Over the last two weeks 3 of my women were due to give birth – at home.
A is a 30 year old who was having her first baby. She wanted a homebirth as she is frightened of hospitals.
B is a 31 year old, also having her first baby. B decided on a homebirth after having an entirely normal, ‘easy’ (her words) pregnancy.
C is a 34 year old, she already has a 2 year old who was born in hospital following ‘an awful experience’, with a cascade of intervention and a ‘control freak of a midwife’.
At 41 weeks pregnant, with the birthing pool up and waiting in the sitting room, A had a stretch and sweep. The examination discovered that the cervix was central, effacing and 2 cms dilated with baby’s head -2 above the ischial spines. For a few hours afterwards A reported that she was feeling sightly uncomfortable, but then everything settled back down. 2 days later a second stretch and sweep was performed, with very similar findings except that the baby’s head had descended to the level of the spines. A was now 9 days past her due date, so a date was made for an induction of labour when she would be 40 weeks + 12 days.
At 11am on the scheduled day A, tearfully, made her way to the maternity unit. On admission a cardiotocograph (CTG) was performed to assess the wellbeing of baby. Once it was demonstrated that baby was doing okay a vaginal examination was performed, a Bishops Score estimated and a prostin pessary inserted, it was 1pm. Following a second CTG A went for a walk and tried to relax, nothing was happening. At 7pm the whole procedure was repeated, her partner and Mother stayed with her until 10pm and then left (hospital policy) to await a phonecall. By 2am A was experiencing regular contractions but was coping well using a TENs machine and wobbling on an activity ball. 6am saw A no longer coping with contractions, a vaginal examination discovered that the cervix was now 6ms dilated and baby’s head was now -1 below the ischial spines, an artificial rupture of membranes was performed and A as given pethidine. At 10am a vaginal examination was performed, hospital guidelines indicate that 4 hourly vaginal examinations should be performed during induction of labour to assess progress, at this time the findings were the same as 4 hours previously. A was very upset by the lack of progress, despite regular contractions, and when told that the next move would be to start a syntocinon infusion she requested an epidural, after an hours wait for the anaesthetist, he was in theatre, an epidural was sited and then the synto was started. 3pm, a vaginal examination by a doctor estimated that the cervix was now 9cms dilated but he detected that baby was trying to come out with it’s back to Mum’s back, direct occipito-posterior, he also believed that baby’s head was not tucked down with it’s chin on it’s chest, instead it’s head was deflexed. He decided that baby was not going to succeed in being born vaginally and so A gave birth to her baby boy, weighing 8lbs 12ozs, by caesarian section.
41 weeks pregnant and the super, heated, filtering birthing pool had been inflated and filled for a week. A stretch and sweep was performed and the findings suggested that labour was not imminent, the cervix was posterior, long and only 1cm dilated, baby’s head was -3 above the spines. An induction was scheduled for 2 days later and all started as with A. The first prostin worked wonders though and 6 hours after it was inserted B was taken to labour ward to have her waters broken (ARM). Within the hour her contractions had started and her TENs was pulsing away, 5 hours later, after much marching, she gave birth to her son who weighed in at 8lbs 10z and 6 hours later they went home.
At nearly 36 weeks I couldn’t be sure that baby was coming head first so A went to hospital for a scan, baby was head down so her homebirth was booked. 4 days later A experienced sharp pain in her uterus so self-referred to the maternity unit where they performed a CTG. The doctor who reviewed it felt that it was non-reactive and believed that baby was small-for-dates so, as a result of these two findings, suspected intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR), an USS and doppler was arranged for 2 days later. C was on tenterhooks. The scan and doppler were performed, plus a repeat CTG, and all was reassuring, baby wasn’t huge but was estimated to currently weigh about 5lbs 8ozs. C was now 37 weeks pregnant, it was all systems go for a homebirth and so…..the pool was inflated.
2 days later and C experienced a few trickles of fluid. A community midwife visited, performed a speculum examination to try and assess if her membranes had broken, they had, and a vaginal swab was taken to exclude the presence of infection. The following morning the on-call midwife contacted C, there were no contractions and the membranes had now been ruptured for nearly 24 hours so C was asked to make her way into the maternity unit for augmentation of labour by syntocinon infusion plus the administration of intravenous antibiotics as once the membranes have broken there is a risk of infection to the baby. C refused, but did agree to attend the hospital a have a CTG to check that baby was okay. The risk of prolonged rupture of membranes was explained to C, but she opted to return home and await events.
36 hours after her membranes had first started leaking C’s contractions started. She contacted the on-call midwife who came round to assess the situation. It was 4am and when C was examined the midwife found that the cervix was 2cms dilated and long, C was advised that labour was not yet established. The midwife stayed for an hour and, believing that C was only in early labour, went back to bed. C was finding the contractions difficult to cope with so had a warm bath. Within half an hour she decided that, if this was early labour and that there were still hours to go (as the midwife had told her), then there was no way she could do it without an epidural so she, her husband and their 2 year-old son set off for the hospital, 20 minutes away. Halfway there C realised that baby was coming, quickly and told her husband to pull over. He told her to hang on as they were nearly there, with that C felt the baby’s head being born so screamed at her other half to stop, NOW! He did, and their son, weighing 5lbs 7ozs, was born in a lay-by. An ambulance took C and baby to hospital for a quick check over, all was well, and 4 hours later they were driving back past the lay-by where baby entered the world.
Why write about these 3 births. Well, all were booked homebirths, but not one actually gave birth at home. None of the examinations before labour gave any indications of when, or if, labour might start. In fact the examination which appeared to give the most positive sign of readiness to labour was A, who ended up with a caesarian section. What does this show? That there are no rules, patterns or predictive measures as far as labour and birth is concerned and that birthing pools are very popular!