At 36 weeks, I’m now contemplating the realities of labour and birth and, for the first time, getting really excited about what lies beyond – the adventures of babies and crying and breastfeeding and what on earth are we doing?
But for now, I’ve written my birth plan and shown it to my midwife. It describes the ideal birth of my dreams, mirroring the ones I’ve read about from Ina May Gaskin, in Maggie Howell’s fantastic Birth Preparation book and from stories read out at my Active Birth yoga class. This means:
- Staying at home for as long as possible, using homeopathy, movement and massage
- No inductions / sweeps unless medically necessary (and I will pester them to tell me why so)
- A water birth
- No pain relief (although I am tempted by gas & air)
- No interventions unless medically necessary
- Staying in control of the process, asking for full information and time to assess risks and make decisions
- Privacy, music and candles, dim lights, encouragement but no time pressure
- Letting the cord pulse until it stops
- The moon on a stick.
So far, so unrealistic?
Maybe not. But we all know life does not always go to plan and only a very small handful of my friends had a blissful, empowering birth experience. Most had surprise illnesses and complications, some had real horrors. All seem pretty unfazed by the whole thing, which shows as long as you have a happy healthy baby at the end of it then how you got there probably doesn’t matter.
Add to this the fact that we also know that pregnancy has a lovely way of throwing spanners in the work and lo and behold, at 35 weeks I was diagnosed as having possible OC (obstetric cholestatis) from tests done after I mentioned that I had been itching. OC is basically where your liver doesn’t work well and doesn’t filter out bile salts properly, which stay in your body causing incredible itching. The bile salts in turn can harm baby by increasing the risk of late-stage stillbirth, so you are normally advised to induce at around 37-38 weeks.
To sum up, therefore, my peace n’ love hippie birth – all surges and turning down the pain dial and breathing in golden light – may well now turn into an induction-cranked chemical fest which has all the potential of turning into an intervention-filled nightmare.
Thing is, I’ve been itching since day 1, given my hives and excema (lucky me) but it’s never been the on-hands-and-knees-ripping-off-skin-til-4am type of itching – mainly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet – that OC sufferers describe and I actually feel really, really good right now. So the fact that my body might be letting me down is annoying. While my bile salt tests are normal, my liver function test (ALT) is high so they still worry I may have it and need to monitor me carefully. I have accepted that I can’t do anything to stop it and obviously if the baby is in danger (and as long as I’m sure I have all the information to allow me to weigh up the risks myself) then we will induce and intervene to get baby out safe.
But something interesting has happened since I’ve found all this out. After initial panic, worry and tears (heaven help a hormonal lady with a google search button), and taking several days to get my head round the fact that I could be induced several weeks before I thought I would have my baby, I found an acceptance, a letting go of expectations and plans, which has actually made me feel liberated, calm and in control. So back to the theory behind my original birth plan.
Yes, for a planner like me, the idea of things happening sooner than I expected, at a time when I can’t control it, was at first terrifying. But I moved important appointments forward to my 37th week (well – my hair won’t colour itself), leaving week 38 and onwards entirely free. I wound down at work so I could leave promptly if required. I washed all the baby stuff, had a lovely lunch with my best friends, finished all the odd jobs round the house (or rather got The Chef to help). I read the birth stories I wanted to read, played the hypno-birth CD on repeat, packed the hospital bags.
So now, I feel ready. And more than that, I have discovered a new sense of purpose, a new open-mindedness that I didn’t have before and which I believe will make me stronger for what lies ahead. A very clever friend of mine said to me that all this OC stuff was actually a good thing because it was teaching me perhaps the most important lesson of motherhood:
That nothing can be planned. Expect the unexpected.
At our first NCT class (more later – actually really enjoyed it), we were shown a photo of a doctor-led medical labour ward room – as opposed to the midwife-led nest we’d all come to want – and asked how we would feel about that being the place we were told we had to give birth in. While most of the couples appeared to hate the thought of such an industrial, medical environment, choosing words like “anxious” and “worried”, I went straight for a card that appealed to me. It read:
And on the back of this was marked the hormone that I’m aiming to harvest more than anything – OXYTOCIN - the hormone of love and labour.
Straight away I realised my mind set had changed. That, having first embraced a natural, instinctive birth, I now knew that if I need an induction, an epidural, hell if an entire team of scrubbed up consultants came in and told me I had to have an emergency caesarean, then I would probably be able to stay in control, to make this birth the way I wanted it to be.
So that’s my birth un-plan. Wish me luck!
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