During pregnancy and the early days of motherhood, I found - and still find - nothing more reassuring than to hear from other mothers how they've experienced it all - especially if our experiences overlap. Many of the topics approached are, well let's say, not pretty, but millions of women still endure them and most likely feel insecure and unsure whether they're the only ones suffering (which, as I've learnt, you never are).
In terms of pregnancy and birth I have encountered mainly fear in women concerning giving birth - the pain is well-ingrained in our minds from numerous Hollywood movies and TV shows where women sit spread-eagled on a chair, screaming the shit out of themselves. First and foremost, no one would deliver in that position, it makes the least sense, but the screaming, for me at least, was very real.
So let's start with the birth. I did all the bullshit of Hypnobirthing and breathing techniques and reached a state in which books and these classes really made me think I could breathe out my baby calmly and in control. Well, I was wrong.
Labour hit me hard and fast. Me and Lily entirely skipped the easing in part where I'd take a lovely bath, watch Netflix movies in the hospital bed and benignly smile with my husband about the imminent birth. Labour was so intense from the very early hours on, and came in such short intervals, that I was just clinging on for dear life, unable to speak and paralysed by the pain. Thankfully, at least, it was a quick labour and I was barely in the hospital for two hours when she was already born.
I wouldn't say my birth experience was traumatic, but it certainly was far from romantic.
However, birth, at least, is over in a matter of hours, but the pains coming with postpartum, mentally and physically, can drag on over weeks and months. First of all, breastfeeding. Oh my, the pain! After about three days of nursing Lily, my nipples were reduced to bloody craters and every time Lily latched on it was pure agony. I am a defender of breastfeeding (without meaning to pass judgement) and even I considered bottle-feeding after a week because I couldn't imagine that it would never NOT hurt.
However, thanks to my wonderful midwife and a bucket of Lansinoh nipple butter, I managed to overcome the worst and now we have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship. It did take about a week to get better, mind you, and grim determination is what it took to get to the other side, and now I am very grateful I did.
With the birth over and my nipples adjusting, there was still a plethora of pain to choose from. With a massive tear of the perineum my doctors warned me that sitting might be a problem; however, in the end it wasn't my perineum that gave me plenty of pain - it was good ol' haemorrhoids. Apart from being extremely painful and unpleasant, they're also a deeply embarrassing thing to have and I didn't really have any problems with them until the third trimester. About three weeks after birth I would get such incredible pains I was wondering if I might give birth to Lily's twin through my rectum. Creams, suppositories, nothing helped until I finally made an appointment at the hospital to get my ass checked out (pregnancy and childbirth are related to a lot of bodily humiliation).
In the end it apparently wasn't even haemorrhoids but a small polyp which irritated the area and which I have to massage via my vagina twice a week to soften and promote healing. I didn't even know you could have polyps up your arse - I thought they were restricted to noses...
Now you mustn't forget that during all these ailments you also have a little baby to look after. And apart from physical issues, there are also an abundance of mental ones. Not equipped with the strongest mental capacities per se, I was positively surprised to not head-plunge deeply into postnatal depression, but I still had my fair share of tears.
I remember Lily was sleeping next to me and I browsed through TikTok and when swiping down I landed on a video of a small, smiling baby. Far too late I realised the hashtag that went with it #infantdeath. Someone had really put a video of their dead baby on TikTok, commemorating their death day, and I saw it and did what every reasonable person would do after being a parent for a short time.
I bawled my eyes out.
I ran to my man, heaving with crying, and just spluttered I didn't want Lily to die. I was so hyper-sensitive to the subject that I immediately deleted TikTok and haven't used it ever since (I still see the smiling baby in my nightmares).
The psychological impact of having a baby paired with lack of sleep, hormones and anxiety is not to be underestimated. Even now that she is four months old, I am in permanent terror she might die. When she sleeps, I regularly check whether she's still breathing and when she ran a fever the other day I was in high alarm. Such an intense mental state also costs a lot of nerve and energy, in addition to physical shortcomings.
In short, birth isn't just the hours you spend in labour but the impact stretches for many more weeks. As I read some time, somewhere: For birth there are painkillers, but for motherhood there are not.