Clemmie Hooper and her mum squad on pregnancy and birth
We chat to Midwife and Author Clemmie (aka mother_of_daughters), Anna (aka mother_pukka), Emma (aka @__ladyland__) and Zoe (aka @dresslikeamum) about how pregnancy and birth was for them.
CLEMMIE is mum to Anya 9, Marnie 6, Ottilie and Delilah 1, and author of How to Grow a Baby
ANNA is mum to Mae 3 and expecting her second baby
ZOE is mum to Art 4 and Elphie, 2
EMMA is mum to Elliot 6 and Frida, 3;
Clemmie, in ‘How To Grow a Baby’ you describe when you first discovered you were pregnant with Anya. Anna, Emma & Zoe – tell us about when you realised you were pregnant?
ANNA We’d had lots of trouble trying for a baby, so I’d gone for tests to work out why I was miscarrying. They told me I was pregnant instead. I found out there and then that I was expecting Mae! Saying that, I had been really vile to my, my husband, Matt for about six weeks so that suddenly made total sense.
ZOE We were trying and were fortunate to get pregnant quite quickly. I was still like ‘what?!’ though. Massive disbelief. I did the pregnancy test on my own and then told my husband and he just couldn’t believe it either.
EMMA With Elliot, my boobs suddenly got really big. In fact, I put my back out. I’d never had any boobs and when I went to see my physio and took my top off she said ah ha! The next week I found out I was pregnant.
CLEMMIE Yes, hyper-sensitive boobs can be one of the first pregnancy symptoms, before any others. Particularly the nipples.
ANNA Argh! It’s a pain like no other. Especially when your kid (or husband!) grabs them.
CLEMMIE With our second, Marnie, I did a quick test right before a friend came over for dinner, because I wanted to drink but had a feeling I might be pregnant. She arrived and I floored her with the news. With the twins I had a sneaky scan at work and found out I was having two!
ZOE With Elphie, I went to a party and just didn’t feel like drinking at all. It was so unlike me, I had a hunch I might be pregnant.
What were the first pregnancy symptoms you experienced?
EMMA With Elliot I had no symptoms apart from the boobs. With my daughter, I got loose joints, I’d actually fall over! My ankles stopped working. ANNA I just didn’t put it all together but my boobs hurt, I was moody, I felt sick and then ahhhh, I’m pregnant! That explains it.
CLEMMIE The second time around though you are more in tune – you tend to ‘know’ earlier. It just clicks. You can’t do up your jeans, you hate your husband, the fridge makes you feel sick.
EMMA Urgh, the smells.
CLEMMIE With twins though it happens at double the amount and much earlier because there are more hormones. By six weeks, I was so sick I thought ‘this better not be twins.’ I vomited 17 times in one day. I’m not squeamish at all being a midwife, but I remember checking a placenta after birth and I couldn’t deal with it – that was a sure sign!
ZOE I wasn’t really sick at all. Maybe mildly queasy, but I just ate my way through that. I was very hungry!
ANNA I got a hairy nipple, that was scary!
EMMA Ha, yes I got a hairy belly.
What were you obsessive about during early pregnancy?
EMMA I was obsessed how big Elliot’s head would be!
CLEMMIE Oh, were you worried?
EMMA Well my husband is six foot four so at two weeks overdue I was convinced I’d be birthing a HUGE baby. He was almost 9lbs so not gigantic, but still big.
ZOE I used an app that showed the fetus growth, it made sense to me. I did do a lot of research actually and really learnt what was going on in there.
CLEMMIE In my book, each chapter starts with a size comparison to a vegetable. Mums do track each stage more obsessively with the first baby, with your second you go the flow a bit more.
ANNA I was obsessed with learning about the stages but the issue we had was we’d sign up to all the newsletters and alerts telling you how big your baby is – but to then to carry on getting them when you’ve miscarried is tough. I’d have to go and unsubscribe to them. I guess that shows what will be will be and sometimes it’s actually better not to obsess over it too much.
Apart from a growing bump, describe how your body changed?
CLEMMIE Hair, skin. Everything changes. It consumes your entire body. I got thinner with the twins actually. The sucked everything from me!
ANNA Well, having a swollen, puffy vagina, because of all the pressure down there, was a revelation. It does go back thankfully.
ZOE My skin was so weird. I had annoying spots on my cheek. I didn’t glow, I had a spotty rash instead. And I was more achy with my second. Pelvic pain and sore knees.
EMMA But afterwards…what about those changes! I had an episiotomy and Tom now calls it the ‘crazy paving.’ I didn’t realise they cut out to the side. You get told this when you’re on another planet. So you find out afterwards what’s actually happened to you.
CLEMMIE Yep, they do it in a J.
ANNA Ouch. You do need handholding with the info I think. I was booked in for our C-section and it was pushed back and back because of other emergencies. At about 8pm I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all day. I needed either a baby or a sandwich! I was watching TV and then they said ‘in ten minutes you can go and have your baby’, it was surreal. They hadn’t really managed my experience because for medical staff it’s an every day occurrence. I had no realisation however I wouldn’t be able to walk for 10 days. My sister even had to leave because she kept making me giggle and it was agony to laugh. I didn’t know it would be like that.
Did you join any antenatal classes? What did you get out of it?
ANNA I went to one in Amsterdam – where I had Mae ¬– and they made the Dads stand in a really uncomfortable position for 45 minutes to give the men a tiny insight into what we have to go through in labour and how to step up and support us. The Dutch are great in their directness.
ZOE I went to pregnancy yoga and loved it. I felt like that it really set me up for birth.
CLEMMIE I wrote about classes in the book – they can be a great way to learn and meet friends but not all women are able to get time off from work to go to groups, so it’s worth thinking about what you’d like to get from them. It can be expensive to join NCT too.
EMMA NCT do a low-income subsidiary though. I’m glad I did it. We made strong friendships with our group.
ZOE I didn’t feel bother, we were moving area so that didn’t make sense. I went to a local meet up in a pub instead. I didn’t have loads of mum mates in the beginning. But it happened gradually. Some mums do find it hard to meet other mums and that’s hard.
EMMA It has to be organic. And you have to have similar outlook.
ANNA I’m a bit more confident now and know instantly who I’m going to get on with.
Clemmie, in the book you mentioned you wanted sex even more during pregnancy. Was this the same for all of you?
ANNA I’ve had dreams of wanting more sex but the reality’s often different.
ZOE With your moods you can be up for it and then suddenly not be at all. There are a lot of mixed signals going on!
ANNA Yep, your boobs are pneumatic – everything there is saying ‘come dine with me.’ I had a bra fitting recently and felt so sexy, I thought ‘I’m def going to have sex tonight.’ By 7pm I was in my PJs, asleep.
CLEMMIE Everything is heightened because of the extra hormones and there’s more blood pumping around your vagina and clitoris. It’s usually the guys that aren’t keen though.
EMMA They think they’ll poke the baby in the eye!
CLEMMIE There’s evidence though that sex brings on labour, both because of the prostaglandins in semen and the motion, so it’s worth a go, when it’s time!
ZOE Clemmie, you told me have sex to bring on labour – I was like ‘No way. I can’t even turn over.’
Did your midwife appointments reveal anything out of the ordinary?
ANNA Weirdly, that I had a septate uterus. A dividing line in my uterus that they thought could have been responsible for our recurrent miscarriages. It freaked me out a bit.
ZOE I discovered I am blood type Rhesus Negative. This meant I needed to have an Anti-D injection during and post pregnancy.
CLEMMIE Yes, the Anti D injection prevents the production of antibodies against the baby. You’re offered tests to show your blood type at your first antenatal appointment. Blood tests at 28 weeks are also taken check for gestational diabetes and iron levels.
EMMA I did experience SPD during the last trimester. This is where your pelvic bones become mobile to prepare for opening up during birth. It meant that I had to wear a really sexy gurdle for 12 weeks to avoid pain when walking, especially up stairs. I had to do aqua physio sessions and I had to stop work 7 weeks before my due date.
How did you start to prepare for birth? What was really important to you in your birth plan?
ANNA It was important I had no plan. I’m not good with set plans because if I go off piste I tend to feel like I have failed a bit. I was determined to face each minute at a time.
CLEMMIE I use the term ‘birth preferences’ as yes, plans never go exactly the way you thought they would!
ZOE My pregnancy yoga class - we talked a lot about labour and learnt breathing and focus techniques. I also tried to stay healthy and fit – walking, swimming and eating things with nutritional value, rather than crisps and cake. I didn't do an official birth plan but knew that I wanted to go as far as possible without any pain relief apart from gas and air and that I'd like to have a water birth. However, I was realistic and took the advice that no matter how well you plan you need to be open to change so I basically went in fully informed and prepared but open to change.
EMMA I didn't do too much prep other than NCT classes. I tried out hypnobirthing briefly, but it didn't really suit my hyperactive mind. I opted for reading up on the process, being informed, but just going with whatever happened on the day. I went in with a birth plan, but I was prepared to chuck it all out and go with whatever my body and baby ended up doing.
CLEMMIE I advise mums to do their research and then talk through your wishes with your birth partner so you’re on board together.
What happened when labour started?
ZOE With Art we moved house on my due date (he was born 4 days later) and I’d hadn’t had chance to register with the new hospital. At about 5am I felt like something was 'going on' so I called the hospital and talked to a lovely midwife - I later discovered that this was Clemmie! I was advised to go to hospital, register and get checked over. They said I was one cm dilated so we came home, and I went in when I was seven or eight cm (but they didn't believe me because I was so calm). We were then taken to an amazing birthing room with a big pool, bed, shower and coloured lights and Clemmie - who had just started her shift. I had my son in the pool about five hours later. I had Elphie at home in a birthing pool in my lounge, also delivered by Clemmie. If have another one - she has to be there too!
ANNA Because I had a C-section I haven’t ever felt a contraction!
EMMA With my son, I was in pre-labour for three very tiring days. My contractions weren't close enough to be considered full labour, so I was at home, but they were close enough (10 minutes apart) that they made it impossible for me to sleep, eat or sit comfortably. I spoke to a friend who told me if I turned up at the labour ward in the middle of the night, they'd be unlikely to send me home again. So we went in at 2am. I think finally being in the hospital environment made me relax and labour started to progress properly once we were there. With Frida, things progressed much quicker. I had a caseload midwife from Clemmie's team who was with me at home in the first stage then I went in to the hospital once full labour started. I really think her presence at home helped me to relax and brought it on quicker. It would be ideal if every woman could have a midwife at home with her for the first part.
Clemmie, you wrote about labour being in 5 stages – latent phase, active phase, transitional phase, pushing stage and third stage – did one phase particularly stand out?
ANNA For me it was simply the fact that we went in at 8.17pm and came out with a baby at 8.24pm. That blew my mind/emotions slightly.
EMMA The pushing stage felt so strange. I didn't experience it with my first birth because of the epidural but with my daughter I did it naturally. It was SO surreal. My body was pushing and contracting without me really doing anything at all. I felt sort of possessed! A very weird experience. Like nothing I've ever felt before.
CLEMMIE Gravity is your friend once you’ve reached the pushing stage – any upright position helps.
ZOE Yes, the pushing stage stood out for me the most as it is the most intense but it is also the end. You have to push and it hurts but then when the head comes out the relief is immense.
What were your wishes for pain relief? Did that happen to plan?
ZOE I was hoping that I could go without pain relief at all - but I was also prepared to go for it if I wanted it. My plan was to go as long as I could with gas and air and just breath and focus through the pain.
EMMA I had a full epidural with Elliot because they ended up using forceps and I was exhausted after a very long labour. I felt disappointed at the time, but as soon as the pain relief kicked in, I was so happy. I have never regretted it.
CLEMMIE Despite your wishes, you have to try and keep an open mind during labour, because it can be unpredictable.
EMMA Yes, with Frida I asked for pain relief too far along, and in the end I did it naturally. Having a natural birth and feeling every moment is something I'm glad I have done, my curiosity to know what that feels like has been fulfilled. But I never need to do that again! If I had another child, I'd ask for pain relief all the way!!
ANNA Oh all the pain relief! I just felt a bit of a tugging sensation in the end.
Were there any undignified moments?
ZOE The whole thing was fairly undignified but it is what it is. I remember saying to Clemmie that I wasn't sure if I poo-ed during labour or not. She replied, 'you did a little one, but I fished it out before anyone saw.' What a true friend!!
CLEMMIE You’re welcome.
EMMA I was in the bath huffing and puffing. I closed my eyes during a contraction and when I opened them, my husband was right up next to my face. He gave me a fright being so close and I don't know what came over me but I almost bit his face off! I had a sudden primal urge to attack!
ANNA I wet the bed constantly because I couldn’t feel anything below the waist for a while. I was in a nappy, the baby was in a nappy…
Overall, did you get the birth you wanted?
ZOE Yes, I did.
EMMA With my son, no. It was very hard, he was big, two weeks late, I was stressed. Very long pre-labour, back labour, he was presenting face first, which is very rare, quite dangerous and wasn't picked up until late in the process. I ended up having forceps and a room full of students, surgeons, all sorts of people in there to see the weird birth. It was the opposite of the natural water birth I had hoped for and it took a long time for us both to recover. But we did, and we're fine and with time, it all feels ok. Three years later, with my daughter, I was much more relaxed and she was smaller and in a normal position so it all ran smoothly. A totally different experience.
ANNA Yep, a baby came out. That was the birth plan!
CLEMMIE I’ve delivered hundreds of babies (and had four of my own), and can say that every birth, whilst different, is beautiful and special.
Finally, what top tips can you share for growing a baby (and pushing it out!)?
ANNA To do it your way. Read all you want and then decide to ditch the rules and pave your own way of growing that little embryo and pushing it out. Oh and not to eat too many pickled Monster Munch – not good for anyone, really. ZOE Enjoy it! Do your research and prepare.
EMMA There’s a lot of guilt that crops up when labour doesn't go to plan, but we can't control it all. It’s really important to not focus on the birth, focus on the lovely tiny person that comes out and move on from there. Birth is just a couple of days of your life, focus on the next 18 years!
CLEMMIE My best advice would be to find out all your options and choices so you’re in the best position to make informed decisions.
Photography: Helen Marsden
BOOK CREDIT: How To Grow A Baby and Push It Out, by Clemmie Hooper, Vermilion, £14.99