The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club – and often it feels like the same principle applies to giving birth.
Too frequently, women have no idea what to expect from birth until they’re pregnant. Sometimes, the truth isn’t even revealed until labour.
Ignorance may seem bliss, but without this knowledge, we’re unable to make informed, life-changing choices about our bodies and our babies. It really is quite staggering.
In the latest episode of our Am I Making You Uncomfortable? podcast, we break this cycle of silence, asking women the one thing they wish they’d known before giving birth. Here are just some of the eye-opening answers:
It’s not just about pain
“I wish I had been told that labour isn’t just about pain or severe pain – it’s more like feeling acutely ill. My body felt as if I had flu, like I was standing on the edge of the motorway having stepped out of a car crash. I was just shaking. It was like an out-of-body experience. If someone had just warned me that it was going to be like this, it would have been less of a shock. I would have been able to work through it more easily. But the good news is that my second birth was so much easier and it was a triumphant and a thrill, really.” – Ciara MacLaverty, 52, Glasgow
It feels like a poo
“The one thing I wish I’d been told? That it feels like you poop the baby out. For a woman who once had severe vaginismus, this would have been wonderful information. It also would have been useful to be shown where to direct the push (toward the anus) by my midwife earlier in the pushing process, which was unsuccessful. Only when a doctor had to be called in to save the day, and she told me, was I able to push the baby out within a half-hour.” – Kirsten Loop, 50, Ontario, Canada
It doesn’t have to be traumatic
“I wish I’d known labour doesn’t have to be a super traumatic, painful medical experience. It can be joyful. I actually have some really fun memories of part of my labour, just feeling at peace and excited and happy and letting my body do what it was supposed to do. And I really thank hypnobirthing for that. With a little bit of luck and a little bit of preparation, I ended up having an unmedicated, unplanned home birth.” – Kayley Dempsey, 34, Manchester
Your body changes immediately
“I have five children. I wish I’d known what my body was going to look like immediately afterwards. The minute I looked down and saw what had happened to my stomach and down below, it made me throw up. And I wish to God, someone would have just explained to me what your body was going to look like, the fact that you couldn’t get up, you’d struggle to get to the toilet. All of those glum things that they kept secret from us.” – Jenna Rigby, 33, Lancashire
Don’t underestimate the placenta
“I was woefully unprepared for the birth of my daughter. I didn’t do the research and kind of buried my head in the sand with it. On reflection, that probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but we live and learn. After giving birth to an 8 pound 10 baby who was induced, I was so ready for a rest. But no! There’s something called the afterbirth – and you have to deliver that as well. I wasn’t expecting that and it was quite a shock.” ― Sarah Handley, 35, Worcester
A caesarean is major surgery
“I had a caesarean and wish people had been more honest with me about the realities of having such major surgery. So much came as a shock, but the standout thing I wish I’d known was how painful and stomach-churningly creepy the spinal block is when administered.” – Helen Ochyra, 38, London
You might be silent
“You can’t talk through a contraction. To cope with the intensity of contractions, I had to ‘go into myself’ so I couldn’t communicate or I’d have to break concentration. My birth plan was vital because I had discussed all options with my birth partner and midwife prior to birth.” – Liz May, Essex
Drugs can be the right choice
“As a first-time mum I thought I could deal with the pain with positive affirmations and going within. The reality was totally the opposite and though I hadn’t planned of drugs, they enabled me to have a positive and happy birth. I loved my birth with an epidural.” – Hayley, North West England
You bleed a lot
“I wish I had known how widely different my body would be afterwards. I didn’t recognise myself, quite honestly. I bled a lot, which is very, very normal. I went up about four cup sizes, when I’d already gone up quite a few during pregnancy. I also did not know how much I would sweat at night. On top of it all, you have to look after a baby”. - Francesca Murray, 31, London
It’s okay to lose control
“I wish I knew that if you are scared and lose control it’s ok, people will take care of you. To be honest, it is one of those things you only understand when it happens. Every birth is different, so my experience doesn’t really matter because everyone is unique.” – Julia Zanghieri, 45, London
More than 80 women shared their experiences with us on email and social media. You can read more of the responses here, or listen to Am I Making You Uncomfortable? to hear from Midwife Marley – a professional in the area and a mother of five, who wants to get more people speaking openly about birth.
In the podcast, we also speak to Clotilde Rebecca Abe, co-founder of the Five x More project, about the fact that Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth in the UK. Listen now on all podcasting platforms.