Wednesday, 30 September 2015

5 things about giving birth I didn't expect



Having my first baby has been like stepping into a great void of the unknown. 

It's been both everything and nothing like I expected, especially as my limited impressions of what it would be like were based entirely on what films, TV and books have told me, which - as it turns out - don't happen to be very truthful. Surprise surprise! 

One of the most unsettling things about the whole pregnancy journey is how little it's possible to know in advance. 

Every pregnancy and every experience is completely different, so you can do as much research as you like and the chances are it's still going to be nothing like you expected. 

But there were a few things that struck me quite clearly about the whole experience - things I didn't expect, that set me wondering.



1. How many people are involved 


If you had to think in advance, how many people do you think will be involved in your delivery? Maybe five? 

I suppose if I ever thought about it in advance, that's the sort of number I would have put on it.

But the truth is there must have been upwards of 30 people involved in bringing Theo into the world. 

For a start, as I had to be medically induced, a process that stretched over three days, there must have been 8-10 midwives caring for me. 

From the one who first showed me onto the ward, to the one who dealt with my false alarm waters going on the first night,  to the one who ran me an aromatherapy bath when my contractions got going, the one who was with us for the delivery for her entire day's shift, to the one who helped me with breastfeeding on that first night, they were all super stars. 

Some of them saw me calm and excited, others saw a dark, feral and in pain me who wasn't her normal self, but all were dedicated and amazing. 

And that's just the midwives. 

There were doctors who monitored me, assisted with the delivery and stitched me up afterwards. 

There was the anaesthetist who I could have kissed when he made an all pleasance to give me my epidural. 

There were paediatricians who checked the baby over,  and health care assistants who helped me to the shower and wheeled me onto the labour ward.

A massive cast of characters working together to deliver one single baby. 

The whole thing has given me a massive appreciation for our much maligned NHS. I picked an awful day to give birth, when the labour ward was so full they shut it and turned away new admissions, plus they were being audited at the same time. But they never let me feel that my care wasn't important. 

I'll always be grateful that every single person in that ensemble cast was professional, caring and utterly dedicated to their different jobs.

2. How frightening the first night alone is


After all the hustle and bustle of giving birth, and all the people buzzing around you, from medical staff to eager relatives, it was a total shock to the system to wind up all alone on that first night.  

Your husband isn't allowed to stay on the ward,  so you find yourself parked all alone with this little tiny person suddenly relying on you entirely. There's no training. There's no instruction manual.  And now you're all alone. 

This is completely terrifying. I'm happy to admit I freaked the hell out. 

I'd never even held that many babies before, and suddenly there I was unsupervised! I worried about everything that first night. 

Was the baby breathing? Was I holding him right? Did he need feeding? What if he cried? I was so scared,  so sore and so alone. 

I spent that entire first night with him in my arms, scared to put him down and go to sleep even though I was exhausted.

3. How useful some hospital bag items were 


You never really know what you'll need for a journey into the unknown. Although I must have read hundreds of posts on what to take with me into hospital, I wasn't sure what I'd actually use, and it certainly wasn't what I thought would be most useful that ended up saving the day in the end. Items that turned out to be invaluable were:

Coconut water- I was intensely dehydrated and this water literally saved me. I took a massive carton in with me and it was a smart choice.

Sleep mask - hospitals are always too light, and you usually find yourself sleeping at odd times or trying to nap.  So a sleep mask was a saviour for me and really helped me block out the world and rest.

Headphones - Similarly to the sleep mask, headphones were very useful. I used them to give me some music when I was wandering around the hospital grounds in the early stages of my labour,  and I used them to listen to some relaxation tracks when sleep was hard to come by.

Simple make-up kit - part of me questioned whether taking my makeup bag into hospital was a great idea or a waste of time. 

I don't think anyone should feel remotely bothered about how they look after something as momentous as giving birth, and I was happy to take my first visitors still sweating and bleeding (literally). 

But equally the next day it helped me to feel normal that I could put some mascara on. Plus, concealer has been a must ever since!  

4. How much waiting is involved


One thing about labour I hadn't counted on is how long it can be. Sure, some people are done in two hours, but for most first timers it's significantly longer. 

For me, I had a total of three days in hospital, with about 15 hours of active labour, and the part that really surprised me was how much of it consisted of waiting around for something something to happen.

Hollywood had led me to belive that the majority of my time would be spent wailing in agony as I pushed. And although that did happen,  that element was just an hour at the end of things. 

There were dramatic moments of course, and laughter, tears and everything else you'd expect, but there was also a lot of waiting around, tying to take my mind off what was about to happen, telling stupid jokes and reading the paper or dozing off with a book, that I didn't imagine. 

The time between contractions is pain - free,  so you get a very odd mix of two minutes of agony,  then a while of feeling completely normal, which TV and films never show in their speeded up, dramatic interpretations.

5. How much inner strength you have 


If you'd asked me before giving birth, I would have described myself as a textbook scared cat.  Terrified of pain, scared of hospitals and deathly afraid of needles, all of which featured heavily in my birth experience.

I'd never seen anyone give birth since a video in GCSE biology class. Anything with blood and gore on TV had me reaching for the remote. The idea of having to give birth scared the hell out of me, to the point where I couldn't see myself going through with it...until I did.

And it's the kind of clich√© that everyone tells you about and that means nothing until it comes true, but you really do have reserves of courage in you that you've never suspected are there.  

When it came to the final stage of pushing, I was scared,  I was tired, I'd been in labour for 15 exhausting hours and I didn't have anything left to give. And yet somehow I found it in me to push like my life depended on it when I had to. 

You have far more reserves than you know to keep going and discovering that you can face up to your fears, look them dead in the eye and sail past them is incredibly empowering. 
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