If I had my time again, I certainly wouldn’t bother to read any of the books about giving birth naturally; they just set me up for a huge disappointment in much the same way as years of reading articles about ‘How to get a beach-ready body in just seven days.’
Admittedly, not everyone has had the same birth experience as me. I even have friends who claim to have ‘enjoyed’ childbirth (God love them) and obviously there are the much lauded women in the developing world who give birth standing up, strap the baby to their back and then go straight back to work. If you’re reading this blog and you did have a positive experience, then a lot of this may make no sense at all. But this is how it was for me.
Reading my birth plan now makes me laugh. For all the good it did me, I might as well have written my plans to ‘give birth in water listening to Michael Jackson’ onto a Chinese lantern and set fire to the thing. At least then someone might have enjoyed them. It took me about a week to write, almost caused an argument with my husband (although his, “Is there really any point to this?” proved to be right on the money) and then never made it out of my hospital bag.
Packing a bag for the hospital is also something I spent far too much time over. Paper knickers? They might be fine for paper dolls but a pregnant woman whose backside needs its own postcode has got no chance. After failing to get even one leg into them, I sent the husband to buy cheap knickers from Primark. I even packed snacks in case I got peckish during labour. Snacks! I’d have been better off packing a bottle of gin and a claxon to get the attention of the elusive consultant on duty at the labour ward.
Don’t even get me started on breathing exercises. I can only assume that you are encouraged to breathe differently to take your mind off of the pain. They didn’t.
There is a conspiracy amongst mothers to not talk about the realities of childbirth. I understand that those of us who didn’t have a good experience shouldn’t be regaling pregnant women with our horror stories, but I also wish someone could have warned me how naïve I was about the whole thing. I was ridiculously smug about how I planned to be walking around the room, stopping only to allow my husband to rub my back with a wooden massage roller and tell me how amazing I was. In actuality, if he had come anywhere near me with that thing I’d have smacked him, or myself, around the head with it.
Because, the thing is, I tried to do everything I’d been told but it just didn’t turn out right. There was no water birth, no music and after a long and traumatic time, it ended in an emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic. And, because I had been led to believe that I could have a wonderful birth experience if I just stayed strong and focused, I felt that I’d failed. That maybe I hadn’t tried as hard as those women who gave birth in 12 hours on the merest whiff of gas and air. Unfortunately, that sense of failure is something that can stay with you for a long time.
If I could go back and speak to my pregnant self I would tell her this: giving birth is a lottery. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, classes you attend or balls you bounce on – you get lucky or you don’t. I had been deluding myself all those years that my ample hips would at least make childbirth easier; in actual fact my pelvis was just the wrong shape. It was horrible, but it wasn’t my fault. And if you’re reading this and had a similar experience, it wasn’t your fault either – you just got unlucky.
But when I woke up from the anaesthetic I woke up to find I was a mum. In front of me was my smiling husband, holding my tiny son. The physical scars healed in a few weeks, the mental ones started to fade some months later, but this beautiful, incredible creature was mine to keep forever.
And that makes me very lucky indeed.