Friday night, 7.30pm, we’re eating average pizza at a joint on Brunswick Street, Melbourne when my partner informs me that she can feel ‘something’ downstairs (my words). The mushroom and cheese sliding down my throat immediately coagulates as I look into her eyes, then at her bulging tummy, and back again.
At this point in many birthing stories, I’m assuming, pregnant couples operationalise ‘the plan’. Pre-prepared bag flung into car, phone call to hospital made, partner accompanied to the car and crazy wild driving because you’re sure any cop who might pull you over will definitely adhere to that popular myth that those on the way to hospital with their laboring partner can drive as fast as they god damn like!
We had our own similar plan, but threw it out the window when we decided to take a weekend trip two weeks before our daughter was due. We don’t live in Fitzroy, we actually live four hours away in the middle of nowhere, but were convinced that a last minute weekend jaunt was exactly what we needed.
“All first babies are overdue,” said every friend we knew. Even the doctor, when questioned as to this very case, said, and I quote, “I wouldn’t stop you from going away”. So relaxed was everyone we talked to that I was sure our baby, due on Christmas day, would be lucky to arrive by Easter.
Never one for melodramatics, my partner, grimacing in pain, puts down her pizza, tells me to stay calm, and pops into the loo. Three minutes later she emerges full of smiles, or relief, declaring a false alarm. “Everything’s fine!” she said. Phew! We have so many damn good things planned over the weekend that the early baby intrusion would disrupt – seriously, we had a schedule.
With my partner’s diagnosis declared we take a walk for a little dessert. We don’t let the occasional lingering ‘sensation’ disturb our sweets hunt. By the time we reach the hotel though, my partners ‘all OK’ diagnosis is looking increasingly shaky. She jumps in the bath and I Google ‘early signs of labour’.
Despite the increasing seriousness of the signs we both maintain an air of denial. This wasn’t how it was meant to happen – we weren’t really in labour – we probably just ate too much pizza and ice cream.
We call the hospital hoping for some calming advice, something that would stop the escalating pains and allow us to resume our final weekend of shenanigans. But the hospital midwife refuses to indulge our requests and guilts us into a midnight hospital check up “for the baby’s sake,” she says. There goes the shenanigans schedule.
Even at the hospital, thirty minutes into the process of ‘examination’, we aren’t convinced that this is it. So much so we spend most of our time taking big smiley pictures of my partner with the monitors strapped to her thinking, ‘gee, what a lark!’
Then the news: the midwife arrives and says it monotone. “You’re in labour.”
Almost immediately the smiles disappear and the grinding pains begin. All hope of making it back home before the birth is gone. With no previous record at this hospital, we’re shunted to the bottom of the queue, and forced to wait eight hours in the triage section with nothing but an ice pack.
Our original birthing plan was clean and simple: little (hopefully none) intervention, lots of showers, massage and music. None of these things were available in the triage section so my partner pushed through six hours of contractions (only one minute apart!) before finally accepting a little gas. So intense was the pain that when it was eventually time to turn off the gas I tried to take it off her, only to end up with just the hose, the mouth nozzle still stuck in her determined jaws.
At 8am we were eventually wheeled into a birthing suite and when our baby’s heart beat began to drop, it was all systems go. As my partner began the pushing process tears rolled down my eyes and the obstetrician quickly fetched me a chair, sensing he would have another medical patient shortly if he didn’t. As my partner pushed and pushed, a short woman who we’d never met incessantly whispered into her ear that it’s “just like doing a big poo.” So overcome with desperation, the humour of the poo whisperer’s role temporarily escaped me and I joined in on her encouragement.
When forceps became involved the sight was almost too much to bear. Three minutes of furious tugging from the registrar obstetrician and sweat trickling off her brow produced no baby. Seemingly bereft of other helpful things to say, the poo whisperer continued with her same encouraging whispers and the more experienced obstetrician took over. The physical act of forcep delivery is something that had, until then, never occurred to me, and now, will never leave me.
But finally, just as the pain seemed too much to bear, and the forceps could pull no longer, she appeared – bawling, bruised, bemused and absolutely beautiful.
“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