by Kate Wood
Both Reuben and Ethan had been two weeks over their due dates, so I wasn’t surprised when my third child, Zachary, was late. As I had been having contractions on and off for weeks, and felt very ready physically and emotionally, I imagined I couldn’t have too long to wait. The first week I really enjoyed, doing nice things and getting lots of sleep. One day I went to Kingston and swanned around the shops, picking out things to wear after I’d had the baby. The second week dragged a little, but I concentrated on enjoying probably my last ever few days of pregnancy, that amazing feeling of the baby kicking inside you, the nights of sleep unbroken by breastfeeding. What was hard was the pressure building up from people concerned at the delay. Everywhere I went, it was, "Are you still here, haven’t you had it yet?" and the hospital were very much on my case, citing the increased risks of pregnancy beyond 42 weeks (these are real risks, but with careful regular monitoring, and bearing in mind my history of long pregnancies, I felt the likelihood of complications caused by inducing when the baby wasn’t ready were greater). Fortunately I had Marie, an NCT antenatal teacher, for a birth partner, and she was able to stand my corner and keep the hospital at bay for me, saving me the stress.
On day fifteen, I went in to the hospital for a check up. The doctor put pressure on me to be induced there and then, which I politely but firmly refused. He performed a sweep, and my niggly contractions started again that afternoon, nothing intense, just the feeling of a belt tightening around my waist. I didn’t think much of it, knowing they could stop easily as they had done before. By 5pm I was definitely having real contractions, but when I lay down to put the boys to bed, they eased off again. Feeling that it was better to get a night’s sleep rather than force them on by keeping active, I got an early night.
Tuesday morning, I told a disappointed Chris to go to work, nothing much was happening. I got up and started the daily chores, the contractions came on hard, I realised I definitely shouldn’t be driving the boys to school, Chris was on paternity leave at last! The midwife came, I was only 1 cm dilated, she said someone would be back later that morning to check on me. The morning passed trying to get things sorted, making biscuits with the trays of sprouts that would go off otherwise, getting the boys ready for Grandma’s. At 2:30, two different midwives came back; I was still only 1 cm dilated, maybe 2cm. It was the end of their shift and they wanted to go home, they didn’t want to take the gas and air back to the hospital, and health and safety regulations said they couldn’t leave it with me. So they sat there for an hour and a half, waiting for the phone call to tell them what to do. Every time I had a contraction, they would time the spacing and the duration; between times we made small talk, but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing scenario for bringing on labour. As soon as they left, I started coming on strong. I managed some dinner, oat crackers and salad, and then we went upstairs, ready at last for the full assault. I found talking helped; with each contraction, I would say affirmations like, "I welcome the pain", or " I love this pain, it is bringing me my baby". Later on, I spoke more directly to him, saying, "come on Zac, out you come". Apparently, the muscles in your mouth are directly related to the muscles in your cervix, so the more relaxed you are vocally, the more relaxed you will be down there.
I sat on the gym ball all day; if I got off the contractions were unbearable. We burned jasmine, lavender and clary sage in the room. I had Australian bush flower remedies, rescue remedy, homeopathy, oxygen, aloe vera and raspberry leaf tea to keep my energy up. Marie arrived about 7 p.m., and began massaging my back, which was wonderful — I hadn’t realised how tense I was. The first midwife arrived about 8 p.m., and the second one about half an hour later, by which time I was in full flow. They suggested I get in the bath for pain relief, which was good, but they couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat while I was in the water, and as they insisted on monitoring me between every contraction, I had to get out again. They said I wouldn’t be able to make it back up the stairs and to lie down on the sofa. Upstairs we had plastic sheets and old towels covering all the surfaces. Downstairs — nothing. So of course, my waters broke, in a huge gush, all over the sofa.
The midwives were very excited, I was 6 cm dilated, and they told me the baby would be out within the hour, but it was from this point on it all started to go a bit wrong. I wanted to be upstairs, in my bedroom — this was where I had been visualising the birth, where we had set the scene, prepared the energy and all the practical details. But the midwives didn’t allow me to try to move, and brought all their equipment down. Also their constant monitoring of me prevented me from relaxing and getting into the flow of things. It’s easy to see now that we should have asked them to back off a bit, that I should have insisted on making my way to my bedroom; at the time, things were not so clear, all my energy was focussed on the contractions, and I couldn’t think beyond what was going on inside of me. Marie tried a little, but she was wary of disturbing me or creating any bad atmosphere, so she didn’t push it. Chris was doing a marvellous job just being there for me, helping me get through it.
Eventually, after a long time labouring ineffectually, the midwives realised that he was posterior, which was why he wasn’t making any progress. They didn’t think I would be able to push him out, and wanted to transfer me into hospital. I am sure with better support and less management things would have progressed more smoothly, but by this point I was exhausted with the pain. The midwives were adamant I wasn’t going to do it, I was 9 cm dilated but there was still a lip of the cervix showing that wouldn’t budge. I didn’t have the strength to dissent, and so at just after midnight, I agreed to go in — anything to get the baby out.
The ambulance came very quickly, and from then on, things got easier again. I had gas and air, which helped me to relax, and distanced me from the stress and the pain. The midwives calmed down and stopped fussing over me, so I could get into my rhythm again, pushing as the contractions came. In the hospital, the obstetrician said that the head was too high, I needed an epidural and ventouse, and if that didn’t work they would do a caesarean. I didn’t care by this point; I had to have it over and done with, although Chris was upset: he had found it distressing to watch Reuben being born by ventouse, and didn’t want us to have to go through that again. Still I kept pushing, and miraculously, as they were wheeling me into theatre, I felt his head coming out. I shouted out, but they all kept faffing around and ignored me. Chris shouted, "the baby’s head’s out!" but still they took no notice of us. He lifted up the blanket — "look, the baby’s head!" They were quite taken aback. A few more pushes, and he was out, I felt so blessed.
They eventually let us home later that morning, and he is of course, a perfect angel. I feel closer to him because we did it together, we managed a natural childbirth; we have such a strong bond already, and he is a beautiful boy, alert and contented. It seems to be very hard to get the sort of birth you want on the NHS, where everything is done on the defensive, out of fear, and where the body’s natural processes are distrusted and interfered with. I learnt from this labour that it’s very important to leave the labouring woman to herself as much as possible, to allow her to go within and dig deep and find the resources she needs to carry her through this amazing journey; that often the biggest help to a woman is no help, just a strong comforting positive physical presence around her.