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Two weeks ago, I gave birth to my first son Roman. He arrived at 6AM on January 8, four days early, on the date I wanted. I asked my belly and he listened. He shares his birthday with Bowie, Elvis, and Stephen Hawking, and I have never been so overwhelmed with love and emotion in my life. Everyone tells you, "You don’t know love till you have kids."
I always scoffed and thought, "I have dogs, I know love." Whilst my fur babies still have my heart, I can’t help but feel slightly guilty with how insanely in love I am with my child.
I had a rather unenjoyable pregnancy, if you've read my previous articles you would already know that... not that there was anything wrong, but I suffered intense nausea and morning sickness for the bulk of my nine month journey. My depression was amplified for my first and second trimesters, and I never had the energy burst everyone talks about. I also suffered with my self image, something that has always plagued me. I couldn’t WAIT to not be pregnant, but the impending labour terrified me.
We are always told that pregnancy is a magical time and carrying a child is a gift, which it is, but then we are told horror stories about labour and child birth. We are given the options for pain relief and ways to make it easier before we have even experienced the pain, setting us up for an unenjoyable experience. We are warned of everything that could go wrong, so most women head into labour already stressed out and scared.
I read a book called Birthing From Within and I meditated longer with my daily yoga practice to work on deepening my breath and relaxing myself. I wanted a natural birth, I wanted to do it myself, and I told my body and my mind I could do it.
However, there are certain things that no one can prepare you for, things that are not talked about, and certain things that I wish I had known before going into the birth centre to have my little boy.
You absolutely CAN do this.
As cliche as it sounds, this is what the female body was made to do. We were created to reproduce, to grow human life and bring it into the world. Go into your birth KNOWING you can do it, not telling yourself you can’t. Yes it hurts, yes it’s hard, but your body is amazing. I changed my mindset entirely in the weeks leading up to my birth, and when I went into labour, I just knew I could do it. I was relaxed and calm, my labour progressed fast because of my state of mind, and I delivered him naturally... Obviously I know this is not an option for everyone, but my way of looking at it was: Animals give birth everyday with no pain relief, they don’t know their due date, they probably don’t even realise they are pregnant, they just get on with it… and that is EXACTLY what I did.
You really won’t care what you look like.
Having babies seems to be the thing everyone I know is doing at the moment. I also follow a large number of Instagram "influencers" that all seem to be pregnant. They all look INCREDIBLE in their pregnancy/labour/ after-birth pictures. I felt the pressure to look good whilst in labour; my partner was going to be there after all, and I didn’t want him to be put off by how revolting I looked. As vain as it sounds, I just wanted him to still find me attractive. I also wanted to look nice in the first ever pictures with my son. I know that many, many women have the same thought. However, once I got into the zone, the last thing on my mind was how I looked. I was on all fours, sweating, moaning, grunting, completely naked, clammy hair, and red faced… and I did not give a solitary shit. The ONLY thing I could think was, "Let’s get this baby out."
You will probably poop...
Don’t worry, it’s normal. Midwives are very quick and discreet. If you noticed at all, you were probably the only one that did.
...and you might be sick.
Also completely normal, I nearly threw up on every single contraction. Gas and air was the only pain relief I wanted, but even that made me feel sick, so I ended up not having it. The contractions are so intense, it feels like all your bodily functions are going off at once. Just go with it.
Just because the baby is out, doesn’t mean it’s over.
This was the biggest obstacle for me. Once baby was out, they placed him straight onto my chest whilst he was still attached to me. I had specifically asked for delayed cord clamping to allow him to get the last bits of goodness from my placenta. Once my partner had cut the cord, I still had to get the placenta out. So that is more pushing. It should really come out naturally, but sometimes it doesn’t… and mine didn’t, so I had to have an injection and the midwife pulled it out... THEN, as if that’s not enough, if you’ve torn or had an episiotomy, this is when you are sat in a chair with your legs spread and stitched back together. No one prepared me for that!
There is a fourth trimester.
After giving birth, people tend to forget about mum. Mum has had all this attention for nine months whilst growing the baby, and now it seems to be all about baby. People forget that mum has just been through a traumatic and brutal experience; pregnancy, labour, and birth play havoc with your body and your mental state. Mum probably feels very overwhelmed, a bit scared, and, at times, quite depressed, mixed with elation and happiness. It is also important to allow mum time to recover, to be aware that she is probably in need of rest, love, and a bit of TLC, as well as baby.
It’s okay to not feel anything immediately.
When my son was born, my partner burst into tears as soon as he came out. I didn’t. Obviously I was happy, relieved, and excited… actually, I was a lot of things. I’d just given birth drug free, so my adrenalin was high. I was also exhausted, in pain, and my mind was racing. They placed my baby on my chest like I had asked, and I just stared at him, but I don’t remember feeling a thing. I was so desperate to be cleaned up and just get the whole birth thing over with that I don’t think I let myself feel anything. I think I fell in love with Roman after my placenta was out, I was stitched up, and the midwives left us alone. Then I could really look at him and take it all in. Some mothers don’t feel anything for weeks. This person has arrived and turned your life upside down. You aren’t sleeping, you feel like shit, your body isn’t what it used to be, and it is hard. I didn’t connect to my belly my entire pregnancy, I found it really awkward to talk to my stomach and interact with it, and then when Roman was born, I was worried I wouldn’t connect with him. So many women feel the same way. I am so obsessed with my son. I can’t imagine ever feeling anything other than love for him, but there was a while when I was scared I wouldn’t connect. Talk to your partner and talk to your midwife, they are there to help.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Postnatal depression affects one in three women. If you feel down after your baby is born, TALK to someone. It is SO normal. Don’t suffer in silence. Your world has been turned upside down; giving birth is traumatic, you now have to look after a tiny human for the rest of your life, things are changing, and they will never be the same again. It is normal to feel down.
Ignore what the movies say.
Every depiction of labour in movies is a pregnant woman having their water suddenly erupt in a gush, out of nowhere, and her being rushed to the hospital. No. This does not happen. There are so many signs of labour. I had no idea I was in labour for hours because I was sure the first thing to go were the waters. When I told my partner I thought I was having contractions he immediately asked, "Have your waters broken?" as we had been told that was the clear sign we should be at the hospital. As a result, I did almost half of my labour at home, almost unaware I was in labour at all. My waters never broke. He came out in his amniotic sack that only popped when his head came out of me. Every labour and birth is different. Listen to your body. YOU will know best, and you will know when you are ready.
Pushing happens all by itself.
Your body instinctively knows when it’s time to push, and at that point, you won’t be able to stop it. You just need to help it along. For me, the pushing was the easiest part. I knew it was the home stretch, and the pain was almost euphoric in a way. It was so intense and so amazing, I was bringing this human into the world and the pain was almost pleasurable.
You cannot plan your birth.
Writing a birth plan is great, it gives you an idea of what you want and lets the midwives and doctors know your wishes before everything begins. However, your body will do what it wants, your baby will come when he or she decides to... and it is almost never on the due date. Have your hospital bag by the door, and be ready. I so wanted a natural birth, but most of my friends also wanted one, and not one of them got their wish. I was ready for complications. I knew there could be issues. I knew that he would probably be back to back because of my placenta being posterior. I knew that if his heart rate dropped I might need a C-section. I knew things could go wrong. I simply asked that no intervention happened unless necessary. So many people get caught up in their birth plan and don't want anything else. If their birth deviates from the plan, some women get depressed and feel like a failure. Stop. You are bringing life into the world, you carried and grew this child for nine months, and no matter how you give birth, it is STILL giving birth! My birth plan was initially a water birth, but once I got in the pool, I changed my mind. I was very lucky to have a quick progression of labour that meant I could have a natural birth, but so many are not as lucky as me. Allow yourself to be open to other avenues of birthing. Either way, as long as you and baby are healthy at the end of it, that should be all that truly matters.