Friday, 22 June 2012

The feminist housewife...

I didn't think that "Bog Off, Cherie Blair" would work too well as a title, but please do feel free to take that as the subtext of this post. As a brief background, the former PM's wife has well and truly stuck her foot in it again by criticising stay at home mothers, calling their choice "dangerous" and claiming that they lack ambition. I've read a few different newspapers' coverage of this, trying to find some representation of it that wouldn't have me spitting feathers, but the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Mail articles each brought me out in a rash of rage and frustration.

In essence, the claims made against housewives/homemakers/stay at home mothers - whatever you want to call us - are that we set a bad example to our children by not having a professional career, we set ourselves up for trial and tribulation in the future by being dependent on our husbands, and we are throwing all the achievements of our feminist mothers' generation in their faces. 

Pardon me one moment while I let out a howl of frustration and bang my head against the wall...

Ok, I have composed myself, and so to continue.

Don't get me wrong; I completely agree that it is beyond unfortunate when relationships break down and women are left in difficult positions trying to reassess their living arrangements and work out how to raise their children without the father living in the same home. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It sucks. Nothing about being a single mother is easy - financially, emotionally, socially. I only survived because we have a fairly comprehensive welfare system designed to help people from all walks of life who need a foot-up when something goes wrong in their lives. Without that, well... I don't like to think about how I would have coped 50 years ago if I'd been in the same situation. 

The amazing, wonderful thing is that things HAVE changed in the last 50 years - for the better! Women do have more rights, better security, fewer oppressions. Some of that has come from changes to the law, giving us the vote, the right to divorce our husbands, the right to own property, the right to earn the same salary as a male counterpart and so on. Some of it has been social change, altering the way we talk about and think of women's roles, although that element appears to be lagging behind. 

Whichever way you look at it, it is much less dangerous now to be a single mother than it used to be. There are things in place designed to keep you afloat and help you get back on your feet. Still, it's sad to think that this is the preoccupying element when it comes to discussing women who choose to stay home to look after their children rather than return to paid employment outside the home. Why oh why do we need to focus so heavily on the "what if" and worst case scenario when planning our families? I know it pays to have contingency plans in the event of falling on hard times, but if fears of relationships breaking down or partners dying governed all our lifestyle choices, very few of us would take the step of having children at all. 

And so to the point about stay at home mothers lacking ambition and throwing feminism back in our forebear's faces. I called this piece "The feminist housewife" because that is how I see myself. I do not work outside the home, and yet I consider many of my principles and philosophies to have strong feminist foundations. The two are not mutually exclusive, despite what Cherie Blair may think. 

Feminism and the whole concept of the women's rights movements is all about giving women CHOICES, giving us the power to decide for ourselves how to live our lives. Where life for a woman previously revolved around her reproductive functions, the revolution of the 1960s and onwards opened the doors for women to do what they wanted, and not to have life set out for them based purely on their gender. 

It is my right to decide for myself to stay at home with my children while they are young. Society does not have the right to dictate to me that this is what I must do because I am a woman, neither does society have the right to dictate that I must have a professional career AND take care of my family because I am a woman. Yet that is what Cherie Blair and similar critics of stay at home mums suggest. Because we are women, we must achieve a balance between being the perfect partner, mother AND employee. Heaven forbid we neglect any one of those! Look to Gina Ford's latest drivel book for a stark warning on neglecting your husband's sexual needs; look to Cherie Blair for a warning about not maintaining paid employment outside your home, away from your children; and pick up any newspaper from the last ten years for plenty of right-wing lamentations about parenting failures leading to the downfall of modern society.

The message from all that is clear - WOMEN! You wanted it all - well fine! Have it all, but you'd better do it all perfectly or we'll come down on you like a tonne of bricks.

What utter claptrap. Why oh why must I tick all these boxes in order to be a successful woman? How is this any less oppressive than being told that I cannot choose a career because I happen to have been born with two X chromosomes? 

I'll say it again - feminism is about CHOICES. Cherie Blair urging women to set better examples to their children by working outside the home, ensuring that they won't be left high and dry should their husbands leave them or meet an untimely death, is the least empowering, most denigrating comment on modern womanhood that I have heard in a while. Why instead does she not urge men to take a more active role in the home and share the work of parenting? Why is she not attacking the government's latest round of welfare cuts that will actually force parents out of work because of the soaring cost of childcare and diminishing availability of subsidies? Why not support a woman's right to decide IF she wants to stay at home with her children or go out to work rather than lay the ills of the world at her doorstep?

As a feminist, I am proud to say that I have chosen to set aside my career until my children are older; I have chosen to stay at home each day to care for them, keep the house in a liveable condition and take care of the menial day-to-day tasks. When my children are older and at school, when my constant company and attention is no longer required, then I will choose to seek paid employment outside the home. I made my decisions because it was what worked best for our family dynamic. I know plenty of women for whom this life would be an utter nightmare, and for them going out to work is their best decision too. I also know plenty of women who find the whole concept of parenthood absolutely awful and do not want to have children at all. We all deserve to be supported in these choices and not told that we're wrong and that we must marry, bear children and have a career because we're women and that's what women do.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A little thank you...

As I'm approaching 2500 hits to my blog, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everybody who's stopped by to read my stuff.

Deciding to keep a blog was scary to start with; I wasn't sure who would want to read what I had to say, who would look it over and decide I'm an idiot, and how quickly my long-suffering facebook friends would tire of me posting links and asking them to read my latest post!

Since January, I've really enjoyed writing and am looking forward to honing my blogging skills, getting to grips with shaping the form and content to be more easily digestible and hopefully producing stuff that at least another 2500 people want to read!

So, thank you for stopping by, reading and putting up with me forever tweaking the layout and style of my page! This is for you lot:

Monday, 18 June 2012

Month one of breastfeeding...

As part of my mini-series of blogs giving a warts 'n' all account of my first few weeks or months (whenever I get bored of writing about it or you get bored of reading it!) of life with a new baby, it seemed appropriate to include something about breastfeeding, particularly with National Breastfeeding Week coming up at the end of this month. One of my pet peeves (I have a few) about how we treat breastfeeding is the lack of transparency and realism used in promoting it to expectant parents. Most of the literature pregnant women receive about breastfeeding contains beautifully shot photographs depicting calm, romanticised scenes of a laid back mother and a content, snuggly baby. Very lovely to look at, very lovely to imagine yourself doing. Not entirely representative of the early days establishing breastfeeding, and thus not actually terribly helpful.

When my first son was tiny and I was trying to get to grips with feeding him, I struggled. He didn't latch well, I felt awkward holding him, my arms ached from lifting him and holding him in position to feed, my nipples were sore, I developed mastitis, I felt self-conscious about exposing bits of wobbly postnatal belly when lifting my jumper, I leaked milk everywhere between feeds and from whichever side I wasn't feeding from at the time - never mind the fact that he CRIED. A lot. I was certain that there was something wrong with what he was being fed, either the quantity or the quality. Why else would he cry?? I remember loudly lamenting to my midwife that boobs really should be see-through and have little marks down the side to help keep track of how much milk babies had taken! Looking back now, I see that comment as sadly indicative of how far we've marginalised breastfeeding and normalised bottle feeding in its place.

 It wasn't a snuggly and calm experience, and I thought I must be doing it wrong because it didn't feel like the pictures suggested it should. The remedy to this was chatting with a bunch of other breastfeeding mums I knew from baby groups and realising that we had all experienced varying degrees of discomfort and awkwardness, worry and frustration. I wasn't weird and certainly wasn't doing it wrong! That's just what it's like trying to learn a new skill when you're already tired and uncomfortable from having given birth days or hours before. Imagine trying to learn to drive when you haven't slept properly in days, then giving yourself a hard time for struggling to coordinate your hands and feet to control the vehicle!

So. This time would be fine for me, right? I've breastfed three other children for around a year each. I'm a trained peer supporter and have read an almost absurd amount of stuff about how breastfeeding works. So I wasn't going to have any problems getting to grips with feeding this baby... HAHA. How wrong was I.

The very first time I fed him was lovely. Ok so I may be remembering that through rose-tinted glasses. I was still very uncomfortable after the birth, covered in blood and sweat (I promised honesty!), still high from the pethidine and gas & air, starving hungry and really, really tired. But he latched like a pro and quite happily munched away for about half an hour while his Dad & I cooed over how beautiful he was. Later on when we had settled into the postnatal ward, I tried to feed him again. He promptly clamped his mouth shut and wanted nothing to do with me. "Alright", I thought, "that's fine. You've been born with plentiful fat stores to keep you going, you're probably a bit zonked from the pethidine. This isn't a problem". I held him and he went to sleep, so I lay down and snoozed for a while myself. Throughout the following morning I tried again to feed him, anxious to tell the midwives that he was feeding well so we could go home at some point that day. No matter what I did - all the tricks in the book about stripping his clothes off, tickling his feet, skin to skin contact, changing feeding positions - he wasn't interested. Even when we got home that evening, he didn't want to know. I was still reminding myself that this is ok, he was very awake and alert but just preferred to be held and look at faces.

Around midnight, something happened. I don't know what, but it's like someone flicked his 'hunger' switch on and peaceful snoozy baby morphed into Screaming Booby Monster. He fed and fed and fed and fed for three hours straight. I knew he wasn't latching properly, I could see that his mouth wasn't opening enough when I was putting him to the breast and I could feel that something wasn't right as I was feeding him but he was busy munching away and I didn't dare disturb him in case he resumed screaming. After 3 days, I was at the stage of toe-curling pain when he started feeding. Every now and then, I'd manage to get him to open his mouth really wide and the pain would be virtually non-existant for that feed, so I assumed that the issue was purely my laziness in getting him to latch properly and all I needed was to really concentrate on getting him to open his mouth wide enough each time and we'd be onto a winner. Oh, and to apply lashings of Lansinoh in between feeds. Not to digress, but I really do love that stuff, perhaps too much. I remember day five, waiting for family to come and visit and being in floods of tears because that particular morning he had fed solidly from 6am to 1pm without more than a few minutes break, and I felt like I was either going to lose my mind, or my boobs were going to fall off. I dreaded having to try and explain that he was just having a fanatical feeding day and I was fine with this, potentially having to field suggestions to maybe give him a bottle or justify why I didn't want to do that. Thankfully he mellowed out just as our visitors arrived and was mostly lovely company for the afternoon.

Through a series of clerical mishaps, we didn't see the midwife again until Baby T was 10 days old, at which point they weighed him and announced that not only was he back to his birth weight, but he'd actually exceeded it by a further 3 ounces. That was very exciting news to me and reassured me that although latching him on still hurt quite a bit (less so since I'd taken to smearing myself in Lansinoh!), he was clearly getting enough milk, so it was all worth it. I casually mentioned the discomfort to the midwife, but said I wasn't worried because he was gaining weight really well, had masses of wet and dirty nappies so everything must actually be going fine. She decided to check him over anyway and within seconds had spotted that he had a tongue tie. This was a relatively new concept to me as tongue tie wasn't as widely known about when I did my training or when my other children were babies. If you feel underneath your tongue, you'll find a tiny thin bit of flesh attaching your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. In babies with tongue-tie, that bit of flesh is too short and/or attached too far forward, preventing them from thrusting their tongues forward and thus latching on to the breast properly.

I can't tell you how thrilled I was when she said that to me. That may sound really ridiculous but I was starting to lose faith in myself. As I said before, I've breastfed three other children, trained in breastfeeding support and spend an inordinate amount of my spare time reading up on issues surrounding breastfeeding. Establishing breastfeeding with my own baby should have been a doddle! Admitting that I had sore nipples from a poor latch was pretty embarrassing to be honest, so being told that it wasn't my fault was music to my ears! Best of all, it was something that could be remedied! She rang the community midwives office to ask for a referral to our resident lactation consultant, who happens to be a bit of an authority on tongue tie, and I was astonished for her to then ask if we were available to pop in and see her the following morning for a consultation and possibly to have Baby T's tongue tie divided. That's pretty fast moving for any NHS procedure, but in the context of what I've read of other parents waiting weeks to see someone, battling to have a tongue tie properly diagnosed or even find a doctor who recognises that such a thing exists, this was absolutely monumental.

As the evening wore on, I started to feel nervous about the morning's appointment. The excitement had worn off, and instead apprehension about the idea of dividing his tongue tie crept in. It's a tiny, tiny procedure. It takes half a second at most and the staff who do it are very well trained. From what I'd read, it's less distressing to a baby than the standard heel prick test almost every baby in the UK has at 6 days old, or the vaccinations at 2, 3 and 4 months old. But still... something about the idea of anyone sticking a pair of surgical scissors into my baby's mouth to snip a bit of flesh... Well quite frankly the very idea of it brought me out in cold sweats.  I prepared myself mentally to argue every which way against having it divided until I was absolutely certain that it was necessary and that doing so would improve Baby T's wellbeing.

The appointment was actually much less alarming that I'd convinced myself it would be. The midwife was lovely, very comforting but also straightforward and no-nonsense. She went through the assessment paperwork with us and explained how they determine the severity of a tongue tie in terms of how it impacts a baby's ability to feed. We also talked through how long and frequently Baby T had been feeding - not easy considering that I hadn't been paying attention and just fed him if he wailed! I pointed out that I was very reluctant to have the procedure done as my pain and discomfort was reducing through me really concentrating on getting his latch right, and he was clearly getting enough milk because his weight gain was really good. It wasn't until we looked again at his feeding pattern that I realised his weight gain was so good because I had probably spent about 70% of my time doing nothing but feeding him over the previous eleven days. Newborn babies are supposed to feed a lot; their tummies are tiny - walnut sized really - so they fill up quickly and also empty very frequently! I had simply put down his frequency and length of feeding to normal newborn behaviour, but actually from the midwife observing him feed, we could both see that he wasn't getting a lot of milk in one go, so needed to feed for ages on end to fill up. Closer examination of his mouth showed us that his tongue tie was actually pretty bad and he could barely move his tongue around - certainly not enough to ever be able to latch on properly to be fed. Although his weight gain had been great so far, that would most likely tail off quite quickly and he'd start to struggle. I didn't want to leave it until he was older to have the tie divided because it would be more distressing to him then, so we decided to go for it. I wimped out of holding him and asked my husband to take over while I got ready to feed him. The moment it was done, he squawked a little but he was handed back to me immediately and settled down to feed. I promptly burst into tears and gripped him fiercely but once I calmed down it dawned on me that I couldn't feel any pain from him feeding!

For the next couple of days, I carried on really concentrating on getting him to open his mouth wide and latch properly - the midwife had warned that he'd effectively need to re-learn what to do with his mouth now that he could move his tongue properly - but the real surprise was how much shorter his feeds suddenly were. Whereas I'd previously sit for half an hour or more to feed him, he would now either fall asleep or un-latch himself after something more like ten minutes. I haven't had him weighed again yet, but he's outgrown a handful of his first outfits and started to develop chubby cheeks and thighs.

Since having the tongue tie sorted, I've tried very hard not to worry about anything breastfeeding related. I'm no longer in pain, Baby T is most definitely putting on weight and becoming more alert and interactive, he's sleeping well (that's another blog in itself ;-) ) and is generally wonderful to be around. Aside from a couple of days feeling under the weather with mild mastitis, all has been much smoother for the last two weeks. The health visitor is coming again this Friday and will weigh him again so I'm looking forward to seeing how well the weight gain is going now - especially as there is a small part of me competing with a friend whose baby is the same age and is gaining weight like a professional!

If there is one thing I would hope an expectant mother to take from this post, it is to accept that the early days are not going to be a picnic - and that that's ok! Read lots, talk to other breastfeeding mums and health care professionals, but also accept that when you're sore, aching, exhausted and bewildered by a tiny, wailing creature for whose wellbeing and survival you are entirely responsible, all that preparation will go out of the window and even the most seasoned breastfeeder will falter without the right support at hand. Without the local midwives and lactation consultant really knowing their stuff and reaching out to offer me the help I needed, this last month would have been infinitely more troublesome than it has been. I think we've just about settled down now and I feel confident and comfortable with breastfeeding. Now all I have to sort out is my wardrobe! Finding summery tops that I can breastfeed in comfortably is harder than it sounds - particularly as 'comfortably' for me absolutely has to mean that I don't worry about flashing bits of wobbly belly at anyone. So far I've favoured the two layered approach with a vest top underneath a baggier top, so I'm exposing the minimum amount of flesh possible. That's fine while the weather is so grim, but if it warms up over July & August, I'm going to have to go shopping!

While I'm on the topic of breastfeeding, I'll take the opportunity to shout out to a few other blogs worth reading if you're a breastfeeding woman, or pregnant and want to read more:

For great tips on fashionable clothes and breastfeeding (because I'm still a girl and still love clothes!): Milk Chic Breastfeeding Fashion blog and website

For amazingly eloquent and stirring pieces on new research or responses to coverage in the media:
The Analytical Armadillo blog (from a certified lactation consultant)

For great info and more bare-bones truth about breastfeeding:
Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths blog

Edited to include the lovely Kim of the Little Leaf (I've just discovered her blog and am a little bit in love with it)

And a list of helplines from the NCT is available HERE

One final edit - I saw this just now and needed to share it!

Next time - Bedsharing!

Friday, 1 June 2012

My birth story, as promised!

I am delighted to announce that baby Theodore William was born at 11:46pm on Monday May 14th after a relatively short but intense labour! Many apologies for taking an age to blog again, but it turns out that tiny babies are really quite time consuming!

In keeping with the theme of my blog, I would like to share my birth story and relate it back to the pregnancy, birth and parenting philosophies I am so passionate about. One of my favourite other parenting blogs to follow is Birth Without Fear, primarily a collection of birth stories focusing on giving birth back to women as opposed to it being the highly medicalised, intervention-driven phenomenon we often see it as today. Although the majority of the experiences shared within are drug-free home births, there are also stories of caesarean section, hospital deliveries and birth following induction of labour. The focus isn't so much on "all natural" birth, but more about empowering women to feel in control of their birth, no matter what shape it takes. I have found over the last 7 years as a mother that it is very easy to have decisions taken out of your hands and governed by hospital policies and common medical practices, even if that doesn't fit with your own ethos and comfort zone. Rebelling against these practices can be very frightening, especially when you are essentially arguing with a highly qualified medical professional about what they do for a living. One of the most helpful tools I was given at antenatal classes in my second pregnancy was the B.R.A.I.N acronym to use when questioning proposed procedures during pregnancy and birth. 

B = benefits What are the positive outcomes from this course of action?
R = risks What potential negative consequences are there?
A = alternatives What else could we do instead?
I =  intuition What does my gut tell me about this?
N = nothing What happens if we do nothing now and let things continue as they are?

I used that when it came to my second son's birth and the result was a very calm labour during which I felt entirely in charge and had nothing but good feelings when looking back on it. Unfortunately I lost that grip when it came to the birth of my daughter two and a half years later, and wound up with a very frightening experience, with hospital staff intimidating me into accepting procedures that I didn't want (or, on reflection, actually need) and at one point going as far as making me cry. Coming to terms with that birth took me a long time, and I was determined this time to recreate the birth of my second son as much as I could. The details needn't necessarily be the same - I had a lovely drug-free water birth then, which was easy to arrange because I had no complications during the pregnancy at all. My logical head knew that things may not go the same way this time if I was at all unwell through the pregnancy, but the important thing when preparing emotionally to give birth again was to feel that the birth was MINE, not the midwife or doctor's; the decisions made about my care would come from what I wanted, not what I felt pushed into; and I wouldn't be afraid to challenge any proposals that I didn't feel comfortable about. Beyond that, I didn't have much of a birth plan. When the midwife asked me about it, my answer was simply that I wished to be left alone as much as possible and have as few interventions as I could.

And now for the confession part... My promise from 3 weeks ago was, after all, to be honest about how far my preaching lives up to my practices! 

My birth this time didn't really go the way I wanted. It wasn't intervention-free, I wasn't relaxed and calm throughout and at times I was very frightened - too frightened to refuse having my labour induced or to articulate why I didn't want to be put on an IV drip to intensify my contractions later on. Everything I had practiced about B.R.A.I.N. and feeling in control of my labour went out of the window and I quite literally hid behind my husband at one stage! 

Everything started on Sunday afternoon when my waters broke spontaneously and in epic fashion whilst I was folding laundry. That's never happened to me before so I was quite taken aback and not too sure what to do! I'd been experiencing bouts of contractions for weeks, although they always stopped after a few hours and I'd settled into a mindset of just not thinking about when labour might start. This was different though, because waters breaking means that labour is very imminent! According to the midwife, 60% of women go into labour within 18 hours of their waters breaking so I got very, very excited and called the labour ward. They asked me to come in and be checked over, which I did and then chatted about how things would go from here. They said that if I hadn't gone into natural labour by 8am the following morning, I should phone again to discuss induction. That's the first point at which I panicked. I've never been induced before... my labours have always started by themselves - two of them were before 40 weeks, so I have limited experience of going overdue at all. I have heard stories of induction though, none of which sounded very appealing, and from reading lots about the mechanics of labour, I understood that the artifice of inducing contractions meant that it would all hurt a lot more. Without the natural accompaniment of endorphins with the oxytocin release that governs natural labour, I would feel everything much more intensely. Bizarrely, that didn't fill me with much joy! I went home, determined to bounce around on my birth ball all evening, drink raspberry leaf tea 'til it came out of my ears, walk around as much as my achey hips would permit and eat the spiciest curry I could tolerate, all in the name of getting labour to start by itself! Did ANY of it work? Did it heck. Just as most nights of the preceding few weeks, I had contractions, they hurt quite a lot, they stayed regular and increased in frequency to every 8 minutes.... and then by 3am it all stopped and I cried. This time I cried because I knew the next day would bring a lot of examinations and procedures I didn't want, and would most likely culminate in me having the sort of labour I'd been afraid of all along.

At 8am I rang the labour ward as discussed and was advised to call back again at 11am to arrange a time to go back in. I tried to stay calm all morning and discussed my feelings with my husband, reminding him in particular that I remembered how much the Fear had affected my last labour and how much I regretted the epidural I had begged for when the midwife snapped at me and told me I'd be labouring for hours and was putting my baby at risk by refusing more interventions. I told him that I needed him to be my advocate this time, that if things went the same way and I couldn't cope, that I would need him to make me question myself if I started to waver on my faith in myself: "Remind me how much I hated the epidural, don't let me beg for one again". I googled frantically, rang midwife friends, posted on the Analytical Armadillo's facebook wall - all to find out as much as I could about what induction of labour would involve and what I needed to know about my alternative options. What I learned was reassuring - namely, I could go as far as refusing the induction and waiting up to a further 72 hours for labour to start spontaneously. The NICE guidelines accommodate that and have advisements in place for how to monitor pregnant women for any sign of infection which would indicate an urgent need to get the baby out. That appealed to me a lot more than having pessaries inserted or being hooked up to IV drips! The thought of being able to retrieve my natural labour after all calmed me down and we toddled off to the hospital to talk to the midwives.

Something very strange happens to me when I enter a hospital building. I'm not in my house anymore... I'm in the doctors' house. This is their territory, not mine. I have no right to question their opinions with my own amateur knowledge informed by Google and entry-level Biology textbooks. It might be hard to believe, but my bolshy-ness does a complete runner and in place is a meek and frightened girl, not a strong and determined woman. So I sat in the delivery room, pondering what would happen and trying to scramble together my recollections of the information I'd gathered that day. 

A lovely, lovely midwife came into the room and we started talking through the various paths ahead. She was smiley and reassuring, matter of fact in answering my questions and respectful of my worries. I don't recall exactly how, but the decision I made was to accept the induction there and then, not wait for the next 72 hours to pass then reassess. I'm aware that I felt apprehensive about deviating from the hospital's usual practice and defying the wishes of my - albeit lovely - healthcare professional. Without a team of like-minded people physically around me, urging me to push forward with me desire not to be interfered with, I'm afraid I didn't have the inner strength to go against the grain. It was a mixed feeling... on the one hand, happy to be a step closer to meeting my baby, at the same time deflated at my birth no longer being "mine" but instead morphing into the property of the doctors, to be assessed and evaluated according to their rigid checklist of events that would determine whether or not the progress I made over the coming hours was to their satisfaction. 

The midwife explained that step one would involve inserting a pessary containing synthetic prostaglandins to help my cervix soften and begin to dilate. Hopefully this would be all that was needed to get labour going into full swing, but if not I would then be given an intravenous drip of more synthetic hormones intended to either start contractions or to make existing ones stronger. If that happened, I would need to be hooked up to a machine to have my baby's heart rate constantly monitored, and this would ideally take place with me lying down... for the entire duration of my labour. THAT completely freaked me out. I don't *do* lying down in labour. The geography of it just doesn't work! Forget everything you've seen on tv - labouring lying down is the least convenient position for a baby to try and exit the womb. The birth canal slants in such a way that you would end up trying to push the baby out uphill, all the while with the weight of said baby pressing back against you, limiting your blood flow through the arteries running along your spine. ICK. No way, Jose. I've done that once in my first labour when I didn't know any better and it was evil. Furthermore my son then needed to be resuscitated after the birth, something I'm confident wouldn't have happened if I'd been in a better position when labouring and pushing. 

With fingers crossed and prayers said, we toddled off to the antenatal ward to wait for the pessary gel to take effect and hopefully get labour moving. I sent my husband home at this point to see our other children because I didn't think there was much point him mooching around the ward waiting for something or nothing to happen. I had my tens machine (borrowed at the eleventh hour from a friend!), Jaffa cakes, birth ball and - most importantly - the whole bay to myself! Six beds on the ward and none occupied. I was very relieved to have a big open space to myself, so I set about bopping on the ball, snacking to get some energy back and chatting to the two student midwives who were pottering around. After a very short while, the contractions ramped up and I was confident things were moving as I'd prayed for. Two hours after the gel had been done, the senior midwife on the ward started to flap a bit and asked if I'd like to be examined to see if I'd progressed and should be moved back to the delivery room. I was ok with that (more anxious to know if all the pain was finally getting me somewhere!) so they checked me over and cheerfully announced I'd reached the magical 4cm dilated which indicated I was now in Active Labour. This was it, all hands on deck, no going back now - and more importantly, I had escaped the dreaded IV drip. The thought occurred that I should probably call my husband to come back to the hospital as we had originally agreed that he wouldn't return until after our kids were in bed, but the midwife and I suspected things may be moving faster than that! 

When we got back to the labour ward, husband dutifully in tow, I met with the midwife who was to care for me throughout the rest of my labour and the birth (assuming her shift didn't end first anyway!). I wasn't sure if I liked her to start with... She was very pretty, beautifully made up and quite glamorous looking. When you're in the throes of labour and feeling at your least dignified, it smarts to see someone looking lovely at you! Fortunately she was absolutely delightful, made me giggle and put me at ease. We were furnished with a radio to listen to Classic FM, jugs of ice water to keep me refreshed (although my husband qualified for several cups of coffee throughout the evening, hmmph) another birth ball and extra pillows so I could experiment with moving around and getting comfortable. At this point, I felt fantastic... I had defied the doctors' expectations by responding so quickly to the induction, I was in control of my labour, I was mobile, lucid and very excited about meeting my baby soon. My husband took a photo on his phone of me beaming with the gas & air pipe in one hand and a cup of water (held aloft like a chalice of fine wine!) in the other, and sent it to my Mum, who had been fretting about how I was coping. The pain increased and my contractions were 2 minutes apart from here on in. I leaned on my husband for support, taking great comfort in burying my head in his shoulder whilst standing on my tip toes (goodness knows why that was more comfortable than just standing!), pressing the BOOST button on the tens machine and going for gold with the gas and air. I had tried the ball, kneeling on the bed, leaning on pillows etc, but everything other than standing upright was unbearable agony.

I had last been examined just after 6pm, so the midwife said they would check again around 10pm if I consented. By 9pm, I was certain I felt the sort of pressure that indicated being ready to push, so we decided to check again and see how things had gone. My heart sank when she paused before telling me I was still only 4cm. After 3 hours of utter agony, nothing had happened. My body wasn't cooperating with me after all. Weeks and weeks of slow latent labour, of promising myself that it would mean that, when the time came, the groundwork would have already been done and the birth would be smooth sailing, then gradual realisation that my body and I were no longer in tune. All that pain and frustration just to get my hopes up for those few hours in the delivery room, only then to feel utterly crushed and like we were back at square one. To add insult to injury, the midwife then had to break the news that she was duty bound to inform the doctors of the outcome of the examination, and that they would certainly press for me to have the drip to intensify the labour. At that point, I had a complete meltdown. The idea of making an already unbearable labour more intense after taking away the faith I had only just restored in my body... I'd felt that Fear before, in my last labour. I had had maybe 10 hours sleep in total that entire week and didn't have the energy to deal with the pain any longer. I felt the words "please, please make it stop" leave my lips before I burst into tears and begged for them to call the anaesthetist. If I was going to be labouring for hours, I may as well lessen the pain. The labour wasn't mine anymore anyway. The doctors would shortly be arriving to take over and mould it into THEIR delivery, according to their specifications of how a labour should progress. Why should I fight and embrace the pain of a labour that didn't belong to me. 

As he'd promised that morning, my husband started to remind me how I felt last time after the epidural - that I had regretted it instantly, that I mourned the pain from the birth because I no longer felt it, that my daughter had been born half an hour after it had been administered so I always felt that it had been a pointless intervention. The midwife stepped in and held my hand. After that contraction passed and I was back in the room, she talked to me about what my husband had said. I expected her to come down on the side of knocking me out, but to my amazement she really took on board how I had felt last time and started talking me through other ideas. She suggested pethidine as an interim measure, saying that at the least it would relax me a bit and stop me panicking. If we were lucky, I may even be able to sleep a little while and regain some energy to face the rest of the labour. I fell in love with her a little when she then also promised that she would do her best to fight my corner and delay the doctors putting up the IV drip to give me time to get back in control. I was reluctant to accept the pethidine because I had had it in my first labour and felt very sick, but by this stage I knew I needed to make A decision and regain my control, so I told her to get it over and done with before I changed my mind.

After that, everything is a blur.  I vaguely remember stripping off the gown I'd put on over my vest earlier in the evening and climbing up onto the bed. The next thing I recall is the final two pushes before my son was born, and then leaning face down into the pillow for a couple of minutes asking myself if that really was it, was it really all over! The midwife then pointed out that it had only been 25 minutes between the pethidine injection and me getting into position to push! I had gone from just 5cm dilated with half my labour still to go and in absolute emotional breakdown, to pushing my baby out in less than half an hour! I remember murmuring "is it really over?" half a dozen times and feeling incredibly relieved that the pain had finally stopped. Even so, I really didn't want to let go of the tens machine controls! It had become such a comfort to me that I needed to hang onto it for a few moments until it really sank in that the hurty bit was done with. In truth, I felt a little shell-shocked. I hadn't expected such a managed birth, or to feel so frightened and small especially as this was my fourth birth and I've researched so much about relaxed birthing techniques!

So that was it. It didn't go the way I had wanted, but I can say that I felt in tune with my midwife and that she respected what I was trying to achieve with my birth and did everything she could given the circumstances. It's difficult to say out loud that your birth didn't go to plan, because very often people's response is to say that it shouldn't matter because you still have a healthy baby from it. Actually, it DOES matter. Can you imagine responding to a crestfallen bride on her wedding day that it didn't matter that everything had gone wrong on the day because she still had her husband out of it? We afford women the right to demand their perfect wedding day and we should do the same for their perfect birth, and moreover we should accommodate women needing to work through the barrage of emotions that comes around if they wind up with a birth that feels completely alien to them. I have been offered the Birth Afterthoughts service from my midwife since being discharged from hospital, which I declined because writing everything out here has been therapeutic enough and I feel at peace with how things went now. I know women who've had really traumatic births though and who still need a lot of support to deal with that.

I won't be having any more children but all my experiences of childbirth have reinforced my passion for giving birth back to women, empowering women to feel in charge of and in tune with their own bodies and not to feel afraid of the frankly awesome things we do whilst bringing new life into the world.

Quite frankly, we women rock!