I dug out the diary I wrote in the first weeks after Ted was born and I couldn’t believe how much I’d forgotten. If you’re wondering what it’s going to be like after you’ve given birth this might give you something of an idea, but don’t forget that this is only what it was like for me.
These are extracts from that diary.
“The birth itself was such a positive experience that the after-effects came as more of a shock. Apparently I seemed like delivering the placenta was worse than delivering Ted but I don’t remember it at all. I remember a slight tugging feeling as she was trying to get it out and she gave me an injection to help me deliver it, plus I think she massaged my tummy to help it out, and I remember being surprised how big it was and how it looked like intestines rather than liver. But what I do remember is how sore the stitches were when the spinal wore off, how much tummy ache I had, how much my stomach muscles hurt and how generally battered I felt. I’d bled quite a lot after the delivery and it had taken them a while to stop it, and then my normal bleeding was quite heavy and made me feel really uncomfortable.
When they were waiting for my placenta they’d used a catheter to drain my bladder and I think I remember having gas and air when they inserted it but I don’t remember any more than that. A catheter had been the one thing I really wanted to avoid but when I came out of theatre it turned out they’d put one in, which explained why I’d felt a sharp stinging sensation before the spinal kicked in but why it was so much higher than they should have been stitching. In a way it was a relief because I was really nervous about going for a wee. As it turned out I didn’t have any trouble with stinging. I was more nerbous of having a poo but I wasn’t allowed home until I’d had one so when it happened and it didn’t hurt I was ecstatic.
A couple of days after I got home I had really bad afterpains – like contractions! – and my bits were so sore, but what I really struggled with was my SPD. I’d been expecting it because of the way I’d been in stirrups twice, but it was awful. Getting in and out of bed was so painful and I couldn’t get on the floor to change Ted’s nappy, or if I did I couldn’t get back up again. My knees also hurt such a lot and walking downstairs was really painful. Apparently that’s normal but no one ever told me that. I didn’t dare carry Ted up or down stairs for ages.
After the SPD got less painful and I could get more comfortable in bed my pelvis started grating and grinding and clicking when I walked. It was so painful if I stayed on my feet for more than a few minutes. My pelvis and my knees are still bad.
Physically it’s been really hard but Ted’s worth every second.”
It seems that I also documented a lot about how I was feeling, and that what I was feeling was such a jumble of emotions that I didn’t always know what was going on.
“Giving birth to my son is the single proudest moment of my life. After a difficult pregnancy I was lucky enough to have a short natural birth with skin-to-skin contact with my baby boy within minutes of his birth. But despite my instantaneous rush of maternal love, massive support from my husband and Mum, and a baby so well-behaved it seems indecent to complain, not everything about life with a newborn is simple.”
“When the midwife wants me to hold him still while she makes him bleed my love for him makes my heart hurt, and when he’s screaming and I can’t console him it’s in such sharp contrast to my beautiful contented boy that I can’t help but feel that it’s my fault he’s crying, that it’s something I’ve done. In those moments when he’s happy I can reassure myself that I’m a good Mum and that he loves me, but I can’t remember it when he’s upset.
They tell you that on day three you’ll get the baby blues and that they’ll last for a couple of days, but they don’t warn you that you’ll keep revisiting those feelings at random intervals for an indefinite period after that time has passed. Nobody warns you that when your baby won’t latch on you’ll take it as his criticism of your parenting skills, or that when he won’t go to sleep you’ll start to believe he’s doing it on purpose to punish you. They don’t tell you that you’ll cry because he’s beautiful or because he’s been sick on his vest or because he’s smiled or because he’s got a temper. They don’t tell you that you’ll cry and there won’t even be a “because”, unless you count the combination of the sore nipples, achey boobs, cramps, pulled muscles, headaches, lack of sleep, stitches and stretchmarks.”
I do remember being upset about not being able to breastfeed, but I didn’t realise it had bothered me this much.
“The constant struggle with the decision to add formula to his diet really takes its toll. There’s so much pressure to breast feed exclusively and so as a result no one told me that combination feeding was recommended when epilepsy medication is involved. Ted gets really drowsy with my breast milk and it was really worrying me but I was persevering even though it meant he was falling asleep and needing almost constant feeding. The first night we brought him home I was so upset by how demanding he was that I gave in and made up a bottle at 6am. It felt horrible, like I’d failed at being his Mum. He was feeding so often that I just couldn’t keep up with him and we were both getting increasingly upset.
Now we’ve changed to combination feeding he’s much more alert for much more of the time but he’s also being sick more often and producing more stinky nappies. The sickness especially makes me feel guilty because he was hardly ever sick on breast milk, even though I know it doesn’t bother him and is just part of being a baby.
I feel unbelievably guilty because feeding my baby should be the most natural thing in the world and I can’t do it. It sometimes feels like a statement on my parenting skills even though I know I’m a good Mum really. As we’ve increased the number of bottles we’ve given him he’s also found it harder to latch on and it breaks my heart. It feels as though every time he pushes my nipple away it’s really me he’s rejecting.
I never knew it would be this hard. When I was pregnant and people asked if I was going to breast feed I used to say that I would try but that I wouldn’t put pressure on myself if it didn’t work out. It’s just not as simple as that.
I know breast milk is the best start you can give your baby but it’s also important for babies to have happy Mummies. It’s just hard to be a happy Mummy when you’re full of Mummy-guilt.”
Eventually I had to be brave and have a look at what had happened to my lady-bits, but I think I’ve blocked the image from my mind because I can’t really remember it! It did lead to a massive crisis of confidence, though.
“I looked at my bits for the first time last night. Since the surgery I’ve avoided looking even though I knew I should be checking that I was healing. I’d felt the stitches when I’d washed and it felt as though my perineum was now about a foot long and I was a bit freaked out, but because I knew I’d been doing too much I knew I had to check that I was healing properly.
I didn’t look in any great detail, just with a hand mirror in the crappy bathroom light, but it looked as though the stitching was nice and tidy but the general look of things scared me. It just didn’t look anything like it used to! I asked BabyDaddy to have a look for me as I was really scared something had gone wrong, but he said it was just swollen. I don’t know whether it’ll go down or if that’s just how I look now. It’s stupid because I obviously knew my bits would change after childbirth but it really upset me. It’s not exactly that but the fact that my whole body seems to have changed. When I was pregnant my body wasn’t my own and that was fine because it was giving life to my son, but I expected to feel like me again afterwards.
When I was pregnant I had a very visible reason for the changes to my body and I knew no one would be judging me for the way I looked because I was pregnant, or if they were I didn’t care because I loved my bump. Now I just don’t have that. I’m scared of people asking if I’m pregnant. I’ve already been asked if I’ve had the baby yet. And now that my belly’s spongy and empty and covered in stretchmarks it’s pretty difficult to feel good about it, whereas a bump is beautiful and made me feel special. I also feel pathetic for feeling any of this because my body’s just done something so amazing and created a perfect, healthy, beautiful little boy. But it does bother me.
And when it comes to intimacy – if I ever get past the fear – how can BabyDaddy be iterested in someone who in no way resembles the girl he fell in love with all those years ago? How can he see past the saggy belly and boobs? I know he loves me for giving him a son but what if that’s not enough? I’m moody and tired and crabby and I always think my way is the only way when it comes to Ted, and one day he’s going to realise he’s got a crap deal.”
Then, life started getting back to normal. We worked out a night routine that worked for all three of us, I stopped breast feeding all together and felt okay about it, and we became a family rather than three people learning to live together. But there was another part of being a woman left to come:
“First period. Hooray. Whoever said they get easier after childbirth lied.”