You may have been surprised when I announced my third pregnancy. Particularly if you recall that my very reason for starting this blog was my outraged horror at giving birth naturally, after a c-section with Girly no1. Now I am having to confront my fear of giving birth. And, let me tell you, the fear is massive. (Warning: there’s a lot of vajayjay chat in this one…)
My last childbirth experience was awful. My husband did more than watch his favourite pub burn down – he watched it be vandalised, torn up, petrol bombed and then burnt….while his friends were still in there drinking. Labour itself lasted for days. I tore from front to back. I was exhausted for not having slept for 3 days. It took 7 hours after the delivery for me to be sewn back up again. I was in hospital away from Girly no1 for 3 nights. The recovery was far from the ‘tired and achey post-gym’ feeling I was expecting. I was in agony. I couldn’t sit down. I went to the doctors sobbing after ten days because the itching and stinging I felt was like gyrating on razor blades. I had thrush. I bled continuously for months. It was shit.
That’s Childbirth Baby
If you’ve had a baby you’re probably sat there nodding or wondering what I’m bitching about. “That’s childbirth!” you’re probably saying with a “get over it” type smile on your face.
And I know it’s not like I nearly died or anything. I know this stuff happens to everyone. I just think that most people just deal with it much better than I have. That or they just don’t talk about it. I think my problem is that I just wasn’t expecting it to be like that. I mean I knew labour would hurt. But I did not expect to be broken in half and feel like I had been raped and beaten repeatedly for a month. It hit me hard.
I did recover physically. More quickly than I would have with a c-section, and eventually I even had sex again, though that was no walk in the park for a long time. Mentally, I tried to get over it. I wrote about it and I talked about it (a bit). In reality, I still felt like I was being a drama queen.
Ok Let’s Go Again
But as often happens, my flat out ‘no, I’m never giving birth again’ feeling eventually started to ebb away. With our relationship back on track, everyone sleeping and life and businesses moving on; we decided last year that we would have another baby while we were still in the baby/toddler phase of life. We didn’t want to find too much independence only to lose it again so we agreed that we should just bosh them out (for want of a better expression). One surprisingly devastating miscarriage later and two years after one of the most horrific experiences of life so far (yep, there was little magic in childbirth, I found), here we are.
28 weeks pregnant. 10 to 14 weeks away from giving birth. And it has all come flooding back. I am not feeling good about it! In fact I’m terrified. I can’t talk about giving birth without bursting into tears. I have realised this in the last few weeks as people have started to ask.
hows it coming out?
Husband was the first ahead of our last midwife appointment. He carefully picked at his words to ask if we were going for natural or asking for a c-section, him having found the whole thing no less traumatic than I did. I started bravely telling him of course natural – a c-section is major surgery, the recovery is too long, I won’t be able to drive the Girlies, I want to get straight back into exercise etc. He looked slightly alarmed but agreed to go along with it. A few minutes later he found me weeping in another room as I finally let myself think about what was about to happen to me again. He did exactly the right thing, held me for ages and then told me he’ll do whatever I want to do. He’ll have the fights. He’ll defend me to the death. That’s his job.
A few days later my mother-in-law asked the same innocent question. Again, I erupted into tears, admitting I was terrified.
It came to a head in my pregnancy yoga class. We normally have a nice cosy chit chat before we start and the nervous first-time mums rub their about-to-pop bellies talking about how they’re “sure childbirth won’t be that bad.” I have done my best to tread a line between honesty and fear-mongering to the first-time mums I have come across since. I gave birth. In this situation I just stared at the ground. I fought with my face to try and keep it neutral. I probably looked like Jim Carey in the Mask from the outside.
As I sat there listening to them ‘wish it would just happen now’ my hands ground into each other and started to clam up. I felt that familiar lump at the back of my throat and the corners of my eyes start to sting. Our very smiley yoga teacher, pregnant with her second baby, talked fondly of labour and tried, rightly so, to keep things positive. She asked why there aren’t more positive birth stories out there. I continued to stare down at the floor silently begging her not to ask me about either of my previous two. As one of the ‘more experienced Mums,’ she often asks me to share. She looked at me for slightly longer than necessary finally sensing that I’m wasn’t a good person to ask.
Normally I am quite happy to share – ‘don’t worry, your baby will let you know when it’s hungry’, ‘sure, you’ll have sex again one day,’ ‘take your time with breast feeding, it’s a skill you have to learn, and it doesn’t always come easily’. Even to the second-time Mums – ‘no1 will be a pain but they will come through it,’ ‘the life change isn’t so severe the second time round as you’re already in a family-friendly routine,’ ‘don’t feel bad about sending them off with grandparents for days out, they’ll love it, and they probably won’t remember this in a month or two’s time.’ I’m fairly good with reassurances. I have quite a calm and confident demeanour so people tend to believe me.
It’s exactly why you don’t want to ask me about childbirth.
my fear of giving birth again
After very nearly crying in a room full of near-strangers I realised I needed to do something about it. This baby is coming out of me one way or another and even I no longer believe my casual “it is what it is” response I had been giving anyone that asked. I also know, on a logical level, that the more fearful I am going into labour, the more my body will be flooded with adrenaline which will negate the oxytocin my body needs to progress with labour. One way or another, I need to find a way to try and relax into this birth. It’s not complex. On a scientific level, I get it. On a practical and emotional level, I really don’t.
I have been looking into things I can do.
There is a general wave of positivity around birth at the minute. A desire to share more positive birth stories. I have joined a group – the ‘positive birth movement’ group in my local area. I didn’t want to because the name made me feel like I would have to get smelly dreadlocks, wear Birkenstocks in the winter and carry all my children in a fabric sling around my body at the same time. But I fought my mean pre-judgements and joined the group, first on Facebook and then in real life. I went to the first meeting, hoping I wouldn’t have to share my birth stories. “Hi I’m Jess and I’m a Birthaphobic”.
I took the Girlies with me as cover. They are a great distraction in times of discomfort. If anything will stop me crying it’s them. They are also a huge distraction when you’re trying to listen, but that’s the pay off.
The group was actually really nice. It was a great mixture of pregnant women, new mums, second, third and fourth-time Mums, doulas (women who support you through labour), post birth doulas (didn’t know that was a thing), and breast feeding counsellors. There were even two mums that I could be friends with. They are why I’ll go back next time – because there are other ‘normal women’ like me also in need. More importantly than new friends though, the lady that runs it is a counsellor/doula/hypnobirthing expert. And I think she is the only person with the power to help me right now.
what’s a girl to do
I am going to have some one-to-one sessions with her. Tomorrow we are doing a ‘Birth Rewind’ session where we talk about everything from last time around, try and process it and move on.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I am also, despite my disappointment and writing it off last time, having another go at hypnobirthing. Whilst it might not have helped me with pain management, it was my one saving grace helping me rest between contractions. And I did enjoy the excuse of lying down for 20 minutes every day to ‘practice.’ This time I am doing it properly. I’m taking the course. I’m reading the books. I’m listening to the tracks. I may even get a t-shirt.
And these things are why I have written this today. Because I’m not allowed to be negative anymore. I’m getting it all out of my system before my Birth Rewind session and I am moving forward with positivity. You can laugh if you like but just do me one favour. Keep it quiet ‘til the baby is out!
Huge thanks for reading as usual! Feel free to share. And do me a favour and publicly or privately admit that you were scared too – it will make me feel better. Any tips also much appreciated! Big love to you and your families.
Every expectant mother has trawled the internet looking for lists of what you need in your hospital bag. Stop Googling. It’s here, the definitive list of what you will, and definitely will not, need.
What you will need in your hospital bag:
A large, soft night shirt – one that can be lifted for breast feeding or cover your nether regions between contractions. Steal one from your Husband or treat yourself to one from M&S. Who cares if you look like your Nan, there’s a baby that needs to get out of your body. Definitely comfort over style on this occasion ladies!
A rubber ring or a round cushion (if you plan to deliver naturally) – when your lady parts feel like they fought 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, you don’t want any weight on your tender area. This seemingly extravagant pillow from JoJo Maman Bebe was totally worth the investment. I used it for sleeping with while I was pregnant, to lift my bum up after I gave birth and now I use it to put my baby in. Multi-purpose! And don’t worry, it comes with a washable pillow case.
Mega fat pants with loose waistbands – There’s so much indignity you need the pant equivalent of a cuddle from your mum. Some big, soft cotton briefs! These M&S pants were good. Following my c-section I had to cut through the elastic at the top, but they were great for after my vaginal delivery, when I just wanted a nice soft fabric that would hold an enormous maternity pad.
Leggings – again, comfort over style. There’s no way I could have gone home in jeans, even maternity ones. Chances are you’ll be shuffling from the ward to your front door via a car so as long as the camel toe is covered up, another day in leggings won’t kill you.
Fat socks and a hoody – and anything else cosy that helps you feel less violated.
Phone charger – you’ll want your camera to take a hundred photos of your little munchkin. And you’ll want to beg your lift home to get there faster.
Bank card – for TV or music to drown out the sound of other people’s babies crying.
Dry shampoo – there are no hair driers and you might not be able to move if you have to have surgery. A volumising Batiste is my favourite. I like oomph and wanted to not feel totally gross.
A fluffy towel – you’ll want to scrub yourself from top to bottom (except you won’t want to touch your very sore bottom) removing all trace of the hands and eyes that have been on you. So go soft. M&S are again a winner with their Egyptian cotton towels.
Toothbrush, lip balm, mascara and powder/tinted moisturiser – these items create your new mum look. Get used to it fitty!
Maternity pads – not sanitary towels, I cannot stress this enough! I had thrush and had to have steroid cream for the irritation done by wearing the wrong kind. Do not make this mistake!
Baby stuff – this is the easy bit. Vests in newborn and 0-3 month sizes, baby grows (same sizes), a hat, a blanket, nappies and wipes. Water wipes are my fave, I have a monthly ‘subscribe and save’ with Amazon making wipes, nappies and toilet roll much cheaper. Plus I never run out.
Car seat – don’t forget this otherwise you can’t leave the hospital.
You definitely will not need:
Dressing gown – hospitals are so bloody hot
Magazines or books – you’re a mum now. These things are there to collect dust, nothing more.
Eyeshadow & eyeliner – and anything else that takes more than 3 seconds to apply
An underwired bra – it takes me months to get back into these, especially if breast feeding. Stick with the softies until your boobies deflate.
Earphones – you don’t wanna look like a bad mum straight away. Give it a week at least.
Let me know anything I’ve forgotten. And don’t forget to share this amazing list of what you need in your hospital bag with all your pregnant friends using the link below!
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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