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Six: Sunset and Assumptions - dealing with a heteronormative system during pregnancy

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

We were in the second trimester. Most knew I was a pregnant lesbian with a wife, donor and had a compulsion to overshare. The sickness had passed and now the fun could begin. To my wife’s reluctance, it was time to swop the three door sporty car for the five door family car and start nesting.

Who knew how much research could go into buying a versatile pram that grows with your child and learning why a muslin square is the most important parenting item ever. Every weekend was spent hunting for the best bargains. My wife reading baby books whilst I gently rubbed my stomach and soothed the hiccuping bump. I drank a lot of milk, continued to eat chocolate and certain perfumes made me sick. I only had one job, aside from my full time job, and that was to keep this little life safe and serene.

We were ready. The only thing left to do was learn how to give birth. Surely NCT (the National Childbirth Trust) could help with that? One evening a week we turned up at a slightly hippy house greeted by a lovely bohemian lady called Marta. In her scented candle lit kitchen we learnt how to give birth naturally, write the ideal birthing plan and change a peanut butter filled nappy whilst nodding in agreement that breastfeeding was the best start to a babies life.

My wife went into breakout groups with the husbands. She didn’t seem to mind and was fascinated to hear the male perspective on pregnancy. I think she also shared her insights on knowing when not to speak, chew, sleep and even breathe around hormonal wives. We made friends with the other mums to be and bonded within this communal bubble as we breathed our way through pretend contractions whilst listening to Enya.

At eight months pregnant and following a night eating cheese and drinking sparkling water with the new NCT friends, I woke in pain. Cramps, heart burn, shortness of breath. Oh god this was too early to be in labour. I wasn’t actually ready, I still had the hypno birthing session planned and paid for! I rushed off to the doctors to see what was happening. The doctor looked me over with an odd expression on her face. When all the standard tests were done and braxton hicks was ruled out, she sat in front of me and asked me to smile. I did, if not a little awkwardly. In a very calm voice she said ‘I would like you to call your husband and go to Queen Charlotte’s hospital now. I am not sure if you are having a stroke. This can happen with geriatric pregnancies.’

HUSBAND… GERIATRIC! Forget the stroke. I was reeling from being referred to as straight and old. I called a taxi, then called my wife. At this point I should reveal I am quite susceptible when it comes to ailments, some would even consider me a slight hypochondriac. Note the word slight, but by the time I was at the hospital I had every symptom associated with a stroke and could barely walk let alone talk.

The benefit of being a pregnant geriatric, with all the symptoms of a suspected stroke is how quickly I was seen. I was given a nice room with a view of Wormwood Scrubs and even managed a nap. Two hours later I was discharged with the diagnosis of indigestion, a cheese allergy and having an asymmetric puffy face! Old, straight, fat, with a crooked smile and a dairy intolerance. Great day for my self esteem.

At least I could still go to hypno-birthing. The assumption, once again, was made by the instructor that my husband was busy and my wife was my friend. This never failed to surprise me, particularly living in a city. Surely we weren’t the only gays learning to hypno-birth and walk down the steps of serenity to watch the sunset over paradise island? Hypno-birthing was even more unconventional than Marta’s kitchen and too out there, even for me. We giggled like school children, left early, taking none of it seriously.

Two weeks later I said goodbye to work and started maternity leave. I was ready for trashy tv, more chocolate, the odd relaxing bath and lots of sleep before the baby was due. My first day on leave I managed one episode of the Real Housewives and a slow uncomfortable walk around the park. Only to wake at 3 am with the odd sensation that I had wet myself. I quickly realised my waters had broken. Water mixed with green gloop was all over me and the bed. The hospital told us there was no time for a shower as the green gloop was meconium so baby needed monitoring urgently. Thank god the hospital bag was packed as for the first time since being pregnant I saw my wife flustered. I could hear her literally bounce off one wall to the next as she gathered the necessities. I sat calmly in the kitchen, covered in meconium or what I later found out was baby poo, and breathed through the contractions.

On arrival at the hospital the nurse asked for our birthing plan and notes. My wife looking even more flustered as she confessed to the notes still being on the kitchen table. Off home she was sent as I was taken to another room with a view, this time of the prison yard. One by one the nurses arrived asking where my husband was. I’m not even sure I bothered to correct anyone at this point.

The meconium meant our baby needed to come out pretty quickly. The NCT drug free birthing plan with a pool, candles and soft music playing in the background as I breathe through contractions with the hypnotic serenity of a Tibetan monk was binned. Replaced with a catheter, wires attached to monitors, a cannula and drip. All I could hear was Marta telling us to walk and move when in labour to make the birth easier and less distressing for the baby. Marta have you ever tried to walk with a catheter in? There was nothing serene about this.

The next 20 hours is a blur. Time seemed to speed up as did my contractions with the help of very unpleasant inducing drugs. I remember the apologetic anaesthetist, with the softest arms, who explained why the epidural wasn’t working as I tried to bite those soft arms. I was consumed by gratitude for the hypno-birthing class I had previously scoffed at. My god I walked up and down those steps to paradise island for hours to distract myself from the pain.

Then it was time to push and with a little help from a ventouse our baby was finally here and put straight into my arms. A beautiful, if not slimy and bloody, baby girl. Wow a girl. Our daughter. I knew I’d been right half the time!

This moment of calm was short lived as I handed her to my wife so I could throw up. Then she was back in my arms, clean and swaddled as I was wheeled down to surgery to repair the third degree tear. As I stared in awe at our baby, the surgeon looked at me and softly asked, ‘shall I take her to your Wife whilst we fix you up?’. ‘Yes please’ I replied, closed my eyes and imagined that beautifully serene sunset over paradise island.

Making assumptions.

My wife didn’t mind the father, husband, masculine assumptions. She accepted it is what it is, just innocent and understandable mistakes. I felt less tolerant but I am not sure why. Maybe the erroneous assumptions were triggering. A reminder of the difficult and emotional journey to just get pregnant. Or the pride and security I had finally found in being gay meant I didn’t want to be mistaken for anything else. Or maybe I was just exhausted explaining our situation time and time again.

Who knows, but my wife was right. Mistakes and incorrect assumptions do innocently happen and I do know, I could not fault the care I was given by the wonderful staff at the NHS.

Useful stuff:

  • National Childbirth Trust (NCT). NCT has a cost to it but there are free options the NHS can direct parents to.

  • There are some wonderful meditation techniques on Buddifhy Not specifically for child birth but just life in general ❤️

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May 09, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fabulous article


May 09, 2023

Thanks for your lovely blog. Like your wife, as the non-pregnant partner I am also not worried about being called husband, or sitting with the dads at NCT. Unlike you both, however, it hasn't really happened - I see people realising I'm the wife (and not a friend) almost immediately and I am always treated with dignity and given a role. So much so I really want to say 'relax, it's fine!'. Our lovely NCT teacher refers to the pregnant women as 'people who are giving birth'. I said to her privately one day, 'thank you for being careful with your language, but it's ok, you can use mums as a collective noun for the people giving birth, I'm not bothered'…

May 09, 2023
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Hey Guest, I wish I could figure out how people can leave names (that’s next on my tech to do list!). Thank you for your comments, it’s got me thinking. You said something really important that I hadn’t thought about and that’s your identity isn’t under threat. That would ring so true for my wife. She has never really questioned her identity and is just herself. Identity has been a factor for me. A hangover from childhood and trying to find my place, build self worth/esteem etc.

It’s also important to find that balance as you said ‘relax it’s fine!’. it would be counter productive and have gone too far if the term mum gets cancelled out. Good luck on…

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