Marianne, the Midwives and the Malcontent Moose

I'm typing this with my baby daughter asleep in my lap. Which is, in of itself, rather astonishing. I mean, I did realise, vaguely, that Pod would transmogrify into a real baby at some point. However, until I held her, I hadn't worked through the concept of growing an entire person from scratch. I spent several hours just looking at her, and wondering, over and over, "how did I do that?".

She's such a little child, and does appear to have changed our lives completely. People did predict this, of course; explaining that having children forces one to grow up. "Nonsense," we replied, secure in our belief that we could incorporate a baby into our immature lifestyle. We continued to believe this for the first week or so of her life, until we discovered that her sleepiness and lack of enthusiasm for eating had caused her to lose 20% of her body weight. So we went onto a round the clock cycle of waking Marianne every three hours, breast feeding, supplementing with pre-pumped milk in a cup, pumping more milk, and collapsing exhausted for an hour or so before starting again. We worried endlessly, and suddenly realised that we seemed, somewhere along the way, to have grown up. (Luckily, Marianne thrived on this treatment, which is more than can be said for her parents. After a fortnight she had regained all the weight and showed the sort of enthusiasm for tits that's more normally associated with spotty sixteen year old boys. But I digress.)

Shaggy the moose in a Moses basket As for the moose, Shaggy is having a bit of a sulk. He did get to sleep in the Mooses Moses basket for several weeks before it was retenanted, but now he's relegated to a corner of the living room. Suffering from moose rivalry, no doubt.

Anyway, to start at the beginning. The birth wasn't that bad, really. It certainly wasn't like shitting a watermelon, as Karen Pender-Gunn suggested. People who make this comparison have a lack of understanding about how their nether regions fit together, I reckon. Also, they must come from countries with small watermelons. The gory details follow; those of a sensitive disposition may want to skip to another article.

I woke up on the morning of Pod's due date with a sort of generalised bellyache. Nothing too major, really; just occasional pains that came and went. After a while, on a bit of a whim, I started to note when they came. Every nine minutes. Hmm, I thought. I wonder if this is labour? No, too mild, too erratic, must be a false start. I sent Steven off to work cheerfully, only to ring his office a couple of hours later. "He's not around at the moment -- can I take a message?" No, on the whole, I think you'd better go and find him.

It's a little known fact that one very common form of pain relief in labour in the UK is electrocution. Or, if not exactly electrocution, then something akin to it; you strap electrodes to your back and run a current across them. The device is portable (though for some reason you can't use it in the bath), and is powered by a 9 volt battery. I've always been fond of 9 volt batteries, because they're the only common household battery with both terminals at one end. This allows you to touch your tongue to the terminals and get a bit of a buzz. Admittedly, this is not very far up the scale of dodgy illicit pleasures, but I used to quite enjoy it in the days when dodgy illicit pleasures were few and far between. At any rate, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS for short, feels very like licking the end of a 9 volt battery. Except in your back rather than your tongue, tongues not being noted for bearing much of the brunt of pain during childbirth. It works by both taking the edge off the pain, and encouraging the formation of endorphins early in labour. It also has a button to press during a contraction, which doesn't help much with the pain but lets you feel more in control. So once Steven got home, I got out of the bath, and he wired me up. Bzzz. Where's Electrical Testing Boy when you really need him?

I then had some lunch, taking care to eat only liquid food (soup and ice cream) -- a wise precaution, as it turned out, but my furry claw-footed slippers will still never be the same again. After lunch, I sat around for a while noting the frequency of the contractions and wondering when they were going to start being agonisingly painful. At four minutes apart, I rang the hospital to see when I should go in. They asked whether I was coping with the pain. "Hah! A mere flesh wound!" I replied. They suggested I pop along anyway; something about not having the baby in the kitchen.

Once I arrived at the hospital, however, they kept me hanging around for an hour, while the bellyache got steadily worse. The midwives spent much of this time arguing whether I should be admitted to the "low risk" ward or the main labour ward. I was then flat on my back for most of the next hour, hooked up to the machine that goes "ping!" They explain that they only monitor you for twenty minutes. What they don't tell you is that whenever their blessed machine fails to pick up Pod's heartbeat for more than a second or so, they start the twenty minutes over again. As I had spent the previous seven hours sitting in chairs, lounging on sofas, or generally ambling around, the monitoring provided the first inkling that lying on my back was no fun.

Alison giving birth to a propeller beanie

It's a... propeller beanie?

Eventually the midwife looked at the trace and pronounced my contractions weak and feeble. She then did an internal exam, with the intention of patting me on the head and sending me home. But it turned out that labour was actually quite advanced, and my waters immediately broke. This was a bit of a shock, as my concept of waters breaking had involved a sudden gush of, oh, half a pint or so, and that would be that. I certainly wasn't prepared for several gallons, pouring out randomly for hours on end. I'm glad, in retrospect, that they didn't break while I was in Sainsbury's. Their promise of a year's free nappies would be small recompense for dying of embarrassment.

At any rate, no going home for me. We settled in for the long haul, and plugged in the CD player, having first checked that there were no Electrical Testers about. When they had told us that all equipment needed to be tested, we'd thought about asking Martin Hoare to certify the ghetto blaster. In the event, it didn't matter -- the rules appear to be honoured in the breach rather than the observance. We had provisions; wet flannels and massage equipment for me, and several hundredweight of Snickers bars for Steven. I sat quietly in a chair for a while, but then felt guilty for not looking at my chart of "plausible positions for first stage labour". These mostly involve leaning on your partner in some form of bizarre contortion, and I suspect that they just use the same charts that you get for "plausible positions for sexual intercourse". For me at least, they weren't any more plausible, either. Just sitting in a chair seemed to be the thing to do. Very boring. I did try slumping in a beanbag for one contraction. Having decided that the beanbag didn't suit me, it then took me three more contractions to clamber out. Steven had learnt all sorts of helpful massage techniques for labour; a bit of a shame, really, that I didn't want to be touched at all during a contraction. (Between contractions there's no pain, and hence no reason to do massage.) Every half hour, the midwife popped in to monitor the baby's heartbeat. This proved rather a trial, because the only way they could find the heartbeat was to lie me flat on my back on the bed. So there'd be a bit of a palaver, while I waddled over from the chair to the bed, trying not to drip too much, and then got checked, and then waddled back.

Meanwhile, the contractions got steadily stronger and harder to breathe through. I'd said at the outset that I wanted to use Entonox (which is a 50/50 mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen) later in the first stage. Eventually I asked for it, expecting it to take them several minutes to sort it out. It appeared immediately, and I started puffing away. As advertised, it took the edge off the pain. More importantly, in order to get the pain relief, I had to breathe very deeply. Which is exactly the thing that I'd been having so much trouble remembering to do. I did have to be a bit careful not to take too many gulps at once, or I'd find myself on planet Zog for a few seconds at the end of the contraction after the pain had finished. This is fun to do once or twice but I found I was more concerned with keeping my wits about me.

Drugs I didn't have included diamorphine, which the hospital now prefers to pethidine as they find that diamorphine helps people relax much better. Not surprising, really. "Isn't that heroin?" asked Steven, cluefully. "Don't let on, or everyone will want some," replied the midwife. Apparently it's a lot less fun when it's injected intramuscularly.

After a little while on the Entonox, I began to wish it were a bit more effective. I'd been breathing raggedly, through my mouth and nose. A little thought (between contractions) brought up memories of my misspent youth. The following contraction found me breathing deeply through the nose only, and holding my breath for a few seconds before exhaling and floating off into the sunset. Much more the sort of thing. Perhaps next time they could bake it into brownies.

I'd scarcely noticed a doctor popping his head round the door from time to time, and being reassured by the midwife that everything was well. But just as I was getting towards the second stage (the bit where you push) it was decided that in view of my size (short) and the baby's size (large), I'd be safer on the main labour ward, and I was transferred. This meant I could no longer use the perfectly ordinary but somehow exactly optimal chair that I'd been sitting on for the last five or six hours. We discussed positions in which I might give birth, and I surprised myself by realising I wanted to stay in bed. The midwife explained how I should go about pushing, and asked me to stop using the Entonox. This all proved quite challenging; but I was cheered by the thought that it wouldn't be much longer.

Suddenly, the doctor returned with a vengeance. He appeared in the middle of a contraction, paid me no attention, and said to the midwife "Get her up in stirrups." I was somewhat taken aback by this, and in no position to argue cogently why this didn't strike me as a good idea. So I told him to fuck off. And he did, for a while. At the time, I was slightly mortified at being so rude to him, but in retrospect, I reckon I was, on the whole, somewhat less rude than he was. When he returned, he was pacified with a promise of continuous monitoring using a scalp electrode, so Pod was unceremoniously hooked up, rather in the manner of a prize trout.

Alison with Marianne I pushed for about ten minutes or so, and then asked the midwife how long the pushing was likely to take. "About an hour," she replied, which worried me, because it was very hard work, and I didn't think I could keep it up for that long. Marianne was born about five minutes later. There's something very odd about the last couple of contractions. For hours I'd felt that the contractions were too close together, with only seconds in between to recover. When you know that the baby will be born with the next contraction, those seconds of waiting feel like hours.

Steven told me that it was a girl, and I raised my head just enough to see a purple baby-shaped thing before they wrapped her up and gave her to me. Marianne stopped being purple very quickly, and the three of us had quite a long spell of sitting quietly becoming a family. Eventually, Marianne and I were put to bed and Steven was sent home to make early morning phone calls and post messages to Usenet. I hated the postnatal ward and made my escape as quickly as possible the following day; but therein lies another tale.

-- Alison Scott

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