I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ today. Yesterday I burst into tears several times at seemingly small things. Then a short while ago I realised I’m due on my period today. That explains it. Not that this means my tears and emotions aren’t valid, just that they are much more present, very much at the surface. For some reason the way I am feeling right now has reminded me with incredible clarity of the last days of being pregnant with my second child.
I felt extremely raw. Vulnerable. Ripe. There was tension in the air. The sensations in my belly were not unlike menstrual cramps. A dull ache. I felt the need to rest, to hibernate, to hide away. Well, as much as you can with a two year old relying on you for her every need. Just keeping her fed and happy was more than enough for me to focus on. The pregnancy had been straightforward and healthy, but not enjoyable. I felt my body creaking and straining under the effort of growing and carrying this baby. I was looking forward to giving birth, not only because I would finally get to meet our baby, but because I would no longer feel so heavy and achy.
The days moved slowly. Even though my first child was born at 41 + 4, when my estimated due date arrived and nothing happened I felt a bit disappointed. I’d been having cramps from 37 weeks, so I thought that might indicate labour was around the corner. Gradually, the days moved significantly beyond my due date. (Why do we usually drop the word ‘estimated’? We really shouldn’t.) I knew instinctively that this baby would come when s/he was ready. I felt their strength and robustness, their regular movements reassuring me. But at the same time I knew I was going ‘against’ guidelines by deciding to wait and see, by declining to book a date for induction. I had no doubt that I was making the right decision, my husband was fully supportive, it seemed I knew the stillbirth stats better than my midwives and had balanced the risks and benefits, but I am a good girl at heart and I hate disappointing people. Fortunately, that part of my personality is balanced with being a stubborn git who likes to understand stuff for myself and ask a lot of questions.
However, The System is mighty, and when it brings its might to bear on vulnerable, weepy pregnant women, guess who gets their way most of the time? I was beginning to take the strain of the weight of this system that claims women have a right to informed choice but doesn’t act as though it really means it. What it feels like is that it bullies and coerces until it has frightened the woman shitless and she caves in to the enormous pressure exerted upon her. Both my pregnancies have gone well beyond 41 weeks so I was fully aware of this. Last time I avoided the meeting with the consultant to discuss my ‘options’ by going into labour. Lucky me.
Anyway, this hinterland, this odd time of waiting for my baby was made more difficult by the feeling that I should be doing something. Have you had sex/ eaten a hot curry/ taken castor oil/ driven on a bumpy road/ *insert whatever colourful suggestions your friends, family, neighbours have come up with*? We are a nation of doers, we feel better when we are doing something, or telling someone else to do something. As a rule, we find it extremely hard to just be. I know that’s true for me in any case. With my first pregnancy I drank raspberry leaf tea and had a couple of amazing therapeutic pregnancy massages and some acupuncture. It made me feel relaxed and calm when I had started to feel a bit frantic, but ultimately babies are born when they are ready, and not before. I knew this. I knew it in my bones, but at 9 months pregnant, with all of the hormones, exhaustion, and pressure, it felt really hard to let go and allow myself to wait patiently for my baby to be ready.
As it turned out, I went into spontaneous labour at 41+5. It was such a relief! I felt excited as I began to feel some pattern to the cramping and knew this was the real thing. I wonder why it seems so difficult to treat pregnant women nearing and beyond their estimated due date with kindness and gentleness, rather than treating them as if there is a problem? The average time for a first time mum to go into labour is 41 weeks, so it really is very normal to go beyond the magical due date.
Anyway, that's my story. I'd be really interested to hear about your experiences so please feel free to comment.
If you want more information on the facts and figures of induction for going ‘overdue’ then Sophie Messager goes into detail and links to a lot of evidence in her excellent blog post.
I'm Liz Dew, founder of SheffieldHypnobirthing.com and I love a good chat about birth. This blog is where I explore some of the things that I find amazing, frustrating, or fascinating about birth and birth culture. Grab a cuppa and dive in.