He Says, She Says: 7 truths no one tells you about giving birth
He Says, She Says: How to survive pregnancy

Award-winning writers Robyn Wilder and Stuart Heritage share their insights into labour and giving birth…

She – Robyn Wilder – says:

It’s hard to know exactly what to say here. On one hand, I will protect a first-time expectant mother from the gory details of someone else’s tricky labour – to the point of intercepting and removing any guests at their baby shower who look as though they might suddenly say, ‘Did I ever tell you about my episiotomy? I think there are photos on my phone…’ 

On the other hand, there’s no getting away from the fact that I gave birth to both my sons by emergency caesarean section. But, gory details aside, there are some things I could have done before the labour to improve at least the birth of my first son, back in 2015.

 

1/ I wish I’d known about birth doulas and midwifery advocates. Despite living with panic disorder, I was finally managing to look forward to the birth, after a lot of work with the perinatal mental health team, who helped me plan a non-terrifying semi-water birth at the midwife-led birthing unit.

That all changed overnight with my diagnosis of gestational diabetes. I was informed birth would be induced in hospital at 38 weeks now. I learned that I could request a C-section for mental health reasons, but told ‘not to worry about it’. Even contact with the perinatal mental health team was cut, for some reason. I started to feel obstructive, underfoot and annoying in my own birth plan. Had I been working with a doula or medical advocate, I might not have felt so disempowered or eclipsed, and my birth experience could have been far more positive.

 

2/ I’m glad I attended my maternity debrief. Most hospitals offer an option to go over your birth notes if you have lasting trauma from delivery. I recommend this to everyone. It took me almost two years to work up the courage, but as the midwife talked me through the notes I realised I had unintentionally been blaming myself for my less than perfect labour all this time when, in fact, a physical problem meant I wouldn’t possibly have been able to give birth any other way. The midwife also acknowledged I’d been treated badly, and apologised on behalf of the hospital. I hadn’t been expecting it, but it was such a weight off my shoulders. 

 

3/ Today I’m grateful for my surgeries – otherwise I wouldn’t be here, and neither would my four and seven-year-old sons, who are currently trying to sabotage this article by randomly pressing keys on my laptop.

Apparently my working during the summer holidays is ‘boring, boring, boring’.

He – Stuart Heritage – says:

As a man, all I can really offer you here is a series of things not to do while your partner is in labour. There may be more things you shouldn’t do, but here are the ones I have learned through the bitter agony of experience.

 

4/ Don’t complain about your chair. I swear to god, this is much harder than it sounds. True, your partner is currently going through one of the most agonising, terrifying, primal experiences a human being can ever go through, but at least she gets to do all that in a bed. Meanwhile, you’re left stuck in the worst piece of furniture possible; a chair that looks like it should recline, but doesn’t. It is hellish, but probably not something you should say out loud in the moment. 

tow blue chairs in waiting room

5/ Don’t complain about your journey in. On the day our second child was born, my wife had initially gone to hospital by herself for a check-up. However, the results of the check-up were very quickly deemed to be ‘OH GOD, THE BABY IS LITERALLY COMING OUT OF YOU RIGHT NOW’. So she called me, and I got a bus to the hospital. And then when I was halfway there I realised that I didn’t bring the baby bag, so I got off the bus, got on another bus and called a cab. Then I realised that I didn’t have any cash, and had to call around all the cab firms to see which one took cards.

‘Whew!’ I said when I finally got to the maternity ward. ‘You’ll never believe the journey I had!’ This, I have subsequently learned, is not how you greet a woman deep in the painful throes of unanaesthetised labour.

6/ Don’t choose the 2013 Will Smith movie After Earth to watch together as a bonding experience when labour stalls. It just isn’t a very good film, that’s all. Pick something else.

baby just born and on mother

7/ Don’t sell yourself short. That second labour went awry quite fast. Robyn gave birth to our younger son by emergency caesarean section under general anaesthetic, and I wasn’t allowed in the room. After the scariest 45 minutes of my life, my son was wheeled in to me. For two hours while she recovered, I was the only person he knew in the world. In the big scheme of things, birth partners are stunningly inessential for 98% of the time.

But if the time ever comes to step up, you step up.

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