About a week before my due date, I was in the change room at the local pool, and a woman in her sixties told me that each of her three babies were three weeks late. I was mildly appalled and silently certain that she must have had her dates wrong or some deep-seated psychological issues about being a mother. Being the nerd that I am, I had four years of data on my ovulation cycle. I was pretty confident about the dates.
I wasn’t expecting to be on time. I knew that first babies are typically a week late. Besides, friends of ours were getting married a week after my due date and I wanted to be at the wedding. I had “talked” with the baby, asking him to stay put a little longer so that mommy can have one last hurrah. I was more than happy to still be pregnant at that event.
Edging into to my second week post-date, I began actively trying to get the prostaglandins flowing. I broke out the evening primrose oil. I drank litres of red raspberry tea. I began obsessively chanting “open, open, open” while doing dishes. And, well, there was more sex involved trying to get that baby out than there ever was to get that baby in.
Ten days post-date I asked the doctor to sweep my membranes, but my cervix was still so closed she couldn’t even reach it. She brought up the idea of induction, explaining that they do not like to wait any longer than two weeks at the most. I knew this would come up, and I was armed with statistics about the effects of medical inductions against an unripe cervix. I said that as long as there was no indication that baby was at risk, I would like to wait to see what my body would do.
I had a lot of faith that my body would birth this baby when the time was right. Having been a birth story junkie throughout most of my pregnancy, one lesson I had garnered was that I needed to surrender to the birth process and the wisdom of my body. The previous three years had been a time of major revolution in my relationship with my body. In response to a diagnosis of severe arthritis in my hips, I had really adopted a wellness perspective and established a serious yoga practice. Feeling I had made progress in embracing my body’s capabilities and limitations, I began to regard the impending birth as a sort of a test of how far I had come.
Also, because midwives are not available in my community, obsessive research became my coping mechanism. I knew the risks associated with post-date deliveries, but also felt that the medical model of childbirth often emphasizes risk over natural variation. I knew that there were some respected midwives out there who say that some babies just need to cook a little longer.
The doctors started sending me to the hospital obstetrics unit every day to check the baby. The measures were always good. However, with every visit, there was a different doctor on call. Every day, I had to listen to a new lecture on the risks of post-dates deliveries and reiterate my desire to let my body initiate my birthing time. This repetition was the most stressful part of the wait. If it weren’t for the critical information on baby’s health I got at the hospital, I would have just locked myself in my room.
By the time the two week mark rolled around, it was a Sunday, and they don’t do inductions on the weekend. Come Monday (Day 15), still no sign of go-time, and I consider it a minor victory that I was able to stall by “agreeing” to come in to be induced two days later if nothing happened.
Was continuing this stressful, soul-sucking battle against medical induction on the premise of trusting my body surrendering? Or was surrender recognizing that societal circumstances and medical opinion just did not support this experiment in body wisdom and letting myself be induced?
I spent the next two weepy days begging my cervix to open and playing a lot of Scrabble with my husband, who had taken time off work to wait with (read: distract) me. At this point, the composure I had maintained throughout most of my pregnancy was not just crumbling but outright imploding. I was venturing into uncharted territory — I couldn’t find a single birth story from which to take comfort.
I began to question which course of action actually constituted surrender. Was continuing this stressful, soul-sucking battle against medical induction on the premise of trusting my body surrendering? Or was surrender recognizing that societal circumstances and medical opinion just did not support this experiment in body wisdom and letting myself be induced? I did not feel that I was unnecessarily risking my baby for some pie-in-the-sky ideal. If any of my daily measures of baby’s health had been off, I would have put the IV in myself. However, I was being crushed by the weight of the question of how far was I willing to take this charade.
On Wednesday (Day 17), after a sleepless night, we went in to the hospital feeling anxious and defeated. As we were waiting, my husband told me that he would not think any less of me if I gave in, but that he supports me either way. I could see, though, that he was also weary. I was beginning to think I should end this ordeal, but when the doctor on call displayed about as much bedside manner as a bulldog, I balked.
They called in the overseeing obstetrician to talk to me, ostensibly to convince me. However, he pretty much acknowledged I was in a gray zone that they almost never had to deal with, since most moms are happy to get things rolling by this point. He said that as long as the baby’s heart rate and movements, my fluid levels and blood pressure continued to be normal, we could probably take it day by day. I felt somewhat vindicated, but braced myself for more waiting.
Luckily I didn’t have to wait much longer — or so I thought. When the waves finally started rolling after I went to bed that night, I willingly welcomed each one, focusing on the self-hypnosis techniques I had been practicing. I was thrilled that the waiting was over, thinking I would probably meet my baby sometime later that day. Wrong. The next morning (Day 18), on the way to the hospital for the daily check in, the contractions petered out. For the rest of the day. The next night and day (Day 19)? Repeat.
By Saturday (Day 20), after three sleepless nights, the contractions finally started lasting through the day, but it still felt like they were just toying with me. I was exhausted and scared that this was going to compromise my ability to stay focused when things really picked up. At the hospital, the doctor on call recommended a morphine shot saying that if this was just pre-labour, it would suppress the contractions and help me sleep for a few hours. Though reluctant, I knew that I desperately needed some rest. I took the shot and went home to bed. The good news was that the contractions were legit and persisted. The bad news was that in addition to not being able to sleep, I was now unable to focus. This was most distressing.
When we called the doctor to report what was going on, she said to come back to the hospital. We packed our bags this time, hoping that we wouldn’t have to make another trip. What was the measurement of my “progress” after two days of contractions? ONE FREAKING CENTIMETER! At this point the doctor recommended Cervadil, a vaginal prostaglandin insert they normally use as the first stage of induction, to help speed up the dilation process. Suddenly, surrender took on a whole new meaning. The fact that my body had technically initiated birthing on its own combined with my sheer exhaustion allowed me to be at peace with accepting the drug. An hour later, things were in full swing and I spent the next twelve hours in and out of the shower in the birthing room, with my husband being everything I needed him to be.
How could my beloved, trusted body be sending me signals to push before it was ready? How could my body put me through three days of labour and not live up to its end of the proverbial bargain?
By early Sunday morning (Day 21), I was mercifully overwhelmed by the urge to push. FINALLY! But when the doctor checked me, a grave and troubled look came over her face. I was completely shocked to learn that I was only at four centimeters. Utter disbelief. How could my beloved, trusted body be sending me signals to push before it was ready? How could my body put me through three days of labour and not live up to its end of the proverbial bargain? What was going on?
As a nurse was teaching me a horse-type breath to counter the urge to push, I overheard someone whisper c-section. Between breaths, I asked if there is anything I can do to avoid one, and the answer was surprisingly welcome: “We could try an epidural.” Without at trace of regret, I nodded my head and submitted to the onslaught of instrumentation. Blood pressure cuff on one arm, IV on the other, needle in my back, fetal monitor on my belly. The whole shebang. The waves started coming faster, but feeling more distant as the epidural began to take effect. The nurse told me that I probably had several hours before the big event, so I sent my husband back to our room for a nap.
A mere hour-and-a-half later, I knew it was time. It took a bit of convincing to get the nurse to check me, but when she did she barked to an aid “Get the doctor, this baby is crowning!” I added, “And get my husband while you are at it!” The very power of the earth was coursing through me and nothing my body has ever done felt so completely liberating as pushing out my baby. Twenty minutes later, on Day 21, I joyously pushed out my healthy, beautiful boy. The wait was finally over.
What I have realized is that I was perhaps confusing the idea of trusting my body with the idea of surrender. Bodies are wondrous things, capable of so much, but they are not perfect.
Did I pass my test? Maybe, but it certainly wasn’t the last hurdle on the path to body wisdom. I am happy that I was able to protect my body’s right to initiate birthing on its own terms; yet the overall experience of childbirth and subsequent experience of chronic low milk supply actually brought on a whole other suite of issues related to trusting my body. Why did I get the urge to push when I was a mere four cm dilated? Why, despite excellent postpartum support and breastfeeding advice, was I unable to produce enough milk for six months? These are questions I still struggle with.
What I have realized is that I was perhaps confusing the idea of trusting my body with the idea of surrender. Bodies are wondrous things, capable of so much, but they are not perfect. Surrender in this case did not mean grasping blindly to the limitations of my body’s functions, but rather it was a matter of dropping my resistance to the larger context in which my body was operating.