This is my story of the labour and birth that seemed never going to happen.
We were very excited when we found, whilst backpacking in Africa in January 2002, that I was pregnant and, based on the magic whirly-wheel, due on 23 August. I was a little disappointed when two early scans moved my due date back to 1 September, but at least philosophical that this meant I wouldn't have to endure going overdue. Ha! Little did I know!
On our return to the UK I did a lot of research and reading and, after a lot of soul searching, we decided to book an independent midwife for a homebirth. After an uneventful and indeed, pretty wonderful pregnancy, 1 September came and went and I was still pregnant. Days turned into weeks and still I was pregnant.
It was not an easy time. I couldn't face my antenatal class reunion knowing I would be the only one without my baby. Everyone wanted to know when we were going to be induced - friends, family, not to forget the lady at the supermarket!
However, to get an induction meant foregoing the gentle, natural home birth that was really important to us, and we were reluctant to interfere with "mother nature" unnecessarily and expose our baby to the risk of a cascade of intervention. We took a lot of flack from some family members and some people made very thoughtless and upsetting comments. Other family and friends really came through for us, giving unconditional love and support and trusted our judgement. Again and again we searched our hearts, the internet and books for answers. Our independent midwife was superb, explaining all our options, visiting us far more than our contract required, and bringing colleagues who were able to give much-needed second opinions. Importantly, she made it our decision; a seemingly rare occurrence in post-dates pregnancies.
In line with NICE (National Instite for Clinical Excellence) guidelines, we decided to attend our local hospital for checks. Scans and heart monitoring seemingly confirmed all was well. But the staff didn't make it easy. They were horrified at the length of my pregnancy and put a lot of pressure on me to book an induction, using emotional appeals and very little solid evidence. Oh, how I craved evidence-based research.
When it seemed that my body didn't know what to do, that maybe there was something wrong with me, the hospital checks were reassuring and, combined with three vaginal examinations/sweeps, were part of what helped us keep going. The internal examinations were useful because they showed that my cervix was slowly effacing and dilating, that indeed something WAS happening and there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
I wish I could say I was serene during the wait, but in fact it was a really tough time. Every day that passed it seemed less likely that labour would start, that somehow my body didn't know what to do. We never made a blanket decision to continue my pregnancy forever, just day by day we reassessed and agreed to carry on for at least another day, or until the weekend, or until Monday, and so on. In the meantime we tried seemingly everything to bring on labour - pineapple, curry, sex, long walks, castor oil, homeopathy, aromotherapy, evening primrose oil, raspberry leaf tea, cervical sweeps, shiatsu, even an enema but our baby was determined to come when ready.
Finally, at 43 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy, I woke at 2am and felt a bit of periody-type pain. After 27 days of wondering, "is today the day?" and being disappointed, I didn't take this too seriously, just went to the loo and back to bed. But as the hours went by and the loo trips increased and the niggling went on, I knew in my heart of hearts, this was it!!
At 5am I gave up trying to sleep and had a hot bath. I decide not to wake up Rob as I had sent him out to the pub the night before as a much needed stress reliever. Pains were coming every eight or so minutes, which seemed hopeful, but I wasn't getting any show and I was scared of being too hopeful that things were actually, finally happening. I was desperate not to ring the midwife too early, so instead went to cook myself a big breakfast, my stomach has always been a high priority for me!
At 7am I dropped a saucepan in the kitchen, which woke Rob who called out to see if I was ok. Too excited not to share my news, I went through and said 'I think the baby is coming today'. After 27 days in which this seemed unlikelier and unlikelier with every passing day, Rob was not convinced. Declaring he wanted more sleep he turned over and pulled the covers over his head! Luckily I thought this was very funny. But something must have clicked, because five minutes later he wandered into the kitchen and asked, clearly in shock, 'do you still feel that way' and indeed yes I did, more strongly with each passing contraction.
I finally spoke to my midwife at 7.15am. I was contracting every 5 minutes but finding it easy to cope. Having talked through a contraction she diagnosed prelabour, much to my disappointment, but told me to keep in touch. Huh! 27 days late and I'm only in prelabour! By 8.30 I was contracting every three minutes and when we talked again I said to her 'please don't tell me this is prelabour!' At this, she said, "ok, you're telling me this is not prelabour, we're on our way."
I was moving around the house and trying to maintain forward leaning positions as I knew the baby was in the right anterior position - usually they come out on the left, frequently having swung around via the dreaded posterior "backache labour" position. I felt tired, but when lying on the bed found contractions very intense and hard to bear. I thought about my mother's three hospital labours a generation ago when she was made to lie on her back and felt very lucky.
The midwives arrived around 10.30am. It felt weird and I found their arrival an intrusion, even though I am very fond of them and had got to know them over the previous months. I felt a bit invaded and embarrassed, and was feeling quite introverted and private. As a bit of an extrovert I was surprised at my feelings, but so happy I wasn't going to hospital to be among strangers. My lead midwife came to see me in the bedroom where I was pacing around, and then retreated to the sitting room to reorganise her day and give me the privacy and space I wanted.
Time passed in a blur, with things getting more intense and painful. I couldn't stay mobile anymore, but was on my knees leaning over the bed. It was good to occasionally go to the bathroom and I tried a bath, but mostly felt good leaning over the bed. I had a TENS machine on which I was experimenting with to help with the pain, but found it could be a bit distracting trying to remember to hit the booster. Eventually I just turned it up and forgot about it and just focused on breathing. I requested a VE at about 12pm and I was pleased to find I was 6-7cm dilated. The transitional period was not as bad as I had dreaded, although it was very intense. I remember talking about the benefits of an epidural and announcing that this baby would be an only child! Throughout it all I felt in control and supported. I had asked not to be offered drugs and although it was intense, I always felt in control and safe. I was so happy I was at home!
At 2pm I began to feel bearing down urges. It was like, "I'm mooing like a cow!" After a while of pushing I felt concerned that I couldn't feel anything happening. I was worried that I would get a cervical lip because I didn't feel like the baby had come down at all. The midwife suggested I have a feel and I was right, there was nothing there. Yet only a little while later I could definitely feel the baby's head in the birth canal for the first time, so that was very exciting and a real morale boost. It was during this first hour of pushing that the baby successfully moved from the right to the left anterior without going posterior - all the leaning forward positions had worked!
It took an age for the baby to progress. I was aware of time passing and being tired. It also hurt a lot. I later found out that most of this pain was caused by a huge haemorrhoid. I had done birth preparation with a kit called "the Pink Kit" which had identified that I had a narrow pelvis outlet. We used some exercises from the kit to help me widen and I believe they contributed significantly to making the space for the baby.
Little by little the baby slowly dropped until finally I could feel it almost crowning. By this time I was working really hard with the pain and was discouraged by the feeling of the baby slipping backwards after contractions. I got the shakes and my contractions tapered off somewhat. Throughout it all I was given unconditional support. I was encouraged to eat and drink and was given a homeopathic remedy, which all seemed to help strengthen the contractions again. My midwife was very encouraging and I took a lot of comfort in her support and feedback. Meanwhile my poor husband was getting his hands crushed providing an anchor for me to push against!
The crowning of the head took a long, long time, and at this stage the midwives really came into their own. The head finally came onto my perineum with some position changes, and I was pushing more effectively, but I was feeling so tired. I knew it was taking a long time and was feeling a bit desperate as to how to push it all the way out. I later found out from reading my notes that the head crowned for 17 minutes! The close monitoring of the baby alerted them to a drop in heartbeat and they helped me try another position so that it came up again. Their constant support really helped me to put in a special effort, and another position change onto my left side did the trick. Suddenly, finally, I felt a 'give' and the head had been birthed. The next contraction seemed to take forever to arrive and I could hear Rob choking back the emotion as he saw his baby's head for the first time. Another contraction and with all my effort I felt the passing of shoulders and the long slithering body came out. What a relief!
The baby was passed up to me and I just lay on the floor looking in disbelief at her. She was screaming her lungs out, but she calmed very quickly. It was such an amazing moment to finally greet this incredible creature whom we had waited so long for. Several minutes passed before we thought to look and discover we had a daughter.
It was so lovely to relax and enjoy meeting our baby in the glow of the late afternoon sun streaming through the bay window. The midwives were unobtrusive as they awaited the arrival of the placenta. The cord between my daughter and I stopped pulsating after 25 minutes, after which we cut it. I experienced a relatively high blood loss but there was no panic; the midwives were vigilant and the bleeding stopped of its own accord.
After the birth, I felt ecstatic, but very tired and weak. The midwives did all the checks on the baby right beside me on the floor so I could see everything and help count her toes. Then they cleaned up everything and helped me wash and into bed and we ordered a fantastic feed from the local curry house. By 10pm Rob, Jemima and I were snuggled up in bed together, the midwives had tucked us in and left us to enjoy our first night together as a family. It was a very precious time.
All together the birth took 12 hrs and 40 minutes, with a 3 hour second stage and a natural 40 minute third stage. Our little girl weighed in a heavyweight champion at 9lb, 6.5oz. I sustained a second-degree tear, which healed well without stitches.
In the days following the birth I was completely exhausted. I felt very tender and I hadn't anticipated the complete mental and physical exhaustion that came with giving birth. For a couple of days afterwards I felt quite shattered and a little bit upset that the baby had taken so long to come and grown so big and made it such hard work for us both. But this feeling was quickly replaced by an incredible sense of achievement and empowerment, a feeling that I have experienced a great lesson in life and parenthood.
We have named our daughter Jemima Mary Elizabeth. Jemima means 'light of day', and the 'first' Jemima was the daughter of Job, whose faith was tested and rewarded by God in the Bible. Although it was an incredibly difficult time in the weeks that she was overdue, we feel so grateful that our belief in our baby and my body, and our faith that she would come when she was ready was rewarded.
In the years since Jemima's birth I have mulled over the length of my pregnancy, which came as a shock to everyone in my family. Then research published in 2003 suggested the length of pregnancy appears to be associated with the father's side of the family, and sure enough my mother in law confirmed all her babies had come at 42-43 weeks. In retrospect I also believe the death of my father-in-law when I was 8 months pregnant contributed. I believe the length of Jemima's pregnancy gave my husband some of the space he needed to grieve.
I am incredibly grateful to the wonderful midwives who cared for me and believed in us. I feel certain that in a hospital delivery we would have had a very different outcome, with an induction and at least an assisted delivery, given the length of our 2nd stage. We feel so incredibly grateful that the midwives had the skill and confidence to encourage us as we went overdue, help us make informed decisions and to help us get the birth we wanted. Since Jemima's birth, I have met many women who have had caesarean sections after failed inductions after going post-dates, with little information or choice offered to them, and I know that could have been me.
Jemima is growing so fast. She is a delight and had bought so much joy to our lives. I cannot tell you how lucky we feel. She was well worth the wait!
Georgina's second baby, Beatrice, decided to put in a much faster appearance than her big sister...
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