What childbirth has taught me about what I DON’T know.

I thought I’d be the classic breastfeeding new mum.

I thought my plan to go through childbirth au naturel was fool proof.

I thought I’d be a placid, yoga-posing Earth Mother post-birth with a baby hanging off my boob in a sling and a beatific smile lighting up my face from dawn to dusk; able to get on with life as before and have a whole new appreciation and perspective.

Well, I do have a new found appreciation and perspective for the wonder that is my growing son who is six weeks old and melting and breaking my heart in tandem.

But the rest, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

Boy, did it not!

My water broke the day before my due date at 7:30 a.m. after another uncomfortable and sleepless night. It didn’t happen as I expected (although I was super grateful that it happened naturally!) and the big Hollywood movie GUSH that I expected was more a slight trickle that made me question whether or not I’d actually accidentally peed myself. It was so subtle and painless I wasn’t really sure what to do!

Fast forward about six hours and the contractions started. 3-5 minutes apart and rapidly growing more intense and painful, mostly rendering me unable to speak. Why are they so close together?!! I pant, frantically pressing the TENS machine I had gotten trying to breathe through the pain. So that was my first ‘shock’: contractions do not always start slow and increase in frequency as time goes on. Nope, mine were so close together from the get-go I tired very quickly as I wasn’t getting any rest in between them.

‘Do you want pain relief?’ the doctor offered.

‘No!’ I convinced myself and them, still believing I could do it on my own even though by this stage I was on my hands and knees on the floor. ‘I must be nearly there?!’ It had been nearly 12 hours after all, surely I was half-way dilated and nearing the finish line?!

The nurse’s face winced as she examined me. ‘You’re one centimetre’, she says giving me the most apologetic look I’ve ever seen.

‘Get me pain relief. NOW!!’ I practically scream.

So there’s unknown no. 2: Apparently I’ve no courage in my convictions!

I’d read about the risks of pain relief during labour and decided against it. I’d read about the drowsy effects of pethidine on an unborn baby and the thought of losing feeling in my lower half after an epidural didn’t appeal to me one bit. I’m a woman… I can handle this birthing craic! I don’t need pain relief, I’m built for it after all!! 

I tried to be a martyr but really I’d set myself up for a major fall. I crumbled like a piece of paper after the nurse delivered the ‘one centimetre’ news. I begged for every bit of pain relief I could get my now white-knuckled mitts on. I think I even asked for a c-section at one point.

I ended up getting pethidine (which didn’t work), gas and air (which didn’t work) and finally an epidural (which did work!) and tried to be OK with myself for not following my birthing plan and ‘caving in’. In all honesty this new plan humbled me somewhat. I must have thought taking pain relief was an ‘easy way’ out and discovered my judgementalness! It’s not an easy way out. There is no easy way out when having a baby. It’s a way for some women, like me, to experience something as beautiful as childbirth in a less traumatic fashion.

My baby was facing the wrong way. ‘Sunny side up’ I think they say, which can make labour more painful and longer. The doctor turned him around but the rascal turned himself back again. Fortunately the epidural took the edge off the pain but I was still able to feel when to push and could move my legs. I still had some control over how the process developed so next time round I wouldn’t hesitate to get one again!

The next shock for me was just how difficult breastfeeding is. Hats off to my mum and all those other mums in the world who do it for years because for me, it just didn’t work. He couldn’t get latched on no matter how hard I tried and when eventually he did – with the help of a nurse – it was very painful and by day three my breast began to bleed. Further more, when he did latch on he would fall asleep after less than five minutes so I became convinced he wasn’t getting enough fluid.

I was told he was fine and to persevere, but when you’re that exhausted after a long labour and a few sleepless nights, I was convinced he was going to become dehydrated and didn’t want to take the risk. The nurses let me supplement with a few ml of formula which gave me some relief but the guilt remained. Why can’t I feed my own son?!… what’s WRONG with me?!! They also provided me with a breast pump to express more milk but did so with a warning: give him a bottle and there’s no going back! Which was true. Apparently babies get a bit lazy when given a bottle and therefore you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you want to breastfeed. He never looked at my breast again. He wouldn’t entertain it for a moment! No matter how many tears I shed, he was having none of it.

Shock no. 3: The baby blues are a VERY REAL thing. They got me day 4 post-birth. I broke down and wailed like a banshee. I thought the world had ended, my baby was going to die from dehydration and I was going to die from exhaustion. I also believed the nurses didn’t like me and thought I was a stupid idiot. In reality the nurses neither liked nor disliked me. They were under pressure, understaffed and just trying to do their jobs! Looking back it was quite comical how the tiniest little thing or comment seemed like a huge dramatic affair but at the time it was bloody awful!! No matter how many people tried to reassure me that me and my baby were totally fine, I didn’t believe them. My anxiety was through the roof and I think next time round I’ll cut myself some slack and have more confidence and trust in my ability.

Shock no. 4: Babies control you – you don’t control them!

This has been the hardest adjustment for me. Being a total control freak who likes to be over-organised and punctual, I’ve slowly came around to the realisation that my baby is in complete charge of me. He dictates when and where he eats, sleeps, poops (even if that’s in my hand as I’m trying to leave the house). He has no concept of time or space and it’s taken me until now to adjust to that. When I left the hospital I stupidly believed I could resume my daily tasks like housework, shopping and attending appointments with the same ease as before. I tried to be ‘super mum’ and be in top of everything including multiple night feeds and cluster feeding without napping myself during the day to make up for it. I burnt out. I stretched myself too thin. I’m still more tired than I’ve ever thought possible but at least now I take a moment or two during the day when he’s napping and relax on the sofa. The hoovering can wait!

Finally, the one thing that has really surprised me and still does is that I’m sad that I’m not pregnant anymore. It’s like a loss; a mourning. At the time I was so uncomfortable and fed up I couldn’t wait for him to come out and see my belly gone! But weirdly I miss it and get a bit choked up now that it’s not there. I think this has something to do with the hope, expectation and excitement that comes along with pregnancy. I was on the brink of the unknown; a whole new world I eagerly anticipated. You build yourself up and create images in your head of how it will all pan out. I’ve never heard anyone else say they mourned their pregnancy after giving birth so I’d be interested to see if it’s just my whacky hormones or if it is actually a real, common thing!

On a more positive note, as cheesy as it sounds, when people say it’s all worth it it’s totally true. When he finally came out the pain evaporated in an instant and the heavens opened up when heard his little cry and saw his long froggy legs and arms wiggling around. I cried with joy and elation and it’s a memory and feeling I’ll never forget or could describe through words.

No matter how tired I am everyday, the joy I feel when I look at my little boys face makes me wonder what I did with my time before. What did I spend my days doing or thinking about?! It’s like my whole world revolves around him now and it’s the reason I’m on this earth.

I always knew I was destined to be a mother and I’m so grateful and blessed that everything so far has turned out well for us. It’s still early days and I’m under no illusion that I’ve gotten any of it figured out yet, but I’m trying and that’s all I can do. In a way I’m looking forward to all the ups and downs and challenges ahead because if it’s anything like my labour, it’ll be bloody tough.. but so wonderful and magic and totally worth it!

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