A number of years ago, as a result of my having written a tongue-in-cheek article about a handful of pixies and a fairy, a review copy of “Betty Bib’s Fairy Field Guide” (2005) came through my door. It had nothing to do with midwifery. Well, unless you count the page depicting baby fairies, who apparently grow from fairy dust in the dandelion heads. But it was a refreshing reminder of how important it is, in this modern, rational, scientific world, to hold a space for such magical things as fairies.
As you might imagine from a book called a field guide, the book is a guide to understanding and identifying fairies. It also included a fairy directory listing varieties ranging from domestic fairies like the bathroom fairy (hygenica triumphalis), who is believed in by 95 per cent of men but few women) and the sock fairy (hosiera pungentia) to the stationery fairy (pencilla etmiscillania), who is becoming endangered as a result of our increased reliance on e-mail.
It made me wonder whether some of the things that seem to happen by magic are evidence of birth-related fairies? Many midwives probably already suspect the existence of braccia burglaria fairies, who make their nests from the labels that regularly disappear from new babies’ arms without trace. Fewer may know about the researchers investigating whether it is the umbilicus interruptus fairies who have a passion for leaving the cord intact for as long as possible that are responsible for flicking plastic cord clamps off the delivery trolley and onto the floor. Midwives also speculate about computer fairies (garblia informationa), who live in hospital databases and lie in wait for midwives who are feeling especially tired or who would prefer that we did not live in the age of computerised note keeping.
Some of the other mischievous types to be found on labour wards include the waywaardia oxytocinas and their cousins, the waywaardia prostaglandinas. These little creatures magically extract the active ingredients out of these drugs for recreational use, thus rendering entire batches inactive and / or causing random outbreaks of post-partum haemorrhage and failed induction. Then there are the monitarus messupus fairies who ensure that midwives forget to turn the record button back on after changing the paper in CTG machines. These naughty fairies are particularly apt to strike just before a member of the obstetric team enters the room to review a woman and her CTG output. All of these fairies, however, are vastly outnumbered by the many branches of the concelia fairy family. Where each group of cousins – including the concelia pinaardia, concelia stethoscopia, concelia monitor-beltus and concelia grandus-sphygo-cuffia – specialise in hiding key pieces of equipment at inopportune moments.
Happily, however, there also exist fairies who love to help and support midwives. The magic tea fairy (camellia surprisium) flies a vigil around maternity units during stressful periods, keeping an eye on what is happening in different rooms and gently whispering into the right ears when she finds a midwife who looks desperately in need of a brew being made for her. Her aunt, terminata assemblia, does not get out much but makes a big impact when she does because she specialises in the last-minute and unexpected cancellation of the meetings that everybody has been dreading for weeks. All of these activities, however, are often overshadowed by the level of gratitude with which midwives greet the arrival of progressica velox, colloquially known as “the romping-on fairy”. This eagerly anticipated creature randomly waves her wand in the direction of women who appear at first sight that they are going to be in labour for hours and hours and yet who crack on and birth within a surprisingly short time.
If you stay open and alert, you may see that there are far more birth-related fairies ~ in all environments ~ than I have had time to mention here. Given the existence of the Tinkerbell effect, wherein fairies tend to work and reproduce more effectively when they are surrounded by people who believe in them, perhaps it is time for us to stop writing notices admonishing people to do their own washing up on the basis that ‘no tea cup fairies live in this kitchen’. Who knows … if we believe hard enough, we might be able to attract more of the helpful birth fairies as well as being able to understand how to put a stop to the activities of the cocao loccusta fairy who ensures that, within twenty seconds of a tin of chocolates being opened on the labour ward, only the coffee creams remain…
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Betty Bib’s Fairy Field Guide (2005). The Illustrated Handbook of Fairies and their Habitats. Duncan Baird Publishers, London.