August 21, 2018 by Martha B. Crocker
Preparing for Childbirth in Portugal
Shortly you’ll be giving birth. By now, you must have looked into what you need for the first days and weeks, you have a plan, and you feel ready. Or maybe you don’t feel ready…meaning you are realistic. We are never ready.
Preparations are something we make to provide ourselves with a false sense of readiness. I believe we should always know and have the essentials, but waste no time with the rest. So be practical. Learn the Heimlich maneuver and how to provide basic first aid.
If you are giving birth here in Portugal, I’ve got some practical tips. I’m by no means a professional, but I have been through it twice, so that’s something. Just remember that sooner than you think you will be eating raw cheese and drinking wine again.
“Que a tua hora seja curta.” (May your hour be short.)
PUBLIC TRANSPORT, THE SUPERMARKET, FINANÇAS, AND SEGURANÇA SOCIAL
Being pregnant is like being hungover for nine months without the drinking. You throw up at the most inconvenient times and there is no end to all the burping and farting. Every time you cough or sneeze you now pee in your pants. Uncomfortable, unsanitary, and certainly embarrassing. There is no possible romantic perspective, except when it comes to waiting.
Feel free to curse and insult everyone. Demand your seat on public transportation by staring at people who will not get up and sticking your belly in their faces. Use your belly to get ahead in lines. Do you have any business at the Finanças or Segurança Social? Now is the time to get it done! Do not be ashamed. Be rude, skip lines, fart and burp to your heart’s content. You’ve earned that priority pass.
HOSPITAL BAG ESSENTIALS: RABAÇAL CHEESE AND PAPER UNDIES
By now, you have probably been told that you need a bag and what to put in it at least 50 times. If you’ve learned anything, you will lie and say, “Oh what a wonderful idea, I am absolutely going to put that stuffed pony in my bag, of course!” Go online and get a checklist, they are all the same.
What you really need is:
Food: It’s called labor because it’s a lot of heavy pushing rewarded by a tasteless, minuscule hospital meal — if you’re lucky. You need a proper meal suited to fully replenish you after the tremendous effort that is pushing a child larger than a Thanksgiving turkey into the world.
What I recommend is: Rabaçal cheese, a steak (pre-cooked and wrapped up in foil), and a generous dose of pudim abade de priscos. The Rabaçal cheese tastes nice, is very nutritious, and has an intensive smell of dirty feet that will be useful in canceling out all the other unpleasant smells surrounding you. Bring along some prunes as well to get your body working towards its first poo.
Microlax: No one ever talks about it, but your butt takes a beating. Be kind to your ass. Poo, but do it gently. At check-out time, the hospital will keep you and your child hostage until you poo. There is a very efficient laxative you stuff up there to make everything come out in two seconds with no pain: Microlax. The method is certainly not elegant, but it’s essential. You can get this at any farmácia.
Paper underwear: Dirty undies and all the stuff glued to them is the kind of gory horror movie you don’t want to be confronted with. Pick up a pack of disposable undies at Continente or Jumbo for 3€. Now is not the time to try to be eco-friendly. Make up for your shame by investing in some reusable nappies for the little one.
Headphones and music: In general, public hospitals will have you in a shared room, sometimes with more than three of you there at a time. Music can help you ignore your neighbors and/or endure the first hours of labor. It could set the mood for a little hip swaying to get the baby’s head into position. You will no longer use them once you evict your tenant because you will want to listen every minute, just to make sure the tiny monkey breathes.
Disinfectant: Something that does not burn, like betadine iodine. Going to the bathroom after giving birth requires disinfecting the entire damaged area between your legs each time you go. There’s no point in explaining why you don’t want to use alcohol down there.
GROOMING FOR CHILDBIRTH: EMBRACE YOUR INNER PORN STAR
Your child is meant to come out through the vaginal canal, which is supposed to stretch as much as required to allow the child to get out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always stretch enough, so the doctors have to cut on one of the sides to allow more room for the child to pass, and then sew it back together.
For this purpose, you need to be completely shaved, like you are about to shoot porn. Your options are to shave it, get a Brazilian wax, or get a laser treatment done. If you are not ready, those not-so-nice ladies at the hospital will get you ready, and they aren’t exactly salon-trained. It’s best to avoid having people cut you. I recommend making an appointment at the Clínica do Pêlo to have some areas permanently zapped while manicuring the inner area. Why not? There’s no reason to have hair in some places and one zap should take care of it. If you’d prefer a wax, most salons around town offer that service.
IF YOUR MANTRA IS “GIVE ME DRUGS!”
Hospitals are always a mess, but we do have free drugs and doctors. Well, doctors not always, but we have drugs. Focus on the one truly important thing, and repeat after me: “Give me drugs!” Again: “Give me drugs!” Yes, you got it right. Now, were you given drugs?
If not, scream. Say you are about to press criminal charges. If so, congratulations, at this point you no longer give a f**k.
Look at the 300-pound woman on the other side of the room. She brought 12 kids into the world and doesn’t give a shit about yoga, doulas, music, and is generally against taking baths. She may not smell nice but she knows how to get it done. You are in peace and feel no pain. Are the drugs wearing off? Starting to feel again? Ask for more. Demand more!
You are now dressed in an ugly, worn-out, backless smock and are having contractions, maybe your water broke, maybe not. You have not seen a doctor since the anesthesiologist came in. Most likely the doctor will not be there while you give birth.
Note: delivering during a major league soccer game or a classic like Benfica-Sporting is just plain reckless.
In any event, you are likely to give birth with a midwife and a cleaning lady (in case of poo). Breathing exercises are useful at this stage. Drugs are more useful.
Drugs will prevent you from feeling most of the pain of the actual birth, but you will still feel everything. The head will, in principle, be the first thing out. You will push hard. Then you will relax for a few seconds and push hard again. You will feel the shoulders, then the rest is easy. And there it is, your amazing monkey. There are no words to describe it, so let’s not try. Plus, you are not done yet. You need to get the placenta out.
Don’t eat it. It is disgusting and rude.
You are probably staring in awe at your child and it will take some time before you start to realize the extent of the damage done to your body. Your ass is destroyed. There is a strong possibility the force you used to expel your child made the bottom of your intestine protrude and you now have hemorrhoids. Talk to the doctor. There is no option other than to deal with it; get some medication and hemorrhoid cream.
Your ladyparts have likely been cut and now have fresh stitches and a bloody crust. You need to pee. Getting pee in your scar will burn and infect the entire thing. You do not want to pee, but you have to. Pee, wash, disinfect. In the process, you will have to touch and become aware of the damage you would rather not know about.
Worse is to come. You will eventually have to poo. You are required to poo. Of course, you do not want to poo. Remember you had a queijo Rabaçal, a steak, and a pudim abade de priscos, but you needed those. Do not bother to try to poo without microlax. You will be relieved to see that you are successful, the stitches do not break, and you are fine! Nice! Now wash and disinfect your ass.
You will be examined, the baby will be weighed and measured, and the nurses will teach you how to give the baby a bath and how to breastfeed. It is an interesting experience, although uncomfortable and without privacy. You will be alone most of the time (visiting hours are limited), your partner will not be able to be with you, and you want to go home.
If you are unlucky, an entire team of OBG interns will go through your private parts. It sucks, but just forget it: you are almost done. Finally, the baby is in the egg (a baby carrier required to leave the hospital whether you have a car or not) and ready for their first car ride. Your bag is ready, still smelling like queijo Rabaçal. The paperwork is signed and filled. You are now on your way home with a baby.
You arrive home, gather your monkey and the bag and focus on trying not to drop the monkey. You finally open the door and walk in. It is terrifying as f**k. There should be useful and wise advice at this point. There is none.
You are on your own, but now as a family.