During a recent conversation with my sister about how utterly fab her royal loveliness Kate Middleton looked teetering down the steps of the Lindo Wing, she reminded me of my own experience and the ‘birth basket’.
This was a ridiculous creation – a beautiful whicker basket laiden with objects I would need whilst in labour (at home). It contained: a lavender heat bag (of course it did), my hypnobirthing book & CD (I would have ample time for reading), the Gavin & Stacey DVD box set (this would distract me as I laughed my way through labour) and some aromatherapy oil (oh, just F*ck off!).
It hadn’t occurred to me once that I didn’t know how to look after a baby, feed it, or get it to sleep – what I was concerned with was the creation of this s*dding basket.
The stupid basket formed part of a bigger, all-encompassing ‘holistic’ birth plan and this is where my real grievance lies.
I was led to believe that a birth plan was essential. Everyone would be working to it; it would be pinned to the white board in the delivery suite, midwives brandishing copies on clipboards, ticking off actions as and when. I would be that woman from 60 Minute Makeover shouting orders at various people to stop faffing around with pelmets and get on with fitting the kitchen.
Obviously you won’t be surprised to learn that the birth basket never got a look in. It remained forlorn and forgotten under a coffee table throughout. As for the birth plan, no-one asked for it, no-one mentioned it, and I cursed it. For it contained lofty plans of a water birth, minimal drugs (why??) and no intervention.
Three days later, with not even a toenail dipped into birthing water, no beds, ALL the drugs on offer, a ventouse delivery and a stay on the high-dependency ward, I think I probably experienced the anti-birth plan. I found the whole experience really quite terrifying, and certainly didn’t emerge from the post-natal ward in a Jenny Packham dress and nude heels. I think my experience was pretty normal (speaking to other equally shell-shocked friends post-birth), but was it made so much worse because of the emotional attachment and investment in the dreaded birth plan?
My hypnobirthing course had led me to believe that labour could be a peaceful serene affair. I think I became so obsessed with the birth and plan, I forgot about everything else. If only the antenatal teacher had told me “Look kid, it’s bad out there. It’s nothing like you’ve seen before and it’s gonna get ugly” (she wasn’t Clint Eastwood by the way, but she sounds more dramatic this way). Perhaps I would have been better equipped? I floated towards the due date with a blissful ignorance believing that I could get through anything with a bit of lavender oil and some deep breaths. I was like little red riding hood skipping merrily towards grandma’s house (in this case Kingston Hospital).
Within my ante-natal group we had an ongoing joke about the ‘Malden Unit’; a mythical place where water births occur, under the warming glow of “mood lights” and whale music (ok, so I made that bit up). It was like our pregnancy unicorn. For we had all heard of this magical land, but not one of us ever saw it. It led us to believe that it was, in fact, a completely fictional location created by midwives to reassure those nervous first-time mothers (and perhaps laugh at them and their silly birth plans!)
Second time around, I was ready for it. I knew what to expect. I was ready for there to be no bed available, surgery, and a fight for an epidural. And most importantly, in an act of sheer defiance, I had no birth plan. Not even in my head. But as it turned out, even through induction, it was a totally different experience. Bonding was fine, and breastfeeding actually worked. I rocked up to that hospital with NO expectations, and that seemed to work for me.
I’m all for being a glass half full kinda gal, and being optimistic, but as for placing all your hopes on this piece of paper – it’s great to have an idea of what you want, but perhaps have an open mind that things may not always go to plan. And if you do reach the Malden Suite, be sure to take a picture for me!