Childbirth is the most amazing thing that nature allows us to experience.
Yet it is shrouded in mystery and very much under-appreciated. We all get excited when the new baby arrives but not many people, even those who have gone through the experience repeatedly, have a clue what goes on.
Nature still remains very secretive when it comes to childbirth. Despite advances in research, scientists still haven’t been able to explain the exact trigger of the process of labour. Several theories are well described, but this great wonder still holds out on us.
Once the process of labour begins and there are no complications, it will progress without need for intervention. The main job of doctors and midwives is monitoring the process to ensure it is going on as it should. It is only in about 20 per cent of cases where intervention is needed.
So why is labour still such a mysterious process? In most communities, it is viewed as a women’s thing hence minimal male involvement. It is also a very private affair for the very reason that a woman is at her most vulnerable and requires all the support that can be accorded.
The pain of labour is a special kind of pain. It will progressively get worse until the baby is born and save for an epidural, there hasn’t really been any successful pain therapy to eliminate it. For approximately six hours when the mother is in labour, kindly cut her some slack. She is in a temporary state of intense psychological unpredictability, fully driven by hormones.
Many women will not remember the happenings of the six or so hours of active labour. This is the only time a woman will cry out loud but does not shed a single teardrop. When we see the tears, we get worried. It is not normal!
Even the best prepared mums go through phases of excitement, confidence and calm, feeling that they got this. Then the pain becomes intense, the hormones run riot and the calm is thrown out of the window. Labour ward stories are plenty. I’ve had patients get terribly angry at their spouse, faulting him for making them pregnant and vowing never to let it happen again. Thankfully, this is promptly forgotten once the baby arrives looking so adorable.
There are those who complain of abandonment by family, midwife or doctor, even when they are all there, going about their responsibilities. My friend chased me out of the labour ward for arriving at the hospital late. I thought I should sit out on the corridor so as not to make her any angrier, but she flipped when I walked to the door and asked where I thought I was going. Her doctor didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Some mums get off the bed and prefer the cold floor, some will grasp your hand so tight with every successive contraction that when the baby comes, you are suffering injuries. A few will strip naked at the height of it all and there is no reasoning that will get through to them.
Violence isn’t unheard of. Items have been hurled by frustrated mums, at the very same people trying to help. Self-injury has been inflicted especially on the thighs at the height of a contraction, only for the damage to be appreciated much later when the mum is resting after a job well done.
However, there are those extremely silent ones who don’t make a sound. They hold out for as long as it lasts, taking it like a martyr and the only indication of the fire inside is a creased sweating brow and the slow measured breaths.
This whole process culminates in the delivery of a newborn. The little one has undergone a journey of his/her own. The contractions that occur to expel them put an enormous amount of strain on them. Every contraction temporarily cuts off blood supply to the placenta and hence oxygen supply to the baby.
This is akin to holding your breath as you swim underwater across a 50-metre swimming pool. It translates to a lowering of the baby’s heart rate, hence the need to ‘catch their breath’ once the flow is established, demonstrated by a sudden rapid increase in the heart rate for a few seconds before normal rate is restored.
The mum’s hyperventilation during a contraction is to push in as much oxygen into her own blood stream as possible,so that the baby can have it when the contraction passes.
The most captivating part of this journey is when the baby actually comes out. In a natural birth, with or without your help, that baby will come out! It is a surreal experience to watch this little one instinctively navigate the pelvis, turning the head through a series of angles to best fit each level of the pelvis on the way out. Once the head hits the floor of the pelvis, the baby lifts his head from a bowed position, to look at the world for the first time. They even pause to take in their surroundings as they twist their shoulders to the side and then slip them out of mum one at a time, quickly followed by the rest of the body.
Standing there all gowned, gloved and towel ready in hand, you definitely get the feeling that you are awaiting the arrival of a very important person. Your VIP will slide out all covered in fluid, followed by a gush of blood, but that moment is never to be forgotten. A towel over the face and body to wipe it dry and a wrap to keep them warm and they will take the cue and announce their arrival by letting out a healthy wail. This is the only cry that is sure to elicit a cheer and tears of joy!
Babies don’t wait for us to be ready. They come when they are ready to.
Delivery in the car, at home, on the corridors and on the wayside is not a strange phenomenon. If it happens and you are in attendance, kindly accord our VIP the best possible welcome!