I have a friend who’s due to give birth in a couple of weeks and she’s terrified, which reminded me that I’d been terrified too. I think most women coming up to their due date would admit the same.
But do we really need to be that scared? Now that I’ve done it I’m in a position to say no, but is that much comfort to those who are still scared? I don’t think my friend feels particularly comforted by it but I do remember a colleague saying to me, “it won’t be as bad as you expect” and clinging to that. She was right. In my mind I’d built childbirth up to be a horror I might never recover from, but I was wrong.
My experience of childbirth was a positive one. When people ask me how it was I answer “good” with a smile and I genuinely mean it. But don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t easy. It was painful and when my contractions started I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to cope. Ted was a big boy and did me a lot of damage, They couldn’t stop me bleeding at first, my placenta wasn’t in a hurry to come out and I spent an hour in theatre because of a third degree tear. But as soon as Ted was born I felt that I could have more children (which is lucky because I’ve always wanted a few!)
I’m not even just perpetuating the old cliche of “you forget it as soon as it’s over” because I didn’t forget it, and nor did I want to. When I got home I wrote down everything I could remember about the experience because I never wanted to forget a moment of it. The bits I wasn’t sure of I asked BabyDaddy and BabyNanny to fill me in on. And maybe now, four months on, I can’t really remember what the pain felt like, but it wasn’t as instant as I was led to believe.
The thing is, it does hurt. But it’s not unbearable. The first time I felt that I was getting to the point where I couldn’t take much more was when I realised his head was about to emerge, and I guess that’s why I thought I couldn’t take much more – it doesn’t get any stronger than the delivery, after all. The problem for me was that although I’d noticed his head coming no one else had. I was delivering on my side and so I lifted my leg up in the hope that someone would see what was happening. I didn’t realise there was no midwife present and it was my Mum and husband who went in to panic mode.
So things did go wrong but I always felt in control. When I got to the delivery suite they asked me if I had a birth plan and although I had written one I had decided to leave it at home so that I wasn’t tied to it. I told them I was willing to be led by what they thought was best for the baby and that I was flexible when it came to pain relief. In my head I was secretly hoping for a caesarean or an epidural but I wanted to see what I could do first.
And what I did was to retreat into my own head. I closed my eyes, I used gas & air, and I went quiet. I didn’t make any noise and I hardly spoke to anyone. I had intended to be active during labour but it turned out that Ted was coming much more quickly than anyone expected and too soon it felt like he would fall out like a bowling ball if I stayed upright. My body did the pushing for me and although I was aware that it was happening I didn’t have any control over it – but I didn’t feel out of control at all. It was my body doing what it was supposed to do, after all. It was painful but I concentrated on breathing through the contractions and in my head I was shouting “I’ve been through worse than this” and “f*** off!” at the contractions. I know some women say they tried to laugh through contractions or view them as one step closer to meeting their baby, but I really did find that if I was angry at each one it passed more easily. I don’t know what that says about me.
I’m not judging anyone who really can’t face the thought of childbirth because I remember the fear only too well, but what I will say to anyone who’s pregnant and scared is that I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t not have that experience for anything in the world. And from seeing the women on my ward who had been unfortunate enough to have emergency caesareans really struggling with pain and not being able to pick up their babies I would urge any woman thinking of electing to give birth by C-section to really consider their options.
I’m not going to tell you that women have been giving birth for millennia because it certainly didn’t make me feel any better, but because it did make me feel better to know that “it’s not as bad as you think” I will leave you with the words I said to my husband a few minutes after Ted was born:
“Yeah, I can do that again. We can have more babies.”
I promise I meant it.
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