There was quite a buzz in the air at playgroup this week.
All around me women were getting fired up and excited, talking over each other as they raced to join in the conversation and say their piece.
I’d never seen this collection of sleep-deprived, worn-out women so animated.
No, we weren’t discussing the ethics of controlled crying, the damage disposable nappies are doing to the environment, or debating Brexit.
Someone had brought up the subject of labour.
It seems any mother who gave birth to her own child, be it by Caesarian section or through the more traditional exit, has a battle story they relish in recounting, gory detail by gory detail.
Like world-weary war veterans comparing their firsthand experiences from the front line, when a gathering of mothers start regaling each other with their bloody birth tales there’s no stopping them.
And there are so many subjects ripe for dissection as the oneupmanship commences.
First of all there’s the circumstances in which you go into labour.
Now there is plenty of opportunity for drama here. The woman whose waters broke at a football match and had the St John’s Ambulance Brigade deliver her child on the sidelines, next to the orange segments at halftime, probably thinks she has a trump card.
But it’s not all location, location, location when it comes to childbirth, and a speedy delivery leaves little space for disasters encountered along the way.
So the Bizarre Situation birth is having it easy as far as the Heavily Overdue mother is concerned. She went through three extra weeks of hulking that enormous bump around in the height of summer, her back breaking, unable to sleep. And then was admitted to hospital and made to walk up and down the corridor for hours only to eventually undergo all number of extra unpleasant procedures just to get things moving.
Then there’s the issue of the midwife.
Was she the kind who talked patronisingly to you like you were a petulant child and kept barking at, “Dad”, to, “Come down here and have a closer look,”? Or had she worked such a long shift you realised she’d nodded off in the corner just as you were getting ready for the big push?
Pain relief is another big topic for discussion.
You’ve got the ‘Natural Birth’ advocates who did the whole thing without so much as a tug on the gas and air, and love to tell everybody about how they just channelled the pain away with their mind. Or admit that it hurt like hell, but they felt, “a real sense of accomplishment.”
The majority of us will have resorted to something to numb the agony, but even then there are a variety of different options.
My NCT midwife was really anti epidurals and had succeeded in completely putting me off. She was full of horror stories of spinal taps gone wrong, and the drawn out labours of women unable to feel their contractions. I went from a birth plan that simply said, “epidural”, to one that said, “avoid epidural at all costs”.
As the midwife herself chirruped, “Maybe it’s because I’m from Edinburgh, where they made Trainspotting, but I can’t recommend morphine highly enough.”
So when the pain was getting unbearable (and I was on an oxytocin drip, said to increase the agony), I hollered, “Give me the drugs!”
But the midwife with me at the time said, “Why don’t you just have an epidural? Then you won’t feel anything at all.”
“Oh yes, okay then,” I nodded, so exhausted and uncomfortable that I’d have probably agreed to just cutting off the lower half of my body if she’d suggested it.
It was then that Him Indoors tentatively reminded me that I had said that was the one thing I DEFINITELY didn’t want and to insist on the drugs.
So I ended up feeling exactly like Ewan McGregor when he sinks through the floor in Trainspotting and then had bizarre hallucinations of two maintenance men entering the room and discussing doing some work on the wall behind my bed, but agreeing they should probably wait until I had finished having my baby first.
When they had closed the door behind them I began to observe how strange it had been for them to come in without knocking, before realising hazily that they had never really been there at all.
But the opium did its thing, because while I felt every contraction, it just didn’t hurt any more. Until the very end…
I’ve listened to accounts from women who hadn’t planned to have water births but were too late for any other form of pain relief and there happened to be a free pool so they jumped in, willing to give anything a go.
While others were embracing their water birthing experience, until the baby got stuck and they were dragged out so the medics could use the ventouse.
I’ve heard tell of an epidural that didn’t work while the mother was in a foreign country, so her husband had to attempt to translate her frantic pleas to the doctors and persuade them to do it again.
And others have regaled me with tales of epidurals that worked a little too well, so much so, they didn’t get the feeling back in one leg for several days afterwards.
There’s the mother who, after hours of pushing, had to have an episiotomy and felt butchered as she watched a midwife hack her apart with a terrifyingly outdated looking pair of pliers.
Though she won’t win sympathy from the woman who had a horrific and agonising perennial tear, only to be told just a few hours later by a blunt obstetrician, while she was still recovering from the shock and trauma, that next time she will be better off having a Caesarian.
But despite all the competition, women also find sharing their labour stories something of a bonding exercise.
And it’s a very good way to find out more about a mother you have recently met and so far only discussed your offspring with.
It would actually be a great way to introduce people at parties.
“Emma, I’d like you to meet Lisa, she had a forceps delivery and her epidural only worked on her right side. Lisa, Emma’s epidural didn’t work properly either and she felt her entire Caesarian Section. I think you will both have lots to talk about.”
Do you enjoy talking about your labour? What’s your stand out moment?