It was the middle of March and, thirty-four weeks pregnant, I was lying on a fluffy purple rug with my head under a table, on the floor of a tiny room in the local Surestart centre – the only way the dimensions of the room allowed me to stretch out fully so that the midwife could measure my bump. The alternative was seeing her at the doctor’s surgery, but not being ill, I preferred to keep my distance from the waiting room of hacking old men, three-year-olds working as professional Germ Transmitters, and tight-lipped receptionists. And I quite liked the relaxed simplicity of lying on a fluffy rug with my head under a table. Had I known at the time that twice a week this room was transformed into a sensory room for babies, which if you’ve never been in one of these, is a bit like walking into a second-hand kitchen utensil shop after taking some strong hallucinogenic drugs, the experience would have been all the more surreal.
“Mmm, you’re measuring a bit small.” Despite the fact that everyone commented on how small my bump was, until now my chart had shown a steady, even arc.
“I’ve got a long back,” I would tell people. “The baby’s probably just more spread out.” “I’ll try again,” the midwife said. Pause to measure. “No, [sigh], I’m going to have to send you for a scan. It’s probably fine, they just have to check it. They’ll be sick of me there – you’re the third lady I’ve referred today. Oh, and if you notice any change in the baby’s movements, call this number.”
And I entered a new world of pregnancy. The world where there might be something wrong. Morning (well, all-day sickness) had been horrible and pelvic pain turned me into a grumpy insomniac, but so far I had had the luxury of knowing that for the baby, all was going very nicely. Now I didn’t know. It was Thursday. The scan was urgent enough for me to expect to be given an appointment for the following Monday. Not urgent enough to merit having it before the weekend. A weekend of anxious wondering.
Meanwhile, that weekend we had a three-hour birth preparation yoga session. I’d been attending pregnancy yoga since January and now this was a special extended session for partners to attend as well. There were three couples and I was pleased to arrive with my girlfriend and counter again the assumption that, pregnant, you must be straight. Thence an afternoon of shuffling between various poses on mats, birthing balls and chairs, finding ways of leaning on Sally from different angles whilst maintaining an ‘open-pelvis’ position. Deep breaths, short quick breaths, meditative breaths. And rolling our sleeves up as the March sun breathed its own warm breath against the long windows.
Monday came and I lay impatiently on the couch as the radiographer rolled the probe across my abdomen. My eyes flickered on and off the screen she was examining – I wanted to see my baby but I didn’t want to know its sex – in reality of course, this was highly unlikely given all I could really see anyway was bubbles of white a grey growing, merging and shrinking. “How’s it looking?” I ventured, after watching the radiographer make half a dozen tiny rulers across the screen.
“The amniotic fluid level is just a bit low.” She didn’t sound worried. We went back to work; the appointment with the consultant wasn’t until Wednesday. That evening I examined my notes; the amniotic fluid chart showed a little cross just outside the boundaries of normal. I did what I know you should never do, and googled it; I read a load of stuff about how it’s virtually impossible to get an accurate reading of amniotic fluid. And about how my measurement, whilst on the low side, was only really ‘borderline’. I downed a pint of water, and another, aware that I was responding to my appalling understanding of biology, but just in case… “And your long back,” Sally pointed out when she got home. “They measure the depth of the pockets of fluid so yours will of course be shallower because they’re spread over a longer back.”
On Wednesday we sat in the waiting room for an hour. The registrar had been held up by a lady who had felt faint in the consultation room. They were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive at the hospital. To take her to the hospital. By the time the paramedics arrived, she was already feeling better and ready to go home. And then it was our turn.
“Ok, so baby growing fine but amniotic fluid low, so we see how it goes. We scan each week and see. We induce at thirty-nine weeks.” It was unfortunate we’d happened upon a registrar who struggled with both her spoken English and bedside manner.
“We want to go to the birth centre,” I said, helplessly. Our local birth centre was more like a spa than a corridor in a hospital. It had dimmed lighting, rooms named after aromatherapy oils, pools, reflexology and a kitchen where Sally could heat up her homemade chicken korma. It was where I was going to burrow down and give birth like an animal in the wild. A place removed from beds, stirrups, epidurals and forceps. And I knew what induction meant. Bed-bound and attached to a monitor, sudden and extreme contractions and thus the likelihood of an epidural and whatever further interventions might follow. “And I don’t want to be induced, I want a natural birth. I’ve got a long back and the measurement is only borderline, isn’t it?” “Okay, induction at forty weeks but no birth centre. Not with complications or induction. You phone if change in baby’s movements.”
Change in baby’s movements. Baby’s movements were totally unpredictable. It varied enormously when and how much it moved. We pointed this out and she gave us a leaflet entitled ‘Your Baby’s Movements’. It was printed in a very large font and told us we should phone the hospital if we noticed any ‘change in baby’s movements’. We went home and I drank a pint of water. And another. And another.
Article: 16th October 2013 by Lindsey, West Yorkshire