When I became pregnant with my first child, I was teaching Year 6 in a school in North London. The baby was due in March, which I thought was rather inconsiderate – imagine coming in the middle of Sats preparation.
I continued with the inevitable duties that come hand in hand with teaching. However as my walk became a waddle, and the incessant urge to pee increased, my lovely colleagues took pity on me, stepping in to cover my break duties and helping with after-school booster classes.
A few weeks before the birth, I was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis, a condition that meant I would need to have my labour induced before my due date. This, is turn, brought forward the start date of my maternity leave, and thus my finishing-up plans and preparations.
Handling pregnancy as a teacher
The evening before I was due to finish school for my earlier-than-planned maternity leave, I was experiencing some pain – enough to warrant a hospital visit.
We went to the hospital and were reassured that it was nothing to worry about. It was probably just Braxton Hicks contractions: false labour pains that are very common at that stage of pregnancy.
The following day, I made it to school in some discomfort. After some time spent Googling “How do I know if I’m in labour?”, I made an anxious call to the midwife. Once again, I was told that I didn’t need to worry: even if I was in labour, it was likely to continue in this vein for hours still. So I should just go about my day as normal.
Just after lunchtime, I felt something strange. The kids were filing back into the classroom, so I nipped (well, I say nipped, but it was more of a slow trundle) to the adjoining door of the other Year 6 class and discreetly drew the attention of my colleague, to ask her advice.
A mother of three, she informed me that what I was experiencing was possibly the release of the cervical operculum: the “show”, or mucus plug, which can indicate the start of labour. When this is released, it can mean delivery of the baby is hours away – or days or weeks away.
'Grammar took my mind off being in labour'
After another quick call to the midwife, I persevered with the afternoon’s planned activity: grammar. My concerned colleague kept popping in to tell me to go home – I was clearly in labour, she said.
But the truth was, although I was having mild to moderate irregular contractions, and was in some pain, the grammar took my mind off it. There is nothing like hammering home the use of cohesive devices to divert one’s attention from the pains of labour…
Word slowly started to spread throughout the school, and other colleagues dropped by throughout the afternoon to check up on me and tell me to go home. Each time I heroically refused, nobly declaring that this was the last grammar lesson I would be able to teach this class: they needed me.
Just to clarify: I had been told by my midwife that it was fine for me to keep teaching, as long as I felt able to do so. And in all honesty, I wanted to be there. As an Irish girl living in London, that little school in Brent was one of the places I felt safest. If I had gone back to my house, I would have been alone at home: my husband wasn’t due back from work for several hours yet, and all my friends were at work, too. I took great comfort in knowing that my colleagues – many of whom were mothers themselves, and who had become good friends – were nearby that afternoon.
After a turbulent night, my little boy was born at 10.06 the next morning. At that point, all memory of adverbials and conjunctions became distant. All I had to worry about was feeding, changing, teaching, loving, nurturing and guiding this little ball of life – which had to be easier than teaching grammar to 30 unwilling 10- and 11-year-olds, surely?
It is no secret that teachers are an extremely dedicated bunch of professionals, constantly striving to do the best for the children in their care, and trying to make their classroom the happiest place it can be. We are on a journey to make learning accessible to all the children we teach. All the same, there probably is a line that needs to be drawn: at some point, we do need to learn to let go.
Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my school to erect a commemorative plaque, to acknowledge my efforts: for services to grammar, perhaps.
Michelle Casey is a supply teacher working in Surrey primary schools