I wrote an article a few years ago that was published in The Practising Midwife and I had cause to re visit it recently when I attended a birth complicated by meconium stained liquor. I thought it would be good to include the article in this blog as it covers so many issues that worry both women and midwives alike, things such as long, stop start labours, meconium, long 2nd stages, infection and prolonged rupture of membranes.....in fact if I had not written it myself I would think it a marvelous reflection of normality.....its a bit long but well worth a read if I say so myself
Reflection on a normal birth
Lindsey had a lovely home birth. Not really unusual and certainly not unusual in the life of an independent midwife. However Lindsey’s homebirth was achieved against so many odds and against so many objections that she would have encountered had she been being cared for under a medical model of care, her birth and the woman herself is well worth calling amazing.
Five days after her estimated due date Lindsey called me around 05.30 to say her membranes had ruptured at 0100 but that the baby was very still and not moving much hence her call so early in the morning. I reassured her that she is not usually awake this early so it may be that the baby is asleep at this hour usually but that I would come and see her immediately.
I arrived to find baby well, with a very reactive heart rate and by now movement was evident. The head was very low in the pelvis, hardly palpable at all with the back laying left lateral. Wonderful I thought!! However when Lindsey showed me her liquor loss there was meconium diluted into it. Meconium can be a sign that baby is becoming hypoxic although not necessarily an absolute indicator. It can be that baby is mature enough to open its bowels. It is important to determine between the two possibilities so that the birth is not only a safe one but also that the labour is not interfered with leading to further complications. I do not automatically advise transfer for a hospital birth where well diluted or old meconium is evident but I do keep a very close eye on the fetal heart and would advise urgent transfer at any deviation from normal. In this case labour had not yet started and we did not know when it might begin and so I advised that a trip to the local hospital for a well being CTG was appropriate.
We arrived at the local hospital where I know many of the midwives and doctors and have good relationships with most. Lindsey had a CTG which was normal, it was reassuring that baby was well and healthy. A Consultant obstetrician on the ward advised immediate induction of labour due to the meconium and ruptured membranes which was no less than the advice we had expected. However Lindsey was aware of the evidence and the risks of induction and so declined and decided to go home to await labour. The midwifery staff were very supportive of Lindsey’s decision to go home and reassured us both we could return if we encountered any problems.
Having had a similar situation in another area a couple of years previously when a woman and I had to fight our way out of the hospital, having encountered terrible coercion and bullying from the midwives to conform to what the medical team where advising, this now was a lovely supportive beginning to what was to be a very unusual labour. To know welcome help was on hand should she need it at a local hospital is reassuring for both woman and midwife.
Relationships are not always easy between Independent Midwives and NHS staff due, I believe, to a lot of myth and misunderstanding of an IM’s role in the care of women. I have however worked hard on building good working relationships with this particular trust and to a large extent have achieved it.
Lindsey went home, and so did I, with a plan for me to visit her at 1700. When I arrived it was to find Lindsey, her husband Ian and her mum all having tea. Lindsey was chirpy but at last was having mild contractions every five minutes. Lindsey and I had shared many antenatal discussions about pregnancy, labour, birth and everything associated and so when I bought up the subject of vaginal examinations she was well aware of the risks both physical and physiological and the limited benefits to be gained. We came to the mutual conclusion there was no clinical indication for any intervention including and especially an invasive examination. We went on to discuss how she may cope with the coming night. We recapped all the issues surrounding meconium stained liquor, in fact both Lindsey and Ian asked relevant question repeatedly which left me in no doubt that at all times they were making very informed choices. All was well physically with both Lindsey and baby and so I left once again to go home to get some sleep.
At 2300 I received a call from Ian to say the contractions were now coming quite strong and regular. When I arrived it was to find Lindsey lying on her side very sleepy on her large bed with her mum chanting relaxing hypo birthing words in her ear. Lindsey’s contractions were very regular 3 /4: 10. The contractions looked expulsive and Lindsey told me that she felt surges downwards with each pain. It certainly looked liked active labour now and in fact I wondered if Lindsey was fully dilated given the way she was acting. We discussed a vaginal examination again and this time we both felt it appropriate. It was 23 40.
I initially thought Lindsey was almost fully dilated and was shocked at how low the baby’s head was. Literally my fingers were only inserted to my second knuckle to find the head. On closer examination I could feel cervix around the back of the baby head and eventually concluded that Lindsey was around 6 cm dilated. Lindsey was really pleased especially when I told her how low the head was and that could only mean she would not be long before she saw her baby! If I only I knew!!
Lindsay had a nice warm pool of water waiting for her downstairs so I suggested she get into it. At 0030, now around 24 hours since her membranes had ruptured Lindsey started to involuntary push. The pushing went on for about 20 minutes with contractions still 3 /4:10. All observations for both Lindsey and baby were normal and so I sat back and waited for a baby to appear. However after half an hour the contraction began to slow down and space out. I suggested she may be coming to her “rest and be thankful” stage. This spacing out of contractions can occur at full dilatation, when the level of oxytocin in the blood falls due to the lack of the feedback mechanism from a fetal head putting pressure on the cervix. I did not know it at the time but I was quite wrong!
Contractions did not return and so I encouraged her out of the pool to have a little walk around. At 0230 the contractions picked up again in intensity but Lindsey no longer had any expulsive urges. This may have been therefore a positional issue with the low head of the baby stimulating Fergusons Reflex to cause the pushing urge. Who knows for sure but the art of midwifery was telling me this may be so.
For the next 4 hours the contractions continued regular and strong. All was well with baby. I heard lots of variations in the baseline rate, some acceleration and no decelerations. I was very reassured all was well. Lindsey alternated between resting and activity as any labouring women does, she kept well hydrated, passed lots of urine and all her observations were normal. She often had the urge to open her bowels but by now I suspected it was only due to the very low head and not to full dilatation.
At 06.30 once again contractions slowed down. We re visited the subject of vaginal examinations. Lindsey as always looked at everything from all angles and we devised a plan, depending on the findings, prior to any examination. She decided that if she was more dilated than the last time she would continue to be active but if no change then (at my advise) she try and get some rest as the contractions had slowed down. Obviously the other remaining option which I always reminded her of was that we could transfer to hospital at any time for some intervention.
A vaginal examination disappointedly showed no progress, that Lindsey was still 6cm dilated and the position of the baby was unchanged. By now the contractions had all but stopped. Lindsey went up to bed and slept soundly for an hour. From downstairs I heard just 2 small contractions in all that time. I wondered long and hard what was going on here. I knew most woman by now would have been augmented long ago but despite looking hard I could find no real abnormality in either Lindsey’s or the baby’s condition. Lindsey had no wish to transfer to hospital and had the full support of her husband Ian and her mother.
At 0800 Lindsey awoke, got up and started to pace around refreshed and eager to restart the labour. By 0900 the contractions started up again and by 1000 they were back to 3 /4:10. This pattern continued until 1400 when unbelievably they once again started to die off.
By now I was getting to the point where I just could not believe what was happening. I discussed Lindsey’s labour, progress, care and choices with both a midwifery colleague and my very supportive supervisor of midwives. I was careful to do this out of Lindsey’s hearing as I did not want her to think that I was either worried or unsupportive as I was neither. However as most midwives know our practice is sometimes judged by our peers and so I questioned in my own mind what was happening.
At 14.15 Lindsay and Ian were walking around the garden in the sunshine. She looked nothing like a woman in labour and so I took photographs of her. She was smiling and happy. I decided it was time for a very frank and full discussion and to devise a plan of action. The first thing we discussed was another vaginal examination. Lindsey did not want one!!
I told them that in my opinion the choices they had were
1) Do nothing, as long as mother and baby remained well (or otherwise) for I could not make them do anything they did not want to. I would however let them know if I felt I needed to strongly advise them that their choices may compromise immediate safety of either Lindsey or their baby.
2) Have a vaginal examination and depending on the findings devise a time frame for action
3) If the choice is no vaginal examination have a time frame in the short term to perform one i.e. at 1700 and make a further plan then
4) Immediate transfer to hospital
Lindsey was upset at this time and started to cry. Ian suggested that it was not a good time to make any decisions with her being distressed and said it was not urgent due to baby and Lindsey being well. They decided that Lindsey would have a vaginal examination around 1600 and in the meantime would rest. Once again Lindsey slept. No contractions at all for around an hour then a really big one awoke her.
I have never known such a supportive and sensible husband.
At 1640 Lindsey decided to have a vaginal examination. The findings were unchanged. However now I could feel a very large bag of fore waters. Lindsey became very distressed during the examination and asked me to stop. The liquor Lindsey had been draining throughout her long labour had continued to be meconium stained but it was minimal. To now feel this large bag of for waters was surprising.
I suggested that the options now were to
1) Transfer to hospital for augmentation and other interventions
2) To re examine break the bag of for waters which may bring back contractions and then have some pethadine which may relax a now very upset and stressed woman.
3) Do nothing.
Lindsey decided to take option 2.
I rarely perform artificial rupture of membranes as the risks far outweigh any benefits as far as the evidence is concerned. However I felt it was warranted in this case especially as liquor had already been draining, baby was so low and there had never been any cause for concern with the heart rate. I ruptured the membrane and a huge amount of very clear liquor drained. I then gave Lindsey 100 mg of pethadine and the entonox. She rested then for 3 hours cuddled up to Ian on the bed.
At around 1700 contractions returned and although they were only 2:10 they were very strong. At around 1845 some were once again sounding expulsive. I had however been fooled before and so did not get excited. Lindsey continued to lie on her bed but around 2000 the expulsive contractions were very strong and Lindsey felt inside with her own fingers. She could feel her baby’s head. I was not surprised by this as I had always felt it very low. This very low head was the most reassuring thing of all and gave me confidence to support Lindsey in her choices to continue in this very extraordinary labour.
At 2000 the contractions were all uncontrollable pushes. Another vaginal examination found the cervix to be 8cm dilated and we both felt huge relief and exhilaration.
Squatting beside her bed and pushing uncontrollably at 2100 I caught sight of a baby’s head. It was what we had waited many many hours to see. Once again Lindsey got back into a nice warm pool.
For the next three and a half hours Lindsey pushed her baby steadily towards life. She got out of the pool after a while and used a birth stool. Her baby was born in absolutely perfect condition at 0030……She sustained a very small tear that healed in a few days. She pushed her placenta out herself with minimal blood loss.
Lindsey had ruptured membranes for 48 hours. She had meconium stained liquor. Lindsey had remained at 6cm dilated for over 20 hours. Her labour had stopped and started many times in 24 hours. Lindsey had made all her own decisions based on her knowledge of all the choice available to her. The choices she made were the correct ones. Had she chosen intervention she may have had her baby a day or so earlier but at what cost?? There was no infection, no distress, no bleeding, no incontinence, no disempowerment or disappointment. Her baby had apgars of 10 and 10. Despite having peaks and troughs of feelings she coped amazingly. Following the birth she was neither exhausted over and above what would expected for any mother having just given birth and neither was she traumatized or upset by her experience. She says she had a wonderful labour and birth!!