The painful truth
ll i wanted to be was the best goddamned
birthing partner I could be. To stroke Tamsin’scheek when it was there to be stroked. To mas-sage her aches when they threatened to over-whelm. To liaise with the midwives about painrelief. To keep up the encouragement. To fill a chair. To get my freaking hands off her when she told me to get my freakinghands off her. I didn’t want to perform heroics. One of the firstthings taught at our antenatal classes was that the birthshouldn’t be first and foremost about the birthing partner. I just had to be there.It was 3am when Tamsin went into labour. I wasn’t there.She was at Frances Perry House in Carlton, under observationin advance of an 8am induction. I was asleep at home in NorthFitzroy, having been unimpressed by the size and softness of the Frances Perry sofa beds.The first I knew of it was a 4am text message. “Contractions3 minutes apart. Terrible pain. Nurses not sure if labour. I’msure. Come in.”I leapt from bed and into a cold shower. This was it. Tamsinwas five days overdue and we’d never been more ready for any-thing in our lives. I did the mental checklist. Cold packs, yes.Weis bars and lollies, yes. Fit ball? Shit, did the hospital providefit balls? I texted Tamsin. The hospital provided fit balls. Shesuggested I hurry.Nine minutes later I was striding into the birthing suite onlevel 11. If Tam wasn’t already in hell, she was definitely float-ing on the River Styx, gazing at me with desperate eyes, look-ing for a spot to disembark. The contractions were now lessthan three minutes apart. The attending midwife had cast ini-tial doubts aside and was offering Tam the gas.“TENS machine!” Tamsin gritted at me through the mouth-piece. “You have to put on the TENS machine. Now!”For many months, the plan had been that Tamsin would getthrough the early hours of labour with the assistance of TENS– transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS ma-chine comprises two electrodes, some connecting wires, and ahand-held amplitude control button. Electrical impulses shootinto the nerves near the base of the spine to distract pain re-ceptors in the brain from the considerably more serious painof labour. According to the instructions, TENS might reduceearly pain by as much as 30 per cent. Tamsin was definitely adisciple. She believed in TENS.The problem was that at 4am in the labour ward, I couldn’tfind the electrodes.“Search the bags,” Tamsin shrieked as another contractionstarted building.“They’re not here,” I kept saying. The contents of our care-fully packed hospital bags, overflowing with all manner of es-sential oils that no longer seemed so essential, were strewnacross the floor. No luck.“They must be on the kitchen table,” I said, trying to com-fort Tam. “Your mum’s got a key. I’ll ring her and get her todrive in and get them.”“No. She’s in Burwood. It’ll take an hour. I need them
!It has to be you.”
The labour’sbegun, but theone vital piece of pain-relief gearhas gone missing.Good thingTamsin’s “birthingpartner” is on thecase.Tony Wilsonreveals whathappens whenhis cool-in-a-crisiscred is put to itsbiggest test.
g e t t y i m a g e s