'Have you tried nipple tweaking?" asked a woman at the bus stop. "What about sex?" said someone else. "Or chicken vindaloo and castor oil?" I muttered something about having tried pretty much everything and wondered what it was about my situation that allowed strangers to break with traditional bus stop etiquette and start probing me for details of my sex life and dietary habits.
For the third time, I was in my 42nd week of pregnancy, without having experienced the slightest twinge or sign that the baby was on its way. My first daughter was 16 days late and eventually had to be induced. The second put in an appearance two weeks after her due date. So, I wasn't really expecting this baby to be on time. At least that is what I kept telling everyone. In reality, I had hoped I might be spared the torture of waiting for a baby which apparently has no intention of being born.
Every day past my due date had the feeling of a mock execution. I would wake up wondering if today was the day, wouldn't allow myself to stray too far from home - just in case - wonder if every tiny back pain or stomach cramp was the start of labour and then resign myself to the fact that, once again, I was nearly 10 months pregnant.
On top of this I had to put up with phone calls from impatient relatives who couldn't believe I hadn't had the baby yet and thought I had simply forgotten to tell them, and listen to suggestions from just about everyone about how to hurry it on. As anyone waiting for the number 46 bus to Hollingbury will know, I had tried them all without success.
Although antenatal groups and midwives do their best to prepare you for every possible variety of birth, very little attention is given to the discrepancies between due and actual dates and the fact that, for a sizeable group of women, pregnancy is considerably longer than the textbook 40 weeks.
"Haven't you had the baby yet?" became my regular morning greeting, as I took my other children to school, uttered in tones of impatient incredulity as if I was purposely holding back and should stop hanging around and get on with it.
While none of the helpful givers of advice at the bus stop actually expected the bus to arrive at the time stipulated on the timetable, their attitude to babies was entirely different. Childbirth, though one of the most natural things in the world, is still expected to adhere to an unnaturally rigid schedule.
In many African countries, by contrast, it is generally accepted that some women have longer confinements than others and the term "10-month baby" is widely used. My sister gave birth to her first child in Rwanda, almost four weeks late, without anyone raising an eyebrow. Whereas, here, once you have gone a few days past your due date, life becomes a constant round of doctors appointments and hospital check-ups, as the various medical professionals decide whether it is safe for you to keep on going, or whether the baby should be induced.
The induction rate of post-term births varies between hospitals, from around 10% to 30%. If you plan to give birth in a hi-tech hospital you are nearly twice as likely to be induced than if you give birth at home or in a GP unit. Induction is also more likely to be suggested if you are over 35 or have previously had a difficult labour. In this country, there seems to be a general consensus that once a woman is between 10- and 14-days overdue then the baby should be induced, regardless of whether the woman has a history of long pregnancies, whether her menstrual cycle is longer than 28 days (another indicator that the baby may take longer to arrive) or whether both mother and child are still perfectly healthy.
In my case, as this was my third "10-month baby" my midwife seemed resigned to the fact that it would be late, though my doctor was more concerned and mentioned the dreaded word several times at my 40-week appointment. The reason for recommending induction is that there is evidence of a very slight risk of stillbirth if the pregnancy is allowed to continue too long, though it is hard to tell a pregnancy that needs induction from one that will be problem-free. Faced with a doctor saying that you shouldn't go more than two weeks overdue, few women act against this advice.
Nearly 20% of births in Britain are induced by artificial methods such as pessaries or a drip, or breaking waters manually, but there are drawbacks. With inducement, there can be particularly painful contractions, and women are more likely toneed a forceps or ventouse delivery. My first child was induced and, after an extremely painful labour lasting 36 hours which ended in a forceps delivery, I couldn't help wondering if it wouldn't have been quicker and safer to wait a few more days and go into labour naturally.
The second time I was lucky to give birth, in a couple of hours, to a healthy baby 11 hours before I was booked in for another induction.
This time I felt more confident that the baby would come when it was ready. It did, nearly three weeks late, which was not when everyone else thought he should be born, but by that time I was used to being 10-months pregnant.