Whenever I had time, I went into bookshops and read the books about pregnancy and labour that were often illustrated with luridly glossy pictures. I couldn't afford to buy such books to read them further at home but it didn't matter in the end because they would barely give me a taste of the reality. One thing I had decided for sure was I didn't want the epidural injection into my spine, not only because that conjoured up a nasty image in itself, but also because the thinking at the time was that it lead to a higher likelihood of cerebral palsy and I preferred to go through hours of agonizing pain rather than inflict a lifetime of that on anyone.
During my pregnancy, I had been living in an old mill town near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire in the north of England, where there is rain almost without cease. Consequently, there was a covered or indoor market in town, where my boyfriend, Jay and I liked to buy poppyseed cake from a Polish food stall. I'd eaten some for supper the night before and at five the following morning there came the first warning of the oncoming storm-- poppyseed vomit followed by seeping waters. Two hours later, we were at the hospital, where we waited fifteen hours for the gradual dialation. The problem was that as the hours passed with anxious slowness, I grew steadily more nervous so that the baby's heartbeat eventually started going off the scale in reaction to my own high level of stress hormones.
Eventually, the obstetrician was called over and something I hadn't read about happened. A heart monitoring wire was put up me and slipped under the skin of the baby's head. This meant I had to remain motionless on a gurney, belted in place, which made things worse. The cylinder of gas and air proved some relief against the growing pain that was comparable to a form of medieval torture in which the legs are gradually dislocated from the pelvis. In comradery, Jay had a few puffs on the gas and air too and promptly became no use to anyone, giggling to himself in the corner. The terrible spasms finally began to come at closer intervals and I was wheeled off toward the agreeably named 'delivery suite', obviously so-called to disguise that it was a place where excruciating pain would be forthcoming. As I was being wheeled, I still had the nozzle for the gas and air in my mouth and was inhaling from it deeply without realizing it had been disconnected from the cylinder. When Jay tried to alert the nurse to this, she hushed him as if I weren't present, hoping I would keep using it as a placebo.
I drew the short straw with the midwife assigned to me that night. There was a line of 'delivery suites', each with its door shut, but from the sound of things in the maternity ward corridor, evidently containing a woman in the agonizing throes of labour which, to my ever increasing trepidation, would soon be me. My allotted midwife strolled in, all smiles and lipstick, her thick dyed black hair in a large up-do under her white hat and in a rather cinched in nurse's uniform enhancing her curves. I could see she was one of these no-nonsense types who had long-since lost all sense of empathy for her suffering charges. She immediately brought out an epidural needle and advanced toward me.
'No, no!' I cried, the needle only inches from my spine.
'What? Everyone has them but, if you insist, then suit yourself', she scoffed and took a look up my surgical gown. 'You're not very far on, are you? I don't know why they've even brought you up. We've scarcely enough delivery suites as it is.'
With that, she turned on her heel and left the room, leaving me to feel guilt-ridden for being there. Half an hour passed and the pain intensified. My midwife returned, breezing in with a dismissive, 'I could hear you right down the corridor, lass! Don't you think you're being a bit of a drama queen? I could still give you that epidural, you know.'
Being a newly qualified drama teacher, I considered 'drama queen' to be more an accolade than an insult but, as it happened, the insult was now irrelevant.
Having been in hospital for over fourteen hours, the time had finally come for the first push. I had heard other women liken having a baby to passing a grapefruit, perhaps even a watermelon. This one was more akin to a pineapple...one with teeth at that. As the head began to emerge, lacerations pinged as they proliferated like a mitten unravelling. Once the head was out, the midwife, said, 'What a lovely little boy!' I was confused, therefore, when the whole baby emerged and a girl was handed to me. She had a strange odour like cardboard left out in the rain, but otherwise seemed quite perfect. She didn't look like the terribly wrinkled newborns I'd seen in books, all splattered with blood, coated in waxy-looking stuff, with the characteristic misshapen head, squeezed into a sort of stuffed letter C by the sheer power of the vagina. She was glossy as a pearl with wide-open eyes in a firm little face like the rubber faced Monchichi monkey toys popular at the time. Nor did she squall as newborns do in birth scenes in movies. There was no crying whatsoever. The umbilical cord had the colour and consistency of well chewed Wrigley's Spearmint Gum and twisted into a corkscrew, exactly the way I used to put sticks of gum into my mouth. It was much longer than I expected, however, and I didn't wish to look upon it for long.
The baby had been born at midnight and, very quickly, the midwife was ushering the confused Jay out, telling him to 'get out...go on home now'. She ordered me to be wheeled off into a ward where the baby was placed next to me in a small clear plastic crib on wheels. I was handed a mug of milky tea as a means of recovery and ordered to go to sleep. I couldn't, though, and for the next few hours, stared at the silent baby, checking she was still breathing. She didn't sleep either, but was transfixed by the little orange light on the nurse's buzzer by my bed. At regular intervals, she would raise and tremble her tiny arms, no doubt some habit left over from the womb. At around three, I realized that I needed to relieve myself after the milky tea and hobbled over to the bathrooms off the ward. Here was something else they'd missed out of the books - urination and laceration are fiercely incompatible so that I suffered a new variety of agony upon the lavatory.
Come the morning, I faced the task of changing my baby, which was a thing completely new to me. Greenish meconium had exploded out of her nappy up to her neck and she was crying as I attempted to put her to rights with a packet of wipes. The midwife who'd delivered her suddenly appeared amidst the commotion but kept her distance, preferring to regard the scene from afar, leaning on the doorframe, arms folded. She made no effort to offer advice, instead coming out with the laconic observation, 'You've got your work cut out, haven't you?'. It was all a bit much to bear, what with my walking problems after the attack of the nibbling pineapple, and I was determined to leave the maternity ward as soon as possible.
Jay arrived in the afternoon, befuddled like me, due to lack of sleep. He had brought me some clothes as I'd forgotten to bring any, but the bag he carried contained mainly bras. I'd had no idea I had so many bras. It was as if he now unconciously saw me as some multi-teated fertility deity. I left the hospital the next day and my mother came to visit me in our furnitureless house on the moorside, bearing a box of special sea salt crystals to put in the bath to soothe my ragged undercarriage. I didn't yet have a name for the baby as I was daunted with the responsibility of it so I took to calling her Geoffrey in the meantime. Seated in our antiquated half-sized tub, I looked over the list of wildly extravagant names we'd jotted down over the past few months-- Hepzibah, Kezia, Axolotl, Cosmo-- all of which now seemed far too overwhelming, and possibly cruel, to give to a tiny baby. I wished she had come out with a name stamped on her bottom and that would be that.
In a former life, Auriel Roe was a teacher of art, drama and literature in secondary school. Now she is a full time writer and artist. Her novels are inspired by her experiences as a teacher. Her debut novel A Blindefellows Chronicle was #1 in the humour genre in Amazon US, UK and Canada. Both novels are currently undergoing translation and being made into audio books. The memoir of her life up to 26, A Young Lady's Miscellany is currently being prepared for publication.