As if mums-to-be don't worry about the pain of giving birth enough, imagine having an absolute whopper to top it all off.
That's exactly what happened to Milli Hill, whose second child was a big baby - weighing in at 10lb 4oz!
As part of our #MyBirthStory series - where a group of mums share their own birth stories to prove that there is absolutely no such thing as the perfect labour - author and mum-of-three Milli Hill shares her story of being the birther of particularly large babies and why she actually found it pretty easy...
'How much did they weigh?'
As every woman who's ever had a baby will know, the world is fairly obsessed with this question, and you'll be asked it by everyone from your father-in-law to the postman.
If your answer is less than seven pounds people will say, 'Oh, not too bad then!'; anything over that number and everyone says, 'Blimey', and pulls the sort of face they usually only reserve for groin injury stories after the game on Saturday.
Women like me get the best reaction – it can only be described as a stunned silence followed by just one word: 'Whoah'. I'm a fairly slim girl who can just about squeeze into size 8 jeans, so believe me I was as shocked as the next person when my second baby tipped the scales at 10lbs 4oz.
Perhaps more shockingly still, the birth was easy! That is, if the word easy can ever be applied to birth - it certainly did smart a bit. So when I say 'easy', what I mean is, it happened at home, it didn't hurt so much that I felt I needed pain relief (not even gas and air), the 'pushing' bit lasted about five minutes, and I didn't need any stitches. Easy!
There was no anxiety in my pregnancy about the size of my baby. I had a big bump but according to the midwife's tape measure it was bang on target. So we breezed into a home water birth feeling confident, not knowing what a total chubster was silently biding her time in my ever-expanding uterus.
My first baby had been a little larger than average at 8lb 11oz, and had been born in hospital after I was induced for going past my due date. Now that I've had three babies I've learnt that this is perfectly normal for me – I'm a 'slow cooker'. With both my second and third baby, I took the decision not to accept hospital induction until at least 42 weeks – and both of them were born at 42 weeks on the dot. I've always been the kind of person who likes leaving things 'til the last minute and it turns out that when it comes to gestation, I'm no different.
So – the due date for baby number two came and went. It was May, and quite hot. As the days went by with no sign of my baby, I became increasingly irritable, down-hearted and riddled with doubt. As I'd been induced with my first, I'd never actually gone into labour naturally, and I genuinely started to wonder if I had some kind of cog missing and was actually incapable of getting started without medical help.
Of course, this was not the case: in the early hours of the morning on 27th May, I was woken by some very strong sensations. I had been asleep in bed with my two-year-old daughter, so crept away to my partner and woke him up. Could something be happening? We went downstairs together in the dark and chatted and waited for more and wondered what to do. The tightenings were intermittent, and eventually we put in a quick call to our midwife, who advised we went back to bed.
The next morning, there still seemed to be some activity, but it was patchy. Some sensations felt powerful, others less so, and there was no real pattern. As we had an immersion tank hot water system, we decided to start filling the pool just in case, as we had already had a trial run and it had taken several hours.
By late morning there was still not much happening, and of course, I remained full of doubt in my body and convinced it would all just fizzle out, as had happened to me a few times in my first pregnancy. I felt extremely hungry, and had a huge and sudden craving for a fry up that absolutely had to include sausages. My lovely partner obeyed and once I'd wolfed it down, I took myself off to bed for a nap.
When I woke I felt different. Somehow I just knew this was it. I went to the bathroom and tied my hair back. I can remember thinking – rather vainly – that I had better make an effort to make it look nice as I would be having my picture taken later holding my baby!
While I had been asleep my partner had tidied up the house and put a vase of fresh lilac on the kitchen table, which I found very touching. He also started making vegetable soup – it all sounds idyllic, right?! As he finely diced courgettes I found myself having a really serious, I-mean-business contraction, kneeling on the floor of the living room, leaning on an armchair, with the two year old climbing on my back and the dog, who never likes to be left out, placing a slobbery ball in front of my face. I'm afraid I shattered the moment by yelling, 'Stop making ****ing soup and get rid of this ****ing dog!' at the top of my lungs.
Suddenly we both realised that something really was happening. The dog was banished to our neighbours. My partner's sister came to take care of our daughter. The midwives were called. I lit some candles and put on some music. By myself in the living room, this felt like a good moment! I was actually in labour! I didn't have a missing cog after all!
From this point on, everything seemed to get better, and more and more beautiful. I relaxed into the labour, and once the midwives arrived and I got into the birth pool, I felt totally in my element.
It sounds a bit cheesy, but the room seemed to be full of lightness and love. At one point I asked the midwife if she had dropped a torch in the pool, as it seemed suddenly illuminated in an otherwise fairly dark room. She hadn't, but a chink of light from the evening sunshine had come through the curtains, striking the pool at just the right angle and making it glow an ethereal blue. We all marvelled at this for some time, and even took photos. It felt like a nod of approval from Mother Nature herself.
Shortly after that my daughter returned from a walk with her Aunty, and brought me a bunch of hedgerow flowers – a special moment I will never forget. I had been worried about what to do with her during a home birth, but it couldn't have been lovelier than to have her around, dipping in and out of the birth room and reminding me of what I was working towards. I felt huge waves of love for her, for my partner, and for everyone present!
And then the 'pushing stage' began, the ultimate in letting go. I was not a quiet birther who breathed her baby down into the world in tranquillity. I roared. I gripped hard onto my man's arms, and he gripped mine, and I knelt and I pulled back on his arms with all my might and I roared. I felt extremely powerful, and extremely determined. And of course, my baby felt 'big'. I would wager a bet that every single woman who has ever had a baby has felt that they were 'big' at this stage! But I had no idea that she was any bigger than normal.
My midwife asked me if I wanted to catch the baby. To me this seemed like a ridiculous suggestion! 'Nooooo! I'M... TOO... BUSY!!!' I remember saying, so she gently passed her up to me through the water. We looked to see what we had – a girl. I held her, repeating incredulously, 'I did it! I did it!'. I couldn't believe that it was over and that I had done it all myself. I felt elated.
My partner quickly tore off most of his clothes and joined us in the birth pool, swiftly followed by an amazed two-year-old keen to meet her new sister.
It wasn't until much later that she was weighed and we were all incredulous at the size of her: 10lb 4oz. To this day I have no idea why I grew such a large baby – and I did it again three years later; another home water birth with her brother who failed to steal her title at a slightly smaller 9lb 11oz.
Ironically, all three of my children are now like little sparrows, fine-boned and dainty without an ounce of fat on them! Why they had to grow so big in utero is something that nobody has ever been able to explain.
What I think I can explain is why I managed to give birth to such big chunksters without help or intervention: I knew and trusted my midwife, there was minimal interference in my labour, my birth room was calm and dimly lit, and I was upright and active from start to finish, allowing gravity to help my baby descend though a pelvis I was able to open to its maximum because I was not on my back.
All of these factors have been shown by evidence to improve women's experience of labour and make birth easier – but very few UK women are currently giving birth under these circumstances. Often when birth does not go to plan, women blame themselves and feel they have somehow failed. My feeling is that at the moment we are failing women, by asking them to give birth in circumstances that make it more difficult for them. Add into this a widespread fear and lack of confidence in women's bodies to give birth and what results are far higher rates of caesarean and other interventions than are actually necessary.
We're often told big babies are a big problem. High rates of birth intervention are blamed on women being 'older and fatter', and bigger women making bigger babies gets a regular mention in the birth debates. But again, this rather conveniently puts the blame on women for what is in fact 'system failure'. Regardless of your age, or your size, or the size of your baby, you are much more likely to have a better birth if you know and trust your midwife, stay off the bed and active in your labour, if your environment is dimly lit and undisturbed, and if your care providers are confident enough in you to take a hands off approach unless they're really needed.
'How much did they weigh?' might be our most popular pregnancy query, but in fact, 'Why do some women give birth easily while others struggle?', or indeed, 'Why are some women not being given a fair chance at a normal birth?', might be far more urgent and interesting questions.
Milli's book, The Positive Birth Book, is available to buy from Amazon now
Have a #MyBirthStory of your own you want to share? Talk to us in the comment box below!
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