Parentcraft

We were a year-and-a-half into our British adventure when I fell pregnant.

Does one fall pregnant when one intends to become so? It’s a funny verb to use, like falling into a cartoon character’s hastily constructed trap of branches over a pit. Silly wabbit.

We were at the hospital for a series of Parentcraft classes, heading upstairs to check out the rooms where this unimaginable process was due to occur in several months’ time. As we filed into the hallway for the tour there was a kind of frisson that ran through the class that did not seem to be directly related to the subject at hand.

“What’s going on?” we asked one of our classmates in the elevator. Everyone jumped in to answer. One of the expectant dads was comedian Harry Enfield. I tucked the name away to tell my work mates.

It turned out that one friend at work, she with the shelf full of tinned puddings, or just the one really, was a big fan. Imagine, if you’re American, that it’s 1980 and it’s Chevy Chase.

We filed out of the elevators and headed for the birthing rooms. He was not the only comedian on the hall. We heard screams, and then a giggling midwife popped out to say hello. Just a bit of fun, I’m sure you’ll all do brilliantly.

As we took our seats, Harry Enfield made some comment that was maybe a line from his TV show, to acknowledge that, yes, it was he, not just some bloke wot looked like ‘im. Then the mood was further lifted by a tank of nitrous oxide that was passed around for all to try, one dad going for seconds. Birth, maybe it would be like a kegger.

The following week, our regular midwife instructor was away. In the UK they call vacation annual leave, which sounds like something much more serious than it is, almost sinister, like some kind of reprogramming session. Our sub was a woman who, em, repeated?, em, everything she said, em, three times. As if she kept losing her place or found the recitation of this physiological process somewhat of a chore to complete, but she was going to be really bloody thorough. The topic that week was pain relief and what options, we had for the paaay-en.

Maybe the Enfields were among the couples who muttered excuses and left as class ran over its allotted time and so they missed this. But, if not, did he never work this into a routine? Her presentation remains for me one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. Remember her name, if she’s on shift tell them, Not her.

In case we couldn’t quite picture what childbirth was all about, the midwife had brought visual aids. She had a a model pelvis and a basket of knackered baby dolls. She showed us how a baby would lie breech. This would create paaay’en. And how the epidural, like, would work, but that that, too, was also very paaynful. And so on, through the stages of labor, the contractions, which kept coming agay’n and agay’n — excuse me, can we get by? — until we were ready to deliver baby and placenta — at which point she produced what looked like a ball of yarn and started to wind it around the baby’s neck to demonstrate complications.

It was a crocheted placenta and umbilical cord.

Who would think to knit such a thing? And then donate it to the NHS? Who then saw the mass market appeal? If you want one, or possibly one that comes with a delivering mother, it’s only a few clicks away. This was not the kind of parentcraft we had in mind.

We had already registered for a local NCT (National Childbirth Trust) class, and having toured the hospital we decided that just the NCT classes would do for us.

The NCT classes met in Hampstead, in the teacher’s living room, on floor cushions and with mugs of herbal tea. Taking that class was a travel writer who had written a book about survival in Antarctica, of whom another friend was a big fan. Jeez, you can’t take a birth class without famous people. Which is scarier: birth or tundra?

My due date came and went and I was sent to see the consultant. A little stressed, I flipped through a celebrity rag, Hello or OK! and read that the Enfields’ baby had been born at the private clinic where, “where Princess Di went for colonic irrigation sessions.” The article reported that Lucy had “employed the services of no less than 12 therapists to pamper her through her pregnancy.”

I was jealous, not of all the North London ridiculousness, but because she had already had her baby.

I would be back to the hospital in less than 24 hours, my own labor having begun. As the second midwife to attend the birth, a grim functionaire, went off shift, the new one arrived. I was pleased to see a familiar face: Brenda, the one who screamed on our tour. Lucy had her birth team, but I had someone with a sense of humor who would sort out the lopsided epidural, be encouraging and shortly thereafter deliver our daughter.

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