A is five. She was three when her brother S was born. She saw my pregnant belly grow and in the later stages move and writhe about. She knew that there was baby in there and she used to talk to him and introduce herself.
“Hello baby, I’m your sister” she would say.
She wanted him to know her. When he ‘popped out’ she was asleep. I was taken to the hospital because his head was not sufficiently engaged into my pelvis. So for the second time I was denied a home birth. All credit to the midwife for being thorough, when I arrived at the hospital things seemed to get steadily worse. The baby had moved into a superman pose, his arm up above his head and no amount of shoving seemed to persuade him to conform to the proper birthing position. When I say shoving the real truth is a doctor half submerged her arm up my vagina in a move that reminded me of classic veterinary TV shows involving cows. They tried their best to manually move his arm out the way – weird to think he had already been shaking hands with another person before even being born! He kept his hand above his head and proceeded to wrap his elbow around trapping the umbilical cord so that with every contraction he squeezed the cord between his shoulder and his head and cut off his own oxygen supply. We heard the heart rate go down as each contraction got longer. Needless to say the doctors couldn’t leave it any longer and I had to have a c-section. Having a c-section is just as weird as a ‘normal’ birth, all these blue masked people around you and the bright lights. You feel everything, the squidging, the slicing just without the pain and you can imagine the blood and guts on the other side. I thought it’d be the easy option, but I surprised myself by yelling in my best Dutch,
“Is it OK to scream in the operating room?”
I was given the go ahead so I screamed myself dry. I was disappointed to be cheated out of a second birth since everyone goes on about how much easier it is the second time around but hey on the other hand I accepted it, I knew I could have done it the other way too. I had a first birth under my belt and so there was the proof of my real warrior woman status.
The first time around was very different. There were minor complications that landed me in hospital but I ended up with a more or less natural birth. Granted I was very naive and had perhaps listened to too many positive stories about tranquil water births at my prenatal classes. Coming from a hippie dippie family I was aware of the facts, but in a very innocent way. I witnessed 3 births by the time I was 10 and I even dug a hole for the placenta planting ceremony after my sister’s birth. Birth was beautiful and soulful. But this was no match for the hard core reality of the deal and nothing nothing prepared me for the agony of having my bones ripped brutally apart like that. Nonetheless I did it and I did it with style. Apparently I was cracking jokes between the screams. I had been going to kundalini pregnancy yoga and I had practiced my mantras, so after two days of contractions, a few hours waiting in the corridor of the hospital and another 10 or so in the labour ward, I stood up at the side of the bed, clenched my fists and shouted,
“I am a strong and capable woman!!”
The Caribbean midwife in the London hospital chuckled at me and opened 2 sachets of sugar from the tea trolley which she poured down my throat. After a minute or two she advised me it might be an idea to stop shouting quite so much as I was losing all my energy out the front of my mouth by screaming instead of using that energy to push. I love a good drama, but she had a point and I focused in on the pain. I concentrated on the downward impulse and I think the scream turned into a low-pitched growl like a bear. Finally the most amazing person I was ever to meet arrived.
5 years later the baby girl that I gave birth to is lying in her bed and we’ve just read a bedtime story. Quite out of the blue she asks,
“When you have a baby in your tummy, how does it actually get out?”
I hesitate and think how to answer this. I won’t lie to her but I want to keep it simple. I’ve thought of it often, as soon as she was born infact, the fact that she’s a girl. What a destiny to be dealt this particular biological hand of cards. To tell the truth it terrifies me already. I tell her what I can.
“The baby moves down here” I say touching her abdomen “and it comes out through there.” I point.
“The fanny!” She literally looks astonished.
I quickly try to go over some basic facts, that it takes time, that the body is amazing, that it stretches and expands and even changes shape. She’s 5, I’m not going to let her in on the real truth of the searing pain and the blood and the vaginal stitches. Let’s spare her the details. For now.
She looks at me, laughs a brief nervous laugh and then snuggles down between her rabbit and her huge teddy who she calls big mamma.
“Night mummy” she says and hugs me tightly.