Childbirth mishaps can be hilarious - except when they're happening to you and yours
Tuesday 30 April 1996
This would seem reasonable were it not for the fact that the doc in question might only have a few days' experience of obstetrics. Indeed, he may not even be able to tell whether it's head, bum, arm or leg peeping out of the cervix. I know - I have been that doctor.
I was first there as a medical student in 1985. A kindly professor gathered us round and promised us that the day we delivered our first baby would be the day we realised how wonderful medicine could be. When my turn came, I was allocated a 20-year-old woman who shouted "Bloody hell - it hurts!" for about three days. When the baby finally arrived, it came out with the umbilical cord wrapped round the neck. I was on my own because the midwife had nipped out for a fag, so I grabbed a couple of clamps, stuck them on the cord, cut it, hiked out the baby and plonked it on the mother's stomach. Ten minutes of self-congratulation later, I reviewed my handiwork and realised that as well as clamping the cord, I'd clamped two huge great tufts of pubic hair (not mine, you understand).
I couldn't unclamp them without freeing the cord to bleed everywhere, so I opted for the scissors. This wasn't, I'm afraid, entirely successful and left a curious ripple effect. It's times like these you wish you carried a comb.
That was enough obstetrics for me, and it was with some reluctance that I returned to the fray as a GP trainee four years later. It was in a part of the country where the National Childbirth Trust is the major political force, and it wasn't long before I was officiating at my first water birth. You know the sort of thing - Vivaldi wafting through the speakers, Dad squatting behind Mum buck-naked and the entire extended family (Labrador included) squishing about in the foam. For all the encouragement, these affairs tend to take the best part of a weekend, and come Sunday night, the midwife was getting a tad bolshy. "Push through your bottom, dear - like you're doing a number two!" I've never met a midwife who doesn't say this, and it's always struck me as tempting fate. Sure enough, out popped the mother of all number twos - a real double-hander. Mum asked "Is it a boy or a girl?" and Dad chipped in with "How much does he weigh?" I almost popped it on the scales out of curiosity.
"Amusing" birth anecdotes are somehow less amusing in the run-up to your own, or your wife's, labour. Female doctors tend to have terrible obstetric experiences, perhaps because they know how wrong things can go and those treating them panic and opt for the forceps or the Caesarean a bit too quickly.
Even if the baby comes out okay, it's sod's law that your front bottom will look like a grenade has gone off in it. On any labour ward, there are midwives and obstetricians you'd trust with your triplets and those you wouldn't trust with your kittens, but there is no guarantee that you'll get the best, even if you're in the trade. You may get a consultant of senior years but little recent experience out of "professional courtesy" or you may get the most junior student midwife because the senior ones don't like delivering doctors. All having "doctor" written on your notes means is that instead of having half a dozen medical students round your bed, they peep in the window.
The best you can hope for is to be treated like everyone else but with a side-room, and in my two experiences as a birthing buddy to my (doctor) wife at Birmingham Maternity Hospital, I have no complaints. I can't elaborate much - what goes on in the delivery room is as sacred as how it all started - but suffice to say that first time round was a marathon and I needed three servings of warm milk and cookies from midwife Brenda to get me through it.
Second time round was last week - it all happened so quickly that I didn't even get a chance to order my first snack. Indeed, midwife Bev was so good that she had the baby clamped, washed and wrapped before I'd unpacked the damp flannel. Mum in at 8.30pm, baby out at 10.08pm and not a stitch in sight. Thank you very much and goodnight.
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