November 16, 2007

Pashing, pan pipes and the joy of big hips

This week, the Postie and I had our first ante-natal class at a church hall in Newtown. There was quite a mix of people - from a young Polynesian couple, to a couple of outspoken hippies, to a couple who had been married 15 years and were having their first baby. I thought at the ancient ages the Postie and I are, we'd be one of the oldest in the class but we weren't by a long shot.

I had been anticipating sitting on the floor on mats and it being all very touchy feely with deep breathing like yoga for couples, but it wasn't and for that I'm relieved. We watched a video of some German couples in labour with the most ridiculous soundtrack - kind of like elevator pan pipe music drowning out the groans and screams of the women in labour. As one couple approached the big moment, the music suddenly became very dark and foreboding. In slo-mo, man kisses woman's head as baby's head comes out. As baby's shoulders come out, woman turns her head with an open mouth to pash her partner and has this look of joy on her face as baby slithers out into midwife's waiting hands. It was all very disturbing. The man - who we nicknamed Rolf - sported a moustache of the ugly kind, and his hair was bleached but growing out a bit. He took off for a quiet corner immediately after the birth as the woman cradled and cooed new baby completely oblivious to her partner's impending mental breakdown. Crazy Churmans.

We then had to split into fat women and support people groups - us fat women had to talk about what our expectations of labour were (scary) and what it would be like for our partners (also scary). There was a bit of talking about feelings, which is bizarre with a bunch of strangers, and I felt all kind of weird seeing the Postie go off with a bunch of men to talk about his feelings. The men had to talk about ways they can support us when we're in labour, and I couldn't help but think I don't really want any of that coddling, holding my hand crap thankyouverymuch - I just to get through the whole thing with the Postie still my boyfriend at the end of it, and with Tiny making it out into the world without any medical procedures being required. I’m not good with needles you see.

Here I was going to go into a rant about the politics of birth – of the ‘I’ll Take The Pain Relief Thanks’ camp versus the ‘Home Birth All The Way, Women Have Been Doing It For Thousands Of Years’ camp. But I don’t actually have strong feelings about any of it one way or another. I had a quick squizz at the World Health Organisation website a while ago when I read a newspaper report that 600 babies died in New Zealand last year (that’s between 20 weeks gestation and four weeks old) and found these thought-provoking stats.


  1. 1 out of 5 African women loses a baby during her lifetime, compared with 1 in 125 in rich countries.
  2. Each year nearly 3.3 million babies are stillborn, and more than 4 million others die within 28 days of being born.
  3. Newborn deaths now contribute to about 40% of all deaths in children under five years of age globally, and more than half of infant mortality.
  4. The largest numbers of babies die in the South-East Asia Region: 1.4 million newborn deaths and a further 1.3 million stillbirths each year.
  5. While the actual number of deaths is highest in Asia, the rates for both neonatal deaths and stillbirths are greatest in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 20 countries with the highest neonatal mortality rates, 16 are in this part of the world.
  6. It is estimated that each year over a million children who survive birth asphyxia develop problems such as cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and other disabilities.
  7. Nearly three quarters of all neonatal deaths could be prevented if women were adequately nourished and received appropriate care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period.


  1. Maternal mortality is currently estimated to be 529 000 deaths per year, a global ratio of 400 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births.
  2. Between 11% and 17% of maternal deaths happen during childbirth itself and between 50% and 71% in the postpartum period.
  3. About 45% of postpartum maternal deaths occur during the first 24 hours, and more than two thirds during the first week.
  4. Maternal deaths are even more inequitably spread than newborn or child death rates. Maternal mortality rates range from 830 per 100 000 births in African countries to 24 per 100 000 births in European countries.
  5. Of the 20 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios, 19 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  6. The most common cause of maternal death overall is severe bleeding. Postpartum bleeding can kill even a healthy woman within two hours, if unattended. The second most frequent direct cause of death is sepsis; the third is unsafe abortion.

So really, I feel pretty lucky to be just minutes away from a hospital with all the sciencey stuff if I need it, have four midwives looking after me, and for being blessed with big hips.

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