Monday, 4 May 2015

So, you've just given birth. Here are 8 things you can expect...

Kate Middleton, Hello magazine
Unless you've been hiding under a bearskin, you probably won't have been able to escape the photographs circling the internet of a perfect baby princess, held by an equally perfect looking mother. If you are also a mother you will probably have seen the photographs and thought, seriously, how the hell does she look like that after childbirth? And then you remember that, ah yes, she has a make-up artist, a personal dresser and a hair stylist on hand. And that's just the baby. 

And then there's Kate, looking like she's just off to do a modelling shoot. Some have responded in bitterness, "it's alright for some," they scorn. Others act dismissively, "well, of course she looks that good when she's that privileged." Well, really, what did you expect? Did you think she'd greet the paparazzi in a blood stained nighty, with her hair stuck to a sweaty forehead? I didn't think so.

If I had wanted to leave the hospital the same day I gave birth I would have been hobbling with catheter in tow and a face as pasty as the hospital porridge. Still, even if I had had more straight forward births I doubt I would've wanted to be stared at by strangers as I graced the hospital carpark, let alone have my face slapped on a tabloid newspaper. 

I do have photographs of myself just after I gave birth. I had wires stuck in my hands and a baby stuck to my boob. I look bloody knackered. Of course I don't show anyone those photographs - they are for my memories. I look on them with both fondness and trepidation; they conjure up all sorts of emotions in me, memories of physical pain and the feeling of complete and utter bewilderment. The second time around, although a rather more positive experience, I still felt as vulnerable as an elephant on a tight rope, and as clumsy as one too. Thoughts flooded back from my first birth; how the hell do women do this? What the hell is expected of us? 

And then there's Kate - stood in a designer dress, discretely covering her protruding belly and possibly stretch marks. And she's waving and smiling, after having her hair done and her makeup artist wipe away her sweat and tears. If someone had started twisting my hair in ironing tongs after giving birth I think I would have found another slightly less orthodox use for them. But Kate can't do that. She's not allowed to go outside in a hoodie and sunglasses. She's not allowed to start sobbing uncontrollably that she's just been in ridiculous amounts of pain. She's not allowed to scream at her husband during labour, or call him a nob for getting her into this mess. She's not allowed to tell the world she's struggling with the baby latching on or that her stitches are uncomfortable. No, she has to put on her make up and face the. whole. wide. world. Which would you rather?

It kind of got me thinking about what is expected from a woman after she gives birth. There is a lot of preparation for the actual childbirth, the choice of pain relief, the birthing pools, the breathing techniques. There is all this emphasis on the birth and then it's like, WHAM: off you go lady, you're on you're own now. And you sit in the hospital bed with this squirmy little thing and feel slightly shell shocked. You wonder if all women feel the same, including Kate.

Some women will be out of hospital cooking tea before the midwife has had time to dispose of the placenta. There are others, however, who may seem like they have it all together but inside they're thinking oh my god. So, if you haven't given birth yet, or you have and you feel like this, then here are some things that might help you to know you are not alone.

1. Your body has been through the equivalent of a marathon.
So, you've just ran a marathon. What do you do? You go home and you rest. Unfortunately, babies are not always that good at letting you do this. You are going to feel unbelievably tired so take it easy when you can and get all the help you can get. - don't feel shy about accepting help. Remember to be kind to yourself and take the rest over things like cleaning. It can wait, seriously.

2. Your body will take time to heal
On top of going through the marathon of labour, it is likely your body will have some war wounds. You might find walking difficult or you might wince when you pee. You will also have the equivalent of a heavy period for days or weeks after the birth. It's all good, you just need time to heal. Don't overly exert yourself and don't be too quick to get back into any sort of exercise regime. 

3. Your belly won't look that different. 
You may look down and wonder whether the baby actually came out at all. Give it time. 

4. You feel clueless
Everything is new to you and you can't expect to be an expert over night. You can read all the baby books in the world and nothing will quite prepare you for what's ahead. Things like breastfeeding might not necessarily come easily, in fact it may be one of the hardest things you do. Make sure you get all the help you can and take each day as it comes.

5. You might not bond with your baby straight away.
Although some ladies are on a high after giving birth, many are not. Many may not feel the elation they expected to feel once they have their little one in their arms. Some mums just take time to adjust so don't beat yourself up if you don't bond straight away. If you find that you're still having negative feelings after a few days make sure you talk to someone to make sure you don't have post natal depression.

6. Babies sleep a lot in the first few days
Give it a few weeks before you conclude you've got an angel baby. 

7. Every baby is different.
My first baby screamed every day of his life until he was three years old. My second baby just smiles. If you're blessed enough to have a placid baby, make sure you don't go getting all cocky and start writing your own baby books and dishing out advice to every other new mother. Likewise, if your baby is more of a challenge know that it's not your fault, you are doing the best you can and just because your baby is vocal doesn't mean you're not doing a great job.

8. The fourth Trimester
This concept helped me to come to terms with the fact that my newborn did not like to be put down or struggled to sleep on his own. It's helpful to see the first three months of your baby's life as the fourth trimester - your baby is just getting used to the world so don't expect him to feed or sleep like a pro just yet. In fact, don't expect anything. Just try and enjoy the cuddles for now and don't be too hasty with the routine just yet.

Have you got any advice for mums who've just given birth?