Here’s something you are not going to hear every day as you trawl through the internet, searching for ways to allay your fears about your impending rite of passage into motherhood.
NOTHING can prepare you for childbirth. It is something only approx 50% of the world’s population is biologically geared for. The fact you are pregnant tells me, for a start, you have all the right equipment for the task ahead. Congratulations and stop worrying.
If you were a guy on the other hand AND pregnant….OMG. Something the size of a watermelon squeezed through the size of a pea???? Makes a lemon sound positively palatial.
I don’t care what anyone says, how many books you read, some written by well meaning men, nothing will truly prepare you for the mind blowing, life changing experience of childbirtth.
Well almost nothing. The most salient piece of advice I ever received about childbirth put most of my fears to rest and kept the whole journey in perspective.
I could never understand (still don’t) why there is so much fuss and focus is on the labour. Why do we focus and obsess on this one single event? From your conception to your death, your birthing hours are only a tiny percentage of your life, yet it is treated with so much fear and trepidation. No celebration or excitement. Only fear of pain and the unknown.
Don’t get me wrong, childbirth is a miracle, but so is the lottery of conception. The rollercoaster of pregnancy. The parenting journey you are going to be on for the rest of your LIFE. That’s right I did say LIFE.
That’s what frightened me the most. Most other expectant mothers were in a quandary over pethidine, gas or epidural. Homebirth or hospital. Natural or caesarean. I was just desperately wondering how I was going to raise a child without fucking it up. I had black thumbs. I’d killed a cactus and am highly allergic to most animals. How on earth was I fit to be a mother?
As an outward sign of compliance I obediently attended antenatal classes. A WHOLE weekend spent preparing me for childbirth and no one told me my nipples were going to bleed trying to breastfeed? Thanks for nothing. Sure it’s natural, doesn’t always come naturally though. That information alone ladies, is a golden acorn. Squirrel it away and use it later.
You will be pleased to note though that I persevered and after 10 weeks of expressing and feeding I went on to breastfeed for 14 months. Sometimes all you need is time to know new aspects of your body and give yourself permission not to get it perfect straight away. After all you are a mother for the rest of your life. No rush.
I digress. I didn’t accept anything taught in the classes. I didn’t accept that I had any true modicum of control over an outcome. It was me vs mother nature after all. I was about to partake in a miracle I was perfectly biologically engineered for. It didn’t make sense to me to let modern medicine dictate the game plan. My birthing plan was to not have one.
Literally billions of women had gone before me and experienced the miracle of childbirth.
I wasn’t entering into some bold scientific experiment requiring a two day instructional course.
I was simply giving birth, a fundamental birthright given to those born with the proper genitalia.
All I knew is that it was probably going to be somewhere in the vicinity of 12 – 48 hours of intense discomfort. In the scheme of things that didn’t seem like a lot to me. I might even require stitches, but still, my body is designed to heal itself. I already had 19 staples in my stomach. What’s another scar?
During one of my third trimester check-ups my GP ever so eloquently noted that I had a “rather small vagina”. He suggested I might need gynaecological intervention during labour. I was given a referral to a specialist. I remember feeling so embarrassed that I was about to go and talk to some strange man about my rather small vagina. Let alone the fact my GP had noticed it, causing him consternation.
That’s when the best piece of childbirth advice echoed in my ears and I decided to not put too finer point on the dimensions of my working parts. I was just going to have to go with it. It is what it is.
In my early 20’s I worked at a manufacturing site. The male working population outstripped the female. All the ladies kind of stuck together. Every lunchtime we would escape the crush of testosterone. We’d gather around a few desks pushed together and eat our lunch inside a dusty old transportable office. Looking back it reminded me of an industrial tepee.
During lunch we would swap stories, recipes and gossip. There were complaints about work, despair over errant children, husbands were disparaged. We would vent, share, laugh and occasionally cry. Even though at times we’d be bearing a grudge, for that one hour we all partook in the peace pipe of collective feminine wisdom.
I was one of the youngest women, unmarried, childless, clueless. Most lunchtimes felt like an initiation into womanhood. These women with white pigment staining their shoes, were my village elders. Guiding me through the kaleidoscope of motherhood, career and domesticity, dusted with a dose of cynicism and dare I say a few regrets.
It was during one of these lunch breaks when the conversation drifted inevitably, idly, amiably onto the subject of childbirth. I remember sitting there agog. Every woman had her own war story. Like a great fishing story they just seemed to get bigger and bigger (read grosser and grosser). To this day I can’t even tell you what their stories were. I can tell you specifically what Rhona told me when she noticed I had stopped eating my lunch and had turned the colour of the pigment on our shoes.
I’m not sure if she was trying to make me feel better or worse. We didn’t actually get along all that well so perhaps it was the latter. Bygones. It was still the best thing she ever said to me.
“Fiona, let me tell about childbirth. You’re sitting there as if NONE of this is ever going to happen to, as if you will have some choice when the time comes. When it’s you and your baby straining to meet after nine months apart, all your dignity is left behind. Mother Nature takes over. Everything you think now is important fades away and ALL you want is your baby safely in your arms. That is all you will be focused on. You won’t remember the rest”.
And you know what? I didn’t. I knew it was going to be raw, real, vulnerable and more than likely hurt like hell, but so what? I was performing a miracle, the rest, including my rather small vagina was immaterial.
I remember the suction/vacuum failing and lifeblood spattering all over my exasperated GP’s shirt and face. I joked that “gee I hope that wasn’t the baby’s head”. For some reason he didn’t see the funny side. The gynaecologist stepped into the fray with forceps. I joked to my then cattle farmer husband, that if the forceps fail perhaps he should have a go with the wire strainers instead. The specialist didn’t laugh either. We did. We were moments away from meeting the miracle!
What a humourless bunch. I may have had to put my dignity aside while a sea of men poked, prodded and pulled around my nether regions, but I didn’t lose my sense of humour. That was kept intact. Same can’t be said for my rather small vagina.
In the end after many failed negotiation with gynaecological implements my eldest girl finally reneged, complied and entered into this world. One tiny fist raised first as if in victory.
No-one was going to tell her what to do. Life is to be lived on her terms and she will buck the system if told otherwise. To this day she remains a born negotiator, an indomitable spirit with a wicked sense of humour. She turns 13 in less than a week and she still needs to be poked, prodded and pulled along at times!
At the end of the day no two childbirth experiences are exactly the same. So it is folly to go searching for the “perfect” childbirth experience.
It is only going to be as good as you LET it be.
Remember your baby wants to meet you as much as you want to meet them. So relax, go with it, your child will find its way to you, you just have to let the magic happen.
Accept, understand and celebrate that you are perfectly biologically designed for the miracle ahead.
Don’t worry about anything else other than getting to meet your glorious little miracle, scars and memories will fade, but your children will be with you always.