Another gorgeous day here – so much so that one might almost forget Sydney is in the blue-fingered grip of winter. Nice to see all the kids out playing, like the pair of girls I saw this afternoon laughing hysterically as they rolled down the grassy hill at Shelley Beach. It was rather tempting to join them – I haven’t rolled down a hill in years.
I was talking to my friend B from PhD (in her case post-doctoral fellow) days today – she’s about to have Baby #2. We were laughing at the way women sometimes behave toward other women, and I wonder now if men find it all pretty terrifying and foreign, or if they think the same applies just as much to their relationships with each other – I’d be very interested to know. Because what I do know for sure is that female-to-female relationships – when we’re not happily rolling down hills – can be pretty fraught, and pregnancy takes some of these tensions to a whole new level.
At about the Week 9 mark, I ran into a friend downtown headed in the opposite direction. After exchanging pleasantries, she said hopefully, nodding eagerly, “Feeling sick, are you?”
“Actually, no,” I said. “Luckily I seem to have dodged that bullet.”
She narrowed her eyes, flicked them over me and said, “No sickness at all?”
I had the unmistakable feeling I’d given the wrong answer.
“Um… no. But it sounds awful; I do feel really fortunate.”
After that, she just couldn’t get away from me fast enough. When another friend learned I hadn’t been struck down by morning sickness, she laughed gaily, topped up her wine and said, “Not to worry! You’ll probably get varicose veins instead!”
And indeed I probably shall – they run in the family. But what am I supposed to say to that? “Gosh, thanks! Here’s hoping!” A third friend, upon learning I’d been feeling well, stared at me over their dinner table before muttering, “I’m so happy for you,” looking very unhappy, and rather more like she wanted to stab me. Llew was there for that, which was great, because I think he previously thought I was making it up. Then she added, “Oh well, you had such a hard time getting pregnant, didn’t you, so I suppose that’s all right then.”
What – I ask you – does that even mean?!
I had absolutely no idea that other women were going to take my absence of nausea so personally. My friend B’s equivalent war stories centred around her weight gain (which looked perfectly modest to me, just the result of being 37 weeks pregnant with a boy), with the most popular barb being to insist that she must, just must be expecting twins. “Nope,” she says, “just the one.”
“Get out! Are you sure? Nooooo… It’s gotta be two!”
“Pretty sure it’s one. O-n-e. So they tell me.”
“My god, you’re GIGANTIC!”
“Uh huh. Thank you.”
Then come the midwife stories. I’ve been hearing a lot of those. In fact, I’ve heard so many that I’m starting to wonder if there is some kind of sadism involved in some women’s decision to enter the profession. How else to explain it? B said, “The one piece of advice I wish I’d paid more attention to was, ‘Be prepared for at least one bitch midwife.’ Because it’s true.”
I shook my head. “In the wrong job?”
“No,” she said, “they love it. There are really, really nice ones too, but of course it’s the bitch you remember. There are some who are real… bullies. They boss you around until you find yourself sobbing in the shower like you’re in Cell Block D.”
At this point I’m sure I looked completely aghast.
“But I’m sure yours will all be lovely,” she hastened to add, but neither of us believed her.
Truth is, I have heard this cautionary tale about some midwives, lactation consultants and nurses – always with the strenuous caveat that the rest of them are fantastic – from just about every mother I know. One said she was subjected to undisguised contempt after the birth until the nurses learned her caesarean was an emergency rather than elective decision. Another said her inability to instantly grasp the technicalities of breastfeeding earned her the scorn of a lactation consultant, so extreme that she found herself physically and psychologically unable to keep trying. It goes on. So you have to wonder if these people are just having a bad day, or a bad week, or if they’ve just seen it all too many times to care that it’s still a new mother’s first, or if on some level they actually enjoy seeing and/or making other women suffer.
Because some women seem to actively dislike other women. It’s true. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what’s behind it or where it comes from or what it means, but I have met women who clearly do not like women. They’re out there, no question. And what better place to exact some obscure revenge on their sex than in the labour and maternity wards, places where women are absolutely at their most vulnerable? You have to admit it makes a sick kind of sense. It does tarnish that rosy mental picture of kindly caregivers somewhat, but at least I’ve been warned, so instead of bursting into tears, should someone be mean to me at the hospital, perhaps I’ll be able to look the bully in the eye and say, “Please don’t speak to me like that.” Maybe I should start practising now, just in case.