I feel awful admitting this but it’s taken me a little longer to fall for Girly no2. Not because she isn’t utterly adorable, not because she doesn’t sleep, and not because she sharts (definition: shits and farts at the same time, a projectile poo if you like that better) on me daily, but because I feel like I’m cheating on my firstborn. No2’s arrival has been wonderful for Husband and I, the problems are less scary and you can enjoy the good bits more. But it has been less pleasurable for no1 whose world is in disarray. She moves around the house like a lion stalking its prey. Sometimes she pounces. Most of the time I sweep no2 out of the way in time, but occasionally I’m not quite fast enough and she receives an over-sized head to the tummy and a mouthful of fluffy blonde curls sending her into blinking over-drive. No1 is doing her best but she’s struggling to really like no2. She likes the thought of her and she likes to always know where she is. But she’s only really happy when no2 is in her bouncy chair or tucked up in bed. Then her world is as it was BG2 (before Girly no2) and she has full control of her audience once more.
We talked a lot to Girly no1 while I was pregnant about the new baby. Sometimes she patted my tummy and said baby, other times she looked at me under her brow with a facial expression matching Daddys when I over fill the rubbish bag. As with any toddler, she didn’t really get it and we tried not to get her over-excited about her new non-playmate. When the joyous, by which I mean stab me in the heart with a rusty screwdriver, time came for the birth of no2, my Mum picked Girly no1 up and I barely saw her for 3 days. It was heart-breaking and one of the hardest things about no2 being born (yep, that’s despite the gooch ripping). She went on Sunday lunchtime and we didn’t come home until Wednesday afternoon. It might not have been such an issue had we not returned with the limelight thief. No1 came to the hospital on the Tuesday when we were hoping to be released and was deeply distressed by the cannula in my hand continually demanding I take it out. She looked at the new baby and did her best fake smile then as Husband picked no2 up, she shouted at him to “put it back in its’ cot”. This did not bode well, but it was early days. The next day Husband collected her and they came to take us home. Girly no1 brought with her a new facial expression, one I have since become quite familiar with. She tilts her head to one side and looks sideways, bringing her hands up to just below her chin and wiggling her fingers. She makes a little “do-do-do-dooo” noise in a high pitched squeaky voice, not dissimilar to Homer Simpson, or my Husband when he’s stealing food or looking at boobies. It was her new naughty indicator, hearing that sound now makes me drop whatever I’m doing and run! That day, she was the naughtiest I’ve ever known her. She ran in and out of the other cubicles shaking new mums’ curtains making their terrified faces tremble as they saw into their future. I tried to reassure them in a pathetic voice that even I didn’t believe. She heard nothing I said. Her body lost all form whenever I touched her. She ran towards roads and cars refusing to be held. I was devastated, who was this child? I briefly wondered if my mum had filled her with E numbers for breakfast, but deep down I knew what was going on. She was green eyed and furious. I had my very own little Hulk to contend with. We arrived home and as I sat on my ring cushion, Husband and I debated whether this was the same child from the previous Saturday. How much could one child change in such a short space of time? Husband announced he was going out for emergency supplies and I begged him not to. There was no way I could cope with the Hulk and a baby – she might smother her, or throw rocks at her head. He wasn’t going anywhere, we would use coconut milk in our tea. It would be delicious! As the days went on, she got worse. She shouted and screamed and stamped her feet, usual toddler shit but very out of character for Girly no1 who had always been more of a thinker and a watcher. We tried not to shout or tell her off too much even though she was being a pain. It wasn’t her fault she had all these new feelings she didn’t understand. Her eyes were full of hurt and she wanted her mummy and daddy back. It was horrible and I felt bad but also really hard work. I began to dread the next 12 months, I even looked into whether you could change your length of maternity leave and what our childcare options would be. There was no way that Hulk and a baby would be fun for the next 12 months. I scrapped that idea when I remembered I would actually have to go back to work and also it wouldn’t help me avoid night times, which always seemed to be worse because she was tired. One day I was running a bath and had Girly no2 in a seat on the floor. I was sat on the toilet – lid down, not poo-ing, though it’s not unusual for me to have to poo with an audience of at least one. Girly no1 was swinging between my knees. I bent down to check the temperature of the water and when I turned around, no2 had a chubby foot on the baby’s head saying “I stand on baby now” in that do-do-doo singsong voice she had adopted for her jealous moments. I wonder now whether my baby’s head would still be round if I hadn’t looked up at that moment. Whenever I was feeding no2 before bed, no1 would do whatever she could for attention, often throwing herself across my chest declaring how much she loved me, suffocating no2 against my over-full breast. BG2, this had been our quiet time of the day where we cuddled up for milk and the Night Garden. We were still trying to maintain it but one particular evening I was on the receiving end of two flying head butts, the second of which nearly cracked my cheekbone. It was a bit of a wake up call. I was fine, but it was only a matter of time til our baby or I were hurt by this little MMA fighter who was now in our presence. So far Girly no2 had got off lightly with a few white knuckled hand holds and some overly aggressive pats, but their heads had missed by millimetres on this occasion and I worried about the softness of my newborns’ skull when up against my toddlers bucket-of-concrete head. We needed to do something about her behaviour. Enough was enough.
The next few days were tough with what seemed like lots of telling off. I’d become that mum who continuously shouted her child’s name. We tried lots of things. We tried counting to three in an attempt to get her to listen; “one…two…” was met with “three’s next Daddy!” and a proud face. That didn’t work. We confiscated bedtime stories; until one night the whole book case was removed. We looked into rewards charts but she just got obsessed with the stickers and gave them to everyone with a big smile and a “well done!”. I did some reading and watched a few episodes of Supernanny, and we made some basic changes:
- Lots of face to face conversations at eye level. Our knees are now shot but on the plus side my bum is starting to firm up from the squatting!
- We worked on our stern mum and dad voices so she knows when we’re being serious. Official parent voices.
- We tried to deliver short concise instructions no1 can understand and repeat back. This is a little hit and miss. Imagine trying to explain in 3 words why you shouldn’t shake the bouncy chair to the point the baby lifts out of it, when the baby is giggling her little head off.
- We got her and baby into a routine so we have specific time to focus on no1. We make sure we do fun things in that time so she appreciates it – play doh, painting, crafts – things that make my house twice as messy (I give up)
- We introduced the concept of the toy-free, mummy and daddy-free, no talking naughty step, the threat of which so far has been enough that she hasn’t been on there
- We mixed up the bedtime routine so she still means she gets one-on-one cuddle time with Mummy or Daddy.
These changes have definitely made things better. I found that once life went back to normal with school and naps and it was just the three of us at home, this also helped. The thing that made me feel better about the situation was other mums telling me that their firstborns had turned into angry little Rottweilers too. I gave myself the benefit of the doubt once or twice, maybe it wasn’t all my fault and maybe her life wasn’t completely ruined forever.
Consistency is key with our first Girly. We still have flare ups of the Hulk. Too much coo-ing over no2 results in tickles that are more like scratches, a lean on no2s tummy that makes her sick or kisses that come with a small head butt. But we focus on the positives and tell her when she’s being a good big sister and try to share our attention around. At the beginning I had to sneak kisses to Girly no2 when her big sister wasn’t looking and I could only talk to her when no1 left the room, but now my affair is out in the open and I can love them both openly. I’m still laden with guilt but every day gets better. I hope it won’t be long until no1 can’t remember a time without no2 here and I live in hope that she will start to enjoy her baby sister. Just this morning we were all snuggled in bed and she declared “we’re all togeffer Mummy!”. And as she snuggled in next to me, she put no2’s feet in her lap and sat gently patting them. Progress!
Do do dooo
My child-free-permanently-hungover friends talk about The Fear in the same way I used to. That uneasy “oh shit what did I do last night” feeling that has you hiding under a duvet after a heavy night. I used to suffer from it terribly, I would text everyone apologising the next day, even if they left before I arrived. Today though, The Fear means something very different. The Fear is a cloak I wear all over me all the time. It makes me behave like Gollum. I hold My Precious in my arms while scowling and hissing at people and things.
I always remember the sound of my Mum’s sharp intake of breath when I used to walk across top of my climbing frame. Or her stricken face running towards my sister and I when we fell out the wheelbarrow (Dad was running with it and we hit a speed bump, cue cartoon like picture of us flying through the air, me landing flat on my back and my baby sister landing on my chest with a bump). Later on in life it was her staying awake until I got home smashed at 3am. She used to get up when she thought I was asleep and come check I hadn’t been sick, moving my hair to be confronted with kohl-stained eyes and the haze of sambuca. In my teen years, all of her worry drove me nuts. Why was she such a stress head? I was fine! I was a grown up! Why couldn’t she just go to sleep and leave me be? Still even now when she worries about my girls I get that prickly feeling of irritation. But now, I understand it. Because I too get sick with The Fear.
It’s come as a shock. I’ve never been one to give into my fears. I like to consider myself brave and I protect myself. I only care about opinions from people I care about. I’m not friends with two faced people. I don’t think about things that can hurt me. I do things to challenge myself and I focus on the positive, not the worst possible, outcomes. I confront my fears. This has worked well for me through life. Until these two small beasts emerged from me. And now The Fear gets me all the time. Everything is scary. I want to avoid things. I hear everything everyone says. And I think horrible thoughts. I have these flashes of awful things happening to my babies. Someone recently told me that your brain does this to prepare you for something awful happening. I found this really distressing! Has my mind suddenly become Mystic Meg? I don’t want this! These are my most frequent ones:
- Our big heavy duvet falls into Girly no2’s Moses basket or falls on her when she’s under her gym
- The spotlights in our kitchen burn out the girls’ corneas blinding them forever
- I fly down the stairs, babe in arms, crushing Girly no1 as we land. This one happens three times a day ever since a good friend of mine had this happen to her. She tripped then got caught on the bannister and had to watch her baby fly through the air and hit the floor at the bottom. I felt nauseous and choked up for her when she told me about her slowly approaching him to see if was still moving. Bbbbbrrrrrrr. Shivers down my spine.
- I put a hat and snowsuit on and they go bright red and overheat. I take them out in just a coat and they turn blue and freeze. I crave yellow. Our house is covered in glowing owls that display the temperature – they’re happy when they’re yellow.
- I let Girly no2 have a nap in her car seat and wish I hadn’t. The shock stories that crop up on my newsfeed make me approach ours as if it’s a pin-free grenade
- Grapes. I only have to look at the little fuckers and all our throats close up.
You may be scared of clowns. Or China dolls. Heights. Cotton wool (I never got this one, what a weird thing to be scared of). For me it is driving. Other people’s driving to be precise. Cars lurk in side roads waiting to roundhouse kick us. Cars race me from behind as though the chequered flag is waved just ahead. Lorries randomly change lanes as I’m driving past waiting to swat me from the road like a mosquito. I hate anyone else driving the girls and I around. It’s too fast, not smooth enough, too close to the car in front, too sharp around corners. I used to think my mum was mental because she wouldn’t let anyone else (including my dad) drive my two siblings and I in one car. Now I spend time looking at the price of armoured tanks on the internet (they don’t sell them on eBay or auto trader, and Amazon Prime is no good here in case you were wondering). I know this will only get more and more difficult. I dread the first time one of them gets the train to go shopping with their friends, the first time they walk to school, the first time they run into a shop to buy sweets, the first time they run to a public toilet on their own.
All these fears could paralyse me to the point of never leaving a padded cell on the ground floor of my armoured bungalow. But then I would be failing as a parent. Not fulfilling my main objective of bringing a capable, confident, brave, independent individual to adulthood. So I do the only thing I can do. I play with the seesaw of risk. I balance the weight of danger at one end and independence at the other knowing that one day they will take control of it themselves. I’m acutely aware of quite how different others’ seesaws are to my own but I stay focused on mine in the present. I am selective about which horror stories I read from my Facebook feed. I block the terrifying mind flashes before they finish. I drive my tank sensibly paying too much attention to other road users. And when one of The Fears get me, I hold my babies a little bit tighter and remind myself why I’m here.
So now I have two children. I’m responsible for two peoples’ lives. Two personalities to shape…two empty brains to fill…two bodies to keep safe. And two people that I could turn into psychopaths. When I sit and think about the magnitude of this, it feels like someone is body slamming my chest. I mean what if they went on a killing spree? They might become famous Psycho Sisters and get a film made about them. Our very own Natural Born Killers. Someone like Pauline Quirke would play me, she’d be the dowdy old simpleton scratching scraggy grey wiry hair saying “they were such lovely girls…I just don’t know where I went wrong…I thought the dog died by accident”. Twitter would go mental asking why I didn’t get that it was my fault. Oh! The responsibility! All these feelings were amplified when, on the morning after Girly no2’s birth, I switched on the TV to find Donald Trump had been elected into the most powerful position in the world. What had I done?!
After Girly no1 was born, I lost it in a taxi in Leeds. I got caught up in all of the things I could do wrong to this small child. I threw my arms around wildly and was cry-talking (cralking?!) at this poor man. I felt sick from the pressure. Well, it might have been travel sickness from his speeding through the Yorkshire Dales but I definitely remember feeling sick. Fortunately the driver was a father of 5, one of whom had made it to 16 all in one piece and with what sounded like a healthy attitude towards life. He politely smiled and didn’t say much while I ranted and raved like a deranged person in the back of his cab. It could well have been a scene from Emmerdale right before the main character reaches over and grabs the wheel and ploughs them into a nearby rock so he did well to stay in control. Daddy Cabby calmed me a bit by reminding me of some of the things I had said to him on the journey, and pointed out that I actually cared about how she turned out, so that was a good start. By the time we got back to the airport, I felt oddly close to him, although I hope I never see him again. He was a strange wise old elf, but help comes in many forms.
Obviously this level of worry is a product of my chronic over-thinking, but fundamentally, it’s people that hurt people. We make or break each others’ lives meaning my responsibility doesn’t stop with my children, it’s the impact they have on everyone else’s life. It’s too much! Everyone I meet, I look at them and wonder how they became that way and what their upbringing was like. The cold stiff robot who can’t keep friends – I imagine she lived in a dark castle where everyone stayed in their own room and no one made skin contact without an awkward shuffle and muttered apology. The overly touchy feely one with personal space issues who steals your food – hippy parents, loads of siblings, shared a bed til they were 16, dressed in home made clothes, possibly lived on a commune. The arrogant but good looking sporty boy – banker wanker dad and frosty pearl wearing mum who made him compete with his brothers for the best score on the spelling test. Obviously these are ridiculously over exaggerated stereotypes from my head but you understand the thing about most (I stress most, not all) people being a product of their environment.
Before we had the girls, like any new parents, we agreed the things that were important to us and we set out with great enthusiasm about managing them. Our list had we written it down would have read something like this:
- Compassion – we want her to look at other people and consider how they’re feeling and why. We’ve not quite nailed it yet, Girly no1 shouts “be happy!” at anyone not displaying a megawatt smile on their face (me all day every day until Girly no2 sleeps through) but it’s a start. She is only two.
- Honesty – any parent wants their child to be able to talk openly, especially to their mum and dad. I always could with mine. I remember crying to my dad about my Husband snogging someone else at a party I wasn’t allowed to go to when we were teenagers. He obviously wasn’t my husband then, he was my 13-year old boyfriend and it was devastating. But the fact I could tell my parents says a lot. We talk a lot to both girls. Weirdly we don’t get much back from Girly no2 at just a few weeks old but Girly no1 never shuts up. Maybe we should re-think this one….
- Be your best – personally I still go for being the best but you can’t win at everything and that’s a tough lesson to learn. Everyone hates the expression “reaching your full potential” but I’m sure that’s all anyone wants their child to want. Sadly Girly no1 has inherited my, what I like to call, dogged determination but what others might refer to as ridiculous stubbornness. Watching her throw a puzzle across the room because she can’t fit two pieces together makes me feel aggravated for her. But we pick up the pieces and try again. Until another 30 seconds goes by and it happens again, this time accompanied by a wooden spoon from me because I burnt dinner again. My Mother-In-Law The Primary School Teacher has had to teach us a little coping mantra: “We don’t get cross, we take our time”. I can really see it working for me.
- Have fun – one of my overwhelming memories from my childhood was us all dancing in the kitchen with cabbage leaves as hats on a Sunday afternoon. My parents used to link arms and skip down my school drive for parents evening. We played brutal games of basketball at the back of the house. On reflection they were probably pissed for all of these activities but we all had lots of fun! We play lots, we’re big fans of a kitchen disco, we sing when we drive and we make up crazy stories to entertain ourselves. We’ll never be the Von Trapps but we’ll hopefully never be the Mitchell’s either.
- Affection – I met someone recently, a married, childless woman, who was criticising her sister-in-law for allowing her nieces into their bed. She went on to say how she hadn’t even been allowed to cross the threshold to her parents room. I’ve thought about this a lot, firstly how funny it is when a non-parent talks about how they would parent (HAHA HAHA! The things you think you know!), but more the balance between marital space and family space. It’s such a personal thing. I think we have it right for us. We have morning cuddles every day and Husband and I aren’t shy about being affectionate in front of the girlies. I look forward to a time when they make gagging sounds and moan at us for being gross. And I look forward even more to a time when that is their norm and they want it for themselves from their relationships. Nothing beats a huge cuddle from the one you love.
- Be kind – understand other people’s perspectives and just be kind. Nothing melts my heart like Girly no1 pretending to give me “pink medicine” (!) if she thinks I’m hurt, or offering her favourite comforter to Girly no2 when she cries.
You set out with these great intentions, you have a plan and you follow it. You tone down the potty mouth, pronounce your t’s, you share your favourite food (I just buy two pots of custard). Then you realise that it’s your behaviour and what they see that will matter the most. And you take a long hard look at yourself and your life. That’s why I won’t be surprised when no1 calls me a nobhead one day. Or when she puts her hands on her hips and shouts “Beany….” in my exact agitated tone to my Husband (Beany is his nickname, not a weird insult). Or when she sits in front of the mirror and says “Will you just let me dry my hair?”. I’m ok with these things because I also know that she’ll give great cuddles, she’ll listen and she’ll ask good questions so it all works out in the end. She might also be great at jaegerbombs later on in life.
The responsibility of creating another human that will impact other people’s lives is enormous. I have had to fight my inner control freak demon and realise that as long as I can be a good person I’m proud of and associate with good people, that’s the best I can do. In the meantime, I’ll keep the girls away from the knife drawer.
My little serial killers
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.
Sheela na gig and her exaggerated vulva
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
I had a baby four weeks ago and still remember everything. I’m struggling to get over what can only be described as a traumatic experience, and wondering whether any other mums consider themselves candidates for PTSD!
We all know childbirth is bad. Not many people think of the word as being synonymous with anything other than pain but that bad?! I just wasn’t prepared!
This is my second child. I had my first by Caesarian due to a low lying placenta – a justification I feel the need to share with everyone lest they think I took the “easy way out” but more on that in a later post. When I found out I might have to have a csection with my first child I was, I admit, secretly pleased. I liked having the date to look forward to and I didn’t have to worry that Husband wouldn’t have to hide disappointment at post-baby sex. But the more I learnt about it the more I realised how big the procedure is and I began to look forward to it less. It’s serious surgery with a long and painful recovery; you have to have daily injections for 8 weeks afterwards (they don’t tell you this and they really hurt!); you’re immobile for 6 weeks; you can’t really look after your baby for the first few days, you’re out of it on pain relief and your milk comes in too late to meet your baby’s feeding needs. But it is what it is and the baby has to come out somehow! She came out and was perfect. I was frequently struck by how lucky I was to have been born here in the U.K. The same condition in an under-developed country could have ended very differently.
Following the successful delivery of Girly no1, I left hospital with a piece of paper that recommended any future birth be a vaginal delivery. I didn’t really give it much thought until I became pregnant again. Quite early on my midwife started to talk about VBAC (pronounced vee-back apparently) meaning Vaginal Birth After Caesarean. It was in no way forced, I was given the option of a csection again if I wanted it. I had a tough decision to make – did I want to get cut open and go through major surgery again or have a baby break out of me on its’ own tearing me into two from the bottom up. I went with Mother Earth and decided that with Girly no1 now being a toddler, the recovery from childbirth would be far easier than a csection. Plus there would be less time afterwards where I wouldn’t be able to pick her up, or cuddle or take her swimming. VBAC it was.
I’m going to pause here and ask – WHY DID NO ONE STOP ME MAKING THIS CRAZY DECISION?! Since I’ve had Girl no2, and I tell people I’m a VBAC, I almost receive rounds of applause. From midwives, doctors, my friend the paramedic…had I realised it was this much of an achievement, I might have thought more about whether this was what I wanted. I would have happily settled for “wow you had another baby, well done you”. I don’t need the “WOW, a VBAC? That really is impressive!” Now I have huge scars across my stomach, a ridge across my belly and now to top it off, a baggy vagina! Brilliant!
I’m digressing from why I wrote this, but it’s important as I chose to give birth this way when I could easily have had it the same way as last time. I think it’s important because – nobody told me! No one said that you’ll feel like you’ve been broken in half, or that your arsehole will split, or you won’t be able to sit down for three weeks. I feel really quite aggrieved by it! Like I’ve been kept out of some secret club, a horrific one that no one wants to be part of but where you share this awful secret. The worse part is how every woman I know that has given birth naturally has since turned round and said “yeah it’s bad isn’t it?” with a welcome-to-the-club look on their face. When I indignantly challenge them with why they haven’t told me before, the answer is always that they didn’t want to put me off.
With Girly no1 I wrote a beautiful birth story that was published in our local NCT newsletter. This one would not be so beautiful. Not because the baby I got at the end wasn’t incredible but because it’s like asking me to make a car sound good that I bought following a crash that killed my best friend. I’m all about positive mental attitude but I can’t help thinking that the pressure for drug free / no intervention has us British women suffering immeasurably, and being honest, making it far more difficult to enjoy our babies. Is it an NHS thing that makes it cheaper to not use epidural and csections? Or is it a stiff upper lip thing that’s made us all too proud? Or is it that stoic “I’ll be fine” thing that all us women do, when actually we’re crying inside? Any of the above I think.
So what’s the right answer? Should we be more honest? Should we go back to the midwives who told us it would be fine? Should we write bad reviews against the hypnobirthing books and tracks we were conned into trying? Should we be more open with pregnant women?
Personally, if anyone asks, I’ll tell them. Every last gory detail. And if you don’t want to know then don’t ask. I think we should be better prepared and we should know that One Born Every Minute IS typical of how it is. And that’s just a show reel of the highlights. These are the worst bits I think everyone should know.
- Pushing is horrific – my husband was pinning my legs back by my ears shouting drive drive drive like he does in his rugby matches. An hour and 45 minutes this went on for. What’s to enjoy about that?
- There will be so many faces between your legs – on the plus side you don’t care
- The tearing of your flesh – front to back for me requiring extensive stitching afterwards
- Every part of you hurts afterwards – two weeks on I still felt like someone has played football with my vagina and bum, it seriously aches
- How much your boobs hurt – all the time. And mine are massive, that must mean massive hurt?! (No offence anyone with F’s or less!)
- Breast feeding is awkward and uncomfortable and it hurts to start of with – but is fantastic AFTER you get past the first 4-6 weeks
- The insane itching after birth – I went to my GP in floods of tears 10 days after birth doing an Irish jig in an attempt to escape the crazy itching. I still can’t wear pants
- Your pee is red for weeks on end – Then orange. Then bright yellow. Eventually, if you drink 10 pints of water a day, it goes back to its normal colour.
- Sitting down is agony – I don’t understand why rubber ring or polo-shaped pillow doesn’t appear on every hospital bag list ever published
- You have to wear pads for weeks afterward – and it has to be maternity pads rather than night pads because the length of time you wear them means normal ones give you thrush. Another ailment to add to the collection.
I haven’t even put the whole sex thing on the list. I know that my lady bits currently look like an elephant’s ear when they used to look like a neat little butterfly (my husbands words not mine) – I really don’t want him to look at it again. And I definitely don’t want anyone near them ever again. But I want my husband back to being a husband….a whole other saga to worry about.
So, the awful truth is that it’s awful. For most, not all. I do know two people who enjoy the whole childbirth thing. Everyone else, including someone I know who has given birth seven times, really suffers. And we should know that. We should know it and we should find ways to be supportive. We should encourage pain relief. Most of all, we should be prepared. We should know and we should do everything we can to prepare for the frankly traumatic experience that is childbirth. But on the plus side, you get one of these little beauties to help distract you.
I would love to hear your experience or reaction to this story. Please comment below and click follow for more
Mrs Hergerburger xx
PS If you’re pregnant and reading this and didn’t want to know then I’m sorry. But take these words and use them wisely!
I’m delighted to say that my last post was met with great debate and discussion with some people agreeing, some disagreeing and some just laughing at the new state of my bits and pieces – thanks for that girls! Regardless, I am gratefully inspired to bring you my second instalment, this time on the period immediately after birth (pun intended).
As I hinted at in my previous post, I never thought childbirth would be a walk in the park. My dream was that my baby would nudge her way out, Husband and I would ooh and aah then a few hours later we would glide through the hospital corridors with one perfectly behaved toddler and one dreamy little baby in the car seat. Just like in a shit TV advert for an ISA. Obviously I knew this was beyond unrealistic but still I hoped for some of the serenity and floatiness. The reality was so far removed I couldn’t believe it. The labour I talked about in my previous post; the less said about that dark day the better. Afterwards there was little ooh-ing or aaah-ing; I was exhausted from 3 days of contractions with almost no sleep and I had to wait 7 hours post delivery before I went to theatre to be sewn back together – I was imagining Frankenstein’s neck. I couldn’t walk, never mind glide, and I couldn’t pick up the car seat for about two weeks without feeling nauseous from the effort. Instead I shuffled along the corridor quietly yelping like a beaten puppy, terrified that red patches might appear on my trousers and nervous that I might follow through on a fart and bust my stitches in the process. Girly no1 picked this day to become the toddler from hell turning into jelly and sliding to the floor every time I went anywhere near her. Whilst it was an obvious reaction to Girly no2’s arrival, it still only took this happening twice for me to dissolve into a puddle of salty tears. This was before we even made it out of the lift.
For the next 4 weeks I was constantly aching and bleeding. I felt like I had squatted in front of a line of Irish dancers auditioning for Riverdance. The bleeding was far worse than any period I had ever experienced, it was relentless and led to my wearing Always Night at all hours of the day, changing pads every hour or two. Sensitive skin rubbing on gauzy pads (there is a difference between night pads and maternity pads, choose wisely) combined with my healing stitches left me in a total state, it was unbearable. My bits felt like they were intermittently being rubbed and tickled with various grades of sandpaper, I was hoping around like a toddler with sand in their pants for the first time. I mentioned it to the midwife on one of the first couple of checks. She suggested I go pant-free as much as possible, especially at night. I scoffed at her like a 13-year old girl being told to put her iPhone down. Had she seen how much blood there was? And not to sound like an arsehole but we have white Egyptian cotton bedsheets! (I’m very aware of how this sounds but they’re my pride and joy!). These were later sacrificed for the sake of my sanity – they’re covered in wee, sick and poo anyway, from the babies of course. Day times were hell. For the first time in my life I wanted to walk around half naked. In the evenings I would sit on the sofa on my polo cushion with a towel over it, naked from the waist down with my dressing gown over my knees to stop Husband seeing the now-catastrophe that was my lady parts. (This polo cushion was pricey but totally worth it and I still use it to sit Girly no2 on – JoJo Maman Bebe support pillow, £40.) By the time I’d been home for ten days, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I went to the doctors in tears. I cried in the car, I cried in the waiting room and I was choking on my tears by the time I opened the door to the doctors office. Eventually I managed to explain that the itching and stinging was so bad that I couldn’t focus on my baby, was crying all the time and was beginning to think I might have post natal depression. She nodded sympathetically and asked if she could take a look. Never have I so willingly laid down in front of a stranger legs akimbo and voluntarily accepted a finger up my bum. Her conclusion was that it could have been haemorrhoids, could have been thrush, or it could have been another infection but it was most likely just my body healing and would be likely to go on for a couple of weeks. It actually lasted about six weeks, not fun. I was prescribed a hydrocortisone, which helped massively. I returned home to Husband and the girls crying slightly less and desperate to re-assume “the position” on the sofa. I felt better now I was doing something to help the situation. I continued to walk around the house like a crab, wore a wildly unfashionable gypsy skirt for visitors (well, that’s what I should have done) and whenever it was just us, I sat pants free on the sofa on my towel wafting air across my bits with the latest edition of Grazia.
This was my biggest post-labour problem as it was so unexpected. I had (wrongly) assumed that things healed quickly and easily after a natural labour, that was the very reason I opted for this rather than another caesarean – so I would be in a good physical condition for my toddler.
There were a few other post labour problems…
Going to the toilet. I had to take a kit to the toilet with me. Yep. A toilet kit. It contained:
- A squirty water bottle for dilution
- A soft towel for thorough drying
- Witch hazel and cotton wool, a suggested remedy I found online
- A clean maternity pad or ten
- And aqueous cream because the area was so irritated (note to others – don’t put salt in your bath water, it dries things out!)
All of this was just for a wee. For a poo, I had to take all of this and had to do prep in the form of laxatives and a follow up in the form of a shower. Should going to the toilet ever be this difficult?!
Boobs. Ow. Don’t touch me, don’t lean on me, don’t place a supportive hand on my shoulder and if you’re my toddler, definitely don’t roll over onto my boob squashing it under your wriggly, boney little body. They feel like woks and they hurt like someone is giving them a Chinese burn from the inside out. I will cry if you come within touching distance of them.
After birth pains. OWWW! Why, after 9 months of pregnancy, 3 days of contractions and 2 hours of pushing, should anyone be subjected to weeks of agonising contractions?! These make me mad. Especially as they’re were even worse when breast feeding. Why, why, why!
The crying. I’m pretty hormonal anyway and tears are my favourite symptom but I swear I cried for about a month after both of my daughters were born. I could have hired myself out as a professional mourner. The saddest moment was when my toddler started saying “be happy mummy”…it made me cry even more. What a depressing person to be around!
The first poo. Having a third degree tear, in black and white terms, means you tear from front to back, so your bum hole tears. Nice hey?! I can’t describe the fear of those first few poos although it turns out I didn’t need to be scared of those early ones…it was when I ran out of stool softeners I needed to worry! Enough said!
The one area I didn’t suffer, which I know many women do, was a leaking bladder. I like to think that this was in part because I did my pelvic floor exercises every day religiously throughout my pregnancy. At 8am every day, an alarm went off on my phone (smartly named the PF alarm) and we made it a family event. I’m not sure my 2-year old got it but my husband certainly claims that his bladder control is now stronger! The alarm still goes off now and I firmly believe it’s this that means I can hold a wee in for at least 5 seconds.
Similarly to childbirth, I don’t think anyone ever talked openly about all the problems they experienced afterwards. Perhaps people do, and I haven’t been listening. Perhaps I was too was distracted by the dreamy little baby. Or perhaps women just don’t talk about it because, like the experience of childbirth, we don’t want to put everyone off. I don’t know. What I do know is that next time I visit a friend with a new baby, I’ll pay a lot more attention to how the Mum is doing.
Please share your thoughts below and follow me if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far. Thanks!
Mrs Hergerburger xx
Dreamy baby feet