In Praise of the Post-Date Baby – Freddie’s Birth at 41 Weeks

“All my babies come early” was a mantra I kept repeating to everyone that asked me when baby was due. “Officially middle of April, but I don’t think I’ll go much beyond 38 weeks.”

Conceived wisdom has it that this is something you don’t do. Put your dates back, never forwards. Except that we had a house move to complete and a business to maternity-proof so psyching ourselves up for an early delivery helped us get the leverage we needed.

But I also really believed it.

Freddie had other plans, though. My date for his appearance – beginning of April – came and went. We were settling into our new home after a stressful move and I was getting impatient. Then we all got ill – sick bug, nasty cold. And I had to deal with a major business related crisis.

And through it all, I was predicted to have a big baby, which wasn’t coming. The spectre of shoulder dystocia was raised, as was the prospect of induction. I have to say, the midwives from the homebirth team at FPH were amazing and never pressured me into anything. In fact, they were very supportive of the fact that I would be declining an induction at 42 weeks as long as baby and placenta were doing well. However, simply talking about these topics knocks your confidence, especially when you’re already clearly wrong about one thing (no, my babies don’t all come early!).

However, with moral support from my sister (a student midwife), the wonderful doula/musician/advocate for all things motherhood Shirley Stump and background reading (highly recommend Sarah Wickham’s In Your Own Time!!), I finally settled into the wait, planned things to look forward to and had a wonderful Easter weekend. Easter Sunday was my birthday, sun-drenched and lovely, but I was bone tired and at night broke down in tears, sobbing “he’s already changed our lives so much and now he’s not coming” and “I just want him to be here and to be ok.” My husband Paul just held me.

Tuesday I went for a pregnancy massage, such a treat! Later that day we painted my bump and had such a wonderful time as a family, it was a really special day. And it felt as if by that time we had all entered a much calmer space as a family after the upheavals of the previous weeks and months.

Wednesday morning – 41 weeks exactly – I placed an order for herbal teas and essential oils that would help ready us for labour, ignoring the fairly regular but painless contractions. Decided to up my intake of dates and so started making a traybake of date and prune squares. However, halfway through, at 11:30, I had to sit on my Swiss ball to get through the contractions. At this point I knew we were in it for real. I cancelled a friend’s visit for that afternoon, Paul called his parents to pick up the children and also called the midwives.

Paul’s parents couldn’t come straight away and the midwives were at another home birth! However, they put the community midwives on the case.

I needed total calm so I retreated to the bathroom upstairs. It has no windows, the lights dim and there are plenty of surfaces to lean on – my perfect cave!

Plus I was past caring about covering the floor in waterproof sheets and Paul was busy keeping the kids calm downstairs.

Music started playing in my head. Not the calm, chilled tracks I’d selected for my birthing playlist, but the first movement of a Bach violin concerto. Energetic, fast-paced, perfect for swaying and rocking my way through contraction after contraction. I found it on my phone and went with it. Being on my own, rocking and breathing my way through each wave was perfect.

The midwife arrived and started setting up. I didn’t even look at her. She was trying to get an idea of how I was doing but by that time I was pretty much past speaking. She suggested a vaginal exam but I couldn’t even answer yes or no properly, so she just got me to stand and lean forward during the next contraction to visually assess me. Turns out I was pretty much fully dilated and she suggested I get down closer to the floor to prevent tearing. That part was difficult because there was also noise coming from the kids downstairs and Paul was helping the midwife get the bathroom set up for the next stage of labour with cushions for me to kneel on on the floor, plus towels, waterproof sheets etc. At one point I said “I wish everyone was just calm.”

I found a fairly comfortable position leaning over the side of the bath. Paul was there behind me now (I found out afterwards that the kids had just been picked up), very gently stroking my back and suddenly I became very loud. With every surge I got louder. From previous births I’d learned to engage my singing voice at this stage to protect my vocal chords. I didn’t know i was capable of being that loud, but I was, and getting louder each time, expanding space from the middle of a circle of white light, not something I visualised, it was just there. I didn’t feel any pain nor even pressure during these surges and even managed to tell Paul in between. But the intensity was insane and building. Time was standing still and with it came the thought “Will this baby never come?”

After a few surges, it felt as if my tailbone was in the way so the midwife suggested moving into a more upright position and now, when she was monitoring the heartbeat – comfortingly strong all the way through – she had to place the ultrasound head lower down. And sure enough, a couple of surges later I could feel the head and with it the urge to push. My waters had already gone with a pop a little earlier and now intensity peaked. Two surges and he crowned, but there was no relief from his head having been born. His body felt big and this time there was no pause between the surges, I just felt the need to keep pushing. All of a sudden he slid out on a gush of water. The midwife was holding his head but the rest of his body slipped out of her grasp and onto the cushioned, towel-lined floor, 1 hour and 15 minutes after I went into established labour.

And there he was – in that moment he became real – from lumps moving around inside me to real body. Gray head and pink body, a little mouth gasping, dark hair, cord wrapped tightly around his neck, once or twice? I don’t remember. I helped the midwife unwind the cord but at no point was there a sense of panic or alarm, he was moving and the cord was clearly still supplying him. But he was also trying to find his lungs and once the tightness was gone he did so with gusto!

He’d also managed to wrap the cord around his middle so we had a little more unwrapping to do before I could hold him.

All the time, because of the constricted space, Paul was behind me, supporting, encouraging, stroking me. His presence was such a rock to me. Now, because of the lack of space and because even dimmed lights were too bright for Freddie, he helped me move onto the bed in it darkened bedroom. In the dark, Freddie opened his eyes wide and became very calm. He made eye contact with both of us, looking back and forth between us, then latched on and stayed there for quite some time!

I needed a couple of stitches, simply to keep a couple of small labial grazes from potentially joining up wrongly during the healing phase. That bit was unpleasant but soon over.

When Freddie finally got weighed and measured, the reason for the intensity of the birth became apparent: he weighed a whopping 9lb8oz/ 4.3kg and had a head circumference of 38cm!

I would feel this during the following days; quite apart from the after pains being more severe than before, this time it felt as if a truck had run through my insides, something I don’t remember from the birth of my other children, all of whom were two pounds lighter than Freddie.

However, I can tell that the extra time spent in the womb served him well. While all my children fed well, Freddie has had by far the deepest latch from the start, he has coped the best with my milk coming in and can take the biggest quantities at each feed, meaning this time round I have virtually no problems with oversupply – bliss! My sister confirms this – the post-date babies she sees are mostly just that bit more mature.

And this made me think – there is virtually no praise for these little troupers out there. Most of the conversation is about how they are late and the discussion centers on the risks involved in being “overdue”, on induction and how to speed things along before the magic date of 42 weeks at which they inexplicably turn into a pumpkin.

But we should be celebrating, not medicalising, the post-date baby!

They of all babies are ready to take on the world. They of all babies can cope with the challenges life is going to throw at them. Yes, they will be bigger and birth will be more intense, but that just strengthens the case for supporting a physiological mode of birthing. Because if you listen to all the common prejudices, I shouldn’t have been able to birth this baby. I’m a clothing size 8, BMI of 16. I have narrow hips and next to no reserves of body fat. I’ve done nothing to get this body type and can do nothing to change it. I have tried, because as much as this body type is glamourised, please don’t envy me; being this underweight has serious downsides. And yet this is the fourth healthy child I have birthed, the fourth quick, straightforward labour.

One of my affirmations for this birth was that my baby and my body are perfect for each other. And they were. My body nourished Freddie to perfection and he navigated the birth canal like a pro. And the time Freddie chose for being born was perfect. He rode out the storm of all the upheavals in our family safe inside me. He waited till everything had subsided, till there was calm, till all the adrenaline had gone from my body.

And if reading this will help even one other woman find the calm place in the waiting then that would make me beyond happy!

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