Today I'm 25w4d. One day further along than my cousin was, earlier this year, when she gave birth to her daughter at the same hospital I am booked into.

The child is doing well. Cousin still carries oxygen everywhere, but is hoping to drop to nights only within the next couple of weeks, and the doctors are generally very happy with how things are progressing.

I would like to cook this baby for at least a couple more months, of course. But yesterday it struck me that our chances of a good outcome are starting to get decently high. Which is a nice thought.

Short version: I talk about hypnobirthing techniques. Yes, already, yes, I know. There is a request for music suggestions at the bottom, specifically, music that has a similar sound to Portishead.

Last pregnancy, I didn't start thinking about birth until I was into the third trimester. This time, in a different part of the world, immersed in a different culture, I have been forced to start thinking of it already. A midwife rung a couple of weeks ago to conduct my pre-admission interview. The paperwork for the hospital is in. I was advised that the prenatal refresher classes are almost all booked out from now until well after baby's estimated due date, and have therefore already reserved a place. And I was told that, from now until the end of the pregnancy, any emergencies will be handled not by the general emergency department, or even the antenatal unit, but by the labour and delivery ward itself. Because although s/he's barely half-cooked, s/he's big enough that the only way out is via an actual, honest-to-goodness birth.

I guess I may as well start thinking about it then. Especially since it takes me about ten thousand times longer to read up on things these days than it used to.

Last pregnancy, I considered taking hypnobirthing classes, but when it came to the crunch, I couldn't go through with it. I was all on board with the concept of using relaxation and visualisation to help deal with the process of birth - however that might come to be - but I was scared off by the rah-rah woman-power talk. There was a lot of rhetoric about how producing a child was an entirely natural event that my body would instinctively navigate, the half-spoken caveat being that I had to believe it hard enough. After years of infertility, IVF, and pregnancy loss, I didn't think there was any way I could be made to believe that it was all just mind over matter. More than that, I was a little insulted, as if Mongan had given me the old "just relax" and started going on about how low sperm count was simply a manifestation of widespread cultural conditioning and perhaps some sort of subconscious expression of fear. I guess I just couldn't bear to learn a method which might - in the event of a less than calm, natural, and uncomplicated birth - leave me feeling as if I was personally at fault for any sort of calamity*. Plus, when I first heard the term "rainbow relaxation" I couldn't stop sniggering for days.

However, in many ways (I realise, now that I am reading Mongan's book for the first time), infertility was the perfect preparation for hypnobirth. Had I gone for it, I may have had to forcibly stop my instructor from referencing the "effortlessness" and "intimacy" of conception as either a) evidence that the body knows what it's doing or b) a model for how birth should proceed, lest I collapsed into the puddle of helplessness and despair I was specifically hoping to avoid, but I nearly laughed out loud when reading the techniques for breathing. How could I have made it through nearly two years with a fertility clinic if I hadn't figured out how to keep inhaling and exhaling, slowly and deliberately, learning to welcome each wave of treatments as bringing me one step closer to the child I so earnestly looked forward to greeting?

For that matter, how could I have retained any sort of paralysing awe in the face of complicated medical terminology - or, for that matter, personnel? How could I have failed to master the art of choosing a suitable practitioner, or negotiating an acceptable approach to to my treatment, drawing on the expertise of my specialist to make properly informed decisions? How could we - Mr Bea and I - have come through infertility treatments without discovering how to work in harmony together, even though the physical burden fell exclusively to me**?

As for fear of childbirth, and especially the pain of childbirth - there wasn't really any there to release. Temporary physical pain seemed far too trivial a thing to concern myself with, and the rest was squeezed out of me, not so much by positive affirmations that all would be ok, as by the sheer emotional exhaustion that came from having finally used up my almost limitless supply of anxiety over things I could not, ultimately, control***.

I'm not sure that I will attend an actual hypnobirthing class. It would be a big logistical effort with our current lifestyles, including the need to arrange childcare, and I'm not convinced it'd be worth the expense. There's too much I have to rephrase in order to make the philosophy work for me****, and I daresay that'd be much harder to do in a live class than whilst reading from a book. Also, the relaxation CD irritates the absolute fuck out of me, which is not at all relaxing*****.

But at its core... well, there's a lot of tricks I really believe will help with labour and birth, and a surprising number I've already tried out and found to be highly useful. And I'm really pleased to realise that, thanks to infertility, I've had a lot more practice than most couples out there.


*I have to give Mongan her due. I didn't read the text the first time around, or attend a class. A lot of this came to me through the filter of various marketing materials or internet forums, and some of it is just my own baggage. Mongan does acknowledge, explicitly and repeatedly, that some couples will find themselves facing "special circumstances" through no fault of their own, and that this is a good place to bring on whatever manner of intervention is required. Couples can still use self-hypnosis to aid them in these circumstances, and proceed as needed without blame or guilt. But she says this, and then in the next breath she displays a degree of confidence about a couple's level of control that makes me catch my breath. I am having to mentally edit the bravado into more of a zen-like acceptance of fate in order to make it work for me.

**I get that wanking in the "men's room" must be difficult, but I can't really see it as a physical burden.

***I also used to use visualisation a lot to get me through infertility treatments. Mainly, however, I would visualise the people who upset me with nasty or thoughtless comments tripping over and falling flat on their faces, so, I'm not sure if that counts.

****Nothing, for example, makes me more nervous than someone repeatedly assuring me that it's all going to be ok. Not a person on earth today actually knows that, and when they make me point same out with their perkturdy optimism, it just magnifies the negative possibilities in my mind because all of a sudden I'm having to talk about them. Forcibly and, perhaps, a lot. Admit you have no idea, that it could all fuck up and everyone could die, and then we can all gain some appropriate perspective and move on - that's what I need. I'm not certain hypnobirth practitioners roll like that, but I'm guessing not.

*****I actually have a question for you on the subject of music. Last time, I really found Portishead (Dummy and Portishead) to be exactly the right mood. Slow-paced, with that absorbing baseline; gentle, yet emotionally powerful. The music wasn't dismissive of the occasion, lightheartedly saying to sit back and take it easy, like a lot of 'relaxation music' tends to do. Instead, it was inviting the listener to quietly succumb to something too big to fight against. Plus, it sounded like something you might want to listen to, and not fucking irritating.

However, two CDs don't last that long, even if you do repeat them a few times over. On the offchance the style seems appropriate again - and if it doesn't, I'll still have some worthwhile music for general listening purposes - what can you think of that sounds a bit like Portishead?

Short Version: Talking with The Prata Baby about pregnancy and siblings.

Sometimes I have trouble communicating with children. One example comes to mind: when Nephew came to visit us in Singapore, we took him through a museum, and at one point he asked me to read him the blurb attached to a particular photo. The photo was a grainy, old, black and white picture of some working-class Chinese immigrants who, the blurb said, were often deceived into making the journey from their homelands to Singapore on the promise of good jobs and comfortable living conditions, only to find a much harsher reality on arrival.

"What does 'deceived' mean?" asked Nephew.

"It means, sort of..." I floundered for ten seconds or so before inspiration struck. "You know how we were reading that book about The Gingerbread Man this morning?"


"Well, you remember how The Fox told The Gingerbread Man he was going to take him safely across the river, but instead he ate him before they reached the other side?"


"Well you could say The Fox deceived The Gingerbread Man."

Nephew blinked at me a couple of times. Then he looked at the people in the grainy old photo. Then he turned back to me, his face grave and his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper. "You mean all those people got eaten?"

I've been having similar troubles trying to prepare The Prata Baby for what is likely to come. Not that I have somehow led him to believe that this whole baby-making business involves cannibalism - though, actually, who knows how he figures this foetus got in there - but my attempts at explanation seem to produce rather unexpected ideas in his head.

The first time I told him, we were lying on his bed reading a story. He seemed to notice that my stomach had become a funny shape, so I explained to him that the bump he was looking at was actually a baby. He lapsed into thoughtful silence for a minute, then slowly said, "There's a baby..." whilst pointing at my tummy. A few seconds later, he snapped out of his reverie and demanded to get on with his book. And that was that, until the following night.

The following night he lifted up my shirt and patted my stomach. "Are you patting the baby?" I asked him, and he flashed me a cheeky grin.

"It's not a baby, it's your tummy," he announced, as if it had taken him a while to figure out the game, but he was wise to it all now. "There's a baby! No! It's my head!" he continued, giggling furiously. I gave him a rather lengthier and more detailed explanation (at one point using pillows and blankets as props) which produced another thoughtful silence and abrupt return to the pursuit of bedtime reading.

A couple of days later, apropos of nothing, he lifted my shirt and pointed to my stomach. "There's a little tiny baby in there, behind your belly button," he informed me. I agreed, glad to have finally procured his understanding. Then he continued, pointing upwards to my chest. "And look! Two more babies!" Further explanations ensued.

At last the day came when, lying on the bed reading a story, I felt a succession of good, solid kicks. Taking The Prata Baby's hand, I placed it on a likely spot and told him that his brother or sister was kicking, and if he was lucky, she or he might kick his hand. And as we waited, it indeed happened, several times in fact, producing that same, silent thoughtfulness in PB, followed by that same, sudden desire to return to the bedtime narrative already underway. A full week later, in the car, out of the blue, PB announced that he didn't like the baby to kick his hand. Kicking, you see, is "not nice". We have told him so, many times, often sharply, and the baby, if s/he was doing it to PB, wasn't being very nice to him at all. After some furious backpedalling, we have agreed that the baby doesn't kick, s/he moves, taps, or pats. Gently and lovingly. So, so lovingly.

I keep wanting to prepare The Prata Baby for what is likely to come, and the truth is, there's no way I can. As hopeful parents, we tried to brace ourselves over a period of years of painstaking research, carefully sifting through whole libraries of information on the subject. That, in the light of complicated, adult thought patterns and a wealth of observations and life experiences. And in the end, how many of us got it exactly right? How many got it halfway right? The Prata Baby's got no hope at two, no matter how many books entitled Sammy Gets A Sibling I track down in the children's section of the library - my own explanations having proved to be thoroughly misleading, and sometimes rather gruesome.

I'm sure, if of nothing else, that the period of adjustment will be strange and confusing and upsetting and unsettling for him, and my heart breaks a little on his behalf, for having to go through it. I won't be alert enough to give him the attention he gets now, to play together like we used to or to go the places we used to go. What time and attention I do have will be sorely divided. And younger siblings - I know, I've had them - can be a damned annoying pain in the arse and a burdensome responsibility.

But then I also know he'll adjust, like I did, like I will. And I think, in the end, he'll be glad, like I am. And although I believe he would have been fine as an only child, I think this alternative life will have rewards to offset the initial setbacks, and sweetness to complement the sour. I just wish I could make him understand it all now.

But my track record isn't good, even for basics like a simple dictionary-style response on the word "deceived". It looks as if he'll find out the hard way, after all.

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