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In Good Company: The Day Of The Stork

...On another occasion my man was discouragingly brushed out of maternity like a swarm of bacteria the moment my back was turned. No one asked him if he wanted to stay and watch. I can imagine the colour he would have turned if anyone had. To tell the truth I could have done with a blindfold and earplugs myself...

Enid Blackburn considers that most pregnant of all issues: should men be present when their offspring are born?

For more of Enid's high-spirited words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/in_good_company/

Congratulations to all new fathers who are present at the birth of their offspring. Anyone facing that delivery room without due qualifications deserves a rosette for valour.

Not like a husband in our household who had his wife speeding towards hospital in an ambulance two minutes after she complained of backache. When disturbed wife rang home later to tell him a false alarm had been diagnosed, she learned that anxious father was starring in an all-important darts match.

On another occasion my man was discouragingly brushed out of maternity like a swarm of bacteria the moment my back was turned. No one asked him if he wanted to stay and watch. I can imagine the colour he would have turned if anyone had. To tell the truth I could have done with a blindfold and earplugs myself.

But my first hospital appointment coincided with an unfortunate drama. A hysterical sixteen-year-old had suddenly changed her mind. She had decided that giving birth was not her scene. As I entered the ward two hefty Sisters were trying to reassure her. While one described in detail the inhuman tapestry of stitches dissident mothers could expect, the other hinted at the dangerous effect this agitation had on unborn babies. It wasn’t doing much for me either.

My teeth rattled together like a castanet accompaniment to a flamenco dance. I tried to remember what time the next bus was – thank God I hadn’t unpacked. Looking around I noticed for the first time three other silent lumps protruding from the beds opposite. They must be either drugged or dead, I thought. Either state seemed infinitely more desirable to me as I reluctantly allowed the nurse to ungrip my fingers from my small case handle.

As most pregnant ladies realise, one can only leave the ‘receiving ward’ via the ‘delivery room. In receiving you part with everything except your baby. After the exacting enema this is about the only solid you retain. When you are bathed and clean-shaven and your pasteurised body is wrapped in what for everyone else resembles a shrunken shift – but in my case ample covering – you are ready for Sister’s talk. ‘Take these,’ she says, crossing your palm with capsules, then a short click and you are plunged in darkness, alone with your ante-natal exercises.

These are excellent propaganda for pregnancies. The one I attended gave us all an exciting preview of what we could expect when eventually delivered. We all became expert breathers. I, for one, left believing that if you could breathe in and out while slowly counting to ten, no labour pain was insurmountable.

So when the time came for me to meet my baby I was totally unprepared. Instead of a delivery room brimming with anti-natal conditioned staff waiting to count me peacefully into motherhood I was faced with two masked nurses who gave me the impression they had left a kettle boiling somewhere. Mind you, counting and relaxing were the last two thoughts on my mind, anyway.

Stretching a hand out for the gas and air mask was the only exercise I fancied. But my chance to show off came when one of them ordered me to ‘pant!’

Now I cannot speak for others, but this ‘panting’ exercise takes some nerve to perform in front of hospital staff, never mind husbands. One feels so foolish lying there undignified with bent knees, ludicrously panting in and out like an overheated animal. But I followed the instructions to the best of my ability. Perhaps a little hesitant for a start but after the first apologetic coughs I really entered into it, doing a lifelike impression of an Alsatian I once knew, aptly named Randy.

However, as time dragged interminably on, my breaths flagged somewhat. How long was I suppose to keep this up? Unable to carry on panting any longer and live, I whispered in a barely audible rasp ‘Can . . . I . . . stop . . now . . . please?’

‘Stop what?’ said a voice from a distant corner. As memory came flooding back and she remembered who I was, she apologised and handed me a bloodshot bundle as a reward.

Next to ward orderlies who have the all-important duty of bringing in the bacon, besides bedtime cocoa brewing, Sisters are the highest form of maternity hospital life, highly regarded by most mums. During my five confinements I regarded some more highly than others.

One Sister was a super efficient drug deterrent. Administering the sleeping draughts was one of her duties we came to dread. Her descriptions of poison-saturated blood streams left our minds festering with neurosis all night. Her nightly cry of, ‘Who’s for poison, then?’ could clear a locker top in two seconds. Only the large and the brave dared to take one of her sleeping pills. ‘Good girls,’ she would smile at the pill-less on her way out, leaving a trail of anxiety as she left.

Were we breast-feeders slowly poisoning our offspring? Was the soporific contentment we fondly adhered to our rich home-grown milk actually the deadly results of last night’s sleeping pill? Until by morning we were praying our babies would still be alive and crying.

Once I heard a Sister whisper a blood-curdling sentence to my neighbour, ‘Tomorrow we are going to take some marrow from your breast-bone, dear.’ Her voice sounded so matter-of-fact she might have been saying, ‘Tomorrow I am taking your shoes to the cobblers.’ I didn’t like the ‘we’ bit, how much marrow were they going to take if it needed two to carry it? A short sentence but enough to shatter a newly-delivered.

One is at their mercy after all. Once you cross that threshold there is no limit to what they can remove. You go in voluntarily hoping to have your baby, but if they fancy taking anything else you’re in no condition to refuse, anyway.

‘W . . . hat for? H . . . ow?’ asked the now simpering wreck in the next bed. Sister sat down. I could see this description was going to be in detail, but I still eavesdropped. ‘Just a needle into the bone.’ That was enough. There was only one question in my mind now, whatever that girl was suffering from, was it infectious?

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