I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, but found myself always filing it under ‘sounds ungrateful’.
But today, I’m doing it. I’m talking about ‘the perfect birth.’
At the moment, on social media or in parenting titles, I’m forever seeing images like this below, and articles on the beauty of birth.
When I see these images, I see a beautiful moment immortalised. I see and salute the tough bad ass mama who is overwhelmed with love, pride….and relief! I see a tiny, mighty miracle.
But if you ask me what I FEEL when I see images like this, I feel jealous. Buried behind all the sisterhood respect and baby oohing and aahing, I also feel agitated. And if I am truly honest, I feel competitive. Isn’t that ridiculous?
I never had MY perfect birth you see.
Yes my babies were both healthy, and I know I am very, very lucky, but HOW they arrived mattered… wait, let me change that tense, STILL MATTERS to me. I don’t look back fondly on my birth experiences at all. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to find labour a breeze or enjoy it (though I know many women who did enjoy it!) but I had loose expectations on how I wanted the actual delivery to go. And high expectations on how I was going to feel after the big arrival.
But I didn’t get the type of birth I wanted, and I certainly don’t remember any tender, ‘love at first sight’ moments in the early minutes, even hours, of my babies’ lives. I was a mess. All I can recall feeling after #1 was embarrassment, tinged with shame and frustration. I was left feeling short changed. #2 was not much better.
Because of this, even now, two years on from my last birth, I’m left feeling almost competitive – like I need to try again to ‘get it right’ like all those perfect pictures I see. We’re not even close to being ready for, or really wanting, a third child, but I have this crazy inner determination…. maybe next time I’ll nail it. Maybe next time I’ll have one of those perfect moments. Because I feel cheated.
My first birth was going to be a water birth initially. Gas and air. Job done. But at 39 weeks I was induced as I had a tear in my amniotic sac. Midwives at my North London hospital put the fear of God in to me re: the pain of an induced labour vs natural, so I freaked and ended up with the epidural. It worked a treat regarding the pain, but ten hours later, I couldn’t push hard enough. The baby’s heart beat was up and down. I was rushed to theatre to be prepped for a possible c-section. In the end, they ‘sucked’ her out in a last attempt vacuum delivery, but all I recall is staring up at those bright theatre lights with masked doctors looking down at me. And how cold it was in there, I remember that as clear as day too. But I don’t remember Maia actually coming out, or being put on me for skin to skin contact. My husband tells me that I screamed for her to be taken off of me as I couldn’t feel my arms and I was scared of dropping her. That should be THE magical moment right? I just remember sobbing for hours in recovery telling my mum how horrible it all was.
With Harry, I foolishly felt I had experience on my side. I had the epidural once, so of course I’d get it again and this time, I would know how to push ‘better.’ Except Harry had his own exit plan and came out within the hour. No time for drugs. Barely time to get on the bed. I didn’t have time to gather my thoughts, do the breathing, or do it better. I just panicked and was borderline delirious with the speed of it all. I didn’t get to hold him for long after birth as once again I was whisked off to theatre for an hour to be stitched up ‘down there.’ Daddy was left holding baby solo in his first few earthly hours.
At the time, I didn’t realise that it was OK to feel short changed. It felt ungrateful. I didn’t dare use the word disappointment. I would tell people about the chaos of the births, the pain etc, but I never really told anyone the simple fact that I felt let down, even hated it, for fear of looking ‘unmotherly.’ Besides, there were people with far worse birth drama, trauma and sad endings than me – how dare I complain right?
But the feeling of ‘missing out’ or feeling cheated of a positive birth experience has never passed. It’s not something that plagues me daily, but when I see those perfect pictures online, I feel a fresh surge of disappointment and envy. Every time.
So to any mother out there feeling lousy, or like a failure, after her birth, I say FEEL IT! It’s ok to feel sad about that day if it didn’t go the way you hoped. Don’t play it down for fear of being called ungrateful for what you have. Feeling disappointed in your own personal experience doesn’t make you heartless, dramatic or insensitive to other people’s harsher experiences. We spent nine months dreaming of that arrival day. Yes, we are grateful, every single day for what we have. But we are human too.