Monday, August 3, 2009

War Stories

I happen to be quite good at giving birth. My first child weighed in at 9.11. Numbers more suited to Porche cars and major terrorist events, numbers that cloak me in serious birth-cred.

Birth statistics are worn like General Stripes on new mothers and can be discussed among friends in a kind of shorthand, for example “12 hours, eleven pounds, home-water-birth…” (pause for full affect of statistics to sink in) and then, sotto voce “She now has the asshole of a Baboon.”

If we divide women into two groups, those who Have Given Birth and those who Haven’t, the Haves move quickly to the next-best right of passage for women, that of frightening the gusset-pants pants off pregnant first timers.

It’s an odd sense of entitlement that inspires the Birth Veteran to place her hand on the pregnant belly of a L-Plated Mother and then insist on describing her prolapse in shocking detail.

As a veteran of two births and pit-crew to two more, I love nothing better than to grab some peanuts and settle in for truly horrendous stories of labour. Even non-horrendous ones, explosions of lycor, the foul language screamed by librarian types during transition, the fleeting moment when a plan to flee the hospital might make it all stop, the stupid husband who utters a suicidal “Jeez, I’m stuffed” in the middle of it all.

These threads make up the fabric of what becomes our personal legend and seeing as how most of us aren’t interesting enough to warrant a guest spot on Andrew Denton, the mere whiff of excess oestrogen on another woman is enough to jolt us into telling the tale of that moment when we were at the centre of the known universe, single handedly responsible for launching a whole human being into the world.

It replays in our minds like a Hollywood block-buster and we want to share it with everyone, the beginning, the middle, the plot twists, the villains, the good guys, the happy ending. And the lovely thing about those L-Platers is that soon enough they’ll be replaying their own moment and they’ll have forgotten the B-Grade highlights of ours.

I’m starting to pack away my birth stories in a velvet-lined box, getting them ready to store in the attic. Squinting ahead at my maternal future I see teenagers at Rottnest Island during Schoolies Week, older Mothers have told me what happens there. Their enthusiasm for doing so is strangely familiar.

It’s dawning on me that the violent pain of childbirth will be looked back on like it was a sweet and uncomplicated time compared to what lies ahead, that I might’ve graduated from L-Plates but I’ve been rattling around on trainer wheels in the interim and what I’ve packed away in my velvet-lined box are not General Stripes at all but the decorations of a low-ranking Lance Corporal. To all of you with a child at Rottnest this week, a hearty salute.

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