Thursday, July 11, 2013


Not long before Moses was born, we had a couple of friends (who were also a couple) over for dinner. Just before they left, the guy, who was prone to bouts of social awkwardness particularly during prayer (I’m not sure if he’d already confessed to this, or if we found out in conversation afterwards), asked if he could pray for us. After a few introductory thanks and requests, he started asking God that my upcoming labour would give me a deeper understanding of the curse and sin, which, after he’d kept on this track for a little longer, left me suppressing giggles, and made his wife, upon our “Amen”s, pat him on the arm and say, “Honey, if you’re going to pray for labour and birth, you just ask that it would be safe and that it would be quick. That’s all.”

I thought nothing more of what he’d said, but as I paced the floors of our small apartment during my increasingly full-on contractions, I found myself remembering his prayer, wondering about Genesis 3, and then reminding myself that now was not the time for theology and holy crap these things are really starting to ramp up. I repeated this cycle about a squillion times before forgetting about the prayer and instead chanting, “The epidural is God’s gift to women!” over and over in my head as I walked throughout the duration of each contraction. I had no intention of heading to hospital early to find out if this was indeed true, but it was the mantra my brain decided to use to pass the time.

I’ve been given a book this time that suggests some better “affirmations” to get me through contractions would be, “Yes. I am power of birth” or “Soften away, meet the mystery,” both of which feel as uncomfortable to me as my epidural one. This same book also uses the word “tightenings” rather than “contractions” and suggests that a mother can ask her twins (with her mind) to kindly arrange themselves in positions that are conducive to a natural birth, AND THEY WILL. I remember during Mo’s pregnancy I read a book that mentioned that birth felt like opening up like a flower (there were pictures of a lotus flower opening, to stress the point), and that many women didn’t feel any pain at all during labour, as long as they weren’t fearful and embraced it all. After Mo’s birth, I felt duped: birth felt nothing like opening up like a flower (there were more expletives thrown in when I shared this discovery with people this in the days that followed). I was angry that a crazy lady would lie to innocent women like that. Perhaps I should read fewer birth books written by hippies. 

It’s strange going in to birth for the second time, having a better idea of what’s to come. In some ways it’s nice to know what I’m in for; in other ways, it’s scarier. A few days after Moses was born, my grandfather called to wish us a happy wedding anniversary (Alan and I, in our dazed state, had completely forgotten about it). Towards the end of the conversation, after offering a range of baby advice that I quickly shunted into the ‘Extremely Unhelpful’ basket of my brain for immediate disposal, Grandad made a comment about us having a second child. I told him everything was all too fresh to even be thinking about that, and then the following exchange took place:

Him: A woman forgets the pains of labour as soon as they’re over.

Me: That is not true.

Him: It is true! It’s in the Bible!*
Me: The Bible was written by men.

Him: The Bible is the inspired word of God!!

Me: Grandad. I gave birth a few days ago. I can assure you, I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN IT.

(He left it there, maybe deciding that it was probably the sleep deprivation talking but he should go and pray immediately about my heretical views on Scripture just in case.)

My labour and birth with Moses was an extremely positive and empowering experience; it was exactly what I’d always wanted, and shorter than I’d expected. I still feel proud of my body and what I now know it’s/Im capable of. But as the due date for this baby draws nearer and the books fall back on euphemisms, I’ve realised that even now, almost three years later, though details have faded and my memory is mush, I still haven’t forgotten how hard labour and birthing is**. I remember there being moments last time when I wondered how much longer I’d be able to cope with the relentlessness of the contractions. There were moments when I had to remind myself that there was no other way for the pain to be over other than to find strength enough to march straight through it. There was vomit and poo and blood. There was a flood of relief when Mo’s body finally slipped out, and a time of me thinking, “Hooray! It’s done!” before realising, with some surprise, that it had all been in order to produce a baby, and where was he, and was he okay? (And was he actually a he?)

I can’t wait to meet this little girl. I’m looking forward to her birth for that reason, knowing that all that comes beforehand is unavoidable, and that it will be tough, but it will be doable, and it will end. I’m going to keep imagining the moment when this baby and I see each other for the first time. And I’m going to stop reading hippy books.


* My grandfather is a Biblical literalist, which means he takes John 16:21 as a statement of fact from Jesus, rather than an analogy. But, like most, the analogy has its limits; the memories of labour and birth tend to come flooding back rather quickly once you hand your newborn to your husband and try to pee for the first time post-birth, for example.

** Or can be - it seems some women actually dont feel pain (one woman quoted in a birth book likened contractions to orgasms). Frankly, I don’t want to hear their smug stories.


  1. I agree with you about the not forgetting birth thing: I haven't forgotten it either! I even remember the way it felt physically.

    1. My memories of the mental part of labour are far more vivid than my memories of the physical - this is really interesting! I wonder if that's true of other memories for me (and you)...