baby

I interviewed women about their birth stories. Here's what no one told me... until now.

You meet a friend at a cafe a few weeks after they've given birth.

You've seen the photos on Instagram. Maybe there was a black and white filter. They were looking adoringly at their little baby, all wrapped up, lying on their chest.

Perhaps a partner was resting their hand on your exhausted friend's shoulder. Everyone smiling. A bunch of flowers in the background. 

The caption was something short. 

When two became three. Welcome to the family Olivia Ava Smith. Our hearts are full. 

Your friend sits down at the cafe. 

You exchange a look. 

Your heart might be full but are you gonna tell me how many stitches you got and share explicit details about the first post-birth poo???

She nods. It's time. 

A heart can be full and a nipple can be bleeding. She takes a deep breath. 

"It all started with a contraction..."

*************

I spent the last few months interviewing women about their birth stories for Mamamia's brand new podcast, The Delivery Room

There was the woman who called an ambulance in the midst of an IBS flare up. She'd never felt pain that acute. A few tests were done, and a doctor kindly told her that this wasn't IBS. She was birthing a baby. And it would be here in a few hours. 

Then there was the woman (my own mother) who birthed two sets of twins in two and a half years. Another who rejoiced at the sight of her baby's head, only to be corrected. It wasn't a head. It was a... poo. Floating in a bathtub. 

There were stitches and contractions and a C-section that was likened to checking into a fancy hotel. There was hypnobirthing and birth on country and two babies born en caul, which made them look like they were gift wrapped. 

And over my conversations with these women who didn't spare any of the details, I learned more about birth than I ever expected to. 

I went into my first interview terrified of what I'd learn. I've always loved babies and am very keen to have one one day, but I'm not such a fan of how they get here. Strangely, the more I heard about birth, the more empowered I felt. My fear turned to curiosity and then to I suppose a sense of... peace. 

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Listen to the first episode of The Delivery Room. Post continues below. 

Here are the four most surprising lessons I learned over the course of my eight interviews. 

1. A birthing parent never, ever forgets a bad midwife. Or a good one.

There are women who can remember the exact words a midwife said to them 40 years ago. 

Whether it's a midwife who rolled their eyes about formula, or tutted at a parent who didn't quite know how to breastfeed, or criticised the changing of a nappy, the role of a midwife during and post birth cannot be overstated. 

With that said, there are also women who can remember the name of the outstanding midwife who held their hand or went above and beyond to make them feel comfortable. 

For the women I spoke to, giving birth was the most vulnerable experience of their life, and the support from the people around them was of critical importance. 

2. Some people seem to think C-sections are the "easy way out". HAHAHAHHAAHHAHA.

OK so I already sort of knew this wasn't true. 

But then I heard that a surgeon has to cut through seven layers of skin. Horizontal cuts. And vertical cuts. And then they sew you back up, which takes longer than you'd expect. If mums had to guess, maybe 45 minutes. 

A C-section is major surgery. But after other major surgeries, your job is to rest and recuperate. And you're given some sort of rehab. Some time off work. With a C-section, you don't even get a good night's sleep. You're just thrown a newborn who requires you to (somehow) hold them even though you don't have abdominal muscles anymore??

A full recovery can take 12 months. 

Women (of course) say it's worth it and they'd do it again and again if it meant having their baby. 

But um anyone who thinks it's the easy way should cut open their own belly and then carry around a watermelon for 18 years and see how they like it. 

3. Talk about your plan all you like... just know that in an instant you might have to let it go.

For some women, coming up with a birth plan helped them feel in control and prepared. Birthing parents are advised to do some research about different options so they feel empowered in what can be an incredibly vulnerable experience. For example, some women swear by water births. A warm bath relaxes the muscles, making the contractions less intense. There is some research to suggest the softening of the skin around the perineum reduces the likelihood of tearing. 

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With that said, you might get a few hours in and decide you want an epidural. Or your birth might require intervention. A few of the women I spoke with had emergency C-sections. The point is, very few births follow a clear plan. So the less... attached you are to your plans, the better. 

4. The poo isn't even a big deal.

I know I keep bringing up the poo, but for women who haven't had babies yet this is a real point of concern. 

The women I spoke to, however, couldn't be less fussed. 

When your cervix feels like it's on fire and you haven't slept and you're mooing like a cow, it would seem that no one cares about the poo. 

Interesting.

The midwives don't care. Partners don't care. And you don't care. 

Apparently heaps of women poo and don't even realise. The midwife/nurse just comes in and scoops it up and throws it in the bin. 

I guess that's... one less thing to worry about.

Listen to Mamamia's brand new podcast, The Delivery Room, in your favourite podcast app. 

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