There’s a lot of pressure for Mums to expect to feel all wrapped up in a beautiful bubble of love once they’ve produced their mini humans. It seems unlikely. You’ve just been through quite an ordeal either pushing a baby through your vagina or having it C-sectioned out of there with a scalpel and some opioids or narcotics. You probably just fancy some peace and quiet and a bit of buttery toast.
I didn’t feel elated after either of my births. I had drug free, vaginal births and I used hypnobirthing techniques to manage the pain and understand the physiological process so that I could do everything in my meagre power to speed the entire thing up. My births were wonderfully straight forward. No intervention, supportive environments, surrounded by super women. They were intense and life changing experiences, but that’s to be discussed another day. This is post about the moments immediately after birth. Baby is handed to you and what do you feel?
I was expecting to feel THE RUSH OF LOVE. It had been drilled into my brain through years of magazine articles, movies and One Born Every Minute. I didn’t feel that, I felt a complex array of emotions. For years I believed that I was in the minority and had been rudely cheated of a post-birth experience everybody else was having.
I eventually however realised I wasn’t alone and here I am standing loud and proud to tell you how I honestly felt after my births. May you shake your head or nod or laugh, but we can start breaking unnecessary expectations of women by talking more openly. Birth is not a competition. Nature has no interest in fulfilling your Hollywood expectations, birth is not sponsored by John Lewis. Let’s champion authentic experiences – they’re pretty powerful.
So, where shall I start…
After the last toe had made it’s way out of my uterus and onto the birthing table to be swaddled in a white towel (note to midwives; white seems to be a particularly ineffectual colour for a labour ward), I felt the following, both simultaneously and consecutively – because that’s how emotions roll, as a big bag of messy charity shop clothes, unfolded, all in strange sizes and often unwanted.
RELIEF – Relief that the pain and the fear was over. Instant and utter, blessed, goddam relief. The mind almost goes blank because the relief is so intense. I didn’t notice who was in the room or what they were saying or doing. Whether I was entirely naked and if my had bum fallen out with all the pushing, or whether husband was there or playing on his iPhone outside. I didn’t notice any of it. It was all white noise to my relief. The baby is out. The nine months have just climaxed in a most spectacular fashion. Even second time around when I should have known what to expect, the relief is still so all consuming. I realised I had forgotten this feeling, I try and log it but suspect this is what they mean when they tell you that women ‘forget about childbirth’, because surely I would have remembered this feeling. Even though an entire baby had come out of me, I now had no bodily sensations to report, no stinging, no soreness, no pain, absolutely and beautifully nothing. If I had been catapulted into that situation without the preceding birth I’m sure I’d be experienced at least some discomfort in most of southerly region, but no, nothing. I was immediately thoroughly comfortable.
UNDERWHELM – After both births there was a sense of underwhelm once baby had arrived. ‘Oh, it’s a baby,’ is what I thought. Like I expected a unicorn to gallop out of my vagina on a rainbow of glitter to a Coldplay soundtrack. When you watch One Born Every Minute you always get an orchestral climax when baby is born. In real life you don’t. You just have the sound of your own moo-ing and groaning. And let’s be honest swearing. I think my son was born to the soundtrack of ‘SHhhhhhhhiiiiiiiT’. Less glamorous than even Channel 5 could make it. Few people cry once baby has arrived. The midwives job is not over, they’re still busy writing notes in their book and looking at their clocks, they don’t have time to shed a happy tear, they’ve seen it hundreds of times, they need to await the arrival of a placenta (which in my case never came, it seems my body is quite literally late for everything), the baby is screaming inches from my face….I’ve felt more emotional watching First Dates. Sorry kids.
TIREDNESS – To the point that I fell asleep pretty swiftly after my second. I honestly didn’t care what was going on around me, I needed a nap.
Cup of tea please, two large sugars.
JOB DONE, I’m a hero. I fucking did it. I produced a human from my vagina. My vagina which feels pain even when having a teeny tiny speculum inserted for a routine smear test. But today I produced an entire, moving, living baby. Head first. Then those awful shoulders, the entire body, arms and legs, fingers, toes, eyelashes and fingernails. Every goddam bit of them. I’m a legend. It is so indisputable that I’m now an almighty power that I don’t even need anyone in the world to recognise it. I basically projected my soul to the moon and grabbed my baby from another galaxy far, far away and brought them into this world. Never mind those people who walk across Antartica, they should try this shit. Still today when I see people on TV talking about their next daring escapade I tut at them. Try childbirth and then let me know if scaling building without a harness is really that hard.
FEAR – With baby number one I had instant fear about how to look after her. I felt utterly unprepared and overwhelmed. I had read a lot of books during the pregnancy and been to all my NCT classes and I felt really calm… up until the point I actually got to hold her. I remember the midwife sarcastically saying ‘are you going to dress her at all today?’ Honestly it hadn’t even crossed my mind to take her out of her blood-soaked towel. Every decision I questioned, every cry was a mystery. When I looked to other people for support it felt like they just looked right back at me to answer. It took about a year for most of that fear to calm down. I can now confirm that I was seeking answers no one had. Nobody knows why babies cry, but they do, a lot. It drives you crazy.
PRIDE – with my daughter after she was born and swaddled, I held her in my arms on one of those hospital beds with wheels and was taken to the post natal ward in a lift. I remember desperately wishing that some stranger would have to share the lift with us so that I could show off my baby. I’ve never felt pride like that. It was mammalian. It was the lion inside me coming alive. My lioness has roared inside me every day since.
LOVE – When did I start to feel love? It’s a great question. What feeling are people alluding to when they say they fall in love with their kid? Because I have a theory that a lot of people are actually talking about that ‘kitten factor’ a.k.a that cute factor, rather than the big ‘L’. Love doesn’t have just one single feeling. Love is complex. I love my Dad but I don’t feel a burning ball of love whenever we have a cup of tea together. With babies though (especially your own), you do eventually start thinking they’re absurdly cute. Like when you look at a box of four week old puppies. It’s that warmth in your stomach where you almost start salivating. So no, I didn’t have those feelings that whilst holding my new, slightly purple and vernix covered offspring on a hospital bed. I felt other things like a deep sense of responsibility, awe of human life, fascination of human form, a sense of connection and a little bit like I’d been set up for a first date with no instructions, ‘oh hi! I’m your Mum’.
I guess when they talk of love they are also talking of bonding. Eventually I reached a point at which I didn’t want to undo my decision – that’s real truth for you. A lot of great Mums will talk honestly about their initial and temporary feelings of almost regret of having kids. But this magical thing called bonding happens, it arrives at different times for different parents and that love creeps into your bones. I remember worrying that I wasn’t having the ‘correct’ feelings. I wasn’t feeling like I’d got a box of kittens, I was feeling bone shatteringly tired and overwhelmed. But those magical and amazing feelings took hold, and soon I found warm tears of happiness spilling down my cheeks as I rolled around the floor with my babies. It all comes in good time. If I could go back to my worried former self I would say, ‘have some patience, Antonia, birth is not the end of the journey but the start’.
My children cripple me with the love that I feel towards them. I had no idea this was the other side of child birth. It has been life’s greatest gift.
I had two hypnobirthing, vaginal births without any drugs or intervention, in wonderfully safe and reassuring environments with caring midwives. If anyone should have set themselves up for a happy post natal montage it was me. But still I didn’t have a bubble of love once they were born. I remember kissing my son on the head as soon as he was born, he was still attached to me by an umbilical cord. The doula coo-d and I remember thinking she probably thought it was a demonstration of my love for my son. It wasn’t. I mean, of course I loved him. But that kiss was more like a footballer kissing the pitch after scoring an awesome goal; his head the metaphorical astro turf. What the doula was witnesses was me congratulating myself on my awesome-ness; celebrating my almighty power as a woman, a Mother.
So there. I’ve said it. Meeting my babies was different to what I expected. I had a variety of complex and conflicting feelings. I am human. I was the same person in labour as out of it. Don’t expect your personality to change. If you are a little over anxious and like swearing, like me, it is unlikely you’ll undo 34 years of psychological conditioning to get over it just in time for the most physically intense hours/ days of your life. You will probably like swearing an awful lot in labour – the word ‘Fuck’ brought me tremendous joy to shout.
I know there ARE mothers that feel all wrapped up in a love bubble immediately after birth and that sounds utterly beautiful but it’s not the case for everybody.
I feel slightly sweaty palmed as I go to press ‘Publish’. But I hope in my honest reflection we can open the dialogue in a more helpful fashion. That one moment of your life does not determine anything further down the line; feelings are just that, feelings. They are not concrete or objective or goal posts. They come and go and they change and grow. We do not need to add another rigid expectation to our lives as women and Mothers and parents. We get to know our children over days, weeks, months and years as they and we continue to grow and change. We shall all experience the journey in wonderfully different ways… and really MOST importantly humour and a cup of tea are essential for our journeys throughout motherhood.
Now look at my kids, they’re amazing!
Yes that is me eating pizza mere hours after birth. You can’t see the baby, she is hidden behind a pizza box.
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