Walk down the hallway of any maternity ward and you’ll hear the beeping of a multitude of machines accompanied by anguished cries of pain. If you had walked into my unit, however, you would’ve been surprised to find the beeping coming from a videogame and my anguished cries caused not only by contractions, but from the near misses and hard-fought victories of the videogame I was playing. Videogames are a part of my everyday life, and my pregnancy did little to change that.

The Baby Registry
Before the baby shower, my mother and sister “strongly suggested” that we register somewhere. The local Toys “R” Us seemed like the logical choice, so we made an afternoon of it.

During the registration process, a sales representative asked us to specify the baby’s room décor. “Space Invaders,” I said. My husband loved the idea when I suggested it, and we’d already bought the wall decals at Home Depot. The clerk looked up at me quizzically and asked, “Is there a color theme?” “Not really,” I said. “They’re mostly bright primary and neon colors. She looked at both of us and, still unsure, typed in “Space Invaders,” then moved on.

After we were entered into the system, she gave us a scanner and let us loose in the store. All we needed to do was scan the items we wanted, and they were automatically recorded on the registry. Excellent! This is where the fun started.

We walked around and took care of the basics: Thermometer? Check; Diaper Genie? Definitely need that – check; Very cute dinosaur pajamas? Check. We then decided to venture out to the main part of the store where all the good stuff was – the toys!

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There are some great videogame options for kids available, including systems by LeapFrog and VTech. We added the V.Smile Baby, a console for children aged nine months to three years, and looked forward to teaching our little one the joys of gaming. It’s funny that she might be gaming before she can walk or talk!

Of course we went into the electronics department to check out the new games, but I fear we freaked out the young salesclerk there. I don’t think he’d ever seen anybody with a baby registry scanner lurking in his section before. I was at the DS section, scanning in Rayman Raving Rabbids (yes, a game for me, but indirectly it would be for the baby because I planned on playing it during labor). He was watching our every move, and I thought for sure he was going to call security on us.

Packing the Hospital Bag
In every pregnancy book, they tell you to pack your hospital bag well in advance of your due date just in case you go into labor early. They also include very detailed checklists of things you should bring with you, like your birth plan, favorite music and a camera. First on my list were my laptop and DS, including which games I would bring.

I’d done a bit of research on how games are being used in children’s hospitals to help their young patients through painful treatments and illnesses. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has great information for parents on easing their children’s pain. One of the things they suggest is using videogames as a form of distraction.

Studies show that games help by getting the child to focus on something other than the pain. Essentially, the pain messages are competing with the play messages, and though the pain is still there, the kids just don’t notice it as much.

Armed with this information, my husband and I had a lengthy discussion about which ones to bring and which to leave home. My favorite genres are first-person shooters, hack-and-slash RPGs, and casual games. Among the DS games I packed were Dungeon Explorer, Cake Mania, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. On my laptop I brought along the original Half-Life, my favourite FPS series.

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I was a few days overdue when I decided to go to the mall. I went into the EB Games to see if they could suggest a game to play during labor. When I asked the young clerk, he just stared at me blankly, not sure what to suggest, having never been faced with this particular request before. He consulted with his co-worker and a friend who worked at the neighboring HMV. Here I was, nine months pregnant, ready to pop, and they weren’t sure what to do with me.

Unable to come up with a labor game, they asked me what I liked to play. I told them I was limited to DS and PC games as I was sure there would be no consoles in the delivery room (though there should be!). After about 20 minutes, we couldn’t decide on anything and I had to go to the bathroom (the curse of the pregnant woman), so I settled on Rayman Raving Rabbids, which I never received at my shower.

The Big Day
I was a week overdue when my water broke. It was a Sunday morning and I’d just gone into the hospital for a check up when it happened. Because I wasn’t having any contractions, I was sent home. The day went on, and I picked up my game of Titan Quest where I left off.

The next morning I got settled into the birthing room. Because my labor didn’t progress after 24 hours, I had to be induced. I was hooked up to an IV, which pumped Pitocin, a drug to bring on contractions, into me. A fetal monitor was secured on my belly to keep track of the baby’s heartbeat, as well as the frequency and strength of my contractions.

I tried playing a game on my laptop, but it soon became uncomfortable and awkward sitting up, so I switched to the DS. It was perfect! I could hold it in whatever weird positions I got into while I dealt with the pain and tried to keep the increasingly annoying monitors in place.

The games helped the most during this period. It was true: The longer I focused on the game, the less I focused on pain. I got engrossed in the games and just zoned out, which lessened the intensity for me. When the contractions became too much, I put the games away and just focused on them.

Fast forward to 4 A.M., and it was time to push. I did this for an hour, but the baby was stuck, so I had to have a caesarean section. At 6:24 our beautiful daughter, Claire, was born.

After the last 48 hours, I was overwhelmed with exhaustion and euphoria. I opted not to get the TV service in my room. They want me to pay how much for it? No thanks! I had my games, which was really all I needed.

I found it difficult to sleep because of the very uncomfortable bed, the pain from my incision, and the frequent feedings. The videogames were great, helping me keep my mind off of those discomforts. My only regret was that I didn’t bring enough of them.

My New Life
I was released four days later, and was beyond ecstatic to get back to my own bed and all the creature comforts of home. I found that I couldn’t sit at the computer, so I played games on my Xbox 360 in between resting and breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding, there are two things I’ve found invaluable and I would highly recommend adding them to any baby registry: my DS and my Chumby.

The middle-of-the-night feedings made me exhausted, and the DS was great to keep me awake. Though somewhat difficult to nurse and play at the same time, I found that casual games were the best to play one-handed. I worked my way through Cake Mania and Jewel Quest: Expeditions, and looked forward to the release of Cake Mania 2.

My Chumby helped keep me up to date with what was going on in the world. It’s about the size of a grapefruit with a wireless internet connection, and you personalize it by choosing from hundreds of widgets. I signed up for local and world news feeds as well as gaming and tech-related news. It helped me feel connected with the world around me at a time when I couldn’t actually participate. Though my baby sleeps through the night now (fingers crossed that that continues), I still use the Chumby and DS while breastfeeding during the day.

I’ve also been using my Wii a lot to help in my recovery. Wii Fit has been great to help me get back in shape, and Claire likes to participate as well. I’ll put her in her baby carrier sometimes while I do a few rounds of step aerobics.

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I’m definitely glad I had my games to play during childbirth, and I’ve found that even though I’m a new mom and so many aspects of my life have changed, gaming is still a major part of it.

I want to foster a love of gaming in Claire, sort of like what my mom did for me, unbeknownst to her, when I was growing up. She was the Pac-Man champ on our block. Kids would come over all the time to play her, and they rarely ever won.

I have a couple of friends who are newly pregnant, and I will most certainly share my experience with them. I also know what I’ll be buying them for a shower present!

Kimberley Ann Sparks is a freelance writer working in video games, TV, and film. She can’t wait to have a multi-generational tournament with her mother and daughter, though it will have to be Pac-Man.

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