Having a baby is quite a lot like having sex.
No, I’m not one of those crazy women who find that labour is just one long wonderful orgasm, who I wouldn’t believe exist in real life except that I know Davina McCall is one (go and look her up on Wikipedia, Americans) and I believe anything she says. But my sister-in-law said to me in some surprise after she had her baby, “It’s very earthy, isn’t it?” (or something like that; apologies if I’m misquoting anyone who might be reading). And that’s the thing. It doesn’t get much more gritty and realistic than having an actual human baby come out of you.
We modern people are so enamoured of our clean, sanitary, technology-enhanced lives that sometimes it’s a bit of a shock to discover that some things just can’t be made to be shiny and simple no matter how many European design specialists* you might employ. When you discover that about sex, it’s pretty exciting – this elemental thing that connects you and your chosen one with the rest of humanity in a down and dirty sort of way. It’s sweaty and you contort your face in funny expressions and things happen that you’re not necessarily expecting and sometimes it goes on way too long and finally you lie there, panting and fulfilled. Just like childbirth. (See?)
Of course, with sex, you understand that this is a secret thing, to be shared only with your loved one (by which I mean the one you’re with), probably in the dark and under the covers (in Ireland, hot sweaty over-the-covers sex is something that only happens about once a year; the rest of the time you only take all your clothes off because you don’t want to look like a prude, but honestly you’d much rather keep all parts not vitally involved nicely insulated from draughts). The shock comes when you have a baby – the same sort of primitive, animal process, but in a brightly lit room, exposed to the four winds (or at least the air conditioning), with a whole bunch of people you only met once before parading through and peering and poking at your most delicate and intimate parts, and then asking you to do things like pee on the table.
As a girl, I was once a bit horrified by a TV depiction of birth – all that screaming and writhing and calling for hot water – and my mother, to save all hope of the lineage continuing, told me comfortingly that it wasn’t like that any more: it didn’t hurt these days, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine. Of course, then I went and turned my back on modern medicine and decided to have my babies as close to the old-fashioned way as I could manage, but I’m willing to bet that even with an epidural or a c-section, giving birth turns out to be a lot more like having sex on a spotlit stage (but less titillating, if that sort of thing turns you on) than you ever imagined it would. And you can’t even get drunk first.
I’m just warning you.
*When I moved here I was often amused to see things touted as being of “European design”, as if that would make them better. Becuase at home, we tend to think that all the newest, shiniest, coolest stuff comes from America. (It should really be Japan, but never mind that.) I didn’t think that something having been designed in, maybe, Ireland, would really be all that great. But after I while I came to understand that Americans like objects that come from places like Italy (strollers) or Denmark (furniture) and will pay much higher prices for something that says it was designed by Europeans. They don’t mean Dubliners, unless it’s Guinness.