Words: Charlotte Philby

There is nothing so cruel as the mythical “due date”. The moment at which the messages from impatient friends and relatives start to pour in, and – with your body swelling to ever-inconceivable proportions  – you start to frantically Google ways in which to coax your child into this world, and out of your rib-cage. In reality fewer than one in 20 women gives birth on her allotted day; indeed, according to recent research, the typical pregnancy lasts anything between 37 and 42 weeks.

But to many of us who find ourselves 39-weeks-and-counting, this rationale will offer little consolation. So is there anything you can do to speed things along? Officially overdue at 40-weeks-still-pregnant, I road-test a few leading old wives tales to find out.

Castor oil
The myth: The laxative qualities of castor oil, which stimulate your stomach, are also believed to stimulate your uterus, causing your body to go into labour.

The reality: (Disclaimer: this one is not pretty…) After a day of hormonal weeping I send Mr Motherland to our local health food shop to purchase the largest bottle of castor oil on sale. Half an hour later, while staring accusingly into his eyes, I pour a few tablespoons into a glass of orange juice – which is alleged to disguise the taste, but doesn’t – and knock back the cocktail of doom. What follows is several hours in the bathroom hurling abuse at my beloved for daring to concede that drinking castor oil, or indeed getting pregnant, was ever a good idea (he never conceded on either count), between alternating waves of nausea and projectile vomiting.

The myth: Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme believed to help soften the cervix and thereby induce labour.

The reality: While there is no scientific evidence to support the claim of pineapple leading to labour, the process of variously blending, baking and guzzling fistfuls of the sweet stuff at least creates some distraction from the interminable hours experienced as an immobile troll. Except it transpires that you are required to eat around seven whole pineapples – “fresh not canned” (an expensive endeavour, midwinter in frost-ridden London) – in order to feel any effect. Four pineapples in, a dicky tummy and sense of impending doom forces me to abandon my experiment.

Much like with castor oil, the idea is that curry can stimulate your tummy and thereby also stimulate your uterus, acting as a catalyst for labour.

The reality: I harbour high hopes for this one, with several friends claiming to have eaten a spicy Indian meal shortly before going into labour. Certainly with a greater sense of anticipation than I approached the prospect of downing a glass of gloopey castor oil, we order a phall guy, which a clued-up friend assures me is the hottest curry on offer. Everything is going well until three mouthfuls in, my throat is overwhelmed by a sense of burning, followed by body-numbing heart-burn. I continue abound, attempting to mask the taste of eight chillis with dollops of yoghurt. Alas, labour does not follow.

The myth: The motion of walking places the pressure of your baby’s head on your cervix helping to create the optimum position for birth, and stimulating the release of oxytocin which prompts and regulates contractions.

The reality: When you are desperate for something to happen there is everything to be said for, rather than sitting around, getting up and getting out. Accordingly, the majority of the final week before my scheduled D-day is spent on foot, never veering too far from civilisation in case I should find myself stranded at the point when the baby finally decides to make an entrance. Alas, after two weeks of (almost) continuous pavement-pounding there is still no labour, though my midwife assures me the baby is fully engaged, which could be attributed to regular movement.

Have sex
The myth: Semen can help soften the cervix; having an orgasm may stimulate your uterus; the act of having sex might trigger the release of oxytocin, which is one of the hormones that helps produce contractions. All in all, worth a try.

The reality: There are apparently women who find themselves in the throes of late pregnancy feeling enormously attractive and sexually enlivened. But I have yet to meet one. For my part, I feel uncomfortable, irritated and put upon. But desperate times call for desperate measures. “OK, let’s do it,” I growl at my husband before stomping upstairs where I attempt to wrestle off my T-shirt over the waistband of my voluminous leggings; before breaking down in tears as I try to mobilise myself into a position that isn’t either a) applying overt pressure to a major artery, or b) deeply undignified for a woman who hasn’t been able to see her own vagina for the past 12 weeks. “Would you like another cup of raspberry leaf tea?” my husband asks, sheepishly. I hurl the nearest object at his head, which happens to be a lamp.

It is another two weeks before we’re finally united with our son, who despite my attempts at a VBAC was born by caesarean, just as my daughter had been – also as a result of my body failing to go into labour, even with the help of various medical interventions, and alternative therapies including hypnotherapy, reflexology and acupuncture. Despite a brief initial sense of failure for not being able to labour naturally, and despite being NEARLY THREE WEEKS OVERDUE BOTH TIMES, several months down the line it feels that despite the discomfort, it was all worth the wait. And still I can’t see a bottle of castor oil without throwing up.


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