Exactly a week after Snorky was due, on September 21, this is what happened:
4.37am – I wake to painful cramps that pulse through my belly at regular intervals. I wait a moment before I wake J-man because this whole fake labour shiz has been going on for weeks. This could just be Thai take-out, I think. Like that scene in The Madness of King George when Helen Mirren tells Nigel Hawthorne to “try a fart”, I do just that to no avail. I wake J-man and tell him it’s on like Donkey Kong.
6am – The contractions are consistently coming every couple of minutes. In the book they give you at baby classes, it says this means the baby is imminent and get in the car now or you will have the kid in the toilet. I am thrilled at how quickly it all seems to be going and I imagine gazing at my baby over lunch.
8am – I have peanut butter on toast for breakfast, as the contractions pick up. J-man rings the hospital and they tell us amateurs to stay at home because this baby is not coming anytime soon. Hey lady, take some Panadol, have a hot shower and chew on some cement, they tell us.
9am – I set up a pain station in the lounge room, where I kneel on a pillow and put my head on another pillow placed on a chair. I cry, I scream, and I grunt. This baby is coming! J-man talks about calling the hospital again. I say if they ask whether the pain is manageable to tell them yes it is, I have a high pain threshold, and I could just as easily have this baby at home. I hear him say these words, words that will come to haunt me.
11am – Everything comes to a grinding halt. I feel like an idiot.
Noon – Oh, hang on. Here we go, something is happening. I want to keep things moving, so I get the broom and use it as a walking stick for my dicky hip and do laps of the courtyard under the hot sun. The contractions continue to come frequently and I moan and groan while our neighbours discreetly usher their visitors indoors.
2pm – Finally, I rate the pain as unmanageable and we hop in our little hire car and go to the hospital. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I distinctly remember sitting at a red light on Victoria Road wishing for death. Or birth. Whichever.
2.15pm – The midwives obviously care not about my views on life and death and send me to a waiting room in the delivery ward. Another couple – a heavily pregnant woman who is not in labour and her dude – sit across from us watching some kind of car race on the TV. I am contracting in front of strangers and it is the height of totes awkward. I squeeze J-man’s hand until it looks like a rubber chicken.
2.20pm – A lovely young midwife named Emily with a nose stud examines me and finds I am measuring – cough – three centimetres. Three. And I have to get to ten. How embarrassing is this? I can’t even take contracting to a three. She tells us to head back home, rest, have something to eat and come back at about 6pm.
3pm – This part is kind of a daze. I don’t remember being in heaps and heaps of pain, but I do remember telling J-man he should get in some nap time and a Red Dead Redemption session before things get real. I eat coconut bread with honey and an orange icy pole. Things amp up about 5.30pm and red hot, raging cramps race around my belly and back.
6.45pm – We go back to the hospital. The short trip to RPA is horrific. I cry and moan and have hand-to-hand combat with my seatbelt, which I’m convinced is making everything worse.
7pm – A kindly middle-aged midwife ushers me in to a delivery suite and shows me how to use the gas. The gas, my friends, is a con. It does nothing. But it does feel surprisingly good to just pretend. I get into a night shirt and ask the midwife whether I should take off my underpants. She laughs and says I can keep my dignity a little longer.
7.20pm – A lovely young midwife named Tori comes in and takes over. She says I now measure four. Fucking FOUR!? Will I still be in labour when they hand me a gold timepiece at my retirement party? She suggests we all get in the shower together. Me, her, J-man and the gas bottle. The shower is (obviously) huge. Tori and J-man chit-chat and discover we all went to the same uni. It’s weird. Here I am, totally naked, having a shower while my husband watches with another woman and there’s drugs in the room. This is not something I would usually be into.
9pm – The feeling of hot water on my body starts to annoy me. And this is about the time that I lose my mind. It is, I believe, the part the books and Satan himself call “transition”. At first I lean up against the bed growling and grunting like a wild animal, sucking in gas and chewing ice chips. Tori tells me to let her know when I am not coping and she will give me morphine. Soon after, I yell at J-man “I AM NOT COPING” in between hitting him on the chest as the contractions start to become just one big, awful contraction. I get the morphine. It does nothing for the pain, only makes me really sleepy in between contractions. With each one, Tori tells me “You can. You can”.
10pm – It’s time to start pushing. I won’t go into graphic detail, only to say that while it stung like a giant bee with fangs, claws, and Swiss Army knife in its pocket, it was such a feeling of relief. I look back now, imagining being naked, on all fours and grunting, as two midwives look up my clacker, and the only way I can explain it is this: I was not there for my own labour. The real me was at home watching Breaking Bad and eating cheese on the couch, waiting for Labour Steph – the unashamed and naked one – to come home with the baby.
11.37 – A little, blue being drops between my legs and starts to cry. J-man cuts the cord. I call my parents. We cry, we laugh, we freak out. We name her Cordelia.
The sign on the physiotherapist’s door said: “Knock ONCE and wait PATIENTLY”. The physio ushered us into her office, while still treating a pregnant woman for problems she probably didn’t want to share with J-man and me. The physio was nudging 60, wearing a white zip-up coat and sneakers, and had a Carmela Soprano hairstyle. The open-plan surgery was very old school, with 1980s-style posters on the wall, baring slogans like “PELVIC FLOOR: USE IT OR LOSE IT”. Her writing was scrawled and heavily underlined on a couple of whiteboards: ”TURN OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE DURING CONSULTATIONS!”. We winced when J-man’s phone buzzed.
Over the next 30 minutes, these are some of the things she said while diagnosing me with something called Pelvic Girdle Pain (it sounds so benign and Victorian) and showing J-man how to massage me:
- “This is probably labour. You’ve been in labour since Friday.”
- “You want the pain to go away? Get that kid out.”
- ”Take off all your clothes. But not there – anyone could just walk in and see you naked.”
- “I’m going to use a permanent marker on your buttocks.”
- “Joel, put your finger there. Ask if it hurts. Wait until she says yes and then press down hard.”
- “That’s good, Joel. See how she’s crying? Sometimes you’ve got to make them cry.”
- “Is that your pubis? Good! I’m pleased with your pubis.”
- “Now. Go home and have sex. I’m not joking – that’s the best way to get this kid out.”
Monday came and went, and Snorky did not arrive. At this rate she’ll be celebrating her 18th birthday in utero.
It was going to be the perfect labour story. I imagined telling my daughter about the night she was born: “Your Gigi and I were talking on the phone about when you might arrive, when I felt pain in my back, spreading around to my tummy. It was good pain, exciting pain,” I would tell her every birthday. “I had a deadline to meet the next morning, so I hung up and worked for hours on a project I was really proud of, happily feeling little pains every so often. After days of weird Spring heat, it was cool outside and the wind howled wildly. Your dad was watching Cloud Control play at the Metro and I texted him to say I thought you might be on your way. He told his friends the news, and we were all so thrilled. I had peanut butter on toast for dinner, and late that night, I went to bed and cradled my tummy, nervously imagining the next 24 hours and how much our lives would change.”
That was Thursday night. Little Snorky didn’t arrive. On Friday, I felt really uncomfortable. I still felt twinges when I walked. It was painful walking the six blocks to the coffee shop and home again, but I was so excited. That night, we went out for what I was sure would be our last meal as a childless couple, and by the end I could barely move. We had to catch a taxi the four blocks home. I thought: This! Is! It! I even had J-man take a photo of what was definitely my final day of pregnancy. How smug I felt.
On Saturday morning, her due date, Snorky was a no-show. When I tried to get up, I couldn’t, with a shooting pain ripping through my hip, my butt, and down my right leg. Every step I took was accompanied by an automatic wince or a scream or a cry. I spent Saturday on the couch in my dressing gown, with darling J-man tending to my every need. Before bed I tearfully talked to a midwife, who said the only cure for what she thought might be sciatica at this stage of pregnancy was to have the baby. I crawled onto our bed and cried in frustration. Today, Sunday, has been no improvement. Little Snorkel is in there moving around like it ain’t no thing, happy in her human spa bath while I grit my teeth in agony.
This morning I thought about how lucky I’ve been to have an incredibly smooth pregnancy, with no illness or complications. If this is all I have to endure before labour, then I should be thankful. And I am.
But so far, Snorkel’s labour story goes like this: “In the days before I had you, I was in so much pain that your dad had to do things like carry me to the toilet, help me bathe and put my underpants on. And that’s why he started dating men.”
A woman I’d only met once or twice walked up to me at work holding a pink tissue paper package. She handed it to me and said “You told me you were having a girl, so I thought of you”. Inside were two singlets with little flowers she’d embroidered around the neckline. As I looked down at the teeny tiny cotton singlets a stranger had made for my unborn daughter, I realised it was probably the kindest thing anybody had ever done for me. As a reward, I thanked her through a mouthful of cupcake.
Pregnancy has made me the target of all sorts of random acts of kindness. I assumed that everyone looks at a pregnant woman and thinks of overpopulation, a soiled nappy choking a polar bear atop a melting iceberg, and haemorrhoids. But most people treat me as though I am carrying a Messiah.
Friends and strangers bake for me, they lend me books, they give up their seats on the bus, they give me old baby clothes, they tell me how good I look, they carry my bag and open doors for me. Our new neighbour offered us his car anytime we need it. He takes our bins down to the road and hauls them back up the steep driveway. An Italian cleaning lady at work fawned over my “Bambino”. My pregnant sister lugged over a baby capsule to lend us, even though she was sick and tired. Colleagues have offered to arrange a baby shower. Others who live nearby have asked if they can do the groceries for me. Surly teens let me hop on the bus first. I have never known such good fortune and happiness.
Part of that happiness also comes from new exposure to harmless freaks, who think they are being kind, but are really being harmless freaks. There was the bikie standover man who literally stood over me in court one day and said how awesome it must be to use my belly as a desk. A strange man passed me a note saying: “Marriage and children are the greatest. All the best : )”. A taxi driver told me I must be having a boy because his wife was beautiful when she was pregnant with their son, but “ugly as” when she was pregnant with their daughter. A man in an elevator said he would pray for me. Another man in an elevator tried to make me promise I wouldn’t call the baby Diana. A now convicted criminal told me from the dock that I looked good - she had looked like a “baby elephant” when she was pregnant.
It makes me wonder, what will be left in my life once I have the baby?
The woman running the antenatal class was totally obsessed with pelvic floor exercises. A physiotherapist, she even had an ultrasound machine set up in her home and subjected her teenage daughter to tests to see if she had been doing her exercises.
She told us French and Scandinavian women have the strongest pelvic floor muscles in the world because they are taught to do the exercises from a very young age. Without daily squeezes, our future would be filled with embarrassing moments and early entry into a nursing home, she warned.
She even had an anecdote to go with her message.
“I knew a woman who didn’t do her exercises during two pregnancies – she had two boys. Eventually her urge to wee would be so bad that she couldn’t even wait to unlock the door when she came home. She would wee in the garden. Now, that might be OK when your sons are two and four, but when they’re 16 and 18? No teenage boy wants to see his mother wee in the garden.”
Stony-faced and silent, she gave an ominous look to every single rounded woman sitting in the semi-circle.
I don’t underestimate the importance of pelvic floor muscle exercises. I don’t want to end up in a home, having to endure visits from awful singing schoolchildren. But holy crap, this class was full of doom and gloom. There were warnings of haemorrhoids, weird nipple happenings and, not surprisingly, paranoia. There were charts showing the “ideal stool” and demonstrations of how to sit on the toilet properly. Also, DON’T LIE ON YOUR BACK!
I know there are a lot of women out there who have truly awful pregnancies – that totally sucks – and it made me realise just how lucky I’ve been so far.
It’s something I am most definitely not taking for granted, so herewith a list of positive things about pregnancy.
A list of positive things about pregnancy:
- Strangers are very, very kind. I was warned about wacky strangers who want to touch you, but I haven’t had that happen yet. It’s been all about handsome businessmen giving me their seats on the bus, a lady at the coffee shop telling me “I’m holding well”, a little old lady wishing me the best for my “bambino” and – the greatest – a young guy offering to lend me his umbrella if I left it in a secret place for him to retrieve. “I can’t just let you, like that, walk in this rain, ” he said. I mean, wow.
- Colleagues are very, very kind. I’ve had people buy me sweets, cups of tea, friands and de-caf coffees. One woman bought our baby a pair of hand-knitted booties. The other day I shared a particularly wild taxi ride with a woman I work with, who yelled at the driver to slow down and continually checked on me.
- Neighbours are very, very kind. Our neighbours invited us over for morning tea and gave us enough clothes for our daughter (have I mentioned that? It’s a little lady!) to wear for the rest of her life.
- The nesting instinct is awesome. Suddenly I want to dry the dishes, make the bed hotel-style, bake, de-clutter and just generally outnest Big Bird.
- You crave cinnamon donuts. Your baby wants them, so you dang well eat them.
- Your hair gets shiny and your nails get strong. I’ve also lost my milk moustache! A miracle far greater than any pot of Nad’s could perform.
There are other things I could add, but I need to wee.
Somewhere in rural Victoria, there is a young man who thinks I’m dead and/or unattractive. About an hour after landing in Melbourne, J-man, our friend Meg and I accidentally found ourselves on a steep bush track in a hire car made for driving to church. A 20-ish-year-old dude drove past us in a big ute and gave us an appropriate bewildered look. I looked at him, opened my eyes wide, raised my eyebrows and hoped he understand I meant “Help me. We’re about to die”, not “come hither”. He kept driving.
Happily, our road to certain death looked like this:
After losing traction several times, near-bogging, and a near self-bogging, we made it to our sweet BnB. It had ponies!
Then we went to Hanging Rock to watch The Rubens, one of the bands J-man co-manages, support The Boss. I get so excited seeing J-man’s bands succeed. Look! (Not seen: guitarist Zaac shredding it on stage left).
As we were waiting for The Boss to start, this is what Hanging Rock looked like. I told a funny joke heaps of times: “You know a bunch of schoolgirls went missing here, right?” It really was amazing how polite people were about it.
The Boss looked like this. He was so, so great:
Created with Gifboom
We saw most of his show the next night too, but the baby appeared to dislike all the vibrations. Get used to rock ‘n’ roll little one because your dad lives it and your mum sometimes comes along for the ride until 10pm.
We spent Monday and Tuesday in Melbourne. It was my first time. I liked it, but I didn’t go bat shit insane like I thought I would. I liked the laneways, the Yarra, the little shops for ladies, the fried green tomato burgers, the homemade crumpets, the duck fat potatoes, the art gallery and the trams.
Also, the breads.
I was just a touch disappointed with my inability to find anything to buy, so I spent today making up for it at op-shops and the outlet centre near my house.
a) A kaftan shirt from Vinnies because pregnant women seem to be relegated to polar fleece and Indian-themed garments.
b) A mug from Salvos to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Liz, you legend!
c) Some tassel earrings to distract from my suddenly outie belly button.
d) A stripey shirt. Ahoyness! I know my mum would tell me that horizontal stripes make you look wider, but I feel like pregnancy and peanut butter pretzels are the real culprits here.
e) A dress with embroidery on the front from Salvos. It was sold as “manchester”, but doonas don’t have shoulder pads, sillies! Also need to nappy san a mystery stain.
I just looked up euphemisms for pregnancy, and my favourite is “in the pudding club”. So yeah, as 50 Cent would say: I’m in the club, bottle full of bub.
Also, you could say I’m growing feet.
In the grand tradition of lists about things I find weird (Europe and also Europe), I bring you a list of weird things I’ve noticed about being pregnant.
A list of weird things I’ve noticed about being pregnant:
It’s dark and nighttime: When not pregnant I close my eyes, and eight, nine, or sometimes ten hours later, I wake up in exactly the same position. Now suddenly I’m waking up at midnight, 3am, 5am and then when my alarm goes off. But I’m mostly waking up for strange reasons.
A couple of nights ago I woke up in a cold sweat because I had a graphic dream about autopsy photos. A few nights later I woke up in a marital panic in the middle of a dream about passionately kissing some dude. In the morning I realised the dude was a guy I saw very briefly in a lift at work. He was nice and all, but he had a rat’s tail, a paunch and bail papers. Then last night I woke up at 2am with my doona folded very neatly on top of me and lying on Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and David Marr’s Quarterly Essay Political Animal, both of which I remembered putting at my bedside.
Chalk and cheese: My culinary desires have reverted right back to childhood. Serve me a plate of boiled eggs, mac cheese, olives and musk sticks and I would gladly give you my first born.
Sick, sick, sick: I haven’t talked about sexually transmitted diseases so much since mine and J-man’s first date. Every medical person I talk to wants to know about any history of warts, rashes and goo. I look them straight in the eyes, cross myself and tell them the only sexually transmitted disease I’ve ever contracted is love.
Clap your hands: I am deliriously, unabashedly happy. And really in love with J-man. Super weird.
J-man likes to tell people he never gets hit on anymore because he “reeks of marriage”. I wouldn’t say he reeks of marriage: he is a dude who regularly stays out late without me (I like bed better than people), drinks and brews a lot of beer, and is a member of a naughty rap group that performs a song mentioning something called a “panty tsunami”.
On Saturday night, J-man offered to shout me dinner, dragged me from the couch and took me to see a band and get a burrito. He had been wanting to get a burrito since his birthday, when he went to a Mexican place in Surry Hills that helped him celebrate with a silly sombrero and a voucher for a free burrito. He was SUPER EXCITED about the free burrito and had mentioned it at least once everyday since Wednesday.
At the Mexi place, we had an exceptionally awkward encounter with the server.
Joel: Hi. Could I have a chicken burrito, please?
Me: Could I have a bean burrito please?
Man: Hang on please (Typing). Okay, a chicken burrito and a beef burrito.
Joel: Could I please have that weird green drink?
Me: Sorry, I said a bean burrito. Thanks.
Man: Yep, a bean burrito. You guys want hot or mild salsa?
Joel: I’ll have hot, please.
Me: Could I just have mild, please?
Man: Yes, the beef burrito comes with mild.
Me: Sorry, I asked for a bean burrito.
Man: The bean burrito comes with hot salsa.
Me: Could I just have mild, please?
Man: (Typing) Hang on … yes.
Joel: Could I please have that weird green drink?
Me: And could I get a Coke?
Man: Sorry, hang on (typing) … yes.
But this is where things got GREAT, and J-man handed over his voucher. As he pulled it from his wallet and unfolded it, it looked suspicious – it was just one of the shop’s flyers with a scribble of black texta on it.
Joel: I’ve got a free burrito!
Man: A free burrito?
Joel: A free burrito!
Man: (Looking at the flyer) This is not a free burrito. This is just a girl’s name with “FB” written on it, as in Facebook.
Joel: (Looking at the flyer) So it’s not FB as in free burrito? Ooooh … Facebook! Haha!
Turns out a sombrero must look really good on J-man, and the waitress wanted to get a little of that hot salsa. We sat down at a table where J-man declared “I’VE STILL GOT IT!” And flexed his muscles.
Man: Hey, man. You forgot your weird green drink.
2012 was the year I learnt to pick up a shit sandwich and turn it into a Shake Shack mushroom burger, with extra cheese and crispy fries on the side.
That’s a terrible analogy, so let me explain. My professional life was turned upside down, but I ended the year with my dream job. My health became confusing, but I didn’t die (or even get sick) and it made us take out health cover so I now get a lame thrill when I hand over a measly $10 at the dentist. We got booted out of our apartment on the north shore, but ended up in an awesome converted horse stable in Balmain with a sweet garden and courtyard. My parents didn’t call me on my birthday and bought me cookware that J-man had actually asked for, so I’ve been lacing their food with arsenic ever since.
With all the weird stuff going on, it’s easy to forget we went to New York, took a ride in an Amish buggy, made new pals, experimented hardcore in the kitchen, and J-man formed a rap group.
So, here it is. The annual yearly review based on what I wrote in my red Moleskine diary. (Here’s 2011, a lazy 2010 version, and 2009)
This was one of the best nights I’ve had in Sydney. It was Sydney Festival’s Summer Sounds and we sat on a picnic rug in the Domain with a bunch of new and old friends. When it started pouring halfway through Mondo Cane, we packed up and went to a nearby apartment where we drank, listened to music and watched an electrical storm dance over the Botanic Gardens.
I should probably re-take this terrible photo. But learn something from me and Jesus and make good out of bad. This was the first of many days we celebrated J-man’s 30th birthday. He put on a rap show at Good God and performed alongside some of his favourite musicians. Only J-man could pull off something like that. My favourite part of this diary entry is “Donny Benet amp fell on my foot “. Am I the life of the party or what?
A few days later we were in New York (the third instalment of J-man’s 30th birthday). This was one of many, many days where NYC surprises you with unforgettable, unplanned, face-melting awesome wow. We went to see Judah Friedlander at the Comedy Cellar, which was amazing enough (he commented on J-man’s “giggle”). Then the lights stayed low and Louis CK came onstage for an impromptu 45-minute set. I mean, holy crap.
This was the day we moved from Crows Nest to Balmain. Our “girl-crazy removalists” were serious 24/7 perves. They were 18 at most and couldn’t believe their luck working 50 metres from a girls’ high school. One of them had butt problems and spent half an hour in our toilet at Crows Nest and then christened our toilet in Balmain. I texted my dad to ask if I should take an hour out of his pay, but ended up giving him a tip instead because I live by an “everyone poops” motto. Aside from the comedy, I get great satisfaction out of physical work (giggidy).
This was one of the best days I’ve ever spent with my mum. We went op-shopping in Orange, where she found me an amazing vintage winter coat with a fur collar (may the Easter Bunny rest). We ran into an old school friend of mine, who is living her dream of being an artist. Then we went to a really fun cooking class, where I ate meat. With the dead rabbit and cow, I did not earn my vegetarian badge that day. Have you tried living on lentils and pleather alone? Sheesh.
I loved getting my wisdom teeth out. The whole thing took about five minutes and I had very little pain when the numbness wore off. That didn’t stop me from milking it for all it was worth and forcing J-man to buy me chocolate Yogo and stroke my hair. Success!
We went to Wet ‘n’ Wild on the Gold Coast and I got to hold a little baby. Need I say more?
We went to see J-man’s aunt in a Christmas-themed community play. She was awesome. Then we had afternoon tea with J-man’s mum, grandma and aunt at a cafe in the city. It was the same place J-man and I used to meet our marriage celebrant to organise our wedding. It made me feel warm and fuzzy, and happy to have a wonderful extended family. Spew.
Other things that happened, as recorded in my diary:
“Saw PJ Harvey. Incredible. Wore black, disappeared into the shadows” – January 18
“No sleep in” – April 8
“Got letter terminating our lease. Went quite mental, actually” – May 2
“JEFFREY EUGENIDES!!!!!” (saw him at the City Recital Hall) – May 17
“Terrible hayfever. Shopping, baking, bad pie at the park” – June 24
“Met neighbour on the driveway while wearing embarrassing clothes” – July 3
“Bought a giant green poncho. Oops!” – July 14
“Joel came home late. Super snorey” – July 18
“Bought gold brogues!” – July 23
“Ate gross fruit salad.” – August 3
“Walked out of Momofuku” (All their bar snacks were meaty) – August 24.
“Talked to drunk dude on the bus. He tells me he’s David Bowie” – September 15
“Cheese platter at The Welcome Hotel. Watched telly” – September 30
“Scary movie night. North by Northwest and Cabin in the Woods” – October 6
“Ate spelt organic muffin!” – December 9
I am not living my dream.
I’m in a weird slump, and have been all year, where just about every day goes exactly like this: wake, frown, brush, sit, talk, bus, cook, cuddle, fart, sleep. Repeat. It’s just so sad, all that sleeping and eating and cuddling.
So I’ve been looking around to find people who are living their dreams. But the people I encounter tend to be taxi drivers (who have signs in their cars telling people not to spew or screw in their general vicinity), the guy who does overnight security at my building (he does overnight security at my building), the vending machine (is a machine) and a bus driver (who has to wear a fluro vest on a daily basis).
And then, as usual, I realised the answer was staring me in the face. And sometimes cooking me dinner. And spooning me late at night.
J-man is a dude who is living his dream, day in, day out. “It’s raining Joel,” he always says.
He liked rap, so he joined a rap group:
He wanted some shelves in the shed, so he built some shelves in the shed:
He liked beer, so he learnt to make beer:
He was interested in running a beer festival, so worked his little nuts off and ran a beer festival:
He wanted to spend his 30th birthday in three time zones and finish it at Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, so he spent his 30th birthday in three time zones and finished it at Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn:
He likes to chat, so he chats. A lot. With everyone:
He wanted scones, so he ate some scones:
He has a spirit animal:
It’s time to start making it rain Steve. Hallelujah.