It may be a few months away, but Martha Alexander already has her birth plan mapped out in one word…
I feel as though I’ve been pregnant for a thousand years. I’m so ready to meet the female kidney bean with the mean roundhouse kick, but I have still got a couple of months to wait. I know she needs to fatten up before I can get my mitts on her but I really miss her. How can I miss someone who literally lives inside me? How can I miss someone who I have never met? I don’t know, but I do.
I keep wondering if she’ll be late or catch me by surprise (Mum: “Television makes it look like you’re minding your own business in Peter Jones and suddenly your waters break and half-an-hour later a baby comes out. But it’s not like that.”). Where will I be? How long will I have to wait?
I have my plan. It is very simple and I have been unswervingly loyal to it. I have not had visions of myself wallowing in a birthing pool listening to whale music in nothing but a sports bra, or hypnobirthing by candlelight on my kitchen floor, or asking for a caesarean.
I just want an epidural. Knowing that pain relief is the beginning and end of my birth plan is what has kept me sane. But, as I’m beginning to discover, pregnancy is riddled with politics and often completely unsolicited advice.
I’m relaxed about what’s to come (although it could be a potent strand of denial masquerading as calmness) but with every tuppenceworth of advice given to me (from literally anyone – friends, nurses, the proprietor of St John’s Newsagent who is male and does not have any children) chunks of my cool façade crumble.
“Are you getting excited? Not long now!” The conversations always begin in a benign way. And then: “God, an epidural. Really?” Or, “You won’t get the full experience…” Or possibly variants of the spectacularly patronising, “Babe, do you know what an epidural involves?”
I said to Dionne, my midwife, that my birth plan was basically “all the drugs” as well as shutting up for once in my life and listening to instruction.
I told her I thought the birthing suite looked lovely, but I know myself, and so I might as well head directly into the Victorian labour ward from the start and save everyone a lot of time, energy and emotional trauma. She actually said it was rare to speak to an expectant mother who did not have a romanticised view of childbirth.
“Oh no, I’m confident that this is the closest to death I will have ever been…” I said smugly, vindicated in my plan.
I love Dionne. She is so wise that I am in danger of becoming co-dependent and treating her like a lifestyle guru, having to stop myself ringing her for non-pregnancy related reasons: “Oh, hi Dionne, just wondered if you think I can put jeans on a boil wash or if they are liable to shrink?” “Dionne, hi. Me again. Do you think the DVLA will fine me for being late in updating the address on my license?” But I especially love her because she respected my choice regarding my non-existent birth plan: “I’m just going to write ‘epidural’, right?” she said, scrawling the word at the top of the blank A4 pages in my maternity file, usually dedicated to the intricacies of an expectant mother’s labour wishes.
So, given my feelings for Dionne, and how she understands me and carefully answers questions that I truly cannot publish, I was devastated when she told me she would probably not be there on the big day.
“But why?” I wailed, genuine panic decimating the last of my composure. “I need you to be there. I can’t do it without you! I don’t know the other midwives! I won’t like them!”
I bartered with her for a bit (“well, is there any way I could drop you a quick text when I go into labour and if you fancy popping in, you can?”) but it turns out I am not the only pregnant woman on Dionne’s radar.
Anyway, I’m having an epidural and that is that. Until a friend told me she too wanted an epidural but when she got to hospital both anaesthetists were busy and she had to wait. And wait. Until it was too late and she gave birth with the help of two paracetamol and a terrified boyfriend. With this fresh piece of hellish potential in mind, I am printing a sign to carry with me at all times, rather like a blood donor card: ‘DO NOT TELL ME IT’S TOO LATE FOR AN EPIDURAL…’
Next time: Martha tackles maternity leave
More: Diary of a Mum Part 2