Session #2: giving birth

I read two short poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa: ‘I carry your bones in my body’ (“––– nobody ––– nearlybody ––– my small someone.”) and ‘Jigsaw’ (“how the arch of your foot / fit the hollow of my palm …”)

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We then read an extract from the chapter, ‘Birth’ from Anne Enright’s Making Babies (2004), discussing it as we went:

– the frankness of the writing, as in, for example, the description of what it felt like after her waters were broken; and how unlikely it would have been that such a frank text would have been published or even written a generation ago

– the subject matter being not what some people would consider “worthy” of literary treatment, lacking literary potential: “to compare dressing-gowns – it took me so long to find this one, and I am quite pleased with it, but when I get up after the meal, the back of it is stained a watery red.”

– the humour, as in the description of men sneaking out from behind the curtains to watch the replay of a goal from a Portugal v France match

– the exaggerations for effect & how tolerable they are, as in surely not all the men were interested in the football

– the willingness of the writer not to endear herself to the reader, the importance of that in her efforts to be truthful; for example, in relation to one woman: “I am trying to be sympathetic, but I think I hate her. She is weakness in the room.”

– the crudeness (= honesty?)

– the idea of when labour starts officially: “I am in what the Americans call pre-labour, what the Irish are too macho to call anything at all. ‘If you can talk through it, then it’s not a contraction,’ my obstetrician said …”

– the believability of some of the states described

– the detail of her observations of her fellow unit C occupants, at times cartoon like

– “The room is full of miracles waiting to happen”

– the tenderness of some of her descriptions, yet even within those the signature blunt style: “When I put my hand on it, there is the baby; very close now under the skin. I just know it is a girl. I feel her shoulder and an arm. For some reason I think of a skinned rabbit. I wonder are her eyes open …”

– the visceral vividness of her descriptions of pre-labour and of the ward itself and what her fellow occupants

– the beauty & power of the writing about the build up to the delivery and the delivery itself and the newborn baby (with echoes of Ní Ghríofa’s poem: “I laid her on my stomach and pulled at my T-shirt to clear a place for her on my breast.”)

– the immediate return to full-on description of the facts: “smeared as she was with something a bit stickier than cream cheese”

– the poetic nature of the final scene which in a way echoes the birth scene that precedes it, only in this case Enright-the-mother is being “delivered”, speechless like a baby, by the nurse who saves her from drowning in the amniotic fluid of the shower!

– “she is saturated with life”

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Finally, we read and discussed the chapter, ‘Abdomen 2003’, from Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am in which she describes her experience of an emergency Caesarean section and the prelude to it.

– the unacceptably abrupt interruption of the registrar, who failed to allow MF to finish her “speech”

– the physical appearance of Mr C, the consultant, as described by MF, the details she has chosen to draw attention to perhaps reflecting the impression she got of him and wants us to get: “tall man with severe comb-tracks in his black hair”

– the prototypical nature of Mr C, the consultant’s behaviour: “to yank me bodily up out of my seat” … “‘Get up,’ were his first words to me …” … “‘There is nothing wrong with you,’ he pronounced …” … “talked over me…” … “What was wrong with me, that I was so afraid of a bit of pain?” … “‘Do you have any proof?'” …

– the believability of this given he is such a textbook version of the rude & brusque doctor & a perfect representative for the patriarchal nature of certain parts of medicine

– the dynamic between the consultant & the registrar, and how this might point to the negative influence he might have on all the team he is in charge of

– the factors in why MF didn’t do or say what she knows she should have to call a halt to Mr C’s patronising, insulting, unethical & bullying behaviour

– the poetic quality of having the stranger in the operating theatre represent everything that Mr C & the system wasn’t about healthcare: simple, human attention & empathy & comfort

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Patient narrative: losing a baby during pregnancy

“The blankness in my brain was gone. The labour pain was gone too. I was beginning to cry. The midwife asked me if she should baptise him. I said yes. I would do anything that would let him rest in peace. I do not know how much he suffered.” (Times) >

Continue reading “Patient narrative: losing a baby during pregnancy”