Friday, 4 November 2011

Every mother loves a birth story

It is my belief that it's the privilege of every new mother to tell the story of her labour in as much gory detail as she wishes, and for her audience to listen politely, if not appreciatively. This was not my understanding before I had children myself, but since giving birth I have reached the kind of 'members only' realisation that gives a convenient licence to hold forth.

I have a good old friend whose first birth story came several years before my own, and I remember being simultaneously horrified, regaled and skeptical when she told me in dramatic detail of the birth of her first daughter. She told me how she had done the cleverest thing - producing this perfect infant, and how the arrival of the first grandchild had incited her mother to reveal how her own birth (she is also the first born) had been the best thing that had ever happened to her. And then, many months later, I remember this friend telling me how her husband had suggested she find an alternative topic of conversation to dine out on, that perhaps the birth-story was wearing a little thin for family and friends alike. I laughed with her at the time, part of me realising how 'big' this thing must be, the labour of giving birth, while hoping to bear the pain, indignity and wonder of this transformational experience myself some day.

When the time came, back in May 2008, the experience included every angle and sentiment I could have hoped for. The labour felt brutal and raw, reductive to animal instinct, but productive, a consolidation of my relationship with my husband and utterly wonderful too. As my friend suggested, I felt pretty clever for what actually nature had facilitated, but perhaps not quite as clever as my husband seemed to think I was. What I had not been prepared for was how I would share ownership of ‘my’ birth story with my husband.

On the quiet, sunny afternoon our first daughter was born without so much as a cry, into the birthing pool in our darkened sitting room, the midwives left fairly quickly and we cooed and wondered in blissful privacy. Once the requisite announcements had been made to family and friends over the phone, my husband disappeared to pace the sunny garden deliberately close to the hedge, in the hope he could apprehend a neighbour as an audience to share the story of our newborn's arrival. While at first I basked in his pride of my labour and our tiny daughter, when his voice cracked with emotion as he told my baffled, embarrassed family of the super-human feat I had achieved, my encouragement dwindled. When our NCT friends, still swollen with their as yet unborn babies, glanced at their partners in disbelief while he gushed forth about how giving birth would make the fathers see their partners in a new divine light of admiration, I held his arm to make him stop. ‘Enough,’ I squeezed silently.

It it is a year today since I gave birth for the second time, and I concede there are probably times a steady squeeze to my own arm would have been well placed. But before anyone gets the chance, lend me your ears, I must just tell you my second birth story...

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