Take a step back for a moment. Take your shoes off. Go on… take them off. Wiggle your toes about a bit. Feel the freedom and the release. Look back at the distance you've covered today. Pat yourself on the back. You've done well. You've come far.
Now… leave your shoes where they lie. Look at your pregnant wife, girlfriend, partner, sister, mother, client. Take her shoes, yes that's right. Her battered, comfy, fit to bursting shoes. Pop them on. Go on… squeeze your feet in. Done? Good. Let's take a walk!
Labour has begun. The signs are simple, they're not huge billboard announcements or anything. There's some backache, possibly some cramping in the belly. Your sense of smell is going crazy. You can smell next door's damp dog long before it lopes into view. You can't get comfortable. You're moving from side to side, foot to foot, up stairs, down stairs, into the bathroom. You pee, your bowels open. You feel a wee bit wretched. You ignore all of this. You sort your photo albums, you watch a comedy, you go for a walk, you try to sleep. Nothing really works but you'll try anything. Then it all stops (maybe) and you have some respite.
The cramping in your belly is getting worse. Your back is "killing" you. Suddenly the room is too bright, people are talking too much, your partner is cracking jokes. You want to throw something at the television. It hurts. You're thinking it will probably get worse and you might be in for a long long night (and day). You get in the bath, out the bath. Maybe you take a paracetamol, maybe you apply a wheat pack to your back. It's manageable but you're not sure. You breathe in and out deeply, you try to shut out all the external stimuli.
Now you leave the bath. It's no longer working its magic. The pressure in your belly is intensifying. You know you need to be in your birthing place. You can feel the excitement around you as your partner rushes about to put together the final pieces for your baby bag. The hospital/midwife is called. The phone is given to you. You try to talk through the contractions but really you want the world to go away so that you can go down into yourself.
You make the journey to the hospital in a car that seems to find every bump in the road, every red light, every 'Sunday driver'. You are taken to a room where a midwife asks to examine you. You don't want to be on your back but you don't want to make things difficult. You lower yourself onto your back, the midwife turns away to fetch gloves, gel, blood pressure cuff, thermometer. The contractions continue. You can't lay on your back a moment longer. Your partner tells you to wait for the midwife, the midwife tells you she'll only be a minute. You wonder why all the prepping is taking place now whilst you are on your back. You try to shift and move and the midwife arrives back and tells you to lay still so that you can be examined. Hands palpate your belly, a thermometer in your mouth. You are questioned about whether or not you have passed urine, if you can give a sample, if you've felt the baby move. You drag yourself out of your primeval, instinctual self and try to answer. Another contraction hits and you again try to move. Then you feel fingers entering your vagina as your midwife checks your dilation. All this touching and talking. You want to do the right thing by your baby, but you need to move. You need to be in another position. You need to be alone. You don't want to be left alone. You are contrary. You apologise, you cry, you shake, you smile, you laugh.
Lights are high, voices loud. Knocking at the door, heads popping round. Different pain relief options are proffered. You thought you were doing well, suddenly you're not so sure. You look for reassurance. Eyes are on pieces of paper, machines, results. You can't do this. You can do this. What is that pressure? You feel the need to open your bowels. You feel your body moving instinctually, voices telling you to stop, to start, to pant, to breathe, to hold your breath, to put your chin down. Shouting, cheering, talking. You want to listen to your body but you can't hear amongst the noise. Time passes, clocks are watched, deadlines are set. Your body doesn't feel your own. Manoeuvred into positions that you don't want to be in. Speaking without words, no one hears. You hear that the baby needs you to do this now. There's talk of instruments and cuts. You just want this baby born.
STOP. Take those shoes off. Breathe. If you could plan this journey… how would it be? Who would walk with you? What would they do?