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