A Mother's Diary
Fiorella Nash FAITH Magazine July-August 2006
It is amazing the things one remembers during moments of extreme stress. I must have been about nine years old when our parish priest preached a homily in which he quoted a pregnant parishioner as saying: “Father, you really must be present one day at the birth of a baby "childbirth is the most beautiful experience.” I was fairly sceptical about the idea even as a child: as a woman in the early stages of labour I was pretty certain that if anyone had dared suggest to me that childbirth was a beautiful experience, I would have used my remaining strength to drown them in the birth pool.
“Don't worry,” said the midwife, as I trembled at the sound of a woman screaming blue murder in the room next door. “It's almost over for her and soon it will be over for you.” I knew what she meant, but could have been convinced that this meant the woman was dying. Ten minutes later I was lying on a bed in the labour ward attached to various evil-looking machines; at least I was informed that it was the labour ward but I felt more as though I had been bundled into a torture chamber. As most of my female acquaintances appear to have had no difficulty with labour I feel like a wimp admitting to this, but giving birth was one of the most horrific experiences of my entire life.
I would have to be a masochist to pretend that that agonising, terrifying twenty-four hour nightmare was beautiful. I do not feel a warm glow when I remember sweating profusely, vomiting with the effects of the inadequate pain-killing drugs and screaming with pain so loudly and so often that by the morning I could barely speak. Little Hugh Ambrose had managed to manoeuvre himself into such an awkward position that the back of his head battered against the base of my spine with every contraction, making me feel as though someone was smashing my vertebrae with a hammer whilst some other invisible assailant kicked me in the stomach with hobnailed boots.
I screamed and pleaded with the midwife for pain control but was told first that it was just coming, then that there was no anaesthetist available, then finally that I was too far gone for an epidural and would have to deliver my baby without any pain control at all except for the gas that was making me sick. By the time the obstetrician intervened and began arranging a spinal anaesthesia I was almost in a trance and barely took in the explanation that the baby could not be safely delivered naturally. I signed the consent form for an emergency caesarean without reading a single word, knowing only that it presented the only chance of my baby being born alive.
The messages I received throughout my pregnancy, in literature, at classes and even from friends' anecdotes, was that childbirth should be kept "natural" It's all right to treat pregnancy like an embarrassing disease, but childbirth has been built up to be some kind of quasi-mystical experience that might be ruined if the naughty men with their machines and drugs are allowed to interfere. Sorry to rain on the parade, but let's hear it for the medicalisation of childbirth.
Yes, it is a natural experience encountered by millions and millions of women throughout history - but it is worth remembering that many have also died for want of the basic medical care that some in the West fondly imagine we can do without. If I had given birth in a developing country where the medicalisation of childbirth is a distant dream, my baby would have died during the delivery and I would have died a few days later from the postnatal infection I contracted, leaving my husband a widower at twenty-four-years-old, less than a year after our marriage. Fortunately, I gave birth in Cambridge in 2006 and the story ended happily. Just after 11pm on 20th April, a 9Ib baby boy was dragged into the world and placed in my arms. I knew he was mine when I looked down at him and, in spite ofbeing fast asleep and the picture of innocence, he still managed to look slightly cross. My son. Hugh Ambrose, my son.
Three weeks later, Hugh Ambrose and I felt strong enough to attend a postnatal group recommended by the health visitor. I quite enjoyed the occasion. A nice lady brought me a cup of tea and I sat in smug serenity whilst my baby slept peacefully in my arms and everyone else's created merry hell. No one needed to know that he had kept me and most of Chesterton Road awake the night before wailing his little heart out or that he had spent the previous evening providing the postmodernist soundtrack to Fr Finigan's talk on Atheism and Richard Dawkins. Then we were instructed to jot down words on the subject of sleep and what it means to us, which was rather below the belt as none of us had had a wink of sleep in at least a month. However, we obligingly started writing down words like "rest" and"peace", fondly recalling a time when it was possible to sink one's head into the pillow without having to move it again until daylight. Oh sleep, it is a gentle thing! Either it is the effects of the happy hormone released during breastfeeding or I have finally reached the loopy phase of sleep deprivation, but the broken nights do not feel nearly as nightmarish as I had imagined they would be. Sleep is over rated.