Emerging from the hospital corridors with my first baby in tow, it was a mere 48 hours since I pushed out all 9 lb. 13 oz. of her. She was beautiful and healthy, thank God, but TBH, I felt (and looked) like total sh*t. So pretty much the opposite of Kate Middleton post-delivery. Unlike the Instagram #blessed and #skintoskin posts that flooded my feed, I looked more like an exhausted zombie who had been fighting a brutal war for at least a year. And that’s putting it gently.
From an excruciating epidural to stabbing back pain and bouts of nausea, to utter exhaustion and not having my baby for three hours after delivery, it's safe to say that my birthing experience was exactly the opposite of what I had envisioned during my pregnancy bliss.
While I know that I didn’t have the worst birth story in America (duh), I do think I earned the new mommy creds to advise what not to say to anyone who had a less-than-pleasant birth story. Listen up!
1. "You had an epidural ... it couldn’t have hurt that much!”
Let's put it this way: Heck yes, it hurt. Last I checked, getting the longest needle humanly possible into the tiniest microscopic section of your spine mid-contraction isn't really a walk in the park. And ICYMI, epidurals don't numb you forever. Yes, I got some crazy-good relief in some spots, but it did nothing for my stabbing back labor.
And when they started weaning me off of it in preparation of pushing, it was, as expected, pure hell. I felt hours of nausea and nearly threw up all over myself right in the middle of a contraction. Epidurals ... so easy! Not.
2. "Wasn't it such a miracle?"
Yeah, lady, a miracle that I survived that. Not to sound cynical, but I think the general population has this idea that delivering a baby is all happiness and peace. Of course, it’s a happy experience—I won't argue that—but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns the way it’s portrayed.
You see, in between editing my post-pregnancy journal and dreaming of my “pain-free easy delivery,” I had every intention of using the newborn photographer at the hospital. I packed "On The Night You Were Born" to read to our baby as she slept soundly in her hospital bassinet, and I had the cutest outfits awaiting my baby girl. Oh yeah, and the headbands. Don't forget the headbands!
The reality was, just getting out of bed and figuring out a damn breastfeeding latch was a feat in itself.
Is my daughter a miracle? Yes. But did I experience miracle-like heavenly guidance as I birthed her out, giving myself a second-degree tear? No, sorry.
3. "At least you didn't have a C-section."
Disclaimer: I 100 percent realize how painful and traumatizing a C-section can be. I was right there when my oldest sister had three C-sections and I'll never forget the pain she was in. I’ve also seen my best friends post-C section, and it ain’t pretty. C-sections are hard, bottom line.
But just because I didn’t have one doesn’t mean someone can pre-judge my delivery as “easy.” I was in labor for 23 hours running on NO sleep, and I didn’t feel like I had an "easier" road.
With childbirth, I’m a firm believer that there's no easy road ... It's painful, whether it's vaginal or a C-section. Let's stop with the competition!
4. "Didn't you have the most magical bonding moment?"
After an hour of pushing, having my daughter placed onto my chest was the single most amazing feeling in my life. But it lasted a grand total of …. one minute.
I thought I'd have that "golden hour" of skin-to-skin bonding that nurses and docs raved about, but as I was being sewn up, a nurse ushered my baby out of my arms, explaining that she didn't “transition well” and that they'd need to monitor her blood sugar and other medical terms I didn't know. It would be a long three hours before I would see my baby again.
I wish I had that magical moment that moms talk about, but I didn't ... And the same goes for the brave mamas whose babies are in the NICU for hours, days and months at a time. So, please, stop asking about it.
5. "You'll forget all about the pain! So when are you doing it again?"
It's been seven months since I gave birth, and trust me, I still remember every little detail from my birth, from the dryness in my mouth to the ridiculous amount of pressure and pain I felt.
Guess what? I canceled the shoot in a half-asleep text. And the book, the outfits and the headbands—all of it—stayed neatly packed in my L.L. Bean tote until I came across it weeks later at home.
I close my eyes and can remember yelling at the thousandth resident checking in on me, telling him to please stop talking to me and leave me alone. I can taste the salty and sweaty tears rolling down my cheek as I nearly gave up in defeat, telling my husband that I wanted to run away right then and there. Twenty-three hours of excruciating pain will do that to you. And no, despite that everyone insists I’ll “forget the pain," it's not poof—gone from my mind. It’s etched in there forever.
Let me just enjoy this time with my firstborn before we jump the gun on the second, thank you very much!
6. "You can't seriously be thinking about going back to work after all that."
Telling my birth story to a few people and neighbors, I got sympathetic stares and then questions like, "Wait, are you really returning to work in a few weeks?" with a puzzled, shocked look. I've worked as a magazine editor for 10 years, and my job is my life—I couldn't imagine NOT returning. Yes, I would be back. Also, hello, we needed the money (um, to cover that full deductible check that I had to send right to the hospital. And the diapers. All the diapers).
Also, I was lucky enough to have 12 weeks to attend to my baby (and myself), unlike the millions of Americans who don't have that luxury, with nearly one in four new mothers in the U.S. back to at work within just two weeks of having a baby.
Yes, it was a rough time post-birth, but I healed. And, armed with my breast pump, I was ready to go. Oh, and last I checked, nobody asked my husband why he was back at work. #eyeroll.
The bottom line?
It goes without saying that childbirth in America is not as picture perfect as some may think. According to NPR, every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die. And women of color, in particular black women, are dying in childbirth three to four times more often than white woman, and experiencing postpartum mental health problems at greater rates as well. I didn’t share my story to discount any woman’s birth experience and to anyone who had a tougher birth, you’re my superhero. But before you judge and assume every delivery was “easy,” let’s ALL promise ourselves to listen, be open and do our best to minimize anyone’s pain. This new mama thanks you!
This article originally appeared on Working Mother.
Working Mother is mentor, role model and advocate for the country’s more than 17 million moms who are devoted to their families and committed to their careers. Through our website, magazine, research, radio and powerful events, Working Mother provides its readers with the community, solutions and strategies they need to thrive.