We’ve come a long way from talking about childbirth in terms of a delivery from the stork.
Nothing’s taboo anymore, and it’s brilliant. We talk about the probability of pooing during labour. We view c-sections and vaginal births as equal. We share photos of what a post-partum belly looks like. We acknowledge that formula-feeding an infant doesn’t make you a bad mum. And of course, we discuss postnatal depression more openly than ever before.
And thank f*ck for all of that.
There is nothing shameful, nothing that should be secretive, about childbirth.
Which is why I was so grateful when I saw model and actress Brooke Shields talk to my beloved Oprah on her show, a couple of years before I gave birth. Shields was one of the first celebrities to get real about childbirth, and I remember being in awe.
She talked about postnatal depression, and struggling to feel an immediate bond with her child.
“I was terrified to be alone with her,” she told Oprah.
“I didn’t have the desire to hurt her, but I didn’t have the desire to help her, either. I had the desire to hurt myself.”
Wow – the admission was revolutionary at the time.
Oprah was so impressed with Shield’s candour, and told her she was brave. Women in the audience cried as they heard her story, because it was sad, and real, and relatable to many of them.
What Shields said that day in 2005 was pivotal in the discussion of childbirth for millions of women around the world. But, as it turned out, it was something else that Shields talked about that would help me in the most significant way.
In that conversation on Oprah, Shields described the emergency caesarian that she endured. I remember her saying that she could sense she was being cut open. She could feel the pulling and the tugging.
And then, in that operating theatre, she could smell “burnt toast.” She told Oprah:
“I thought, ‘who is cooking toast in here?!’ But then I realised, it wasn’t toast – I was being cauterized.”
That’s right, girlfriends – Shields was smelling her own skin burning as her c-section wound was being cauterized to control bleeding.
Shields also described how painful that wound was in the following months. It was obviously very traumatic for her. And I must admit, TERRIFYING for me to hear, as a young woman going through IVF, desperately wanting a child, but also wondering if there was any way I could get out of delivering it? Ha, apparently that’s not how it works.
Soon after that episode, a friend told me about a friend of hers who, after a twenty-four hour labour, was told that she needed an emergency c-section, and freaked out about it so much that they had to give her a general anaesthetic – meaning that she was asleep as she delivered her baby.
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No judgement AT ALL on her, she was scared by the unexpected news – so at the very least, I could learn from her experience, because that terrified me even more. I didn’t want to miss out on the birth if I could avoid it.