It was Christmas and I was twenty-two weeks gone when I decided that we’d timed this pregnancy perfectly (I say ‘we’ – of course aside from putting the raw ingredients together and hoping for the best, ‘we’ can hardly take the credit for my body deciding it was about time to have a go at the baby thing). Anyway, the timing was certainly perfect: thick support tights aimed at preventing varicose veins were ideal for the frosty wintery weather; I‘d been over the sickness long enough to regain a hearty appetite for my Christmas dinner and I was still comfortable enough at night to sleep on a blow-up mattress at the family get-together, after watching the Christmas Special of Call the Midwife.
It had made a change that morning to put on my black JoJo Maman Bébé maternity dress – one of the few maternity items I’d actually bought. Aware that university tuition fees were looming (well, in eighteen years or so) we’d been keen to save money, and a friend had kindly leant me a stack of clothes. Still, I spent the best part of six months alternating mostly between four pairs of maternity trousers: jeans, tracksuit bottoms, work trousers and pyjamas. So it was nice to put on a dress for a change, and to show off the nifty breastfeeding feeding holes which were revealed when you loosened the waist ties.
And with Christmas came of course the reminder of how much more fun it would be next year. In my family, Christmas had been for far too long an adult affair. It was hard to imagine it any other way and, so inexperienced where babies were concerned, we wondered how exactly it would change: what would our little person – this little creature which squirmed and shuddered under my skin – be doing next December? Could eight-month-olds eat mince pies or open presents or have any real idea of what was going on? We didn’t know. We were still reading the pregnancy books and hadn’t quite made it on to the parenting ones.
Somehow, in addition to the more mainstream titles we’d ploughed through, my partner, Sally (who was always two or three books ahead of me, and thus by far the better informed regarding this whole pregnancy lark) came across a publication entitled Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic & Birth. We knew from watching One Born Every Minute that some of the book’s claims were now rather dated – enemas and pubic shaving are no longer the order of the day, and you aren’t automatically drugged as high as a pile of nappies and hitched up into stirrups with four gown-wearing doctors brandishing forceps and peering at your nether regions.
Nevertheless, it certainly showed us the benefits of aiming for a more natural approach: limited use of drugs, a midwife-led, active birth. A calm and gentle welcome to the world for our baby. I could see the point of those birthing pools and stools: squatting and groaning, rather than lying flat on a bed and screaming was perhaps how our bodies had been designed to deal with this. I was reminded of how a cat or dog will go off to find a quiet, safe place to snuggle down and give birth – surely this, and not furnishing the spare room with a Mamas and Papas furniture set in Light Oak, is ‘nesting’. The book encouraged me to think about what our ancestors must have done – not our mothers and grandmothers, but our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors. They managed without the medics – not all of them of course – childbirth must have been a very risky business. But enough of them managed – well, we’re here now, aren’t we?
I interrogated friends who already had children and listened to one birthing horror story after another: tales of non-progressing labours, anaesthetists busy elsewhere, epidurals not working, morphine and forceps and third degree tears. And while of course I knew how grateful we are to those medics when an emergency caesarean saves two lives, I wondered how feasible it was to hope for a natural birth. I would probably only get one opportunity to do this thing – this fundamental process of birthing, for which my body had been designed. And somehow, I wanted to acknowledge all those Hunter-Gatherer mothers of yore who slipped off into a quiet corner of the forest without drugs, hospitals or anything but a knowledge passed on time and again, one woman to the next.
Part of me felt I could do this, I could be that Hunter-Gatherer woman, squatting in the forest – nowadays we aren’t as physically fit as they would have been, or as accustomed to manual labour, but I was healthy enough. How can pain relief be so essential in a normal childbirth when we’ve only really had it in the last one hundred years? But would my pain threshold be too low to cope? And if there were complications, was there a way of preventing one intervention from leading to another? Did the best laid birth plans of mice and birthing women gang aft to pethidine?
Meanwhile it was January and the pelvic pain that was starting to set in was tempered with the knowledge that maternity leave was now only a school term away. But, at the end of a silent corridor of a school after home-time, rooting around in a dusty old storeroom, unearthing cobwebbed textbooks from ancient shelves, it occurred to me that perhaps this was the quiet spot my Hunter-Gatherer woman would have chosen.
Article: by Lindsey, West Yorkshire 30th August 2013