Mumfluencer Lyndsay Gardner, 35, blogger at fizzypeaches.com and @fizzypeaches, lives in Brighton with her partner and children Violet, four, and Pearl, two. Here she recounts how she took control over her birth experience...
During my second pregnancy I did everything I could to avoid another back-to-back birth. My first labour had been intense and drawn out, and I’d needed an epidural. I was told the complications were due to Violet being in the back-to-back position.
This time, I put all my effort into making sure baby number two was facing the right way. Whether it was bouncing on a birthing ball, doing prenatal exercise classes, or getting on my hands and knees, I followed all the advice to try to keep the baby facing my spine. I felt confident labour this time would be straightforward.
'It was the day of Brighton Pride'
My pregnancy had certainly been problem-free. Two days before my due date I woke up feeling a few vague niggles in my bump. It crossed my mind they may be mini contractions but as they were so mild I decided to get on with our weekend plans. It was the day of Brighton Pride, which my partner and I normally love going to. With my growing aches, though, we thought it best to stay away from the crowds. Instead, we went to our local village fair, which was a lot more sedate!
As we wandered around, the sensations in my bump became more noticeable. I started timing them on the contraction app on my phone. Some were two minutes apart, some seven. When we got home at around lunchtime, the tightenings ramped up – I was vacuuming the carpet and every time a contraction came I had to stop and lean over the machine.
We called the hospital, and the midwife advised me to come in and get checked out. Luckily, our friend Kirstie had popped round, and she was happy to look after Violet.
'The midwife said I seemed too calm!'
In the car I listened to soothing spa music – it must have helped as at triage, I was greeted by a midwife who said I seemed too calm to be far along! The look on her face was a picture when she examined me and found I was 4cm dilated. ‘Oh, you’ll be staying in, then!’ she smiled. It was so reassuring.
With my first labour I was in a lot more discomfort when I was only 2cm dilated. This time, I’d reached established labour with only strong twinges. I felt sure that the online hypnobirthing course I’d completed had helped. I’d remembered the breathing technique – in for four counts, out for eight – and felt positive and empowered. ‘I can do it this time,’ I told myself.
From the moment of finding out I was 4cm, it was like a switch had been flicked. The contractions became more intense – not unbearable, but I had to focus on counting my breath to get through each one. One thing that wasn’t making it easy, though, was the weather. We were in the middle of a heatwave, and the examination room we were in was roasting. Every so often between contractions I went out into the corridor to try to cool off.
Before long, a midwife took us to our birthing room. Instantly, I recognised her as someone I’d met when I had my first baby. ‘Hello again!’ she smiled. It felt reassuring to see a friendly face. She took us to a different room where a pool was being filled. Having a water birth was my dream, and I felt strangely emotional. It hit me that I’d got this far, and that I was capable of going all the way.
What I did next was very unlike me! I threw the maxi dress I’d been wearing on the floor and lowered myself straight into the pool. It was so instinctive. The water felt incredibly soothing. As the temperature was high in an already hot room, though, I needed a bit of cooling down. Luckily, I’d packed a face water spray so that, as well as cold wet paper towels, cooled my face. Before long, I slipped into a calm zone with the contractions. My partner, who was right beside me by the pool, helped me stay on track with the breathing by reminding me to count. I was so grateful to her.
'Having a water birth was my dream'
By now the spa music was playing on speakers. Although the contractions were uncomfortable, I was aware of a positive vibe in the room. I had some gas and air, and at one point, I got a bit giggly. ‘I feel like I’m at Pride!’ I said, which caused a few laughs! The contractions began ramping up. ‘Listen to your body,’ the midwife said whenever I admitted how hard it was becoming. She’d read my notes about wanting a natural birth and her style was very hands-off. At the time, I was keen to know how dilated I was, but she explained I didn’t need to, and that my body would tell me. Looking back, I’m so grateful to her.
By around 5pm, a couple of hours after I’d been in the pool, the discomfort became intense. I imagined a crossroads in front of me. One sign pointed to ‘panic’, the other to ‘calm’. I chose to go to calm. Knowing I was in control of how I reacted to each contraction was empowering. Unlike my first birth experience, I never freaked out.
The midwife suggested getting out of the pool and seeing if a change of position helped. While I was being examined, my waters broke. Although I was ‘in the zone’, I remember hearing the midwife say there was meconium (baby’s poo) in the waters. The calm vibe wasn’t shattered when I needed to be moved to a different room for the baby to be monitored.
In that room, instinct took over. On all fours on the bed, I suddenly said: ‘The baby’s coming, I’ve got to push!’ An overwhelming urge to bear down came over me. Despite the intensity, these felt like productive contractions, and a wave of excitement about meeting my baby rushed over me. With the monitor strapped across my bump, I pushed with all my strength. The baby was fine, although the head kept bobbing in and out with every push, which started to feel frustrating.
‘Try without the gas and air,’ the midwife advised. She was concerned it was distracting me from fully focusing – without the mouthpiece, I was free to put all my inner strength into getting the baby out. It was hard work, but when I felt the pressure mounting, I knew the end was in sight.
'I’d achieved my longed-for natural birth'
The midwife placed a warm compress down on me, which helped to relax me, ready for the final few pushes. ‘She’s coming!’ I heard the midwife say. Until that point it was as if I hadn’t truly believed a real human was in there! The pressure down below built to an overwhelming level until I felt the head, followed by the body, come out.
Relief flooded through me as the midwife handed me baby Pearl. ‘I’ve done it!’ I gasped to my partner. After such a tricky labour with our eldest, it was hard to believe I’d achieved my longed-for natural birth. I felt elated and a bit shaken.
After I’d delivered the placenta and recovered with cuddles from baby Pearl, I had another surprise. ‘Did you know she was back-to-back?’ the midwife asked. She admitted she’d discovered the baby’s position from feeling my bump before I got into the pool. And knowing I was worried about another back-to-back birth, she took the decision not to tell me.
I was so, so grateful to her. Had I been told during my labour, I’d have panicked and lost all confidence in my body. I know I’d have asked for an epidural when, in reality, I was perfectly capable of birthing my back-to-back baby naturally. The midwife did me a huge favour!
The next hour or so in hospital holds so many special memories. Our room was on the 13th floor and we had panoramic views of Brighton – the beach and all the rainbow flags out in force for Pride. As the sun set, I cuddled Pearl, and enjoyed my own feeling of pride. I knew that if I could give birth like this, I could do anything. It really is amazing what your body can do when you’re in the right state of mind. I felt invincible.