This blog post is the second 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.
It’s a question most people ask after you’ve had a baby. Because people like to know, I like to know.
How was the birth?
I love birth stories and I’m always interested to hear what women think of this most personal, challenging, profoundly human experience. Especially when so many births don’t go as planned, it makes the question all the more intriguing.
So, what happened?!
Well, how much do you want to know?
But also, how much will I tell you?
I never realised it before, but asking about someone’s labour is actually one of the most personal questions you could ask.
I often find myself quickly evaluating our relationship before calculating how to answer. As I mentioned in My Birth Story Part 1: No Epidural, it’s a bit like the question, ‘how are you?’ where most people expect the standard reply, ‘fine, and you?’
We don’t go around confiding our deepest feelings to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Equally, we won’t be sharing our true birth stories with every person who asks.
To these people, you are expected to say it went well. Something a long the lines of… oh yes, difficult, but so beautiful. And then leave it at that. What they don’t want is the truth. And they certainly don’t want the details.
Labour isn’t small talk, nor is it a simple question with a simple answer. It’s a story, sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes none of your business.
In the first few hours and days after the birth, I don’t even think I knew the answer. I hadn’t had time to think it through. Also I was in shock, in deep Bear Grylls survival mode, with a Glastonbury chemical overload from all the hormones flooding my brain.
How was my birth?
How was your life up until now?
Whether I’m gearing up for the long version or the short, I still find it incredibly difficult to answer. And not something I want to be asked by your plus one at a dinner party.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that trying to keep it ‘simple’ or short has the very unfortunate tendency of encouraging either a positive or negative response.
Say something bad and you risk getting accused of scaremongering or spreading unhelpful horror stories. Better keep the gory details to yourself, new mama. But paint the scene too positively, and hmmm I don’t know, for example, use the word painless, then surely you are spreading unrealistic expectations of what will most likely, come on now, really f***ing hurt.
In my antenatal classes, we talked a lot about pain relief. Our instructor explained to the group that we each have different pain thresholds, and so we shouldn’t plan what pain relief we need until we experience it for ourselves. Especially since, and here’s the kicker, she said, for some of us, it might not even be painful. In fact, and I’m quoting now, you might even orgasm.
Where are these women who orgasm during labour? Because I sure as hell haven’t met one. And what woman finds 10 cm of skull pleasurable!? Show me these women! Comedic effect aside, that is a bizarrely large spectrum. From the most pain you might ever experience in your life… to an orgasm? How painful are these people’s orgasms?!
What about painless hypnobirthing? I call bullshit.
Even with an epidural, you will still feel pain. You get to skip out on the ring of fire (cute nickname huh, does that sound painless to you?) But you’ll still have to deal with the contractions until that blessed catheter enters your spine.
If you haven’t noticed already, this misrepresentation of labour pain really grinds my gears. The issue shouldn’t be whether or not the pain exists, but how you will manage it, and how you will feel about how you managed it. Because for some, it really is beautiful, a rite of passage. While for others, it results in PTSD. That’s the real spectrum!
Having now experienced a ‘natural’ birth, I can appreciate that there is a fine line between what’s good and bad about it, and the sensitivities surrounding how we portray it. The baby is incredibly good, and going natural definitely has its benefits for both mum and baby (when safe and possible). But pushing a 3.6 kg baby out of my vagina with no pain relief? Not so good.
So to answer the question, how was it?
Let’s be honest, it was pretty bad.
But how do I feel about it?
Kind of OK!
Maybe it’s birth amnesia or my Viking heritage, but even as my birth didn’t go as planned, I’m not traumatised or even that upset about it. Yes, it hurt like hell, but it was also relatively quick (praise the Lord). I was in pain for a shorter amount of time than some of my friends who did get epidurals, which I’m very grateful for.
Possibly as a result of my natural birth, my baby was also born without the need of any instruments like forceps or ventouse, which was one of my main concerns, and no episiotomy. He was born a healthy baby boy with no complications during labour, and that’s what matters most to me!
As my mother used to say, ‘I’d cut off an arm or a leg for my babies.’ And that’s why, one day (in the future that I can’t even imagine now, crazy future lady), I’ll do it all again.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Maternity Photoshoot by Philip Cherukara