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Brave New Mom

A True Story

by Michèle Laframboise

Brave new Mom

For all the mothers feeling crushed by the expectations of performance


When I was little, I didn’t want children.

The Earth was already overpopulated in the 1970s: at that time, pollution was the buzzword, not climate change, and we talked more about ecology than the environment. Later, I studied science: geography, because I loved nature and its myriad landscapes, then engineering, so I could take action.

Meanwhile, the declining birthrate plunged Québec’s intelligentsia into worried questioning, laced with affective nihilism. Would a lack of children signal the decline of the proud race of pioneers and explorers? Would the current generation of young women who could only boast of precarious underpaid joblets discover their mothering instincts? Would we survive? And, by the way, who exactly was this “we”?

At an age when most women resigned themselves to singleness, I got married. At 38, I was expecting the eldest of a joyous band of offspring that would redress the sad demographic profile. The blood of my pioneer ancestors, of my proud grandmothers, sang in my veins.



My pregnancy proceeded without problems or nausea.

Each hospital visit occurred in an ambiance as positive as the series of tests I underwent. My kind doctor assured me that all means to attenuate the biblical pain of childbirth would be at my disposal when my time should come. Warm bath, laughing gas, with the epidural as a last resort.

Breathing exercises? I asked. Not necessary, the personnel answered.

My contractions began on the morning of September 24, 1998. At first, they were discreet, almost shy, evoking a distant stomachache. After midday, they abandoned any discretion to grow in power, my stomach feeling like a pancake, doing flip-flops!

Around 3 pm, I called my mother, and described my symptoms over the phone. The intervals were less than three minutes. “Time to go!” she said.

She stormed down with my father (they were living nearby, and my husband was still at work) and off we went!

As the passenger, I remember each bump, each pot hole on the road between my quaint Mile-End lodgings and the entrance to the Ste-Justine hospital.

At last, after who-knows-how-many bumps, we turn into the hospital site.

As soon as I pass the doors, I become a patient.

An initial examination reveals that, despite the frequency of my contractions, I am not dilated enough.

The frequency decreases to one minute. My stomach had enough: I lose my lunch.

I tell myself: I am resistant. I have taken prenatal courses in the pool (but no breathing techniques, which were common in my mother’s time).

Meanwhile, the debate about the presence of midwives in hospitals continues to rage…

Ever the good student, I ask for the thingamajig that was supposed to help me crouch, in the position that had been used by women centuries before Louis XIV imposed a horizontal position because he wanted a piece of the show.

Nope. No thingamajig.

Instead, I find myself equipped with a batman-like munition belt strapped around my belly, round and flat monitors, to check the little one’s heartbeat.

I try to crouch on the floor, knees bent. The biblical pain diminishes. Oof! And the puff-puff-puff of breathing that I had learned is also helping.

Alas, the sensors belt keeps slipping off my belly, and the nurse asks me to lie down on the bed again.

I comply, groaning inward and outwardly.


Around supper time, my husband arrives.

I remember the light blue shirt he was wearing, his haggard face. By then the pain have affected my mood. And no warm baths are available either. Renovations to the maternity department had not been completed yet, although they were supposed to have been finished a few months earlier.

So, I manage a short ten-minute shower, with the help of my husband, sitting on the micro bench. The warm water eases the pain. However, I have to share that shower with other labouring women.

Back to the torture bed, with the very patient nurse.

A new examination by the doctor on duty reveals that, after 8 or 9 hours of painful stretching of the cervix, the opening was barely two centimeters. I need at least 9-10 for the baby to pass. So, bereft of any other recourse, I accept the intrusive, un-natural epidural.

(Here’s the place to include a long digression laced with guilt about my weakness of character under the biblical pain, my lack of courage facing adversity, while thinking about our valiant grandmothers risking death while pushing out a new life... Ay yi yi! I would have made a bad spy, denouncing everyone under torture, or even any moderately intense interrogation.)

I sign another paper that relieves everyone but me from liability.

The epidural, as imagined by the patient!

Another kindly nurse dressed in candy pink arrives with a tray laden with instruments. Something is connected to my back. It is just a little tube inserted in my spine, but it feels as if 17 pipes had been fastened to my back.

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