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Etching the Birth Plan

It’s getting nearer. That there due date. I’m still without crib, newborn diapers and teeny-tiny onesies but we did bring a car seat back from Scotland so at least we can get the baby back from hospital, even if it has nowhere to sleep and nothing to wear.

But while new baby paraphernalia hasn’t been uppermost in my mind, a birthing plan has been. Between it, my bladder and Number Two playing at rock DJ in utero, the night’s no longer for sleeping.

If I was having my baby in the UK where I had my first, it would be easier to etch a plan. I know what I like and didn’t, I’m familiar with pain-relief methods that worked and I could expect well-fired toast and a cup of tea post delivery.

But in the US, things are so very different. Here, the labour suite at the hospital is full of doctors, not midwives and there is a whole new menu of drugs to familiarise with. I expect there’s not a lot of tea around either....

The use of maternity Tens machines for a drug-free, early labour is a big thing in the UK. These little devices which come with four pads that stick to your lower back transmit electric pulses which block the pain signals to your brain, so providing much needed relief. The sensation is a little like pins and needles and you’re in control of it - you can increase or decrease pulse intensity at the start of another contraction by fiddling with the controls.

I would not have been without it last time around. My contractions started in earnest at around 10pm the night before Eliza was born, when we strapped on my hired Tens machine. I sent Husband N and the cat to bed and spent the night listening to the radio and on my feet, against the wall every five minutes as it was impossible to lie down with the pain.

The Tens was a very welcome distraction and by the time we went to hospital 12 hours later, the controls on it had been fiddled to almost electric shock status. It might sound nuts, but it was blissful compared to what was going on ‘down under’. I was found to be 5cm dilated and put it all down to that wee machine.

Then came yet more drug-free pain relief. I was offered ‘gas and air’ or Entonox to give its proper name. A mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide, I inhaled it through a mouthpiece at the start of another contraction. There are of course very highbrow, scientific explanations for how this works – but for me, it was like a champagne buzz. It didn’t stop my pain but together with the Tens machine, it provided the relief and distraction I needed to notch up another few centimetres.

And so to the drugs. As I’ve blogged before, I hoped to give birth in the birthing pool. At 8cm I took the decision to remove the Tens and get into the pool but after labouring on my feet all day and all of the previous night, I was simply exhausted. The water wasn’t doing anything for me.

Upset and in terrific pain, I opted for diamorphine – a powerful, pain-relieving drug. This took the edge off the pain enough that I could relax and recharge my batteries for ‘push’ time. It worked beautifully. By the time I came to pushing, I felt energised and powerful, like Wonder Woman without the glamour and big hair.

After sharing all this with my US midwife, she’s suggested I try the drug Nubain as it seemed the closest equivalent to diamorphine. I’ve researched it online and though it seems widely used, the jury’s out on its efficiency. A lot of women complained that it made them sick, too woozy and out of control. Interestingly, these were all things that were said about the side-effects of diamorphine too and I personally experienced none of them.

However I did have a slow, frustrating start to breast-feeding. Drugs as powerful as these do affect your unborn baby and although Eliza had excellent Apgar scores, she was drowsy and slow to feed. This led to a really tricky time as we tried to establish breast feeding which I’ll blog about later. Of course there’s no way of knowing whether it was due to the drugs or just down to difficulty latching on but regardless it’s left me lashed with guilt.

The thing is, I want so much to be mobile while in labour. That’s why epidural doesn’t appeal – I don’t like the thought of lying down when the laws of gravity say it’s an easier passage for all concerned to be upright when giving birth.

So, this time I’ve bought my own Tens machine from a UK company which will ship to the US. ‘Gas and air’ I think I’ll have to do without. I toyed with smuggling it through in my luggage from Scotland but the three foot canister may have given me away.

I’m still undecided about my drug options.  For those of you who used them, please share your birth stories with me! I’m particularly interested in any experiences you might have of using Nubain or Demerol – the good, bad and ugly....