This blog post is the first of three where I reflect on what it was like giving birth. In part 1 I share my feelings on my ‘no epidural’ natural birth. In part 2, I talk about my problem with the question, ‘how was it?’ While in part 3, I spill the beans on how it happened.
My First Post-Partum
This is my first blog post since giving birth (did you get the pun?!) and I just wanted to say how comically difficult it’s been to write!
First of all, giving birth is probably, who am I kidding, definitely the biggest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. It has taken me some time to recover and reflect truthfully on the whole experience.
Immediately after my baby was born, there were family, friends and a range of health professionals asking me how it went, ‘how was it?‘
‘It was ok,’ I would say, like when someone asks, ‘how are you?’ and you’re supposed to say, ‘good, and you?’
But was it ok? In those early days, when you’re suddenly thrust into the thick of it, is it even right to ask so casually a question that is so complex and personal? More on that in My Birth Story Part 2: How Was It?
Secondly, sleep deprivation is real. Newborns need attention around the clock. They feed every 1-3 hours breaking up your sleep like a terrorist interrogation cell. So in those few rare moments I get to, you know, sleep, shower or just relax, I’ve simply not had the energy or motivation to blog.
Although, just as I’m adjusting to this new sleepless way of life, my baby is starting to sleep a little longer! So, (hopefully) a trickle of more blog content coming up.
Third, what a rollercoaster it’s been! You never know what curveballs having a baby is going to throw at you, but I would say to expect at least some.
In the first few weeks, we had some minor (in the grand scheme of things) scares and problems. While in week 4, I got very sick with something you’ve probably never heard of. It’s called mastitis, and it comes from hell.
When I was 14, I spent 3 nights in the hospital fighting for my life with salmonella poisoning.
This. was. worse.
A high fever sent waves of pain right through my bones, as my body alternated between a freezer and a fireplace. But the worst part of it was that I am no longer a girl who can just crawl into bed until I’m better. I’m a mother now, and there is nothing worse than feeling like you can’t fulfil that role even for a minute.
Finally, I don’t trust my sleep deprived brain to say things in public! Especially on such a prickly issue as birth… Which is why this post has gone through countless edits. But the longer I spend working on it, the longer it becomes, the more I have to edit… And on it goes until finally I decided to split it up into 3 parts and just get it out the door!
Seven weeks ago, a beautiful baby boy called Yiannis made his way from womb to world through my vagina, ‘naturally.’ And in case you’re wondering, no, that wasn’t the plan, that’s just how it happened.
When my husband talks about the birth, he says it with a sense of pride, and always finishes with, ‘and no epidural.’ I’ve even got a new nickname: ‘the beast,’ like a victorious gladiator, exhausted and bloody, but a winner.
I watch as he tells his version and see the instant look of approval on people’s faces at that word, ‘natural.’ And I get it. I did a big thing, that’s cool. But I can’t help but feel like I am being judged, and reject their judgement.
I wanted an epidural. I have no shame in saying it and therefore no reason to be particularly proud of doing without one. Especially since it was not my choice. I waited hours, first for a room to be available and then for a doctor, who never came. Even as my contractions became unbearable, the midwife insisted still on waiting longer to examine me.
I was made to get up and walk to change rooms at 9 cm dilated.
The mamas reading this will cringe at that line like a man seeing another get kicked in the nuts. Somehow my midwife hadn’t realised I was already in transition, possibly because it was her first day on the job. Then there was a shift change and by the time the anaesthetists arrived it was all too late… For the full story, read part 3.
Before I got pregnant, I used to say how this scenario was among my worst nightmares. Seriously, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being denied anaesthesia from the excruciating pain of muscles and skin stretching and tearing, like open surgery on my most vulnerable region.
Even though I began to fear it less during my pregnancy, as my body changed in remarkable ways and the love for my baby took over, you have to understand that it was still not what I wanted.
I imagine my husband telling the story differently. ‘Oh yes, of course with an epidural, it’s simply barbaric without!’ Or maybe, ‘elective caesarian’ and how those same people would react. What looks would they give me then?
Again, back when I was pregnant, the question everyone kept asking was how exactly I was planning on having my baby, my baby. And I was always straight with the answer – epidural. So I’ve seen the disapproving looks before.
From strangers in cafes to some of my nearest and dearest, there it was, this incredibly personal question, followed by their unsolicited judgement, and then the story, always a story. About the power of women and how nature designed our bodies this way blah blah blah. About hypnobirthing, other people’s positive birth stories – strangely never their own – and how there really is nothing to fear. That nobody needs an epidural.
As someone who has now had a natural birth, thank you very much NHS, I think it’s important that women are under no illusions about what that really means. ‘Natural’ isn’t only about pain relief. It encompasses all ‘medical interventions’ from inductions to epidurals.
Yes, natural has its benefits, if it’s safe and possible. Yes, hypnobirthing helps. Yes, there are positive birth stories out there. And yes, your body is amazing. But equally yes, natural may not be what’s right or best for you, yes, medical interventions may be necessary and YES, it’s going to hurt!
I don’t say that to scare anyone. But I won’t pander to the unrealistic expectations of a quick and painless, candlelit birth. It’s not a Thai massage, a little uncomfortable but overall enjoyable. It’s hard work! They don’t call it labour for nothing. And in the majority of cases, as in, 99%, pain is very much a part of the experience.
I can’t believe I have to say this in 2019, but we really need to do better in breaking the stigmas surrounding birth. Because there really is no best way, there is only what’s best for you. In my antenatal course group, I was surprised to discover that I was the only one wanting an epidural. The majority of the group wanted natural births and in the end, that was only possible for two of us.
We need to start seeing every type of birth as natural, and drop the judgements and superiority complex of one over the other. Spontaneous births are, well, spontaneous, so it’s often not even up to us how they happen. Neither an epidural nor a birth plan are guaranteed. Still, we have the right to ask for what we want, and really, it’s nobody’s business but our own.
What’s weird is that I predicted it. Somehow I knew. I spent hours researching epidurals. The risks, the facts, when to ask for one. Hoping that I might increase my chances of getting one… Yet, somehow I knew. ‘Epidural,’ I would say, ‘if possible.’
Featured Image: Photo by Samantha Black Photography