Our first guest blog is a courageous story of survival and finding her inner strength from the amazing Layla. One in four women experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives, and it is common for abuse to start or get worse during pregnancy. If you need support for yourself or you have concerns about a friend, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247, or you can speak to your midwife, like Layla did.
Layla didn’t use hypnobirthing to prepare for the birth of her son, but I loved reading about how she and her friend giggled in between contractions – what a great way to release tension and lighten the mood!
So I never really expected to be in the situation I was, 31 years old, 7 months pregnant and sleeping in my friend’s double bed (as her husband had kindly vacated to the sofa). But it felt like a complete weight had been lifted off my shoulders to be honest, of course I felt the guilt and shame of being officially homeless and with my 7 year old but also the feeling of not being terrified of when he got home and he had had a bad day or not knowing where I was allowed to sleep that night. It was wonderful.
I had just left my partner, the father of my unborn child who had been mentally and physically abusing me throughout the duration of our relationship. It began with small things like him commenting how I had done my hair a certain way and he didn't like it. Then the fact I had put weight on during my pregnancy, progressing to accusing me that the child I was carrying wasn't even his and questioning the sonographer on our 12 week scan, “Can you tell if it's black or not in there”? He found this highly amusing - the rest of the hospital staff not so much. They later took me into a room to discuss his behaviour and comments. Because of the way I had just accepted it they believed it had become normal to me. They were right.
I had also become so utterly controlled and reliant upon him that when it progressed to physical violence - which could be anything from pulling my head back suddenly by my hair to strangling me or pushing me down the stairs - I truly believed I deserved this, I made my excuses to social services when they became involved and said I wound him up and it wasn't his fault, as through his abuse I had truly come to believe this was true.
It was only when finally I attended a midwife appointment and she questioned me due to the social services involvement that I broke down and told her everything. She was wonderful, almost cried with me and told me that I needed to get out of this situation as I knew it was wrong. I went home terrified not knowing what to do as this was my child's home too, where would we go what would we do? I had no idea.
I came home to him drunk and abusive with my 7 year old there and decided enough was enough. There was no way I could just walk out so I went to bed with her as I had been doing and waited till he fell asleep. Once I was sure he was asleep, I called a taxi, gathered up what I could and my child and I arrived at 2am on my friend’s doorstep.
I must emphasise how amazing my friends and family were during this time, from my friend’s husband giving up his bed to my dad giving me money for a deposit on a house, I think they were just relieved that we were safe as they have all said they were aware of the situation but felt they couldn't do anything whilst I was still there.
I got settled in a rented house and again the kindness that was shown to us was incredible, from help with moving to the man who after delivering the beds it took me a month to afford (we slept on sofas pushed together) came back to set them up for free as he 'couldn't have me doing that in my condition'. I believe we were very lucky.
So just as soon as we had managed to get back a little of our lives and were enjoying our quite empty but safe house I was getting incredibly close to the end of my pregnancy. My back was agony, I was huge, and I really wanted a speedy birth. I had chosen to have a VBAC which is a vaginal birth after the caesarean I had with my daughter, as I hoped my recovery time would be quicker, and I had been well supported in this.
I agreed to a sweep on the day before my due date and on my actual due date I began with contractions. Only very small to begin with but by tea time incredibly painful. I phoned my friend who was to be my birthing partner and she came to my house for support. We had such a laugh that night between the pain, rolling about on the birthing ball and holding hot water bottles on my back but as it got towards the early hours I really started to feel I needed some help with the pain. The taxi ride to hospital was quick and before I knew it I was being examined by a rather stern midwife who told me I wasn't in labour until my waters burst, all over her. I wasn't aware of this initially until my friend started laughing hysterically and the midwife bustled out to get changed leaving me and my friend hysterical!
Then came the pain, I was examined by another midwife who told me at 4cm dilated I could progress to labour suite as I was in established labour. I couldn't wait, I thought ‘Ah he will be here soon’. How wrong I was. It turned out my cervix for some reason wasn't dilating, so whilst I was in terrible pain nothing was happening, after a few hours of this and no sleep I was becoming exhausted. After this, under the care of a very lovely experienced midwife who remained with me until the end of my labour I was put on a Syntocinon drip to speed things up. Oh and it did! The pain became immense and as I puffed aggressively away on the gas and air I felt an overwhelming urge to push. I was pushing for about half an hour and nothing happened then the monitor on the baby started beeping. They then told me that they believed the cord was stuck around my baby's neck causing him to choke with each contraction and it was either an episiotomy and assisted delivery or a caesarean! A caesarean! After all of this I was mortified! So I then found myself in stirrups (very dignified) but to be honest by this point I just wanted my baby here! I shut my eyes and puffed on the gas and air as they administered the local anaesthetic for the episiotomy then used the forceps (which have always made me think of salad tongs) to pull my little boy out. For a few moments everyone was quiet as he was quite blue due to the cord but as he let out an almighty scream and they placed him on my chest and I finally saw his little face for the first time everything fell into place.
It sounds so clichéd really but honestly, all the pain and heartache and stress leading up to this one moment all made complete sense right then. He was here, tiny (5lb 13 oz), safe and perfect. I felt so proud of myself and all my supporters for what we had achieved, I finally felt worthy again I had done it. I had myself back.
Photo by Chris McFarland CC BY
I'm Liz Dew, founder of SheffieldHypnobirthing.com and I love a good chat about birth. This blog is where I explore some of the things that I find amazing, frustrating, or fascinating about birth and birth culture. Grab a cuppa and dive in.