One evening in May, J-man went to bed sick, asking me to check on him throughout the night. Just before I went to sleep on a camp mattress set up in the lounge room, I looked in on him, and under the light coming from the street, he looked grey and his mouth was limp and open. Until I heard him snort, I thought he was dead.
It had been a terrible few days – we’d had to cancel a trip to Cairns for a friend’s wedding after J-man got severe tonsillitis. It was grey and drizzly. The baby was fussy. Our neighbours were bulldozing their house. Sick, miserable and trapped, there was nothing any of us could do to escape the sound of metal crushing bricks, and smashing glass and boring into sandstone.
This was the beginning of seven months of renovations. The sound of drills would wake us in the morning, dropsaws would interrupt the baby’s morning naps, cups of tea in the backyard were accompanied by the young builders’ stories about what was in their vomit on Saturday night, as their cigarette smoke would drift down our hallway. Our backyard became a construction zone, they flattened our garden, put sandbags in, and cheerfully sprinkled rusty nails everywhere. When they tore down the neighbour’s fence, part of ours went with it. For months our security system consisted of a plank of wood holding our back gate closed.
But every time the builders asked for something – could they use our backyard to come and go, could we move our car, could they nail things into our outside wall, could they work early or late, could they park across our back lane – we said yes. We said yes because we thought it was the kind, neighbourly thing to do to let their massive renovations go to plan. Who wants to move into a beautiful dream house knowing your neighbours are the worst?
Two weeks ago, the builders left and the family moved in. I had been kind of expecting a knock on the door, or a friendly note of thanks, or a donut left on the front step for living through a hellish seven months without a single (public) complaint. But they have been actively avoiding us. Yesterday, we saw them for the first time and tried to strike up conversation, while they backed into their front gate as though we were door-knocking evangelists.
And that is why I hate people.
At 12.01am on January 1, 2014, as people outside cheered and turned up music and let off crackers, I was changing a very dirty nappy. One of those up-to-the-ears-all-up-the-back poops, that you cannot believe came from something so beautiful and teensy and precious. It turned out it was an apt way to start a year that was a bit of a shit, if I’m honest.
Usually, I do a year in review by looking back at my diary entries for the year. But reading my diary was far too upsetting and boring, so I thought I would take my sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy.
My sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy
1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I became a ‘working mother’. I also ate a cronut.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I kept most of them. We moved out of our horrible hot granny flat in Balmain, I got a haircut, I got out and made some new friends, I am in the process of fixing my pelvis that got f-ed up when a baby passed through it, I read more.
A few of my goals for 2015 are: re-learn how to sew, make a complicated birthday cake for someone, go to the theatre, and make sure I mark special occasions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my sister Mary had the darling Alexandra.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. So, that was nice.
5. What countries did you visit?
Country NSW. That place is the bomb. Wide open spaces, excellent cakes, the best op-shops, old school friends, animals, brilliant melting moments and surprisingly fresh sushi.
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Patience. Sleep. Fashion.
7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 26. We moved house that day and it was the greatest. July 21. That’s when I went back to work and the girl child went to daycare. August 26. The day we ignored our 10th anniversary. September 21, the day my baby became a toddler.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going back to work. Making a bad-ass batch of cinnamon scrolls.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Scratching the side of my mum’s car in the Orange City Centre carpark. I will never forget that awful, heart-sinking feeling when I heard the sound of metal and concrete making contact.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I kicked post-natal depression in its teeth. I’m still trying to fix a case of pubis symphysis, which has me hobbling like a pirate. I am wearing a sort of velcroed, elastic, grey girdle belt as I write! Oh,mama!
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A car. She’s royal blue and we named her Barbara Bush.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J-man, for being a boss legend. My sisters and mum and dad, for supporting me during the early months of motherhood. The girl child, for being ever so sweet.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled?
The woman who lost it at a checkout chick in KMart when she found out their selfie sticks were sold out two days before Christmas. And after a year like 2014, so, so many others.
14. Where did most of your money go?
To childcare. And the motor vehicle industry.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. The baby was about six months old, and still not sleeping very well, and I had been feeling pretty flat. I remember coming home after the show and telling J-man that I felt alive again.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Nominal, by #1 Dads.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
a) HAPPIER. SO MUCH HAPPIER.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Relaxing and being creative. I pretty much never did those things.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Fighting and looking at my phone. I waste so much time on my stupid, fucking phone. Maybe a new year’s resolution should be setting fire to my phone.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Eating. Swimming. Watching an enormous thunderstorm.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No. But I didn’t fall out of love.
22. What was your favourite TV program?
There were so many good ones this year. Orange is the New Black, Veep, True Detective, and Chelsea Peretti’s comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. My hate levels remain very critical, but stable
24. What was the best book you read?
This House of Grief, by Helen Garner.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Young Fathers. Palms.
26. What did you want and get?
A baby who occasionally sleeps through the night. A box of Haigh’s truffles. A new house. A lot of time in the country. Some wonderful new friends.
27. What did you want and not get?
28. What was your favourite film of this year?
Ah, man. This is a mean question to ask the mother of a young child. I really liked Gone Girl and was particularly chuffed to have seen Ben Affleck’s man jewels.
29. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having an interesting job.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Youngish mumish, watermelon print enthusiast.
31. What kept you sane?
Afternoon walks in Rozelle, especially after discovering Bellingen Gelato and their mint-choc-chip. It is spiked with real peppermint essence and is filled with a generous amount of dark chocolate shavings. PUT IT IN MY MOUTH IMMEDIATELY.
32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ira Glass. Justice Lucy McCallum. Justice Geoffrey Bellew.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Ah, man. This year made me mad in my bones. Gender equality. Racial equality. All of the equalities. Climate change. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Changes to the welfare system.
34. Who did you miss?
My mum. 300 kilometres may as well be 30,000 kilometres sometimes.
35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
I’m still learning how to live in the moment. Not in the idiot-girl-in-your-university-dorm-inspirational-quote kind of way, but I need to just to look around every day, and be content with what I have.
36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done
How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map
The smallest, loveliest person in our family turned one on Sunday. Here is a photo of her murdering some chocolate cake and destroying a smocked dress, probably handmade by elves.
Her birthday made me think about the year that has passed (duh). Having a baby has changed me and my life in so many unexpected ways. Of course there’s all the stuff you know is coming – sleep deprivation, a messy house, no alone time, weird body happenings, inhaling of fine and varied cheeses – but 367 days ago, I was a very different person, with a very different attitude.
So herewith, a list of unexpected life changes after having a baby
A list of unexpected life changes after having a baby
Fight or flight. About five months into motherhood, I suddenly got a drastic urge to change everything about our lives. While J-man was overseas eating curly fries and stroking his beard, or whatever it is he does on business trips, I was meticulously planning a move to the village of Millthorpe, in central west NSW. I imagined an idyllic life, living within half an hour of my parents, buying our own house, going for walks in the tree-lined, empty streets as a family of three, cuddling up during the crazy cold winters and listening to the silence at night. As J-man pointed out, we have no jobs, no friends, nowhere to live and no prospects there. We also have excellent jobs, old and new wonderful friends and a sweet(ish) rental deal here in Sydney.
There are a few reasons I think this happened. After climbing out of what I consider to be a pretty god-awful-seventh-circle-of-hell-flaccid-Hungry-Jacks-burger bout of post-natal depression, the only way I could see the light was by changing absolutely everything. When I talked to a close friend (who happens to be studying psychology) about it, he said it’s a common response – it’s fight or flight. And I wanted a one way, first class flight, now please. Having a baby also made me appreciate my own mother a lot more than I already did, which was … a lot. I felt a gravitational, almost biological pull towards her, to share this experience with her, to have her love and support and give her bucketloads of mine in return. I am pretty pissed at modern society for making child-rearing a solo pursuit, as though mothers are quite happy to be trapped in their homes, far from their families.
Fight or flight version 2.0. Related: I feel pretty strongly that people of my age and stage are being slowly pushed out of Sydney. We cannot afford to raise a child here. I want her to know what it’s like to live in a house that we own – to never be given three months notice to move, or have to ask permission for the leaking toilet to be fixed, to only get cheap rent if we agree to live next to a construction zone. Also, I never want her to have to meet a real estate agent. No one should have to endure that. I also want her to be able to roam, enjoy green spaces, ride her bike on an actual road, to not understand the term “flight path”, and not worry about the name of her school.
Girl power. I was definitely a feminist before I had a baby. But now I am a FEMINIST, especially as the mother to a daughter. I have had a good experience returning to work, with a lot of supportive people at my workplace giving me breathing room and options and flexibility and advice. I am thankful for that. But that, unfortunately, is not a common experience. Childcare is so expensive and restrictive, most people’s working hours do not allow for family life, women are not returned to the roles they left, questions are constantly raised about mothers’ value and productivity in the workforce, smart and creative women are unwillingly turned into housewives, motherhood itself is not considered work. And that’s only issues that affect first-world working mothers and their families. So I can only sum up by saying: ARRRRRRGRH!
Perspective. Picture this: You have just spent a week at your parents’ place, where your baby unlearned how to sleep. You return to your home and spend an entire night on the couch with a screaming baby. The baby refuses to be fed. The next morning you get up early to take the baby to a doctor’s appointment, where the doctor tells you the baby’s cry indicates the baby is hungry. Why haven’t you fed her? The doctor asks. The doctor tells you there is nothing else wrong with your baby. You leave the doctor’s office and your husband goes to work. You go home alone. The baby continues to scream all day, refusing to be soothed. THAT is a bad day. So now, several months on, traffic jams, cold coffee, deadlines, phone bills, grocery shopping, social slights, the common cold, washing up, and swimsuit shopping are a fuckin’ picnic, my friends.
When I left work to go on maternity leave, I thought I would never return to the same office, probably never know the same people, and generally be a very changed woman by the end of those 10 months, as if my whole life would disappear like Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man. But a month ago, I walked into the very same office, surrounded by the very same people, and aside from my weird, misshapen boobs hidden in my blouse, I was pretty much the same person. But returning to work did feel like a big milestone; the end of an era. So I thought I should write down a list of (sometimes contradictory) things I learnt while on maternity leave.
A list of (sometimes contradictory) things I learnt while on maternity leave:
– I am a very anxious person. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t worry about something. Why isn’t the baby sleeping? Why is the baby sleeping so much? Why isn’t the baby eating? Why is the baby eating so much? Am I still interesting? Will our money last? Have I started wearing mum clothes? Am I eating too much sugar? Do the women at mothers’ group think I’m a dick? Should we move house? Do I have a hole in my tooth? Does my house smell weird? Do I smell weird? Will I ever have fun again? Is that a spider in the curtains? And over and over with the worrying. Sheesh. I really want past Steph to give maternity leave Steph a huge, metaphorical toke on a bucket bong.
– Weirdly, I am a pretty relaxed mum compared to others. It is interesting spending time with other first-time mothers and listening to all the concerns everyone has – sleeping, eating, allergies, crawling, teething, choking, electrocution and boyfriends on motorbikes. At the end of the conversation, I quite often look around to find CC nude, covered in dirt, eating a large stick and playing chicken in traffic.
– I love being home. There are some rad parents out there who put their babies in infant fanny packs and venture out into the world like normal humans. Much to J-man’s chagrin, having a baby has made me want to stay home more than ever. CC is actually a pretty good baby when we’re out. Just now we went to a wedding where she did nothing but bat her eyelashes and smile and coo for an hour. But only I know that at the hour and five minute mark she turns into a drooling, sharting, crying, writhing, wriggling massacre of baby emotions. That doesn’t sound like a party to me, it sounds like work. So home, where our beds, fridge and TV are, is the best place to be.
– I don’t want to live in Sydney forever. I am pretty convinced that all the things that make parenting harder are related to city living. I like to imagine life with a child if I worked 9-5, weekdays, if our daycare was only a few blocks away from our offices, if our offices were only a short drive from home, if our home was not rented, if there was a backyard for playing and jumping through sprinklers, if there was a dog. None of that is possible in Sydney, with two people who work in arts/media. There is a lot to love about Sydney – interesting jobs, interesting people, good food, excellent beer – but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep my family here. Plus, I don’t want CC to be like those city kids I met at uni who asked me if I’d ever seen the ocean.
– I am starting to not care. You know how Kim Kardashian said Kanye West taught her not to make time for bullshit anymore? Clearly, I have a little bit of time for bullshit, because I know that terrible piece of celebrity trivia, but I have less time for it these days. Someone said something shitty on Twitter? Don’t care. A politician misspoke? Don’t care. Something I like is no longer cool? Don’t care. Office politics? Don’t care. Someone honked their horn at my terrible driving? Don’t care. It’s true what those cards at KMart say – having a baby does make you realise what really matters: family, friends, happiness and donuts. (Also, human rights, obviously).
Two women with prams were happily chatting at the post office about their weekends, their work, their husbands and their babies. The perky blonde mum abruptly ended the conversation with “I’d better go home. Mrs X says I have to feed him at 11.30 everyday and I can’t be out of the house while he naps”. Mrs X is one of those “baby whisperers” who makes a shartload of money by giving mums a strict timetable for their new babies to follow with the apparent aim of lots of sleep. She has been used, with mixed results, by a few women I know. I wanted to somehow drag these women at the post office down the street to a coffee shop and yell: “HAVE A CHAT. BE DAMNED YOUR BABY’S PRECIOUS “AT HOME” NAP. HERE, MOTORBOAT AN ENTIE BLACK FOREST CAKE.” But I suppose that constitutes common assault, so I let them go unharmed.
When I hear Mrs X’s name, a chill goes down my spine. I picked up some of Mrs X’s advice by osmosis via the women I know and, for a fortnight or so, I tried to force Cordelia to sleep when she didn’t want to, for longer than she wanted to. Of course, it didn’t work, Delia screamed a lot and I felt like a failure. I knew I had to stop when one day I was so obsessed with her sleep “routine” I forgot to buy falafels for the falafel rolls I was going to make for dinner and cried to J-man, “I am a terrible wife and mother. I can’t even remember to get falafels, the primary ingredient for falafel rolls. I’m no good at anything”. A tired J-man sighed and said: “For fuck’s sake, it’s just falafel.” He is a most excellent and smart man.
I feel like the falafel tantrum of summer 2014 is an excellent example of why a mother’s mental health and wellbeing should be of utmost importance. When Cordelia was two-weeks-old I got a visit from a community nurse who asked me a series of questions, which I now know to be a test for post-natal depression. I cried while I answered questions about whether I cried more than usual. The nurse got to the end of the test, brightly said “perfectly normal!” and left my house. When I took the same test a couple of weeks later in my doctor’s office the result practically flashed up on her screen as “totally fucking miserable”. Over the course of a few months, a lovely psychologist talked to me about why women can struggle with depression after having a baby. All of the things that lift the spirit and are recommended to ease depression – seeing friends, going outside, exercising, reading books – are virtually impossible when you have a small baby.
Sleeping well is also crucial part of feeling like a functioning person. And that’s exactly why these “baby whisperer” d-bags get loads of customers. They are cashing in on desperate mothers hoping to get some control back in their lives, feel even vaguely normal, and maybe eat Cheezels with their girlfriends once in a while, so they pay someone to tell them what their baby “needs” to be predictable and unconscious. It worked for some women I know, but not for most because those alleged baby needs involved being at home all the time with fgew interruptions to their important little infant schedules. Yeah, well, what about what a human woman needs? Some company, variety, excitement, mental stimulation and some godamned falafel.
Today in Woolies, I saw this magazine and took a photo because it hit me right where it hurts.
Had I seen this five months ago, while lining up to buy yet another humiliatingly giant packet of pads, wearing tear-stained clothes, with unwashed hair and leaking breasts, after getting two hours’ sleep the night before, I would have spontaneously combusted.
I mean, all my love and Cheezels to Jodi Gordon and Braith Anasta, but for pretty much every woman I have spoken to about motherhood, their newborn baby did not bring the glowing joy and love this photo depicts. It’s not the couple or their little family I have a problem with – they are all incredibly brave to wear white – it’s the “bundle of joy” bullshit women are force fed.
This would be a more accurate cover to convey those newborn weeks.
I recall the guilt and shame I felt in the hours after my daughter was born. In the blue light of that early September dawn, after 18 hours of labour, I looked over at my husband holding her as she screamed and refused to be put in her crib. Our exhausted eyes met across the hospital room and I knew we were thinking the same thing – “what have we done?” In the days after, I tried to be upbeat, while midwifes roughly groped and milked me like a useless dairy cow as they tried to figure out why I was having such terrible trouble breastfeeding her. When they weren’t doing that, the nurses were looking up my clacker to check how I was healing after birth. When we brought our girl home, I spent two weeks staying up all night – literally – trying to feed her. I couldn’t sleep during the day because I was wracked with anxiety. In the evenings she would scream non-stop from about 5 o’clock until 9, only to wake up hungry two hours later. I remember one particularly bad night when she screamed until almost midnight and my husband tried walking her in the pram. When he returned 20 minutes later, I heard her cries from the bottom of the driveway. Even the calming rhythm of walking could not knock her out. For about a week she stopped sleeping during the day too, and my wonderful older sister hugged me and rocked her cradle while I silently cried. It was torture when my husband returned to work. It takes a village to raise a baby, I thought, yet here I was alone, trying to figure it out for myself. I had desperately wanted a baby, so why was it all so hard? I felt useless, hopeless and guilty most days for those first six weeks of her life.
But as my mum, and every other woman who had made it through the newborn phase, assured me: things slowly got better. I called a lactation consultant to help me figure out breastfeeding, I saw my doctor, I talked to people. By six weeks our baby was smiling and sleeping and eating much better. At three months she was playing and giggling. At four months she started loudly babbling and showing us her sweet, cheeky personality. Now five months she is a little more predictable. She sits up, grabs her toys, examines her hands with wonder, shoves her feet in her mouth, “chats” to us all the time, cries if we walk away from her, and grins and flaps her arms in pure joy when we get her out of bed in the morning. She is drinking in the world. Cordelia will be six months old in a week and I can’t wait to see what that brings. It’s definitely not always easy, and there are still hard days and nights, but this is the sweet spot. I just wish we didn’t all pretend babies are exactly like this from the moment the cord is cut.
- This is probably the best article I read during the crazy newborn days, when it felt like the whole world was telling me I was weird for not coping:
– And this:
– This was recommended to me after I wrote this post. It is also excellent and reassuring. I especially like the points about how weird our society is for just expecting women to raise babies on their own:
We live in a little granny flat behind a grand terrace in Sydney. A tradesman told J-man he thought it was once a horse stable – it’s an odd shape and there’s no doors or windows on the back wall. I kind of liked the thought of sleeping where a little foal might have rested her head, her belly full of straw, in ye olde Sydney town.
Then we had a baby. Then summer came. I realise now we are living in a glorified shed. There is no cross-draught, no insulation. It is 28 degrees in here by lunch time. A plant recently grew through our bedroom window and curled around the blinds. This morning I was sitting on the toilet (sorry) and I noticed a huntsman spider carefully easing itself inside between two tiles. There are regularly skinks sunbaking on the carpet. When it gets windy, leaves and dust somehow get through the skylights and carpet the bathroom and kitchen floors.
Maybe one day, when I’m living with my third husband in an air-conditioned mansion in Bellevue Hill, I’ll stroke my pearls and reminisce about simpler times. But right now all I want is to move the hell out of Sydney, where you pay hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week to live in a stinking hot shitbox.
I am unhappy here.
But I am happy for shandies, icy water, cold showers, This American Life, apple green shorts, a funny husband and a very sweet baby.
Here she is.
It turns out motherhood has made me pretty crazy. To illustrate, here are a few of my recent Google searches: “sleep regression”, “baby waking at 4am and not going back to sleep”, “sleeping through the night”,”shush pat”, “getting rid of the dummy”, “getting rid of the wrap”, “pick up, put down”, “putting baby down awake”, “baby bedtime”, “am I a bad mother?”, “Khloe and Kourtney Take Miami”.
As you can tell I am really living it up on maternity leave. Also, I am pretty obsessed with sleep. I always have been. For an assignment in year 4 we had to track how we spent our days. I slept the most out of everyone in my class and was mildly scolded by our teacher for listing sleep as one of my hobbies. I’m probably the only person to have enjoyed a bout of glandular fever – two weeks of sleep! Yes! Sleep really is just the best.
I have also always been pretty obsessed with babies. I picked out the name Cordelia when I was 16. I have cooed over little baby outfits since forever. I would snatch baby cousins from their parents and cuddle them all day long. In early high school, I found out it might be hard for me to have a baby. I remember the vacant looks on the pimply faces of my friends as I broke the news in the playground, a mere 14 years since we all exited the birth canal.
So my two greatest loves have collided. Poor J-man has to console me almost daily about some new thing I found buried deep on a 2007 parenting forum. (Apparently I’m also obsessed with torturing myself.) “J-man!” I say “I read about some woman whose baby went from sleeping perfectly to never sleeping at all and her marriage broke down and now she lives in a caravan and has warts on her nose and wears a rope belt and tissue boxes as shoes”. Over and over again, he has to remind me that everything is OK, he won’t leave me (IT’S IN PRINT NOW, JOEL), everything is a phase, our baby is lovely and my feet are way too big to fit in tissue boxes.
This parenthood thing can be rough. But there’s someone who makes it all worthwhile. I love her to bits…
… when she’s asleep
… and when she’s awake
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.