Emily has recently shared her incredibly emotional birth experiences with us, the trauma she has endured bringing her beautiful boys into the world and highlighted her mental health and OCD diagnosis. Myself and Emily have had very different experiences bringing our children earth side yet postnatally we have both struggled. You would think great birth = great mindset but that’s not necessarily always the case so I’m here to share my story with you in the hope it gets conversations started and allows everyone to feel they have a space to talk.
I had two incredible and enjoyable births… yes you read that right I have had two incredibly positive birth experiences and I feel this needs talking about too, not because I want to show off, not because I want to rub it in the faces of those who haven’t, but for to give women hope. Hope that even if you are due to have your first or your fifth baby a positive birth experience can and does happen.
It can be incredibly hard to talk about a good birth experience, isn’t that a strange concept? From what we see on the television and in films it looks painful, un-natural, full of fear and dread. We see films with dramatic scenes with waters bursting in the most unusual or inconvenient places, contractions intensely painful from that start and pure panic on everyone’s faces. Even ‘One born every minute’ which most pregnant women watch at some point, just for a little in site onto what ‘its really like’, is full of women writhing in pain on their backs and the information we are consuming is ultimately quite negative, why? because it builds tension, it sells. Top that off with a few birth stories and boom there you have a very terrifying experience laid out in front of you. Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware there are emergencies and things do go wrong that do need intervention (and some births do go as I have just written, we are all different) but my point of writing this is that it’s very hard to talk about the good for that reason. Imagine being in a room full of women all telling the tales of their birth, they have been through hell and back yet my experience was elating and magical. You want to give these women hope that is doesn’t have to be that way but how do you put that without looking like a show off hippy or completely trampling on their feelings?
I found out I was pregnant the day Emily went into labour with Arthur, how crazy is that?! Emily is like my sister, we have known each other since nursery we have shared our childhood, crazy teenage years, boyfriend troubles, weddings, babies, postnatal depression and some absolutely joyous times together.
Watching your friend go through the hardest days of her life with a newborn baby is gut wrenchingly painful and me being completely naïve at the time had no idea what to do, say or even act around an incredibly delicate version of my oldest friend. Fast forward nine months and I find myself on the way to the hospital having had a few hours in labour at home. Emily’s reality and experience firmly in my mind and she (without really knowing it) and many other women’s stories helped me prepare for every eventuality, but funnily enough not the good. I know my body is different to everyone else but all I’ve seen is hospital births, all I’ve heard about is the pain and necessary drugs. I try to keep my mind open and decide I will treat this as if I was just going to go and run marathon with very little training (something I would stupidly probably actually do). How far I can get without much preparation? I’m willing to accept anything given to me if I begin to struggle and I keep telling myself whatever happens as long as I get my baby safe that’s all that matters. I don’t even consider the after effects, I’m not sure many women do. But to my surprise it doesn’t go that way at all, my contractions are going like clockwork, my cervix is dilating as it should and I feel I can cope with the pain. After being moved into the delivery room and getting into the pool I feel I need to push my body choosing to do it rather than me forcing it like I’ve seen on the films. I’m moved to a bed for the delivery as I felt I couldn’t ground myself in the pool and they needed to catheterize me before delivery. After a few pushes boof there’s a beautiful baby girl. No interventions, no drugs just a few puffs on gas and air, just my body doing the work it needed to.
I was in complete shock that was not at all how I expected it to be. Why? Why did this happen to me? Why do so many others have to go through such a different experience?
A few months later at a baby group mums were slowing getting onto the subject of birth, something I had always tried to avoid talking about, mainly for fear of upsetting others as I pretty much had the most textbook birth possible. They were sharing stories mainly involving emergencies so when it naturally came round to my time to talk I would say something along the lines of ‘it was ok, not great but ok’ and leave it there, usually no one delved deeper but I was lieing. I was still on an absolute high I wanted to shout from the rooftops about what I had achieved and how it was the most elating experience of my life but how could I when there is so much pain and heartache surrounding these women’s experiences. But what if I was brave enough to share my story? Could I possibly plant a seed of hope for their next potential deliveries or could I be a story they pass onto another pregnant woman. But at the time I wasn’t that brave.
The following months I became a bit obsessed with birth and started to do more and more research into what my body had been through and I found it completely fascinating how different it can be from woman to woman. The more I analysed it the more I started to notice a few negative and unhappy feelings towards my labour but compared to others these seemed so minimal I never once voiced anything and put it all to one side. Its not until writing this I have ever mentioned anything like this to anyone but writing has been a cathartic experience for me as these are valid feelings that I’m sure others will have had, no matter how your birth went what you feel is still valid and relative to you.
When I arrived at the labour ward I honestly felt I was treated like a child, yes I could have been more educated but I had no idea what I was about to experience, I’m not sure anyone does until it actually happens and you are living it there and then. Perhaps midwives sometimes miss this as they see it every single day but I was feeling vulnerable and scared yet this didn’t seem to register with anyone. I was told I needed to go to the toilet and although I absolutely could not wee I was just left in there on my own for quite some time, my husband unsure of what to do and fear of getting in the way waited outside (something which was evident throughout the whole process he clearly felt in the way which makes me so sad as it’s his child too). When going into the waiting room I was told something along the lines of ‘we will check you but as you are first time mum you will probably have to go home, it takes hours’ but for me it didn’t. When I felt I was pushing, something I had no idea happened on its own, I had a very young trainee midwife in the room who looked incredibly panicked, she ran to get help and when the senior midwife came she stated ‘I couldn’t possibly be ready to push’ I was then hoofed out the pool, catheterized without me really understanding what was happening and then practically barked at to push. I wasn’t asked about my choices for the cord and quickly told to have an injection to help with the delivery of the placenta. I realised I felt slightly belittled and rushed into decisions I should have had the knowledge about before they happened, it wasn’t an emergency there was time to explain these things but it was just done and dusted. I realised how quickly I could have agreed to more interventiosn without being fully aware of how this could affect me later on. Looking back I know I feel a bit silly for not preparing myself better, I could have done more reading and prepare myself better but I didn’t. if you are a first time mum reading this please just do a little bit of reading even if it’s just the stages of labour so you feel at least somewhat prepared and empowered to help make choices. I fully appreciate the roles of midwifes are very high stress, they have the lives of a woman and a baby in their hands so sometimes decisions have to be made quickly but in my case there was no emergency things could be been explained better and I feel I could have been treated with a little more understanding. These feelings don’t at all take away from the fact it was a very positive experience and I suppose its only dissecting everything that brought this up but that’s in my nature and its relative to me, to someone else this could mean nothing, it’s just important to feel we can talk about it without fear of judgement. I now knew that if I were to have another baby things would be very different, in a good way.
Postnatally I felt ok with my first child but I definitely had some issues that I just put down to tiredness. I was incredibly sleep deprived and a few nights I would wake up searching for her in the bed convinced I had fallen asleep feeding her and lost her somewhere. My husband once woke to me crawling under the bed convinced she had gone but every time she was in her cot. I had a few reoccurring intrusive thoughts that started to scare me, very vivid fantasies where I would trip down the stairs or crash the car with her in there and I obsessed about my husband arriving home safely but I knew this was quite common after talking to Emily and other mums and they didn’t stop me from enjoying my baby or doing day to day activities so I didn’t seek any further help and eventually it eased. Perhaps it was bubbling postnatal depression but I dismissed it. I had nothing to feel sad about, my birth was amazing me and my baby were healthy and before it became overwhelming it had passed.
After a lot of reading, research and finding stories I chose to have a home birth. On telling people my plans I was met with a lot of doubt - are you sure it’s safe? what if there’s an emergency? what if you or baby needs help afterwards? all very valid questions but they had no idea how much I had already put into this, I wanted to give birth to this baby in my front room. I attended my first midwife appointment ready and armed for an argument, I wanted it on my notes from the start this was my intention but I didn’t need to memorise facts and figures in my head she was completely in agreement with me. She had delivered many babies at home and had seen first-hand the benefit and capabilities of women when in their own environment. We talked through all the questions I had playing on my mind from others concerns and she answered in a very practical realistic way and I finally felt understood.
On my due date I felt very off all day, I had a few cramps but nothing I thought was a sign of labour but at 12.15pm my waters went and contractions started about 40 minutes later. I had practiced a lot of hypnobirthing this time round and was using the techniques to breathe through each one allowing me to get some rest on the sofa. I’d dismissed hypnobirthing previously as being far too hippy for me, even though I am a bit of a hippy at heart, but I found it’s not just about getting in ‘the zone’. You are informed about the stages of labour, what actually happens to your body and how it prepares for your new arrival, I found it completely fascinating and genuinely useful. At around 7am we rang the labour ward having already filled the hired birth pool and things seemed to be progressing quickly. At 8am the midwife arrived and she quietly set up her things and chatted to me but she was very much in the background allowing me to focus and breathe as I had practised which was exactly how I wanted it to be. My husband was very involved this time as he was comfortable in his own environment too and he didn’t feel like he was in anyone’s way. He happily chatted to the midwife, helped me with contractions and brought me everything I needed. At 9am I agreed to be checked to see how things were going I was around 3-4cm so she suggested she would visit another pregnant lady just across the village and then come back in around an hour. The panic on my husband’s face was evident as he knew how quickly it all happened last time and he felt confident enough to voice this, whilst they were talking it through things seemed to ramp up big time. Every time I stood up off my ball everything became very intense so I stayed on there as long as I could, I think if I had been able to stay stood up she would have arrived even quicker. At 10am I felt very ready to get in the pool so as I waddled my way over there my husband nipped to the loo. As soon as the water covered me I started involuntarily pushing, I could hear my husband running down the stairs and within about 2 minutes she was born. At 10.10am I had a healthy 8lb9oz baby girl in my arms in my living room, I had done it. We had delayed cord clamping and enjoyed the water together. When we decided it was time to move we had to cut the cord (which I agreed to as it had turned white) as it was so short we couldn’t easily get out of the pool and I then agreed to have the injection for the placenta after waiting a while but not seeing any signs of it coming. In hindsight I could have waited longer for this but I decided I was uncomfortable and getting impatient waiting, it needs noting though – this was my decision. I needed a few stitches afterward which were done by the midwife by the light of our camping headtourch whilst I lay on the sofa. My eldest came home from a morning with Emily and her boys to a baby sister, pool packed away, midwife gone, like she had just been delivered on the doorstep. It was absolute pure bliss.
In the weeks after there were waves of visitors and questions about my birth as it was quite different to what most people were used to but I always down played it to people especially if I knew they had suffered but potentially looking back that could actually do more harm than good. I wasn’t spreading hope I was just maintaining the norm and I wasn’t aware of what that could be doing to me. Why was I not telling people how great it was and suggesting this to everyone? Again fear of looking like I’m bragging or potentially being branded as ‘lucky’, I had put a lot of time and effort into achieving this type of birth but I don’t feel luck has anything to do with it. Emergencies happen and I was completely aware this could happen to me, this time I wasn’t naive I was prepared for the possibility that even if I had needed to be transferred, yes I may have been a little bit disheartened, but I like to hope I still could have remained positive because I felt empowered to challenge things and not just accept whatever was thrown at me. I think this is the key to having a positive experience, not being too stuck on one idea, have an idea of what you want but allow for changes to be made, prepare yourself mentally for the bad but also the good, the latter not many of us do and feel able to talk openly about both so others can do the same.
With my first child sleep had always been an issue for us, we practically struggled through broken nights sleep until she finished nursery so I was fully prepared for the lack of sleep and how it made me feel but this time round I was managing and didn’t feel half as tired as I had remembered, even with 2 children to now look after. I felt like I had much more energy for the both of them which was my biggest worry but we were settling into being a family of four very well. At 3 months postpartum I started to feel very low, the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life but I couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong. I’d had the perfect birth, my girls were healthy and happy I couldn’t have asked for more but I was incredibly sad. I hid it from everyone, what could I possibly have to be sad about? On days out I would suddenly panic and feel the need to get home, I’d go hot and sweaty and feel on the verge of crying constantly. I again put it down to lack of sleep and hormones and tired to squash it but it felt heavy and like I was going to burst at any moment. I can’t go into the feelings that followed too much as sometimes it all still feels very relevant and raw. I became more and more scared to admit there was something wrong or reach out even though it was painfully obvious. But eventually I did and it changed everything. I’m really not very good at sharing my feelings as you have probably realised by now, I think I’m too scared of how I will be judged or causing unnecessarily panic but I’m working on it, actually writing this has probably been my biggest step. The first person I told was Emily, I text her because the thought of saying it out loud filled me with dread and I knew I would back out, but she already knew and was already expecting it. I told my husband and yet again he already knew. He too had been struggling but avoided admitting it and we worked on this together. I told my mum and I’m sure she knew things weren’t right but probably put it down to lack of sleep like I had. Slowly I started to tell more and more people and I was gaining confidence in not being ashamed of sharing the fact that I was struggling mentally and the more I spoke the lighter it became.
I think its very important to be aware if these feelings in yourself if they continue past the ‘baby blues’ stage, please seek help even if that’s just talking to a friend or reach out to a support group. Whether like me you feel as though you have nothing to be sad about how you feel is very valid even though it looks like you have the most perfect life and had the most perfect time (which with social media we are all guilty of assuming) these feelings can still follow you round. I never got to the point of feeling like I needed medical help because I had a good support system around me but I know others may not be as fortunate.
I know this may feel a bit disjointed, you came to read a positive birth story but it ended on a bit of a different note but I hope reading this you have seen the importance of speaking freely to one another about the bad bits, the ugly bits but also the really really good bits. I intended to spread a little hope that birth doesn’t have to be feared, continue to raise awareness of postnatal struggles and hopefully help to validate everyone’s feelings.