She´s crying. Lately she’s been crying a lot. But why? 38 weeks pregnant, for the second time, of a healthy baby, everything going well. She cries because she has no “signs.” Signs of labour. There is nothing to indicate that things are about to begin – nothing visible, palpable, reportable anyway.
The ghost of her first birth still hangs, she feels traumatized. It all started with an induction before 40 weeks, “because a long weekend is coming, then if you go into labour there may be no one to support you, it will be very complicated.” This statement is ridiculous, to say the least, perverse in its suggestion that she may run out of support, and deliberately made to ensure a hasty decision. But what does a first-time pregnant couple know? They worry who about the possibility of “not having anyone”. They agreed to the induction. The birth did not go “wrong”. Except for the cascade of interventions that took place. Induction / Epidural / Episiotomy / Ventouse. She feels as if her birth has been stolen from her. She regrets it and knows that this time she wants to do go about it differently, she is better informed about the risks of an induction. She knows that the chances of giving birth by caesarean section are increased exponentially and that the contractions of an induction, because they are artificial, are stronger, longer and closer together, giving the baby less time to recover between them and thus, more prone to becoming oxygen and blood restricted. She will also have little chance of not asking for an epidural because of the intensity of the contractions and because this “artificial” birth does not have the natural “cocktail of hormones” like oxytocin (the hormone of Love, which makes us feel calm, empathic and loved); Beta-endorphins (the hormone that is a natural pain relief); Prolactin (the hormone responsible for the production of breast milk that also acts as a natural relaxant, promotes the mother / baby bonding and ignites this vigilance and attention to her “cub”). These hormones, working together, will help her cope with the progress of labour, even bringing some pleasure to her experience. This time she wants to trust her body, and trust that her baby will choose the right time to be born.
The weeks go by and, in her 40 week appointment, there comes the dreaded magic word, the “I” word. It is not addressed as an option, it is not a question. It’s a statement, the obvious next step. “Let’s then book the induction for X day.” And when she says no, states that she prefers to wait, because they have just seen that everything is okay with the baby, they tell her she is irresponsible: “Do you want a dead baby? Is that what you want? I do not want a dead baby! Why not induce, baby is just in there doing nothing at this point! ”
Of course this incident, although real, is an extreme case. Of course not all women are spoken to in such a way, but variations aside, the message is this and it’s clear: waiting longer is not an option. What message do give women, couples, with this impatience? This impatience implies that there is something better that will come later, and that we know better than their bodies. When in fact we may be creating more problems with these interferences. When we act impatiently, we are telling that mother that her body is broken, late, that it does not work, that she is not capable, that she is not good enough and that she is somehow inadequate. This is not a good starting point for a woman that is about to become a mother, this disempowerment and loss of control. The decisions a woman makes during pregnancy and childbirth are the first decisions she makes as a parent to that baby. Do we want to encourage her or put her down scaring her into choosing what is best for this or that institution?
There is a lot of fear around the numbers, the dates. The expected delivery date. Let´s not forget that it is precisely this: a prediction. Not an eviction order, or an expiration date. Why is everybody in such a hurry anyway? In a hurry to kick start the birth. In a hurry to rupture the membranes. In a hurry to see how the dilation is progressing. In a hurry to pull the baby out. In a way it is our culture, this culture of immediacy and speed, but certain things should not be rushed.
Of course, a very different thing is a high risk pregnancy or a baby that will truly be better outside the womb, because it is already showing signs of needing help. This is not impatience, it is acting swiftly and professionally. I mean healthy babies and mothers.
Waiting, letting things ripen, slowing down is something that our present culture has difficulty doing. Induce, book, speed up childbirth, after all what difference does it make? All the difference. And is it really true that the baby is no longer doing anything in his 38th / 39th / 40th / 41st week in the womb? In the last weeks of pregnancy, the mother’s antibodies pass on to the baby. The baby gains weight and strength, stores iron and improves the sucking and swallowing reflex. Its lungs mature, and the baby stores fat that will help it maintain its body temperature during the first few weeks of life. The baby’s maturing and aging placenta fills the mother’s system with prostaglandins that soften the cervix for it to shorten and dilate more easily. Increased estrogen and decreased progesterone heighten the sensitivity of the uterus to oxytocin. The baby goes deeper into the mother’s pelvis in preparation for birth. This final waiting time is not for nothing. When the baby, uterus, placenta and hormones are ready, labour will begin. All this preparation leads to a more pleasurable, possibly more uncomplicated and smooth delivery, and to a full-term baby, who is physiologically stable and ready to nurse from the start. It´s worth the wait. And all women – and babies – have the right to it.