I remember our trip to the hospital to talk “options” when Vic was in the late stages of pregnancy – the end game – with our first child.
We were asked if a final-year medical student could ask us some preconsultation questions and check the baby. His clothes were very new, as yet uncreased by the workplace. He made a point of making direct eye contact.
“Have you been pregnant before?” he asked.
“Is this your first caesarean?”
“Um... yes.” Vic glanced at me, raising an eyebrow.
I wanted to stop him there – to help with his slightly befuddled logic and point out that we weren’t here for a caesarean… but he was already on to the next question.
“S0,” he said, “do you, ah, feel safe at home?”
This was clearly the “Check for domestic violence” part of the survey, but I wondered whether it was correct protocol to ask while the partner was just sitting there. I mean, what if there was an issue?
He reminded me of a really smart guy in our high school physics class who would blurt out the daftest things. “All brains, no clues,” they used to say about him.
Vic lay down on a table so that the med student could feel for the baby. This was impossible because: (1) he seemed afraid to touch her bare skin, as though it might shock him; and (2) he couldn’t decide on the right approach, like he was trying to back up a trailer but had to adjust the angle a dozen times.
Our midwife grabbed his hands firmly and planted them on Vic, to help him – as they say in the business – palpate.
“Here you go, love. You can feel the head up here.” His eyes lit up. Here was one happy rookie.
Then the consultant swooped in and shooed away the med student like he was a fly on her food. She flicked through a few papers, not looking at us. She repeated that the baby was pointing in the wrong direction for delivery; his feet were dangling down where his head should be, and the pains Vic had been experiencing were him stamping on her cervix.
“We’ll book you in,” she said.
“We were hoping to have a homebirth.”
She paused, looked over her glasses and gave us a good look up and down. There was a long silence.
“We could try to turn the baby. There might be a wait.”
There was a long wait. Another consultant eventually came and introduced himself to us. Apparently he knew a lot about spinning babies. He led us to a room nearby, left, and soon came back with some well-built assistants who might have interned for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
They wired Vic up to a machine for measuring the baby’s level of distress, and gave her muscle relaxants. Then the consultant and his support crew crowded around her, dug their fingers into her swollen belly, and heaved. They had to prop their feet on the bed frame to get a good purchase. It was brutal. Doctors are essentially construction workers of the body.
Vic cried out in pain.
“STOP!” I shouted.
They took a break, panting.
It was over. The baby had neither budged nor shown any sign of distress. Later I would marvel at the contrast between the resilience of the baby inside a woman’s womb – the fortress – and the baby’s utter vulnerability once out. But right now I was a bit unsteady on my feet. Woozy. The room was moving.
They sat me down. Our midwife looked at me. This was the exact moment when she branded me SQUEAMISH, and henceforth would insist I sit down at any sign of trouble. Personally, I prefer alternatives such as “impassioned” or “experiences with intensity”.
When the time came to cut our son out of Vic, the medical team asked if I’d like to look behind the curtain. Our midwife declared that this was absolutely not allowed. It was for the best. Seeing them fossicking through Vic’s viscera definitely would have put me over the edge.