More than ever this pregnancy and birth has cemented this for me. From the beginning, people had said number three often bucks the trend. But I was convinced my body ejected at 37. I had never experienced late pregnancy and never expected to. But as thirty seven weeks came and went, the pressure external and internal started to mount. At 36 weeks, I stopped teaching, expecting to have a week to get everything ready for what would be my second home birth. By 37 weeks I’d re-organised the baby stuff and the boys room and finished my last birthing book. By week 38 I’d circuited the common twenty times and by week 39 climbed primrose hill twice, I’d even finished the dreaded tax return. 40 weeks passed and I was beginning to wonder … where was this baby?
I switched off the computer and refused to turn it on again until I was postnatal. Still nothing. At 41 weeks I sent the boys to their granny’s for the weekend in the hope that a quiet house might stimulate labour. It did not. Nor did the curries, the reflexology or the sex, (there was a fair bit that weekend). None of it.
Nightly hope, daily disappointment. October turned to November and as I sat in bed half way through my 41st week, I wondered whether I was getting in my own way. I started to doubt myself. Was I holding on or back. I didn’t feel like I was but I still looked for a reason for my late baby.
Babies come when they are ready I kept reminding myself… but slowly, day by day my confidence was fading. I began to feel vulnerable. Perhaps if I was having signs, I might have got some encouragement but not a a cramp, or a twinge - not even a tweak. Just a very active little baby.
Daily phone calls from impatient relatives and concerned friends began to grate. My mother helpfully suggested I might have uterine inertia. Even Annie, my midwife, began to wonder what this little person might be up to. On the morning of the 41st week, she suggested we have a conversation about my options. As a VBAC homebirther going post term, If I had wanted to or needed to transfer in it would be either to have my waters broken in the next few days or to have a caesearean. These were words I did not even want to hear – let alone consider.
“Everything is perfect,” my partner reminded me. “Stop looking for problems.”
Then on the Monday evening of that 41st week as Annie performed her first sweep (no dilation, posterior cervix but quite soft) a new problem emerged: “I don’t think that’s a head,” she said gravely withdrawing her hand. She had expressed suspicions before, and as my first son was breech, there was an increased chance of me producing another breech baby.
As a VBAC at 41 weeks plus with a suspected breech planning a home birth, I was now in a whole lot of hot water. The only think for it was a scan.
Thankfully, Annie was wrong. Not only was my baby head down but my waters were plentiful and my placenta looked great. Wonderful news!
“What shall I do now,” I asked the sonographer.
“Get your coat on, get out of here as quickly as possible and go and have your home birth,” she replied.
Exhilarated, I left the hospital intent now on waiting it out however long it took even if that meant going post term. Thanks to the scan I had no reason to doubt my body and this pregnancy any more.
Two days later, a second sweep and this time Annie said although I was still closed, my cervix was so soft she felt that when I go I would go quickly.
This time her instinct proved right.
Later that night as I sat in Angus’ meditation class, I felt my first contraction gently rise up through me, peak and fall away. I watched it and matched it with my breath. Despite it feeling quite full, I put it down to the sweep and thought nothing more of it.
That night I went to bed as usual, hopeful, but realistically expecting things to happen in a few days.
It was 5.33 am when I felt my first big one. It woke me up and demanded I get onto all fours and start breathing and circling my hips.
Five minutes later there was another one – equally strong. I stayed on the bed on all fours and let it move through me taking care to release any tension I felt through my breath.
“That looked like a strong one,” said Angus: “Shall we call the midwife.”
Not yet, I answered, knowing that the boys would soon wake up. I imagined their pandemonium would swiftly put a staller on my labour. Not so.
Another five minutes and it all kicked off. I felt my bowels explode, ran for the loo and then spent the next ten minutes managing what seemed like an endless bowel movement interspersed with back to back contractions.
I held on to the towel rail as a storm gathered momentum through my body.
“Call the midwife,” I yelled to Angus attempting to get in the bath and run it but being endlessly distracted by either a bowel movement or contraction..
Fast and furious they came one after the other. unable to kneel down i reached up asnd clung to the shower fitting in a high squat (improvised not planned though in retrospect a great position as not only opening but taking advantage of gravity as well) and loudly ommed my way through each one. Breathing would not suffice. I needed sound to release this powerful energy. I felt besieged and had to krrp reminding myself to relax and trust the contractions which were overwhelming my senses. Could this be transition already? They were constant now but it felt too soon.
Angus showered my sacrum with warm water which felt wonderful. The boys came in and asked why mummy was making all that noise. I barely acknowledged them so focussed was I on not being knocked over by the tornado moving through me. But daddy’s calm voice reassured them that despite my primal roaring everything was ok.
At some point Annie arrived and then Theresa, the second midwife. I could hear their voices somewhere far away and Angus’s gently asking me to let go of the showerhead, which I was hanging off. But what they were saying didn’t really register. I was already in a world of my own. Immersed by the experience of the labour itself. By now all the hormones had kicked in.
My contractions became pushy and they decided to move me before I really did pull the shower away from the wall. I made my way to the living room, where the fire was going and everything was set up. Getting onto all fours, I grabbed the back end of the sofa seat and pulled down through my spine. I could feel the pushiness of the contractions which only meant one thing. I also noticed the gaps between the contractions were getting longer. I couldn’t believe this was 2nd stage already. But my body was telling me it was. My lower pelvis succumbed to the pressure from above and on the next contraction, I felt my pelvis open as the baby started to move down. It was the most incredible sensation.
“Only about half an hour to go now,” said Angus helpfully.
Actually it was more like three minutes.
I started to feel the burning of the crowning of my babys head. At the same time Angus got behind me ready to catch the baby. We had previously agreed with Annnie that his hands would be the first to meet our baby as it emerged.
Theresa took her place by my side sustaining a bite on the hand from me (and an apology) as the baby crowned and I felt my skin stretch to the point of splitting.
Then the head was out. Another contraction and the baby came into daddy’s arms.
It took a while for me to process what had happened. It was four minutes before I picked up the baby and held it. My body was shaking violently and I felt quite disassociated from myself.
Finally I felt myself re-intergrating and I welcomed the baby into my arms.
Twenty minutes later, I checked the baby’s sex and was delighted to find that I had a girl.
She was born at 7.14am – 1 hour, 45 minutes after that first contraction. 8lbs on the nose.
The fast and furious labour had exhausted my body and no obvious third stage contractions appeared. When one hour had passed and still no placenta, I agreed to the sytntometrine injection and swiftly it followed.
Then it was bath, tea and toast followed by my bed with my daughter. Bliss. Dad took the boys to school and the rest of the day was spent on a love-in with our beautiful baby girl.
She was born on the 5th of November, perfect, on her own time scale – not mine.
She had kept me waiting for five weeks, allowed me to experience late pregnancy with all its vulnerabilities and challenges and taught me how important it is to let go of expectation.
There is so much expectation and pressure in late pregnancy, not just institutional, but personal and social as well. Its only a matter of time before we give in to the pressure. The truth was there was never any problem with baby Freya except in my head. And that is a sobering thought.