It was a sunny Sunday morning at the end of March. While we waited for our NCT instructor to arrive at our house (the block of sessions we had booked months previously had been cancelled due to lack of interest so we were having an intensive private session) we stomped around the driveway, digging our cars out of a three-foot high snowdrift – well, thirty-five weeks pregnant I stomped about waving a broom rather ineffectively, while my partner, Sally, did some serious work with a spade. It was the first time we had bothered with this sort of lark –in the past I’d looked a little condescendingly on those who have the time to potter about their driveway with a shovel when half an inch of snow falls – but in today’s conditions, without removing mounds of snow, our cars would be going nowhere, and we had our nephew’s christening to attend that afternoon.
So it was that we were wielding our implements when a laden figure lolloped into sight through the drifts. We called out greetings from a hundred yards away – the layer of snow seemed to make the world smaller, such that from quite long distances you were really rather friendly even to people you didn’t know. There was a quiet, a thick solid feeling, where a shouted greeting carried crisply and clearly to its intended recipient. We expressed gratitude to our instructor for hiking through the drifts with her bags of plastic pelvises and baby dolls, but she seemed unphased, despite the early hour – it wasn’t yet ten o’clock, and on a Sunday morning – but we knew she had kids, so that means you’re up at…well…what o’clock? Six perhaps? Seven if you’re very lucky? So much to look forward to.
“We’ve read quite a lot already, so we know the basic stuff,” we said. And we did. Despite recent concerns over my amniotic fluid levels, I was still determined to have the natural birth I’d planned, the wild animal burrowed safely in the undergrowth, the hunter-gatherer woman finding a quiet corner of the forest. Nevertheless, birth was still rather an alien concept to us and I knew even then that shoving a baby doll through a plastic pelvis and examining an (albeit colourful) NCT birth progress wall frieze would do little to change that. I was certainly getting to grips with the idea of a long period where the little bumps in the chart got bigger and closer together, and then this odd bit called transition that would be bad, and then pushing for quite a bit and then the baby coming out. I was also vaguely aware of a bit after that concerning the placenta which didn’t seem very interesting. But I really had no idea of what a contraction might feel like and trying to imagine all this as a process I was going to experience, at some point in the next few weeks, partly here at home, partly at the hospital (or if we were very lucky and they let us in, the birth centre) seemed impossible.
Then we moved on to the baby bit. And here I really didn’t have a clue. I knew three things about babies: firstly that they cried, and we should try to ‘regulate’ this crying so they didn’t get too stressed – we’d read up on that; secondly that they didn’t sleep very well; and thirdly that they wore vests and baby gros of which you needed many – presumably because they were sick a lot/nappies didn’t work very well. So I made a careful study of the NCT images of baby birth marks, rashes and a whole range of bizarre blemishes and blotches which it seemed babies were frequently born with – apparently much to the surprise of their parents, who are expecting it to slip out all fresh faced and rosy, as if they have just been for an invigorating constitutional in the Autumn air. Then we studied pictures of baby poo. Black and tarry for newborns, then greenish, brownish, and yellowish with bits in. Lovely.
Finally, the instructor demonstrated a Stretchy Wrap. We had a mound of various slings and carriers, all of which had been passed on by a friend, except one, the Ergo Baby carrier which we had bought ourselves, months ago – in fact it had been the first piece of baby equipment we had actually purchased: sleepless and sick at 3am one morning back in November, I had researched the topic in some detail. Wraps and slings scared me – I’ve never been particularly dexterous (and was already slightly concerned about how I’d manage all the plaiting and pig-tailing if we were to have a girl) and so thought I’d be more at home with the structured carriers.
My nocturnal reading had taught me about the importance of hip position, about how most of the carriers available on the high street are designed to allow the baby to dangle from the crotch, which didn’t sound ideal. So we’d bought the Ergo Baby carrier, a carrier which places the baby in a comfortable seated position with their bottom low and knees high in a sort of squat. It was supposed to be very comfortable for parents too. And came in a lovely shade of purple. Nevertheless, the stretchy wrap demonstrated to us by our instructor, despite just being a long piece of material, seemed very cosy, very easy to tie and clearly encouraged the good hip position; after she’d left, promising to send us various links and book recommendations, we ordered one – a ‘Sabe’, in green and grey, reversible.
Then it was on through the snow to the Christening, and as always happens, when we arrived at Ramsbottom, our destination on the other side of the Pennines, there wasn’t a hint of the white stuff; we were the only guests dressed for blizzard conditions in what turned out to be rather a bright spring day.
But on Monday morning, for us at least, it was back to navigating carefully between the gigantic white mole hills down either side of our little cul-de-sac as I headed to my now weekly scan/consultant appointment. Amniotic fluid still disappointingly low. Not especially low. But enough keep me under consultant care and out of the birth centre. Enough to warrant induction at forty weeks.
Once home, we tried another angle and I phoned the consultant midwife for the area. Clearly thoroughly passionate about birth, she had answered her work mobile on a day off and spent an hour enthusiastically discussing our situation: the hospital’s ‘diagnosis’ and desire to intervene; our desperate quest for the gentleness and tranquillity of the birth centre. She went away to do a bit of research and then phoned back, supportive of our wishes: she thought I could have a midwife-led birth. We had an ally.
Back at work it was the final week before the Easter holidays. I was dashing around desperately trying to ensure that everything was up-to-date and ready for me to leave. I was due to go back for two days after the holiday, but knowing that the hospital could suddenly decide to induce me after any one of my weekly scans, I wanted to make sure all loose ends were tied: A’ level and GCSE coursework completed and marked, classroom tidy and cleared of my stuff, responsibilities transferred to others. I dashed around, dragging my pregnancy risk-assessment trolley full of books, out of breath and gulping from a litre bottle of water at every opportunity. And as each task was ticked off the list, I could almost feel my bump breathe a sigh of relief – at last, you’re going to concentrate on me.
Article: 20th October 2013 by Lindsey, West Yorkshire
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