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