Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Philosophical Wankery

I have given birth twice.

This is a matter which is central and important to me, and not only for the obvious reasons (my two teenager ratbags of beloved sons). This is also something I count as formative life experience in its own right.

My first son was a loving and shy infant in the womb (yes, you can know what they are like before they are born - their nature is there, already present), reticent about coming out into the world. His feet were under the right side of my ribcage, from pretty early on till the end. I knew he didn't want to come out. He just didn't. He was two weeks overdue, I had been given a date to be induced in a day or so, when finally, slowly, things started to happen. The day before I went into hospital I spent in annoying discomfort - not pain - as he was trying to grind his head low down inside my pelvis - "engage the head" as the lingo goes - in (reluctant, I was sure) readiness to be born. That evening there was a bit of water, I wanted to go to the hospital, and the twenty-four hour labour-suiteathon began, during which

I learned I can't keep anything in when I give birth. In the long run, this results in a serious lack of blood sugars. I learned that pain in itself doesn't kill you, even if you think it will. I learned that being means being encased in a body, and that being encased in a body means supreme and utter loneliness, but that there is a comfort in this loneliness, too - the loneliness itself.

My son was born after three shifts of midwives had completed their shift, gone home to their families and lives, shopped, cooked their dinners, helped their kids with their homework, watched telly, brushed their teeth, fucked their husbands, whatever it is that midwives - being ordinary people - do in their ordinary lives, and all I'd done meanwhile was give birth. He had fluid on the lungs, his breathing was gurgly. I asked someone - a nurse, a midwife - whether he was going to die. She replied she couldn't say. When his breathing hadn't cleared after an hour, he was taken to the special care baby unit, against all my plans of utterly natural childbirth. After my son was gone, the midwives seemed to disappear as well. An orderly appeared in the room I was now alone in. My waist-long dreadlocks (and lack of child, possibly) didn't endear me to her, and she told me to get myself washed, without a hint of warmth. Am I allowed to get up, I asked, vaguely aware of the fact I had been through quite a lot in the last twenty-four hours. Go in the bath, she replied. My legs felt like worn cotton wool as I made my way to the bathroom. Afterwards, I couldn't decide whether to have the spagetti or the risotto of the vegetarian options available, and ordered both. I spent my son's first night asleep on a chair next to his incubator, with one hand inside it, touching his back. In spite of enduring the entire labour without pain killers, I felt I had failed, that I hadn't given him the non-violent entry into the world I had envisioned.

My younger son was a leprechauny clown unable to keep still, from before birth. He lay in my womb with his back against my spine - this is uncommon. He would push his arms and legs out to their full length, forcing my tummy into a distorted cube with four irregularly-peaked corners and a horrid hollow in the middle. I had to cover it with a newspaper or a blanket when I watched telly, it was too freaky-scary (not to mention uncomfortable). I used to dream of grabbing hold of an ankle or a wrist. He, too, was calculated as being a fortnight overdue (although in his case, the dates were wrong, as evidenced by his skin being covered in vernix, and him having the pot-bellied spindly-legged spider look of newborns, both of which attributes my elder lacked, being instead perfectly formed and "grown-up looking" when born, and peeling all over as one sunburnt). With him, too, I was given a date to arrive for inducing within a day of him actually being born (we induced him with the natural method, instead). I woke at three-thirty, knowing this was it, got up and ate some cereal and attempted a bath. The attempt made me realise things were going to move a lot more quickly this time. On the way to the hospital - an hour's drive down winding Welsh country lanes - we got stuck behind not one but three pre-fabricated homes being transported at a snail's pace on the back of equally many lorries. I thought I was going to end up having him in the green Vauxhall Cavalier. The car radio announced it was St George's Day. Let's call him George, their dad joked. No f*cking way, I replied, not much in a mood for joking. When I got into the labour ward,

I squatted down, swore, hung by my arms from the door frame, swore, kicked the walls, swore. I learned I swear a lot when I give birth, and take no shit from anyone. I got into the birth pool and was reminded I can't keep anything in when I give birth. I learned we are - possibly primarily - bodies, and that being a body is being strong and wise and capable beyond the individual's capabilities. I learned about pain and strength, and about the strangeness of the feeling when one's self is pushed aside and becomes an observer to events only.

My younger son was born within two hours of my arriving at the hospital, two ounces under ten pounds. For the first time in my life, I knew I had done something brilliantly, outstandingly, flawlessly. As he and I relaxed in the maternity ward that afternoon, my midwife - a wonderful woman, shaped like the Venus of Willendorf, dark, smooth hair, high cheekbones, slanty eyes, she could have been Sami rather than Welsh! - came to thank me for the experience before going home after her shift.

And this is really only what happened, not what happened to me in the process of it all happening.

(The title of this post? My one-before-latest google search hit. Yes, really. The very latest one, eerily, was actually looking for me - anna mr blogs maids. Own up, own up, whoever you are.)


Reading the Signs said...

Anna, what a post my dear, and that you are able to write and describe it as you have is a fine thing. Even though we all have our own unique experiences of birth, I felt the strong pull of something like recognition. I remember a man I once knew who had watched his wife give birth and said afterwards that what she had done (giving birth) was simply heroic, and the fact that countless other women had also done this didn't make it any the less heroic. It is also, I think, an initiation, whether the birth, is wonderful or terrible, easy or hard. The photos are beautiful.

My second child was also a "leprechauny" one with his back against my spine. Having him was (physically, not emotionally) like a first birth because the first one had been caesarean.

What about these googlers of yours, then? Well the latest one just means that you're probably becoming famous but the other is baffling, unless you actually used those words!

NMJ said...

hey anna mr, a stunning post, i had to go away and come back before commenting, childbirth makes me feel like an impostor, i get a bit sad - & those beautiful boys, am trying to tell who is who x

Anna MR said...


I am not a very happy little blogger right now, because I have replied to Signs today and the comment has disappeared.

My own comment from my own blog.

Granted, I diddled about with the wording etc for a while in preview, and it may well be I in the end forgot to publish the thing entirely, but the chances of that being the explanation to this disappeareance seem really rather slim. Much more likely, it is the jinx that plagued people in Signs' Dr Who room.

I will try to reiterate what I said and then I'm off to change my password. Just in case.

So -

Signs, NMJ - thank you. This thing just felt like it wanted to be written, but once written, I started to instantly want it unwritten. Maybe you know how this can sometimes be the case with one's writing efforts. Therefore my thanks here are not just a hollow piece of politeness, but really rather heartfelt. You two fine, fine ladies appreciating it means quite a bit to me.

As regards the googlers, the title of the post is a true hit, although the words aren't actually mine. It was from a comment posted by matti on my "I think therefore I suffer" post - go have a look, if you're interested, it was a nice comment. The other is just weird weirdness.

But my very latest googlesearch hit is pleasure delaying. Now how about that? Someone from Germany spent a minute and a half reading three of my posts, in their quest for this holy grail. Come back, come back, my fellow pleasure delayer from Bad-Wurttemberg.

xx one each, sweet ladies

Reading the Signs said...

anna, lady prince - mwah! is all I will say just now. But I will be back - probably sooner than you think, in the small hours, with fag (that's English for cigarette - anyone from USA looking in) fighting the forces of darkness and jinxery.

Actually no, it's not all I want to say: about that feeling of something wanting to be written - this, above all, dear prince, is the sign above signs. Pressure. The best stuff comes from it, as you have demonstrated here. And yes, one often feels strangely at one remove, shy almost, to see what has been uttered because it comes from deep self (Wild Mind, as Nathalie Goldberg might have called it) rather than the tamer, more discursive self.

And now it really is time for me to put a sock in it. x

Anna MR said...

Signs, my dear fellow Prince, mwah to your good self also. But what - oh, I am a mite disappointed - I thought you meant you were going to nip over in the wee small hours with those interesting, charming homosexual friends of yours. Oh, disappointment.

I don't know about this post being "the best stuff" (although I blushingly thank you for the praise). I can barely bring myself to reading it now. For one, it is way way too long, and for another, it manages to not say what I intended to say, regardless of its overlength. And, and, and...

But I do like the Wild Mind concept. Marry that to the idea I recently coined of the Wise Body, yes, and we might have a really interesting individual in our hands, wouldn't you say, sweet Signs?

I welcome you back later, or sooner, dear lady, most heartily. But I, for one, will go to bed very shortly, because my hours of sleep are beginning to match yours. Not, however, before I've been for a date on the balcony with a certain gay dude.

x mwah - watch what you turn into

bindi said...

Hi Anna MR, I think the post should be called 'I have given birth twice'. It is not wankery at all! Let the world know. Thanks for this little space in the blogosphere to celebrate giving birth as a fine achievement. The finest.

Reading the Signs said...

I wasn't assessing your post in terms of finished material and perhaps 'best stuff' was the wrong term - I haven't gone through your blog with a literary toothcomb. But it does have an energy that feels as though it 'comes from the source' and it does express something, even though it might not be what you had intended. Sometimes a piece of writing discovers itself in the making.

I think I might have turned into Medusa today.

Anna MR said...

Bindi of the Upside-Down Lands - thank you for your lovely comment. Please feel free to tell us about your experiences, too - here if you like. You have twice as many as I, as I have gathered...


Anna MR said...

Signs of the Snakey Head - Medusa?! Interesting. Powerful. Pretty sexy and cool, too. But how so? How so, dear heart? Whose body have you petrified with your mere glance today? Do tell.

I loved your earlier comment (as well as this one) about the (energy of the) post being good, incidentally, just in case my response didn't make that clear. I always have to argue and quibble against any supportive feedback I get, however, such is the nature of this particular Lady Prince. So hope it isn't me you think you've petrified, dearest? Because the truth is quite contrary.

hm, sending you some hugs instead of kisses, this time, just to be on the safe side O O

Anna MR said...

NMJ sweetest and dearest - I would rather bite off my own post than make you feel an impostor. This has been bothering me since I read your comment, but my reply was written not only in haste but also in annoyance (previous one disappeared, etc). I don't feel like childbirth is something I achieved - it is more like something that life made happen to me. You know? Not something that I can be blowing my own personal "look what I've done" trumpet about.

In some ways, I think being born, giving birth, and dying are probably related. We all experience at least two of those - situations where the body and biology and the unstoppable inevitability of these overtake all the mental constructs that the nature of mankind erects in our minds, obstructing the realities. For good reason, of course - we are people at least in part because of these said mental constructs, and there's no way what we have achieved as a species would have been achieved with the birthing or dying mind only.

I am sounding all poncy and embarrassing. I am off to hide now. But just as a hint for you in identifying the two villains, my dear - think of my words "leprechauny clown" and then look at the expressions of the wee lads. I think you'll know who's who.


Reading the Signs said...

well the thing is, you see, I made the mistake of looking at myself in the mirror this morning. Petrified, my dear, utterly. It's taken all day to feel remotely human.

and arguing and quibbling against nice feedback seems quite reasonable to a nice jewish girl like me - my aunt used to argue and quibble if one so much as asked her whether she'd like a cup of tea, let alone venture to make a statement about something.

O Os from me too (it took a while for the penny to drop that they were hugs!)

Anna MR said...

Signs - while I cannot believe what you actually encountered was as bad as you seem to think, I still can sympathise. There is not much joy received from mirrors in the FOMP household as we speak, either (if ever).

Feeling fantastically overemotional and super-self-centredly maudlin doesn't help matters much, either. Add a dash of "I know I have things so well I don't know I'm born" and the mixture is pretty much cooked and unpalatable.

Hope the shingles are easing, love.