What it Feels Like to Give Birth In Front of 30 Peopleby Annabel Port
It was never going to be a straightforward birth. I’ve got the hips of a twelve-year-old boy and a very low pain tolerance. I’d always known I wasn’t great with pain. Ever since I took myself to A&E, thinking I needed an appendectomy, but what I actually needed was to fart.
But it was confirmed when, during labour, I caught two different midwives rolling their eyes at me. I didn’t help that I’d asked for an epidural before I was even 1cm dilated. The midwife laughed and said somewhat gleefully, “You’ve got a very long way to go before it gets unbearable.” That ‘unbearable’ wasn’t particularly reassuring.
So I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those women whose partner describes as a ‘hero’ and a ‘superwoman’ in gushing post-birth Facebook posts. For me, it was going to be a lot more sobbing and soiling myself.
I think because of this I wanted to somehow redeem myself. So when quite early on (after an epidural but before the pushing) I was asked if a few medical students could come and observe my labour, I happily obliged. I was helping to educate the next generation of surgeons, obstetricians and anaesthetists. I might even change the path of a brilliant mind previously set on orthopaedics. My fascinating delivery would draw them into obstetrics. They’d probably go on to save babies and women’s lives and that was down to me and my generosity. (I’d had quite a lot of gas and air at this point.) Retrospectively I wonder if it was just so these students could gawp at the medical oddity of a woman who asked for an epidural before active labour.
Sadly for them, I was coping well now, thanks to the epidural. I was in good spirits. I even felt able to check my phone and was comforted to see a text from my dad. My parents were staying in my flat looking after the dog. They were probably worried sick and pacing up and down. I opened the text. It said: Have you got any nutcrackers?
They’re not going out of their mind with worry – they are having some kind of nut party. And not just ordinary nuts. They are really living it up and have got some unshelled nuts in.
I reply: No we are too young to own nutcrackers.
His response comes 2 and a quarter hours later: It’s okay, we’ve bought some.
In the meantime, I’m asked again and again if I mind more medical students coming to observe. Each time I happily agreed. I was like Jay Gatsby, but instead of a lavish Long Island mansion, I was hosting my own fabulous birth party in a cramped, brightly lit hospital room. (Although I’m sure neither of these parties compares to my parent’s nut party.)
Of course, my legs were very much akimbo and in stirrups throughout. My boyfriend recalls several of the male medical students giving him an awkward glance before turning their attention to my vagina. It’s probably quite a different experience to be watching and not doing anything. There wasn’t even much to watch so it may have felt slightly voyeuristic. Although I’m 100% sure that it was not in any way enjoyable.
I distinctly recall a look of horror on one young male student doctor’s face. A look which seemed to convey: I’m never having a baby, I’m never delivering a baby, I’m switching to ophthalmology as soon as possible and I’m never having sex with a vagina again. He was traumatised.
It wasn’t dissimilar to the look on my boyfriend’s face when invited to the business end to see the baby’s head as it became visible. I encouraged him and it remains one of my life’s big regrets. Robbie Williams once joked it was like seeing his favourite pub burn down. My boyfriend’s face suggested it was more akin to watching his favourite pub burn down with every family member, every close friend and the whole of Newcastle United flailing around inside.
But the medical students kept coming and coming. A few student nurses were thrown into the mix. You’re probably thinking I’m some terrible exhibitionist. That I’m always posting scantily clad photos on social media and loving the attention. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m actually very prudish. I’m more Queen Victoria than Victoria Secret. More swimming costume than bikini. Even Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a bit much for me.
I think there was something reassuring about their presence. Things weren’t going to plan, the baby was stuck and the ventouse cup hadn’t worked. They were prepping me for a C-section before trying forceps. But I didn’t feel I was in danger as long as there were some open-mouthed, wide-eyed, barely past teenager years students standing awkwardly in the room. They’d surely be ushered out if things got serious.
And I had other things on my mind. Like being told to push while they used the forceps. And learning how to push when you can feel absolutely nothing from the belly button down. It made me much less aware of the number of people in the room when my boy was finally wrenched into this world.
The main benefit of losing all my dignity was being completely comfortable breastfeeding anywhere and in front of anyone. A bit of boob? Who cares! Did I tell you about the day that 50 people stood gawping at my vagina?
And it’s true what they say. It was all worth it. Every single second of pain. Because at the end of it all, I got my beautiful son. And a pair of nutcrackers.