I was in biology class, circa 1995, and Mrs McLeod was valiantly trying to teach 30 adolescent students about reproduction.
One particular comment by Mrs McLeod stuck in my memory: "Girls, if you are pregnant, get an epidural during labour." And as she uttered the word epidural, her face melted into ecstasy.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I was very pregnant. With just seven days to go, I'd got it all planned: master the art of hypnobirthing, prepare a month's worth of nutritious meals, reunite odd socks with their significant other, and visit everyone I'd ever known in the furthest suburbs possible.
As I contemplated my to-do list, a few rogue abdominal twinges distracted me. My partner noticed me wince and said, "You're going into labour".
"Fiddlesticks," I scoffed. It was surely the practise contractions they'd told us about in the antenatal classes – just Mother Nature's dress rehearsal.
As the contractions inched closer together, I scuttled off to the kitchen to grimace in private. Could the baby really be coming, even though the spice rack wasn't ordered alphabetically?
At that point, my brother's wise words (a father of two, medical professional and all-round sensible guy) came to me: "The consistent thread is having support and resilience, and having trained physical and mental tools to deal with pain, stress and uncertainty ..."
Dang. At this stage I was physically and mentally tool-less. The plan was to get tooled up in the next week. Not being a fan of pain, I was very open to all methods – chemical, psychological, new age crystals and prayer – to help avoid it. I certainly wasn't shy about medication. In fact, my policy on this was, in the immortal words of Britney Spears, "Gimme gimme more".
Googling 'labour pain', I tried to speed read the section on pain management techniques but the letters blurred before me. As my contractions increased in both frequency and ferocity, I had to concede that now was not the time to find a peer-reviewed paper on the merits of hynobirthing versus calmbirth. Now was the time to call an Uber.
Thankfully two people – not three – arrived at the hospital, and we were shown to our quarters. This was the room where I'd play my carefully curated playlist while splashing around the hot tub. Maybe a Scrabble match and a light luncheon would also be on the cards. Then I'd light the lavender-scented candles, sit in the half lotus position, get all drugged up and sail through labour with a numb lower half and an opiated smile.
As I writhed around on the bed, my obstetrician, Pip, came in and popped a well-qualified hand up my lady part, looked a trifle surprised and announced that I was 8cm dilated. Perhaps Scrabble would have to wait.
Her prognosis explained why, in the last few minutes, my gentle bovine lowing that accompanied each contraction had become a blood-curdling howl. Pregnant ladies in neighbouring wards, couples on the hospital tour, and everyone else in the southern hemisphere heard my unearthly cries and instinctively clenched their pelvic floor muscles.
Pip then decided that the energy I was expending on my Mongolian throat yodelling could be better channelled: it was time to push this behemoth out. As everyone gathered round my front bottom, I rued the fact I hadn't made time for a vajazzle, or at least rearranged my haemorrhoids in a more fashion-forward way.
Whilst adopting a series of gravity-friendly birthing positions (each more indecent than the last), I thought it was time to pull out the big guns and enquire about the pain relief – simply breathing through the pain didn't seem to be cutting it.
This, I felt sure, was the moment I would understand Mrs McLeod's epidural ecstasy.
I assumed there'd be some kind of pain steward on hand who would present me with a menu and talk me through the daily specials. Turned out there was no such person. And the nurse said the only thing available to someone as dilated as me was the gas and air, though that, she continued, can make you feel a bit woozy. I declined the gas and air, thinking, 'Who would want to feel dizzy when you could feel like you're laying a dinosaur egg?'
So this birth was going to be one without pain relief. What an insult to the pharmaceutical industry. On I pushed, assisted by a Panadol taken six months back and the simple truth that – with the baby's mohawk now bobbing in and out – it was probably too late to turn back.
After four hours of perforating eardrums and the odd sensation that I'd birthed a squid, Holly Hines skidded onto planet earth. Following close on her coat-tails was the placenta, Hank, and I was thrilled he was all curves and no fingernails.
And that is how I gave birth (far too) naturally. They say you forget the pain of labour as soon as you are handed your baby. No siree: I have a very good memory. Though little did I know that more was to come from massacred nipples, dealing with Centrelink and the agony of recalling what three hours' continuous sleep felt like.
As I lay cradling my baby, I wondered if it was too late to claim my epidural. After all, everyone knows that the first post-birth BA (hospital speak for bowel action) can be as harrowing an experience as giving birth itself.