Of the sixty-eight squillion pieces of advice doled out to pregnant women, perhaps the most useless is the message to stop playing competitive sports. While the advice is well intended, it’s completely unrealistic given that pregnancy itself has become a competitive sport.

The sport of pregnancy is complex and not for the faint-hearted. There are a number of fast-changing rules that change depending on the context. First, there are the weight trials. This can take one of two forms. The first form is the competition to see who can put on the least amount of weight during their pregnancy.

My wife Kasey first became aware of this one when she caught up with a former school friend for coffee who breezily confided ‘I only put on 10 kilos when I was pregnant’.

“Ten!” Kasey exclaimed, “I’ve already put on 21.”

“Yes, I’d noticed,” the bitc… I mean the former school friend replied, before adding the clincher: “And don’t believe what they tell you — it doesn’t come off with breast-feeding”.

The second type of weight trial concerns where on your body you’re carrying the extra kilos. We became aware of this competition when the woman from Spotlight came around to measure the curtains for baby’s room. That’s right: Spotlight. The fabric people. I didn’t know these people were qualified to dispense maternal health information either, but apparently it’s all part of the service.

She’d been in the place 4 minutes before she asked ‘How much have you put on?’ Kasey told her. ‘You’re like me, you’ve put on weight on your hips and thighs too’. And for good measure, she added: ‘And don’t believe what they tell you — it doesn’t come off with breast-feeding.’

The weight trials are followed by the competition to see who can have the most ‘natural’ birth. We entered this competition when we turned up to the hospital for a day-long birthing class. At the start, the midwife running the class affected to be very inclusive, telling the assembled first-time-parents-to-be that the staff at the hospital were there to support them, whatever their approach to birth might be.

It wasn’t long before cracks started to appear in this admirably pluralistic facade. First she told us about her experiences assisting Aboriginal women in the Cape who, she said, arguably had the most natural approach to birth. The implication was clear enough: natural equals better.

In some ways she was right: the drug-free approach is more natural. But given that infant mortality rates among Indigenous Australians are around 2–3 times higher than for other Australians, and that rates of maternal mortality is around double that of non-Indigenous Australians, the implication that it’s better is a little hard to swallow.

Later the same day, some new parents were ushered into the room to tell us about their experiences. Tired but happy, they recounted their experiences from the night before. The midwife asked the new mother if she’d had any pain relief. The new mum answered no, at which the midwife beamed at her. ‘Congratulations!’ she exclaimed. The message was clear: a drug-free birth beats a drug-assisted birth hands down.

A couple of days later, my wife happened to bump into the same midwife. She asked Kasey how she’d been feeling. ‘I’m over it’, Kasey answered. ‘I’m uncomfortable all the time, I can’t sleep and I’m sick of the nausea’.

‘You really should be enjoying this time; you’re only going to be pregnant once or twice in your life’, came the midwife’s reply.

Then to follow up, she asked what type of birth we’re planning. ‘I have no fixed plans. If I need an epidural, I‘ll have one’ answered Kasey.

This was greeted with the news that it’s best to avoid an epidural if possible, since it can prevent you from bonding with your baby. She further explained that she’d seen studies which showed that sheep who have epidurals reject their young.

Who let sheep into this whole pregnancy competition? It’s bad enough that we have other human beings to contend with, without opening it up to livestock.

It’s not enough to be in constant pain, uncomfortable all the time and sleep deprived. If you want to be a contender in the pregnancy game, you have to love every minute of it. And if you want drugs, then you’re not even a contender.

In spite of our obvious lack of competitiveness in the pregnancy game, we survived the pregnancy game and our baby girl has arrived safe and sound. Now we’ve progressed through to the wholly non-competitive realm of parenthood. As if.

First published in thepunch.com.au on 12 August, 2009

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