It was just a week or so after her first daughter was born. She emerged from the birth battered, physically exhausted but moreso, mentally. She was in that newborn daze but not necessarily in a good way. She adored her little girl, yes, had fallen madly in love the moment she laid eyes upon her but the whole thing had knocked her for six.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked me. And she meant it.
I struggled to answer because on the one hand, there is nothing worse than when people scare pregnant women with horror birth stories. I wasn't about to say, "Listen, at some point you're going to wish you were dead."
And then, on the other hand, I had told her the truth, hadn't I? I'd be honest about my birth nine months earlier. And I'd been honest at her baby shower when someone gave her a beautiful portrait of a pregnant woman. "Look," I had pointed, "She's crying. Because she knows labour is coming."
No-one can really prepare you for birth. Everyone knows it's going to be pretty fucking painful and until you've been there, it's impossible to understand that level of pain. Having experienced it three times, I still struggle to evoke in mere words the sensation of a contraction ripping through the body.
But when she asked, "Why didn't you tell me?" with accusation barely disguised in her voice, it wasn't the pain she was referring to. No, she was asking me why I didn't tell her how the pain can manifest itself in the mind, how it can turn you inside out. But how do I explain that bringing a baby into the world will exhaust every fibre of your being? That you will feel out of control and, quite literally, torn apart? Labour takes over, possesses your body, consumes your mind. And when you are finally returned to yourself, sometimes it takes a while to feel like you are truly back in your own skin – especially since you return to yourself with the brand new reality of the tiny person you brought with you.
"How were you after your birth?" she asked me. But nine months had passed and the memory had begun to cloud with sentiment by then.
"I think I was okay. Despite the caesarean, I bounced back quite well."
Then when I went home, I looked through some birth pictures and found this;
I look, in a word, FUCKED. Exhausted, pale, dark circles ringing my eyes. In a morphine fog for the first two days, my recollection of the time is seriously questionable. But this photo reminded me that I wasn't immediately sunny and bright. I was excited and happy and tired and nervous and everything in between. I was adjusting to the enormous transformation. And to a major surgery.
If someone asked me now what birth was like, I would tell them it is like nothing you could imagine. It can take you to your lowest place and exalt you to the very highest. It will take you over and you need to let it.
It is different for everyone.
It is worth it.
Do you remember I shared this gorgeous picture of a woman in labour in the Birth Is Beautiful post last week? I just finished reading her birth story and I thought it was amazing. She found a way to describe some fairly indescrible labouring moments. It's a long, long read and some of the language she uses is a bit hippy la la but I thought it was a lovely and uplifting account of a birth. You can read it here.
Now excuse me while I try and finish my own birth stories…..