Milli Hill is the founder of The Positive Birth Movement and a freelance writer. Her weekly column for BestDaily.co.uk covers birth, breastfeeding and early parenting, and she also writes for The Telegraph, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, The Mule. She has just finished editing Water Birth: Stories to Inspire and Inform to be published by Lonely Scribe later this year, and has contributed a chapter to The Roar Behind the Silence: Why Kindness, Compassion and Respect Matter in Maternity Care, to be published by Pinter and Martin in October 2014. She lives in Somerset with her partner and three small children.
What was your favourite part of being pregnant?
In each pregnancy, there was something different that I liked. First time, I liked filling my face with peanut butter and jam on toast and falling asleep in front of Deal or No Deal. Second time, no such luxury! But I loved having baths with my toddler that time – I would lie back and she would make patterns with shower gel on my bump and watch the little kicks.
In my third pregnancy, telling my partner about it is a favourite memory for me. The first time, I had messed up by leaving the packaging to the pregnancy test on the bathroom floor, which rather spoilt the surprise, and the second time, I just sort of blurted it out in the kitchen. Third time around I knew this was my last chance!
I had a bath with my girls, aged 4 and 2 at the time, and told them the news first. They were amazed! It was the day after Boxing Day, and my four year old was just learning to write. So we got a little notepad, and with my help she wrote ‘Mummy has got a baby in her tummy’ on it. Then we wrapped it up in Christmas paper and took it downstairs to my partner, telling him it was one more Christmas present we had forgotten to give him!
When he opened it and worked out what the writing said there was a big outburst of excitement from everyone, it was a truly lovely moment!
What was the worst bit about being pregnant?
Being so enormous, and feeling physically incapacitated! I’m quite a slight person, but for some reason I have long pregnancies – 42 weeks each time – and grow the most gigantic babies (8lb11, 10lb4, 9lb11). In the last few weeks of each of them I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable and really hated feeling that there were things I couldn’t do. Each time I have given birth I have loved the feeling of having my body back and being able to move easily again!
Did you develop any strange cravings or strong aversions to anything?
Cravings – well I craved food, mainly. I always say that daughter number one is made of cheese omelettes – I was so addicted to them for a few weeks that we even had to cook them on a camping stove when we went to a festival. Daughter number two is definitely made of satsumas, and with my last pregnancy – a boy – I craved Red Bush Tea. Aversions – I inexplicably went off grapefruit in pregnancy number one and haven’t been able to touch it since.
Did you find out the sex of your baby before the birth? If so, why?
No, each time we decided not to find out. Both me and my partner just love that moment of finding out just after the baby is born. With my second and third babies, we have made sure that nobody has ‘announced’ the sex, but have taken time to say hello to our baby and have a little look ourselves to see what we have had! I think that’s a truly special moment and personally I would rather experience it at the birth than in a hospital scan room, but each to their own.
Would you say that you got the birth that you wanted? If not, why?
My first birth was an induction for post-dates, which I know with hindsight was unnecessary. In my second and third pregnancies, I braved it out and both babies were born at 42 weeks on the dot, so I now know that this is just what my body does, and that all the panic first time round was counter-productive to me and made what should have been a very beautiful time – as I approached the threshold to motherhood – stress filled and laden with unpleasant decisions.
My first birth itself was pretty cool, until the very end, when I had a forceps delivery due to my baby being OP. I strongly believe that, had I made different choices, I probably wouldn’t have had that traumatic experience. I do wish I had had a doula, as I could have used someone with a cool head to support me and my partner through ‘going overdue’, and to make sure I was fed and watered during labour, and to help me into different positions etc. Ah, the beauty of hindsight!
So no, it wasn’t the birth I wanted, but perhaps it was the birth I needed, as the experience – although it took me a long time to process and recover from – helped to fuel my passion for improving birth. And of course it brought me my daughter, who I love more than the whole sun, moon and stars put together and multiplied by infinity.
My second and third births were both home water births with independent midwives. They were both idyllic, a real tough trial followed by true and pure elation, just as birth should be.
What are your overriding feelings about the birth?
I have so many different emotions about all of my births – birth is very emotional for me! Each one was a very different emotional experience. In my second I still had a lot of fear due to what had happened the first time, and even though I had one child, I had never gone into labour naturally or pushed a baby out unaided. So I had a lot of fear and a lack of trust in my body. When I finally held my second daughter in the birth pool, it was in some ways quite a selfish emotion, I kept repeating, ‘I did it, I did it!’. In my third birth I felt much more confident and more free to connect with and focus on my baby. All three were wonderful days in my life of which I remember almost every detail, and will forever.
Did anything shock or surprise you about pregnancy, birth or after? Is there something you wish that someone had told you?
Nosebleeds. In my first pregnancy my nose bled A LOT, and it wasn’t until I finally googled it thinking, “What are the chances?!”, that I discovered it was in fact quite a common pregnancy side effect.
I also wish I had understood ‘the system’ and ‘how to navigate it’ a bit more the first time around. This is why I have set up the Positive Birth Movement, to help women to get as much information as possible about the cultural backdrop in which they are giving birth, to arm them to know about their rights, and to give them the confidence to challenge the status quo if necessary.
How much weight did you gain and did you find it easy to lose?
A lot, and yes, it fell off every time due to breastfeeding. I would say that each time it has taken me about 6 to 8 months to get back into my tightest pre-pregnancy jeans again – always a moment to celebrate!
Did you exercise during your pregnancy?
No, I’m not really a sporty type, but I am very active. So each time I have continued to do everything I would have done had I not been pregnant. I hate being wrapped in cotton wool, and find it intensely irritating if people tell me to slow down or take it easy! My feeling is that to give birth you need to be tough, and you need to be able to push through barriers and go beyond what seems like your limit. Pregnancy is an ideal time to practice this!
Has your body changed in ways that you dislike? If so, do you want to do anything about this?
Yes – after three big babies my stomach area is stretched beyond repair and I’m not sure there is anything I can do to restore it! I hate it – it’s like a sort of wrinkly old sack. I’m completely aware of the issues here about women’s bodies, false constructs of beauty etc, and I know I’m supposed to love it – it’s evidence of the three wonderful people who lived there – but to feel positive about it is a struggle for me I admit! I’m just hoping that I can improve it with exercise and healthy living over time – after all, it’s less than a year since my last child was born! If I can’t I will just have to work hard psychologically to come to terms with it. I wouldn’t have surgery, it’s not my style, but I totally empathise with those who do.
Did you attend any antenatal classes and what were your thoughts on them?
In my first pregnancy I went to Active Birth classes. I found them lovely and I particularly liked the ethos of being ‘active’ in your birth, not just physically, but in the sense of taking an active role in your choices and not being ‘passive’ and allowing thing to happen. I would have liked a space to ‘talk’ more – another reason I set up the PBM. Our groups are a really great place for women to do that wonderful thing that women are so good at – to connect and share at a deeper level, and really help each other.
What one piece of advice would you pass on to a pregnant friend?
I would say “Your body is made to do this”, and, before they glazed over or ran away, I would add that it’s ok to care about your own experience of childbirth, and that starting motherhood feeling empowered and elated and strong is good for everyone, for you, for your baby, for your partner and in fact for society and the world! So don’t let anyone tell you to ‘go with the flow’ or that birth is out of your hands. It’s true that what happens in birth can be unpredictable or beyond our control – just like rain on your wedding day – but that doesn’t mean that putting energy into planning for the best is a waste of time. Understand the system, understand your rights, challenge your fears and negative expectations, get your plans and support in place and get excited about birth being the best day of your life.
Oh, and find your nearest Positive Birth Movement group, of course! They are all listed here!
That’s more than one piece of advice, right?!
There are over 150 Positive Birth Movement groups in the UK and many more beyond, right across Europe and as far flung as the USA, Australia, Brazil, Morocco, Singapore and Malaysia. All of the groups are completely free to attend and are open to pregnant women and anyone interested in birth as a positive experience. For more info, please visit www.positivebirthmovement.org