Colleen Figg

A labour of love

2008-06-20 08:39

Colleen Figg

When women start harping on about the entry of their children into this world, I edge away hurriedly. Put a group of four or more women together at a braai or any other social event and whilst they are hacking up the lettuce in the kitchen like good lady folk must, the subject will, sure as eggs is eggs, turn to childbirth.

Person A will ask person B in all (seeming) innocence how many children she has. Person B will give the number and before you know what's clobbered you they've moved on to how those particular children made their way down their screaming mother's birth canal into this cold and horrid world.

Usually the first person to describe these events will be fairly conservative, mentioning perhaps only a lengthy labour, the failure of her waters to burst timeously, or the fact that kid # 2 had to remain ensconced in ICU for a week after the event.

At this juncture person A will usually reply that her first labour went smoothly but the second dragged on for two days and nights until they had to prep her for a C-Section as the baby was getting severely stressed from the long delay.

She'll then throw in some ghastly factoids, such as how vomit came hurtling out of her mouth all over the obstetrician the moment the pre-med injection went into her veins, closely followed by other unplanned exits around the same time the baby decided to come naturally.

Person D will then interject with tales that outdo the first two in terms of grimness and general suffering. With glee she will report that she had to have fifty seven external stitches and twelve internal ones after her giant baby was finally hauled out by forceps of the kind and size that simply do not bear mentioning.


Despite the apparently appalling subject matter I have noticed that nearly all women I have met derive a great amount of satisfaction from sharing these stories and attempting to outdo one another. They talk of screeching and clawing at their spouses in some kind of primal rather off-putting need for revenge or a levelling of the playing field, so to speak. They report nearly breaking the hands that they clung to in extremis.

I suppose it's a bit like the preening and strutting behaviour the male of the species engages in, in honour of the same occasion that nearly killed their wives (by all accounts). The slapping on the back and the hooting and general "well-done-boyo-what-a-man-you-are-here-have-a-cigar" nonsense is apparently very important and time-honoured.

Both behaviours strike me as very flamboyant and unnecessary, really. But human beings have always been very careful about constructing complex social rituals and ways of behaving help them treasure some or other kind of illusion that is seemingly rather essential to their well-being as a species.

I don't get it, myself.

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