Examining the Contract

I have been asked to write about the thought processes behind some of my birth choices. I’d love to detail every decision and all of the research behind each, however, I am a busy mum of two and do not have weeks to draft, fact check and reference such a post! What I can do is highlight a few key aspects and talk about them in general terms.

No VEs. Vaginal examinations are often thought of as an essential part of labour, few women seem to question their use and a great deal of emphasis is placed on “knowing” how dilated a woman is, both by health care providers and by many mums. The fact is that the use of routine VEs is not evidence based. Experts in normal birth agree that women do not dilate in a linear fashion and that time limits placed upon birth are unrealistic and have no place in normal birth. How dilated you are at any given examination tells you nothing about how quickly your labour will progress and some, notably Ina May Gaskin, speculate that the vagina behaves as other sphincters in the body and can actually close up upon intrusion.

For women planning a hospital birth or a water birth in or out of hospital, they will be led to expect VEs in order to assess whether they are in “established” labour or not and whether they are “allowed” to get into the pool. The whole idea of latent and established labour is undermining. It implies that women in the early stages of labour do not need or are not entitled to support and for women experiencing a long latent phase, repeated examinations with little to no progress can be extremely demoralising. As for getting into the pool, it is thought that getting in too soon can slow down labour. Well so what? If that does happen then surely she can just get back out of the pool. Besides which, what is the rush, exactly? Women birthing at home with a pool should feel free to use that resource as and when they feel the need for it. They do not need permission to use it.

An experienced midwife should be able to assess the progress of labour without these intrusive examinations, the woman’s behaviour, the noises she is making, the dark line that extends up from the anus and up the back and even the smell in the room are all signs that midwives can look for to give them an idea of how the birth is unfolding.

I have to emphasis at this point that about six or seven hours into my second labour, all the signs pointed towards a very imminent birth. I laboured in much the same state for another twelve hours before consenting to a caesarean. So these signs are not always reliable, but I would argue that they are no less reliable than VEs and in a normally progressing birth they are probably more reliable.

On a personal note, I felt that VEs were the cause of my first caesarean. I had intended to decline them, knowing how pointless they generally are, however when I was in labour I was told that I “had to” have them every four hours and I wasn’t in a state to refuse. Had I had a doula who could have reminded me that I didn’t want them and that I was entitled to refuse then perhaps that birth would have been different. I was having a long and intense latent phase, it took me twelve hours to reach 4cm. Each examination was painful and intrusive, disrupting my labour and crushing my confidence. This was reason enough for me to decline them second time around.

I did, however, ask for them when I was in labour because I knew that something was not right and I knew that some useful information might be gathered from one, such as the baby’s position, which can be found by the feel of the skull plates. I had to work quite hard to persuade my midwife that I really did want to be examined. She knew how strong my feelings on the matter were and she, quite rightly, wanted to make absolutely sure that I wanted one. I asked her not to tell me how dilated I was, I knew this information was irrelevant, but I needed to know if there was a reason why I had been pushing for hours already and felt no closer to birthing my baby.

No induction or augmentation. As a woman with a previous caesarean under my belt, the risk of uterine rupture was a hot topic. The real risk is tiny, 0.2%, but the use of drugs to induce or accelerate labour dramatically increase that risk. Even without a uterine scar, there are risks associated with this intervention, chiefly foetal distress. There are very few good reasons to induce labour, in my opinion. As long as the pregnancy is straightforward, and even some complicating factors warrant only a watch-and-wait approach, then there is no reason to interfere. I certainly wouldn’t accept induction for going “overdue”. You can see what I think about the length of pregnancy here.

As far as I am concerned, there was no good reason to augment my labour. Either birth will unfold in its own time, or urgent assistance is needed. My first labour was augmented. I was persuaded that my body wasn’t up to the task and I needed help to “coordinate” my contractions in order for my cervix to dilate. I begged for time, I really did not want to open myself up to all of the risks associated with the use of syntocinon, but I was bullied into it, told that my body had had plenty of time already and was clearly failing.

I can see how the use of synto has become so common, it is very normal for women to not labour well in hospital, the conditions are so far removed from those needed for birth to unfold naturally. In some situations augmentation may help to undo the damage caused by transferring into hospital, but for me, planning a home birth, this was irrelevant. I was only going to be going into hospital if me or my baby were in danger and needed immediate assistance.

Leaving the cord alone. I planned and had a lotus birth. I recognise that this is an extreme most people will not be interested in, however, the principle of leaving the cord in tact at least until it stops pulsating, is one that is gaining popularity. Research now shows that babies whose cords are cut prematurely are deprived of up to half of their blood volume and are more likely to be anaemic, suffer brain damage or develop autism. In a straightforward birth there is no reason whatsoever to interfere with this process and doing so is potentially very harmful. Where my view is considered a little more radical is in the belief that even in a complicated birth, leaving the cord alone is possible and even advisable. If a baby is compromised at birth then it needs all of the blood and oxygen that it can get, cutting the cord deprives them of both. Many people seem to be under the impression that a nuchal cord, that is, when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, is an emergency situation and that cutting the cord is necessary in cases when it is tightly wrapped. This simply isn’t true and this article explains why.

I’ll leave it there for now, but if there are any other aspects of my Birth Contract that you would like to know more about, please comment and I will do my best to explain my reasoning. Thanks for reading.

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