The midwife bounces gently on a large inflatable exercise ball, holding a cow skull in one hand and a baby doll in the other. This, and I can’t stress this enough, is not an ordinary Thursday for me.
Ordinary has flown out the window. Ordinary has joined a travelling circus. Ordinary has gone for a walk in the desert with a pocket full of peyote and won’t be back for a very long time.
“You need to neutralise the pelvis,” says our bobbing mentor demonstrating the correct sitting position on the ball before proceeding to force the baby headfirst through the cow skull. Except it’s not a cow skull. It’s a human pelvis and I’m an idiot. Even still, it doesn’t look like any part of the body, human or otherwise, big enough for a baby to fit through.
Today is ‘Labour Day’, a seven-hour class run by Guy’s & St Thomas’ hospital about the joys of giving birth or ‘labouring’ as the midwife insists on calling it, which I suppose is a more accurate reflection of the effort that will evidently be involved. I’ve never seen so many pregnant women in one place before. There are about 40 of us in the room, of which only 10 are men. We exchange slightly desperate glances, knowing we’re outnumbered and out of our depth. Some of the women look substantially more pregnant than my wife. In fact, some of them look like they’ve stuffed a spare exercise ball up their jumper. I can see my wife scanning the room, thinking the same thing. I wonder if she has belly-envy. I want to reassure her, tell her that one day she’ll be that fat, but I can’t find the right words.
What if one of these women actually goes into labour right here and now? That would be amazing. A little intrusive for the couple involved perhaps, but very educational for the rest of us. We could all stand around taking notes and shouting encouragement. And then when the baby was born we’d be bonded for life. The parents would gratefully make us all godfathers and godmothers and we’d get together once a year to share stories and pat the child on the head and say, “I helped deliver you, young Stuart.” (It would be named after me because I played a crucial role of some sort during the labour.)
"What if one of these women actually goes into labour right here and now? That would be amazing. A little intrusive for the couple involved perhaps, but very educational for the rest of us."
With this likely scenario in mind, I’m determined to pay close attention. My classmates however, are not making it easy. I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not but pregnant women are rather fidgety – and this lot are shifting more uncomfortably than a footballer with a superinjunction. Every 30 seconds or so someone gets up and stretches their back, or eats a banana or waddles to the toilet. The ones who can bear to stay seated content themselves by simply groaning.
In spite of this pregnant hubbub I manage to absorb most of the lesson. We cover pretty much everything there is to know about labour; from how long the first contractions should last (30-60 seconds) to what a mucus plug is (don’t ask). I even pick up a few massage techniques, which my wife seems particularly keen for me to learn.
As it turns out we do watch someone go into labour, but disappointingly it’s on a video and not in real life. What the video lacks in first-hand realism however, it more than makes up for in theatrical flair and the kind of production techniques you can only get from cheap, desktop editing software. We witness the magic of childbirth through a curious combination of ripple dissolves, trip-hop library music and slow motion replays. The pièce de résistance is an epic, cross-fading montage at the end featuring the mother screaming in agony. We see her screaming standing up, screaming lying down, screaming in a shower, screaming on an exercise ball; it makes the death scene in Platoon feel a bit underdone.
I turn to my wife, about to make a joke, when I notice the look on her face. This is not a look of amusement. It is a look of fear. And the tears forming in the corners of her eyes are not tears of amusement either. The reality of what she will soon have to go through has hit home.
I’m going to need those massage techniques sooner than I thought.