“Make yourself at home,” the midwife said, as I hove into the birthing room like a galleon in full sail. Immediately, I ripped off my shirt, dropped my trousers, stepped out of my knickers and lay, utterly naked, across the blue-plastic-covered bed. I must have looked like a spider, pinned beneath a boiled egg.
Labour is no time to be thinking of your appearance. Pregnancy is no time to worry about your genital grooming. However you give birth, vaginally or surgically, your body is about to accomplish the single greatest, most courageous, universally impressive feat known to humanity – a bit of fluff around the corners cannot possibly take the shine off that. So it comes as something of a surprise to discover that many first-time mothers now prepare for labour with bikini waxes, a heavy Immac session or other forms of deforestation. Never mind that the Royal College of Midwives has repeatedly stated that there is no need to do so, that no health professional will even notice and that pubic hair will have absolutely no effect on your baby’s health. If you need a C-section, they will shave whatever needs to be shaved. If you deliver vaginally, there will be bigger things to think about than a couple of short and curlies.
Of course, your body, your choice and every woman has the right to treat her nether regions as she sees fit. But it was heartening to read the recent apology from the school textbook publisher Pearson Edexcel (a name that will act like a sour batch of Proust’s madeleines on many of us) for an illustration in its 2017 International GCSE Human Biology textbook, which appeared to show a pregnant woman with a brazilian-style landing strip of pubes. The image, arguably, not only reinforced current social pressures on women to remove their pubic hair but, in a medical and educational setting, failed to show how bodies naturally grow.
As I felt my baby’s head, shoulders and hips squeeze through my body like shelving brackets down a toothpaste tube, I couldn’t have cared less about my pubes. I don’t remember my two angelic midwives scooping a turd out of the birthing pool with a small sieve; I don’t remember the look on my partner’s face as I turned puce with the effort of pushing; I don’t remember what happened to my damp and discarded knickers. But I do remember looking down between my legs and seeing, miraculously, my tiny purple son bobbing up into the water before me. In that moment, nothing else in the world existed. And that’s the honest, bald truth.