My first experience with childbirth is almost indescribable.
If there’s a word that means both the best and worst moments of my life then that’s the one I’d use. Because of where I lived, and possibly because I was a young mum-to-be with no father-to-be in sight, I was brushed aside by the midwives and doctors in my area. My ultrasounds were awkward moments with the images getting lost and my doctor’s appointments became memories that I’d prefer not to have.
So, when I went into labor in the early afternoon I was completely unprepared but I didn’t know it at the time. We made a mad rush to our remote hospital in North Western NSW, where I was bundled onto a plane to the closest hospital which had a maternity and labor ward. The plane ride didn’t come as a surprise but the cannula, which was bumped, bled and then smelled horrible, made life miserable.
I’d never stepped foot on the ward, didn’t know where anything was and had only met the midwife who booked me in but she was not there. After being examined I dropped my suitcase off in a room where another lady and her newborn baby already slept. Shock number one, the bathroom only had a shower and toilet and it was somewhere down the hall.
Then I was ushered off to another floor, shown to a waiting room and left to wait. My contractions were five minutes apart, things were supposed to be happening but I was alone. My parents – aka my support people – were told it was too late for visitors and I was only two centimeters dilated so they were asked to leave. I had no idea if I was allowed to make myself a coffee and I hadn’t even thought to bring a snack. Not that I could get to my bags even if they were loaded up with treats. The plastic covered single seat lounges would have been comfortable to sit in, if my body wasn’t being raked with contractions and sleep wasn’t trying to take control between the pain.
At some stage I managed to get a midwife’s attention long enough to ask for a heat pack but I could hear several other women crying out in pain just around the corner so I knew they had their hands full. I waited.
Fifteen hours later they finally offered me a bed and the opportunity to access gas. It wasn’t like any movie I’d ever seen, the contraption that I was supposed to suck the gas out of felt odd and annoying and the gas just made me sick. Twenty five hours later I was given Pethidine, then two hours later, some more. I tried to sleep as the hours wore on. There was nothing else in the room – no mats so I could get on the floor, no balls or room to move around and no bath or spa.
At the last minute the epidural kicked in and I finally realised that my room was filled with not only my parents but midwives coming and going and a doctor and an anesthetist who may have introduced themselves I can’t quite remember. Getting close to 8pm all the things that I had expected to happen flowed like clockwork.
I remember the midwife announcing that she could see the head and the moment when the cord was cut and who could ever forget the first time your skin touches your new born baby’s? I held my little girl and my mind was oddly full and completely empty at the same time. My world was whole, even though it was not perfect. Far from perfect.
After a normal day then thirty hours of labor I was walked back to my room, where a new lady was asleep, and left there. That’s it – no food for you, no sleep, no hints or pointers or even a smile. After an hour of my newborn’s crying I walked myself back down to the waiting room and sat quietly by myself in the only position that I could get my little one to sleep in.
I wasn’t alone – I had a beautiful baby in my arms – but I was on my own.
I couldn’t fault anyone but myself. Perhaps I was in the wrong hospital, at the wrong time, fate or karma or something. What it comes down to for me is that during my whole pregnancy I searched for the right questions to ask, and for the right people to ask, but I didn’t stop to think about what I wanted and what I was going to need. I needed a bath, food and a friendly face that never left my side. These are on the top of my list for the next time around.
“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