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I was told my body would know what to do when I gave birth. It didn’t

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I was told my body would know what to do when I gave birth. It didn’t

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At 70 hours into labour, all hell broke loose (Picture: Lydia Smith)

Laying back on the hospital bed, I waited for the midwife to finally give me some good news. But that didn’t happen. 

‘You’re still only around 2cm dilated,’ she said calmly, peeling her latex gloves off. ‘I think we should try the hormone drip to speed things up a bit.’ 

My heart sank. I was around 45 hours into labour at this point and although I wanted it over, I was terrified of medical interventions. Being offered a hormone drip – an artificial form of the hormone oxytocin, given intravenously, to induce labour – was my worst nightmare. 

In fact, all my hypnobirthing instructors had hinted that it was one of the medical interventions I should actively try to avoid.  

‘It can make labour more painful,’ they’d warned. ‘But don’t worry, your body will know what to do.’ 

Only, my body clearly didn’t know what to do.  

Falling pregnant in June 2021 was totally unexpected.

I have polycystic ovaries and, age 29, was told by a doctor that conceiving would be difficult. I didn’t know if I was ready to be a parent, but I knew I wanted a baby at some point and was worried it wouldn’t happen. 

So when I became pregnant quickly, age 31, it was a complete shock.

In fact, I was petrified.  

Lydia (L) and her husband (R) (Picture: Lydia Smith)

The pregnancy wasn’t easy. I struggled with day-long sickness as well as anxiety and depression, worrying about whether I was cut out to be a mum.  

I was also scared about giving birth – so, after my 12-week scan, I signed up to a hypnobirthing course after coming across the Positive Birth Movement and the concept on Instagram.

Hypnobirthing is based on the idea that managing stress during labour helps the body retain levels of the hormone oxytocin, which aids labour. Some studies – albeit small ones – also show it can help to reduce anxiety. 

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I hoped the focus on making informed decisions, together with learning about the role of hormones and how the uterus worked, would make me feel more positive about my pregnancy and birth.

In the online course videos, the women talked about relaxation and breathing techniques to help ease pain and stay present during labour and delivery.

They also talked about inductions, assisted labour and caesareans, though I couldn’t help but feel they had a certain disapproving or even fear-mongering tone. 

It felt like they were insinuating these kinds of medical procedures took away women’s autonomy, eliminating any chance of a positive birth experience.

The pregnancy wasn’t easy (Picture: Lydia Smith)

Of course, they always caveated that by saying that the right techniques – like breathing, writing affirmations on Post-It Notes and massage – could help avoid these procedures in the first place.  

I trusted their expertise, so I watched videos of healthy, non-traumatic births on their recommendation which helped me get into the mindset of having a natural birth with as little interference as possible – and proved that a positive birth experience was possible. 

On 20 February 2022, I went into labour at home. I began to feel cramps, which over the course of 24 hours, ramped up into full-blown contractions. At this point, all seemed OK.

When the contractions became too painful, I went to hospital armed with fairy lights and my birth plan. I was open to the idea of pain relief, but wanted to stay away from interventions like forceps.

I was anxious, but ready. 

That feeling of control soon vanished as I was diagnosed with preeclampsia – a pregnancy complication that can happen during labour, which causes high blood pressure and can be serious if not treated – after doing a routine urine test.

For nine hours, I lay in a ward in agony – with no pain relief. Around 25 hours into labour, I was finally moved to a delivery room and that’s when the midwife told me I should try the hormone drip. 

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She was in hospital for over a week (Picture: Lydia Smith)

Despite my own fears and my hypnobirthing instructor’s words of warning ringing in my ears, I agreed, hoping it would kickstart my uterus into having productive contractions. I also begged for an epidural.

For a while, things improved. The agony I had been in for nearly three days subsided, but my contractions were finally ‘working’. I even managed to nap for 15 minutes. 

Then, 70 hours into labour, all hell broke loose. 

My son’s pulse suddenly dropped dangerously low. Alarm bells blared and a team of doctors and nurses burst in to take me for an emergency C-section.

I remember shaking so much with terror and adrenaline that the anaesthetist had to hold my arm down to top up my anaesthetic. 

I lost a lot of blood and it took a while for me to be stabilised as a result. As for my son, he was quickly diagnosed with pneumonia and whisked off to intensive care.

We were in hospital for over a week, during which a midwife told me it was the fastest caesarean the team had done. 

For a long time afterwards I felt like my body had failed me. Like it hadn’t done the one thing it was allegedly programmed to do. 

But, it’s not that unusual for our bodies to not know what to do.  

Lydia and her son (Picture: Lydia Smith)

In February 2022, the month my son was born, only 53% of births in England were spontaneous vaginal births. Meanwhile, 19% were emergency C-sections and 15% had elective C-sections. 

Fast forward, and the most recent data shows that only 47% of deliveries were spontaneous vaginal births, with 18% opting for elective C-sections and 23% needing emergency C-sections. 

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I had no idea C-sections were so common. Had I known, I wonder if I’d have been more comfortable with medical interventions. 

What I now know is, childbirth is always unpredictable. And looking back, I can’t shake off the feeling that I was given unrealistic expectations. 

Hypnobirthing and the wider positive birth movement can provide many birthers with helpful tools to navigate giving birth. But problems may arise when women aren’t given full and fair information. 

There is a place for all opinions, but presenting a negative view of medical interventions doesn’t give women more choice – it spreads shame and fear. 

I feared C-sections and side effects of epidurals, and there are still times when I feel like I failed. One mum, for example, recently posted on Instagram about how she gave birth to her son without any pain relief.

But that post also made me question why we celebrate not using pain medication – leading to a martyr narrative that makes women feel inadequate if they want it. 

But both my son and I are only alive because of medical interventions. And for that, I am grateful they exist. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.


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