11am 11 April 1994. Where were YOU?

19 years ago today, at this time (11am-ish), I was admitted to hospital to meet my boy. It wasn’t the first day of the rest of my life – that had already come and gone – but it was the day it became real. I have never looked back, and the lovely person that my son is has made it so easy to be his mom. If it wasn’t for you, dear person, I would not be here today.

So here’s an extract from The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No which tells it better than I could again. (PS in the book his name was changed, but here I’ll change it back to Conor)


I went over to Mom and whispered, “He says it’s time. He says I have to be admitted now.” All shaky-voiced again.

“What?! NOW?!” she squealed, trying to be quiet, but with the whole room on high-alert, they heard every word.

“Yes, that’s what he says, Ma. He says I’m five centimetres dilated. It’s time.”

And so it was.

Lots of excitement and activity followed. We filled in all the forms at Admissions, where another very young desk clerk asked, “Reason for admittance?” He was serious, too. The enormous tummy and hefty hospital bag I was lugging were perhaps not obvious enough clues for him.

“Um… it would seem I’m in labour”, I replied. Duh. He printed what seemed like ten thousand sheets of sticky labels with my name and file number and other details on. What the hell they were all for was anyone’s guess. Clearly, printing labels was his job and he was enthusiastically committed to doing it. I might also mention that it was somewhere at this juncture that, under “religion”, someone checked “Roman Catholic” on my file. The military hospital was clearly keen on religion and you had to pick something. I’d seen through the whole church racket by then and couldn’t call myself Catholic, even though my father was a Catholic. Had I checked the box myself, I probably would have picked “Other”. So perhaps I can blame the dumb young office clerk for the horrors that were to come.

In the labour ward, I unpacked my bag and then subjected myself to another battery of physical checks. Then I sat. For at least two hours I sat around, extremely bored and feeling like an impostor. I heard other women in the throes of labour, some of them going about it quite loudly. I saw large, sweaty-haired women lurching along the passages, supported by panic-stricken husbands glancing around for the nearest exit. Rats in a trap, they were. I saw them look at me, trying to figure me out. It didn’t look like I was in labour, so just what was I doing here, then? I felt sheepish, as if I was intruding where I didn’t belong. And still, I didn’t feel any contractions.

I had more internal exams, and matters were apparently progressing. Still – nothing.

Eventually, around noon, it was decided that they’d have to break my waters. Which they did. With an enormous crochet hook – I still see its evil pointy head in my dreams sometimes.

Once the waters were broken, I began to feel some pain. The labour was going well, but I was nervous and tense. The tenser I got, the worse the pain got, which prompted the nurse to ask whether I wanted to try some gas for pain relief.

“No! No, I don’t want it! I don’t need it!” I insisted, weakly.

“Now, don’t try and be brave, my girl. There’s nothing wrong with a little gas, you don’t have to feel guilty about it, you know,” she said.

Oh, but I did. Good mothers (which I was determined to be) did not accept pain relief during labour. Good mothers focused on their baby’s face and imagining him making his way out of the birth canal (birth canal – what a truly heinous phrase. As if you’re likely to find a couple of crooning gondoliers floating about in there) to meet you and the world. Good mothers don’t need that shit. Good mothers are strong.

Guilt gland – activate. The Guilt gland is standard onboard equipment for any mother. They trigger as soon as you know there’s a baby inside you. And they never shut down again after that, not until you die. I suspect they keep working even after you die (like the way the hair on corpses sometimes keeps growing after death. Eeeuw!), leaching free-range guilt into the soil, to be taken up by the plants that we end up eating. Like oestrogen in the water. Only not.

The guilt gland can malfunction sometimes – it can be overactive or underactive (much like the thyroid) – but you can’t take a pill to fix it. Well, you could. But they’re mostly illegal. However, my guilt gland was brand new and still getting warmed up. Which explains why I gave in to the idea of sniffing the happy gas on offer.

I hated myself, but oh – did I love that gas. It made me high immediately – and while it didn’t take the pain away, it relaxed my body so completely that between contractions I lapsed into near unconsciousness. I wasn’t fighting the pain anymore. I was going with it. The contractions became more intense, I shouted at my mother louder and more often as soon as she stopped rubbing my back – and the day wore on.

In the midst of all this, some crazy person brought me lunch – roast lamb, potatoes and veg. I was impressed – not bad grub for a government facility, I thought. Unfortunately, the sight of it still made me want to puke. I couldn’t bear the thought of eating, so the plate just sat there the whole way through my labour, slowly and greasily congealing in the corner. How gross. Stupid, stupid me. If I’d known of the microwaved abominations that were in store, I would have chowed down, drug-induced nausea or not.

Then, suddenly, I had to push. Don’t ask me how I knew – I’d never believed women when they said you just know what to do. I’d always thought I’d be the only person to whom this did not apply. But what do you know? It turns out I was a real live Natural Woman who could do these things. Somewhere underneath the brain fog and abject terror, I was quite proud of myself.

It’s amazing what those four little words can do. Yell (or whisper) “I need to push” in a labour ward and see everybody spring into action. Like a race car I was wheeled into the delivery ward just before four in the afternoon. I was exhausted. Giving birth is the only way on earth you ever get as tired as that. I struggled to get the pushing right – it was one step forward, two steps back.

I remember repeatedly crying to the midwife and nurses, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Even in that state, I was convinced that I was doing it all wrong, probably wasting their time, annoying them and keeping them from their hot dinners. The guilt gland was in overdrive now, and my self-consciousness was getting in the way of the birth process. I was thinking too much, instead of doing.

Then somebody called, “One last push, Tracy! One last push, we’re nearly there!”

And I did it, just when I thought I could do no more. One last push.

And there he was. My baby. I laughed and I cried. He was quiet.

“It’s a boy! You’ve got a little boy, Tracy!” the midwife called as she wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to me.

“A boy… my boy…” I held him on my chest, my arms so wobbly I was scared I’d drop him. I looked at him so hard, wanting to sear his image into my brain forever, in case it wasn’t real and somebody came and took him away. But they couldn’t, could they? Nobody could take him away. He was mine. And I was glad.

“What’s his name?” asked the nurse. I thought I’d say Ethan. That was the name I’d chosen, after all. But that’s not what I said.

“Conor. His name is Conor,” I replied, without the slightest clue where that had come from. Conor. Of course, Conor. He wasn’t Ethan at all. He was Conor – you could tell that just by looking at him.

He lay on my chest, quiet, not crying, his big eyes open and absorbing everything around him. Even then, he was so aware. Oh, I was overcome by how lucky I was. Surely nobody else in the world had ever felt this amazing. The pain was forgotten, vanished in an instant (another thing I hadn’t believed possible), and what was left was invincibility and joy. In those moments, I knew what it was all about. I knew what it had all been for. I knew that it had all been worth it.

Is there something else out there for me? Now I knew, and here it was.

When they took him to be cleaned up, I cried, half thinking I’d never get him back. But that’s just silly, I guess.



One thought on “11am 11 April 1994. Where were YOU?

  1. The Guilt Gland. I love you for that term.

    Happy Birthday Conor. Your birth began a story. And your life is a song. Thank you for letting us share in it.

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