As a pregnant woman, surrounded by a birth culture that is obsessed with monitoring the progress of labour, it is hard not to focus on how long labour has lasted and how long and frequent your contractions are.
Yet it appears to me that the habit of ‘watching the clock’ from the first rhythmic twinges of early labour can make the process seem long, drawn out and eventually exhausting.
Every woman’s labour is different to the next and the effacement and dilation of the cervix can happen in fits and starts rather than along a predictable curve, so even if you are closely timing your labour it doesn’t mean you know how far you’ve come or how far you have to go, which is ultimately what all women long to know.
In the world of birth, you hear a lot about long labours, fatigue and lack of progress, which then lead to interventions such as the use of synthetic oxytocin to speed up the labour or epidural anasthesia to enable a mother, who has been labouring for many hours, to rest .
But what if our image and expectations of labour were different? What if, instead of watching the clock or the smartphone app to time contractions, a woman in the early stirrings of labour set her mind on some other absorbing task?
Once again, I share a gem from, you guessed it, Pam England’s work. In both ‘Birthing from Within’ and ‘Ancient Map for Modern Birth’ , she talks about the idea of setting aside a project to focus on when it becomes evident that early labour is starting (which isn’t always easy to decipher).
It could be anything that appeals to you, like baking a cake, knitting or sewing something for the baby, creating a cosy birthing space in your home, gardening – anything that will keep you engaged while your body prepares for the harder work of established labour. When the contractions grow stronger, your mind will naturally and gradually become more internally focussed, your concentration will wain and you may need to do different things to manage the intensity, such as walk, rock, moan, groan, dance, take a shower or use some other kind of pain-coping technique that you find helpful.
If you need to know when to call your midwife or travel to the hospital, timing a series of 3-5 contractions will let you know whether it is time (taking into consideration how far you or the midwife needs to travel, of course).
You don’t need to worry about how many hours early labour has gone on for, rather save your mental and physical energy for the hard work of active labour, in which your instictual mind takes over and your hormones and endorphins enable you to journey through what will be one of the most intense and transformative experiences of your life.
As simple as it sounds, shifting your focus from the clock and wondering how many centimetres your cervix has dilated to getting stuck into an enjoyable task, could be the difference between having a long, arduous labour and transitioning more smoothly into labourland. In birth, nothing is guaranteed but it is worth a try, don’t you think?