Hand-Made Housemates Handed Back
Mission log transcript: >Operation Homecoming<
[24.04.2022.1408] Prelaunch checks complete. Takeoff proceeding.
[24.04.2022.1410] Course plotted. ##REDACTED## has given the order and pilot L is taking us out of the docking bay.
[24.04.2022.1412] Arrival at the satellite designated >Anarres< with precious xenomorph entity, ETA 24.04.2022.1432.
[24.04.2022.1419] Now initiating slingshot manoeuvre around J3 astronomical body.
[24.04.2022.1423] Entering ##REDACTED## stellar system.
[24.04.2022.1425] Now in final approach. Recommend first mate be on hand to greet xenomorph, and assist with landing bay doors and cargo.
In the early hours of Saturday 23 April, our latest co-op member came into the world. Gandalf the Grey once blagged that famous excuse about never being late or early, and arriving precisely when he means to, but I’m not sure that baby gets to make that claim. It is customary for anarchists to be 15 minutes late, but 15 days late takes the biscuit – and of course, the baby is too young for us to make any kind of accurate claim about their political affiliations.
But then, it’s also too early to claim anything about the baby’s gender…
Most of us built our impressions of childbirth from that imparted by the mainstream media; one which is a very gendered activity, and also quite a disempowering one, full of business-like medical professionals and screaming, bed-bound cis-women. We arrived quite early on in the pregnancy to several ideas about how we’d like to tell a different story – especially after discussion with friends somewhat experienced with parenthood, and after various hypnobirthing courses and literature. Well aware that first births are often more difficult than those that follow, we opted against a home birth, but still had our minds full of notions about birthing pools, visualisations and meditation, multiple birth partners, staying mobile, a bare minimum of medical intervention, and upright birthing postures. Our earliest dealings with both these courses and NHS antenatal care was a positive one, seemingly empowering our choices about the birth and the baby’s early life to follow. Both these groups placed much importance on our creation of the birth plan.
This empowerment lasted almost right up until the birth.
Even a cursory glance at the state of the world goes a long way to explain baby’s reluctance to arrive, but their tardiness did cause us to miss the time window for our desired birth centre. Instead, we were subject to an increasingly medicalised process at hospital. Once there – and despite the baby reading as perfectly healthy – we were increasingly pressured to consent to medical induction. Although perhaps ‘consent’ is too strong a term; their permissive-seeming mantra of “it’s entirely your choice” gets a bit hollow after the third rendition, especially when every day that you refuse induction you’re “advised” to face punitive daily observations, each stretching on between 3 and 8 hours (and if you refuse those, statistics indicate you’re going to kill your baby, you monster. Oh, you want to see those statistics? Sure thing – that’ll be another 3 hours, ta! Hope you don’t have an upcoming birth that you need to rest for).
It’s not too long before we do go for the first stage of induction, which hits us with a previously-undisclosed side-effect (fun fact: prostaglandin pessaries don’t just gently nudge open the cervix, but can sometimes bring on scarily strong contractions long before your body’s ready for them), and then we’re slap bang into the labour. Rattled and sleep-deprived, the NHS standard package of perpetual staff shortages, contradictory advice, and bureaucratic confusion lands us in delivery suite, having apparently already agreed to the second stage of induction – which was news to us. It’s the job of birth partners to advocate on behalf of the pregnant person, in order to carry out their choices as previously laid down in the birth plan, as well as the new choices responding to surprises on the day. Turned out, though, it’s surprisingly easy for the advocates’ resolve to get worn down in the face of exhaustion, uncertainty, and the profession’s set-up of nearly every variable as a decision already made. It soon became apparent that the best haggling we could muster was to win only a few minor delays, and the odd extra hour of sleep.
Skip to the end. Blood, sweat, and tears. In the process, we learned a thing or two about the practical limits to parents’ agency in regards to hospital births (some of which wasn’t entirely unexpected, to be sure), and we learned just how worthless the birth plan is in that context; sure, we were grateful that the epidural wiped away the last bit of pain, but it would’ve been nice if more than a couple of the 10-plus assorted doctors and midwives at least glanced at the plan we spent so much time making.
We also learned about how little the hospital staff care about the gender identities of the birthing parent, the co-parents, or that (un)chosen for the baby – in contrast to the respectful efforts of everyone at the midwife unit.
After all, it may make sense for the (non-binary) pregnant person to submit details of their own genitalia to receive relevant screenings, but less so to force the baby into either “gender” A or B. Apparently, printing out such binaries on the baby’s wrist-tag makes them harder to misplace? I suspect it was just an inability to move beyond M/F on the form. Perhaps budget cuts have led to marker pen shortages?
Of course, the new normal of COVID made things a bit more unfun, too. Health measures cared little about our poly or co-parenting sensibilities, and instead reduced down the number of birth partners to a measly pair. Pessary-induced hyperstimulation contractions? One birth partner. Actual birth contractions? Two birth partners. Birth happened three hours ago? One birth partner. A day’s worth of labour? Birth partners stay. Transferring to maternity ward at 6am? Birth partners go, but one of you come back in two hours.
At the very least, it seems bad taste to isolate the birthing parent after so many hours of exhaustion and trauma, to leave them bewildered and drugged in the company of a helpless newborn. Though there was some welcome overnight support from the midwives.
In fact, some of those patchily-applied measures came across as little more than self-defeating. That same single appointed visitor can’t stay overnight, but has to tour public transport routes twice a day, two days in a row – presumably to collect and deliver as many COVID vectors as possible?
1130: ‘Cantina Band’ by John Williams (or ‘Mad About Me’, as it’s known in Star Wars canon); we all burst into laughter, as the bemused midwife is forced to stop their attempt to break the waters
1950: ‘Macarena’ by Los del Río; apparently, the best way to get through early labour contractions is to get up with your gas and air, and dance like you’re at a sweaty kids’ disco
2120: ‘We Are The Champions’ by Queen; it’s not medically proven during active labour that sing-along versions of ‘[insert pregnant person name here] is the Champion’ helps with birthing, but it probably doesn’t hurt… well, much more
0126: ‘Never Surrender’ by Evan Greer; we expected baby to manifest to some sweeping fantasy score from Skyrim or Lord of the Rings, but it was even sweeter when they popped out during this one
0355: ‘Children’s Song’ by Evan Greer; once all present were suitably stitched up, wiped clean, and breathing – and the parade of staff had made themselves scarce – we took the opportunity to welcome the new comrade via the medium of song. This one seemed particularly apt, given all the recent wrangling about baby’s genitals.