July 21 2017 our dreams finally came true when we welcomed our tiny miracle baby girl into the world, Phoenix Willow Moss Walls, born at 12:25pm, weighing 2.8kg, in Dubai. It was quite a journey, and not one for the faint hearted, but when I looked into her eyes as they laid her on my chest, everything I had gone through to get to this point was worth it. Getting pregnant was not easy for us, and after trying for almost two years with an ectopic pregnancy as well as two surgeries to remove my fallopian tube and a polyp, we finally conceived in November 2016.
Having been through so much to get to this point, I wanted to ensure that my pregnancy and birth were beautiful, relaxed and memorable experiences. I had heard of hypnobirthing before, although I admit I didn’t know too much about it, and I signed up to Jasmine Collin’s classes here in Dubai to learn more. The hypnobirthing classes helped teach my husband and me about the importance of a natural birth and how to manage the many decisions that you will face in the lead up to labour. We worked on our birth-preferences list and decided that we would like to try for a natural water birth, with minimal intervention, no inductions and, if possible, no drugs. However, when we presented this list to our first doctor we discovered that she was in fact not at all supportive of our preferences.
Making a change
Although we tried to get our doctor on our side, we soon realised that she was not going to be a good fit for us to get the birth we were hoping for and, at 28 weeks, we decided to change doctors. We also shifted hospitals to one with a water-birth room, which we had been told was the most ‘pro natural’ hospital in Dubai.
The initial meeting with our new doctor went well, but then things started to take a little turn for the worse when she insisted on doing a scan at every appointment – we had told her we would prefer a Doppler to so many scans. Then, when she discovered our baby was in a breech position at 32 weeks, she told us we had to book in for an ECV [External Cephalic Version, a manual process whereby a doctor tries to turn the baby into a head-down position] and schedule a C-section if our baby did not turn by week 34, adding that we needed to get pre-approval from our insurers for these procedures right away. This all sent me into a panic, as it was very far from our birth preferences.
Having already experienced two surgeries in the last year and various fertility treatments and drugs, I was determined to have my natural, drug-free birth, and the thought of a C-section after months of practicing hypnobirthing felt like I had been training for a marathon, but wouldn’t have the opportunity to enter the race. I tried every possible trick I could to turn our baby naturally; from yoga poses, inversions off our sofa and upside-down on a ironing board, to hypnosis, acupuncture and osteopath. I even tried handstands in the pool, which I was never good at as a skinny teenager, let alone at nine months pregnant!
Despite everything, our little girl would not turn, so it looked less likely that we could have the natural birth we had dreamed of, as it seemed no one would take the risk of a natural birth with a breech baby in Dubai.
Third time lucky
At 36 weeks, after receiving many recommendations from various parenting Facebook groups in Dubai, we decided to make our third change of hospital and doctor to Dr Anni Engberg, who would deliver at Saudi German Hospital. She agreed to help us with our preferred choice of natural birth even though our baby was in breech position, as long as everything was healthy up to and during the labour, and as long as we did not use any drugs, so that both the baby and I would be alert enough to our jobs properly. We also agreed to allow nature to take its course (so no inductions or interventions) and to let the baby decide when she was ready.
My due date came and went. Dr Anni advised swimming in the sea, inhaling clary sage essential oil, consuming raspberry tea and spicy food, and having intercourse to help things along – all to no avail. Then, four days past my due date, my husband and I got up at sunset, walked and swam for four hours, and by the time we got home at 9am, my contractions had started. I didn’t want to go to the hospital too early, so I poured myself a large cup of raspberry tea, opened the clary sage and even tried a few seconds on my new breast pump as I had read that nipple stimulation would help to move things along. I ended up having a day on the sofa watching nature documentaries and trying to remain calm and relaxed. By the time my husband came home from work the contractions were getting stronger and a little more regular. We made some dinner from our stash of freezer meals and put on our Hypnobirthing tracks to stay relaxed. We went to bed around 9pm, but of course it was not easy trying to sleep when the contractions were coming every six to seven minutes. I rested in between, and we had our Rainbow Relaxation hypnobirthing track playing in the background. I alternated between side-lying position and being on all fours, with my husband gently stroking and massaging my back with coconut oil and lavender oil, which I found really helped when I felt discomfort in my lower back. Excited that things were happening and a little nervous about what I was about to face with a natural breech birth without drugs, we decided to call Dr Anni at 3am.
We drove to the hospital, where we were taken to the labour ward. As soon as I lay on the bed I was very violently sick, which I’m told is normal and a good sign that things are starting to happen! My husband got to work with his ‘ambience bag of tricks’ and put multi- coloured LED candles around the room, dimmed the lights and stuck affirmations on the walls. The surges were getting closer together and more intense and all I really wanted to do was walk around – however, as I was a high risk birth I had to be monitored constantly, so I was strapped up to the foetal monitor and a cannula was put into my arm in case I had to be rushed in for an emergency C-section. These two things really bothered me as they were not at all part of my birth plan and threw me from my relaxed state of mind. My husband and Dr Anni worked together to coach me back to a calm state and to help me remember my breathing techniques to get through the surges. I decided I did not want to know about the monitor and chose not to look at the screen, and the doctor turned the volume off so that I was not distracted by it. At some point I remember going into the shower with my husband, where I was sat on the birthing ball, rolling my hips in circular motions while he held the running shower head on my back. I seemed to enter a trance-like state, where I was welcoming every surge with my mantras: ‘Every surge brings my baby closer to me’ and ‘I am a warrior, I was made for this’. With the amazing support of my husband, I managed to move from 5cm to 10cm dilated in just 45 minutes. A torrent of emotions emptied out of me through floods of tears as I totally let go and allowed my body to relax and do what it had to do. I was focused on my hypnobirthing visualisation of an opening rose and tried to channel every breath into opening up and allowing our baby to move down. Not long after this, our baby girl decided to enter the world: bum and feet first, followed by knees and finally her little head. We managed the whole process without drugs, but the team were on standby in case of any problems.
There were times I most definitely would have given up and cried out for C-section or drugs, but with our hypno tracks on repeat, our affirmations hung around the room and the help of my husband, somehow I managed to stay as relaxed as possible and get through it. I wanted to share this as a positive story for anyone facing birth anywhere, but in particular here in the UAE, to let you know there are always options. It’s never too late to change doctors and hospitals if they don’t give you what you want ,and although births rarely go ‘to plan’, stick to your guns if something doesn’t feel right. I really don’t think I would or could have done anything differently were I to do it again. When you’re pregnant for the first time everything is new and you have no idea what is the right thing to do for you or the baby. You just go on the information you have and check it against your instinct to see how it sits with you and if it feels right. I knew I wanted a natural birth from the beginning, so I did everything I could possibly do in order to achieve that. If it didn’t feel right when a doctor told me this wasn’t possible, I felt like I owed it to myself and my baby to check for alternatives in order for me to have the birth that I wanted. If I were to be pregnant and go through it all again I would probably prefer not to have a breech birth – it certainly would be easier. But I do not regret it at all, as it taught me so much about myself and what I am prepared to do for my baby. I also think it has prepared me a little more for motherhood in a way, in the sense that it is not easy, but you have to just keep trying to do your best as a mum and what you think is the best thing for you and your baby.
• Do your own research. Don’t rely on what one doctor tells you as there are always options
• I cannot recommend Hypnobirthing highly enough. I felt empowered and informed as well as relaxed, calm and prepared for my birth, so that even though it didn’t exactly go to plan, it was an experience I will never regret
• Do what you feel is right for you. Stop listening to horror stories from other women who feel the need to overshare their experience. Birth is personal, and what is right for one woman may not be the same for you