Here is a lovely birth story, a home water birth where the mother laboured instinctively, but, as Senior Midwife Christian Howarth reflects afterwards, one wonders how helpful it is to tell a woman how far she is dilated. Does she need to know when her real question is ‘how much further?’
See what you think:
My husband Chris and I had decided from quite early on in my second pregnancy that we wanted to have the baby at home. My first pregnancy, labour and birth had been fine and so was my second. At our 20 week scan we found out that our eldest son Dylan (now 3), would have a baby brother who we decided to call Conor.
I had started having Braxton Hicks a few weeks before labour started and a few false alarms! We couldn’t believe how different this was from the first time. We had arranged to hire a birth pool which we got while the Olympics were on and Dylan and I would have an evening soak in the birth pool whilst watching the highlights of the day! As I had a lot of lower back ache towards the end of the pregnancy, the birth pool was a godsend and good fun for Dylan too! We also felt it was very important for him to understand that his baby brother would be born at home in the birth pool.
I decided to go for a pregnancy massage a few days before my due date. As I was paying for the massage, I had quite a strong pain but thought nothing of it as I had been having such powerful Braxton Hicks. When I got home from having the treatment, the contractions started. It was 3pm on the Friday afternoon of the Bank Holiday weekend. I decided that I would see how regularly the contractions were coming. They didn’t stop and so I decided to call Chris to tell him to get home. He wasn’t answering his phone so I called my mum (who had finished work that lunchtime and started two weeks of annual leave) and asked her to come. Mum was always going to come and pick our dog Sasha up and take her up to her house but at that point we didn’t realise that she would be in charge of filling the birth pool up in Chris’ absence! Because of the false alarms I had been having, I received a text from Chris explaining he was in the middle of carrying out some training for one of his clients and what was the matter! He soon set back home when he realised that the baby was coming though!
I then called my in-laws who were looking after Dylan and explained that they might want to keep Dylan at their house for the night and rang BRI to explain that I was in labour and wanting them to inform the midwives on call that I was in labour.
I had been attending pregnancy yoga and relaxation classes and so was just breathing through the contractions whilst burning jasmine and clary sage in my oil burner and staying upright. I found swaying my hips really helped and I loved the TENS machine! I knew the contractions were getting closer together and lasting for longer so I rang BRI to ask them to let the midwives know I wanted them to come out. This was about 530pm. They told me to take some paracetomol for the lower back ache which I did.
The midwives arrived about 630pm and took time to read my birth plan while they had a cup of tea. We were chatting and I was still wandering round and pausing to have contractions and resting on Chris for a good hour or so. I then felt that the contractions were getting more intense and I asked the midwife to examine me to see how dilated I was. When I was told that I was 4cms dilated I felt quite concerned and was wondering how else I could speed things up apart from keeping mobile and using the yoga positions. The midwife suggested that she carry out a bit of a stretch which was very uncomfortable as I was lying down. As soon as I was able I got straight up and restarted rocking my hips.
The midwife had definitely worked her magic as then the contractions really stepped up and I felt that I wanted to get in the birth pool. I felt pressure on my bladder which was different from my labour with Dylan and I felt like I was starting to make noises like I was getting ready to push. I kept thinking how stupid this was though as I’d only 10 or 15 minutes earlier been told I was 4 cms. This was now about 750pm.
When I got in the pool, I felt much more comfortable and was kneeling over the edge of the pool holding Chris’ hands. The sensation to push was getting more tempting and I made a joke to the midwives about how this was crazy when I was only part way towards the 10cm! They were very hands off and after a couple more contractions I realised that the noises, the pressure and the urge to push were getting more extreme…..I then saw both midwives putting their plastic aprons on and knew that Conor would soon be born.
After a couple more contractions and bearing down I said that I thought I could feel his head crowning. The position I was in made it very awkward for the midwives to see and they asked me if I could move to a slightly better position but I couldn’t! Instead they asked me to reach down. I did so and could feel his hair wafting about in the water. A couple more pushes and he was out. I guided him to the surface of the water, his big blue eyes looking up at me through the water blinking! It was 835pm and I’d gone from 4cms to giving birth in less than an hour!
When Conor came to the surface, we realised that his cord was round his neck but the midwife soon unhooked it with her fingers. She asked me to give him a bit of a rub to get him to make some noise which I did. He did cry but not as loudly as Dylan had so the midwives cut the cord and then rubbed him with a towel which did the trick.
By 1030pm, the midwives had left us to it and we were sat with a glass of champagne in our lounge, our new baby boy snuggled in our arms.
Christian Howarth Senior midwifery tutor at Huddersfield University reflects:
Well I can’t really comment on the story because I wasn’t there!
Cervical dilatation is an interesting thing isn’t it? Women seem to have been told for years that their cervix has to dilate to 10cms, magic number before the baby can come out. It’s not surprising then that they would ask for a midwife to check dilatation. How sad that she thought she needed to speed things up when she found out that her cervix was four cms dilated. That’s brilliant, that’s halfway there!
You have to look at the whole picture though. Dilatation itself isn’t a particularly good guide – it’s part of the information that may be needed. A midwife would also have to consider how well engaged the baby’s head was, how the head was descending, how strong the contractions were, how long they were lasting, how the woman was breathing, what noises she was making … I think I’d do all that before I thought about examining the woman. What else can you see – any external signs of full dilatation? A show, bulging vulva, the ‘thin blue line’? Do I really need to carry out an invasive examination? Is the woman labouring or in transition? Is she about to give birth? Listen to the woman!
There’s always the worry that an examination will lead to further intervention. Is it necessary to speed things up? It seemed that this woman was in established labour, so why carry out a stretch and sweep? Again, I wasn’t there, so I can’t really comment on that. It is not uncommon for a cervix to dilate very quickly in a second or third labour! Particularly if it’s well applied to the head (or bum). I know this, but I am always hearing stories about it! Women feel disheartened by finding out they are ‘only’ 4cms dilated, and perhaps ask for pethidine or other analgesia – only to give birth half an hour later, doped up, and likely not to remember those first precious moments.
Hope these comments are useful.