27 Apr

In the red tent

I will be spending this weekend on study days all about processing ideas of birth and motherhood, and in preparation for that [and to avoid doing my tax return], I have been collecting up some bits and pieces to take with me.

The first thing I was asked for was easy: a poem or short piece of prose about birth or parenting. I’ve chosen an extract from Naomi Wolf’s book Misconceptions. The review linked here is rather critical, which makes me interested to re-read the book, as it has been a long time since I looked at it. However there is a page describing the experience of breastfeeding which I found graphically accurate the first time I read it. It’s too long to quote the whole thing here, but it ends: I had never in my life been able to make someone so happy so simply. That gives the impression of an idyllic description, but the entire quote is far from that.

The second thing I have to bring is a favourite short birth story that makes a point, and this I had to think about. I hear lots of birth stories and on reflection I find it hard to pull out a whole story in any kind of coherent detail. I thought I could use my own story, or a fictional birth story that I wrote, but both felt a bit like cheating. Then I remembered reading the story when my son was just over a year old, of journalist Leo Hickman supporting the birth of his third child at home, with the help of the ambulance operator. From the transcript you can tell that the operator is reading instructions from her screen, but she is so calm, clear and encouraging throughout, even when Hickman reports to her that the baby is still inside the sac, and then that there is a large quantity of meconium. She remains cool but not detached, and steers him through an unimaginably alarming experience. If you’re brave, you can listen to the whole call here.

Finally, I need a picture or a small object that holds special meaning for me in relation to birth or parenting. That I am going to have to think about.

I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with my colleagues talking about birth and motherhood in a supportive and safe environment. I think it will be both motivating and educational, and best of all, we are encouraged to bring our knitting!