Sex A.D. (After Delivery)

so hot right now

Have you had a baby in the past few years? If so, how long after the birth did a midwife start talking to you about when you could/couldn’t have sex? I think I got about 24 hours before someone asked “Now, have you thought about contraception?” I think I answered, probably with something like “Erm, no, erm…*adjusts small person attempting to breast feed*”. A more genuine response would have been  “Have I thought about contraception? HAVE I THOUGHT ABOUT CONTRACEPTION? And frickin’ kidding me??”

Yes, I am aware that it is very responsible for hospitals to explain to women that they could potentially become pregnant straight away and that breast-feeding is not a guarantee against baby number two popping up on a scan in 12 week’s time (was that a collective shudder I just heard?). But, seriously, 24 hours after Bubs was born a more pertinent question would have been “do you think you’ll consider ever having sex again, ever in your entire life?” Because, let’s face it ladies, there’s nothing about pushing out a tiny human that makes you wanna welcome a fella into your lady garden any time soon, now is there?

Weirdly, though, I have heard stories from multiple midwives about couples being caught ‘at it’ on the post-natal ward. Yep, that’s right, on a ward, behind those flimsy blue curtains. And they say romance is dead! All I can think when I hear about this is “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” I mean, forget the psychological element, my first day of motherhood saw me walking around with a bag of my own pee. It’s just not practical, now is it?

Next time I had ‘the talk’ it was when I was being discharged by the community midwives. Same question again: “Have you thought about contraception?” I think I laughed this time. She was well aware that I had infected stitches (over-sharing?) and a particularly screamy baby. We both knew that this was a box-ticking exercise. (no, I did not intend that to sound like a joke from a carry-on film).

Actually, due to the afore mentioned stitches, I was also advised to wait until they had healed before resuming bedroom antics. And, you know, I was pretty okay with that. A lot of my friends had assisted births or caesareans and so were in the same boat. I’m pretty sure none of us minded putting off the hanky panky. At all.

Now, my friends and I don’t actually talk about our sex-lives; come on people, this isn’t Sex in the City. Still, every now and again one of use would hint at their, shall we say, lack of enthusiasm and we’d all laugh knowingly, then move on to more talk of puke, dribble-bibs or other such highbrow subjects.

Depending on your experience of labour (I haven’t met anyone who loved it yet, tbh), I’d say there is a sliding scale of how weirded out you feel by your body A.D. (After Delivery) It goes from, well-that-was-super-intense to oh-my-freakin-days-whose-boobs-are-these to AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH. Many of us spend a good few months (longer?) feeling our bodies are not our own. So it’s no wonder we aren’t feeling that up for it.

And must give a shout-out to the partners here too. Watching your loved-one give birth may be awe-inspiring but I imagine it is also pretty darn gross! I saw Robbie Williams on the Graham Norton show a while ago and he said “it’s like watching your favourite pub burn down.” Now, obviously Robbie Williams is a dick who prefers to live tweet his wife’s labour than, you know, actually be there for her, but I think he’s probably illustrating a wider issue. I mean, once you’ve seen that you can’t un-see it. Ever.

But I haven’t even got to the best part yet. The most effective form of contraception that arrives after the birth of your first child: That’s right folks, it’s your first child!

bubs CRYING b&W

Screaming babies: nature’s contraceptive.

 

A little baby sleeping inches from you bed, or indeed in it, every night isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac. In fact, let me rephrase that. A little baby not sleeping inches from your bed every night; that’s the real kicker. When our little ones do eventually drop off at 1am after hours of coaxing and rocking, our priorities tend to be capitalising on a two-hour window for sleep, not having a quicky.

This is all perfectly reasonable, but after a while, if we’re not careful, the guilt starts to creep in. However feminist you think you are, there’s probably some 1940s-BBC-RP voice in the back of your mind shouting “Women of Britain: Do you duty!” It’s nonsense of course. Your duty is to look after yourself and your baby and, hopefully, stay sane in the process. Any partner who doesn’t understand that needs a punch up the bracket I say!

Looking at the NHS website, though, it would seem some women do feel rushed into sex before they’re ready. Why else would the page on episiotomies feature sentences like “If sex hurts, it won’t be pleasurable”, well, that isn’t something that should need saying! Even more worryingly it goes on “If penetration is painful, say so.” I mean, bloody right you should say so, but I would hope the bloke would notice too!!

So, just in case there is anyone reading this post who hasn’t read the NHS website or had other women to talk to, I just need to let you know a few things:

If you don’t feel like having sex after your baby is first born, then don’t worry THAT’S NORMAL. Still feel the same two months later? That is ALSO NORMAL! Still feel like it after a year? Well, to I’m sure that’s pretty normal too, but you might wanna talk to your partner (or someone else) about it, because if sex was fun B.C. (before children) then surely it can be fun A.D.  (It can be, don’t ask me how I know, my parents might read this).

But, basically, your body, which by the way has produced an actual human being, should be respected and given the time it needs to heal. So should your mind for that matter. It seems weird that this is a thing that even needs to be said in 2015, but it probably does, so I’m saying it.

 

What’s your experience? Has labour put you off sex for life? Or maybe you were the ones getting jiggy on the post-natal ward? Whatever you think do get involved by commenting below!

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Cave women: A perfect model of motherhood?

og og

As far as I can tell, ‘attachment parenting’ seems like a good thing to do. Though I’m not really into ‘parenting philosophies’ (the very term makes my skin crawl, tbh) I think keeping your baby close etc sounds pretty lovely and I know a lot of people that it really works for. I mean, some of it’s defo not for me. Your kids sleep in you bed? For as long as they like? Like, every night?? Er, thanking you kindly, but no. However, the whole emotional-bonding-closeness-communication stuff is fab. Obvs.

Like any ‘parenting philosophy’ though, about 5% of people who follow attachment parenting get a bit smug about it all. #understatement2015. Their way is no longer just ‘what works for me’, it becomes ‘the best way to do things’. Bleurgh. Not the stuff on the Attachment Parenting International website, that all seems very kind, thoughtful and inclusive to me.  No no, it’s all  the blogosphere-forum-comment-section chitter chatter that goes on about doing what comes ‘naturally’ and being in-tune with your baby’s needs. I mean, yeah, obvs, no one is purposefully being out of tube with their baby’s needs, are they? But does it not occur the writers of these comments that the very fact of describing what you’re doing for your baby as ‘natural’ is a pretty sure fire way of making another parent feel like they are doing something unnatural? And wrong.

One of the biggest and most vexing culprits of all this is references to what ‘cave women’ did.

Comments such as “I mean, cave women wouldn’t have (insert modern parenting practice here)” appear on blogs and forums regularly, usually in reference to attachment parenting. They are likely to have been inspired by articles such as the gem “Why Cavemen were Better Parents than we are Today.” (I know, Daily Mail, why do I even do it to myself?).

Somehow, we have come to associate the practices of our distant ancestors with the way of parenting that ‘nature intended’. More than this, that nature’s intentions are the ones we want to follow. You know: high mortality rate, fight-or-flight, survival of the fittest. Now, am I alone in not wanting to apply these principles to the care of my children? Didn’t think so.

So I’ve decided to outline a few reasons why you should not feel obliged to emulate cave people parenting. Commence ranting mode!

Continue reading

Birth stories: why you won’t be hearing mine.

*trigger warning: despite the title there is a bit of birth talk in this post*

When I was a new mum doing the drinking-coffee-with-one-hand-rocking-pram-with-the-other-attempting-to-maintain-a-half-decent-conversation-thing was part of the deal. Admittedly a much nicer part than the crying at sleep-deprivation and poo-handling bits. It helped me bond with my fellow mums, mostly because we frequently did the too-much-information-thing. You know, talking about the colour of poo; the state of your boobs; your distinct lack of lobedo. Oh yes, small talk becomes a whole new ball game once babies are involved.

Of course, on the top of all our over-sharing lists was the birth itself. With slightly pained expressions, we’d ask each other if the birth was ‘okay’ and wait to see what was divulged. Some would give a short account; 40 hours, exhausting, natural delivery. Others would go into much more detail. This was not because they wanted the attention, nor were they playing bad-birth top trumps, they just needed their stories to be heard, especially by those who could have some genuine empathy.

In those early months I talked birth a lot. The funny thing was I never really wanted to talk about it at all. For me, labour was traumatic. About a thousand people tell you ‘nothing can prepare you for it’ when you’re pregnant, to this you might nod sagely in agreement. But then it happens and you realise: nothing can prepare you for it. Nothing. This isn’t to scare any one or say that antenatal classes are useless; I am very glad that I went to NCT and in some ways it did prepare me. But this is the queen of visceral experiences and, as such, no one can quite put it into words. And I’m not just talking long labours or assisted births (I’ve given my two pence about ‘good births‘ before). I know women who have had 7-hour labours and delivered in the pool and felt, well, frankly, fucked. Feeling like that myself, but not really being able to articulate it, meant it was not easy for me to talk about births, or hear about them. A swell of dread would rise in me at the mere mentioned; sort of like a flashback. It was not pleasant.

Despite my internal panics, I continued with the chat. In fact, often I would initiate the chat. Why, Dear Reader? WHY? Someone would make an offhand comment and I’d follow it up with a question. Then, before you know it, BOOM! This is a proper conversation with details and what not. As if nursing a baby whilst simultaneously trying to drink a luke-warm cappuccino weren’t enough to cope with on 3 hours sleep. Deary me.

The thing is, I wanted to have these conversations with my new friends and I’m sure they brought us closer together. It is an honour to be admitted into that most viscerally private of experiences, even if all that you learn is that they were scared, or shocked, or awed by the whole thing. I’m glad I know what happened to my friends and that many of their experiences resembled mine. I never thought I would shout I shout the words “I had an episiotomy too!” quite so loudly, or enthusiastically over a table in a public place. Once all of the babies were born our groups’ catchphrase became “where are all these ‘natural births’ then???” as 7 out of 8 of us had some complication or other. Sharing it meant we could laugh about it, just a little bit.

But sometimes, when these type of chats were in a group rather than one-to-one, I’d would feel myself slowly disappearing into an internal world. I remember meeting up with a group once, and a mum who I didn’t really know talking about her birth. I had thought we had passed the ‘how was your birth’ stage by then – I desperately wanted to be – even though it was probably only about 3 months after the fact. I found myself not bloody caring that she’d been sent home because she wasn’t dilated enough, and I certainly didn’t want to know home much hypno-birthing helped her. “Yah, so I started doing my meditations…” Meditations?? WTF??? after 2cm I couldn’t bloody see-straight! (FYI I do not think hypnobirthing isn’t good/genuine/etc, but because at that point I was still in the ‘if I’d done that it would have been better’ place. That place is crap.) The more she shared, and others shared with her, the more urgent the sense of dread became in my body became. If we’re talking ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, mine body was definitely telling me to catch the next flight to Kazakhstan.  So I just sat back in my chair and nodded at the appropriate points, trying to do my best interested/sympathetic expression. But I wasn’t really there, I was hiding somewhere in my head. Which was sad.

To be fair, I had worse. Friends without babies who I told I was ‘upset’ by the birth (and the award for understatement of the year 2013 goes to…) and didn’t really want to talk about it, would often respond by asking questions about the birth or, worse, telling me about ‘really bad‘ births they knew of already. I shit you not, Dear Reader, I shit you not.

And you know, I’m beginning to feel all weird as I write this. I’ve got the anxiety tingles. A year on I still find it hard to think about this stuff. And I’m not even thinking about the actual stuff, I’m thinking about talking about the actual stuff. What strange creatures we are.

Now, I shall get to the point. A lot of bloggers writing eloquently and movingly about their births. Some have managed to turn their traumatic experiences into dark comedies for our enjoyment, whilst others have shared their most profound tragedies in order to raise awareness and comfort others. All of these things are wonderful. But I won’t be reading any of them, I’m afraid. Not for a while yet, any way. And (obvs) I won’t be writing one either. Because it is not a day I want to relive.

I used to feel deeply sad and intensely guilty about not being able to remember my son’s birth fondly. But why should I? It was defo, totes, 100% the most physically traumatic experience of my life (and it wasn’t even a ‘really bad‘ one, bleurgh). Yes, afterwards I had my Bubs, but as I mentioned in the post I have just reblogged, my bond with him took time to form. I didn’t feel the Hollywood-sudden-rush-of-love sensation that makes it ‘all worth it’.

Now,, of course, I couldn’t be happier to have my Bubs (okay, I could be a bit happier when he is screaming in my face). As I may have mentioned before; he is the best. person. ever. (Sozzers other mums, but that is an objective fact!) And thought I am happy about the fact he was born (understatement of the year 2014) ; I will never be happy about the act of that birth. ‘The fact, not the act’, is actually a little phrase I coined to help me come to terms with my feelings about the it all. Pretty nifty, dontcha think?

When I realised that I never had to be happy about the labour and delivery, that I didn’t need to amalgamate the memory of a horrid stitches infection (TMI?) into some grand “isn’t motherhood wonderful at all times” narrative, it was a major relief. It is probably not a radical statement to say that women don’t  always have to smile fondly and say “it was all worth it!” when recalling the birth of their children, but it feels radical to me! Because, yes, or course it’s bloody worth it, but sometimes I just want to say it was fucking traumatic without a caveat, without any “but now he’s here and…” stuff. Sometimes, things are just shit. And I think going through labour earns us the right to say so!

So, just in case you were hoping to hear all about my birthing experience (weirdo), you won’t be. But I have created this visual aid, just so you’re in the loop:

Nuff said.

 

If you feel confused or upset by your birth then it might be an idea to talk to a Supervisor of Midwives at your hospital, see more info on my help for you page.

How to feel about retelling your birth? Maybe you adopted and feel left out in these conversations? Have your say by commenting below, go to my facebook page or tweet me @aafew

The Second Trimester: Don’t believe the hype.

Annotations my own.

Extract from an NHS email. Annotations my own.

In the early days of pregnancy, when nobody at work knows, you’re experiencing new levels of grumpy, and the faintest whiff of food makes you dry-retch (or worse); there is one, great shining light at the end of the hormonal tunnel. It is a beacon of hope, a promised land of glowing skin, glossy hair and boundless energy; it is the second trimester. *angelic choral overture*

Everybody tells you that the first 12 weeks are the worst and you’ll start to feel better soon. Your boobs will stop feeling so odd; the not-just-in-the-morning sickness will subside and you won’t be so face-meltingly tired all-of-the-bloody-time. Huzzah, that sounded pretty good to me.

So, around week 13, I began to anticipate this change. I looked forward to not feeling the need to make my husband to list of the ingredients of every meal he cooked for my personal approval (‘no, don’t put any of that in, and can you bake those rather than boil them‘ Bleurgh to me). I thought that I would start making it to 3, maybe even 4pm without feeling physically sick with tiredness. The best was yet to come, the time would soon be here when I could, you know, really start enjoying my pregnancy.

But, Dear Reader, I have some shocking news (that you will in no way have guessed from the tone of the last three paragraphs and the image above):

IT DIDN’T BLOODY HAPPEN!

Week 13 came and went, but I thought I had been a bit optimistic and change was just around the corner. But as weeks 14, 15 and 16 went by and I still felt like utter crap, I began to doubt the ‘second trimester’ line.

It’s no wonder I was sucked in. The promise of respite in that much-celebrated middle stage of your pregnancy is EVERYWHERE. Women tell you about it, magazines tell you about it, the books tell you about it. My NHS emails told me about it. The NHS I tells ya!!

Dear Reader, even the pregnancy Bible itself, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, puts ‘more energy’ at the top of its ‘what you may be feeling’ list. Honestly, what’s a girl to do??

what to expect 2nd trimester

You may point out the massive caveat directly before the words ‘more energy’, but I’m not gonna lie to you, I always go straight to the bullet points. That’s what they’re for, right?

And I’m not the only one with whom these words did not chime. Loads of my friends had the same experience; watching for the magical week 14 and then seeing it pass by without out feeling one bit better. There are legions of us all over the world, crying out in an impassioned chorus:

“Where are our thick, luxurious manes? Where are our gorgeous strong nails? Where is our clear, radiant complexion? Where, oh where, oh where is our bloody energy boost???”

There is not much I can do about it now, of course, except get the word out to others. Unsuspecting newly-pregnant women, clutching their bump-books and eagerly awaiting the illusive glow. Don’t be fooled! Our bodies, like our babies, don’t read the bloody books! You will not be on a predictable timetable. It just don’t work like that.

Thinking about it, pregnancy is a really good time to ease into the idea that human biology is unpredictable and you just have to go with the flow sometimes. Even if the flow is vom-tinged or very, very cry-y.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Dear Reader! I didn’t have a completely miserable pregnancy, not at all. For me, the fog just took a little longer to lift.

When I was about 18 weeks pregnant I remember talking to another pregnant woman in church one morning. She was about 2 months ahead of me and she asked how I was feeling. I looked at her with wide, bag-laden eyes and said “Rubbish”. Or something like that, it was church so I probably didn’t swear. Probably. She instantly replied “20 weeks, 20 weeks and you’ll start to feel better, honestly.” At the time I didn’t much believe her. I had heard all this crap before. I knew she was being sincere but I just couldn’t get my hopes up again. The whole ‘2nd trimester debacle’ had broken my little pregnant heart.

But Lo! What light from yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the 20 weeks!! ‘Tis the half-way line.

From the Shakespeare quote above you may be able to deduce that I did indeed feel A LOT better in the second half of my pregnancy. And I know I lot of women who experienced carrying a baby as a game of two halves, rather than three thirds. I didn’t get the heavy, achey crap at the end either even though Bubs was 2 weeks late (I know a lot of you do, sozzers). I felt crap for the first half and pretty good for the second. Simples.

So there you have it. My body, like my baby, did not behave in a textbook manner. With hindsight that is no great surprise. But then, that’s sort of the nature of hindsight isn’t it? Hmm, moving on…

If you have a pregnant friend, or a friend who may get pregnant in the future, or you have friend who has a friend who may get pregnant in the future, will you do me a favour and pass on this pearl of wisdom:

Pregnancy is often talked about in trimesters. You may experience it in this way, but you may not. Your experience may be more akin to halves, or quarters, or sevenths for all we know. Because you’re you and your baby is whoever they are, and there is only one you-and-your-baby. So, you know, don’t believe the hype.

Cheers.

 

How was it for you? Were you a textbook pregnancy? Share your experiences by posting a comment below, visiting my facebook page, or tweeting me @aafew.

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And then the fun began...

Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs: And the winner is…

A couple of weeks ago I took a poll on your needs. What do you prioritise above all else? If you want see what all of the options were  just click hereBut, of course, there can only be one winner. It was a close run race but, by just a single vote, your choice for the most accurate ‘mother’s hierarchy of needs’ is

 

*achingly long drum roll*

 

THE SLEEP ONE!

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

Yes, though it wasn’t my first choice (probably because it took me about 30 second to design and the others were labours of love, but whatevs, I, like, don’t even care) I think we can all agree that this is pretty darn accurate. Especially in the initial months. Actually, what am I talking about. It’s always accurate. We just came back from a two week holiday on which my delightful Bubs decided to go from sleep through to waking an unpredictable amount of times (always at least two). I’ve never returned from a holiday more tired than when I left. One is not amused.

So, there you have it. Sleep. Everything else. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

Thanks goes to @StephieDoug (sisterhoodandallthat.com) for her Twitter response:

Of swimming and Kegels: The postnatal exercise chat.

If you have had a baby in the UK then, at some point very soon after you gave birth a midwife, nurse, physio, health visitor or all of the above should have talked to you about exercise and recovery. It is very very very cool that this happens (I actually mean this, though I know sarcasm is what you’ve come to expect from me) but in my experience I have found that the subject of this chat tends to fall into two different categories: the essential bit and the optimistic bit.

The Essential Bit.

Now, Dear Reader if you take nothing else from this post, nay this entire blog, take this. Do. Your. Pelvic. Floor. Exercises.

And. Keep. Doing. Them.

Got that?

The midwives etc will probably have harangued you about this a few times. And if you went to a pregnancy/postnatal yoga classes you have probably experienced the ever so slightly awkward silence that happens when the instructor says something like

“And now we’ll do our pelvic floor exercises. And lift…”

No eye contact happens in that part of the class. Absolutely none. 

But as much as you may not want to hear another mention ‘making a motion as if to stop you passing water’ ever again in all of your days, there people are right!  Especially when they tell you to do them for the rest of your life and not just until you’re ‘back to normal’. As if that ever happens any way.

At first it’s not difficult to remember your Kegels (as American baby books seem to insists pelvic floor exercises are called) when you’ve just gone through labour. Because, let’s be honest, we have a few embarrassing reminders. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’m afraid you’ll be lost for the next little while. In fact, if you haven’t wet yourself at least once on the way to the loo shortly after giving birth (and beyond) I’m afraid we just can’t be friends. We just can’t.

(Pregnant ladies, sorry if that last paragraph has horrified you, but, sister, it’s happening.)

When things start to get a bit less Tena Lady, though, and you’re mind is on other things – or one very loud and pooey other thing – it’s easy to start slacking. DON’T. Don’t ask me how I know, just take it from me. Keep up the Kegels!

Therein lies the most useful part of the postnatal exercise chat. Shall we practise now ladies? And lift…

 

The More Than Slightly Optimistic Bit.

I think I got ‘the exercise talk ‘ in one form or another a total of three times. When being discharged from hospital, when being discharged from the community midwives and then again when I went into hospital for the crazies (around the 10 week mark). The first two times I was warned “No exercise other than walking for the first 6 weeks.” Um, yeah, that’s totally fine.

The first 6 weeks? Try 6 months! I hardly bloody exercised before I had kids, why am I going to start now that I’m being woken-up three times a night? If I have baby-free time it will be spent drinking wine and watching offensive television, or sleeping. Thank you very much.*

 

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

 

So, yes, the 6 weeks came and went, and the next six weeks came and went, without so much as a lunge in sight. After a while I did start to go to a delightfully laid back class called ‘Rock Your Baby’ where I could sit Bubs in his sling whilst feeling the burn to a soundtrack of ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘Moves like Jagger’. Ideal.

Because, the thing is, when you have a baby pretty much the only way you can exercise is with your baby. Yes, okay, you could go out to an evening class that starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 9pm but until you’ve got the sleep thing down that is basically self-torture. And even after, when the magical, mythical ‘evening’ returns to your lives going spinning may not be the first thing you want to do with it. (See my previous wine and television comment).

This is why the next bit of repeated advice from health-professional seems a bit incongruous.

“Swimming is a great way to exercise for new mums.”

Is it? Is it? I mean, yes, I get logically why it is. Non weight-bearing, uses the whole body, calming to the mind etc. But there’s this other issue that sort of gets in the way here. It’s that I have a baby. And babies aren’t that good at swimming. Okay, yes they are, they’ve got the ‘dolphin reflex’ or something and if you pay £12 a week from the age of 3-days-old they’ll be  swimming like a fish before they’re weaned, blah blah blah. But I can’t very well strap Bubs to my back and start doing lengths now, can I?

And even if you can find childcare there are other issues. Like, do breastpads even work in the pool? I have this unshakable image of a new mum happily booming up and down unaware of the two white vapour trails following behind her like she’s a jumbo jet.

There’s also the swimming costume issue. I believe we should all be proud of our postnatal bodies (see previous post) but we’re not, are we? And catching yourself in one of those awful leisure centre mirrors the first time you that bravely don your tankini once more just isn’t great. But that’s nothing compared to suddenly being half naked infront of 50 strangers when you’re at your most physically vulnerable. In my local pool they have a cafe on the same level as the pool and people basically sit out on a terrace and watch the swimmers. Fully clothed. With a cup of tea. Whilst I’m aware that I will be very glad of this facility in later years when I can lazily play on my phone whilst the kids splash about, it currently makes me feel like a postnatal whale in an aquarium.

 

So, that’s it really. I don’t entirely hve a point with this post except to say, you know, go for a walk every now and again but I wouldn’t stress about exercise. Do it when you want to do it. Maybe trick you’re baby into thinking you’re playing a delightful game with them when really you’re using the little one in as human dumbbells. But don’t sweat. We’ve got enough to worry about.

 

 

 

 

*exercise is, like, really good for your mental health (and physical health, obvs). you should in no way take my nonsensical ranting as discouragement.

 

‘Good’ Births, Weight Loss and Sleeping Through: why no mum wants to be told she’s ‘lucky’.

A conversation I had recently:

Me: Oh yeah, he’s just starting to get mobile now, so that’s a bit scary!

Nameless Mum of Two: How old is he now?

Me: Just about 8 months.

NMOT: Wow, 8 months and just starting to crawl. You’re lucky, mine both crawled at 6 months. You don’t want them crawling. *eye roll*

Me: (internally) OK, I’ll be quiet now then.

Dear reader, I’d like to tell you a little bit about why telling a mum she’s ‘lucky’ is one of those things that sounds like a compliment but makes you want to scream in someone’s face…

I, like many (most?) women I know found giving birth pretty traumatic. And why wouldn’t I? There was an actual person coming out of my actual body. Granted, I was aware that this was going to happen for over nine months previous to the event and you might think that the human brain, with all it’s vast capacities, would be capable of imagining something close to the experience. But you’d be wrong. It can’t. In fact, even the stuff I could imagine changed. I was induced so it all started in hospital; I had to have an assisted birth in theatre; and my Bubs was taken out of the room the minute he was born to be checked by a paediatrician (he was very healthy).

My friends’ births all happened in very different ways. From water births lasting less than 8 hours, to emergency c-sections, to labours lasting over 3 days. Bleurgh. Now given the choice, I’m sure most of us would choose a short water birth if we had to pick from that delightful menu. Hmm, actually, would I? You can’t have diamorphine when you have a water birth and that’s about the only thing I’m looking forward to about going through labour again. So maybe I’d choose a short, drug-addled birth. Mmm, diamorphine…

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

But I digress! The interesting thing is that my friends’ reactions to these births didn’t necessarily match-up with what others’ ideas of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ births are. When I began open up to my Health Visitor (who is amazing) about how I felt about my birth (crap crap crappedy crap, in case you were wondering) she told me that when she was a midwife she saw that any type of birth could be distressing. You could be in the hospital with a woman having no pain relief, keeping relatively calm and using a birthing pool. You might think what a lovely birth it was, as a midwife who’s seen it all. But that same birth could leave the mother in a state of shock and feeling very vulnerable. Because, you know, as I mentioned before. Actual person. Your actual body. Combined. Actually happening.

But any woman who had a relatively quick birth, or who have managed to not have any pain relief, or even whose baby just had a small head, will inevitably be told that their ‘lucky’ at some point. The problem with this, especially when it comes from the mouths of other birth-mothers is what it implies. Because your basically saying ‘my labour was harder/worse than your labour’ or ‘oh it wasn’t that bad dear, do pipe down’. While some of that might be physically true, it is just plain unhelpful. If a woman is continually told this she may end up feeling belittled. She might begin to feel she can’t talk about her birth in negative terms at all. She might even feel she is being weak and self-important for wanting to express her feelings of trauma. And that would be crappy, wouldn’t it?

Because my birth wasn’t ‘straight-forward’ I generally got the sympathy I desired, but I do have one example of this. Shortly after giving birth I spoke to an old friend on the phone. She, like most people, asked about the birth. I said it hadn’t been very good and that I didn’t really want to talk about it as I found it all quite upsetting. Her response was to ask if had been, like, a bad bad birth, or whether I just felt it was bad? I replied it was probably ‘in the middle’, already feeling quite belittled. Then she launched into a description of a really bad birth. Dear reader, I must confess, I just held the phone away from my ear until it was over.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ birth. Of course there is! We all know of people who have gone through hell and, in a way, any of us who haven’t are lucky. I feel very lucky to live in a country where I wasn’t presented a bill at the end of my hospital stay and didn’t have to think about whether I could afford it when the doctors started talking about theatre. Come to think of it I’m bloody lucky to have been born in a country where there are enough hospitals to accommodate all births and two of them are 15 minutes from my house! So gratitude for your relative fortune is fantastic, but being told you should be grateful by some stranger who rolls their eyes as if to say ‘you just don’t get how hard it can be’? Well that’s just bloody annoying!

And it’s not just births that are surrounded by this kind of language. Take weight loss, for example. I am the first person to admit that I react with a curious mixture of jealousy and admiration when I see a fellow mum with a flat tummy. But there’s a weird thing in our society where people commenting, slightly bitterly, on someone’s (lack of) weight is totally socially acceptable. Thinner new mums are always being told they’re ‘lucky’ that the baby weight ‘just dropped off them’. But I’m pretty sure my retention of the extra stone around my middle is less to do with bad luck than with the amount of biscuits I eat.

What’s more, just because a woman’s thin we can’t assume she feels good about herself. Any celebrity mag can tell you that! Slimming down doesn’t mean her boobs haven’t gone all weird and changed shape. Or that the skin on her belly hasn’t turned from being all nice and smooth to resembling a loaf of tiger bread. And maybe, just maybe, the weight has ‘dropped off’ of her because she’s stressed and not eating properly. That doesn’t sound very lucky to me. (Look out for my new book The Anxiety Diet out in all good bookstores, spring 2015). Whatever the case, the effect is the same. ‘You’re lucky’ is usually taken to mean ‘you’re luckier than me’. And that can be interpreted as ‘count your blessings and shut up’.

It’s the same with everything. The mother whose baby sleeps well at night feels she shouldn’t talk about being tired. Now, I’m not saying go on about it to your friends who has twins who take it in turns to wake up six times a night, but I am saying that you probably are tired. Very tired. As far as I can make out, all parents exist on a spectrum of tiredness. Allow me to illustrate:

We're all bloody tired, ok?

We’re all bloody tired, ok?

In short, however ‘lucky’ a mum may seem, it’s still really really hard with a new born. So we all need to be able to express that.

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Well this dude Maslow was trying to explain why even when people live in safety and have all of their physical, and even intellectual, needs met they can still be unhappy. Basically, if you’re wondering whether your kids are going to be fed today you’re unlikely to have an existential crisis about the very meaning of your life. However, if you’re sitting with a hearty breakfast, having slept safely in your bed, about to go to your rewarding job, you’re more likely to think about people who have no food and wonder why you’re not content despite your riches. Huzzah, an existential crisis!

Well I’ve borrowed Maslow’s idea but adjusted it a little, for mums. What do you think?

An actual graph, what I made myself.

An actual graph, what I made myself.

Okay this isn’t going to make many ripples in the pond of postnatal psychology, but of the spirit of is true I think. Some of us will have it very physically rough. I know that my experience of postnatal depression was bad, but there are a lot worse things that could have happened. I am genuinely grateful for my lot. Even so, I also genuinely suffered. It is possible for any parent in any circumstance to find things unbelievably tough. This is sometimes hard to understand, even frustrating, especially when a mother is going on about how her baby sleeps so much she can barely leave the house (yes, that happened to me and no, I wasn’t totally understanding). But really, everyone needs a good moan. Especially a mum!

 

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And then the fun began...