Throughout pregnancy I was surrounded by women who dreaded the thought of giving birth. Some of those women weren’t even pregnant yet. But I managed to avoid fearful thoughts by focusing on what my mum had told me: contractions feel like period pains (and i’ve had enough of them to know they’re manageable) and the actual birth is, really, very quick.
I also avoided people and books who, though well-intentioned, couldn’t help but slip in a negative: “it’s the most amazing thing, and you’ll be fine… but it is painful. There’s no escaping that.” All I wanted to hear was the first part; that giving birth is mind-blowing and that I’d be fine.
Because it was mind-blowing and I was fine.
And so here are some common lies, myths and misconceptions about vaginal births debunked:
1. It’s like pushing a melon through a lemon.
This metaphor is not a useful one, as a lemon doesn’t have the flexibility or stretchability that a vagina does. If you attempted to push a melon through a lemon, the lemon would break. But vaginas don’t break from childbirth – they’re fully capable of stretching out to accommodate a little baby head.
Robbie Williams said that watching his wife give birth was like watching his favourite pub burn down. Someone else described his partner’s post-birth vagina as looking like a trifle that had slipped onto the floor. These jokes make women terrified that they’ll never have ‘normal’ vaginas again.
This is not true. Granted, it might be wise to not send your partner down to the business end during the birth if he’s squeamish (Rich kept his eyes locked to mine at all times) – but once you’ve been cleaned up, the healing begins. I was swollen for a couple of days and had to take care of my episiotomy stitches, but doing lots of pelvic floor exercises – straight away – reduced swelling and pulled everything back into shape extremely fast. I’m seven weeks post birth and you’d never know a head with a 38cm circumference had exited via my nether regions. Our bodies open up to birth our baby, and close up afterwards.
Labour and giving birth is excruciatingly, unbearably painful.
Women’s bodies are designed to give birth. Our hips are wide to create space for a baby’s (malleable) head to push through the pelvis. The contractions you feel are your body preparing the birth canal for the baby to make her/his way down it – and there are lots of ways to distract yourself from the discomfort you may feel. The TENS machine worked wonders for me, gas and air also worked a dream – and then if you need more relief (I did), there are other options. I had an epidural after about 36 hours of contractions. Other women use hypnobirthing, different breathing techniques, birthing pools, movement. Whatever feels right at the time. And midwives are amazing – they’ll give you options before and during the birth. It’s not unbearable. It’s a relatively short timeframe. And just remember: you get a baby at the end of it.
Giving birth zaps sex from every relationship.
You might need to be a bit more imaginative about finding the time to have sex with a newborn baby, but physically – there’s no reason you can’t get back into it as soon as you feel ready. I was told that it would really hurt. It didn’t. Everything tightens up a bit but if you’re gentle, take your time and stop if it’s not happening for you – you’ll soon get back into the swing of things. Move at your own pace and enjoy it. Of course, it will feel different for every woman but one thing’s for sure: having an open mind will relax your body, and that’s the most important thing.
It hurts to do a ‘number two’ after an episiotomy
As above – being scared about going to the toilet post birth won’t help. Relax your mind, know that nothing will go wrong if you do a poo and go to the toilet just as you always have. I was prescribed laxatives by a doctor but I chose not to take them as I didn’t want them to interfere with breastfeeding so, instead, I ate LOADS of fruit when I got home (two mangoes, a pineapple, five apples, raisins, a couple of bananas – every day) which softened my stools and going to the loo was no problem. The only problem, initially, was that I was quite tense after the doctor telling me lies about how it would feel. You needn’t be – I assure you. But a good tip is to hold a pad against your lady bits and apply some pressure if you do feel concerned.
There are so many more bullshit stories that people share but you should just ignore them if they’re making you feel worried about giving birth. So remember: you’ll be in great hands (and there will be lots of hands: midwives, doctors, anaesthetists are all available if you’re having a hospital birth), your body is designed to give birth and you’ll have the most amazing baby at the end of it. It was one of the best days of my life giving birth to Joni (see the slightly blue-looking, squidgy baby in the photo above). It wasn’t what might be considered a smooth birth but I kept an open mind, was well looked after, had an excellent birth partner and look forward to doing it all again.