Geraldine Bedell has four children, and four very different birth stories.
“My first child was born in a hospital for expatriates in the Middle East that makes Call the Midwife look like the leading edge of 21st century obstetrics. There were enemas, shaving, your feet up in stirrups and an episiotomy so dramatic that the baby shot out across the table and had to be caught like a rugby ball. When the congratulatory cards arrived, with their soft-focus images of new motherhood, I laughed bleakly: I had survived the equivalent of a torture chamber.
“After that I moved back to Britain, where the birth plan had become commonplace. Women were turning up for labor with sheets of instructions dictating that they were only to deliver their babies to the strains of Brahms, by vanilla-scented candlelight. Not me though: I was so traumatised by the first birth that I was in denial. Not altogether surprisingly, I ended up having a caesarean. If anyone still thinks that there is such a thing as ‘too posh to push’ think again: it’s major abdominal surgery. You can’t stand up straight for days. This turns out to be a real drawback when looking after a new baby.
“By the time I had my third child, I was taking a much more militant, feminist earth mother line. I did pregnancy yoga and arranged a birthing pool. I drank herb teas and employed a doula, a kind of wise woman, who was going to rub my back sympathetically whenever I got out of the water. Everything was planned. Unfortunately, my husband god lost on the way to the hospital. The maze of a one-way system he chose to take was littered with speed bumps. Every time we went over one, I was in agony. I travelled with my head out of the sun roof, groaning. It would be a better story if I had given birth in the back of the car but we made it eventually, and claimed our pool.
“I hated it. I endured three contractions, and climbed out. The doula helped, though, so I decided to keep her for the fourth birth – and she did the best thing anyone has ever done for me in labour, and suggested to the midwife that she might hold off an internal examination for half an hour. Ten minutes later, I was pushing.
“Birth plans are useful for concentrating the mind beforehand. But the annoying thing about birth is that is happens when it happens, takes as long as it takes, and the pain…
“There are about five hundred different ways of giving birth, and rarely are you in much control. The bad thing about birth plans is that they are typical of over-achieving modern life: the only thing you can truly be sure of is that in some respect, they’ll set you up for failure. Of course, in that sense, they’re excellent training for parenthood. Even if you do stay in control of the birth, it’s the last thing you’re going to be fully in control of for a long while.”