Our Executive Editor Michael Hodges continues on his saintly mission to sample the very worst of what to do in London. This week, the magical to some, horrifying to others experience of childbirth…
Continuing this column’s policy of doing things so you don’t have to do them, with a particular emphasis on the things you don’t actually want to do, we now come to giving birth. To which end I am in a house with a woman – let’s call her Mrs X –who is going to have a baby.
Even in a city that offers as much entertainment and culture as the capital, there can be no more important subject than the beginning of human life (apart, perhaps from the ending of human life, which we will be covering in No 675 in our series). Of course, Mrs X is not the only person a having a baby in this city. Young Londoners, middleaged Londoners and evenolder-than-that Londoners are knocking out children at a startling rate. In fact there are babies coming out of our ears (that’s No 29: having babies out of your ears). In 2010 alone, 133,111 little Londoners arrived.
Many of these arrivals come comparatively conventionally. On the day of the birth the person who is going to have the baby – and even in London, this is still invariably a woman – will say, ‘You know, I think I can feel something.’ And somewhere between eight and 16 hours later,a small human being will duly appear.
Until very recently this was the route that Mrs X intended to follow. In fact, only five minutes ago, Mrs X clearly said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be ages yet, you might as well go off and relax.’ But now Mrs X has revised her opinion of the likely timeline. Drastically revised it: rather than ‘don’t worry’, she is now saying, ‘Actually, no, ooh, ah. That’s it. It’s coming now.’ And she means now.
So I start filling a birthing pool with warm water and running around at the same time. Over the next three minutes I trip over the hosepipe several times and direct much of the water towards Mrs X rather than the birthing pool. The fourth time I trip, I hurt my foot and hop about a bit. Mrs X watches this.
‘Everything’s fine,’ she says. ‘I’ve texted the midwives. They’re coming. Please stop running around and go and get your equipment.’
‘Yes, for your jobs. Remember?’
Of course, my jobs! The unexpected acceleration of the schedule from 16 hours to 60 minutes has made me forget I had previously been assigned some key tasks during the forthcoming procedure. I remember what I am supposed to do. My equipment is a large white plastic kitchen sieve, suitable for taking the lumps out of flour, and a waterproof torch. My job is simple and yet vital. Even when things are going quickly, getting the baby to come out requires some pushing. And as you may have noticed with pushing, sometimes it can make you poo, especially if you are naked, taking your weight on your hands and knees, and in a birthing pool. If Mrs X does poo, my job is to: 1) Spot the poo with the waterproof torch; 2) Catch the poo with the sieve; 3) Get rid of the poo. But before I can get my tools the doorbelll rings. It is the midwives. I let them in and go to get the plastic sieve and the torch from the kitchen. But there is no sign of either. The torch and sieve have gone. I start to run around again. I hear shouts from the birthing pool and calm instructions: ‘That’s right. Now push again.’ My eyes settle on a tea strainer. It’s not perfect, but I’m going in.
Four other places not to have a baby in London:
On the tube
The first birth on the Undergound was in 1924, when Marie Cordery was born at Elephant & Castle. The next was not until 2008 when Jennifer Kowalska was born on the Jubilee platform at Kingsbury, swiftly followed in 2009 by the first boy (his name isn’t recorded) at London Bridge.
In a car park
After being told she wasn’t about to give birth by staff at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich last December, Toni Pankhurst returned to the car park where she promptly went into labour. Ingeniously, her partner Martin caught the baby, a little boy called Phoenix, in his jumper.
On the 106 bus
Halfway between Whitechapel and Finsbury Park to be precise. In August this year a driver showed remarkable composure when a passenger went into labour, inviting the non-birthing travellers to leave his vehicle before delivering the baby on the back seat. Where else?
In Richmond Park
One minute you’re driving calmly through prime deer-grazed parkland, the next there is a baby coming out of your tummy. Luckily for Carmel and Fredrik Ohrwall in October 2006 they pulled the car over next to a team of tree surgeons who assisted in the birth. Insert own family tree gag here.