Today whilst collecting spiderboy from nursery I bumped into another Mum whose second is a similar age to mine. She was on her first trip out. As we worshipped each other’s little ones (hers sleeping like an angel, mine screaming like a demon) our conversation was spiced with a strong sense of relief – both at not being massively pregnant any more and at having survived birth, and found it ‘so much better than last time’. The ghosts of labours past were standing behind us, but in the December cold snap they somehow no longer chilled us.
I find myself at the moment, still bouyed by sparkling surprise, almost embarrassed in discussions about labour and birth despite my voracious appetite for all birth stories long and short. It seems indecent to mention a precipitous birth when speaking to anyone with a longer labour or more intervention. Especially when my second labour, still whizzing in my mind, so fast and unknowable, so hard to pinpoint properly or understand, is defined for my by shock – shock mainly, I’m beginning to think, that it hasn’t left me traumatised.
But it reminded me of a defining moment after my first labour – that post-birth shower. I can still see, as I could at the time in that 3rd person shocked vision, a huge, stumbling, blood streaked figure staring at itself in the glass through swollen eyes. My hairs (all hairs) matted with fluid gore. A puddle of blood hissing at my feet. My belly just 20 hours earlier so large and firm and proud, a protruding bullet shaped protector, now just as large but softened and defeated, saggy, deflated, spent. And I think back to that woman, just turned 30, on the midnight hour of expectant woman to first time Mum. She’s standing staring, unable to process anything, aghast at the sight, swaying with exhaustion, and talking in a tinny chipper voice which still makes me wince as it was the voice I used throughout every psychological and psychiatric assessment, at every physio appointment. She’s telling the midwife that no, she’s alright, the midwife doesn’t have to stay with her for the shower.
And I want to run back in time and stand beside her as I don’t think she does want to be alone, and reassure her that the midwife has stayed outside just in case. I want to hold her hand as she searches the mirror for herself and tell her somewhere in the torn and stretched out ruins she’s there fiercely shining deep inside, her sense of herself a beleagured beacon only seconded by the love, white cold and burning bright, she’ll feel for her baby till the end of time (even if she, like all Mums, comes close to forgetting it sometimes). And to say you’ll be back, one day, one day soon. I want to wash her down and rub her with oils like some Biblical sister in the red tent (if that isn’t just a fabric of fiction).
But mostly I want to tell her an anecdote from a dear, dear friend and fellow blogger @hovehousewife whose searing honesty was such a comfort to me halfway through my second pregnancy when I met her in a Soho bar for a glamourous lunch where all the Mums in attendance regressed to our pre-Mum selves for two hours. She said:
‘Expect nothing, thatwoman, it could be better this time but you and me know, we KNOW it could be worse. Because we know, nothing in birth is natural. There’s blood on the walls’.
I want to say, in three years time, maybe sooner, this honesty with sooth and heal. It will tell you your horror and surprise, that’s okay. Your exhaustion, your confusion, that’s okay too. And you will be, one day, too.