Feeling a bit uncomfortable?

Who wants to be told they have an incompetent cervix? Jane Purcell reports from the maternity ward

Jane Purcell, 4 December 2007

During an antenatal visit, while the midwife nipped off to find a consultant who didn't talk to patients in the third person ("I may be gone for some time," she said), I sneaked a peek at my medical notes. They were full of phrases I'd gotten used to, but gathered together seemed judgemental and nasty. "Incompetent cervix"? "Hostile cervical mucus"? Who dreamed up these terms?

There was also a long, drawn out account of my first labour."After fifteen hours of labour mum seems a bit uncomfortable." No shit Sherlock. Then in red pen the consultant had written: "Labour not progressing because of poor maternal effort." I picked up a pen and wrote: "I'd like to have seen you spend 18 hours pushing out a sofa sideways you ARSE," just as the consultant walked in with the midwife. "So how is she feeling today?" he asked the midwife as I looked around to see who he was talking to.

1. Senile Gravida

The dictionary definition of senile is: "mentally or physically weak or infirm on account of old age". Add gravida to this and you have a woman who has the nerve to want a baby after the age of 35. Strangely enough, no such description applies to men who suddenly rediscover fatherhood in their 60s, 70s or 80s. What about Death's Door Dad?

2. Incompetent Cervix

A sensitive phrase that really helps your feelings if you're in danger of, or have lost a baby in the second trimester because your cervix has dilated too early. Notably, an incompetent cervix can be caused by incompetent doctors performing a cervical biopsy or D&C while treating your sensitive parts like a cement mixer.

3. Hostile Cervical Mucus

For women struggling with infertility, the thought that your own vaginal mucus is against you, might tip you over the edge. What's with the 'hostile' bit? Is it beating up the approaching sperm and stealing its lunch money? Frankly yes. So why can't the sperm butch up a bit and stop crying and running away? However, this problem can often be sorted by a few daily spoonfuls of Robitussin cough medicine which thins out your mucus, allowing the man's sperm a smooth, easy ride. Of course if he has this problem it's called 'low sperm motility' which doesn't sound nearly as judgmental as say, Shambolic Sperm Syndrome.

4. A Bit Uncomfortable

In hospital having my second baby, the epidural hadn't worked. I was only 5cm dilated, barely able to breathe between tidal waves of pain, and in sweeps God in his white coat, surrounded by nervous second year students. "Feeling a bit uncomfortable?" says God, his eye sweeping over the chart. "Yes," I groan, pausing between writhings to vomit into a cardboard kidney-shaped bowl. "In the same way that if I slammed your testicles in a car door you might be feeling a bit uncomfortable." God didn't hear because he was telling the students "She's nearly in transition stage. This is the bit where she wants to go home and forget about it!" Actually this was the bit where I wanted to ram an operating table up his arse.

5. Baby Blues

It's a few hours after you've given birth. You're lying like a stunned mullet, leaking, exhausted, nipples like flaming torches. Your nether regions feel as though somebody threw a hand grenade down your pants. Your oestrogen and progesterone levels have plummeted faster than abrupt heroin withdrawal. Some medical person with a clipboard has just asked you if you've "had a think about contraception". Next to you, tightly curled, is the bizarre little creature that is entirely dependent on you. And the medical term for this primordial stew of shock, pain and hormonal horror? Baby Blues.

6. Hello - I'm from the Bounty Club!

There is a woman standing next to your hospital bed. Her smile is stretched. She's from the dreaded Bounty Club. Taking advantage of your post birth confusion, she presses a plastic bag on you. All you have to do in return is hand over your address. Resist at all costs! That bag is full of crappy leaflets, 1p off nappy vouchers and a few sachets of dried formula. You'll throw away 99% of it. Only now they have your address and you'll be getting parenty junk mail for the next 200 years. (Tip - if you really want the vouchers, give them a false address. My son is now 13 and some unfortunate woman in Scotland is currently getting loads of mail offering 2p off fluorescent ipod trainers)

7. Breastfeeding doesn't hurt

Oh yeah? Talk about big paper maternity pants on fire. The trouble is, we all know the benefits. My God, do we know the benefits. They're rammed down your throat during pregnancy, accompanied by pictures of women wearing Virgin Mary blue smocks and Alice bands smiling beatifically. But the gap between knowing why you should breastfeed and the experience of it is enough to drive away 55% of UK women in the first week. The reality is lying in a hospital bed, while an overworked midwife manoeuvres the baby's head onto your flinching nipple like two recalcitrant Hoover parts. "We're latched on!" she says in triumph, and rushes off while red hot needles puncture your breasts. Why not invest more money in midwives' pay so they have the time to really help women who want to breastfeed, instead of this endless stream of "breastfeeding makes your child a genius" statistics. They don't work. If you can breastfeed great. If you can't, don't beat yourself up. There's plenty of people out there who'll do that for you.

8. Hysteria

The mother of all medical malevolence. As every hysterical mother knows, Ancient Greeks believed that hysteria was caused by a uterus that wandered about over the body, causing women to do stuff that men didn't want them to do, like think for themselves. Thus the only known cure was to get rid of the uterus. Oddly enough, even though men may suffer from wandering cocks and may even proudly admit to thinking with them, nobody has ever suggested that a radical Cockectomy might be a cure.

Afterthought

If anyone has ever looked at their notes and saw NFI next to a set of symptoms, it means No Fucking Idea. Honest.

About the author

Jane Purcell

Jane Purcell is a writer/actor. Her work includes two Woman's Hour series for Radio 4, and comedy for Smack the Pony. She also writes for The Bad Mothers Club. Due to spectacular maternal mismanagement, she has a grumpy teenage son and a toddler daughter

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