We Can Reproduce it for You Wholesale
IT WAS a night like any other. Spend the evening playing video games, go to bed, get up, have a baby, go back to bed. And then get up in the morning and do a bit of HTML before breakfast.
Friday morning I woke up with one of these peculiar bellyaches that come and go exactly eight minutes apart. I remembered the feeling from when Marianne was born, so naturally, I elbowed Steven in the ribs. "You'd better ring into the office; there's no point going to work because we've got a baby coming." And then I retired to my sofa for a long wait. Unfortunately, after a couple of hours I was forced to conclude that the pains had gone away and I'd caused Steven to stay off work entirely un-necessarily.
So we walked down to the café for lunch. Or Steven walked; I waddled. The staff were very solicitous. "Not long now, then, eh? When's the baby due?"
"Tomorrow," I explained, before tucking into a hearty lunch as they looked around nervously. "But don't worry, they never turn up on their due date. Some are early, some are late. In fact, I've been having contractions this morning." Spiros was clearly troubled by the possible effect of imminent parturition on his trendy orange and blue restaurant.
So I sat in the café, drank my latte and tried not to feel uncomfortable. Surely the new baby would make an appearance soon? And I wondered about this whole home birth business, troubled by the possible effect of my imminent parturition on my trendy stripped wood floors.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Marianne was born in hospital, and I discovered that I hated hospitals (and she hadn't seemed particularly keen, either). It had all been rather straightforward, apart from the pain, embarrassment and indignity, of course.
So I explained to the midwife that I'd like to have a homebirth. "Lovely!" she said. "We encourage mothers to have homebirths; it's just a shame that more don't take us up on it. Of course, you can only do it if you have no risk factors whatsoever, and we'll have to make an extra trip to see you, to make sure that your house is suitable. I also have to explain to you, slowly and carefully, all the things that might go horribly wrong because you choose to have your baby at home with only two fully trained medical personnel present."
On average, planned home births have far better outcomes than planned hospital births. This comforting statistic is useless, because all the complicated births are planned for hospital. Outcomes are still better if you look only at low-risk births, but that's explained by the fact that homebirth is mostly a choice of well-educated, well-off women. Studies that have tried to correct for unimaginably many factors of this kind still show a slight benefit to homebirths. Which is rather odd, given that hospitals have all sorts of useful people and equipment around to help in case of a wide variety of medical emergencies. Oddly enough, many women find it easier and simpler to have babies when settled in their own homes, away from a comprehensive collection of reminders of the various things that might go wrong. Plus hospitals tend to be full of infections; it's because they have so many sick people in them.
So I sat down with the midwife and discussed all the horrifying things that might occur as a result of my choice to have my baby in a mud hut with no lighting or running water in darkest Peru. Or possibly in a comfortable family home in north-east London.
"There's shoulder dystocia," she said, crossing it off a list. "That's when the head gets born, but the shoulders are stuck. And then there's flat baby." I had a horrible feeling I knew what that was without being told. "We no longer have a flying obstetric service, so if there's a problem we'll need to transfer you to the hospital in a hurry. So plan on having the baby downstairs, so we can get you out of the house quickly in an emergency." That was the point where I began to worry about the stripped wood floors. She was also worried that my blood test had showed I was anaemic. This seemed very odd to me. I don't exactly look anaemic; I tend to be more like the girl who Saki described as "looking about as pale as a beetroot that has suddenly heard bad news." But nevertheless, it appeared my diet was short of Irn Bru.
After all the dreadful possibilities were crossed off, and I'd promised to take enough iron tablets that stray magnets would start sticking to me, she agreed that both I and my house seemed suitable for a homebirth. She then dropped off a large bag full of medical odds and ends, which I promptly put into a corner of the cellar and forgot about. I didn't bother to pack a hospital bag until a couple of days before the baby was due, although if the baby had come early I'd have needed it. As it was, it was convenient that all the stuff for both me and the baby was in one place. And we made an elaborate plan for what to do with Marianne, involving shipping her over to Ilford for a day and possibly overnight, with massive co-ordination teams.
In the event, I didn't have the baby in the café. The contractions had well and truly stopped, but I put a brave face on it. I was sure the baby would turn up in the next couple of days. I'd read it in my entrails.
Besides, I was far too fed up to put up with much more pregnancy. So I spent the next twenty-four hours or so sitting around feeling sorry for myself, until things started up again midway through Saturday evening. I elbowed Steven in the ribs. "There's not much point you hanging around," I explained. "It's bound to be another false alarm." Well, it was his birthday, after all. So he put Marianne to bed and abandoned me in favour of a stimulating evening of shogi in one of London's great ruined palaces. I was having contractions every nine minutes, so if he took a mobile phone, he could be home after two contractions. After all, this was faster than even the quickest baby could possibly be.
Meanwhile, I settled down to a long evening of boring video games. The complicated ones were hard to concentrate on during contractions, so I resorted to Minesweeper. When Steven returned at midnight, I'd blown myself to bits uncountably many times. And it seemed implausible that the pains were going to stop this time.
I attached a TENS unit to my back. TENS is a special sort of pain relief, in that there's no evidence it reduces any pain whatsoever. But hey, at least it gives you a little button to press. Anyway, I'd done pretty well with TENS when Marianne was born, and I knew that the midwives would be bringing some gas and air out with them when they came.
We rang the hospital twice. On the first occasion, we agreed that there was no point in the midwives coming out to see us just then; things didn't seem to be moving all that fast. I know that I sound very calm when talking to people during labour; I don't speak during contractions and am cogent between them. This causes me some trouble with medical professionals, who are used to women being, well, hysterical. We rang again at about three in the morning, suggesting that it would be a good idea if they came out to see us. It was, after all, only ten minutes drive to the hospital, possibly less in the dead of night. We had failed to realise that the midwives came from home on call, met at the hospital, and then drove out to see me.
It took them just over three-quarters of an hour to arrive. During that time I'd become sick and shaky, both signs that I was moving into the second stage of labour (the bit where you give birth), and much less rational. Steven was busy worrying about his baby catching skills. By the time the midwives turned up I was feeling much as you do when you're ravenously hungry and your pizza is horrendously late. Any slower, I'd have got the baby free and Uncle Enzo would come out personally to apologise.
One theory of the development of human intelligence argues that, like the peacock's gaudy tail or the moose's antlers, our absurdly over-developed intellect is an evolutionary peculiarity. Large brains do not in fact give us a survival edge, but instead help us to procure mates, and if actual survival were needed then a thorough understanding of Proust would not be much use. At any rate, never does intelligence seem more over-rated than when trying to giving birth to the average newborn's absurdly over-developed head. By the time the midwives arrived, I was lying on the stairs in the hall, wondering whether it would stop hurting for long enough for me to get back to the living room.
"Hello," I said. "Good to see you. CAN I HAVE SOME GAS AND AIR RIGHT NOW PLEASE?" Now, I remember from Marianne's birth that gas and air is exceptionally good stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to find out because the gas and air the midwives brought didn't work. They attached the spare canister. That didn't work either. They explained that they didn't have time to go back to the hospital and get some more. Now I know how it feels to be plummeting towards the ground with a broken ripcord dangling from your hand.
"Never mind," explained the midwife, who had been having a good poke round while I had been trying to get the gas and air to work. "Just breathe in deeply and try to relax. The baby will be along in a few minutes." This was not particularly helpful advice, for all that it happened to be true.
Everything became urgent. Steven brought the mattress downstairs; the one I'd told him not to fetch earlier because there would be plenty of time. A vast array of stuff of all kinds appeared from the midwifemobile, mostly designed for checking over a new baby. And I remembered the bag full of stuff in the cellar. Once all the stuff was in place Jonathan reckoned it was time to put in an appearance, and did.
"It's a boy." As soon as I heard it was a boy, I realised I was delighted, that the perfect family was one girl and one boy, and that I'd desperately wanted a boy all along. This is one of these ways that your mind plays tricks on you. I'd actually been perfectly happy with either outcome prior to the birth, and I remember this happening with Marianne too. Now I 'remember' that before she was born, I was sort-of half hoping for a girl, that I would have been a bit sad if neither of my children were girls. But I'm pretty sure that this was a false memory. At any rate, I'm thrilled with my little boy. But I'd have been equally happy with a girl.
I had worried about feeding him. Marianne hadn't taken to the breast to begin with, and we'd had various feeding troubles. So I thought that Jonathan might be the same. As he latched on like a full-blown milk vampire, I reflected that this was my first lesson in what happens when you expect your second child to be like your first. It's a good thing my body was still crawling with endorphins.
The midwives carefully wrote out a pair of hospital bracelets and gave them to me. I laughed. "I'm not sure we need these," I explained. "We only have one baby here, after all. I think we're unlikely to get him mixed up." "Everyone says that," they explained, "but people like to keep them as souvenirs".
We weren't left alone until about six, at which point the three of us collapsed exhausted. Marianne awoke from the Tibetan Sleep of the Dead a couple of hours later, so we explained that the stork had brought her a baby brother, put her in front of a very long video, and went back to bed. Once we'd had a decent amount of sleep, I posted my own birth announcement to rec.arts.sf.fandom and put up a web page for Jonathan.