Childbirth: the things they don't tell you
A conspiracy of silence shrouds the act of giving birth. Oh yes, Hollywood may have done a fine job of convincing you that after an unpleasant and sweaty five minutes you will be rewarded by a clean and fragrant cherub, all swaddled in fluffy white blankets, and placed into your arms by your proudly beaming husband but it is all utter tosh, I'm afraid.
The first thing they don’t tell you is that the ‘baby bump’ doesn’t magically disappear when the baby arrives. Delighted as I was when my firstborn made her tardy appearance, I was more than a little disappointed to wake the morning after and find that I still had an enormous tum. For some reason, I had expected to wake to find that if it hadn't entirely gone, it would at least have been significantly reduced. Instead, it stuck around for months, like a fat cat curled under the blankets.
Then there are the stitches. I had the most impressive set of postnatal embroidery my friend, a Scottish nurse, had ever seen. When she saw my my tender nether regions she was most sympathetic. “Crivvens, fae blurt tae bla hole, must ah been a man!”
While I have no idea what she was talking about, other than it sounding vaguely nautical, she’s right, it was a man. Two, in fact. One surgeon pressed down at the top of my abdomen, just under my ribs, while the other got to work with his episiotomy shears and a pair of spoon-billed forceps.
My darling daughter arrived with the sweetest little face you’ve ever seen and a pointed head. God knows what her father thought when they thrust her into his arms. He’d been pacing the corridor for hours waiting to be called in for the delivery and had had no idea that I had even gone into labor proper. The first he knew about it was when a busy nurse dropped an alien child off in his arms and sped off. She didn't explain that the abnormal head shape was due to the traumatic nature of the baby's arrival and that it would gradually settle back to normal. Needless to say, he was besotted from moment he laid eyes on her, pointy head or not.
Then there are the haemorrhoids. Again, I had a most impressive set of these. I also had to take iron supplements which acted on me as a rather superlative laxative. Suffice to say that me, my stitches and my piles got to know each other very well in the two weeks following the birth.
My daughter had built up a voracious appetite while she was staking out my womb. She arrived hungry and attached herself to the breast for the next eighteen months. That’s another thing they don’t tell you about – cracked nipples.
I had given birth in Spain, where unless you go private, you will be going without painkillers. I had known this before going into labor and so, much as it hurt like hell, I was prepared for it but nobody had told me about the painful aftermath of concentrated breast-feeding. My little piranha just wouldn’t quit and the top of one nipple cracked almost through, like the top of a boiled egg.
Spanish women must be made of very stern stuff because when I complained to the doctor, she basically told me to get a grip and stop being such a cry- -baby. After all, didn’t I have the most beautiful child in the world? At that time, she was the only child I knew with a pointy head, but yes, I had to agree she was a stunner.
Then there is the amnesia. No one tells you all mothers everywhere suffer from a very specific form of memory loss. How else could you explain their willingness to go through the pain and trauma all over again?
Thankfully, the birth of my second child went much more easily. This time the doctor was a woman. Instead of screaming at me to, “PUSH, PUSH!” she quietly encouraged me to concentrate my efforts and keep my bottom down. Only a woman who has given birth herself could have known how much easier that made the procedure so there is another thing they don’t tell you--opt for a female obstetrician; one who has had a half dozen babies of her own.
This time, my husband had been allowed into the delivery room. He had been with me in the labor ward where I went from being only slightly dilated to full blown labour in a nanosecond and witnessed the mad panic to get me to the delivery room. As before, there were no painkillers but at least I had my beloved to help me through the ordeal. I held his hand tightly as I strained to deliver his son and closed my eyes with relief when I heard that first lusty cry of the newborn.
Much later, after the baby had been put in his bedside crib and we were alone, I turned to my husband and asked what he had thought of the experience. I don’t know what I expected, maybe for him to say how proud he was of me, that he had not appreciated how much women went through to give birth, that his son was the most beautiful baby boy on the planet…
No, what he said was, “You were squeezing my hand so tight you almost broke my fingers!”