I love birth stories and hearing of other women’s experiences, so I thought I would write down Charlotte’s HypnoBirthing birth story. I FINALLY got a chance (four months late!) to do so a couple of days ago. These past few months have been a little crazy, I’ve got to admit. We decided to sell our condo shortly before she was born, then we had to birth her, find and buy a new home, pack, move, settle into the new place, and get Olivia into a new school. All while recovering from birth and struggling with oversupply breastfeeding issues (that’s a whole other blog post!). Having now lived it, I don’t recommend moving with a newborn if it can be helped. But we are now settled in, Olivia has started school and is doing well, breastfeeding is easier, and now the struggle is how to get regular, decent naps. Charlotte is my second HypnoBirthing baby and even so, it was such a different experience from my first daughter’s birth. So here I am, posting it for your reading pleasure, if you would care to know how it went. Be warned– it’s long and pretty raw.
If you’ve been following me for some time now, you know that we had some trouble getting pregnant again and that we had a miscarriage on May 17, 2017. I was devastated. So when we found out that September that we were pregnant again, I was excited but anxious; that anxiety stuck with me through the whole pregnancy. Especially when I saw that the due date was May 18, 2018. I had a feeling even then that she would come the same day I had lost the baby, but I didn’t want it to be that way. I didn’t want her birth to eclipse the loss, to sweep it away, like dirt, as if it had never happened. Olivia had come a week early; I hoped my body’s history would repeat itself.
And it almost looked like it would. On Monday, May 14, I started having pretty strong cramping. I had already been having some spotting and birth show but I didn’t think much of it until my sister told me that her last two births had started that way and had progressed quickly. My amazing midwife, Tehmina Islam from Access Midwifery, came over, set up the birth pool, hung out all night, and… nothing. I was pretty disappointed but not surprised. Again, somehow I just *knew* she would come on the 17th. So I went to bed on the 16th with everything prepared for the next day—though it went nothing like I had planned.
A surge woke me up. I glanced at the time. It was exactly 4:44 am. I tell parents that the first thing they should do when the mother starts to feel surges at night is to go back to sleep. But I couldn’t. These were already pretty strong and somewhat close together. Even so, I decided to let Chris keep sleeping and I didn’t bother timing them because I didn’t want another false alarm. At about 6:30, I texted Tehmina to give her a heads-up, as I could feel the surges getting stronger and closer together, but told her to take her time. I still wasn’t timing them, but I was pretty sure by that time that it was the real thing.
Chris woke up around 8 to see me swaying by the bed, breathing through a surge. He immediately knew what was going on, but I asked him not to tell anyone else. Of course, once Chris told his mom not to take Olivia to school and Tehmina showed up at around 9ish and started setting up the pool in the kitchen, it was obvious to everyone what was going on.
I got into the pool at around 9:30, feeling pretty strong surges. And this is my favorite part of the whole labor portion: once I got in, Olivia came to me, gently cupped my face with her hands, and softly said, “Mama, I wish you grace.” Oh, how I kissed her hands and her face! I was so overwhelmed with love. Then she kissed me and I tuned out as I went through another surge.
By that time I was having to really focus more on relaxing through the surges. I was having some difficulty because it was daytime, the sun streaming in through our bedroom and kitchen windows. Normally, I love the morning sun. But I had always imagined the birth taking place at night, with the dim kitchen lights and the moon shining through the windows. I was not expecting bright daylight and birdsong. Fortunately, my favorite HypnoBirthing tools and visualizations really helped me. I used the Depthometer, Disappearing Letters, and the Keyword Deepening technique. I used my surge breath and visualized inflating a red balloon, then releasing it into a clear blue sky. Tehmina told me later that I fell asleep between surges in the pool.
I actually think the water might have slowed the labor process. And I think that was a good thing, to be honest. The women in my family have a history of quick subsequent births and that was something I did NOT want. I had told Tehmina and the rest of my family (my mom, sister, and Chris’ mom) throughout the pregnancy that I didn’t want any internal exams, or coached pushing, or any sort of interference unless absolutely necessary. And they were all great. The only people who touched me or talked to me were Chris and Olivia.
Until I heard Tehmina’s soft voice saying, “Yohanna, you’ve been in the water now for about two hours. Do you want to change position, maybe see what that does?” Honestly, I did not want to get out of the tub and I told her so. It felt so good. But she didn’t give it up completely. “You don’t have to get out, just stand up for a couple of minutes. And then you can get back in the water.” Some day, I am going to ask her why she felt/knew to have me do that. And while I didn’t agree to it right away and only begrudgingly stood up finally, that’s when everything went full force…
The Natural Expulsion Reflex is real
In my first birth, with Olivia, my midwives were not familiar with HypnoBirthing’s “breathing down” vs coached pushing in birthing. And I was a first-time mom who had labored by myself for hours (I still have to write that birth story!) and didn’t advocate for myself in that moment. So I pushed how they told me to and when they told me to. As a result, I had significant tearing and certainly didn’t feel what is called the Natural Expulsion Reflex (or Fetal Ejection Reflex—it really needs a better name) that we discuss in HypnoBirthing classes. Postpartum recovery was terrifying and painful.
For this birth, I had been very clear that I would not push. Now, I don’t know if the NER was going full force in the pool anyway and the water was simply numbing it. I don’t know if Charlotte would have been born like some of the babies I’ve seen in the HypnoBirthing videos, simply slipping out, if I had stayed in the water. That’s what I had hoped for and envisioned. I don’t know and I guess I’ll never know. What I DO know is that as soon as I stood up, I felt that NER and I felt it so strongly my knees buckled. I clutched at Chris, and that was the first and only time I felt fear. I was not prepared for the strength or the suddenness of it. It felt like Charlotte was trying to rocket her way out of me. It took everything I had, every ounce of willpower, to bring my breathing, mind, and body under control. And honestly, my body wasn’t really under my control anymore, anyway. It was doing its own thing. I rallied my HypnoBirthing visualizations and birth breath to slow my body down while I ran a HypnoBirthing affirmation, “I trust my body to know what to do” through my mind. That quickly changed to simply, “Trust. Trust. Trust.” again and again and again.
After that, everything happened very quickly. In three minutes, apparently, according to Tehmina’s meticulous records. I remember her telling me that I could sit down in the water again and sinking gratefully back into the pool. What I don’t remember is how or why I ended up standing again. All I knew was that somehow, I was leaning over the side of the pool when the NER kicked in again with a really good surge and her head came. My mom cried out, “She’s here!” and I heard my baby’s voice. She was talking, cooing and babbling as if to say, “Hi, everyone!” Someone ran to get Olivia and Chris’ mom from the next room and I heard Olivia calling, “Come, Charlie! Come out!” as I worked to bring my mind to what felt like razor-sharp focus.
Of course, with Charlotte’s head out, I knew there was no way I could sit back down in the water and Tehmina confirmed that. Then she asked Chris to let me go (he was still supporting me) and move quickly to catch Charlotte before the next surge. She knew I had wanted Chris to catch her if I didn’t, which was why she didn’t ask the assistant midwife. She also needed to adjust the umbilical cord. It wasn’t around Charlotte’s neck but it was kind of draped behind her neck and down the front of her shoulders, what Tehmina called a “scarf” presentation. Fortunately, Chris got back there in time because I had one last surge and Charlotte was born at 11:53 am.
I remember crying as I flipped over and they handed her to me and I kept saying, “you came back to me” over and over again, even though I don’t know anything about what happens with babies’ souls and miscarriages… but I don’t believe it was coincidence that she was born on the one year anniversary of that loss. Exactly a year ago that day, I was a crying mess, wondering every time I went to the bathroom if that was my baby I was flushing down the toilet. And suddenly I was holding my baby, alive and absolutely perfect. It was so surreal to hold her, to kiss her hands, to see her looking back up at me and babbling.
After I had been able to hold Charlotte for a bit, I got out of the tub to breastfeed her and birth the placenta. My bleeding was minimal and when Tehmina examined me a little later, I had no tearing, just one skid mark, so to speak. Having trusted my body while letting it do the work for me resulted in an easier birth and a far easier recovery.
I realized in a quiet moment later that I had been wrong. Charlotte being born that day didn’t sweep away anything. Instead, it brought everything full circle. It healed the raw, open wound in me and elevated the miscarriage to tender love instead of heartbreak. It was as if Charlotte’s birth was honoring the miscarriage, not replacing it. Just as her sister’s before her, Charlotte’s birth brought new life into me instead of just out of me. Both of my daughters’ births have saved me. Both births have brought me out of fear, pain, and sorrow and into a place of gentle healing.
Charlotte’s birth was not at all what I had envisioned and imagined and yet it was everything it needed to be. I am so glad that I was able to use my HypnoBirthing to let go and trust my body and my baby. I had an incredible experience that I look back on with gratitude and confidence. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.