Birth sto­ries

Meet Jo O’Connell, who wanted to be fit and ready for birth

Mother & Baby (UK) - - CONTENTS -

How one mum trained for labour like it was a marathon

When I found out I was preg­nant again, I made a vow to have an­other ac­tive preg­nancy. I love run­ning 10K races and push­ing my­self on long bike rides. To me, birth is the big­gest en­durance chal­lenge your body will ever ex­pe­ri­ence, so it made sense to train for it as I’d train for a sport­ing event. I did ev­ery­thing I could to pre­pare my body. Two or three times a week I’d do a preg­nancy work­out DVD called Pre­na­tal Fit­ness Fix by Erin O’Brien. The squat­ting ex­er­cises re­ally helped strengthen my thighs, ready for any birthing po­si­tion. And go­ing to a lo­cal preg­nancy yoga group kept my core mus­cles strong. I car­ried on with my weekly Zumba class, do­ing low-im­pact moves in­stead of vig­or­ous jump­ing. Right up un­til I was 30 weeks preg­nant I went on gen­tle bike rides too. And I did daily pelvic floor ex­er­cises when­ever I was wait­ing for the ket­tle to boil. Know­ing my body was as fit as pos­si­ble af­fected my mind­set and I found my­self look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge of labour. Our hired birthing pool was set up in the din­ing room and, when­ever I looked at it, I would imag­ine the po­si­tions I’d be able to get into thanks to the hip-open­ing ex­er­cises I’d done. I was bang on 40 weeks preg­nant on the day I felt my first labour twinge. I’d walked to my an­te­na­tal ap­point­ment, where my mid­wife had

JO O'CONNELL, 36, A PR CON­SUL­TANT, LIVES IN BOURNEMOUTH, WITH HUS­BAND JO, DAUGH­TER BETHANY, 4, AND SON BO, 2

given me a sweep to en­cour­age my cervix to di­late. Walk­ing home, I no­ticed a mild cramp­ing sen­sa­tion. I phoned my hus­band, also called Jo, to let him know that things were start­ing to hap­pen.

Once Bethany was asleep I de­cided to have an early night, and soon drifted off. A cou­ple of hours later, the cramps woke me. I sat up in bed while Jo slept be­side me. When­ever a con­trac­tion came, I used a tech­nique my yoga teacher had shown me: with ev­ery breath I moved my arms slowly for­ward, imag­in­ing I was push­ing away the pain. I sat cross-legged to open my pelvis. At mid­night, I gen­tly nudged Jo. ‘This is ac­tu­ally OK!’ I whis­pered.

By 1am, with my con­trac­tions in­ten­si­fy­ing, I sensed it was time to phone the mid­wife. Jo bus­ied him­self down­stairs fill­ing the birthing pool and boil­ing saucepans to keep the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture up while I stayed up­stairs, lean­ing over the bed and ro­tat­ing my hips. ‘You can do this,’ I told my­self.

Two mid­wives ar­rived at 2am and, as I lay back to be ex­am­ined, I was ex­cited to hear I’d reached 6cm. It was a real boost to know I’d come so far. Jo helped me down­stairs to the liv­ing room, and I leaned over the sofa. Now I was feel­ing the pres­sure of each con­trac­tion shoot­ing up my back and down my hips. The sen­sa­tion was all-en­com­pass­ing, but I fo­cused on how strong my body and mind were.

Still, it was a re­lief when the pool was ready. Jo helped me out of my nightie and into the wa­ter. With my arms over the side of the pool, I bent my knees and squat­ted down. The po­si­tion felt fa­mil­iar af­ter all the ex­er­cises I’d done dur­ing preg­nancy, and I knew that open­ing my pelvis would help the baby to come down as eas­ily as pos­si­ble.

The con­trac­tions were com­ing thick and fast now. I closed my eyes when­ever one came, and breathed slowly and deeply. Although it was hard work, I felt nowhere near as ex­hausted as I’d ex­pected. Ev­ery con­trac­tion was just like jump­ing over an­other hur­dle, and my labour was at the same level of en­durance as all those races I’d run. It was tough, but my train­ing had given me con­fi­dence in my body.

At 5am, the sen­sa­tion changed. ‘I need to push,’ I an­nounced. My body seemed to be re­act­ing in­vol­un­tar­ily, urg­ing me to bear down. But my yoga teacher, an ex-mid­wife, had ex­plained that ‘breath­ing’ the baby out was more ef­fec­tive than push­ing. I re­mem­bered her ad­vice now, and made a con­scious de­ci­sion not to fol­low my body’s in­struc­tions. I waited for the push­ing urge to pass, then breathed slowly and steadily through the con­trac­tion. It was eas­ier than I an­tic­i­pated.

Jo and the mid­wives en­cour­aged me as I con­tin­ued to breathe calmly. Within three or four big breaths I felt a huge pres­sure. The con­trac­tion tailed off and I put my hands down in the wa­ter. ‘Here’s the baby!’ I smiled, feel­ing a mop of hair be­tween my legs. While I waited for the next con­trac­tion, I stroked the head. ‘Come on, lit­tle baby,’ I whis­pered.

The mid­wife put her hands down too. She ex­plained that the baby’s chin was caught, which was why the head hadn’t come out. She didn’t seem overly con­cerned, though, so I stayed fo­cused on my breath­ing. I knew be­ing re­laxed would give my baby the best chance.

It was time for the next big breath, and I ex­haled smoothly and calmly. I felt a change in the pres­sure as the baby’s chin popped out, fol­lowed quickly by the rest of the body. Af­ter that last, enor­mous breath, re­lief over­whelmed me. I’d fi­nally reached the fin­ish line!

Jo reached down in the wa­ter and caught our baby. I turned to see the most beau­ti­ful lit­tle thing. ‘It’s a boy!’ Jo an­nounced, and I gasped. I couldn't have been hap­pier. Still in the wa­ter, I took hold of baby Bo and placed him on my tummy. He shuf­fled up to­wards my breast and started feed­ing. Bond­ing with my new­born, smil­ing at Jo, and know­ing my daugh­ter was safe in bed up­stairs, I felt com­plete.

I spent the morn­ing in bed, cud­dling Bo and in­tro­duc­ing him to Bethany and my par­ents. In the af­ter­noon I ven­tured down­stairs, and by day two I was tak­ing Bo for lit­tle walks. I felt strong and ready for any amount of sleep­less nights. And on day six, I hopped on my bike and went for a 15-mile cy­cle! It was just what I needed to feel even more re­freshed and alive. It had taken weeks of ded­i­ca­tion to pre­pare my body for labour, but I’m so glad I did. Labour is more chal­leng­ing than any­thing else I’ve ever trained for, but the prize is a mil­lion times bet­ter than any medal.

Jo with daugh­ter Bethany and Bo at two weeks old Out and about with Bo at six weeks

Bo at eight weeks old

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