I have always fancied myself as a writer, spending my youth penning epics of naive poetry that could nauseate even the steeliest stomach of the wildest romantic, but by far, the most imaginative work of fiction I have ever created is my seven-page birth plan.
I’m a Virgo and like to be well prepared for any eventuality, so upon the imminent arrival of my first-born, I created a birth plan. Within it were instructions for my birthing partners detailing what to do in any number of situations; which drugs to allow, who to call, what to choose, when to take over.
I made extensive lists and scheduled all my birthing aids according to advice. Like the good Nuevo-Hippie I am, I spent lots of money on aromatherapy, homeopathy, acupressure, hypno-birthing, birdsong cd's, pre-natal yoga classes and active birthing books and my plan included when and how all these elixirs, rubs and affirmations should be administered. I had diligently meditated on the image of my vagina opening like a lotus, allowing the baby to glide through the birth channel of Buddha and I went to a psychic for posterity’s sake.
I did everything a good Nuevo-Hippie should. The birth was going to be wonderful and gentle, the baby delivered by midwives in a lovely centre that supplied a bath and a private room with a big double bed. My birth plan was neatly folded and slipped into the pocket of my hospital bag that overflowed with crystals, oils, nappies, a nightie, knickers and pictures of lotuses floating on lakes….and a whole bucket of nuts. I was ready.
I had no idea.
Little did I know when I was scrawling the imaginings of my birth, that there was actually no point to it, other than to provide myself with a false sense of security. That’s not to say that I don’t recommend writing a birth plan, I do. It’s important.
When you’re 37 weeks and you need to feel like something makes sense, a birth plan helps. I will not lie to you, birthing is a powerful experience that brings you closer to the forces of nature than any other, but it is unpredictable, fraught with danger and complication, and the only thing that is guaranteed is that it will absolutely NOT go to plan.
At one of the psychic readings I attended, aside from being told that my child would most likely be a vegetarian, it was also said that I would labour well. Apparently, I laboured so well that I wasn’t even aware it was happening until the final stages. I knew I was uncomfortable but didn’t realise I was dilating. So, as planned, I called my support people when the pains started. Of course, we thought we had a lengthy labour in front us and were unaware that by the time they arrived, I would be less than two hours away from giving birth. We established a routine of walking and talking, as planned. We made miso soup, as planned. We called the midwives when we noticed changes, all according to plan.
However, in the space of the phone call, my labour went from “ouch…it’s starting to hurt” to “I can’t breathe and have to push”, and I was urged to get to the centre as quickly as possible. It took half-an-hour to get from my bedroom to the back door, where the pain became so intense that I had an out of body experience. As I sat on the door frame watching myself gripping for support, I could hear an internal voice saying, “Oh goodness will you look at that! Poor body’s screaming very loudly.”
The centre was only seven minutes-drive away, but we only just made it to the midwife in time. She helped me to the bed and before my birth partner had heaved my hospital bag in from the car, the baby’s head was out. There was no time for a rose geranium bath, or the haunting echoes of Call of the Loon. There was only time for a superstar-baby to come bursting into life with a great big BANG! They handed me my child and the first thing I did was sing to her. Happy Birthday to You, Dear Baby….not quite the song I had specified, but it’s nothing, if not a happy song.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to enjoy the double bed either. I hadn’t planned for an explosive birth that would blow my lotus petals out of the water. I hadn’t prepared the answer to the question, “Do you want local or general anaesthetic?” Major surgery and morphine were most certainly not on my list. My poor little lotus was completely in tatters. Gladly, I’d organised loving support people who smiled and cuddled my baby in those first precious hours of her life while I could not, and for that part of the plan, I will forever be grateful. For months after, I wondered how you could plan for something that you can’t imagine happening, ruminated on the desecration of flowers, did my physiotherapy and questioned my beliefs. The only answers I found are these: Fear is not your friend. To give birth, you must be brave and to parent, forgiving. If your stupid lotus doesn’t gracefully unfurl in a ray of golden light, judge yourself not, but never deny it its beauty. If your plan isn’t working, hand it over to the grand plan, stay in the moment and just… keep breathing.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem