Part Two: Labouring in the zone and the approach of fear

Contractions are like labour, at first calm, then a few ripples, before gathering in strength and size, then reaching a crescendo, ending in the calm again, just like the waves on this beach in Fetlar, which we experienced in all of natures offerings!

Labouring in the zone and the approach of fear

Sheila Kitzinger talks of indigenous women labouring alone in a private but familiar place, whilst the midwife waits at a safe distance, ready if she is needed. In a high-tech hospital I too turned inwards to this place, just like other mammals do and pregnant woman have done for millennia. Hours passed. Labour advanced slowly. I remained focused and calm. I hummed a Buddhist chant continuously for hours, varying the tones as the contractions came and went like waves. My late Nanna had described contractions this way, an appropriate analogy in that the pain starts slowly, worsens, reaches its crescendo, before subsiding; then the whole process repeats itself.

I made sounds from deep within me I never knew existed, instinctive sound vibrations which moved and worked with the contractions. My husband massaged my lower back with aromatherapy oils continuously for countless hours; in my own zone his touch was an indication I wasn’t alone. I remained totally in control by focusing on the deep humming sounds my voice made as my body moved in unison to the sounds. My eyes remained closed almost continuously for five hours.  I sought a quiet, non-verbal, private plate in which to labour, away from sights, sounds and lights. It was me and my baby, in our own space together. I knew my husband and the midwife were close by, so I could call them, if I needed to. I trusted and read my own body.

This special zone was rudely interrupted as I heard one of the midwives suddenly exclaim directly to me;

‘You’re being very musical aren’t you!’

Almost violently this human voice pulled me back into that other world I had laboured hard to mentally retreat from. I could have hit her. Although unintentional she had broken the spell, the peaceful zone shattered.

Back to the machines, bright lights and human conversation. And with it the pain.

Rediscovering Birth by Sheila Kitzinger

Part One: Hopes and reality of labour

Part One: Hopes and reality of labour

Midwife led birthing centre

I had hoped to give birth to Ewan in the local midwife led birthing centre, Darley Dale. However, I was put under consultant led care because the doctors found I was carrying Streptococcus B bacteria. Treatment for this includes the administration of antibiotics during labour and birth. This is a common infection present in up to half of the female population, which can cause severe infections in the newborn. I accepted my doctor’s advice, but felt saddened I was unable to give birth in the less interventionist, more homely environment of a midwife led unit. Having read about the many benefits of using water during labour, I fought to be allowed access to this in hospital. Eventually I was assured I could use water at the times I was not being administered the antibiotics.

The start of labour

The start of labour is a significant, often exciting time for pregnant women. Mine certainly was! Labour began slowly, mild tightening like period pains which came and went for over a day. I slept soundly my last night at home, before going swimming to relieve and distract me from the pain. I rocked to and fro on the birthing ball whilst listening to Buddhist chanting music, focusing on the deep, resonating tones of the monks as I breathed. I ate a hearty cooked breakfast to energise me, in preparation for the labour to come. I sought comfort from my parent’s border collie, who sensed my pain, nuzzling close to offer comfort. It was as if he knew.

From free movement to the confines of a hospital bed

In an active labour suite in hospital, I felt in control and on top of the pain. I was relaxed, moving around the room and squatting to use the birthing ball. A huge gush as my waters broke, with traces of meconium. Foetal excrement can be an indication the baby is in distress. However, in women who are overdue this is more likely to happen anyway, without the meconium necessarily being any sign of distress. I was informed I needed to be strapped up on the bed to an electronic foetal monitor, with electrodes monitoring my heart rate continuously.

It never occurred to me to refuse.

This severely restricted my movements, whilst jeopardising my hopes of using the birthing pool. As a first time mother I felt powerless in my patient role. I accepted, without question, the authority of the medical establishment, against my instinctive need to move freely around the room.

Electronic foetal monitoring

Although restricted I was determined to be as active as possible, kneeling on the bed with the birthing ball rocking from side to side. Both my heart rate and Ewan’s remained static for many hours, as we both remained calm. A handheld foetal device which the midwife uses periodically for short periods would therefore have more than sufficed, whilst allowing me freedom to labour as I desired, including being immersed in water. Research indicates no positive effects of electronic foetal monitoring. Instead, rather alarmingly, their use indicates an increase in the rate of caesarean sections in labouring women (see Michelle Odent). I can appreciate why. Caesarean sections also carry many risks for both mother and baby. Breastfeeding can also prove more difficult to get off to a good start and manage whilst recovering from surgery. Why are electronic foetal monitors used so readily? Part of the answer lies in the fact we live in a risk averse society, scared of not insuring against all risks by constant monitoring.

Michel Odent. Birth and Breastfeeding: Rediscovering the Needs of Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Exercise during pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy

Like most mothers-to-be, I was amazed when I first saw Ewan’s tiny little body doing summersaults on the screen at the dating scan, when I felt him kick for the first time. He refused to stay still or in the right position long enough for the sonographer to measure him to determine his gestational age! Perhaps this is not surprising given his parent’s energy and love of exercise.

As an active person I carried on running until the end of the first trimester when it became too much. I then took up swimming, which I found a great form of exercise when pregnant, due to the buoyancy of the water. I stopped climbing as I deemed this too risky, but carried on mountain walking until days before giving birth, albeit at a slower pace over shorter distances! I enjoyed snow shoeing in the Swiss and German Alps when I was 15 weeks pregnant, feeling out of breath on ascents and struggling to fit into my salopettes! I found it invigorating to be in the beautiful snowy mountains, sharing all this with my growing little bump. I also attended weekly pregnancy yoga classes up until my due date, which I found really beneficial in preparing for labour both mentally and physically.

We went on holiday to the Orkney Islands when I was thirty weeks pregnant. Staying in an isolated cottage on the most northerly island in Orkney, Westray, with the high winds, hardy sheep, wild bays and waves crashing against the rocky shore, I practised yoga and meditation daily. Ewan constantly reminded us of his presence by kicking vigorously whenever I rested, as we prepared emotionally for this massive, but very welcome, change in our lives.

One week before my due date, we went on our last weekend trip away to north Wales, where I managed to walk short distances from the cottage before getting out of breath. Back at home I waited patiently for Ewan to arrive, knowing he would come when he was ready.

Ewan’s birth story introduction

Ewan’s birth story

Now that I’ve shared with you a few of my thoughts about parenting today and parenting in stone age times, I’d like to share with you a personal story, of how my son came into the world. Pregnancy and birth sowed the seeds for this blog, as it is where the amazing, life-changing journey of parenthood began. It is Ewan who continually reminds me to follow my instincts, who helps me to parent more naturally.

My pregnancy and early labour were natural and gentle, with few medical interventions. Sadly, Ewan was eventually delivered by emergency caesarean section. As traumatic as this was, we were also relieved he was born a healthy little boy and that I was able to breastfeed him problem free. On reflection I began to piece together the possible reasons for what became a very medicalised birth.

This experience has taught me to be far more questioning of the medical profession and proactive when dealing with them. What do these ‘experts’ do to our bodies in the name of ‘reducing the risks’? I am now far more open to alternative methods of birthing. In the hopeful event of another pregnancy, I plan to be more in control and able to manage my labour, knowing when to ask for assistance and from whom.

Part Four: Return to work and conclusion

Part Four: Return to work and conclusion

We feel economic and social pressure to return to work. We juggle work and home life. Work and breastfeeding is deemed incompatible in most cases. We have lost knowledge of the benefits of sustained breastfeeding. Often living at a distance from our own parents, we search for quality childcare providers, finding a growing market of day nurseries. Many of the staff are young and poorly trained; the quality of a country’s childcare and education reveals the extent to which the government values the next generation. What does ours say about us? We shower our children with toys, games and spend ‘quality’ time with them. This time is limited due to work and societal pressures. The UK is still hung-up on the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ Victorian adage. Children are therefore unwelcome in many places. Childfree weddings and ‘no children allowed’ signs are common.

We are faced with pressures to wean our children early from the breast and from ourselves. We strive to make our children independent and self-sufficient in a competitive, material world. Our lives are increasingly sedentary and removed from nature. Obesity, asthma and mental illnesses are on the increase. Our children are ferried from group to group, held captive, wrapped in cotton wool; they cannot play out alone or wander to the local woods because the media fuels us with fear about stranger danger, knife crime and paedophilia. Ironically, our children have access to a whole, potentially dangerous and damaging world online. At school our children are tested to the limit, are stressed and emotionally damaged. We believe buying material goods will gratify us, so we attempt to cover up the loss. Alcohol or substance abuse, violence and abuse, separated families, poverty, all are common and much discussed in the media.

So, where have we gone wrong? And how can we begin to put it right?