Extract from Kathy Fray’s best-selling book
In any gathering of women there is a camaraderie that exists among those who have experienced childbirth. It’s like a secret handshake or an ultraviolet mark that only they know distinguishes them as veterans of the same war . . . A pregnant woman such as yourself is a probationary member of this sorority . . . And after this forty-week (more or less) probationary period will come the magic time when you will become a charter member, when you will have passed the ultimate hazing ritual: DELIVERY.
. . . This sorority of women is full of all sorts of self-congratulation, because only another mother knows what each of us has gone through to qualify for membership. Like veterans of war, we show our battle scars like medals: Caesarean sections, stretch marks, our inability to sneeze without wetting our pants . . . Secretly we know, we are Earth’s real heroes.
Vicki Iovine — The Girlfriends’ Guide To Pregnancy
Childbirth, babies, motherhood and parenting have become some of the most frustratingly confusing and hotly contended subjects for us westernised adults to deal with. In our parents’ days it was so much simpler. There were fewer theories, so policies were more straightforward. But today our lives exist with the ‘smorgasbord buffet’ or ‘supermarket’ syndrome of data asphyxiation. We have a staggering amount of options to choose from . . . and so many decisions that will need to be made. Nearly every theory will conflict somewhat with another, or two practices directly oppose each other — both, of course, always able to prove their case with indisputable evidence! Aarrrgggghhhh! As for the physical process of giving birth! Surely for a first-time mother- to-be it is an enigma how so many contrasting opinions could have been formed surrounding an event that has already occurred billions of times over. How on earth is a new mum-to-be expected to know if she is making the correct ‘informed consent’ decisions? (Don’t you loathe that term? Well if
you don’t yet, you probably will eventually.)
I liken the child-birthing experience to a complicated labyrinth. Now you
know that this maze has a start, you also know it definitely has an end . . . you do know you will eventually be arriving at that exit door of giving birth to your baby. But how fast or slow the journey will be, how easy or difficult it will be, how empowering or demoralising it will feel, and how much assistance you will need along the way . . . The answers are all shrouded in Mystery’s cloak — you won’t ever know until afterwards. Bugger!
What you can do . . . should do . . . must do . . . is cheat by having a really good aerial look over the labyrinth before you start. And that is what the first chapters of this book are committed to . . . helping you through the maze (‘hazing’ did you say?) of giving birth. You must understand physiologically the birthing process your body will go through. Knowledge is empowering — ask any second-time mum.
You will also learn soon that a frequent piece of professional advice you will receive is ‘Go with your own instinct’. So, in this ‘New Age’ — when intuition is still oftentimes only sceptically viewed as the sixth sense — it is ironic that intuition can be given the ultimate responsibility to successfully mother! What if your gut feelings are telling you that you are really unsure you’re making the right decisions? That’s tough to cope with — particularly when you know you are dealing with a little baby’s wellbeing.
Who knows if the decisions we make will be right or wrong? All we can really hope for is that most of what we do is right.
So, why on earth would mothers need yet another book on birth and motherhood? Because this book is NOT written by an obstetrician, gynaecologist, paediatrician, infancy nurse, child psychologist or any other baby or birth-management scholar. It is written by a mum, with ideas from many of her friends who are mums, in a language mums understand, all from the mums’ perspective, with loads of tips, insights, stories and recommendations just for mums, all strictly out of the trenches of real life experiences. This book is also not an official encyclopaedic textbook on birth and babies (though it does a great impersonation of one) — instead it has been written to be like a friend to you . . . a friend who happens to be a midwife. I am writing in the genre of simply being a mother — someone with a few more births behind me and a few more years experience at mothering. And I am also a mother blessed with a wide circle of wonderful friends who are also all amazing mothers, from whom I’ve learnt so much. Now, I’m thrilled to pass on to you our collective experience — so you can have the very best mothering times possible. It’s time now to pass on some of that lost mother-
to-mother wise-woman wisdom.
So for you heavily pregnant first-time mum-to-be, grab yourself a full- cream Grande Macchiato (decaffeinated, of course) with extra foam and chocolate sprinkles, sit in a sinkingly comfortable chair, put your feet up, relax and ENJOY!
Your darling baby is soon to make its dramatic entrance into this confusing world . . . to be lovingly nurtured by you, the baby’s feeling-rather-confused mother, and guided with fortitude by his probably even-more-confused father. What a mammoth responsibility we take on! Highs so high you are touching Heaven, and lows so low that you know you’ve been in Hell.
Hoist up your Grandma undies, securely fasten your maternity bra, place your breast pads in the upright position, buckle up those hospital bags, and let the journey begin . . .
But hold on . . . it’s disconcerting that no one seems to acknowledge all the weird, bizarre, absurd, disgusting or hilarious things that happen while you’re pregnant — instead you are calmly reassured that it’s all perfectly normal. It’s like there’s some unofficial conspiracy or code of silence to let you know only what you need to know at that moment.
Oh heck, so let’s first reflect, by taking a few indulgent minutes, which you so deserve, and pay great homage to those noble and memorable moments of pregnancy bliss, which are now almost all behind you — YOU’VE DONE SO, SO WELL!
From the moment of her conception my daughter became a magnet for prescription, embroiled in debate: about alcohol units, smoke-free zones and breast versus bottle, about future dairy and gluten allergies, room temperature and sleeping position, about immunisation schedules and vitamins.
Even from before conception, in fact, when I was urged to purge and scrub my body for her future sake, to convert it from inferred hell-hole to temple.
Rachel Cusk — A Life’s Work
Remember back to your shocked ‘I can’t believe I’m pregnant’ first trimester? You haven’t forgotten the delight already? There was the head-in-the- toilet-bowl ‘morning’ sickness nausea, caused by your body adjusting to the increased levels of progesterone and oestrogens, which you learnt is not gone by lunchtime and leaves you feeling thoroughly wretched all day; there were those stretched blouse buttons covering up tender and painful busty breasts that became your partner’s favourite new toys (Ow!); the constant peeing interruptions to your precious last months of babyless slumber; a new all- time record level of total exhaustion (thanks to the sedative effects of your high progesterone levels). Oh, and we can’t forget the nauseous smells; the weird metallic taste in your mouth; and, of course, the insane feeling of losing your mind (well, at least some vague control of your now erratically unpredictable emotions).
You have several months of sacrificing the mouth-watering tastes of many of your most favourite delicacies, only to have them replaced with cravings for exotically bizarre culinary combinations. Then you start booking emergency visits to the dentist for temporary fillings (and to double-check those spongy bleeding gums, oh, gingivitis). Then there are the contact lenses that are no longer comfortable (as pregnancy can change cornea shape); the sinusitis nasal congestion stuffiness and nose-bleeds; constant backache and leg cramps; and rapidly growing but brittle fingernails. But even more intensely weird are the frighteningly vivid dreams, or the insomnia.
Then, the crowning glory of them all . . . pre-eclampsia toxaemia (high blood pressure, and protein in your urine from your kidneys stressing with their filtration rate increase). This is when you are promoted in your pregnancy to the water-retention, ‘upholstered body’, oedema stage and you are alarmed to find your swollen fingers beginning to grow over your rings, and the tops of your puffy feet and swollen ankles spill out over the tops of your shoes like messy cappuccinos (oh, and yes your nose is looking bigger), and maybe you didn’t realise, but your vulva is swelling too.
Once the pelvic ligaments soften and relax, you may be perturbed to need to buy yourself a belly-belt (elasticised maternity corset) to support your pelvic bones. Then in the last weeks with the increasing bulkiness of your abdomen, your centre of gravity totally changes so that with a jumping-bean inside your abdomen and added backache, walking becomes dangerously precarious — especially disembarking escalators when you can no longer see your own feet.
As for your flushed skin . . . there are stretch marks, maybe red lines under your belly and blue tracks over your thighs and hips, facial pigment changes, darkening freckles and moles, darkened body and facial hair, little red naevi spider-veins appearing on your cheeks, red clammy hands, chafing thighs, and legs (and/or vulva) with varicose veins from the uterus pressing on blood vessels and impairing blood-flow. There’s the half a metre of extra-itchy, drive-you- nuts stretching abdomen skin, popped-turkey-timer stick-out belly-button, and hair in places you didn’t know it would now permanently grow.
Then your abdomen develops a bizarre vertical line (maybe even hairy) that resembles a road from your pubes to your belly-button. This is called the linea nigra which marks the separation of your recti-abdominal muscles. And did you know your nipples are even starting to grow bifidus lactobacilli (friendly bacteria to later colonise inside your baby’s intestines) . . . these are just some of the ravishing things that could happen to you.
You are probably utterly fed up with your limited maternity wardrobe and are longing to wear your old jeans again (don’t hold your hopes up for that eventuating in under three months). As for your face . . . yes, my pre- existing round face managed to get even rounder — oh and my neck always disappears.
However we can’t forget the interesting internal plumbing issues too, like the squashed-flat bladder with its resulting increased urgent, frequent peeing; the shortness of breath and dyspnoea (laboured difficult breathing); and the wicked indigestion heartburn acid-reflux from the crowded stomach, displaced oesophagus and relaxed sphincter muscle. The high levels of oestrogen are putting more pressure on your gall bladder, but the extra progesterone (responsible for preventing premature labour during pregnancy) slows down all smooth-muscle movement, leaving residual cholesterol crystals, which are the foundations of gallstones (oh goody).
But probably no one warned you in advance about the sore, aching, stretched ribcage from your abdominal organs pressing against your diaphragm, causing your thorax to widen as your ribs flare (or even the occasional fractured rib from a little kicking foot); the aching armpits or shoulders; carpal tunnel syndrome (tingling pins and needles in your hot hands); the dizzy vertigo; the increased burping and farting; the stronger vaginal ‘odour’, and increased thrush (because of your now sweet glucose- rich vagina). There’s the unrecognisable poos (or worse, constipation resulting from the declining peristalsis of the digestive tract) and, horror upon horror . . . haemorrhoids. I am SO sorry for you if you have endured those indignant anal protrusions, delicately called hanging vines. Equally horrifying, if you earn your piles (or even vulval-vaginal varicose veins) as a memento of delivery — it’s OK to scream.
Have you noticed yet that you’re also never the perfect pregnancy-sized heffalump? When people ask how pregnant you are (as they touch your belly, which is public property — don’t you know?), their reply is always along the lines of either ‘Gosh, you’re quite compact’ or ‘Gee, you’re quite big’. But no one ever says ‘Wow, you’re just the perfect size’.
Then ‘they’ yearn to pass on all their graphic experiences from the war- zones of the delivery suites, combined with copious passionate advice. Ear-plugs please!
And all the while, even with abstaining from your usual ‘medicinally therapeutic’ alcoholic drinks, you’ve managed to get through nearly the whole ordeal without the experience curdling the scary but amazing reality that a little tiny human being is growing inside you. This surely is such a mammoth fact that it should necessitate free visits to a psychiatrist’s couch.
Still, raising a bellyful of baby is not all bad physically. Far from it. Firstly there’s the magical ‘mirror look’ — you know, silently standing sideways feeling like a Greek goddess as you admiringly stroke your enormous abdomen
. . . There are those daily miraculous and eerie sensations of feeling your baby moving around (even when you’re getting the stabbing pains of being kicked in your already bruised ribcage); or feeling your baby hiccupping (in your rectum, I know it’s weird) . . . There are your voluptuous (though veiny) blouse-puppets with their enlarged and sexy aubergine-brown darkened areola nipples (and enlarged nodule bumps, all a sign that your breast-tissue milk- sacs are getting ready to produce milk for lactation). These new boobies are something to treasure (you already know they won’t look like that forever, but enjoy them while they’re such a flattering feature) . . . There’s the rapidly growing thick and lustrous shining hair (everywhere) . . . There’s the supple glowing clear skin . . . There’s the relief of having guilt-free permission to cut out those gruelling gym exercise routines . . . There’s the almost socially acceptable joy of ravenously devouring your dinner because pregnancy is the only time in your life you’re allowed to look ‘fat’.
Thanks to all those extra hormones sex feels more orgasmically erotic than ever before — and during pregnancy, chocolate becomes the recreational drug of choice as its taste turns into something euphoric.
If you’re like most of us, during the last months of your pregnancy you probably make sympathy-seeking comments like:
‘I can’t breathe, my lungs can’t expand.’
‘I can’t eat any more, I swear my stomach has been pushed up my throat.’ ‘I can’t walk any further, my back aches too much.’
‘You have to paint my toenails for me, I can’t see them.’ ‘My feet throb.’
‘You need to tie up my boot-laces, I can’t reach.’
‘The stabbing pains in my sciatic nerve are excruciating!’ ‘I need antacid intravenously so I can get to sleep!’
‘I need a urine catheter so I can sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time!’ ‘Five pillows are not comfortable enough anymore — I need your pillow
CONGRATULATIONS, as in this last semester you are completing your Bachelor in Pregnancy Insanity. Now whether enrolled or not, this semester you will be receiving your Masters in Postpartum Dementia. This, writes Vickie Iovine, is when your partner is thinking, ‘Who are you, and what have you done with my wife? . . . But of course, crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.’ Just as few people tell you all those pregnancy truths, it is the same
scenario with childbirth and the first year of motherhood. Friends may say afterwards: ‘We didn’t dare tell you everything — it would have completely put you off and freaked you out!’
But I don’t really believe that, because the more bewildering and perplexing your mothering experiences are, the more it takes away from your mothering enjoyment and satisfaction.
Enlightenment is omnipotent (all-powerful), foresight protects your strength, and insight renews your energy.
So it would be my honour to help you even a little, by passing on to you some of the most valuable women’s wisdom I have come across — while hopefully giving you a few giggles at the same time.
Because I know you’re likely right now to be in your crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s phase of preparing for the pending arrival of your bundle of joy, there are two very last-minute points I really, really hope you’ll take note of, in order to ready yourself for the accompanying post-birth bomb that goes off big time (every time).
- During the first 40 days after birth, intentionally plan to be staying home, all day, every day. Embrace living in your PJs for a month. It is so, so, so much easier on you, and your baby, when you live on his time-zone — sleep when he sleeps and feed when he First-time mums notoriously have ridiculous expectations of what they should be able to fit in each day. Forget it. Surrender. Relish. That makes you wise. (This advice includes my personal recommendation that you’re not going out to attend ‘baby classes’ during the first 4–5 weeks.)
- Until your babe is over five weeks and over five kg, KEEP YOUR BABY AT HOME!! Please. They do so much better, and so do their
You are such an amazing lady as you are about to be a Mother, and there is NO other job more important on the planet! To quote C.S. Lewis: ‘Homemaker is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only — to support the ultimate career!’
LOVE and LIGHT
Kathy Fray xxx
It takes all of nine months for a mother to adapt to the unfolding role of motherhood — you need that time to be able to swallow the enormity of it all.
Dr William Ferguson, my GP-obstetrician