the trials of womanhood


I’ve recently given birth to my second child. Before the birth of my first child I read extensively about birthing options and concluded that the best route is to go as natural as possible i.e. no painkillers that could affect either the baby or my ability to naturally push. After all, we evolved successfully without using drugs during birth, and modern medicine would be on hand to intervene if anything went wrong.

I quickly realised during my first birthing experience that natural birthing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And speaking with friends who were much more forthcoming after I’d been through it, I struggled to find anyone who made me think any differently.

So when it came to the difficult decision to attempt having a second child, I was quite sure I would go for every pain relief on offer. But, oddly enough, when it came to the crunch and labour kicked in, I felt curiously confident that second time round, with my body already experienced and adjusted, and in a country where I trusted the healthcare system, everything would be just fine. It wasn’t.

The thing is, for me at least, although the pain of the contractions was absolutely excruciating, beyond anything I could have imagined, contractions taken in isolation were just about manageable. However, the ability of the human body to expel the child during these contractions is clearly variable and definitely not what what many of us are given to expect from the books we read, or the glossed over stories we hear from friends and family before the event.

What I felt intensely during those experiences was that I wanted to die, that I never want my daughter to suffer that kind of physical pain, that I didn’t want anyone ever to suffer that kind of physical pain. I feel intensely irritated with the feel-good literature about the beauty of giving birth and the lies about the body being built to cope naturally with the pain. I’m irritated that women are shamed into thinking they should be able to do it. I’m irritated for the many women who feel disappointed and almost embarrassed that they didn’t ‘manage’ a natural childbirth when things go wrong, as they so often do.

I think as a society we mask so many of the trials of womanhood. We don’t talk about periods, we don’t talk about miscarriages, we don’t talk about the horrors of childbirth, we don’t talk about the menopause. They’re all ‘women’ things to be discussed in private or quietly dealt with on our own. Women’s issues are seen to be embarrassing, unpleasant, emotional and private. And because we don’t talk about these things more openly as individuals and as a society, we’re slowing down the process of sharing knowledge, finding solutions, and simply feeling normal about whatever trials we’re unlucky enough to experience.