The yoga teacher padded gently round the darkened room, careful not to disturb the small group of pregnant women lying peacefully on their left hand sides (for pregnancy has its own “side” you know, and it is most definitely the left one). I lay among them, my head resting on a pillow while a cushion between my knees helped to ease the ache in my hips. Soothing music completed the scene and you would be forgiven for assuming I was indulging in a moment of deep relaxation. But you would be wrong as I was in fact trying very hard to not to jump up and declare “WHAT A CROCK OF HORSESHIT, LOVE!”
For she had just uttered what in my view are unforgivable words (*insert meditative-soft-spoken-namby-pamby-bullshit-whisper here*):
“Your bodeee is perfectleee designed to give biiiirth to your babeee”.
Well, you know what love, it isn’t. I know, I know... it’s comforting to think that evolution got it bang on, but one look at the size of a baby compared to the size of the average vagina and you should really have all the heads up that you need. Babies are MUCH bigger than fannies (I mean the English fanny, not the American one obviously). Ergo: design flaw.
That’s not to say that your birth won’t be straightforward, as long as we define “straightforward” as “at least very hard, probably a bit scary, possibly traumatic in parts, and definitely not at all what you expected”.
And therein lies the crux of the issue: our expectations. Like so many before me I sought out an antenatal class before the birth of my son because I wanted to prepare myself. I opted for the NCT, blindly following a middle class trend, and while I made some amazing lifelong friends, I felt incredibly let down by it once I’d given birth.
Sure, there were some priceless moments, like watching my husband put a nappy on a doll while five other blokes heaved sighs of relief to have dodged that bullet. But mainly, looking back, the classes didn't prepare me for all the births that could happen, but only for the birth that I wanted.
I carried phrases such as “we don’t like to describe labour as painful, but more like hard work” around with me like a comfort blanket. Hard work is fine, right? I can put my shoulder to it with the best of them.
“Take some lavender oil to help you relax, some arnica tablets to help you heal, and don’t forget to make ice cubes out of honey water to suck on at home”. Paints quite the picture of wholesome loveliness. Yeah, I'll totally buy into that!
I wish that someone had sat me down and told me the truth. Told me gently, perhaps, but at least told me. That it might really, really fucking hurt, that I might lose my shit and scream and panic, that my baby might struggle and that I might not emerge out the other side with my foo-foo or mind completely intact. And, crucially, that this was all completely normal and okay because only some of us have the birth we hope for. Many, many of us don’t.
As it was I was totally unequipped for what happened and spent many tearful months afterwards coming to terms with my feelings. I’m pregnant again and a midwife I saw early on (and who recognised the trauma I still carried) told me that she worked with a great many women who had hugely unrealistic expectations. Part of her job had been to help them deal with post traumatic shock and feelings of failure following difficult deliveries and she felt very angry and frustrated at the misconceptions fuelled by many classes like the one I attended. She retired the very next day and so I never got to benefit again from her experience during this pregnancy.
But if I could have bottled her knowledge and experience I would have given one to every woman I was lying alongside that evening. Because in just twenty minutes, with facts and statistics as well as kindness and empathy, she gently undid so much of the damage that had been done and I left the room feeling a weight off my shoulders.
And the yoga class? One whiff of that horseshit and I was out of there. For good.