My first labour was not what I had expected.
I tell people this, and they all smile and nod, and tell me ‘Yes, childbirth is difficult!’, and they probably think I’m very naive. I’ve almost given up explaining it because – apart from those few women you read about who have 1 hour home-births, with herbal tea and acupuncture and foot rubs – who has an easy labour? How selfish must I seem, acting like I’m the only one?
I had a difficult labour. Both my son and I struggled. Physically I wasn’t able to give birth unassisted, so I had an urgent forceps delivery after more than 24 hours in labour. Basically, it lasted a long time, I lost a lot of blood, I had a lot of stitches. I also had all the painkillers they could give but the epidural wasn’t working well, and with that cocktail of drugs I had no idea what was happening most of the time. For several hours I knew only that I was in pain, I was afraid, and nothing was happening the way we had been told.
In short – I was terrified I’d gone from a problem-free pregnancy to a traumatic labour, and I no longer knew what I was doing. And worst, when it was over, my son was taken from me straight to neonatal. I held him for what felt like less than a minute before he was put in a plastic crib and wheeled away. My heart broke.
We forget sometimes that everyone’s experience is different, and personal, and entirely within their own head. I’m sure the doctors were pleased with how my first labour went. I’m sure they congratulated themselves on another job well done – baby out, mum stitched back together, another free room on the ward. Why shouldn’t they be pleased? I smiled, and said my thank-you’s, and apologised for swearing. I said all the right things and did all the right things. And when my partner had gone home and the lights were out on the ward, I shook. I cried. I wailed into my pillow. In a blind panic I pressed repeatedly on my call button, and a blank faced midwife came to the end of my bed and stared at me until the worst of my shaking had stopped. She eventually asked if I needed anything. I apologised for calling.
I was treated for Post Natal PTSD, when after a month my nightmares and flashbacks and anxiety hadn’t stopped. I was given tablets, a few sessions of therapy, but most importantly I had an explanation. My labour had gone wrong, and that wasn’t my fault. I had been ill; my son had been in distress; I wasn’t in control, and I had every right to my feelings. That was important to me – that it was okay for me to be afraid.
I have two gorgeous boys now; Roman my eldest, and Eli my youngest. My second labour was such a different experience I could hardly believe it. I fell pregnant again when my Roman was four months old – and only found out I was pregnant after I suffered a Pulmonary Embolism. And as scared as I was about going through labour again, I was so excited to complete our family.
The labour was hard – physically identical in terms of complications, duration (and pain!!); but emotionally? Poles apart. To you reading this, please know – It can be done, you can survive this, you can go on. You can do anything.
But we need to talk about it – we need to remove the stigma. We need to understand the difference between a ‘hard’ labour and a ‘bad’ labour. I’ve known mums too ashamed to tell me they used pain relief, or embarrassed of how frightened they were, because we live in this awful ‘norm’ of competition and mum-shaming and a constant fight for perfection. It doesn’t exist, and we need to stop pretending.
When I was in hospital after my second labour, snuggled up in my narrow hospital bed with Eli (catheter in, IV in, let’s not make it sound more glamorous than it was!), I heard a woman on my ward crying in the night. Softly, but I heard her. I wish I had asked if she was okay. I hope it was just shock and emotion and hormones, because I hate to think of someone else feeling as terrified and alone and violated as I felt on my first night. I hope she told someone if she wasn’t okay.
Please tell someone if you are struggling. Please talk about it if you feel alone. And please be kind to one another. Everyone is fighting their own battle.
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