ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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The Independent Culture
WHEN I was pregnant the first time around, I went to a variety of antenatal classes. There were the hospital classes: lots of lying around on bean-bags, deep breathing, shallow breathing, and inspecting the pelvic area of a skeleton. ('The bones are designed to expand,' said the teacher breezily. Then she did a demonstration with a doll. 'Baby just slips through.' It all looked a doddle.)

I also went to yoga for pregnant women (deep breathing on all fours); and aqua antenatal exercise at the local swimming pool (deep breathing in the water: 'All together ladies, splash kick breathe . . .').

Then there were the National Childbirth Trust evening classes: more bean-bags, breathing (deep and shallow), and another skeletal pelvis. Again, a doll just slipped through, no problem at all. This showed that pain relief was entirely unnecessary; in fact, it was not only unnecessary, but a thoroughly bad thing. It stopped you truly experiencing the joy of childbirth, said the teacher. Pethidine sounded a bit like heroin; the best idea was to Just Say No. If you needed a bit of help, raspberry leaf tea was jolly good.

When it came to the real thing, unfortunately, it wasn't quite so easy. Baby didn't just slip through, like that cute little doll. Still, I did my breathing (deep, shallow, and screaming); I crouched on all fours, I got in the bath, I thought positive thoughts about the joy of childbirth. After a few hours of this, I began to lose heart. Feeling like a failure, I had a shot of wicked pethidine. It was wonderful. I asked for more. 'You can't have any more,' said the midwife, disapprovingly. 'Have you brought in a flask of raspberry leaf tea?'

Dammit, I'd forgotten the raspberry leaf tea] And I clearly wasn't doing the breathing properly, because I wasn't feeling the joy of childbirth. Still, I struggled on and at last it ended and there was a baby. My God, there was a baby] I wanted a rest, and I had to look after a baby. No one ever told me about that in the classes. (Times may have changed, however. A colleague tells me that he and his wife were given an egg to take home after an antenatal class. They were supposed to pretend it was a baby. They lost it.) All my teachers talked about was labour and childbirth, not breastfeeding and nappies and why babies sometimes wake up 15 times a night.

Still, he was a sweet baby and I loved him and gradually learnt how to change a nappy in the dark and manoeuvre a pushchair through a supermarket check-out and useful things like that.

This time round, I haven't been to any antenatal classes. Not a single one. No bean-bags, no splash kick breathe. I go to a yoga class once a week, to try and stop feeling like a giant pudding, but that's it. It's a curious relief.-

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