At 39 weeks and 3 days, a strange air of expectancy has settled over the Heathen household. Although I have treasured every moment of this much longed for pregnancy, I am increasingly uncomfortable, and anxious to meet this as yet unknown little being, who seems to spend much of his or her time kicking me under the ribs or else bouncing up and down on my bladder. Our tradesmen, who have heroically re-arranged their work schedules so as to do as much of the outstanding work on the house as possible before my due date, greet me every morning with the words, 'so you're still here, then.' I have had a couple of bouts of what feel like bad period pains, ensuring that Mr H is on a permanent state of high alert (he is now thankfully at home after several weeks away in London, although hogging the home computer after breaking his laptop - hence the blogging silence). My hospital bag is pretty much packed, my birth plan written, and labour is suddenly starting to feel something that I will - no matter what the outcome may be - definitely experience, rather than a mere hypothetical.
It strikes me that there are two very different ways of approaching giving birth. Either you can see it as something messy, bloody, painful and potentially dangerous, which needs to be sanitised away as much as possible; or you can view it as one of the most profound things you will ever experience as a woman. Within western culture, birth, like death, has become something from which we are largely insulated - for most of us, our own labour is the first we will experience – yet both are an inevitable part of the life cycle. Given our long struggle with infertility, conception became a hugely medicalised event – what is generally a private act instead required the intervention of doctors, nurses, embryologists and anaesthetists; what is generally an invisible bodily process was instead played out on screens for all to see. It is perhaps for this reason that I would like my birth to involve as little intervention from the medical profession as possible.
It is, however, a fine line to tread. As much as I want to trust my own instincts, and to believe in my body’s ability to birth my baby, I am also aware that sometimes things do go wrong, and that urgent medical intervention is required – for some women, having a Caesarean section is not a question of being ‘too posh to push’, but a life-saving procedure. Too many of the women in my yoga class appear to see the medical profession as the enemy, and determined to have a home birth, even when they have been warned that they are at risk of significant complications.
All of this does, of course, come down to a matter of personal choice; any woman will labour best in the environment in which she feels safest. But, having been through so much to get to this point, I am not willing to put either my baby or myself at what I feel to be unnecessary risk. If things go according to plan, I am hoping to give birth in a midwife-led birthing centre, which to me feels safer than a home birth. We went to look around the centre a couple of weeks ago, and both felt very comfortable with the level of care they offered. There has been much adverse publicity about the provision of maternity services within the NHS – basically, there simply aren’t enough midwives to go round, and postnatal care in particular is patchy to say the least. At the midwife-led centre, however, I am guaranteed one-to-one care during labour and delivery, which isn’t the case in my local hospital, where the chances are that one midwife will be trying to look after two, or even three, women at a time. I will also have my own private bathroom facilities (call me picky if you like, but I don’t particularly want to be trekking off down a hospital corridor in order to visit the loo in the middle of labour). Where our local hospital has only one birthing pool, each of the labour rooms at the centre has a pool. If things do go wrong, I will be a short ambulance ride away from hospital, during which time I will be accompanied by the midwife who has been looking after me up until that point. Although I had to sign a form accepting that I had understood that I was at increased risk of having to transfer to hospital owing to my advanced age(!), this seems a small price to have to pay for what seems a far more personal and homely experience.
So now, all we have to do is wait.