Childbirth and dignity do not co-exist

Laura Riding with son Reggie at two weeks

In the first of her columns on motherhood, former Simon Langton schoolgirl Laura Riding, 29, from Canterbury discusses bringing new life into the world

I gave birth two weeks ago today. The term “gave birth” does, however, feel somewhat unsuitable as my baby was delivered by Caesarean section, which strangely feels like cheating, despite being in labour for two days following being induced – typically far more painful than a natural labour.

It was certainly a suffering and though part of me knows I deserve the metaphorical medal of honour that comes with childbirth I still feel like I didn’t finish the race, despite the living and breathing newborn lying on me as I type.

As I think back to the blurred and drug-hazed memory of being in hospital two weeks ago, I get flashes of our time there: sitting doing the crossword while the hormone drip got to work.

The contractions were mild and almost pathetic, with me naively thinking I could “totally handle this”, and a lovely south-east Asian lady bumbling in to offer us snacks and cups of tea, taking my food order for lunch.

As the afternoon and evening wore on the crossword book lay forgotten on the side table as the contractions were wringing me up and squeezing me out like a wet tea towel, my partner Dan redundant and desperately, fruitlessly trying to help.

Dan Irwin, Laura Riding and Reggie

Flash to 2am, where the pain is now unbearable, so I am offered an epidural, which I accept after projectile vomiting across the room, the anaesthetists determinedly reading my notes and trying to ignore the scene as the midwife helps mop me up.

Epidural brings absolute numbness and relief to but in hindsight to everyone in the room. They are now freed of this exorcist woman and met with smiles instead of roars.

The crossword book comes back, and we carry on as if nothing unusual is happening.

I even get up to use the bathroom, forgetting about the epidural, and crash heavily to the floor due to my legs being totally numb, prompting three midwives to rush in and get me back on to the bed, offering me a bed pan.

Childbirth and dignity do not exist harmoniously in the same room. During this bizarre other worldly experience the catering lady popped her head around the door and asked: “You want snack?”

By 10am I was almost ready to push him out, so they told me. I was still numb from the waist down and high on gas and air, so wasn’t really aware of the amazing progress my body was making, while sitting there completing my ninth Sudoku puzzle and drinking a cup of tea.

The lovely Asian lady had come back to take my lunch order, so I chose a cheese omelette.

Noon comes round, go time! Feeling absolutely nothing I pushed with all my might, not even feeling the child inside me, being told by the midwife when to push, as all natural sensation and urge had been taken away along with the pain.

An hour later and nothing had happened, I was getting exhausted, the midwives had called for a doctor.

At this exact moment our catering lady comes bustling into the room carrying my cheese omelette.

Looking around the room as if surprised to see a labouring woman in the delivery suite and declares “cheese omelette?” as if she were a waitress approaching a table in a restaurant.

There is an uncomfortable silence as she places the omelette next to my bed. We are then all greeted by the wafting smell of cheese and egg.

The doctor declares that the baby has shifted into an awkward position. She thinks it best for us to proceed with a Caesarean.

Suddenly it is action stations. Dan is given scrubs to wear and an attractive pair of Crocs that are too small, and I am wheeled into the theatre, where they are playing Ashford FM a few decibels too loud.

The surgeons are dancing in a manner that I think is supposed to calm us but naturally has the opposite effect. I am pumped full of more drugs and Reggie emerges with immense ease. He’s passed to me. Finally it’s over.

We were sent home the next day, and I’ve been recovering ever since. It’s easy to forget that I had serious abdominal surgery.

We have since returned to give the midwives a thank you card. They are a credit to the NHS and they took all the trauma away from the experience.

I never found out the name of the catering lady, and didn’t mention her in the card, but in hindsight she provided vital comic relief during the toughest two days of my life. For that I am eternally grateful.

I will never forget that cheese omelette.



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