention in terms of induction as I was indeed in the early stages of labour and that final sweep had succeeded in kicking off dilation. A side note on all the sweeps I got - when getting sweeps I would close my eyes and visualise scenes of Autumn leaves blowing in the wind (because it was that time of year and I was having an Autumn baby). I would breathe deeply and wouldn't pay any attention to what the midwife was doing down below. It proved very effective for me and I'm going to always do this for any smear tests or other uncomfortable procedures I have to get in the future! By the time labour rolled around, I was a total pro at the sweeps : )
Over the next few hours, the contractions got a lot stronger. The affirmations I had written on cards proved invaluable. They were my own affirmations, inspired by some of the GentleBirth ones and by some I read online, but I found putting them in my own words made them more relatable for me. When a contraction was coming, I would look at one affirmation card and say it over and over through the contraction. When things started getting really intense, I was joined by my fantastic Domino midwife, Eimear, who arranged for me to go to the labour ward as I was then three centimetres dilated (up til then I was in the antenatal ward). It was around midnight at this stage.
I found getting to the labour ward was a great boost - the change of scenery and the introduction of gas and air was a big help. Having my own space was also nice (I had been in a room with three others when in the antenatal ward) and Declan put on my labour playlist, which I really enjoyed.
I had really wanted to use the hydrotherapy pool, and you can use that when you get to 4cm (otherwise you can go backwards). Eimear examined me to check if I was ready for it, and at that point my waters released spontaneously. I was indeed 4cm, so went straight into the pool. Again, this change of scenery was a big help - I loved the pool. It was so relaxing and warm, and felt nothing like being in hospital.
My contractions were incredibly powerful at this stage - I couldn't believe how much they would overtake your entire being. I did find them painful and did have a lot of moments where I thought I couldn't take it anymore, but with a little help from Dec and Eimear I was able to get back my focus. After about an hour and a half in the pool I really hit a wall and felt like I couldn't go on. I told Eimear I thought I might need an epidural. She was great - she looked me in the eye and said very clearly and firmly: "Joanne. I will get you an epidural if it's what you want. That is no problem. But I am telling you now that you don't need one. You are so close. You are doing a great job. You are doing this." She said she thought I was probably about 8cm dilated, but I didn't believe her! So she suggested that I get out of the pool so that she could examine me as I needed to know how far I was. She was dead right both in terms of how far I was and in the fact that I needed to know how far I was - when she examined me, I was 8cm. (I actually still didn't believe her - we had a bit of a laugh with me going "you're totally lying to me, there's no way I'm 8cm!" She had to promise me I was.) It was such a boost to hear this (once I realised she was telling the truth!). I knew if I was that far I could keep going - I stopped shouting for epidurals after that! I kept saying over and over "I can do this. I can do this," to which Eimear or Dec would respond "you are doing this! You've done it!" Poor Eimear, I had to apologise to her later for shouting at one point that next time I was going for an elective C section - it was just 'the wall' talking! As Eimear said to me later, at each stage I had a bit of a freak out where I thought I couldn't do it, but then calmed down and centred myself and kept going. It's amazing how much of labour is in the mind.
Back in the room and having conquered 'the wall', the rest of the labour went pretty smoothly. We actually had lots of very funny moments in the room - it was just myself, Dec and Eimear, and a second midwife, Elmarie (also fantastic), came in for the delivery. Dare I say it, but between the insane contractions, we actually had a bit of craic! Before long I was 10cm, and started feeling urges to push. With Eimear's help and advice I tried a few different positions for the pushing, but the one that actually worked best was in fact on my back, though I think the bed was sloped downwards. Pushing was intense (and I did push - breathing out the baby wasn't working for me) and took about an hour and a half. But the end was in sight by then, and that thought did give me the energy I needed. At this point I had been over 24 hours in labour (though only about 10 hours of that was intense labour) but I actually didn't feel any tiredness- I was full of adrenaline and just excited to be close to the end.
At 5.23am my little Rowan came into the world. Immediately he roared his head off with the strongest, healthiest sounding cry and he was placed straight on my chest. It's a bit of a blur, but I remember Declan saying 'it's a boy' and he kept saying "he's perfect Joey, he's perfect". He already had plenty of little fat folds and looked pretty chunky for a newborn - he was 9lb 9oz! I needed a few stitches because he shoved his little elbow up when he was coming out, a compound presentation. Tearing and having stitches had been a massive fear of mine but it turned out to be a total non event in the scheme of everything, which was a relief. I hadn't even felt the tear. I was glad I didn't know beforehand how big he was, as I think it would have scared me. But in fact I am not sure that his big size made things any harder.
Because I was in the Domino Scheme, I went home that same day, at 5pm that evening. The midwives then visited me at home for six days - such a fantastic service that I cannot speak highly enough of. The midwives were all such a huge support and were so encouraging and positive. They made me feel like I had the most thriving, fabulous baby on the planet, and that I was doing a great job, which is exactly what you need in those early days.
After the birth I was high as a kite and couldn't quite believe all that had happened. There was so much to take in that I didn't sleep for days, and not because Rowan was keeping me awake! It took a few days to get back to earth and process everything. Eventually, I allowed myself to feel a teeny tiny bit proud of myself that I had done what I had not thought I was capable of, I birthed my 9lb 9oz baby : )
It's now almost six months later and all is going very well, Rowan is just fabulous and I am loving my time at home with him. He's the best little boy and I just love him so much, I basically want to spend all my time squishing him to pieces. I am delighted that I had a great birth experience, and feel very lucky that all went to plan. Having said that, I had really wanted to breastfeed and unfortunately that didn't work out. My breastfeeding experience was actually far more distressing than the birth! I was disappointed but I've made my peace with it - Rowan is very happy and healthy and that's what matters.
I think the main thing I have taken from the whole experience is that women are amazing! I always thought we were equal to men, but after giving birth I was like nah, we're actually better. Women haven't been giving birth and breastfeeding since the beginning of time not because it's easy, they've been doing it because they're tough and strong and amazing. No matter how a birth goes, whether it's C section, epidural, natural or whatever, none of it is easy, and we're all goddesses for doing it : )
I recommend Gentle Birthing to everyone - I loved the whole positive, empowering philosophy of it. I did it in my own way to some extent - for example, I knew I would want multiple examinations during labour, as I am the type that likes to have all the information, so even though that's not the usual Gentle Birth way I knew it would be my way, and that worked out well for me. I think Gentle Birth is very much a philosophy that you can mould to suit your own situation- that's how I felt about it anyway.
I really loved the course I did back in July of last year, it made me really look forward to the birth and not fear it. Now I definitely did plenty of swearing and shouting during the labour, and I did feel pain and did find it tough, but at no point did I panic or feel afraid, and when I look back on it, it is a very special and treasured memory. I know that's because of all the preparation I did through Gentle Birth, as well as the support of the fantastic Domino midwives. So thank you for my shouty, sweary, crazy, funny and very happy birth... bit of a stretch to call it "gentle", but I guess it was in its own way! It was the most intense, amazing experience of my life and I will value it forever.
Best wishes and thanks for all your help and support