Eight years ago, I turned up at a hospital in London to be induced, armed with whale song CDs, aromatherapy massage oils and my birth plan.
“Here is my birth plan!” I said, handing a copy to the midwife on duty, as if I were Moses handing down the Ten Commandments.
The midwife smiled slightly and stuffed the plan away in my file without even looking at it. She probably already knew what I was yet to discover: the baby didn’t give a flying proverbial if I wanted to have drug-free birth on all fours like a cow. The baby had plans of his own and, it turned out, those plans mostly involved staying exactly where he was, thank you very much.
Indeed, twenty-eight agonising hours later – two hours of which were spent with the Oxytocin dial turned up to eleven – the baby had yet to make an appearance.
This is the point where the doctors revealed their own birth plan for me and my baby. A team of medical professionals began waving legal documents under my nose for me to sign while another team shaved my nether regions. Before I knew it I was being wheeled away from my birthing suite and all dreams of a drug-free cow birth, my aromatherapy oils unopened and my whale song CD cast aside. Turns out obstetric surgeons don’t like to listen to whale song while they operate.
In the operating theatre, the failed epidural I’d been given during my labour was upgraded to a failed spinal block and the operating surgeon kindly requested that I stop moving my legs while he operated. This, in turn, forced my anaesthetist to upgrade her assessment of me from “Whinging Bitch With A Low Pain Threshold” to “Possible Medical Malpracdtice Suit” and she offered to put me under general anaesthetic whenever I gave the word.
“Must… See…Baby...” I said, through the pain.
And then suddenly, there he was. My Mr Justice, held aloft and bathed in golden light. (My husband to this day denies that there was any golden light but he obviously wasn’t on the right drugs).
“Quick! Someone help me deliver the uterus,” I heard the surgeon say.
Doesn’t he mean the placenta? I thought vaguely to myself, as the pulling and tugging behind the curtain became so intense I became convinced the surgeon was pulling out my lower intestine like scarves out of a hat. Turns out that my uterus had gone ‘boggy’ – which is another way of saying it had started ‘haemorrhaging like a bastard’ – and needed to be ‘massaged’, although, sadly, not with my aromatherapy massage oils.
Since I didn’t really want to see my uterus held aloft and bathed in golden light, I turned to the anaesthetist.
“Put… Me… Under,” I hissed and then everything went black. Four hours later, I awoke, alone in the recovery area, seemingly intact.
“Where’s my baby?” I panicked and, with as much authority as a woman sporting compression stockings and a pubic mullet could muster, I demanded to be taken to him.
I needn’t have panicked. Back in the ward, my husband was in control of the situation. Braving the nervous giggles and strange looks of onlooking medical staff, he had taken his shirt off to give our baby the skin-to-skin contact I had taken such care to include in my birth plan.
At least someone paid attention to the fucking plan, I thought, somewhat despondently.
But listen. While the birth wasn’t what I had planned or wanted, the baby and I were both alive. And that, in my opinion, is what’s called a result.
And a lesson for me, too. The journey we’ve shared together as mother and son hasn’t always gone the way I planned or wanted – from controlled crying, to buying Wiggles albums, to fast food, to shoot-’em-up computer games. But as a parent, you can’t always stick to The Plan and there’s not much point beating yourself up when you don’t.
Today, my first born, with his shining eyes and his ready laugh – and who, incidentally, is still bathed in golden light – is turning eight years old.
Happy birthday, Mr Justice.