I guess you can say that I’m ready for this baby to come. My hospital bag has been packed for weeks, and the essential inclusions are not necessarily the ones that are marked on the check-off lists conveniently located at the back of pregnancy books.

Of course, my bag is full of the usual clothes, nappies, books and toiletries, but here are my list of five must-haves that you may not have thought of:

  • A range of foods. The portions in my hospital are appropriately sized for all those cardiac cases and bloated diabetic patients, so I find I never have enough to eat. Especially after enduring half a day of labour, in which I’ve skipped at least two meals, I’m ravished! Because I’m never sure what I’ll be craving, I pack a range of microwaveable meals, lollies, biscuits and chocolate to see me through. In the past, I’ve particularly craved carbohydrate-rich foods, so this time I’ve got a spaghetti bol and a frozen rice curry ready to go. These also come in handy if David is hungry in the midst of my labour (which has happened in the past), so I’ve started packing twice the quantity to make sure that I won’t miss out if he digs in my bag for a snack.
  • Nice shampoo. Although you don’t want to overwhelm your new baby with foreign scents, there’s something luxurious about having lovely-smelling hair after going-through-what-you-just-went-through. I’m in a bit of a quandary with this one because I haven’t used shampoo in over a year, and I wonder if gave in and used a commercial product, how long it will take to regain the natural equilibrium of my hair?
  • Incontinence underwear. Forget maternity pads, you’re going to need some serious absorption power, and the maternity pads + old undies combo is just not going to be enough, I’m afraid. I often find unopened packs of incontinence underwear (in a range of sizes!) in op shops — conveniently donated by the relatives of a deceased estate. So for a couple of dollars (forget about buying them new — they’re pricey!) I can armour myself properly for the onslaught of blood.
  • My TENS machine. Not strictly a hospital-bag item, this is essential for helping me through the first stage of labour. It provides an electric current that feels just like a massage, especially useful in that never-ending car-ride to the hospital. It gives me a sense of control over my pain, too. When the contractions start, I up the ante on the charge and turn it back down again when the pain passes. (This control is probably just an illusion, but at that point I’m happy to embrace the illusion.)
  • Over-the-counter pain relief pills. Each time you have a baby, the after-birth pains (when you uterus contracts again back to a smaller size) increase. I’m a redhead with a low pain tolerance (a proven medical fact, so there!), and with Baby #3 I kept asking for more pain relief, only to find it denied me by the well-meaning midwives: “It hasn’t been four hours since your last Panadol.” I found I was delaying feeding the baby (sorry, Cali!) because of the anticipated pain. So this time I’m taking my own meds.

What are/were YOUR hospital bag essentials?