No matter how many times a read a blog or magazine article – or received advice from family, friends and midwives – I stubbornly (and secretly) nevertheless believed that MY birth story would be amazing. That mine would follow the “plan” I had in mind. That I would find the pain bad but somehow satisfying and that my body would know what to do.
Well what a crock of crap. And here you are, reading this now, thinking your birth story will be the one you want it to be. What I say will likely make no difference but here it is: it’s at best a birth WISH LIST. The fact that the hospital encourages you to write a birth PLAN is just setting you up for failure, and the endless pieces you’ll read about how to write a birth “plan” and what it should contain will be the final nail in the coffin for you.
One of the main culprits for selling the lie has to be Hollywood. I’ve watched plenty of birth scenes in films and they usually consist of women who look impossibly glamorous (by which I don’t just mean WAG-style make-up and hair. I’m saying that if the woman looks anything other than a bloated corpse hauled from a river then she already looks significantly better than I did), who do shed the odd tear or drop of sweat but otherwise look OK. One of the main issues with any fictional birth scene is that the actor may have a great fake bump – possibly even unclothed – but they don’t have the swollen feet, the acne, the greasy hair, the extra body hair (yeah, that came as a surprise to me too!) and the stretch marks that I and so many others I know had to endure.
In movies/TV shows, even where a woman is in obvious pain, she somehow gets to the finish line with – at most – gas and air, but often with neither as the plotline means she needs to give birth somewhere unplanned like in a car, at home, or somewhere equally un-hospital-esque. Now, I know that MANY women give birth without the assistance of drugs, and many have homebirths. I also know that women have done those things since the dawn of time. But here’s the thing: how many of those women actually survived childbirth? A brilliant film which actually hints at the potential awfulness of childbirth is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The film begins with the bloody aftermath of the event and the consequent death of the mother. Without medical intervention, death through childbirth would be more prevalent (and unfortunately, this is still the case in some parts of the world).
The other thing Hollywood fails to depict is the utter BOREDOM involved in a birth, particularly one involving induction (such as my own experience). Of course in Hollywood, the woman is also only carrying one child, but this aside, One Born Every Minute at least got THAT part right. Has anything happened yet? No. Feeling anything yet? No. Any progress? No, for the love of God, NO! In Hollywood, birth is always dramatic and anger-fuelled. Rachel in Friends head butted Ross. I was so out of it from the pain and high on gas and air that for a period of time I not only forgot my husband was in the room but I forgot he existed altogether!
By the time my first twin was born, I barely had the energy to be excited. Thanks to an epidural, I was no longer in pain but I literally fell asleep in between contractions. To someone who’s given birth drug-free, that might sound a little insane… But then that would be quite fitting, because I honestly think I lost my mind at one point. By twin 2 (born over an hour later, due to complications), I was barely able to stay conscious, vomiting profusely and completely away with the fairies!
There are no words to describe the pain of contractions pre-epidural. I can’t even remember that pain now. My brain has protected me from that memory. I do know that in the EARLY stages of labour, I was already not coping. And as for my body knowing what to do… Well, my body decided that it wanted to get on all fours and squat like a gorilla. And that makes total sense, anatomically. Hollywood – to this day – still shows births on our backs, when nature didn’t design us that way. Unfortunately, nature didn’t really intend for us to carry more than one child at once either. So although every fibre of my being wanted to turn over and bear down on the pain, I wasn’t afforded that little luxury because my midwife refused to allow it. If I moved off my back, the heart monitors dislodged and she could no longer track the twins’ heartbeats. I felt so out of control.
Before finding out I was expecting twins, I had envisaged a calm water birth in ambient lighting, with relaxing music and a real organic feel to the whole experience. Instead, the experience was stiflingly hot (the middle of a heat wave), clinical, bright and chaotic. Knocked Up did a better job but where was the copious amount of blood???
I know this is stupid – on a logical level -but succumbing to an epidural made me feel like a failure. I have never seen that depicted in a movie or a TV show.
The ONE thing I can’t disagree with is the way every new Big Screen Mama is shown to fall in love with her new baby at first sight. I didn’t cry (I had no energy left for tears) but the feeling of love was overwhelming. But that’s just me. I know that many moms don’t feel that, and I know that many suffer with PND, but it was the one Hollywood portrayal I was lucky enough to experience.