Gwyneth's Birth Story
Becoming pregnant means throwing yourself wholly into the unknown and for a control freak like myself this was a struggle. I didn’t manage to surrender the process and marvel at the wonders taking place in my body, instead I tried to find out as much information as I could so I could feel in control. In my head I was going to impose order on my pregnancy, which would obviously continue once the baby arrived, right?
So, I devoured all the pregnancy books. I was fastidious with what I was eating (except when the cravings for sweets and peanut butter got too overwhelming). I did my pelvic floor exercises. I doused my bump in oil. I did pregnancy yoga. I tried not to get stressed out lest the baby absorb my stress and religiously listened to my hypnobirthing tape.
I planned for the baby’s arrival with military precision. Researching the best pram, cot, monitor. My birth plan was impeccable. I’d packed all the essentials in my (brand new) hospital bag- newborn clothes, nappies, electric essential oil diffusers, boiled sweets for energy during labour, my Ipad was stocked with downloaded movies. I was ready.
Except of course life kept happening. We sold our place and didn’t manage to find a new one before my due date. So two weeks before I gave birth we moved into a rental in a strange part of town, where I knew no-one and where the nursery was not going to be painted in the very subtle white, grey and navy blue colour scheme I’d been planning.
I felt exhausted all the time and so stopped going to my pregnancy yoga. I’d set off for a long walk only to find my ankles and hands swelled up immediately so I’d have to return home to the sofa. Instead of getting on with work or doing more reading up on how to be the best parent ever I seemed incapable of doing anything except watching the Kardashians and randomly snapping at my husband.
And then, the baby came early and fast. That electric oil diffuser stayed firmly in the bag. The Tens machine was deemed useless by my midwife, “oh it’s too late for that” she said as my husband pulled it out of my hospital bag. I demanded the epidural I swore I wasn’t going to have, forgot all my hypnobirthing techniques and almost couldn’t believe the pain when my obstetrician needed to perform a ventuouse delivery. My baby (Harry) wasn’t put straight onto my chest for skin to skin, as he needed to go to the paediatric crash team who’d rushed in prior to delivery and even after he’d been pronounced ok and handed to me my main feeling was one of being outside of my body. Total disbelief at what had just happened.
Lying awake that whole night, having Harry brought it to me every hour for feeding (he had to be monitored in the nursery) it didn’t feel real that I actually had a baby, that I was someone’s mother. Even when I was feeding him that feeling persisted. I didn’t think I was feeling how I was supposed to feel. There was no mad rush of love. I didn’t feel calm or loving. I felt weird and disconnected and wired and sore.
A feeling that persisted for the next few weeks; we were discharged from hospital after a couple of days and if I’m honest the next few weeks (ok, months) are all a bit of an exhausted, hormonal blur. I had plenty of help and so put enormous pressure on myself to return to ‘normal’. I insisted on trying to squeeze into my pre-pregnancy clothes with the aid of a girdle and refused to watch T.V. during the day deeming this to be “lazy”?! I arranged to meet friends for dinner and then found myself bursting into tears when a combination of not being able to leave the baby due to breastfeeding on demand and not wanting to due to those hormones made me cancel.
My nipples were sore, I got mastitis, I ended up bleeding heavily for 12 weeks due to some placenta being left in my womb, I didn’t lose the baby weight within two weeks and even when I was cleared to exercise I found I barely had the time or the inclination. Even leaving the house to go for a coffee was a struggle and I was madly in love yet also slightly terrified of my new baby. One particular low point was arranging to meet two non-Mum friends at a local coffee shop, getting there with Harry (late of course) and almost as soon as I’d ordered he started screaming in his pram. As I was trying to follow some crazy routine I panicked as this was supposed to be his sleep time not feeding time, so I did what any sane person would do, burst into tears and left, running home. Harry of course fell asleep as soon as we left the café.
Now, two babies and four years in I look back at these few months postpartum with disbelief at myself. Why didn’t I just chill out and stop being so hard on myself? With hindsight I should have let myself hunker down at home in PJ’s on the sofa watching box sets for those initial few weeks (because trust me there’s no doing that with baby number two when you have a toddler demanding your attention). I was trying so hard to make the baby fit into my old life and it took me a good few months to realise that instead I had to build a new life, one that had a baby in it. This doesn’t mean that I had to forget who I was, and that I would never see my friends or do things for myself again, just that these things would have to take a back seat for a while.
I was so caught up on how my life was being reduced, focusing on all the things I couldn’t do and was giving up by becoming a Mother. It took me a few (6!) months to realise that what I was giving up was small fry in terms of what I was gaining and in reality what initially looked like a smaller life was actually the opposite. Me and my life and continue to expand in so many wonderful (and exhausting ways) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.