A woman recently told me about the birth of her first baby on the phone.
'There was this moment, it stays with me because I can't really explain it or understand it...,' she said. 'My waters had broken and I was being induced. I was put on an antenatal ward, and left, on a bed, behind a curtain, listening to people eating fried chicken and chatting.
'It was awful, all this ordinary 'stuff' going on around me, when I was feeling so much pain. The contractions were getting stronger, and stronger, until it became what I can only call, unbearable. It was so intense, so painful that I did not know what to do or where to put myself. I remember gripping the bed sidebar, my toes ramming into the footboard. Making myself completely rigid as a way to cope. This might sound too much, but I can honestly remember wanting to die....
And then this midwife came. She'd heard me, and then checked me. I can remember her face, the excitement on it. Her excitement for me. She came right up to my side, 'oh my love, ' she said, 'you're amazing. Do you know what? Your baby's nearly here. Let's get you sorted, let's get you comfortable, then you can just get on with it. .' And that was the moment - on the spot, and I mean literally there and then, the pain vanished. Completely. That's how I remember it and that's how it felt. It was like a switch had been flicked. I still don't really understand it because the contractions were still strong and coming all the time, but now I didn't need to grip, or grab or jam my feet. I just felt a kind of ease, like everything was alright. I remember talking to the midwife inbetween contractions even, everything just feeling good - relaxed. My baby was born soon after.'
There it is.
What a woman in labour needs.
What women in labour rarely secure for themselves and standard labour ward care provides erratically at best.
Don't you think that's strange? How in this day and age, where we accommodate every physical need to the letter, we overlook this one - the biggest there is?
Why is it, that thousands of women all over the country leave what they need for labour pretty much to luck?
When rumours started swirling about Meghan Markle having a doula, there was mystification - scoffing even.
But wasn't the lack of understanding about what a doula does more to do with a lack of grasp about birth itself?
It feels like a squeamishness to me this avoidance, a modern taboo, because visible everywhere is an almost wilful refusal to explore and accept how intense, sensitive, demanding and powerful the experience of labour is.
If we did understand the depth and breadth of birth, wouldn't greater numbers be taking careful steps as regards the journey - putting in place what experience and history and biology have proven over and over and over again makes birth manageable?
Instead - and media-led it seems to me - there's a collective sidestepping - 'maybe it won't be like that? Surely a few eleventh hour birth classes are all I need? We leave partners, unlikely to have seen or felt birth, to provide a dimension of safety we haven't yet reached ourselves.
So don't cross your fingers. Or bury your head. See from this story that the steadying needed is so simple, but so crucial.
(with thanks to Suzanne for her photo.).