I am 39 weeks pregnant today. I’ve gone past the ‘wishing pregnancy was over” phase, and I’m now firmly in the “Oh I give up, this baby will never be born” phase. I’ll just be pregnant forever. (Actually a friend just pointed out that this can occasionally happen, but it’s an extremely rare, and rather grotesque, occurrence, known as a lithopedion, or a “stone baby”. DO NOT Google this unless you have a very strong constitution and a high tolerance for some extremely macabre facts of life.)
However in my case, by turning my back on labour, think what I’m doing is protecting my delicate psyche from the idea of labour. Because labour is, let’s face it, hard damn work. And it’s painful. And there are many unknowns, all sorts of things can become urgent and complicated with no warning. There are things the baby may present with that haven’t been picked up on ultrasound.
In short, if I think too much about it now, I will be a bundle of nerves.
Yet this is not my first pregnancy. Which actually doesn’t help much, because the other two had their extreme moments, and some of those I would rather never repeat. Most of it has been blocked from my memory, so I am eternally grateful for post-partum amnesia. It is my happy thought. Which is weirdly ironic.
I keep reminding myself that this is not the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Not even by a long shot.
For example, when I was about 3 years old, I was given a dolls house. It was huge. And this was back in the 1970s when things were made solidly, built to last. That dolls house was only wood, but it would have easily withstood an apocalypse or two.
In fact, better built than many houses these days.
This dolls house was taller than I was at the time.
I didn’t catch up until I was four years old.
Given that it was so large, it was probably just a matter of time before I decided to crawl inside it and pretend to be a doll.
Three weeks, to be precise.
When I was three years old, I crawled inside the “living room”, reached out and closed the door. I quickly decided I’d had enough, so I reached out, up and around to the clasp, and pressed the button. The door swung open and I crawled out again. Nobody any the wiser.
However at the age of four, in a moment of blind, childish insanity, I did it again.
The fact I couldn’t breathe even at this point should have been a warning sign.
The door clicked shut. On the old 1970s clasp. This was before the invention of the consumer watchdog, and that clasp was solid as a rock. This would never happen these days, as modern dolls houses only have magnets to keep them closed. Easily pressed open from either side. Not to mention they are mostly pretty flimsy. But not back then. Not my dolls house. I would bet t was strong enough to withhold an angry wombat tripping out on crystal meth, if such occasion ever arose. It was certainly strong enough to hold a panicky, four year old nitwit.
I was bigger than I had been the first time I did this, and I couldn’t get my arm around enough to press the release button.
I should never write children’s stories. They would be like “BURIED” for the under-8s.
I also couldn’t really breathe, as my legs were competing with my lungs for real estate, and my knees were somewhere around my ears. And I was alone in the play room, two rooms away from the nearest adult. I didn’t have the air to scream, so I began to whimper and make small sort of infantile mammalian panic sounds. In times of doubt, I find it helps to stick with what you know.
Thankfully it worked, and my mother eventually came in. Presumably to find out what the weird scratching animal noises were. I can barely imagine what the scene must have looked like.
Left: My mother, struggling to decide whether to laugh or flip out.
From that day onward, I have held a soft spot in my heart for Alice in Wonderland. Alice may be the only other girl to have ever experienced what I went through that day, although she had the good sense to stick a foot through a window. And in all honesty, if a drugged up caterpillar had shown up and offered me half a mushroom, I would have devoured that bad boy in a heartbeat. Whole mushroom and possibly the caterpillar along with it. ANYTHING to shrink even just a little bit.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. One that has held me strong for the past 30+ years. That lesson is: don’t ever lock yourself in a dolls house that cannot be opened from the inside. We could all take something from that.
A few years later, I found new a way to humiliate myself.
The high diving board. It’s my white whale.
By attempting to overcome my fear of heights. On the high diving board. In public. In a swim suit.
With a queue of increasingly irritated people waiting behind me.
The biggest psychological difficulty was that it never seemed that high from the ground. And once up there, I would become so startled by the height, that I would freeze up for a moment. That one moment was long enough for my imaginative little brain to construct a few worst-case-scenarios for my extended contemplation, as I stood there, alone, and exposed, several metres from the ground.
I really should write advertisements for Australian tourism.
Most of the time when we visited the pool, I would just swim about and ignore the high diving board. But on at least ten separate occasions throughout my youth, I climbed that board and stood there, drying out in the sun, holding up the queue while I fantasized about my impending death, and the sun slowly set in the west.
I once heard water is ‘hard’ depending on how far you fall before you hit it. That fact alone fed my anxiety for 6 straight years.
I managed to actually jump a total of four times. Spread over a period of almost ten years. To this day I still cannot tolerate heights very well. That is, specifically, I do not enjoy being up high, I do not get a pleasant rush from it. And the idea of climbing up high specifically to hurl my squishy little breakable, water-based body downwards, still fills me with dread.
As I grew, I found new things to be terrified of as a teenager. That is, along with the usual bag of horror goodies, the things everyone is scared of, that comprise most of hallowe’en and Tim Burton movies.
Meh, I’m more freaked out by dolls houses and diving boards.
Through my love of reading, I learned new things to be afraid of by proxy, like yowies, yetis, pookahs, mummies, wendigos and investment bankers.
But it wasn’t until I was about 14 that I saw my first wild snake.
Not in a sterile, manageable way. Or even in that sleepy-and-doesn’t-give-a-damn kind of way that you hope for, when you see a wild snake. No.
Allow me to set the scene.
I was swimming in the dam behind our house, with my brother. It was a hot day, very bright and sunny, most importantly there were no diving boards in sight, and things were fine. My brother and I were just chatting and floating about and doing nothing much, which anyone can tell you, is great fun.
We were only about a metre or so apart. (That is 3-4 feet by way of reference.)
And a brown snake just swam right between us.
Didn’t say a word, didn’t look at us, just swan straight down the middle of the dam, from one side to the other.
Hey look! Who even knew snakes could swim? … Wait, AARGH!!!
We stopped, and watched in silence as this snake passed between us, long, lean, elegant and terrifying. The colour of sand, twigs and clay. It moved just like the “charmed” snakes in the cartoons, it’s long body fishtailing along behind it, and it’s beady little eyes never moved from its destination. It was horrifying and magnetic. And it passed us without incident.
It was a magic snake too, because at that moment, we both suddenly realised we could walk on water.
That is as close I have ever been, and ever want to be, to a brown snake. That was enough. I’m done.
There is really only one other thing I am scared of. And for me, at least, it’s a big one. Which is ironic, because in reality it’s tiny.
Just drawing this filled me with dread.
To be honest, I am more afraid of the one on the right than the one on the left. I realise the foolishness of this phobia. I mean, I’m an intelligent, tool-wielding human, standing around 5’6″, and the thing I’m most afraid of is a 2″ swamp-dwelling invertebrate.
I mean, gosh, it’s not like I couldn’t just out-run it. Even 39 weeks pregnant, I’m pretty sure I’m faster over land than a scrawny vampiric slug. OK so my top speed at the moment is about a 4km waddle per hour. That’s still faster than a water-dwelling oligochaete. (This is a family that includes earth worms. Also not widely known for their speed.)
There are no leeches where I live, and this is entirely intentional. Because if there were, I would not live here. I would move. I fantasize sometimes about living in the middle of the desert, where I have 800km of hot, dry sand in every direction to ensure that no leeches ever come near me. And even then I would still want to sow salt in the earth and carry a flame-thrower, just to be certain.
And yet here I am, at 39 weeks pregnant, and the thing that most fills me with dread at this moment, is this:
IT’S A TRAP! DON’T DO IT!! THOSE DOORS WILL CLOSE BEHIND YOU!!
So I am sort of thankful to my brain for trying to shield me from anxiety about labour, by throwing up memories of the scariest moments from my past. Sort of, kind of, maybe, thankful. Because there’s nothing like a good old dose of terror to make some common anxiety look utterly mundane.
So I’ll stop worrying about labour now, and wrap myself in a comforting psychological blanket of dolls houses, diving boards, brown snakes and leeches, and – wait.
Well, at least at the end of labour you get a cute little baby to play with. That’s more than you can say for the diving board.