Six months ago I embarked on a journey unlike any other. I have travelled a lot in my time, to the far flung corners of the earth, I have immersed myself in different cultures and am familiar with the dizzying intoxication of being in a new place, with people that do not speak my language, that eat different food, wear different clothes, and are a different colour to myself.
But the journey I took six months ago did not require a suitcase, or a passport, in fact it did not require me to go anywhere at all. In this journey, the foreign place was my own body, the local lingo is often still a mystery to me, and this trip will last a lifetime, only this time I have a travelling companion. You see, six months ago, I became a mother.
A labour of love
I attended all my antenatal classes, participating with gusto at re-enactments of labour, the pushing of the foam baby through the plastic pelvis. I listened when they told me it would hurt, and was sceptical when other mothers told me how they just forgot the pain of childbirth as soon as the baby was out. I read all the books, made notes, did exercises, drank raspberry leaf tea!
I had a birth plan, I was to have gas and air and an epidural if the pain got too much. I had it all written down, neatly. I felt ready. But evidently not ready enough, in the event I had a labour that progressed at break-neck pace, there was no time for any pain relief, no namby-pamby first stage labour for me; I went straight in to second stage. Literally, listening to my iPod one minute, pushing out my 9lb 4oz princess the next.
All in all it took 45 minutes, a ridiculously short labour by anyone’s standards, but nonetheless 45 of the most mind-bendingly agonising minutes I have ever known. It hurt. Real bad. So much worse than I could ever have imagined. I remember thinking through part of it “how am I gonna get out of this?!”
What really shocked me though, and what I wish they had told us in antenatal class, is that giving birth actually feels like doing a huge poo. The baby feels like it’s coming out of your bum. I still hear those midwives chanting “push down into your bottom” now!! Imagine pooing a 9lb 4oz bowling ball, the phrase ‘ring of fire’ doesn’t even come close!
And speaking of poos, all new mothers should be warned about the horror that actually doing the first poo after labour involves. At least when you’re actually in childbirth you get a beautiful baby at the end of it, but there is absolutely no end prize in doing the first post-childbirth dump. Seriously, you’re stitched up and still bleeding, you can’t even walk properly yet, let alone sit down, the absolute last thing you want to be doing is more bloody pushing!
Making the breast of it
I hated every single minute of breastfeeding. There, I said it. I’m sure this confession will enrage the Earth Mother Sorority, but there you go. I hated it. This came as a shock to me as before my daughter was born I had assumed that I’d join that same sorority tutting at mothers who give their baby formula. I had it all planned out, I was going to breastfeed for 12 months, I had stocked up on nipple balm, breast pads, nursing bras and even a double breast pump in case of emergencies.
And then my daughter was born, and all my breastfeeding plans went… ahem… tits’ up. My bundle of joy wouldn’t latch, that got her stressed, which got me stressed, she’d be crying, I’d be crying. I’d get her on the nipple, she’d fall off. Then she’d be starving so we’d have to top her up with formula anyway, and so it began…
For the time I was on the postnatal ward, in our bay of four new mums all four of us were, at one stage or another, in tears through the night with aching nipples as our babies wouldn’t latch and our dreams of endless bonding-time on the breast evaporated
What they didn’t tell us in the Breast is Best class is that sometimes it is not all hearts and flowers for new mums as the baby effortlessly latches on and gazes adoringly up at its mother. In many cases it is a bloody hard exercise in frustration, your nipples feel like they’re being repeatedly stung by bees, they bleed; they crack until it gets to the point that even getting dressed is agony. Clothes hurt.
For the next six weeks I persevered while my daughter, having had her first taste of the bottle, became less and less interested in the breast. Then I went to expressing what I could so she could at least have the breast milk, albeit from a bottle, which left me frazzled and frenzied until finally, finally, my health visitor told me to wipe my exhausted red-rimmed eyes and hang my expresser up with pride. And the bottle, for my little one and me, proved to be the winning formula.
The sex factor
I don’t know about other mums but for me at least there was absolutely no chance of any… At. All… for months afterwards. I have heard of women jumping back in the saddle as soon as six weeks post-birth. But I figured that having bits that most closely resembled a cauliflower was just not conducive to a night of passion. It took me eight weeks to even get up the courage to take a look down there!
All I can say to those still shrieking at their husband not to put that thing anywhere near them ever again, is that it does get better. The memories of the labour ward fade until one day you feel almost human again, and before you know it you’re ready to ditch those big post-pregnancy knickers and invite hubby back to the bedroom.
Babbles without borders
The thing is, I am a words person. Ever since my dad bought me a Speak & Spell game when I was five, my world has been full of words. I studied them at uni, I edit them at work, I read them for leisure, and so, to suddenly have this tiny being in my charge that uses none of them has at times been completely overwhelming.
I am so used to articulating myself, to understanding and being understood and that, perhaps, I have found the most challenging thing about motherhood so far. Part of this gig is that you need to learn to communicate in a whole new way, to live, essentially, in a world without words, to bond and build a relationship with a tiny person whose needs are simple, and demands are plenty.
For control freaks like me, who crave order and structure, it can feel at times like your head is going to blow off with the enormity of it all. Because this babbling, gurgling existence is like free-falling into a whole new future, and on some level it takes you right back to who you were before the layers of education and work and adulthood got slapped around you. And with that comes the most intoxicatingly intense love you will ever know, a huge sense of liberation, a childlike abandon into a brave new world.
You see, the other thing they don’t tell you when you have a baby is that two people are born on the day your child comes into the world: One is the baby, the other is the mother.
© Laury Jeanneret, 2011.