Part one of an occasional series (when I’ve had enough sleep to enable typing).To be clear. This isn’t about my fear of intimacy, or even of bodily… stuff (Wikipedia tells me that it would be called Genophobia). Further, I’m not writing about the fetishisation of fear – you can all watch Paranormal Activity 7 for that kind of caper.
You see, my wife has just birthed (too clinical?) our first child and I am bricking it. I simply don’t feel sufficiently mature. Sure, when it comes to work, I manage others, hold a position of responsibility, and make decisions that affect others. But in most cases, I’m bluffing. So how can I assume responsibility (at least collectively – “half responsible” seems like a dangerous mind-set) for the well-being of another human being? And perhaps more importantly, should I be shaping the character of another human?
The anxiety starts early. At first, I was worried that the foetus won’t stick around. There’s a nagging fear that something will go wrong and you’ll have to start all over again (not that the first part isn’t rewarding). We raised this with a range of people who have already spawned and received a persistent response: “that doesn’t go away. Ever.” (We could tell by the smug grins that they were enjoying that response far more than is proper).
Our child-bearing experience was somewhat of a mixed bag. We started the journey in the UK, where we’d been living for the last three years. In part, we’d fled New Zealand because our weekend social gatherings were beginning to resemble crèches, and we weren’t yet ready to add to the childcare pool. But time marched on and eternal youth began to lose its lustre – we were ready (we hoped) and our chickens were in pitched battle to deliver a clucked “I told you so”.
Our first midwife appointment in the UK was a treat. I was aware of the mutual animosity between midwives and doctors. I didn’t realise relations were quite so fractious. When asked about whether we had signed up for ante-natal classes, we advised our midwife that we would be having the child in New Zealand. We then made the mistake of letting her know that our plans involved a specialist… We were treated with a fervid diatribe on the history of birthing politics in New Zealand. Apparently the “land of the long white cloud” is also the land of the “gold standard for midwifery”. My faint cries of “I think she works in partnership with a midwife” were dismissed with pursed lips and hooded eyes. We left that appointment feeling properly told.
I love the NHS. I love it in all its creaking, over-engineered, leviathan glory, but that doesn’t mean it’s a treat to deal with. On several occasions, my wife had to call multiple GP practices, hospitals and midwives in order to find out results, or timing for appointments. One such “treasure” hunt was made all the more painful because the person answering the phone at the clinic was forbidden from even confirming whether or not we’d been referred to the hospital. What’s more, she couldn’t tell us what she was allowed to tell us, and (when she finally worked it out) explained that the person who could tell us wouldn’t be in until the beginning of the next week. We ended up referring ourselves, and discovered a week later that our referral hadn’t gone through because the fax wasn’t working (or the pony express was on strike, or the homing pigeon got lost). But I do love the NHS. In theory anyway.
As a final farewell to our home of three years, we had the pleasure of undergoing our 20 week scan in the UK. I expected to see a doctor. Instead, we were greeted by a teenager. I know he was a teenager because he was wearing short pants and communicated predominantly in grunts. I suspect we’re going to see more and more teenagers working as sonographers in the future – ultrasound machines are like videogames – the teens that can’t get jobs flying unmanned drones will soon discover the joys of scanning pregnant women. I’ve heard my wife retell the story of this scan on multiple occasions, but I have to admit to being surprised at my wife’s use of the Sonographer’s full name. Apparently, all you have to do to be remembered in my household is to really piss off my wife. The scan started badly when “James Woo” sneered in judgement at our request to find out the sex of our baby. It took a downward turn when he offhandedly dismissed our plans to return home to have the baby by telling us that our baby’s placenta was sitting low (quite close to the cervix) and as a result “the airlines won’t let you fly” – I commend his efforts to contribute to an already heightened level of pregnancy stress… He completed his hat-trick as we returned to the issue of the baby’s sex: “See the three lines between her legs? That’s her labia.” Scientific, accurate, and yet unavoidably creepy.