Another thing I didn't know before I had children is that giving birth can be one of the most incredible, exciting and empowering experiences of your life. During my first pregnancy I was filled with fear, absolutely dreading the act of bringing my child into the world, which to me seemed impossible, terrifying, and grotesque. Despite or perhaps because of this fear, I spent nine months fanatically researching childbirth, reading every book and internet article I could find on the subject. I had the best intentions to have a natural birth at home, but somehow, I ended up in hospital with my feet in stirrups. They say if you believe something enough you can make it happen: in my case I believed, deep down, that I really couldn't do it, and that belief was brought starkly to life for me when Cutlery Ken the Obstetrician set to work on my nether regions.
Second time around I had learnt something that none of the books or articles could teach me: the baby was definitely going to come out, and if I didn't do it myself, then somebody else would. As I waited for my baby, who turned up, like her sister, a long time past her due date, I still felt afraid, and a part of me remained convinced that it wasn't actually possible, even though I had already done it once. I was greatly helped by the website http://www.mybirth.tv/, which has several films of women giving birth at home, often in water. I was stunned by the images - women giving birth so calmly, in dimly lit pools, the only sound their low moans and the gentle lapping of water. These films challenged everything I had ever been led to expect; that birth was an on-your-back-and-helpless, near impossible feat of biology-gone-wrong. It has occurred to me since - are we all just 'copying' the soap opera image of birth, because we don't know any other way? In the same way that many women struggle to breastfeed because they have never seen anyone else breastfeeding, perhaps we are struggling to birth gently, powerfully and positively because we have never seen anyone doing it this way.
A year ago today, my second daughter was born at home in a birth pool, completely naturally and without any intervention or drugs. For a long time I would tell myself, and other people, that it is not that difficult to give birth without pain relief, because pain is the wrong word for the sensations of labour, and that with the power of your mind you can reframe the sensations into 'rushes', 'tightenings' or even pleasurable feelings. Whilst I think this is partly true, I also think it is ok to say that some of the feelings were the worst and most horrendous pain imaginable. I'm sure that people who perform other feats like running marathons or climbing great peaks would be happy to admit that they have moments of tremendous struggle and physical agony, and that they push forward in spite of them. When I remember giving birth, I feel an enormous sense of power, achievement and inner strength, that I felt such fear and terrible pain, and that I battled on, with the spirit of the greatest of warriors.
We need to struggle, and sometimes even suffer, in order to change, develop, grow. Today I will be full of pride, as I watch my dear little daughter try to walk with such concentrated effort, crying at the injustice of the knocks and falls, and grinning and dancing with each small moment of progress. And at the same time remembering another determined girl, who, this time last year, felt terribly frightened, but somewhere found the courage to push herself to her absolute limits.