When I think back to my first pregnancy I remember the excitement ... and the slightly sick mix of nerves and outright terror at the realisation that the person inside me was going to have to get out, and it was getting bigger. So I did what any other first-timer does, I turned to the books. Ah, the good old pregnancy books, my personal favourites where the ones with pictures of extra hairy 1970’s mums in mid-push, just what a nervous twenty-year-old with a low pain threshold wants to see, but I couldn’t get enough of them! If I hadn’t had the books there were always the legions of mums eager to share their own birthing stories. You see labour stories are like war stories, everyone wants to tell theirs in full explicit and gory detail. There is jostling for whose labour was the longest, volume and velocity of breaking waters, and just how many stitches they ended up with. (I swear if there weren’t laws preventing these things they would be up on the table comparing episiotomies.)
But in the midst of all of this there is always one, one brave soldier who regales the gathered crowd with a fantastical tale of whale song and water and baby being gently ushered down the birth canal to a quiet candlelit room where small children played harps and frolicked by the blah, blah, blah ...
Thank you, brave soldier, you have single handedly made me believe that my plan to accept any and every painkilling drug available to be the cowards way out, I saw the way you raised a disapproving eyebrow when I mentioned epidurals. Well, screw it─I’m scared and I’m going to do it my way! So scared, in fact, that I was hooked up the friendly epidural machine by the time I was three centimetres dilated, which, by the way is the weirdest feeling─but not unpleasant when I considered the alternative.
So I delivered a healthy baby girl and took my place at the mother and baby group as a survivor with my own thrilling tale to tell. (Twenty-three hours, broken placenta, massive hemorrhage, bedridden for thirty hours, and three tanks of gas and air.)
Life went on and I never ever shook the feeling that I had somehow got it wrong, I hadn’t felt the labour, the transition, or the urge to push. When another Mum told a story of floaty calm drug-free births I felt I had somehow cheated, I’d let the side down. So when we decided four years later to try for child number two I was determined things would be different. I drank raspberry leaf tea to give me the uterus of a titan! But it tasted so much like pond water that I hoped its magical powers were strong enough to work after one sip. I exercised my pelvic floor so much that for about a month I constantly looked like I needed to pee. But being pregnant I actually did need to pee pretty much constantly so that was fine.
So the big day came. Two weeks later and still no signs, off I go to be induced. Here is where my master plan goes awry. My daughter wakes up with a raging fever, so I can’t go to my friend’s house. I tell hubby to stay home with her until things start happening and call a taxi. The taxi can’t find my house. Now I’m late and the blood pressure is rising. I get to the hospital with a hold-all the size of a continent, the hospital has been renovated sometime in the last four years, and I have no idea where the prenatal ward is. I wander for forty minutes with a giant bag until finally I swing it into a nice nurse with a trolley full of files. Both myself and the files end up on the floor sobbing, and a nice nurse helps me. Get to the ward and the midwives all make jokes about how I was MIA and put me in a bed to be monitored. The monitoring machine explodes (well, the fuse went, but it made a dramatic crackle). I look at the bed number … thirteen. They get another machine and all is well. The prodding of my cervix begins in earnest, gels are administered, the world and his dog all get to gaze at my lady parts and still NOTHING! Hubby brings cakes and sits there bored until I send him home. Then the fun begins, I waddled off to the TV room to pass the time and watch a comedy show. It must have been funny because I gave a huge laugh and whoosh─waters broke, or so I thought. Nope this was blood, lots of it. Apparently my over-poked cervix had had enough of this treatment and was rebelling. So instead of being calm and brave like a good soldier I waddle full tilt down the length of the ward shouting, “AAARGH, BLOOOOOD HEEEELP!” So long story short (see what I mean about a good war story?), I’m whisked off to the labour ward.
Even though I’m in a little bit of shock and my cervix is hardly in top condition, I’m still determined to go drug-free─I’m stubborn like that. But wait, THIS is what labour feels like?? It’s okay, it’s okay, I can do this, remember your training. Squat─that’s supposed to speed things up, let’s do that. OHGODNOOOOOO let’s never ever do that again! Um, um, breathing remember to breathe, okay, that’s not breathing, that’s mooing. You are mooing like a heifer. Midwife arrives. “Can I get you any pain relief?” No, thank you. I smile/grimace. I’m okay. She looks dubious, but leaves. More mooing ensues and she’s back. “Are you absolutely sure? Only we can all hear that you are in quite a bit of pain?” “No, really I’m fine,” I grunt through gritted teeth.. DEAR GOD YES GIVE ME THE DRUGS, GIVE ME ALCOHOL, GIVE ME A MALLET SO I CAN KNOCK MYSELF OUT! Anything. Really I’ve never been so happy to be approached with a hypodermic and then suddenly … bliss, peace, ponies, and sleepiness … and many hours later, small and squashy baby.
And so again, I survived to tell my tale, complete with proud admission to greedily excepting all the pethidine the nice lady had to offer. But why? Asks supermum whalesong lady with a look of horror. Don’t you know that it drugs your baby too?
Well, says I, there are certain times in your life that being drugged up to the eyeballs can only be preferable to the harsh reality. I believe that being forced face-first out of a person’s vagina qualifies as one of those times. And the munchies really help them to latch on for that first feed.
She shut up. I felt content.
And isn’t that what really matters? As nice as it would be, there are no rewards for bravery, all the books and advice in the world can’t prepare you for what is the most personal and unique experience of your life. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Maaaaaan.