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.
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.
That means I’ve stopped eating meat, but I still eat fish because they don’t have eyelashes to make me feel bad about eating them. Since my decision three months ago I’ve slipped just a couple of times and eaten meatloaf, a quarter pounder and two sausages.
The best way I can explain my decision is: I just have too many feelings. Eating meat made me feel a little bit sad and guilty, especially because it was just so delicious. I’m a complicated woman, as J-man likes to say.
Here are some other things that make me feel the way I did when I ate a steak:
– Seeing old men alone and crossing the road.
– Spending the weekend doing nothing.
– Spending the weekend doing too much.
– Hearing a baby cry.
– Throwing away rotten food.
– Buying home brand products.
– Spending money on anything, including groceries or a doctor’s appointment.
I dread the day when I have to tell my own children I don’t love them as much as I love my nephew, V-man. I guess I’ll have to find the appropriate moment – like when I leave them in a basket amongst the reeds. I’m sure community services will understand when I use this video as a defence.
I spent Saturday looking after the little man and we had a blast. There was a beach trip, naps, story time and a little bit of crying for his mummy and daddy. So a lot like my honeymoon, really.
This was our Saturday schedule:
0930 – Vincent turns up clinging to the necks of Mary and Andrew and eyeing me suspiciously. They leave and he cries and cries. Our fridge is covered in hilarious things that he loves like dog magnets, photos from Taronga Zoo and polaroids of J-man and I when we were young and in love. When he sees a photo of a mountain goat he calms down and, in between sobs, points to it and says “dog”. I tell him that’s no way to speak about his Aunty Julia.
1015 – We turn on Rage to distract V-man from the heartbreak of being an orphan for a day. Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation comes on and the baby starts dancing. Cute!
1115 – We all get ready to go to Balmoral Beach. On the bus ride I start singing: “We’re going to the beach! We’re going to the beach!” Then, just like Biggie and 2Pac, we get a little call and response going. Aunty Steve: “We’re going to the beach! We’re going to the beach! Where are we going?” V-man (with arms raised): “The beeesch”.
1130 – Turns out the baby hates the beach. He likes being dunked in the water OK, but he hates the sand and starts grizzling and pointing to the bus stop about 30 seconds after we arrive. Man, kids do not know how to party. Soon he gets so sad I decide to take him to the grass area, where he starts to howl and howl. It’s really quite heartbreaking until two little kids with bags of popcorn come up and say: “Why is he sad? Does he want some popcorn?”. V-man takes the popcorn and stops crying. AND MY COLD, DEAD HEART COMES OUT OF MY EYES IN THE FORM OF FAIRY TEARS.
1145 – J-man buys us colas and V-man a fruit juice. V starts crying again and becomes very clingy to just me. I ask J-man whether he thinks he should put his shirt on to stop scaring the baby. J-man says I am crazy. I’m pretty sure it’s a legitimate concern.
1215 – We realise that V-man wants nothing more than to leave. So rather than take him back to the sand to collect our stuff, V and I sit on a bench while J-man packs us up. I hold him and point out a little kayak to him. I tell him it’s like a row boat and start singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and he grins from ear to ear. Every time I stop singing he says: “ro-ro?” to prompt me to start again. My hipster reputation lies in tatters.
1230 – We get on the bus and almost immediately V-man starts to snore in my arms. I have some trouble finding a button to push to signal our stop. This is when I realise that all those mothers who go on and on and on about people being jerks are right. All these people just stare at me while I struggle with a beach bag, a sleeping kid and a video game-playing husband. We miss our stop and I blame humanity. Humanity and those damn selfish childless women.
1315 – I hope V-man will keep sleeping for a while, so Aunty Steve can catch up on the important business of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But he wakes up with a snap as soon as we get home and says “ro-ro?”
1400 – We play with the phone, the remote control, the PlayStation control, the fridge magnets, the button on the TV, the handle on the suitcase table and carefully examine the knob on the drawer of our phone table. It’s exhilarating. We play a really great (read: predictable) game of chasies. J-man has a couple of friends come over and V-man hides behind my legs. I put on my playsuit especially to go to the playground and I show V-man how slippery dips are done.
1500 – I carry V-man a couple of blocks to get a lemonade icy pole and we share it in our courtyard. I don’t know if he’s had an ice block before, but it seems like a huge novelty. His eyes get all wide, he goes “ooooh” when I unwrap it and it’s obvious the cold sensation is new and weird to him. My land lady is in the courtyard doing some washing and hangs a little stuffed dog up on the line by its ears. I get a bit worried V-man will be upset, but he says “dog” and my land lady falls for his charm and gives it to him to keep. Inside, he throws it on the ground over and over again. Baby hates fake dogs. I say that is no way to treat his Aunty Julia.
1545 – I have the ingenious idea to share a mint slice biscuit with him on the couch. Yeah, great idea idiot. Babies get stuff everywhere. Within five minutes there is chocolate on the couch, on his clothes, through his hair, on his hat and all over my soul. I clean him up and take him downstairs to put his hat in the washing machine. And I scar the kid for life. It turns out his hat is kind of his security blanket, so seeing it locked into a big noisy watery box is the end of the world. We go back inside and he throws himself on the floor in sadness. Just like I did when J-man washed a blue sock with my new white singlet top in Holland. No, really – there may have been public yelling and throwing of things. Aw, the little man takes after me.
1600 – Everything is OK once we read Where The Wild Things Are and he roars his terrible roar.
1601 – The exact moment when my lady mechanics ache for a baby. Get it together J-man! Just keep your damn shirt on.
Today I held the first baby I’ve held in lots of years – the last was a high school friend’s accidental baby with a grungey name – and now my maternal urges are strongly in the on position.
A poor woman with a toddler and a baby in a pram was in line to get on my bus. She was trying to fold up her pram and make sure her toddler didn’t run in front of traffic and just handed her chubby little son to the closest person. He was so cute and had the baby leg rolls. And now I really really want one.