Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Motherhood Diaries: Meg Mansell on Why She Hates The Term ‘Natural Birth’ – “Giving Birth Was The Greatest Moment Of My Life and That’s Because I Had An Epidural”

Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries. The pandemic years have been hard on everyone but when it comes to maternal mental health, there have been added layers for those who have had a baby in the past two years. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re talking to some of our past How Are You Today people who have had a baby in the pandemic to talk about their experiences and how they’re feeling now. We’ve spoken to Sharyn Casey about having a premature baby in the pandemic and Kanoa Lloyd about the vulnerability of the fourth trimester. Today we’re chatting to The Edge Breakfast‘s Meg Mansell about why the term ‘natural birth’ needs to go, the birth moment that made her feel like Beyoncé and why the knowledge gap around learning how to use formula was so frustrating.

Hi Meg, How are you today?
I’m good thank you! I’m on the hands-free driving home at the moment in between work and an appointment.

Classic working parent situation, right there. Did you always want to be a mum?
I always knew I wanted to be a mum but I never knew if I was going to be a good mum! I knew I wanted to though and especially after meeting Guy and knowing how good a dad he would be, but I was worried I wouldn’t be a good enough mother. I was worried I was too selfish and that I liked my alone time too much. I thought, ‘Am I going to be able to cope when I don’t get that alone time for a long time?’

I was very worried I wouldn’t naturally be a good mum but I hoped I would be and I wanted to be. And I would like a son one day but I knew I really wanted a daughter, so I’m pleasantly happy and surprised to say that I think I am a good mum! And I do love it, thankfully, and it did feel very natural to me.

That’s so lovely to hear because those fears are very real and very relatable to people thinking about having kids.
I hate admitting it – even saying it to you just now, it instantly gives me ‘Mum guilt’. But I was really nervous. I remember being induced and going into labour and the conversations I was having with my husband weren’t ‘oh my gosh we’re about to meet our baby, I can’t wait,’ they were ‘what have I done? I’m so scared. What am I going to be like? And what are we going to be like?’

I hate admitting it – even saying it to you just now, it instantly gives me ‘Mum guilt’

We were in this hugely happy marriage and I thought ‘You’re throwing a bomb into something that’s already idyllic!’ But when I look back, now that I’m in it, I smile at that girl that was so afraid and I think, ‘Girl, you had no idea what was coming. You just wait, because this is the best. You have no idea how good this next part of your life is going to be.’

So, Daisy is now seven months old – how have you found the motherhood expectations versus reality?
That’s a very hard question because I didn’t know what to expect. I was so clueless – we both were. It has been a lot better than I expected; the reality of it has been really amazing for us – however, I don’t want to do ‘toxic positivity’ on this, because it is really hard. Sleep deprivation is really, really hard.

But I have a really involved husband – we are very much equals, so I know how lucky and blessed I am. Because I couldn’t breast-feed properly, we’ve had a bottle-fed baby from day dot and that’s a very different experience from people who have had to breast feed and have only breast fed from day one.

So, what was your journey with breast-feeding like, because that’s a real hot-button conversation as well.
I haven’t spoken about it much but over 10 years ago, I had a breast reduction and so going into pregnancy, nobody really knew what my ability to breast-feed was going to be like. My surgeon couldn’t tell me; no doctor could tell me – it was ‘let’s just wait and see’. It ended up that I could breast feed but that I only had about 50ml, we think, in both boobs – which is nowhere near enough. It was a good amount when I started to feed her but it was slow to come out and I couldn’t pump any milk; I had no let down supply. It was a really tricky experience – and boy, was it painful at the start.

There were parts that I really loved, it was beautiful being able to do it at all; the fact that I could give her anything was amazing and I loved it. I found it really hard to stop but it got to the point where she was getting so frustrated that I realised I was doing it more for me than it was benefitting her.

in our antenatal class, they didn’t give us any lessons on bottle feeding, even when I said I had a condition that meant I couldn’t breast feed.

There are so many messages out there – ‘breast is best!’ ‘fed is best’ – and it was really hard for us because in our antenatal class, they didn’t give us any lessons on bottle feeding, even when I said I had a condition that meant I couldn’t breast feed. That was really hard – I had a lot of shame in that. I had to ask a friend of mine to do a Skype lesson with me and my husband on how to make a bottle of formula because we had no idea. What type to buy, how much should a baby be drinking, how do you warm up a bottle, how do you transport a bottle? Any of that.

The idea that this knowledge isn’t covered in antenatal classes is an absolute travesty to me.
We were really lucky – talk about shame and nerves, but when I had to ask the hospital midwives and the Birthcare nurses, ‘Hi, by the way, I can’t breast feed and my baby needs formula,’ we were very, very lucky that we only had their support. It makes me tearful now, because every time I asked and they said ‘no problem,’ I cried.

I have heard some horror stories – one of my friends had to sign a waiver saying, basically, ‘I understand that giving my baby formula is not the best thing I can do for them.’ She had to sign it, with her newborn baby, because her milk hadn’t come in yet.

I was absolutely petrified to ask for formula, for my baby, when I knew from doctors that I would need it.

I was absolutely petrified to ask for formula, for my baby, when I knew from doctors that I would need it. It really does need to change – I understand that breast feeding is incredible and we should be encouraging it when it’s possible, but if it isn’t, or if its detrimental to the mother’s physical or mental health, then we need more information out there. And we have a whole plethora of parents out there – we have same sex couples who need this information as well. It’s crazy that we’re not teaching people how to do this!

I want to hug you for saying these things. I also wanted to ask you about your birth, because you gave birth in lockdown. Did that have an effect on your mental health?
I know I spoke to you last time about how our wedding and our honeymoon were affected by Covid-19 – and our 30th birthdays, our baby shower and then, of course, our birth. We couldn’t believe it [laughs]. Every single milestone was affected.

Our antenatal classes were via Zoom, which was hard, so we got no hands-on lessons about how to do a nappy, how to do a bath. I wanted to go baby clothes shopping with my mum; we couldn’t do that either. Because we had no family in Auckland, we weren’t able to have my mum there for the birth because Auckland was so cut off. That was heartbreaking – although I had such a fantastic birth in the end, that I can’t complain about how it worked out.

What made your birth so fantastic?
[Bursts out laughing] The drugs.

Ha! That’s a great answer.
I know, but really. That epidural gave me the ability to enjoy my birth. There’s also a lot of taboo around pain medication – which I still can’t understand – and the idea of ‘she had a natural birth, no drugs,’ and that being a heroic thing. I hate the term ‘natural birth’ so much and how it can also make women who have had C-sections feel. It should just be said as what they are – a vaginal birth or a C-section birth – both should be celebrated as much as the other. The best way to give birth is the birth where both Mum and Baby are in the safest situation – which is what C-sections can sometimes provide.

I felt like Beyoncé because I was getting cheered on by my midwives. Oh, it’s making me emotional, sorry.

For me, the epidural made a huge difference. I was so lost in the pain – I had about five hours with no pain meds and I was in my headspace, in the zone, until I found out I was only 2cm. Then I lost my mind. I couldn’t bear to think about how many hours I had ahead of me and the pains were very, very intense.

Having an epidural – it was incredible. I was focused, I was present, I was pushing, I was connecting to my baby, I was holding my husband’s hand, listening to my music, I felt like Beyoncé because I was getting cheered on by my midwives. Oh, it’s making me emotional, sorry. [Pauses]. It was the greatest moment of my life and that’s because I had painkillers, because I had an epidural. And I loved every moment of it because of that epidural and it makes me so sad that people feel pressured to not have the drugs. That’s why I loved my birth – because I was able to have the help from modern medicine that I needed.

Oh Meg, thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to say that my husband is a stay-at-home dad; I’m back to work now and I don’t see much support for stay-at-home partners, or stay-at-home dads, who are so good at home and incredibly good at taking on that role. I don’t see enough love out there for them and I couldn’t do what I can do without Guy’s support and him taking time off work and taking paternity leave.

I don’t see much support for stay-at-home dads, who are so good at home and incredibly good at taking on that role

Guy goes to antenatal group every week – it’s him and 10 women and their babies and he loves it. But he even said to me yesterday – and it was heart-breaking, because I know it’s not true – ‘what if they feel weird that I’m there?’ and it makes me sad, because he just wants that same sense of connection that all stay-at-home partners want. I want to shout out to all those stay-at-home dads who are doing such an amazing job and maybe don’t get the level of support they need in what is a very challenging role.

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