The pressure to have a ‘good birth’ (whatever that means) can be overwhelming when you’re expecting your first baby and looking for birth advice. Capsule’s Emma talks about the best birth advice she received… and why she wishes she had followed it!
Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertility, trying to conceive, pregnancy, the fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers, fertility issues and everything in between!
In When Harry Met Sally, Harry tells Sally that she is the worst kind of woman, because she’s high maintenance but she thinks she’s low maintenance. That is exactly how I would describe my own attitude to giving birth. Sure, I’d like to think I gave off a nonchalant, ‘whatever happens, happens’ vibe but in reality, I’d bookmarked Ina Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery book, and I had a 12 hour ‘Birth Calm’ playlist that included multiple Enya tracks, not to mention a line-up of traditional Iranian music, because it was important for my son’s heritage that he be born to the music of his people.
(Yes, feel free to roll your eyes at that entire paragraph!)
I had my selected due date in mind – to coincide with the full moon, of course – and a ‘birth essentials’ kit that included battery operated candles, a portable speaker and a small selection of essential oils that I treated so carefully they might as well have been radioactive. A tiny voice in the back of my head told me I might be putting unrealistic expectations on myself, but I ignored it every time! Look at all the books I had read!
You know how this is going to go, don’t you?
In the last few days before I went on maternity leave, I was wrapping up a story series that involved chatting to a bunch of pregnancy and birth experts, including the award-winning midwife Manya Lynch. During our pre-interview chat, Manya asked how I was feeling about my impending birth and I blathered on about how laid-back I was feeling (LIES). Manya, bless her, immediately spotted that I was actually a super-anxious over-planner, trying to Namaste my way through one of the biggest physical tests a person can endure. She gave me a 20-minute pep talk, which I obviously cried through, about how I should talk to my baby during my big day, because it was his big day as well. But her biggest piece of advice was that my birth plan should be: ‘Just show up.’ Forget the planning, forget the expectations, just show up.
I loved that pep talk – it made me emotional, it made me excited and it reinforced one of my own personal beliefs, that the key to a good life is having low expectations (that way, you’re either prepared, or pleasantly surprised!)
And then I ignored it.
My real-life birth was an emergency C-section, a week after my due date, where the shit hit the fan so fast that there was no time for essential oils, no time for a ‘birth calm’ playlist. In the end, my squawling son was cut out of my stomach to the sounds of The Edge radio station, specifically to Keisha’s TiK ToK (the music of MY people, I guess?). It was absolutely not the euphoric, first five minutes of The Lion King, emotional masterpiece that Ina Gaskin et al had told me was within my power.
In the days and weeks and months that have come since, I have thought so much about Manya’s simple advice: just show up. I read so many parenting books (mostly… awful?), I watched so many water birth videos, I researched everything. Was any of it useful? It’s hard to tell. All I know is the expectation versus reality of what I thought my birth would look like versus what actually happened was a tremendously big gap that, if I’m honest, messed my brain up a bit! Like so many people who become parents, I took my logical, 9-to-5 brain into a whole new world where chaos reigns supreme and learnt, over and over again, how little of this process can be prepared for, or planned around. If I had let go a bit and been a bit more Jesus, Take The Wheel about it, I think I would have had an easier time in that post-birth haze.
At least with birth, you are (hopefully) in a room with people who have done this before and know what to expect. You have help – you have an adult in the room that can take the lead. You have people to look after you. You can ask for advice, you can delegate. You don’t have to, of course – a lot of people get the self-guided, euphoric, powerful births they aim for; I know this because I followed about a thousand Instagram accounts that showed exactly this. But your birth is one of the first and last parts of being a parent where there is someone in the room who knows more than you do, and is able to help.
Even if you have the best, most helpful partner in the world, so much of being the primary caregiver is a solo act – especially in those first weeks. You alone are left with a body that needs to heal, a core – or pelvic floor, or both! – that needs to rebuild, and a mind that needs to catch up with a new reality. If you are breastfeeding, your boobs are the star of the show and the show must go on, often alone in the dark, for hours on end. You are the adult in the room now.
Just like with pregnancy, postpartum was both entirely different to what I had expected but simultaneously, every single cliché I’ve ever read or heard has felt true to me. It has been harder and better than I was prepared for. Every time I have a ‘I think I’m starting to get the hang of this’ moment, something will happen that will humble me right down again. Every expectation gets knocked out of me, every day. But as a new parent, all you can do is just show up. Over and over and over again.