I’ve had lots of friends message me since I started writing these to ask if I’m ok and say they didn’t know I had such a rough time with childbirth. It’s very sweet and has made me feel very loved. However I would like to say a few things. Firstly, I didn’t write this for people to feel sorry for me, I did it so people would know what childbirth could be like. I hoped to make one or two people smile and or cringe, and I hoped to hear back from others on their own experiences. Secondly, my Husband has told me these are really negative. I don’t mean them to be. You should know that I worship my girlies and I would go through double that pain to have them again if I had to. I just think that the whole process of getting them here sucks arse. Thirdly, I have a confession. You should all stop feeling sorry for me. Because I had an epidural.
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m one of these people that if something can happen to me (medically speaking) then chances are it will. When I get a cold, my sinuses fill up and get infected for a month. I have to get antibiotics, I feel like I’m dying and I apparently get a face like a really gormless duck. When I crick my neck, I manage to lock up all my shoulders, back and can’t lift my arms, I walk like Lurch from the Addams Family. When I get a cramp in my calf, I can’t walk for a day or two afterwards on that leg. Oh and did I mention that whenever I’m ill at all, I cry a lot?! You might therefore be surprised that my birth plan (pah) was to have a natural water birth with little to no pain relief (double pah). This is because pregnancy does something funny to my brain. It removes all of my City girl logic and replaces it with a Laura Ashley earth mother who thinks I should walk around naked in a field of flowers hugging offspring to my bare breasts. My husband says that I put my brain in a cupboard in the office, only to put back in my head once I’m back off maternity leave. It does other weird things too:
- My skin dries out to the point where it feels like newspaper
- Hair grows excessively all over my body, I have actual armpit hair instead of just the 4 hairs I normally have
- This weird layer of water bubbles under my skin all over my body and my thighs double in size
- Jolly Jess (my alter-ego) emerges, except she’s not very jolly
- My desire/ability to look nice vanishes. Why bother wearing make up when you look like Humpty Dumpty and his wall?
Basically I’m just not very good at being pregnant. Why I thought childbirth would be any different I don’t know!
As my first baby was a csection, I had no real concept of what the pain of a natural labour would be like. There were stories from other women, they had shuddered at the mention of it; there was what my mum told me – that it’s bad but I should experience it (why Mum?!); and everyone’s favourite, One Born Every Minute, which many people told me was the highlights reel for the worst births you could imagine. Despite these unpleasant reference points, it didn’t take me long to decide between another csection and natural delivery. I wanted to be as mobile and pain free (pah) as quickly as possible so as not to upset Girly no1. She struggled with me not being able to carry her or roll around on the floor while I was pregnant, and I had missed doing it. So my one aim was to be as physically well as quickly as possible. I remembered from our NCT classes the different methods of “pain management” (big pah, this expression is bollocks unless we’re talking about drugs) and the effect they had on the baby. I did some research, had some conversations and I decided that I would explore hypno-birthing in more detail. A drug free approach using mind over matter. Perfectly do-able. Most people recommended the same book and generally they were positive about it. I watched the videos, read the book, practiced with the tracks and visualisations. This picture didn’t make it on to the walls of my house but it gave me great pleasure for all the wrong reasons. I regularly WhatsApp it to one of my friends just to freak her out.
Weird pictures aside, and being the good student I am, I did all the things you are supposed to do. To start off with I genuinely believed it was possible to have a calm, non-pushy quiet birth without pain relief. I listened to the tracks on the train to and from work or I listened at home when Girly no1 went for a nap. I got into a zone where I wasn’t fully asleep or fully awake and I actually started to enjoy it. I don’t think I would have slept for a large chunk of my pregnancy had it not been for these tracks, and it’s something I intend to continue with. So from a mindfulness perspective, it worked, and it definitely induced relaxation and sleep. Until labour that is.
I had been having contractions for 36 hours, my waters having broken in the middle of the night. I still don’t understand why it look Husband so long to know what I meant by “that wee-ing noise wasn’t wee!” at 3 in the morning. My water birth was ruled out once my waters broke despite everyone having told me I would be able to have one. I was on a bed being monitored having a 60-90 second contraction every 4 or 5 minutes, unless I went to the toilet then I was treated to a bonus one. In hindsight I should perhaps just have stayed on the toilet, it may have sped things up. For the last 3 hours I had listened to the sounds of a woman being very slowly murdered and tortured and I was convinced that I was the next target for this tiny little serial killer. Now was the time for the hypno-birthing tracks. They sent me to sleep for 4 minutes then just as a contraction started I was rudely awoken by agony. I went back to my zone in between contractions but no amount of listening or meditation was keeping them away from my pain receptors. Whoever compared a contraction with a period pain needs to never meet me. A period pain is a hug compared to the rage of a contraction. The worst part is build up – no it’s the peak of pain – no it’s the anticipation of the next one – who am I kidding, it’s all of it. From beginning to end. You are advised to relax into your contractions. I’m sure many wonderful women are able to do this. I, am not. The very word “contraction” tells you what you need to know. Re-naming it a birth wave, baby squeeze, vaginy tighties or whatever other cute name they come up with doesn’t change what it is – everything contracting. And you know what, it really fucking hurts!
Anyway I digress. I threw my earphones aside as the midwives came in to tell me things weren’t moving quickly enough and I needed to be induced. It would have to be done with a drip as this presented the least risk to my caesarean scar. They recommended that I have an epidural as the contractions would come thick and fast once the drip went in. I hadn’t even considered this, and I told them I didn’t really want to use pain relief unless I had to….then I sobbed in exhaustion and asked if the woman next door was dead yet. Up to this point I’d had two paracetamol. They suggested I try gas and air and have a think about it, reminding me that I now hadn’t slept for two days and two nights and I still had a long way to go. I pause here to applaud all you women who go through childbirth with just gas and air. I have decided that you must have some amazingly wicked past memories to get lost in and distract yourself from what’s happening, because all it did for me was make me high as a kite. I drifted off to a music festival in my mind, waving my arms around and dancing with flowers in my hair….while someone slashed my insides with a rusty screwdriver. It did absolutely nothing for the pain. It just made my lips numb then made me really nauseous. It definitely wasn’t going to get me through the next 6cm. Hypno birthing sent me to sleep and gas and air sent me to Camp Bestival…I was out of options. The shocking thing is though, when offered an epidural that I wanted and needed, my first thought “everyone will think I’ve wimped out”. I felt like it wasn’t giving birth “properly”. I knew some women would look at me with a you-didn’t-suffer-like-I-did expression on their face. And if I ever decided to have another one (don’t get excited Mum, this is hypothetical), people would say “but you’re going to do it properly this time, yes?” Thankfully, this is what husbands are for. To tell me to stop being stupid, to remind me I hadn’t slept in two days, and to tell me that there was nothing to be ashamed of if I found the pain of childbirth, known to be one of the worst pains in the world, to be unbearable. After a few minutes of gibberish about Snow Patrol giving me numb lips, Husband and Midwife announced that the anaesthetist was on his way. I had the epidural and even managed to sleep a little.
There. I’ve said it. I haven’t told many people because I’m a bit embarrassed. If I do tell anyone I had an epidural, I’m quick to point out that I controlled the dosage, I didn’t let myself have very much and that it had worn off on one side by the time I came to push. All these things are true. But why all the secrecy and caveats? It’s lunacy! My very dear friend The Paramedic always says “there are no medals at the end love, you just have to get there” – she’s so wise. So why, when going through what is known to be possibly the most painful thing we can experience, do we aspire to suffer as much as we can? And why do we let others judge how we cope with it? Until you’ve experienced it yourself, and everyone will experience it differently, I’m not sure you can imagine what it will feel like to squeeze an 8lb flesh-tearing human out of you. For an exhausted me, it was just too much.
That’s it for me on childbirth. I’m going to stop putting people off having children and instead I’ll write about something lovely….maybe about how my first child tried to stamp on the second one’s head, or how heavy this big old sack of guilt that I carry round is. Either way, I will stop moaning about my vagina. It’s fine now by the way!
Mrs Hergerburger xx