When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s hospital yesterday afternoon it wasn’t just the baby the world was interested in seeing. Let’s be honest, a newborn baby is a newborn baby; most of them look quite similar, a bit like grumpy old men.
The world was interested in seeing what the Duchess of Cambridge looked like.
And she didn’t disappoint. Earlier in the day her hairdresser’s arrival had garnered more news coverage than all other current affairs combined – really? A hairdresser? – and speculation was rife over what was in the garment bag an aide was toting.
When they finally emerged (I spent the evening with News24 and baited breath) it was pleasing to see K Mid still rocking a little bump like a normal woman – though it doesn’t look such a flabby all-encompassing spare tyre like mine was (and still is if I’m honest) – but the woman looked incredible otherwise. Her gorgeous hair and immaculate makeup! The beautiful Jenny Packham dress! The heels!
We can forgive her for she is a member of the royal family and is being paraded in front of the circus that is the world’s media, though it would have been nice for the Duchess to not perpetuate the myth that women look perfect after giving birth. And to be fair if I was visited in hospital the day after I gave birth by a hair stylist and make-up artist I wouldn’t have turned them away.
But unforgivable is the cover of OK magazine which spread like wildfire yesterday evening on Social Media:
Because what new mums need after birthing a human out of their bodies is further pressure of the Duchess’s ‘weight-loss regime’, the ‘Duchess Diet & Shape-Up Plan’. We really need more reasons for our mum tums, stretch marks and wobbly bits to make us feel inadequate don’t we?
No, we don’t.
Rather than dedicating precious brain space to thoughts about how much we weigh and how flabby we are we need to be thinking about our new baby, getting our rest and bonding with our babies.
How about coverage of women who don’t worry about shaping-up days after giving birth? How about column inches for the women who wear their post-baby body confidence with pride (and I’m not talking about negative coverage, eh Daily Mail)? How about we celebrate the fact we grew a person rather than beating ourselves up for the fact our bodies have changed?
So here’s me. Here’s me having just given birth with a squinty, make-up free face and no contact lenses. Here’s my mum tum that proudly grew two beautiful children for nine months. Here’s what a real woman looks like post-birth, and if at least one person feels better about how they looked as a brand new mother then showing the internet these not-so-flattering photographs would have been worth it.
The day after giving birth to Elfie / The first outing
The day Hux was born
Hux at a couple of days old. Where’s that make-up artist?
First photo at home with Elf / Hux at 2 weeks old and still in maternity shirts
When I was pregnant for the first time I wasn’t sure of much. I was completely confused at what childbirth would be like, I didn’t know if I would breast or bottle feed, or even if I wanted to be a stay at home mum or not. But there was thing I was sure of: the love I would feel for them in that hospital room.
I knew as soon as that baby was placed on my chest (or, as I had C sections, near my face) I would feel that immense, all-consuming rush of happiness and god-I-would-die-for-this-person. I know this because I’d read about it in magazines, seen it on the tv and heard about it each time my mum described my own birth.
So imagine my shock and surprise when it didn’t happen for me.
My pregnancy with Elfie was fairly straightforward. A few hiccups here and there but mostly happy and peaceful. That doesn’t mean it was easy though; I never relaxed having seen too many friends go through hearbreaking experiences with their pregnancies. I knew that falling in love with the person in my belly and then losing her would crush me so I was a bit scared to.
As I remember, Elfie’s birth, a c section, went like this. Bridge over troubled water on the radio, husband in scrubs. I could see the reflection of the operation in his glasses (GROSS!). A wriggly purple thing was pulled from me and thrust to my face. My first thought was: “that could NOT have come from me”. My second, “what’s all that gross white stuff?”. I think I then thought something along the lines of “erm, what do I do with this then?”.
We were moved back to our room, did the breastfeeding thing. She got pinker and angrier as newborns do and then slept a lot. I was still in total shock that I was going to have to look after this teeny tiny being, and in awe of her small fingers and toes. I think that’s a good word to describe my feelings in those early days: awe, and a little bit of shock too.
Elfie came home and the worry set in where the mummy love should have been. She became very ill, and I again became scared of losing someone who could be so in control of my heart. Though I know I did everything I could have done at that time to get her seen and it was really a string of failings between our GP and Health Visitor that did not pick up her illness quicker I still feel horribly guilty.
This isn’t to say I didn’t love her then, not at all. She is my child and I have always loved her. But I did miss that feeling of loving so much you feel like you might vomit up your own heart.
But then – surprise! It came right before I got pregnant again, the mummy love arrived just after her first birthday. I can’t remember what we were doing but my heart suddenly felt like it grew 100%. There it was. A year late, but it had arrived. That rush of love didn’t happen when she was a wrinkly angry baby, but as she became a toddler. It felt as good as everyone said.
It has never left and now I love her even more than that day. I don’t know how to describe what she is to me: my best friend, my confidante, my cuddly little champion. She says these things to me in her little voice (“I love you mummy, you best friend”) and I swear it makes me swoon and my heart thump out of my chest. It’s beautiful and so difficult to describe. When you have that love for your kid, you know. It’s like nothing else on earth.
Hux was a similar story. I spent the whole pregnancy so worried about having two children and splitting this new love that I’d recently found for Elfie and when he arrived that rush of love didn’t come. Instead I thought “oh good, he’s not as gunky as Elfie”. And then “what on earth do I do with this teeny tiny willy when it pees on me?!” (FYI I still don’t know).
But again the mummy love arrived, a bit sooner this time, when he was about three days old. And now? Well, he’s my boy. I think it’s clear to anyone how much I love him. Sometimes so much that I worry I will put him on the BBQ and gobble him up with a side of coleslaw, he’s that delicious (not really. Maybe). He’s simply amazing and I can’t imagine ever meeting a man better than him (he is the best bits of my Dad and Will, after all).
Does this make me a bad mum? I don’t think so. I just think it took my emotions a while to get over a few hurdles and catch up with my head. One thing I do know is that I would die for my children. And the fact that sometimes doesn’t happen immediately ain’t something they teach you in your NCT classes. It’s nothing you need to worry about either. If, like me, you didn’t feel it straight away: hang in there. You too will soon want to vomit up your heart.
My friend Katie had a bit of a differentexperience to me: go and read her lovely account of when her girls were born.
The very last pregnancy photo / trying to relax with Balamory
In my naive, blissed-out natural birth-planning state, labour was to go one way, and one way only. The labour niggles would begin, I’d take a paracetamol and get some sleep, take a bath, strap on my TENS machine if it all got a bit much and head into hospital. I’d be bout 6cm dilated and use gas and air before asking for an epidural and get told it was too late. I would push baby out drug-free and rejoice at the power of my body, feeling enthralled by my birthing prowess.
What I didn’t bank on was the three long nights of contractions that would stop as soon as dawn arrived and then start again at 4pm the next day. I didn’t think I’d keep getting to the TENS stage and want to then throw it out the window because of how annoying I found the vibrations and how they distracted me from breathing through the contractions. It might sound like a silly thing to say but I didn’t count on labour being so bloody painful.
One of my many baths / the dreaded TENS
It all started on the evening of Will’s birthday party. The period pains had been on and off for a week or so but the real contractions started at around 8. I timed them for a while, took a couple of paracetamol and tried to sleep. It didn’t work, I was way too excited, so I took a bath instead and watched about 8 episodes of the office. Then it was TENS time, and this took my mind off the pain enough that I snoozed off at about 5am.
When I woke up the contractions had GONE. I was a bit disappointed but not too much, stuff was happening, we were on our way, it wouldn’t be long, right? WRONG.
Watching a million episodes of The Office / trying to walk the baby out
It was time to show the foetus the metaphorical womb door, so Will and I grabbed Elfie and went for a swift 3 mile march round the local country park. I even had a gentle bounce on the outdoor kids trampoline. Nothing. I needed to relax more so I took another bath and the contractions started again. YAY. We were in business.
Baby Hux in graphical form / LUBE – snort
OR NOT. This process was repeated for another 24 hours and I was losing the will to live. I was so frustrated and distracted with it all that I won Worst Wife Of The Year award, completely forgetting to wish Will Happy Birthday on the morning of his 30th. The poor man. That afternoon at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant I started to get a bit concerned that baby hadn’t been moving as he should have been so we headed to hospital for some monitoring.
A contraband cheeseburger smuggled in via a Marks & Spencer carrier / support stockings
They were slightly concerned as baby’s heart rate was dipping slightly so asked if I could stay for them to monitor me for the evening. I’d asked the midwife to examine me to find out if I’d dilated at all but she said no as I wasn’t having contractions. Luckily 20 minutes later they re-started with a force so she agreed to see how far gone I was. I requested a decent rummage whilst she was down there, see if she couldn’t get things going a bit more. I was 2cm. Which though not very far gone made me pleased I wasn’t in pain for nothing and as requested she did a bit of a sweep.
They took me up to a ward for overnight monitoring and I was greeted by a woman in labour on all fours, sucking on gas and air as if her life depended on it and screaming blue murder. It was animalistic. They handily put me in the bay opposite her (erm, thanks) but once the midwife saw the look on my face at her screams I was moved to next to the window. I wanted to cry as I realised what was round the corner, although I found out the next day that she was only 3cm dilated at this point.
Chocolate breakfast / contraction distraction
My contractions were becoming more intense and painful but I found I took a lot from my Hypnobirthing book and was able to deal well with them. I breathed through them and envisioned tightening rather than pain, and this really helped. I noticed that when I didn’t concentrate on the sensation of tightening they hurt a hell of a lot more. It was doable and the lady opposite commented how calm I seemed, apart from when a contraction hit which was apparently when I went a bit red.
The next day I was examined again and had reached 3cm, but the contractions had eased once more. After a couple of tearful conversations with Will and the consultant I decided to accept the Caesarian that was offered to me that afternoon. I wasn’t getting anywhere far with my contractions, drugs to speed things along were out of the question due to my previous section and I was exhausted. I felt crushingly disappointed that I wasn’t going to see the labour through to the end and I genuinely believe that if it had speeded along quicker then it would have been a different story, but I was so tired and was fast running out of mental strength. I’d been in pain for four days. The consultant gave me another rough stretch and sweep and the section was booked for six hours time, had that not worked.
My handsome husband ready for the operating theatre / the first photos of Huxley
The feeling that I’d let myself down didn’t last long – I couldn’t believe we were going to have a baby that afternoon. When I’d gone in the previous day for monitoring that had been the last thing on my mind and I couldn’t wait. I was prepped for surgery by some lovely Doctors and Anaesthetists and Will was brought in for the birth moment; though not before he’d been taken into the wrong operating theater. “Erm… that’s not my wife”. Awkward.
The happy new parents (I look like I’ve been in labour for days…)
Huxley William Harold was born at 3.04pm on 16th May. His APGAR scores were 10 straight away (winner!) and Will was able to cut his cord. I spent about 10 minutes with them before Will went with Hux up to the ward and I was sorted out. There were big issues getting my uterus to contract back as it should (I quote: “Mrs Harold, you have a flabby uterus”) and I was given some hefty drugs to help that made me feel horrendous. I got taken to recovery and immediately started begging to go back up to the ward.
This was the first photo Twitter saw of Huxley / skin-on-skin snoozing
Meanwhile the paediatrician we’d been assigned was battling with Will to try and get Hux into Paediatric Intensive Care so he could have a cannula put in for immediate blood tests. We had not been told of this after-birth plan for him and Will very firmly told them there was no need for a line in or any sort of intervention at this stage. If Huxley was going to be affected by Elfie’s condition it was going to be a slow burner, not something that could be identified and treated immediately. Luckily Huxley was kept on the ward with Will and I was able to have skin-to-skin and feed him as soon as I was back from recovery. I’m so thankful that he was able to battle the Doctors on Hux’s behalf like that; can you imagine if I arrived and he’d been taken away needlessly? There would have been trouble.
Elfie meets her new brother / daddy and son
The Grandparents were summoned and Elfie was brought in on her own first to meet her baby brother, who had thoughtfully bought her presents of a Peppa Pig story book and a doll of her very own to look after (the doll’s name is now ‘Mama’). They didn’t stay long thanks to how awful I was feeling, leaving us to get our heads around the newest member of our family.
More snoozing / feeling patriotic
We were told the plan for Hux: blood sugar monitoring every three hours via a heel prick, sodium and potassium monitoring every 12 hours (a spike or drop in either of these or the blood sugar not remaining stable is the first flag for the condition) and then 5 days after birth he was to have a test to see the effect of stress on his adrenal gland.
This food is not good for recovery / more skin-to-skin
The week passed in a haze of bad food, bonding, resting (as much as is possible on a ward with 5 other women and babies) and trying to establish the horror of breastfeeding. There was plenty of tweeting, a bit of weeping and a lot of nipple cream. My mum and dad brought me some delicious meals, Will delivered daily M&S picnics and the lovely Bryony brought a care package of gin and Pimms in a tin, chocolate and bath goodies. By the time the stress test came around I was almost out of my mind with the desire to go home to be with Elfie and Hux in my own house but we had to wait another day for the results.
Hux wears an actual outfit / drinking my gin-in-a-tin
It was wonderful to find out he was in the clear – more weeping – but of course we had to hang around for another few hours as we waited to be discharged.
An M&S picnic / lamb tagine made by my dad and smuggled in
Walking through my front door was one of the nicest feelings ever and Will and my mother-in-law had been busy making the house lovely and clean for me, as was being able to step in my own shower that didn’t feel like it was crawling with MRSA. It was wonderful to have Elfie home to get to know her little brother and to begin our lives as a family of four.
My KIDS / The two Harold babies, with baby doll ‘Mama’
So far she’s been a pretty good big sister- she likes pointing out his eyes and ears and saying ‘there there’ to him when he cries. She also seems to like getting into his car seat and swing chair and hugging him, though a little more violently than perhaps I’d like. Huxley is very tolerant of her, long may it last.
As for my feelings on the birth? I’m still feeling some disappointment at not being able to have a VBAC and there will always be that element of What If… but I do feel like I tried to see it through to the end, though tiredness and pain got in the way. The fact that I’ve been so determined to get through the worst week of breastfeeding has helped allieve this guilt somewhat; Huxley has put on 2lbs in three weeks of being exclusively breastfed and I know I’m doing the best possible thing by him right now.
Huxley William Harold arrived yesterday, the 16th May, at 3.04pm. He was born via semi-emergency caesarian after four loooong days of contractions, a worrying period of decreased movements, heartbeat decelerations and a lot of monitoring. It’s been a long week.
We are both doing very well in hospital and will be here for a few more tests until Monday at the earliest whilst the Doctors determine whether or not he has inherited the same condition as Elfie. So far so positive.
Don’t worry – I haven’t secretly given birth over the weekend (though the contractions I’ve been having since I overdid it on the wedding dancefloor on Saturday night have been something else). As we’ve been making plans for this next birth I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about the experience I had with Elfie. An ‘Elective’ Caesarian (though I hate the word ‘Elective’, she was breech so there was nothing elective about it) it was a wonderful experience and I can’t believe this was nearly 2 years ago.
When I first found out I was pregnant and started writing my blog, the ‘Birth Story’ post was the one I was looking forward to writing the most. I imagined it would involve a birthing pool, a bit of hypnobirthing and if I’m honest a good old measure of pain relief. But we know that wasn’t the birth I was to have, so really my birth story began 2 weeks before the 7th July when I found out I would be having a C Section.
I was convinced I wouldn’t go the 2 week stretch without going into labour naturally so spent the majority of that time feeling horrendously paranoid about every twinge and pain. It was nice to have that time to prepare for the baby, and I tried to get ready for baby’s arrival as much as possible by relaxing and cleaning the house.
The night of the 6th July we prepared our bedroom by getting baby’s cot ready; we’re using a BedNest co-sleeper. I didn’t sleep that much and we were up at 6am the next morning, ready to have a baby.
We got to the hospital for 7.30am and were shown our bed at 8.30. It was a 2 person ward but I would have it to myself. We were booked in for the second caesarian of the day and they estimated we’d be going down at around 11am. Time for one last bump photo!
Before I got pregnant I had thought a lot about giving birth. It’s difficult not to; if you want kids like I always knew I did they have to make their way from your belly and into the outside world somehow. And as scared as I am of pain (I weep at threading appointments, actually weep) a Caesarian section never entered my thoughts. It’s major abdominal surgery and involves slicing through skin, muscle, and uterus, and I have never understood how women would voluntarily select to go for this option over a more natural vaginal birth.
I had a long time to consider my birthing choices. All my pre-natal care was carried out at UCLH at Euston and after plenty of thought and discussion I opted to go for a hypno waterbirth in their midwife-led centre. I read books, researched natural pain management techniques and learnt exercises to help birth my baby in the most natural way possible. I felt prepared and secure enough in my research and choices I had made that I was confident to follow the path of a natural, non-medicalised birth. For god’s sake, I even read Ina May.
Of course life has other ideas and I was gutted to be booked in for a non-emergency C section when it was discovered at 37 weeks that Elfie was a footling breech, apparently the most difficult sort of breech baby there is. Her foot was hanging down somewhere near my cervix and the doctors refused to attempt to turn her as the cord was in the way. Acupuncture didn’t have any effect, neither did hours bouncing up and down on a yoga ball. I was very sad to not be getting the sort of birth I’d spent months researching and planning for but I focussed on the most important thing: getting her delivered safely.
Elfie was born at City Hospital Nottingham via planned C section at 39 weeks and the experience was pleasant. I recovered well and had no nasty side effects apart from an abdomen that is still fairly numb from where it was cut into though I’m sure bonding didn’t happen as quickly as it could have.
A bit of a history lesson: for a long time birth was long a process dealt with by a woman and an attending midwife until people started to revere science above physical processes. In the 1940s it became the norm to give birth in a hospital, with the addition of forceps, arm and leg restraints and enemas. Often women were tied-up and then knocked out with chlorofom while they gave birth, only woken up once the process was over. Between 1970 and 1990, surgical birth soared from 5% of all births to 25-30% of all births and it’s only recently that women have reclaimed power over their choice to birth naturally.
Women have literally been giving birth for as long as there’s been life; our bodies are built to carry and birth babies and it upsets me that mothers are so terrified of this process that they opt to choose major surgery over their chance to experience their bodies at their most primitive and natural. It was for this reason I was shocked and saddened to read in the news yesterday that NICE guidelines are to be changed, offering women the opportunity to choose a Caesarian section even if there is no health reason for it.
In my opinion a lot of fear behind childbirth stems from a lack of education and knowledge. In the course of my pregnancy I was offered the choice of an NCT pregnancy and birth course (for around £300) or a couple of hours at my local hospital, neither which focussed on natural pain management techniques. As far as I am aware these courses are more matter-of-fact, teaching women about hospital processes and what pain medication would be offered. I opted out of these courses as I was confident in my own research and choices, but I do wonder how further education on the history of birth and the possibility and processes behind non-medicalised births would effect Caesarian section figures. Knowledge is power and I feel that so many women enter into the pregnancy and birth process without being fully appraised of their choices or with a lack of understanding of what their bodies are capable of.
I would love for all women to be aware, for example, of the increased chance of an intervention with the introduction of pitocin, or the effect that water can have on relaxation and pain. I truly believe that the effect stress and fear has on the body impedes its natural course in childbirth and current maternity and hospital procedures do nothing to alleviate this. Conversely, I believe that women should be aware that sometimes the body doesn’t do what it is supposed to and in these times it is acceptable and completely unshameful to opt for pain relief. In these times of emergency a Caesarian should not be considered a failure, but it shouldn’t be an option before natural avenues have been considered.
But the option for this sort of open education just isn’t there right now. If I was ruling the NHS I’d take the extra budget that will be spent on Caesarians (which apparently come in at around £1,000 more expensive than your regular vaginal delivery) and concentate on educating Britain’s women on the process and history of birth. This knowledge just isn’t there right now and this breeds a culture of fear.
I’m not saying all this to be provocative or start fights but it is something I feel very passionate about. I am of course not a medical professional nor have I even been through a vaginal birth, but I do believe that my Caesarian section was a disappointing second choice of birth and that bonding did not go as smoothly had I achieved the birth experience I’d so wanted. I will do everything in my power to achieve a VBAC for baby number two and will again educate myself on the birthing process and make efforts to understand exactly what my body is capable of.
Over to you: what were your birthing experiences like? Did you feel well-informed and comfortable with your choices? Would you ever choose a Caesarian?