This evening we had our second ante-natal class. I think I’d recovered from the shock of last week’s discovery about the sheer impracticality of childbirth, and I felt a bit more prepared for the next set of revelations. This week was all about pain treatment, and some of the awkward ways that a baby will choose to make its way into the waiting world.
We started with the least invasive pain management techniques (rubbing your partner’s back and whispering in their ear), then the TENS machine. I misheard and thought that you could bring a tennis machine into the delivery room, and although I wasn’t sure how my wife would be helped by having tennis balls fired at her, I’m not a seasoned midwife, so what could I say?
A TENS machine is a device that passes electronic pulses through your body. One of my physiotherapists in Hong Kong used it on me, but it didn’t seem to do much. Apart from allow him to leave me on a bed for half an hour while he went off for a cuppa and a smoke. Thus I felt a little scepticism about wiring my wife up to alleviate the pain, but then different strokes for different folks. And best not to suggest getting one of those electroshock abdominal exercising devices instead.
If you don’t want tiny electric shocks pulsing through your back, how about some nitrous oxide? Good old gas and air, which I thought was something made up for 1950s hospital dramas, turns out to be a real thing. We were advised that the hospitals look sternly at expectant fathers getting a lug of laughing gas, and with good reason. If I’m in hospital for a painful procedure, I don’t want my nearest and dearest hogging the anaesthesia like it’s a comedy bong.
Then there’s getting shot up with narcotics, which might be good, or might wear off before baby makes an entrance, and which I don’t like the idea of, just because when our newborn enters the world, I’m worried about it seeing my wife looking like she’s been shooting up.
And finally, top of the tree is the epidural, where they whack a big needle in your back. I had a friend who nearly fainted when they did this to his wife, which is one way of avoiding witnessing the miracle of childbirth. No more pain for wifey, although the birth may drag out longer, as you’re too numb to think about pushing.
They showed us a video. There was a woman with a tattoo right above her backside, giving birth with no chemical assistance. Her husband, who looked half asleep, was there to rub her back and to drink from a very large cup of coffee. I figure I might be able to manage that. 12 hours of back rubbing and encouragement later, there was somebody rubbing his shoulders too. It wasn’t clear if that’s what you get by opting for a private hospital. I imagine on the NHS a stern matron would yell at you for being a soft pillock. (Although back in the UK, you’d probably be down the pub until the baby arrived. Maybe the mother would be too.)
The video stopped. There was a demonstration of the size of a baby’s head, vs the size of the pelvis. What was I saying about sheer impracticality? It turns out that if the baby is cooperative and aims its head the right way, all should be smashing good fun, but with an awkward baby that decides to point its head in another direction, there’s all sorts of hijinks. Not to the point that doctors are getting busy with a c-section, but enough to draw out the process a bit more. I’ve taken to whispering to my wife’s bump, instructing baby to aim carefully and not muck us around.
Apparently the baby has to listen, because I’m the father. I wonder if my wife will repeat that in other contexts.