I kept thinking 'This is not pain, this is not pain ...'

The time: April 1983 The place: Princess Anne Maternity Hospital, Southampton The woman: Jenni Murray, BBC presenter
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I can remember from my earliest times horror stories about my own birth. I am an only child - I suspect that had my mother not had such a dreadful time I would have had brothers and sisters. She had gone into the hospital and had been left lying on her back with her feet in stirrups for 24 hours. I was on the point of dying and so was she when I was whipped out with forceps.

I thought, that's not going to happen to me. I was terribly lucky to become pregnant for the first time when the climate was beginning to change against that sort of controlled hospital childbirth, and I was determined to be at the forefront of that change. I did a lot of preparation and a lot of reading, and I was lucky - in Southampton I met a very good midwife who was interested in natural childbirth. The only real setback was my consultant, who actually said to me: "You want natural childbirth.

Well, let me tell you, if this baby dies or you die, on your own head be it."

Which is a terrifying thing to say to a young woman who's not given birth before, but I'm a fairly determined sort of character and I carried on with the plans.

We woke up at about 5am with what I knew were proper contractions, because you have sort of pretend contractions for a few weeks before, but you know when it's serious. So Dave got up and said, "Oh, it'll be ages. I'll go and make my sandwiches." Because he'd also been reading Sheila Kitzinger [who advises prospective fathers to stock up], and he also had an Evian spray, because Kitzinger said women are often sick if they try to drink during labour and yet they dehydrate, and a cooling water sprayed on their brow will help. So he had this huge "brumatiseur Evian" and, poor man, every time he tried to spray me with it got the most terrible mouthful of abuse - it's a very uninhibiting experience, giving birth.

So when we finally came to the hospital, we'd darkened all the lights in the room, we'd put some pictures on the wall, we had some nice music playing. The midwife - we were colluding in this, to prove to the wretched consultant that he had to change the practices in his hospital - put the bed close to the floor, so I could squat down to have the baby.

And I was walking about all over the place until the early afternoon, but I wasn't really suffering. Then another midwife took over and said I was dilating very slowly and we ought to break the waters. And we really agonised over this decision, David and I, because every instinct said let it go steadily, let it go naturally. But we said, no, you're probably right, and the qualitative change was extraordinary. It became much faster and much more painful and I think I made a mistake. I wish I'd stuck to my guns.

But we did it, and I kept holding in my head something I had read in one of Kitzinger's books - that "pain" is used to describe something damaging and destructive like the suffering of a bomb victim and that it is a pity we don't have a word that describes pain with a positive end, like the agonies of a marathon runner, or like childbirth. That's something with a tremendously positive end, so try not to think of it as pain at all.

So all the way through the final stage of my delivery: "This is not pain, this is not pain", and breathing - and I did have gas and air (but no drugs). And eventually, you go into a funny state in the second stage of delivery, almost a kind of dementia.

You hear voices coming from a great distance and I remember David saying, "Oh my God, it's a boy", and my saying, "No, it can't be" and him saying, "Yes, yes it is, it's a boy."

I couldn't possibly have had a boy. All through the pregnancy I had called this child Eve, because my mother was an only daughter and I was the only daughter and it didn't occur to me that my partner is one of five boys and my father was one of five boys. I didn't really see things coming down that male line at all.

There was this real surprise that I had this son, and they gave him to me, and it's quite true that you look into this pair of eyes that looks back at you and knows you and you fall in love. It's barmy but it's true. You have this extraordinary sense of euphoria. And you feed the baby and at the end of the day you're left in a room with this little thing in a plastic box, like a very large goldfish bowl, and you lie there and you look at it, and you think: God, what have I done?

Because whatever you have done in the past you could change. This is a commitment for life. Even if the child were to die, you would be forever defined as its mother, because if he died you would never cease to grieve. It's quite the most terrifying responsibility I've ever faced, and it doesn't go away.

I had my second child at home. Being pregnant, having babies, is not an illness; slowly we're coming to realise that it's a private experience. I think if I had not had the induction, I would not have had such fierce pain, and with my second son, I let things progress absolutely naturally. I remember hearing the start of the Nine O'Clock News, and telling David the midwives had gone to have their dinner, and going to have a bath.

And at about 9.45pm, calling him and saying, "Uh oh, I think this head's crowning." And him saying, "Oh my God, what am I going to do if I have to deliver it myself?" At which point the midwives knocked on the front door. They lifted me out of the bath and into the bedroom. And out he came, the second one, and I don't remember feeling any pain at all"n

Jenni Murray is the presenter of 'Woman's Hour' and the author of 'A Woman's Hour' (BBC Books, pounds 15.99), a celebration of the past 50 years of women in Britain to coincide with the programme's golden anniversary.

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