We’re late. Mostly due to my insistence on dinner before departure (I am a mean hungry person) and partly due to my inclination to consume such meals sans the restrictive confines of waistbands (not a heavily pregnant woman’s friend).
And so we arrive – with an unintentionally dramatic bang of the swinging door – 15 minutes late at the Parent Education Room. The room is at about half capacity with roughly seven pairs in attendance. Each pair must introduce themselves, say how far along they are and what they’ve done to prepare thus far.
“Ahhh, my name is Henrietta & this is J and I’m 36 weeks gone and we’ve bought nothing.”
Most of the pairs are equally clueless – if not also largely less pregnant and more consumeristically invested in their established colour scheme. Swapping hospitals (I took umbrage at being designated so low-risk that I had to go to an antenatal clinic not only not at the hospital but so far out in the sticks it was practically in NSW) set back the ‘expected’ timeline for parental attendance and we are somewhat behind the eight ball (which, coincidentally, I look like I’ve eaten).
My favourite introduction comes from a slim hipless woman in her mid-twenties with an Amy Winehouse style pile of hair, tattoo sleeves of Day of the Dead painted sugar skull women and heart-centric spider webs and fantastically sweeping fake lashes. Somewhat defensively she opens, “I’m Shanae and his dad’s still on the scene alright, he just won’t come to these classes. *pause* This is my birth partner Kaitlyn.”
Kaitlyn, a wide dumpy lady of indeterminate age with the experiences of an era inscribed on her face, pats Shanae’s leg. Now that Shanae’s mentioned it, I notice that everyone else in the class is in heterosexual pairings, suggesting (possibly erroneously) that the blokes responsible for the predicaments so created have attended.
I understand Shanae’s defensiveness, though if mine had declined to attend I probably would have told the class he’d died. That might also then have been true.
My least favourite attendee (one must have both) goes to a chap who variously speaks for and over his partner, telling us repeatedly that he actually knows a lot about childbirth because he’s a scientist. In my experience a scientist, more so than a vegan or any other minority, will be quick to inform you of their special designated status. Often with a weighted emphasis to truly impress; “I’m actually a sci-ent-ist.”
During the class we learn that labour is inevitable, that science-guy is a godfather to no-less-than five children, that we will need the help of our support partner to emerge unscathed and that science-guy isn’t worried about the fatigue commonly associated with parenthood because he actually only sleeps two hours a night anyway.
I have to bite my tongue so as not to query how helpful that is if you’re not the one lactating.
We learn about Braxton Hicks contractions, which only Shanae has experienced to date. These are fake contractions and you can apparently tell this as your stomach tenses and gets hard as opposed to real contractions, which occur a lot lower and feel more like pre-menstrual cramping. I poke my lump in gentle curiousity - it’s generally pretty firm, like a not-quite-fully-inflated basketball. I am kicked for my concern; a reminder of the alien occupation in my mid-section.
We learn that no-one is meant to co-sleep but that we all will and the most important thing is to ensure the baby doesn’t sleep next to the non-birth parent as this parent is much more likely to roll over and squash the infant. Nice.
We learn how to swaddle a baby, or rather a small plastic doll with unbendable arms that fights every embrace of the muslin cloth. J is pleased with his effort and while I’m pretty certain he’s strangled our plastic ring-in I stay mute as I feel no affection for its shiny smile.
We also learn that science-guy’s partner – a diminutive Asian lady with beautiful eyes and a great wardrobe – asked him what an episiotomy was but that he declined to tell her. I conclude that science-guy is a complete twat. The midwife’s face says she agrees but she also doesn’t explain what it is – apparently we have to wait till week 3 ‘Birth Week’ for the unveiling of that particular surprise.
It’s week two and we’re late again. At least this time we’ve missed the introductions entirely which means I don’t have to fess up to the fact that I still haven’t bought anything (though I have acquired a surprising amount of small human clothing for free).
This week we’re going through labour techniques with a woman who claims to be a physio but seems very much in the hippie doula mould. Over the course of the two hours it emerges that she is an enthused hypnobirth propagandist who believes strongly in the powers of aromatherapy and Enya for pain relief. She shows us a spot on the back that, if pressed strongly at the correct time, should block the pain-signals sent during contractions.
Of course it would have to strongly and correctly pressed by an assortment of well-intentioned but nervous males who have been shown the spot exactly once so the likelihood of relief resulting from such attempts 1-2 months down the track is small.
My favourite moment is when the physio is met with an ageless silence when asking who knows what the pelvic floor is (because the assumed knowledge of these classes is rightly zero, there is a fair amount of being treated a little bit like a complete idiot). Her face drops for a moment into a horrified grimace before resuming its usual chirpy persona. “No-one? At all?”
Of course the silence is then broken by science-guy who tells us that of course he knows because sci-ence but that he won’t burden us by sharing.
We’re less late this week, having opted to go to dinner afterwards (which turns out to be a slightly terrible decision as, due to Christmas shutdown, this week is a double feature, meaning that we get dinner some time considerably after my usual bedtime).
My mother-in-law is also in town, so it is a trio of us that traipse in slightly shamefaced (we were the last ones to arrive each time). We’re given a fairly thick stack of handouts on which other attendees are making notes but I, being arrogantly convinced there is no pop-quiz labour stage, forego this in preference for drawing devil horns on the in-utero foetuses on slides.
During the presentation – which he does not give – science-guy manages to contribute the fact that he is a scientist on no fewer- than three occasions, which must reflect his lack of short term memory as (you will recall) we all learnt this fact in week 1. The midwife asks for a support partner to volunteer for an epidural and before she’s finished speaking science-guy is striding to the front.
He then proceeds to explain to her where the catheter goes and how it works and I’m pretty sure she’s only just restraining herself from strangling him with it. The very fact that a catheter is involved has completely turned me off the idea of an epidural (as did the medical negligence cases we did in law school where they accidentally injected some sort of saline solution, paralysing the patient from the waist down) but Shanae has bigger concerns.
“But like, does it make you nauseous?”
“Um, well yes, it can. Pretty much all of the pain relief options may cause nausea for some people”
“See like that’s not going to work for me. I’ve never thrown up and I’m not going to. Like I don’t even care about the pain – I’m not vomiting.”
The midwife is stumped. So am I – how does one calculate alcohol tolerance without the great Roman tradition of purging overindulgence?
The midwife, seeking to move on, recounts the various ways we can try and get labour started (not sure why you’d want to, but there we have it). These involve eating chillies/drinking cod-liver oil (science-guy has a science reason why this works but our midwife says its just because it gives you the runs and these spasms can trigger contractions which is so gross I’m almost on board), walking up/down stairs and antenatal expressing (my mother’s tip of a stiff G&T, with lemon, is not discussed).
Antenatal expressing is every bit as off-putting as it sounds and involves massaging your nipples to encourage milk production. Mentally I put it in the ‘no’ basket, upgrading to ‘hell no’ when the midwife mentions that a human – unlike a cow – has many ‘points’ at which milk exits and not to be surprised when it ‘sprays’ out. Eugh.
Shanae asks if she can do antenatal expressing with implants. They’re the ones under the muscle she reassures the midwife, very ‘natural-look’. The midwife, whose idea of natural involves planting placentas in her garden, looks mildly askance but reassures Shanae that she should be able to express same as anyone else.
And just like that we’re freed from the rigours of parenting class, knowing still next-to-nothing about the actual parenting bit (I thought we’d learn to change a nappy? Is that innate?) but a great deal about things that will hopefully not occur. So it goes.