I hate pain. Yet after the birth of my first daughter went so well, I quickly became a "natural birth" fanatic. I felt it my duty to forget how much giving birth hurts in order to convince other women to endure needless hours of agony, too, in the name of "doing what nature intended".
I have sat in hospital waiting rooms and haphazardly recommended to strangers they "enjoy the sensation of helping your child to be born". Oh, puhlease! I'm only amazed I was never told to f*** off. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to any women who suffered as a result of my premature smugness.
Still, God laughs at those who make plans, and last week he must have been doubled over with mirth when I arrived at the birth centre whimpering in pain. Struggling out of my clothes, I shuddered semi-naked through a racking contraction. I felt I was coping well, so far. You see, modern birth has become another way of boasting "I am New Woman, hear me roar". If a colleague gives up caffeine, you have to fast for a month. If your mate starts doing yoga, you take up yoga-boxing (yes, it really does exist). If your neighbour gives birth chanting, you burn incense and have a water birth, etc, etc . . .
Childbirth is still scary, though. Every time a newspaper runs the headline "She should be with us now, says distraught new dad", a thousand women must promise themselves C-sections and epidurals, even if this means condemning yourself to your dreary, understaffed local hospital.
I didn't. I gave birth in five-star luxury this time. Because of my conviction that natural childbirth is "good" childbirth, I went five minutes down the road to the birth centre instead. On arrival, I was taken to a private room decked out in Bournemouth chintz, complete with its own birthing pool, CD player and en suite bathroom. There are overnight "suites" - those with a double bed for partners. Visitors are allowed 24/7 - plus there's a kitchen where midwives and their assistants make you tea and toast through the night. And I was able to have a pizza delivered to my room from the local takeaway when my daughter was just six hours old. How civilised can you get?
All this was free, by the way - it's an NHS service. The one proviso (and this is the turn-off) is that there are no doctors on the ward and no pain relief available. Once you're there, there's no point doing as I did and pleading, "Please help me; get me drugs" - it's too late.
"I'm ready to push," I told my midwife only minutes after arrival. My breathing exercises had already failed to stem the rising waves of pain.
"Mmm," she replied, looking distracted.
"Should I get in the birthing pool now? Or sit down to slow things up or what . . . what do you think?" Another contraction hit and I puffed and blew with all my might. The midwife was smiling at me benignly but doing nothing much at this stage. Suddenly, as I screamed through another contraction and felt panic rising up my spine, I heard a faraway voice asking: "Are you on telly? I'm sure I recognise your face."
My face? My face? "Errm. Do you mind if we don't do this now?" I asked.
"Oh, I know. You're Cherie Blair's sister, aren't you? Do you think they'll be visiting us tomorrow? Should I warn everyone?"
Now I was laughing, puffing, bleeding and contracting all at the same time. Laughter turned out to be the best pain relief of the day. Unfortunately, it lasted about three minutes - for the next three hours I could ponder how much my pure, "natural" childbirth hurt like hell.