I had a very specific plan for my pregnancy and especially for my birth, down to what drive through we were going to on the way to the hospital when I was in labour (I know, I was very annoying). Unfortunately, none of it went to plan, and I had a difficult time processing the experience. These are a few things I wish I could go back and tell myself.
1- There are 70 gazillion books on Hypno-natural-forest-earth births and I should have paid more attention to the paragraph in my birth notes about cesarean sections.
I read 6 books on giving birth. I am an avid reader and I was determined to be prepared. I was going to know the exact consistency of a mucus plug so I could identify it immediately, I was going to know what breathing practices to do at what time, I had memorised several affirmation sequences to get me my natural, drug-free, birth pool, soothing whale song-filled birth. What actually happened was at 29 weeks I was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and my baby was half the weight he should have been, so he had to come out by emergency cesarean that day. None of my books had prepared me for this. All I could remember on cesarean sections was that one of the breathing techniques could be used on the off chance that a cesarean section was completely unavoidable, I remember reading it smugly thinking well I’m not having a cesarean so it doesn’t matter. There I was on the bed in my surgical stockings before we went to the theatre, desperately trying to take in the information that was being thrown at me while they were putting a catheter in. My advice to any pregnant person now is it read up on what a cesarean involves; there are scary forms to fill in, there are a lot of people in a room and everyone is there for you and your baby’s best interest but it might not feel like it at the time. I hope that everyone can have a birth experience they want but being prepared for every outcome means that if you do find yourself in a position that you were not expecting, you might feel a bit more controlled and a bit less Bambi in the headlights.
2- You will feel like a failure.
It will not matter how many times someone tells you not to feel bad or how many times you tell yourself all that matters is your baby was born safely; you will feel like you have failed. I know someone who also desired a natural, drug-free, birth pool, soothing whale song-filled birth at the lovely birthing centre and ended up giving birth on the labour ward high as a kite on pethidine; my pre-pregnancy self didn't know why she was so disgruntled and upset about her birth not going to plan, she had a full-term healthy boy what was the issue? The issue is simple- it is a huge, life-changing experience to go through and if it doesn't go to plan it is devastating; my mother is still salty about my brother being born in a hospital when she wanted a homebirth and he is almost 30. There are no other huge, life-changing experiences that if they went wrong people would not be sympathetic about it. Look at all these weddings that had to change due to covid-19 restrictions, I don’t know anyone who isn't sympathetic to someone who had to change their wedding plans, or anyone who isn’t sympathetic about a house purchase being delayed or a new job not turning out the way it was supposed to. It is hard to talk to people about it because it feels like you are not appreciating your baby so it is easy to bury these feelings and hope they do not resurface. Just because you feel sad about your birth not going the way you wanted does not mean you are ungrateful for your baby, it means that you are a normal person and you are allowed to grieve the loss of your perfect birth plan. The best advice I was given was by my community midwife after my son was born, she told me I was allowed to be devastated about not having the birth I wanted, not having the rest of my pregnancy, and having to go through all this during a bloody global pandemic. She gave me permission to be sad and when I allowed myself to grieve I started to heal.
3- The post labour ward is not much fun, especially if your situation is a bit different from others.
I was put in a room with 5 other women and their 5 babies for the first 12 hours of my stay in the post labour ward. I was crying the whole time, I could hear them cooing over their beautiful newborns and my baby was in the NICU. My original plan was to accept a handful of close visitors after my soothing, natural birth, there would be flowers and cards and I would glow in my new loungewear set cuddling my bundle of joy. This did not happen. Visitors were not allowed due to that global pandemic, I did not plan on having my baby that day so no overnight bag, and my bundle of joy was what felt like miles away in an incubator with everyone but me looking after him. It has been almost a year and I still have tears in my eyes thinking about not being with my son during his first day in the world. They were taking my blood pressure every hour so I couldn't get any real sleep and feelings of resentment for every other
woman in that room grew to almost madness. Every time they took my blood pressure I begged them to let me go to the NICU to see my baby, but my blood pressure was too unstable and I was told to get some rest. Then I was finally allowed to see my son, I moved into a room by myself, that I would later share with another woman in the same situation as me, and my husband managed to drop off an overnight bag with clean pants and a chocolate croissant. I was instantly calmer. I could look at the pictures of my son without comparing him to the baby across the room from me, I could hand express without catching a glimpse of someone's lovely chunky baby breastfeeding beautifully. I could talk to my family on the phone without worrying about what the people in the room were going to think of me, I was able to process my experience without comparisons. Then, as if by magic, when I passed a mum and her baby in the hall the resentment was gone and I could smile at them. None of these feelings were rational but I was grieving the loss of my pregnancy, my lovely birth, my healthy newborn; and I was mentally preparing for a long road ahead.
4-There are these injections you have to take for like weeks and they suck.
They don’t really hurt, they’re pre-packaged so they are easy to do yourself and they are half a second of your day. But they are the worst, the whole cocktail of drugs needed after a complicated birth suck. The injections are blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots, but injecting yourself is not natural. I dreaded it each morning, and because my husband was not allowed in the post labour ward due to Covid-19 restrictions I could not outsource the job to him. I came home with 2 shopping bags full of drugs and it felt a bit like salt in the wound of my disappointment of not having a natural drug free birth. On the other hand, I am very lucky to be in a country that has these drugs available to me; sometimes you do have to just think it could be a lot worse, put on your giant post-pregnancy panties, take a deep breath and move on.
5- You haven't failed.
If your birth experience didn’t go to plan and you are feeling down about it, this last bit isn't going to help- but I’m still going to try. You haven’t failed, you have created your baby and brought them into the world in a safe and secure environment. You are a super mum who has a gorgeous little baby to take care of and you deserve a huge round of applause. As my son is approaching his first birthday, I can confirm that there is a lot more of the failure feeling to come (she writes in her messy kitchen, looking at her baby with food cemented to his chin and a bit of a black eye from yesterday’s spectacular fall) so it is good practice to be kind to yourself.
You will heal, you will feel better and you will enjoy being a parent, it really is the best thing.