I don’t know much at all about human anatomy (I blame it on dropping Biology early) but, when it came to the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I remember becoming obsessed with having what I called a ‘walking birth’.
I’d watched (with one hand over my eyes in parts) One Born Every Minute and loved the idea of a waterbirth, but, above all, I had a really strong aversion to lying down at any point in my labour – if I could help it.
I figured that the idea of lying down to give birth was a quite first-world one and it just made no sense to me. I was born in Zimbabwe and, in my head, at least, I had a feeling that other places in the world did birth better: why would you lie down when you’re trying to move something that’s up there, erm, down and out, so to speak? (Though of course I realise there are many reasons why anything other than a lying-down birth might not be possible or safe for some women.)
I wrote that I wanted to have a ‘walking birth’ in my birth plan and set things in motion weeks before my due date. I wanted to be as active as possible before the birth, too. So, I booked more music gigs than I think I’ve ever been to before (or since) in the couple of months before my baby was meant to come.
I was sleeping in an old gypsy caravan in the middle of a valley in Wales about two weeks before she arrived and had tickets to see a band (in London) the night she was born (I didn’t go, obvs).
I just had it in my head that, the more upright I was, the more likely gravity would help me get my baby in the right position for an easier delivery.
About 3 weeks before my due date, I visited my mum on the other side of town on a Saturday, having finished work to go on maternity leave the day before.
As we came to say goodbye, she felt my stomach and told me my baby was ready to meet the world.
I laughed it off – it was 14 August and my due date wasn’t until 4 September. First babies often come late, I’d been told, so I was sure I had a few more weeks to go.
But she was right. My waters broke at 4am that night. I went to hospital straightaway, where I was examined and told to come home. Contractions should start naturally, they said. And so they did, later that day.
Don’t sit down
By around 9.20pm on the Monday, I was in hospital, where they examined me and told me I was only 1cm dilated. I was shocked, as the contractions were close and painful (which was why we’d decided to come in).
I was told they wouldn’t take me on the delivery ward yet and was specifically advised NOT to go home as I might be tempted to sit down or stay still.
They told me instead to walk around -– around the grounds of the hospital, around the surrounding areas, wherever I could think to walk.
I didn’t realise it at the time but ,when I look back now, I’m guessing they read about my wishes for a ‘walking birth’ and took what I wanted seriously.
I walked around London’s Hackney with my partner, in agony, for around 1 hour before returning to the maternity ward. This time, the nurse refused to examine me at all.
She said I could only be 2cm dilated now and I was to go out and walk around again. At this point, she gave me 2 paracetamol – the only pain control I would have throughout.
We returned to the maternity ward at around midnight, having spent the previous couple of hours walking round a drizzly Hackney where, ironically, about 3 pub owners had called out as they saw us walk past and asked if I needed an ambulance.
This time I got examined quickly. I remember the shock as the midwife told me the baby was ready to come out. Two nurses ran on before me to fill the birthing pool.
What happened next was QUICK. I remember pulling my dress off and getting into the pool. It was around 12.15am.
I felt every single push and finally Bodhi Rae was born. It was 12.39am.
My notes have recorded my labour as 2 hours 14 minutes. I’m guessing this was my ‘active labour’ time – which is measured from when you’re about 4cm dilated till you give birth. The average active labour time for a first-time mum is around 6.5 hours. My husband told me the next day that the midwives were in shock at how quickly my daughter arrived.
When I tell people about my birth, I say it was a water birth but, in fact, as I wasn’t really in the pool for very long, I think the walking was the key to the way it unfolded.
For some time after the birth, I was actually kind of annoyed at the midwives for sending me away when I was in such pain. But as the weeks and months rolled on, I came to decide I’d actually been very, very lucky that they’d really listened to what I wanted – and that it had worked for me in an amazing way.