I remember when I was literally on the verge of giving birth. I was in the reception area of the labour ward waiting for a couple of midwives to finish their Sudoku – I mean seriously pressing paperwork – when I was finally taken into a room where I hauled myself on to the bed and promptly gave birth. I was very lucky. Most of the hard work was done at home.
What I do recall was contemplating with horror a ‘visitors book’ at the reception desk. It had lots of names, followed by their due dates mostly come and gone, and in the last column the phrase ‘failure to progress’. It’s a clumsy clinical phrase to describe when labour stalls or slows. Not only is it unhelpful (what’s labour got to do with failure after all?) but it’s also a depressing and terrifying prospect for any heavily pregnant woman. I was in so much pain yet there was still a chance that I too would ‘fail’ and be sent back home again to start the waiting game over.
But home might be the best place after all. Contrary to what you might think, just setting foot in a hospital can stop labour dead in its tracks. In the same way that healthy people can appear to have raised blood pressure in a clinical setting, it seems the anxiety of being in a maternity ward makes some women clam up too. Fast and furious contractions simply fade away.
In the days leading up to giving birth I could have chucked my mobile out the window every time I received another ‘any news?’ text. Instead I just ignored it and stayed at home for as long as I possibly could.
So, and I never thought I’d say it, poor Kate. The pressure on her to ‘progress’ is immense. Not only does she have family, friends, doctors and midwives monitoring her but she also has the rest of the world and its media too. Don’t they know a watched pot never boils?
Anyhow, whether Kate gives birth today or tomorrow or the next day, on the hottest day of the year, no one in their right mind would think of using the word failure to describe any part of her labour. It’s high time hospitals stopped using it for the rest of us too.