Hannah Robertson, 36, is a doula at Calmyorkshirebirth.co.uk and lives in York with her children Tom, seven, Daisy, six, and Oren, seven months. For Oren's birth, Hannah had a lotus birth, when the placenta is left to detach naturally.
A lotus birth is a physiological third stage, where a mother consciously chooses to keep the umbilical cord intact and birth the placenta without separating the baby. The cord and placenta stay connected to the baby until the cord falls away from the baby through natural separation. This usually occurs between three and seven days after the birth.
Why did you choose this type of birth?
When I was pregnant with Oren, I decided I wanted to birth with no interference and allow my baby the gentlest transition from womb to world. Imagine a place of warmth and darkness where noise is muffled and food is on tap, then a loud, cold and noisy place where you have to ask to be fed?
I wanted my baby to hold onto his life in the womb until he was ready to let go – and I felt a lotus birth gave him this gentle start. There are many beliefs about placentas, including that they hold a spiritual connection to the mum, dad and baby and much more. For me, choosing a lotus birth felt right. It was a continuation of a pregnancy with no ultrasound, diagnostic tests and a birth with no interference where no connection between mum and baby was lost as I caught him in the water myself.
How did you prepare for his birth?
This time, I decided not to engage with the NHS at all. I wanted to take responsibility for my own care throughout the pregnancy and birth. I had no fear about childbirth or placentas, as I have supported over 60 women in my role as a doula and know that birth just 'works' when women are not disturbed and hormones are flowing.
I also considered that if I felt anything was not right that I could access the incredibly good emergency services. So I chose an independent midwife who had also lotus birthed her son three years earlier.
Tell us about going into labour.
I woke early in the morning having mild surges (contractions) every half hour. By about 10am I was so sure it was labour that I called my husband and asked him to come home, then I enlisted the children's help in setting up the birth pool. I also called my doula to let her know things were starting to get moving – it felt good to know she was ready to come when I wanted her.
What happened then?
The kids had great fun helping me with the pool and were completely at ease with what I was doing and what I needed from them. I was trying to work out what position my baby was in, so I asked myself to give up the guessing and go with all I knew was happening. I see labour as a fluid dialogue between mum and baby as they dance together before meeting. I got in the pool and it was amazing. I felt free and safe and relaxed, using techniques from the mindful breath birthing class that I run. My kids kept popping in, asking if I needed anything – they were perfect birth partners.
How was the birth itself?
The surges were rolling one on top of another, so I asked my doula to come over and she did. Then Oren descended right down to my perineum and it was the most intense experience I had ever felt.
With the next surge, his head popped out and with the next, his chubby body pulsed out too! I had my hands stroking his head and then they were around his chest under his arms bringing him up to meet me.
What did you do with the placenta?
I got out of the pool an hour later and the placenta passed into a bucket and over the sieve I had ready. I wrapped up Oren and myself in towels and the placenta sat close to me while I breastfed him. The placenta stayed in the sieve; I popped it in a muslin to get some of the moisture out. Then, after 24 hours I used the Egyptian embalming method. It was a lovely ritual to use these herbs and spices that smelled amazing on his placenta.
There was frankincense, myrrh and many others and they all had emotional and spiritual meanings. I then wrapped it in muslins and put it in a bag made for the size of a placenta.
All this meant I needed to stay in bed with Oren as the placenta was heavy and cumbersome to carry about. Resting is so important after childbirth but modern society really works against the importance of resting. All of this helps breastfeeding and bonding.
Rather than a stream of visitors, I just had days spent looking at him and stroking his beautiful skin and smelling his gorgeous head. All these things produce lots of oxytocin, the love hormone. In many births placentas are delivered after 15 minutes after an injection. That minimises the natural flow of hormones and does not aid bonding physiologically.
How long did the cord stay attached?
The umbilical cord broke near the placenta bag on day three. At that point the cord was attached to his belly button by a thread that actually kept it attached until day seven when he woke up next to the cord. It was no bother at all, and it helped me (I am a busy bee!) slow down to the pace that Oren needed.
He is so chilled and happy and confident. He is physically well developed and coordinated – he was moving at 12 weeks and crawling on his hands and knees at four months. Now, at just seven months he stands unaided, and I really feel his birth has led to him being so fully 'there' in his own body.
What advice would you give a woman thinking about a lotus birth?
Get in touch with women who have had lotus births. It's your birth, your body and your baby.