When I became a mum nearly four years ago, the culture shock hit me pretty hard. It took a while to accept that I couldn’t work the same way, drink the same way or even go to the loo in quite the same way (solo, with little sense of urgency) as before. But the one thing that I just COULD NOT accept was being bossed around by people who had never had the mind-altering experience of ejecting a child rather painfully from their own body, only have it scream at them all night for the next several weeks if not months. Those guys, I found hard to take.
There was the young midwife who told me to “try channelling that screaming noise into your pushing” when I had a 4kg child wedged in my cervix. There was the male GP who listened to me cry about how the pinching pain I experienced every time my baby latched on took my breath away, before mansplaining that “some babies have a very strong suck, but I don’t give up that easily”. And then there were the baby book authors. Dear God, the baby book authors!
For a while, after this column launched, I spent some happy time bouncing around on the sofas of different literary agencies explaining how utterly wrong all the mainstream titles were for Gen Y mothers. There was the hammed-up, “In Yorkshire, we put the kettle on and have a brew when times are tough” cosiness of The Baby Whisperer; the saccharine, “That cute little baby is now the size of a satsuma” schmaltz of What to Expect When You're Expecting. And the hectoring, “You MUST have a dozen white sleepsuits and a separate kettle for the baby’s bottles” demands of Gina Ford. Never mind a brew, it was enough to turn you to skag.
I never wrote my baby book, partly because the agents felt the titles I suggested – I Had a Baby, Not a Lobotomy, or perhaps Why Didn’t I Get a Tamagotchi Instead? – were “too scary”. Partly because I don't have any time . And partly because I don’t know anything.
But Clemmie Hooper does – as an NHS midwife and mother of FOUR girls, including twins – and has written a new kind of book altogether. It's possibly a little bit too aspirational in some ways: how can anyone who recently had twins look this slim and youthful? But you instantly feel that whatever pregnancy and birth have thrown at you, from hyperemesis to episiotomy, Clemmie gets it. There’s even a page on what happens if you accidentally poo yourself during labour (the midwife will discreetly clear it up, apparently, and you may not even notice it’s happened). When a woman will literally clean up the crap of other women and not be like, “Jesus, dude, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?” you know she’s got your back.
On which note! After three years of oversharing and overreacting on the Doing It All column, this will be my last regular post here. Thank you for all the lovely comments, tweets and emails clarifying that you, too, hate your husbands/bosses/lives at times and that you know I’m mainly joking when I describe my life as being a bit like a hostage situation. Being able to share that without feeling the need to add “but of course I love my baby!”, because you all know that, has kept me (relatively) sane.
It seems fitting at this point to end with Clemmie, who was kind enough to tell me everything I’ve ever wanted to know about birth, but been too jacked-up on gas and air to ask.
Get The Gloss: You’ve given birth FOUR times, which in my view makes you close to the perfect midwife. But do midwives make better or worse patients when they are in labour?
Clemmie Hooper: "I think we can be both: we know too much, diagnose ourselves and are terrible at letting others look after us. It’s really hard to be in labour as a midwife as you’re constantly checking everything that’s being done. That’s why I did hypnobirthing to help me zone out and focus on other things."
GTG: What is it like giving birth to twins?
CH: "Very weird and a bit worrying. I remember the labour being actually my quickest, I felt the most in control and I could say I almost enjoyed it. However, once one baby is out there’s the small issue of getting the next one out. I had Delilah on my chest so was relieved that bit was over but remember saying ‘oh no I’ve got to do that all over again!’ Luckily Ottilie came much quicker and also without any problems. The weirdest bit was when they were both skin-to-skin on my crying husband Simon. We looked at them and each other and just laughed! It’s a bit mental really."
GTG: You suggest in the book we might bury or eat the placenta. Did you do anything unusual with yours?
CH: "No I didn’t. I let the midwives dispose of it at the hospital but I did take lots of photos especially of the twins’ placentas, which was fascinating. Midwives love looking at placentas!"
GTG: It’s often said that second babies arrive more quickly. Does that keep going, until by number five or six you can push one out while waiting for the kettle to boil?
CH: "Second babies are usually the quickest, thirds can often be a bit stop-start but once you are in established labour then they come quickly. With the twins, once I started contracting really well they were born half an hour later. Not quite the kettle boiling but Simon didn’t manage to finish his lunch!"
GTG: What kinds of noises do women make in labour?
CH: "All sorts, sometimes they are deep groaning, mooing like a cow… sometimes high pitched. I honestly don’t even think I notice them now and women have no control what noises they make. It comes from deep inside your body and is completely uncontrollable."
GTG: How can you tell when a woman is in transition?
CH: "Women behave in all different ways in transition, some scream a long, high-pitched sound, some tell me they’ve had enough, want an epidural and want to go home. Lots of women say they can’t do it anymore and ask me to make it stop. I’ve had some women sleep as their contractions stop altogether and they just need to rest."
GTG: Have you ever been offended by a woman’s behaviour during labour?"
CH: "No never, they’re having a baby after all!"
GTG: Have you seen women who didn’t seem to feel pain?
CH: "I’ve had women who have been so completely relaxed by it all I haven’t known if they are in labour or not, especially if they have been hypnobirthing."
GTG: Have you ever seen anyone orgasm during labour?
CH: "Not to my knowledge! But a good friend told me she felt something pulsating as the baby’s head was crowning… "
GTG: Most unusual place you’ve delivered a baby?
CH: "In the downstairs loo, it was the smallest place in her house and she wanted to go to the loo. One push later the baby was coming – luckily it wasn’t born down the loo!"
GTG: What was your most memorable day “at the office”?
CH: "Ah, too many to mention. I’ve really enjoyed supporting some very close friends have their babies, knowing that couple on a more personal level is very special and emotional!
GTG: What was your most rewarding?
CH: "Every birth is rewarding: it’s an honour to be part of that moment in a woman’s life. I’ve had a few babies named after me, that’s very, very lovely."
How To Grow A Baby - And Push It Out by Clemmie Hooper (Vermilion) £14.99.