In spite of considering myself a woman of the world, I was not in the least prepared for what I had to go through to hold my baby son in my arms. Early on in the process I sat, bobbing merrily about on a gym ball with a cup of tea in my hand, proclaiming, 'I'm in labour!' – and wondered why some of the midwives shot each other glances.
I now know that the glances meant: 'Poor cow, she doesn't know what she's in for.' What I was in for, as it happens, was a pain that has been likened to being repeatedly slammed in the abdomen with a fire extinguisher. For 24 hours.
Second time around, everyone told me it would be a lot easier. And a lot quicker. It wasn't. It took just as long – my daughter was back to back and spent the best part of a day moving painfully around into position before 'real' labour started. And I didn't have an epidural this time, so the end bit was like something from a horror film. Except I was in it, not watching it.
In the car on the way home from the hospital, my husband and I looked at each other. His face had more sympathy in it than I had ever seen. I voiced both our thoughts: 'Let's never speak of it again.' We turned back to chatting to our toddler and new baby in the seats behind us.
Which was fine. I had people to talk to: my friends who had given birth as well. But what of other women, the ones who haven't had children, but maybe want to? Should we tell them what it's really like? Or would it create a kind of 'Children Of Men' style apocalyptic situation where there is suddenly nobody on the planet under the age of 18?
Maybe not. But is there too much secrecy about it the pain of childbirth? Do we owe it to other women to break the code of silence? Should we go with the theory that forewarned is forearmed? I asked my old school friend Karen about it. 'I think ignorance is bliss in this case,' she said. 'It's almost impossible to describe childbirth to someone who hasn't done it and I was much more terrified the second time round, knowing exactly what was coming!'
I see her point. There's a lot to prepare for when you're about to have your first baby. Do you really need to add 'Experience extreme agony' to your To Do List, underneath 'Wash newborn babygros' and 'Buy steriliser'? It seems a little, well, you know, terrifying. And kind of spoils the excitement a bit.
My friend Tory agrees. 'I phoned my mum from the delivery room just after giving birth to my first baby and I asked her why she didn't tell me it hurt so much,' she said, 'There was no point – you wouldn't have understood'. I get it now. And I wouldn't have told me either!'
Lorna thinks it's less a code of silence, more nature's way of ensuring you go back for more: 'It's amazing how quickly the memory fades, helped by a bit of sleep deprivation. Are we really keeping quiet about it? I think we all just forget.'
Really? The memories for me are certainly blurred, less goosebumps and a cold sweat, but I still remember it being pretty grim. Grim enough for me to warn others about it. But I'm pretty sure I want to keep schtum.
Polly, on the other hand, is a code breaker. She thinks we should all tell it like it is: 'I think women should be aware of the pain and responsibility before getting pregnant. It's glossed over a lot of the time.'
You know what Polly? Gloss is good for me. If I'd known – really known – about what lay ahead, I wouldn't have excitedly packed some Bach's Rescue Remedy and an Evian facial mist in my hospital bag. I would have taken a boxing glove, with the express purpose of pummelling my husband's head with one hand as I sucked on the gas and air with the other, screaming 'This is all your fault'...
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