In 1992 I did a 10 week rural attachment to Charleville Hospital. During the time that I was there I was lucky enough to be present through the entire labour and then delivery of a couple having their first baby. It was a long day and, in reality, all I did was talk, get hot packs, get drinks and in general just hung around. For someone who was destined to become an obstetrician I guess it was fate that forceps would be involved. When that baby came out I was amazed. Think of pretty much every superlative that you can imaginably use to describe an event which just BLEW YOUR MIND and that’s how it was. They took a photo of me with the baby. I think I was more excited than the Dad. A friend of mine years later told me that she wasn’t surprised at all that I ended up doing obstetrics as apparently when I came back from Charleville and told her about the delivery my eyes lit up as I described the wonder of it all.
There have been many labours and deliveries that I have witnessed since that first one but that was the one where I first realised that having a baby is more than just happiness, love, cuddles and laughs. The day that a baby arrives is exhausting. It doesn’t matter how that baby comes out – it’s just plain exhausting. There’s also pain on that day – My sister once explained to me, “Warren – it’s like having a butternut pumpkin sitting where it shouldn’t be and you have no other option or inclination but to push.” That day is also full of frustration, sweat and lots of waiting. Waiting for the next contraction. Waiting for your husband to bring back that hot pack. Waiting for your obstetrician to turn up. Waiting for that f*#%ing epidural. Just a lot of waiting...
The lead up to THE day isn’t so great either. Early on in the pregnancy it’s nausea (if you’re lucky), lethargy and just a general feeling at times of “I’d rather be dead”. Most of the early discomfort dissipates through the mid part of the pregnancy (again - if you’re lucky) only to often return later in the pregnancy. Pregnant women can approach their D-day with a combination of excitement, trepidation and anticipation tinged with an overriding feeling of discomfort and lethargy sometimes bordering on exhaustion. I often say to women that there is a small minority - and I mean SMALL – who love, love, love being pregnant right to the very end. For a lot of women it is something to be endured. I urge them not to feel guilty about that.
The moments leading up to the arrival of a baby can be nerve-wracking and arduous. The first time Mum looking like she has just run an ultra-marathon and struggles to summon the energy to have that one last effort to push her baby into the world. The terrified girl who lies with the lower half of her body paralysed from the spinal anaesthetic because she needs a caesarean due to her placenta being in the wrong position. The woman who is having her third or fourth baby and has struggled every day of this pregnancy just to drag her weary body from task to task looking after her other beloved children.
And then the baby arrives. There is exhilaration. Oh, the exhilaration! A transformation occurs as a baby is placed on their chest. A rush of energy comes from I don’t know where and surges through their bodies. Where once there was exhaustion, fear, and doubt there is now exhilaration, energy and self-confidence. This transformation is one of the few things that continues to truly amaze me with almost every delivery.
All of the above discussion is centred on the premise that at the end of all of that – you get a baby! What if you don’t? What if you miscarry? What if your baby is stillborn? It’s hard to imagine the pain from such trauma. It’s not physical pain and the scars are unseen but the wounds are deeper and potentially more damaging than any caesarean cut on the abdomen. It takes a lot of time and tears to wash away that last sliver of doubt that you might have somehow caused this to happen. Can you imagine going through that pain and then, after a time, deciding to go back to try again. That takes strength.
So – have you noticed? Have I written about the partners? The midwives? The obstetricians. Nope! I’ve talked about the Mum. She alone is the one who endures the pain and exhaustion of pregnancy and childbirth. She is the one that in our largely patriarchal society who usually carries out most of the child rearing. She is the one who spends a lot of her waking life tired, worried, and often sacrificing her own wants and needs for the good of her brood. The relationship that she has with her partner often, but not always, helps share the load of these many burdens that she takes on but through all of this it is HER strength, HER persistence, HER power – the power of just one – that carries her through.
(And in case you were wondering - I couldn't find the photo that was taken on me at the first delivery - still looking. That's my daughter in the photo above at about 5 minutes of age.)