Content warning: This is one woman’s experience and should not be taken as professional medical advice.
I was fortunate to become pregnant for the second time at 43 and was adamant I was going to have an ecstatic, drug-free birth, as I had done with my first.
The senior obstetrician warned that I had a higher risk of a stillbirth being over the age of 38.
This did not sit well with me. I was well-informed and had seen documentaries like the Business of Being Born warning against synthetic syntocin drips which make contractions all the more severe and don’t allow the body to naturally prepare for them.
It would also mean being attached to a drip and a heart-rate monitor, restricting my movement. And then there was the threat of it all failing and ending up with a feared caesarean.
So, I left the appointment determined to do more research and everything I could to avoid needing to be induced.
Unfortunately, my efforts failed when I reached 38 weeks and found out I had cholestasis, a condition which causes extreme itchiness on the hands and feet, particularly at night due to bile acids entering the blood stream. Another side-effect of the condition is an increase in the risk of still birth.
Faced with the double issues of my age and cholestasis, I was left with no choice but to acquiesce and agree to the induction at 39 weeks.
However, I was still adamant I wanted to be induced on my terms, rather than being pushed through the hospital’s time-frame.
I was told the induction procedure would involve having a balloon inserted into my vagina to stimulate dilation and then two hours later having my waters broken and being put on a syntocin drip. My baby ended up being too high up so rather the balloon I was given prostaglandin gel.
I wanted to give myself more time to allow my body to go into labour naturally after the balloon was inserted, and thus avoid the drip. I asked at earlier appointments and knew they could push out the two-hour time-frame. But on the day, my unwillingness to follow standard induction procedures did not sit well with the midwife.
“You do realise you are here to be induced don’t you,” she said. I did, but I stood my ground.
Fortunately, my doula arrived to rescue me. Several hours later I agreed to have my waters my broken but not the drip. My doula got me up and walking the stairs two by two and sideways.
After about thirty minutes the contractions began and within three hours my beautiful baby arrived without the need for a single drug.
Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, Hannah Dahlen, said Australia had a very high induction rate at 30 per cent.
“More and more women are being induced. The main reason is going overdue. At 41 to 42 weeks it is recommended to reduce the small risk of still birth. Increasingly that time is sliding back, particularly with private obstetricians who are booking women in on their due date,” she said.
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Professor Dahlen said the baby is often neurologically immature, with 41 weeks being the ideal neurological time.
She said the use of prostaglandin followed by having the waters broken and being put on a syntocin drip was the most common form of induction. While some women will go into labour naturally just by having the prostaglandin gel, most first-time mums would need be put on the drip.
Professor Dahlen warned that having an induction was the number one point for which a cascade of interventions was likely.
She said monitoring of the baby becomes essential which restricts the woman’s movement. The syntocin drip makes the contractions extremely painful, without the natural escalation so most likely the woman will need an epidural further restricting her movement and ability to help the baby get into the right position. The inability to push is also impacted and forceps or ventouse will be needed to deliver the baby.
“Inductions should be considered very carefully, and they will often take your labour in a different direction than if you had gone into labour by yourself,” she said.
However, she stressed she was not opposed to inductions with some babies definitely better off on the outside than on the inside.
Professor Dahlen said for women wanting to avoid an induction she recommended acupuncture and cervical sweeps every couple of days after 41 weeks.