Navel gazing

This term must have come about from watching pregnant mums! One of the real delights of pregnancy, especially from about the fourth month, is the simple activity of taking a short time for yourself and sitting quietly with your hands resting on your belly, feeling your baby moving. Sometimes you can feel the gentle movements of tiny hands as they flutter about. Inside there, your baby is doing their own yoga or aerobic exercises. They already know that it feels good to stretch and exercise. Sometimes you will feel a much bigger movement — a strong, sharp shove — obviously a kick.

One mother we know had taken to resting her lunch plate on her belly (at seven months pregnant, she was very large). One day, her baby kicked it clear off, scattering sandwiches over her lap and on to the floor.

Some babies are downright squirmy and it’s like carrying a puppy in your cardigan. Then they will turn over and stretch, like a cat getting comfortable for a nap, before sleeping quietly for a time. A good place to see these movements is in the bath, where the baby will twitch and move and change the shape of your belly quite markedly, especially in the last few months. Try to work out where the baby’s head is and which way the body is pointing.

Partners and children enjoy feeling or seeing the baby. A mother told us, ‘My two children reacted quite differently. One would say: “He’s going to be a karate kicker!” The other would get very parental and say firmly: “Now settle down baby and behave yourself!”’ wonder how women could be unsure of their dates, but my doctor, the ultrasound and I came up with three different due dates, none of which proved very accurate in the event. A visit to my doctor in early May assured me I would not be going into labour for several weeks, as the baby’s head had not dropped. Ian and I decided on a weekend at the coast, several hours’ drive from home. After a day of walking miles along the beach, we went out to dinner, had a good night’s sleep and, at 10 o’clock the following morning, my membranes ruptured.

I had explained this event to many women but, when it happened to me, I was incredulous. I had assumed I would go into gentle labour, spend several hours resting at home, then go to hospital only when I was about to go into second stage. Now I needed to be admitted to hospital as soon as possible. Since the baby’s head was not engaged, there was a possibility of the cord prolapsing and encircling the neck. I felt surprised, disappointed and upset. I also felt debilitated by the water flowing from me uncontrollably.

Contractions began soon after the membranes ruptured and we bundled into the car to begin the three-hour drive to hospital. I timed my contractions, while Ian cursed the wagons slowing our journey. We thought of the hospitals en route, in case I did the unlikely with our first and gave birth rapidly. I kept wondering if there could be another explanation for the flow of amber liquid, if we would feel foolish for cutting short an enjoyable weekend for a false alarm, but I knew in my mind this must be it. Even when one feels prepared for an event and happily anticipates it, the reality can come as a shock.

I was admitted to the labour ward by a sister who said ‘poor thing’ when I told her my membranes had ruptured — sympathy in advance for the long wait I would probably have in hospital. Contractions had all but ceased by this time and I felt that my doctor might do an induction in a couple of days’ time, if no progress was made. I was not keen for this type of intervention and my doctor had assured me he would not implement any treatment I was not happy with. But, at the same time, I was not prepared to put the baby at risk just for the sake of going into labour naturally. I ate a good dinner, not anticipating giving birth in the near future, and at 10 pm I settled down for the night. A bed was made up beside me for Ian, as I hated the idea of him leaving me.

Almost immediately, I began in good labour. Contractions quickly became strong and regular. Sister took my observations, remarking that the contractions were moderate to strong. I was intensely relieved, as I had little idea of my own pain threshold and felt that, if these contractions were mild only, I would be needing some strong pain relief before my labour was over.

At 11 pm, I was moved into the labour room and given the mask. I asked for it to be kept at its lowest setting, as I felt the gas did little, but the diversion of breathing into the machine was effective in reducing the pain. The greatest diversion, though, was Ian, talking to me of things, people and places we loved. He spoke again and again of the day before — walking along the beach together, the sea breeze, the smell of the ocean, the salt in the air and the stray dog which accompanied us for much of the time. This provided a very freeing image, one that saturated my consciousness and engaged my senses. With each contraction, I felt I would have to ask for pain relief, then, as it passed, I felt in control and happy to be working together towards our goal.

The young midwife assured me that the doctor would arrive in time to deliver the baby, despite it being almost 3 am. In turn, I assured her that I had every confidence in her ability to cope were he not to arrive in time. As a midwife, I knew the importance of the patient being as relaxed as possible and I wanted to assure her that I felt happy about her delivering my child. Ian continued to stand by my side, holding my hand and offering encouragement.

Just as I felt the overwhelming urge to push, the doctor arrived and, following a few more contractions, the baby’s head was delivered. I knew from training that sometimes it’s necessary to receive an episiotomy, and so I was not unhappy to receive a small incision. I was helped to sit up, so that I could see the baby’s head — a slippery ball of blood and vcrnix — it was just beautiful. One more push and our baby was born. We had told the midwife earlier that we had only one name picked out — nothing for a boy — and so, as she was delivered, the midwife did not announce: ‘It’s a girl’ but: ‘It’s Amy!’ It was 3 am on a beautiful Mother’s Day.

Ian and I had the baby girl we had hoped for, alive and well. She was three weeks ahead of schedule though, judging by her appearance and lung power, not at all premature. She was immediately checked over by the midwife, then handed to me to be put to the breast. Ian and I were in tears as we held our beautiful bundle. The placenta must have delivered easily, as I was not aware of it coming away. The doctor put a few stitches in my perineum and we were left alone with our child.

Ian climbed up on to the messy, narrow, labour-ward delivery table, lay beside me and held me as I cradled Amy in my arms. I could not imagine a happier, more intimate birth anywhere. We had been richly blessed. It was all over… and just beginning.

Your growing commitment It’s a very important and beautiful time in your life, and a demanding one. There are three aspects to the care of your new baby: 1. Meeting and bonding with your baby as a separate person. 2. Your growing commitment, expressed through the practicalities of day-to-day care. 3. The fun of giving your baby extra learning and stimulation through play.

TOGETHER AT LAST — THE EARLY MAGIC

In the minutes immediately following the excitement of the birth, parents and babies find themselves wrapped in a cocoon of contentment and well-being. Most hospitals recognise the importance of letting the new family relax and feel in control. Parents should be able to state their wishes and have resources available to help, but otherwise be left alone with their baby.

This is a wonderful time to start tuning in — a process whereby child and parents can make contact, explore each other and realise ‘you are mine, I am yours’. What people do naturally at this time is exactly what’s needed. Left alone, parents and baby might gaze into each other’s eyes. They might gently explore, look at fingers, legs, shape of mouth, softness of hair, listen to each other’s sounds, breathing and murmuring to each other. They smell, kiss, lick and taste each other. The mother’s voice, and the father’s too, will already be familiar to the infant, from the months of stereo exposure inside the womb.

Bonding — the sense of instantly falling in love with a new baby — is a real thing and it can feel like magic. But often bonding doesn’t just ‘happen’ and new parents can feel disappointed. Medical intervention, or a mother being unconscious or too tired to really be aware at the time of birth, can interrupt the bonding process. We have to start actively building a bond, which will help us grow to like the baby and find pleasure in caring for them.