Mum of two, Sophie Fletcher, is a clinical hypnotherapist and an experienced doula. Last week, she brought out her first book Mindful Hypnobirthing: Hypnosis and mindfulness techniques for a calm and confident birth. Today, she’s here on the blog to tell us how her first birth experience inspired her to turn things around when she was due to give birth again, only a little over a year later.
Friday, the 19th of December 2003, I was buying Christmas presents in Nottingham with my husband of 8 months, and a big bump of baby after my last day at work. I’d hardly drawn breath from finishing my demanding job as a Policy Advisor, when I went in for a check up on the Monday.
Tests showed that I had pre-eclampsia, which can be a life-threatening condition. I was admitted on the spot, and spent the next few days before Christmas being observed. Being told I was having a caesarean on Christmas Day didn’t seem real and I chose not to think about it too much, instead opening Christmas presents on my hospital bed. Our baby was due on the 9th of January, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that he could be a Christmas baby.
Yet, on Christmas day, I sat down on the bed in theatre and had the anesthetic. At 1.26pm my son, Fin, was born. I didn’t see him; all I could hear was crying. The first photos of him are on a set of scales, his tiny eyes scrunched up, mouth screaming, arms and legs flayed out in protest at this rude awakening. I was flat on my back, no one thought to even show to him to me. Before I could hold him, my blood pressure dropped and I began to be violently sick, so the first hour after the birth instead of holding my baby I was holding a sick bowl.
The following 6 months are a blur. I remember feeling insecure and frightened as I turned left out of the hospital, I remember Gordon and I arriving home putting Fin on the floor in his car seat and saying “what to we do now?”. I remember the midwife coming round and saying “oh don’t you look well, you don’t look like you’ve had a caesarean”. I remember putting on a face, because I was expected to manage. But, I had little support around me, and when my husband went back to work I struggled to cope. I’m a pragmatic person, I’ve had tough challenges that I got through in life, but I felt I couldn’t look after my own baby.
This wasn’t how motherhood was supposed to be. Within me was the overwhelming conflict of loving this little bundle so so much, but feeling I wasn’t doing the best for him, I worried that I was failing as a mother.
Fast forward 8 months and I was pregnant with my second son Rory. It was as if I took breath and said, this is going to be different, this is going to be better. I did my research and I stumbled across hypnosis for birth. My mother had rung me and told me to switch onto ‘Richard and Judy’ as they were talking about a pain free birth. I was intrigued as this was so far removed from the model of birth that I had grown up understanding. The interview was interesting but still leaning towards the sceptical. Yet, I would have done anything to have a better experience so I thought ‘why not’.
At 15 weeks I began diligently listening to my hypnosis tracks every night and got a book. I slept remarkably well; I was generally calmer with Fin, more accepting. I felt more confident in making decisions that were right for my own well-being.
Slowing my pace down meant I had more energy, and the idea that I could be super mum became redundant. I even left work on time, perhaps even early if it was quiet! The heartburn that had plagued me with my first pregnancy was strangely absent, and I slept so well. I felt physically so much better. Then at 32 weeks my waters broke at 1am.
Unperturbed, I left Gordon sleeping until around 5.30am as I knew he’d need his sleep. I calmly woke him and said that we needed to ring the hospital. Afterwards he said he was astounded that his previously stressed wife was so chilled out. I’d chosen not to have a caesarean again and although it was recommended and advised, I’d done my research and I knew what the right options were for me and for my children.
Completely confident with my choices, during the birth I listened to my hypnosis tracks. The midwives were bemused, although I was being monitored and they could see I was having contractions, I wasn’t reacting. In fact I looked as if I was asleep. It was a long labour but Rory was born with hardly any intervention. Because he was early he needed to go to Intensive Care, but we insisted on kangaroo care, which is when you hold your baby on your chest. I had to be quite persistent on some things, but the fact I was in such as strong emotional place enabled me to do that. My enduring memories of Rory’s birth are the weight of him curled up on my chest instead of in the incubator, and of Fin, 17 months old, running down the corridor towards him and me. This time I was able to pick him up; more than that I spun him and held him close before taking him to meet his brother. Remarkably, Rory was discharged just days later with established breast-feeding. So at just 34 weeks he was home with daily visits.
The shift in both births was so pronounced in how I felt and coped afterwards, that I explored hypnotherapy further. The course I took was really only for interest, however I was hooked. A year later I left my job in the Civil Service and set up my own business. Since 2006 I’ve helped other women to have a positive experience of birth. My experience took me on an incredible journey; one that has helped me to forge a strong bond with my boys and to understand how good antenatal preparation and emotional support makes strong mothers. I’m so lucky to do something I love. It means I’m able to give that same gift to other women and to know what that gift means.
Have you had the birth you had imagined or planned? Did you do things differently the second or third time round?
Mindful Hypnobirthing: Hypnosis and mindfulness techniques for a calm and confident birth was published by Vermilion and is available in all good bookstores or on Amazon (affiliate link).