Monthly Archives: June 2011

What will you be grateful for today?

I chatted to Mike over breakfast for a good 45 minutes this morning. In one respect, at least, this three-hour time difference serves us well. Mike can get up at 6am (or, often, before) and make coffee and get breakfast. I am up at 9am having just finished mine, and we both at the same level of “awakedness” and being ready to embrace the day. Consequently, we have much more substantial conversations over a virtual breakfast table when we’re separated by the equator than we do when we’re living in the same house.

At home our morning routine for the past six months has involved Mike bringing a plate of fruit and a cup of tea up with him when he re-enters our bedroom to shower and get ready for work at 7am. I work on waking up while he’s in the shower, and our conversation usually consists of little more than me telling him about anything wacky I dreamed about the night before and asking him what he has planned for the day while he’s getting dressed.

No, wait, sometimes Mike also looks at me sharing my fresh mango with Zulu (who has been sitting patiently by the side of the bed waiting for just this moment) and shakes his head. Then Mike tells Zulu that he’s the luckiest dog in Laos and better nourished than many of the country’s children. Sadly – even though that little mutt’s diet consists mostly of dog food, fruit, empty yogurt containers, and the odd piece of cheese – this last statement is probably true.

Today, however, Mike and I covered all sorts of substantial topics in the early morning hours – recent allegations of deceptive marketing practices by Nestle of infant formula to mothers in Laos, boundaries in committed relationships around spending time alone with people of the opposite gender, and the more prosaic how we are both faring on this fine Tuesday morning.

“I don’t know,” I said, when Mike asked that last question. “I haven’t figured out yet what sort of day this is going to be.”

“What do you mean?” Mike asked.

“Well, every day is different at the moment,” I said. “Yesterday was a great day. We saw whales out to sea during breakfast. I had coffee with a friend in Lennox and spent too much money buying gourmet ice cream to bring home (purely as a present for my hard working mama, of course). There was a lovely sunset. I was happy. But two days ago many of these things also happened and I was definitely not happy. So every day is a bit of a puzzle at the moment mood-wise and I haven’t yet figured out which way today is going to swing.”

“Well, I command you to make today a good day by banishing negative thinking,” Mike said.

“You command me?” I said.

“Yes,” Mike said, flashing the particularly guileless and genuine grin I often see when he knows full well that he’s tap dancing on thin ice. “Because I am your husband and when I decree things then it’s your job to make them happen.”

Mike usually only says things like this when he’s safely out of striking distance – whatever else he might be, he’s not dumb.

“So, what are three things you are going to be grateful for today?” he asked while I was still glaring at him via skype video and flirting with the notion of playing right into his hands by rising to the bait.

“That’s changing the game,” I said. “The positive psychology exercise is to identify three good things that have already happened that day and their causes.”

“I’m a game-changer,” he said. “So, three things…?”

“OK,” I said, thinking about the upcoming day. “Tash is coming tonight to stay for five nights!”

“Good one,” Mike said, sighing only a little at the thought of missing out on that fun. “What else?”

“I can see trees tossing in the breeze out of every window,” I said. “Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, rainy or clear, it’s so beautiful up here.”

“And number three?” Mike asked.

I had a third one, I know I did, but now (a whole two hours later) I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. Never mind, now that I’ve started thinking about it there are plenty of things I could tack onto that list – not least of which is the fact that there are two cartons of gourmet ice cream in the freezer.

All the positive thinking and gratitude exercises in the world wont ensure a decent mood, of course, but they are one good place to start. What about you? What helps get your day off to a good start? What three things will you be grateful for today?

When fantasy diverges from reality: Adventures with dolphins and babies

Almost two and a half years ago now, Mike and I were driving towards Akaroa in New Zealand. It was the second last day of our honeymoon. We were on our way to swim with dolphins, and I was grumpy.

I’m not sure when the grumpy started. Possibly when I woke up and it was rainy and cold. Possibly when Mike asked me in the car what I was particularly looking forward to about swimming with the dolphins – something I’d wanted to do for at least a decade. 

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to see them up close, and swim with an animal that’s as big as me, and pet them.”

“OK,” Mike said. “Wait just one minute. For starters, I don’t think we’ll be able to touch them. You might want to recalibrate your expectations a little.”

I stared out the window of the car at the fine misty rain that was drifting across the road and sulked. I had already recalibrated my expectations once that morning with regards to this adventure. In my decade-old vision of swimming with dolphins it was always warm and sunny. The water was always a clear azure and calm. The dolphins always swam right up to me with friendly clickings and basically begged me to hug them, or even ride them. This adventure – the adventure that my brand-new spouse had gone to a lot of trouble to research and book as a special treat for me – was not looking like it was going to live up to that vision.

Things did not improve when we reached the dock. Assuming any of them actually showed up, our tour operator informed us, we’d be swimming with the world’s smallest dolphins. They were about the size of a hefty Labrador retriever. Their skin was so delicate we could damage it just by brushing up against them, and under no circumstances were we to try to touch them. The temperature was about 12 degrees Celsius (53F). We were going to have to wiggle our way into 5cm thick wetsuits. The water in the bay was clouded chalky white that cut visibility to almost nil. The swell was 3m high and I suddenly realized that I was in dire danger of becoming violently seasick unless I downed some anti-nausea medication, and fast. I really want to like boats, but the truth of the matter is they don’t usually like me.

Luckily there was a pharmacy located at the far end of the dock, and with half an hour to spare before sailing, Mike and I headed down there to look for some anti-seasickness medication.

On our way back towards the boat that was going to take us out to look for these small-ass, fragile dolphins in the middle of a freezing rainstorm, Mike tentatively offered the following observation.

“I don’t have many data points yet on what you’re like on a day when you get to do something you’ve wanted to do most of your life,” he said. “But so far experience suggests that you’re a little… difficult.”

“Well, you keep telling people that I’ve wanted to do this for years,” I said.

“Well, haven’t you?” Mike asked.

Yes, I wanted to say. But, but, but… But not like this. It’s numbingly cold. And what if we can’t find these teensy little dolphins? What if we find them, but it’s too dangerous to get off the boat and swim with them? What if I get seasick and spend the entire time throwing up?

Faced with the sudden reality of a “swimming with dolphins” experience that promised to diverge sharply from a romantic daydream I hadn’t even fully realized I held, I did not deal with my fears and frustrations with rational grace. I doubt I explained this tangle of disappointed anxiety very well in the moment. Probably the only thing I did do well in that moment was scowl.

I found myself thinking about swimming with these dolphins very early this morning. I had just stumbled back to bed after being up for the fourth time and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to find a comfortable position to lie in.

My visions of having children have never been as clearly defined as my tropical dreams of swimming with friendly dolphins, but as I get closer and closer to delivering this baby I’ve been finding myself increasingly surprised by fears that surface at odd moments and longings related to a rooted, domestic vision that I have never lived.

Sometimes when I’m alone and awake in the silent void of 3AM I let myself imagine briefly that Mike is here instead of Laos. That we live in Melbourne. That we have no plans to move anywhere else in the near future. That after the baby is born we’ll bring him back from the hospital to our house, and that Mike and I are not facing another month apart and then a long trip across the equator just weeks after the baby is born.

Then come the fears, because even in the dreamy pre-dawn I never let myself fully forget that this is not the reality that we have chosen to fashion for ourselves.

What if the baby arrives before Mike does? What is labour and delivery going to be like? What if something is wrong with the baby? And, further down the track, what will it be like to watch over a sick child out of reach of good medical care? How will this little one complicate our peripatetic lifestyle?

Swimming with dolphins that day in Akoroa turned out to be nothing like I’d imagined. On the other hand, most of my last-minute fears never materialized, either. I didn’t get seasick. We did find dolphins. And the captain gave us permission to leap overboard into the churning sea if we were game enough to brave the threatening waves.

Five of the twelve of us were.

I was first off the boat – mostly because I knew that if I let myself hesitate too long before jumping, I may never jump. The cold was breath-stealing and the grey swell picked me up and then dropped me six feet at a time. It took most of my energy to stay upright and tap the small stones that I was holding together. The dolphins, the crew had told us, would hear the clicking noise and come investigate.

They did, too. One minute there was nothing but pale freezing waves, the next there was a small fin just to my left and a silvery shadow skimming past. They circled around for more than half an hour, darting so close in between us, dipping up and down like excitable aquatic puppies. They were always in motion, impossible to see clearly, but undeniably, exhilaratingly, there.

When we finally managed to clamber back on board the boat we had blue lips and couldn’t feel our fingers or toes. It was far from the tropical azure and gentle friendliness I’d wanted but it had turned into an adventure valuable in its own right – something altogether wilder and less controllable, but thrilling.

It’s raining and cold here today, too. Mike and I have been apart more than five weeks with a month still to go and the separation is wearing thin. Part of me, I admit, wants to sit here and stare out into the wet mist and dwell on all the ways that this adventure of having our first child is not turning out exactly as I find myself wishing that it were.

But then I think of the dolphins again. I wonder whether our adventures would still feel adventurous if most of them turned out just as we envision. And I remind myself that experiences we do not expect, perhaps don’t even want, can end up being magical, too. 

Push It: Music for labour and delivery

A couple of days ago now I asked my facebook community a question. I do this regularly and it usually yields fascinating information (or at the very least some good laughs). I’m often surprised by how much people know (or appear to know) about the most obscure topics and how widely opinions can diverge among my friends.

A month or so ago, for example, I asked my facebook friends the following question: “To circumcise or not to circumcise – that is the question. Thoughts?”

I wasn’t at all sure anyone would touch this topic with a ten-foot pole so I was floored when this status update was the recipient of not just a couple, but several dozen comments. These ranged from the laconic and wildly funny, “At his age, I’d say Mike shouldn’t bother”, to more than one diatribe that basically equated circumcision with crimes against humanity. There were also a variety of stories about botched circumcisions or infections in the teen and adult years that were the result of not being circumcised as an infant. Some of these stories were so graphic and horrifying they belonged in book entitled True Life Stories of Controversial Medical Procedures.

Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the entire discussion thread when I was trying to remove some nude spam video from my profile. I took this as a sign that my next book should not be True Life Stories of Controversial Medical Procedures.

This week’s baby-related status question was this: “Thinking about music for a labour-playlist. Did you play music during labour and birth? Any good suggestions?”

Well over half of my own interactions on facebook trend towards flippant or sarcastic, so I’m not exactly sure why I expected people to take me seriously and flood me with advice regarding soothing cello concertos and celestial orchestral pieces. Perhaps because when you’re the one who’s staring down the line at this aforementioned “labour and birth” experience in less than two months it doesn’t look much like a laughing matter. Whatever the reason, I was honestly surprised at the recommendations I did receive. When I could actually bring myself to read them, however, I did laugh. Sort of. A little.

In no particular order, here are ten of the most outstanding (or egregious) recommendations I received for a labour playlist:

  1. Push It (Salt n Pepa)
  2. Gotta Get Out of This Place (by Barry Mann and Cynthis Weil)
  3. Hold the Fort (by Billy Bragg)
  4. The First Cut Is The Deepest (by Cat Stevens)
  5. Hurts So Good (by John Mellencamp)
  6. Bleeding Love (by Leona Lewis)
  7. Only Women Bleed (by Alice Cooper)
  8. Give Me Novocain (by Green Day)
  9. Take Away My Pain (by John Petrucci)
  10. This Party Sucks (by The Slicky Boys)

Thank you, facebook friends.

Now, for everyone who may actually be looking for something along those cello or orchestral lines I recommend the following:

  1. Suite No 1 in G Major for Solo Cello BMV 1007 (The Essential Yo Yo Ma)
  2. Thais: Meditation (The Essential Yo Yo Ma)
  3. The Lady Caliph – Dinner (Yo Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone)
  4. Amazing Grace (Duane Funderbunk)
  5. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor (Classical Chill Disc 2)
  6. Pachabel: Canon (Classical Chill 1)
  7. Haydn: String Quartet in C Major Op.76 No. 3 (Classical Chill 1)
  8. Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor Op.18 (Classical Chill 2)
  9. Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.16 (Grieg: Greatest Hits)
  10. On Earth As It Is In Heaven (Ennio Morricone, The Mission)

What about you? Did you play music during labour and delivery? What? Got any recommendations to add to either one of these lists?

Family talk about the memoir

It started shortly after I arrived here four weeks ago. Mum was asking me where I was up to with my next book, and I told her that my agent, Chip, had it and was getting ready to send it to interested publishers next month.

“And how many of those are there?” She asked.

“I don’t exactly know,” I said. “But he said there are at least half a dozen people who’d like to see the full manuscript when we’re ready.”

Mum looked… well, “doubtful” is too strong a word. More like “slightly confused.”

“But… why?” She asked.

“What do you mean, why?” I repeated.

“Well they haven’t seen anything yet, so how do they know they want to see something?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them read my last book. Some of them have been browsing the blog. Maybe some of them owe Chip a big favour. I don’t completely understand how it all works, to be honest.”

“Me either,” Mum said. Then she went a step further. “Also, I just don’t see how this book is going to appeal to as wide an audience as your last book.”

“I think you’re wrong there,” I said. “If it sells, and that’s still a big if, then I think this book has the potential to appeal to a far larger audience than Hands did.”

Mum did not look at all convinced.

This was not the end of the conversation – this topic has come up several times during the last month. Just the other day we were talking about Francine Rivers’ new book and I casually mentioned that I thought her first book, A Voice In The Wind, was the best she’d ever written.

“I think that of a lot of authors,” Mum said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Like Bryce Courtney and The Power of One…

I was going to go on to list others but Mum got there first… with my name.

“Maybe like Lisa McKay,” she said.

“Mother!” I said, laughing but amazed. “What a thing to say!”

“Yes,” she said, only slightly abashed. “I guess it is.”

So, yesterday as we were driving into town, I brought it up again.

“Do you really think this book isn’t going to do well?” I asked. “I mean, for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing it to Hands because they’re totally different genres. One’s a suspense novel and the other is a reflective memoir woven around a romance story.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mum said. “And I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I don’t really know.”

“What??” This time I was honestly shocked. “You haven’t read the whole thing? Quite apart from the fact that that could deeply wound me if I were more fragile, how do you know I didn’t say something about you that you’ll hate?”

“Oh,” Mum said. “I trust your filters.”

This was getting truly bizarre given that exactly a month earlier I had been sitting across the breakfast table from my parents, having just disembarked the plane from Laos, while they asked me not to put anything on the blog about them without their prior approval while I was living at home.

“Well if you haven’t read the whole thing,” I said, “and you admit you don’t know all that much about the publishing industry, what would possess you to say things like ‘I don’t think this book will do as well as your first’?”

Mum squirmed just a little, unusual for her.

“I never meant to say that,” she said. “I guess I just meant to say that you had such an amazing experience the first time around being picked up by the first publisher you queried, and getting almost universally positive reviews, and having everyone tell you that you were wonderful… and it might not be like that this time around. I guess I just don’t want you getting your hopes up too high.”

“That is a very fair point,” I said. “But here is my point. With something that’s as deeply personal and important as this sort of project, maybe if you can’t honestly say, ‘Wow, I think this book is going to do just great’, maybe you should reconsider whether you say anything at all at this stage of the process. And, if you do, maybe you should work harder to phrase it more softly. You could, for example, say something like, ‘I’ll be interested to see if this book turns out to be as universally well-received as Hands.’

“That is also a fair point,” Mum said, as she pulled into the parking lot.

There was a brief silence.

“So, are you finished?” Mum asked, looking commendably grave given that she was clearly also battling the strong temptation to laugh.

“For now,” I said, getting out of the car.

“OK then,” Mum said, swinging into task mode. “Could you please stop and pick up the bread and then I’ll meet you at the grocery store in five or so minutes?”

“Sure,” I said.

Five minutes later I was standing just outside the grocery store having been waylaid by tempting tables full of bargain books, when Mum approached.

“I thought I’d find you here when I saw the books laid out,” Mum said. “And have I told you lately what a smashing success I think your next book is going to be?”

As I laughed she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

Juggling different worlds

I wrote an overdue email to someone far away today. I met Lynne for the first time in Kenya in 2004 when I took advantage of an introduction by a mutual friend and showed up at her house in Nairobi, still suffering from the worst bout of food poisoning I had ever had in my life. She fed me apple juice and yogurt smoothies and two days later we went on safari in the Masai Mara together for three nights. You bond quickly when you’re sharing a tent and getting before dawn to go be wowed by scenes like these:

Since then, Lynne and I have crossed paths regularly around the world – in restaurants in New York and DC, on houseboats in Amsterdam, and at her place in Atlanta. She is a lot of fun and one of the many people I would enjoy living closer to.

But instead there is email and skype, and today I jotted her a note for the first time in months. I started by saying I’d been meaning to write for weeks and that I didn’t know where time had gone recently.

On days like today, when it’s cold and raining here and I haven’t even bothered to get out of my pajamas yet, I can reach 6pm and puzzle over what, exactly, I’ve been doing. How is it possible, I sometimes wonder, that I’ve been bouncing from project to project, working relatively well, and yet I haven’t crossed off more than half of the things on my to-do list? Why am I still perpetually behind on emails and phone calls? And why is very little connected to preparing for the baby making it into the half that’s actually getting done?

Lest I alarm the extremely maternal (or paternal) among you, I am making some progress in relation to all things baby. I’ve washed the clothes we’ve been given (though I haven’t folded them all yet). I’ve made a list of small, practical gifts people could give us at an upcoming baby shower that lovely people from Mum and Dad’s church are organizing. I’m currently reading a book called Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood – a rather fascinating memoir that looks at motherhood through the lens of Zen Buddist teachings.

But the baby is still only getting a certain amount of brain space (and boy, am I ever starting to wish I could impose similar limits on the amount of body space he was getting). For there are things still to be done before he arrives – things as dissimilar from buying baby wipes and diapers as a tent in Kenya is from a houseboat in the Netherlands.

For starters, there’s the consultancy on wellbeing and humanitarian work. For a project on wellbeing there’s an awful lot of trauma material that needs to be incorporated. The other reading material I’ve dipped into today, for example, focused on psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and collective trauma following atrocities and killings during a civil conflict in Sri Lanka. First thing tomorrow I will be starting A Human Being Died That Night – a memoir plumbing South Africa’s apartheid years and wrestling with questions of transitional justice. I’m aiming to wrap up this consultancy in the next four weeks, and I doubt I’ll mind taking a couple of months away from this sort of material.

Then there’s the memoir, which my agent is planning to start sending to publishers next month. That’s great news, but it also means that I need to spend some time pulling together all the bits and pieces that traditionally go in a book proposal – a bio, an outline, and information about my author platform and strategic connections that may assist with marketing. You’d think I’d know how to summarize the book in a couple of sentences after having actually written the thing, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

And there’s talking to Mike for an hour or so every night, doing some exercise, spending time with extended family here, filing insurance claims, and so on. I am not short on things to do.

Today I haven’t minded juggling these diverse mental worlds. Some days I can feel a bit fragmented, and I’m aware some of these worlds are going to need to take a dive on the priority list in the near future, but overall it’s good to have a bunch of different, interesting things to do right now when it’s quiet, cold, raining and I can’t be bothered to get out of my PJs.

What about you? What different mental worlds are you juggling at the moment? Are you finding it stimulating or are you feeling fragmented?

AWOL: Personality, good mood, and ability to focus

Making a scary lion face at temples in Cambodia

I’m not sure what’s happened to my personality this week, but I don’t like it. Sure, the week started with some sort of stomach bug or food poisoning that had me throwing up or curled up in bed moaning most of Monday night, but it’s now Friday. I’m mostly over it. There’s no call to find myself sighing with exasperation every time I have to get up in the middle of the night. Or annoyed when Mum decides to take it into her head to unstack the dishwasher at 7am and wakes me up after I’ve been up too late reading (I know, right in her own home, what was she thinking??). Or seemingly unable to find the motivation to tackle the normal sorts of tasks that need doing – work on consultancy, draft proposal to go to publishers next month, do pregnancy yoga or go for a walk, refer to list marked “To Do Before Baby” and do something, anything.

I have managed to stay away from the chocolate that Mum thinks she’s effectively hidden underneath the lettuce in the bottom drawer of the fridge – but that’s mostly because whenever I think of it I just can’t be bothered to get up and get any.

Even when I have been in a semi-decent mood this week I’ve been vague. Very vague.

On Tuesday night Dad hopped on a plane to go to South Sudan for a month to finish his own consultancy (because Dad has technically been retired for 7 years now and this is the sort of thing retired people do, apparently). So on Wednesday I set out with Mum to do something useful – namely, to help her with the grocery shopping since otherwise she would have to do it by herself.

I think within three minutes of us walking into the store she wished she was doing it by herself.

I’ve been here three weeks now and this was the first time I’d braved the grocery store. At least I didn’t find myself overwhelmed by the tidal wave of confusion and angst that can strike when you abruptly encounter an over-abundance of choice after spending months doing your shopping in a store approximately the size of a bedroom. No, but I was rather happily dazed by it all. I wandered around the fruit section, touching stuff and reading all the descriptive labels above the seven different types of apples with great fascination. When I finally got around to rejoining Mum there were already 20 or so items in the cart. I put in my contributions – an eggplant and rhubarb (neither of which were on the list) – with triumph.

“What are those for?” my mother asked.

“Oh,” I said. “The eggplant is just so pretty and purple, I can use it in something. And we can’t get rhubarb in Laos. I can make a crumble.”

Mum decided that a more directive approach in relation to my “helping” might be in order.

“Go to the next aisle and pick out the yogurt you want,” she instructed.

I did – two types. At least that was on the list. But I also picked out fresh pasta, parmesan cheese, malted milk power (for biscuits I’d suddenly decided I wanted to make), and oats.

The next time Mum and I crossed paths she tried another tack.

“You can push the trolley,” she said.

And I did, until I left it in the middle of the baking aisle to look for cocoa.

“My handbag and wallet are sitting on the seat of that trolley,” Mum reminded me when she turned the corner and saw this state of affairs.

“It’s right there,” I said, waving down the aisle. “I can see it if something happens.”

Mum did not look convinced. She retook possession of the trolley and, probably desperate by now, made her biggest strategic mistake of the afternoon. She sent me to the end aisle to look for frozen berries for the rhubarb crumble I had envisioned. And what stood between me and the end aisle? That’s right… the ice cream freezers.

I was happily engrossed in checking out the ingredients in hazelnut gelato when I heard my name being called commandingly from the end of the aisle. When I looked up Mum was pointing sternly behind me, at the berries.

I never did get my hazelnut gelato, but I also don’t think I got anything else that was actually on the list except yogurt. And I was so exhausted by the whole expedition that I also never got around to making my rhubarb crumble, or doing much of anything that night, actually, except watching TV and feeling sorry for myself that Mike was not here to rub my aching back and fetch me chocolate.

Yes, much of the week has been spent like this – seesawing between vague and unreasonably pissy. Really. I’m sure Mum is just relishing all this extra mother and daughter time we’re having now that Dad’s back in Sudan. Really.

But today is a new day. Today is a new day. Today is a new day. And I might even make a crumble.

Going it solo in childbirth classes

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, I know. This is partly because Mum and Dad refuse to get a puppy, despite my constant pestering, so I am without cute puppy stories to share. And it’s partly because Mum and Dad don’t seem to want me to put up stories about them, so I am without entertaining parental stories. But mostly it’s been because I’ve been tired, tired, tired.

I’m now feeding the baby extra iron and calcium every day and hopefully that’ll help on the fatigue front.

So I went to my first childbirth class yesterday. Alone. Reminding myself that plenty of people do this solo for real so I have few grounds to be indulging in self-pity on that front. This stern talking to mostly helped. Mostly.

Anyway, maybe there was some good that came out of Mike not being able to be there (namely that he didn’t get to compare me to the three other women in the class and wonder just how far off the normal beaten path I habitually wander). For if Mike had been there, he would have witnessed the following moments:

1.     The birth educator (who will also be my doula, let’s call her Jade) asks each of us to introduce ourselves and explain the sort of birth we would like:

All three other women speak with great fervour of their desire to have a natural (drug-free) birth. One insists that she has her heart set on a lotus birth (and whoever knows what that is, fill me in below). I say, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m interested in learning about natural birth, especially water birth, but I totally have not ruled out the use of epidurals, pethidine, and maybe general anesthetic.”

2.     Jade describes with misty-eyed nostalgia how, when she was thirty weeks pregnant and fully into the nesting stage, she used to buy lots of tiny new baby clothes. Then she’d put them away neatly, only to find herself going to her baby cupboard every two days to hold these clothes up, marvel at how small they were, and imagine her baby in them. Jade turns to me (since I’m the most pregnant in the class by several weeks) and asks if I’ve found myself doing that.

“Ah, not exactly,” I say. “I haven’t actually bought the baby any clothes yet, but lovely friends have given us some and the other day I did sort them into two piles – ‘clean’ and ‘needs washing’. That’s a good start, isn’t it?”

3.     Jade informs us that it’s not unusual for pregnant women to have very vivid and unusual dreams and asks if any of us have been having any of those.

“I have!” I said. “Last month I dreamed I was a brown bear and when I woke up I was still convinced I was a bear. I mean, I sometimes wake up forgetting where I am, but I’ve never woken up really thinking that I was a different species before.”

“Um,” Jade said, after she stopped laughing. “Anyone having unusual dreams about babies?”

Oh, right… unusual dreams about babies. Nope. Not unless my one dream that I forgot to feed the baby all day, and then left it behind when I went out to dinner with Mike and my parents counts.

Actually, that probably does count. So maybe I’m normal on this front after all.

4.     Jade tells us that we’ve all probably received mostly negative messages about labour and birth from the media (who tend to turn it into a dramatic plot-point) and maybe from our mothers as well. She tells us that she wants us to practice replacing the word “pain” with the phrase “strong and powerful experience” whenever we think about labour. Then she instructs us to close our eyes and do a visualization exercise where we focus on the word “pain” and then on the word “soft” several times. Then she asks us all what we noticed.

All the others in the class speak quite poetically about how they felt their attention narrow and their bodies tense up when focusing on the word pain, and relax and soften when they focused on the word “soft”.

“And what did you experience?” Mike asked, when I described this whole exercise to him later via skype.

“Well, uh, I was a bit distracted,” I said. “For one, the baby was stamping on my bladder. And I was also busy being annoyed that we couldn’t just call a spade a spade, acknowledge pain as pain, and just talk about these exercises as pain management strategies rather than trying to put a ‘strong and powerful’ gloss on it.”

“Well,” Mike said. “You are, as usual, making a very good and logical point. But given what I know of labour, it seems likely that you’ll get to the point somewhere during the whole process when all of your considerable and logical intellect isn’t going to do you a single bit of good. So perhaps next time you should consider not being quite so logical and just enter into the spirit of things.”

So it seems that Mike doesn’t need to be physically present to put his two cents in, and perhaps it’s wise he voices these opinions while he’s still safely out of reach.

Have you ever attended childbirth classes? Did you learn anything especially interesting or helpful?