Sunday, 16 January 2011

"They Let Me" Go Overdue

This time three years ago, my first baby was just a few days old.  And I can't help but recall the story, now worn thin with telling, of how she was born eighteen days past her 'due date'.

Expected on the 21st December, it was to be a long and more than usually stressful festive season, as the days and nights of waiting wore on.  At a time of year when I was more inclined towards numbing myself with a mixture of socially acceptable 11am sherry drinking and, if that failed, a spot of monstrous overeating, I found myself nearly ten months pregnant and able to do neither.  Ladies and gentlemen, this was The Christmas I Cried.  

When not lying on the sofa surrounded by used tissues, I spent my time eating pineapples, running up and down the stairs, going for bumpy car rides, having acupuncture, and drinking large amounts of castor oil, which, for those of you who are curious, tastes like melted tea lights, and makes you shit through the eye of a needle.  There.  That will teach you to be curious.

I spent a total of eighteen days 'being overdue', getting bigger and bigger, and more and more desperate.  The pressure mounted.  Friends and family became anxious. But it was the obstetricians who were the most twitchy.  From about a week into my gestational marathon, they wanted 'to induce me'.  I was summoned to meet them.  After months of care at the hands of female midwives, it felt strange to be suddenly talking to men-in-suits. As I sat on one side of the desk, and they sat on the other, I had the strange feeling that I had not handed in my homework on time and had been sent to the Headmaster.  They looked rather sceptical, and, did I dream it, faintly amused, when I told them of my planned home birth, and explained to me the risks, mounting daily, of my baby's demise as my placenta rapidly deteriorated.  Their explanations seemed a bit flimsy, but they did not seem to take to being pressed, and I was not on fighting form, being as I was bigger sideways on than I was tall, and teetering on the brink of lunacy.  Did I mention it was Christmas?

After that meeting with the Obs, I spent another week at home trying every form of Quackery that Google could suggest to me.  Oils, potions, lunar phases, meditation, visualisation, hypnosis, birth art, and perhaps craziest of all, sex; you name it, I was at it that week.  I even had four 'Membrane Sweeps' from the midwives. (What's a membrane sweep?  Remember the castor oil.  Don't be curious.)  Nothing worked, and in retrospect, I think most of my frantic efforts were probably counter-productive, and my poor terrified cervix remained clamped tightly shut.  In the end I went to hospital and accepted induction, and my daughter was born on day eighteen.

The funny thing about this story is that very often, when I tell it, I get the same response.  "Eighteen days?  I didn't think they let you go that overdue."  "Erm, well, actually", I reply, "You can, um, do what you like!  It's sort of, kind of, up to you!".  "Really?!", people say in amazement, "I did not know that!".

To me, the language of their statement, "I didn't think they let you", says a great deal about the balance of power in UK maternity units.    In fact, I've noticed that the expression 'they let me', is used a lot by women talking about their birth experiences in general.  How often have you heard it, or used it yourself?  "They let me have a bit more time" "They wouldn't let me have a home birth" "They let me hold my baby straight away" "They let me move around instead of staying on the bed", etc, etc.

What on earth are we thinking talking in these terms?!  It's the 21st century, we are supposed to be 'liberated', and yet here we are, speaking about one of the most important moments in our lives as if the decisions about how it pans out belong almost entirely to someone else!

When a woman gives birth, she should feel at the height of her powers, not beholden to anyone.  She should not have to seek permission from anyone, about where or how she brings new life into the world.  If she feels that she is not the person in charge, how is this going to impact on her ability to birth her baby?  When we are in labour, this is not the time to be conventional, conformist.  This is one of life's moments when we need to play the role of the Hero, not the Victim. We should not have to be looking over our shoulder to see if the midwife, the man in the suit, or even our partner, approves.

And we cannot really blame 'them' if we are .  We need to take responsibility, grow up, take charge.  It is not good enough to keep using this 'language of permission', unconsciously and blindly giving away our power and then complaining when we don't get the kind of birth we hoped for.  From the moment we get pregnant, it should be us carrying the clipboard and asking the questions.  It should be us who are calm, confident, highly informed.  It should be us doing the 'letting'.

As for my story, well, I let them induce me.  Somewhere along the line after that, the balance of power shifted and I met another man in a suit, who delivered my daughter by forceps, and thereafter became known affectionately in my family as Cutlery Ken.  My second daughter was born last summer, twelve days 'late', and for somewhat obvious reasons, I chose to give Ken the day off and stayed at home to deliver her myself.  An interesting side effect of having a home birth is that, because you are on your own territory, your own turf, it is those who attend you who become the permission seekers.  "Would you mind if I used your loo?", "Could I possibly make myself a cup of tea?", and so on.  As the woman giving birth, you remain the most powerful person in the room, and let me tell you my friends, having done it both ways, that is exactly as it should be.

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15 comments:

  1. My hospital had a policy of "letting you" go to 12 days overdue, maximum. Don't know how they enforce it....?
    I went to 8 days overdue... and it was far removed from the birth I'd expected.
    I think 1 reason they have power is because they have the ability to take children off parents.
    But the balance of power and the language used is all out of kilter, you are quite right.
    xxx

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  2. Ah this rings so many bells... I too sit in the office with the man in the suit asking "why arnt you upstairs right now" (meaning being induced)... This was at 5pm on day 12. In the course of our conversation he made the assumption that I was in the medical profession as I had a good understanding of pregnancy and induction - No, I am just a women who isnt going to smile and nod while you make big decisions about how and when my baby should be born without me being part of the decision making process!

    In the end I agreed to an internal examination and he said "there is no way you are going into natural labour in the next week".

    The result?
    Baby Joseph born 9 hours later, at home, naturally.

    Its not the getting it wrong that angers me - its the mans arrogance. Arrogance stops you listening to people and some times other people are right.

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  3. I knew I;d read this before - I was thinking about the own territory power shift comment when weighing up the pros and cons of home birth.

    Which I am inclined to say isn't for me on the whole. I rather enjoy the idea that the really heavy duty drugs are just round the corner should I choose to indulge.

    Although the prospect of being able to browbeat a solitary midwife into surrendering the gas and air before I reach 8cm would be nice. Maybe next time.

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  4. thanks solnushka
    i really think everyone should give birth wherever they feel safest and most comfortable. if that is in hospital that's fine by me!
    xxx

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  5. one of my poor friends was 10 days late, and lost her baby in childbirth, the reason she was given was that the placenta disintergrated and thus lead to her baby girls death, my friend now lectures about NOT going over your due date. it was a truly horrendous time for her, as it was her first baby, it hasn't been a year yet, and her and her husband are still trying for another baby.

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  6. anon, i am so sorry for your friends' loss.
    i can't really comment any further as i don't have the full facts in front of me and i am not a medical expert.
    i wish you all the best.
    xxx

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  7. I love love love this post. As a homebirthing mama who fortunately went into labor ten days past my EDD (the midwives were getting antsy only because they would no longer be allowed to let ME be allowed to homebirth past 14 days overdue) I can testify to the politics at play. You wrote this brilliantly.

    Anon, I am extremely sorry for the loss your friends suffered, but placental disintegration is actually quite rare before 3 weeks over due dates, and still quite rare even then. While I obviously understand where your friend is coming from in warning other mothers against going over their EDD, it's not necessarily a realistic warning. I don't say this to be cruel, but rather as a counterpoint to their fear.

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  8. thank you so much thewretchedpoet x

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  9. When you have felt the intense, never-ending pain of losing your first born because your placenta gave up, you understand why doctors take control. There is a current obsession with the natural, natural approach. I fully back being as natural as possible but there comes a point when your baby's life starts being marginalised. Woman want power. That I get, I'm a woman who doesn't like being told what to do. But power is nothing when your baby dies.

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  10. thank you for this comment anon and i am very sorry for your loss.
    without knowing more about your case it is hard to comment, especially as you do not say how many days 'overdue' you went.
    i have posted your comment to my facebook page, to generate debate around this, and hopefully to get some evidence based info for you. please come and give more details, if you are able.
    thank you for contributing.

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  11. Hear, hear Mule- great post. Love the bit about asking to make tea. I went 11 days over with my first and 12 with my second. That's just how long I cook 'em for and if I have another I won't be traipsing in to hospital next time to speak with a consultant about what he/she will 'let me' do!

    Great blog.

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  12. thank you coldcomfortcrafts! i hope you have a blissful third birth! x

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  13. I'm so glad I went into labour naturally with both of my babies, 12 days overdue for the first and 10 for the second (so was expecting to go overdue that time round!). The 14 day deadline after due date loomed over me both times though! I'm not sure what I would have done if i'd gone over the 14 days - would I have 'let' them? Probably would have with the first, but I was more educated with the second and would have held out with some monitoring I think! :)

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    1. From experience, it is a terribly tough decision! I don't regret 'letting them' induce me as much as I regret 'letting them' whip me up into such a frenzy of negativity, at at time when I needed to believe in myself.
      You live and learn though! x

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  14. Thank you for writing this.... I too have people constantly asking me in shock about the doctors who "let" me stay pregnant until 43 weeks. I always take it as an opportunity to educate a bit - but am never sure how much of my response actually sinks in.
    I also try to remind friends, nicely of course, when they talk about their dr 'letting' them do or not do something, that they are the ones who actually make the decisions.

    We also decided to forgo our home birth and induce labor as we approached 43 weeks. It was a harrowing experience but one that I am proud of owning.

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