The Vagenda

I’m An Ex-Brixton Party Girl, and No One Told Me Having A Baby Would Be Like This


I’m an ex-Brixton party girl. I’m an ex-convent girl from Sussex. I’m also, rather boringly, an ex-Project Manager.

What I am now is a Stay At Home Mum. But I feel more like a litany of exes.

I am, quite frankly, grieving ‘me’. I want me back – I liked me. I treated me well, took me places, did exciting things, never judged me; always allowed me to do whatever I wanted no matter how frivolous or ridiculous. I always liked the outfits me came up with too.

Thing is, stuff happens during birth, pregnancy and new motherhood that feels a little bit like you’ve been in the trenches of no-man’s-land dodging bullets when you thought you were just in the queue for a gurgling, podgy baby. The shock of this has changed ‘me’. She is different now.

Talking to a few mums who have had difficult or traumatic births, they all say the same: the rollercoaster of emotions post-birth feels similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – because they just weren’t expecting what happened to them, to happen.

Some women do have complication-free labours followed by luminously healthy babies that sleep through the night early on – they get that gurgling podgy baby dream. But at the other end of the spectrum are women that get ripped to shreds during labour and then are kept up all night for the next two years. Currently, antenatal classes tend to focus on the former, leaving the latter to enter the aforementioned no-man’s-land with the barest equipment to help them. And that’s about as helpful as a paintball gun in an all out war.

I remember during my antenatal class, under the guidance of the teacher, writing a list of what I would need to support me during labour: ‘Candles,’ I listed, ‘A calm playlist for the iPod,’ and then finished the whole thing up with, ‘A nightgown that will preserve a little bit of dignity and still look OK in the photos after.’ I look back on that list puzzled by the innocent creature that wrote it. I finished up in that delivery room naked and caked in blood from my waist to my toes. No one will ever see that photo. In it, I have the look of a wild animal that’s been caught in a trap and then sawn free; it chills me every time I look at it.

We need to do more about this. It’s not fair to send women marching down their line armed only with candles and birth plan wish lists. I’m not talking about scaring them with horror stories, but being pragmatic and arming them with information that they really need might be a start.

For example, what I needed in my maternity bag was some serious kit: Sitz bath granules to help heal stitches, maternity pads to soak up blood, arnica to reduce swelling, pile cream to help my sore bottom, prunes to avoid constipation, strategies to deal with the horrors of sleep deprivation – and the list goes on. Instead I had to turn to the internet to provide me with the information and signposting to resources that I needed. And considering that browsing the internet for medical information isn’t traditionally acknowledged to be the best idea, this really wasn’t ideal.

I also needed to know, at that time, that I wasn’t alone. That it wasn’t that my experience was unique in its awfulness. The pre-birth propaganda (as I like to call it in my motivational speeches) doesn’t so much cover what you need to know as what you all hope will happen. I mean, maybe some people get to light those wretched candles and enjoy the sweet sound of melancholia permeating Bon Iver’s second album, but I’ve not met anyone yet. Doesn’t that tell you something?

Then there’s the baby to manage. Even if your body is failing you, you must be able to detect and manage colic, baby sleep habits and reflux, and know how to breastfeed – to name just a few. All of which are bewildering if you’ve never met them before. We’re making great strides in supporting breastfeeding, but what about the other issues? What about post-natal classes for mums that actually cover this stuff so we don’t all end up weeping into our keyboards and desperately trying to find the answers on Mumsnet forums at 3am? What about even making mention of the psychological impacts of having a baby – of missing your former self and your former life, even while you love the child that you have made? What about making your natural grieving period for that life OK, and normal, and accepted?

Childbirth is, in reality, pitted with risks, but we are lucky enough to live in an age where there is medical intervention to see us through. Parenting is very much the same, even if the risks then are more emotional than physical (although a toddler taking a flying leap at the right angle can and will bruise your ribs.) We need to talk about this stuff, and prepare for it. It needs to be a stop point on the pathway to motherhood, so that we don’t end up lost in the wilderness with a screaming child the minute we’ve pushed it out of us.

Personally, I would much rather have come home to all the equipment I really needed to bring me back to physical and psychological health, rather than unlit Jo Malone candles and a freezer full of lasagne. Wouldn’t you?


26 thoughts on “I’m An Ex-Brixton Party Girl, and No One Told Me Having A Baby Would Be Like This

  1. This is one of the reasons that SureStart centres were (and, where still open, are) so amazing. Staffed by trained professionals to whom you can turn with any problems, my lcoal one has been more amazing than my health visitor, who I didn’t see once my daughter and I were signed off after the birth. It’s why I’m so livid that the centres have been so savagely cut. There is precious little resource out there (that isn’t online) for people who don’t live near their family. For anyone reading this that needs this kind of help – exploit your health visitor, midwife, GP’s surgery, local childrens’ centre (if you still have one) and Baby Cafe (again, if you have one) for all they’re worth.
    And about mourning that “old you” – you’re not alone here either – I love my baby more than I can ever have imagined. An all encompassing, physically palpable, almost-painful love that I still cannot comprehend. But I miss how I was before I became a mum, and I miss the lifestyle I was able to lead. But sometimes the only way to acknowledge this is to whisper it to myself, at night, under the dark of the bedcovers while my husband sleeps. I wish more people understood that.

  2. I HEAR YOU!
    I could have written this post myself. It really, really chimes with my experience. (I’m typing this with a nine week old strapped to my chest).
    I think there are still a lot of taboos around pregnancy, birth and living with a baby. it’s hard to admit you’re not loving it all the time. It’s hard to get the truth out of people about what it’s really like. And it is just simply really, really hard to live with a baby. but no one seems to want to say it.
    There are feminist aspects to all of this – the strength of the happy mother image, the secrecy surrounding women’s bodies, the way birth has been taken away from women and become this medicalised thing that leaves so many women deeply traumatised, the lack of the kind of support you talk about. In a way it’s harder being a feminist and going through all of this, because you are aware of how un-empowered you feel.
    I dont know if it’s any comfort to you to know you are not alone. All I can say is that I really identify with a lot of what you wrote about.

    Two things: in “Misconceptions”, Naomi Wolf writes about her sense of losing her self when she was pregnant. I read it on a train when I was seven months pregnant and I wanted to stand up in the carriage and shout: “this! This is what I’m talking about!”

    And this:

    Thanks for telling it like it is for you, and all power to you.

  3. I do wonder: if we knew all this beforehand, would it really help? I read every birth story out there before my son and still nothing prepared for the sheer brutality of giving birth. And in the days (months!) after he was born, I remember thinking that people always fixate on the birth, but *this* was much worse, but struggling to articulate why it was so damn hard.

    But what I do think needs to happen is for society to be a bit kinder to new mums and look after them a bit more. Somehow we’re all expected to be up and about looking great after a couple of days. Just feeling a bit ‘tired’.

    • I’ve wondered about it too, but on balance I think being armed with information is more useful than not knowing. Basic things, for example how to look after stitches and also knowing some of the risks, such as the risk of a prolapse, which is the real reason women need to do pelvic floors.

    • It made/makes a HUGE difference for me. I chose not to have children for many of the reasons mentioned on this page. Also for other reasons not mentioned.

      I do think women and men need to really question their decision to have children and need as much information as possible. If you end up having them great, if you end up child-free great too.

  4. I was severely told off by my older sister for telling a friend about some of the realities of childbirth – as though non-mothers are too delicate to know the truth.
    I also have a theory that if we all had more help/info about new babies, there would be less ‘postnatal’ depression. There’s no doubt PND exists but I think some people are ‘just’ reactively depressed due to exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy.

    • Goodness that story rings true! I was in an environment with a lots of ex-pat women in a foreign country and spent countless hours with them and their children. I was one of three that didn’t have children in a group of about 15. The mums were so careful around us for so long and we insisted we could handle their birthing stories or their Gina Ford stories or the breakdown of their relationship stories or the loss of their career and identity stories. And I’m pleased they trusted us to let us in on the reality of it all.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this! This article really resonated with my experience. My son is nearly 3 years old and I am only beginning to feel like my ‘old self’ after struggling with postnatal depression since his birth. I agree that society needs to re-evaluate its treatment and expectations of new mums. When my gran had her children you stayed in hospital for a week. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay that long but at least it acknowledged the physical toll of childbirth. My husband and I find our antenatal classes laughable now. I agree that women should be better informed of the realities of childbirth and child rearing.

    • I truly don’t want to appear rude or snide as this is a genuine question – but when you say that society and needs to re-evaluate it’s treatment and expectations of new mums and that women need to be better informed of the realities of childbirth and child rearing – I wonder what responsibility you have in that? Having and raising children, I’m told, is the most important thing anyone will ever do in their lives so why would one go in so blindly? Surely we aren’t short of people to ask what it’s like or what to expect?

      Thanks for reading.

  6. We need to tell our truth to those who ask. Girls and women need honest accounts of the good and the not so good that comes from choosing to have babies, so that when their turn comes they really are making an informed choice. Society needs to grasp the nettle that proper care for parents and babies costs money and to see this money as an investment in it’s next generations health and well being. It also supports parents at the start of their new chapter so they grow to feel capable, seen, heard and appreciated.
    On a lighter note, you are asking 1 or 2 people to take in a complete stranger, who has ,in exiting one of the people changed intimate parts of their landscape from national trust flower bed to view of the Somme.( Note to those who think analogy not PC, blood: yes, screaming: yes, changes everything irrevocably: yes, wishing you could change your mind and go home:yes.) This stranger, whom you have screamed and bled for,doesn’t speak your language yet, is incontinent, demanding as hell, keeps to an erratic schedule, wails and cries to communicate their needs, has the attention span of a goldfish and wants everything right now. And we wonder why parents feel slightly overwhelmed!.

  7. I really felt for the author of this well written piece.

    I think that much of the enshrouding of the ‘realities’ of childbirth and being a parent in mystery is done in order to perpetuate people continuing to stick to the societal norm of having children.

    Also, most people find that when faced with the reality of say a childbirth film, or on hearing how their best friend has been made incontinent by childbirth or discovered that their sister, after 5 rounds of IVF that were soul destroying, got pregnant, had a baby and then fell into chronic, chronic post natal depression, would simply say to themselves, “oh, that’s a shame, but I’m sure it won’t happen to me.”

    This image of motherhood as some life pinnacle is dangerous, as well as the idea that anyone can do it – easily, it hurts people. Information about the reality of it should be accessible, especially about breastfeeding if people do have babies, it’s not as easy as it seems!

    If people were more honest about how brutal having a child was, it would quite possibly, put many people off and, I think that may not actually be a bad thing given that the affects of growing up with a depressed mother who can’t cope or the impact that poverty and stress can have on the relationships between parents can push them to breaking point and make for a very difficult life.

    Children can be a wonderful thing for people, sure, but it’s not essential to being happy but I am yet to find a mother who would ever admit that perhaps not having children would have been a better plan because quite frankly, who could live with that acknowledgement for twenty years whilst they are forced to pour all their emotional and economic resources into parenting?

    There is a bit of brainwashing that needs to go on regarding having children in order not to resent the lack of freedom and how hard it really is and so women are reluctant to admit the downsides or to humorise them, “Oh, I haven’t been alone for five months/years, I’m looking forward to when school starts/going back to work so I can go to the toilet/bathe on my own, huh, huh!” – that’s not comedy, that’s making light of a reality that I’m not sure many people really want to go through if they think about it.

    But instead of telling men and women about having kids really, really entails and the possible downsides of becoming a parent, we all pretend it’s bloody marvellous and turn it into one upmanship on who is the most tired, that’s not helping anyone.

    More people speaking up, like EW really would help alot of folk.

  8. I’m currently overdue-pregnant, and I’m honestly terrified about life AFTER birth. I’m expecting birth to be pretty much horrific, but that’s a day or two or three. What I’m expecting to be REALLY horrific is the early months. I’m terrified of being at home alone with it, I’m terrified of my partner not understanding what my days are really like as he skips off out the door to carry on his normal life, I’m terrified of the expectations of other regards my ability to get over birth quickly and cheerfully and of course being sleep deprived for ever. I lost myself the minute I saw the ‘Pregnant’ word on the pregnancy test, I’m hoping that I get a semblance of me back to help me deal with the parts of my new life I’m terrified about. The old me would have seen it as a challenge.

    If one more person tells me that I’ll lose interest in my job and career the minute the baby arrives, I might scream.

    Thanks for writing this down, I ‘knew’ it before by putting together the experiences of my very open friends, but it’s nice to see it written in one honest account.

  9. Thanks for your article! Me, too, I was not prepared for the things to happen to me and my body during and after childbirth. I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I remember that I kept on worrying about the “After Baby Body” I was heading to. Little did I know. My looks were not a problem at all: I pretty much immediately looked just as I had looked before pregnancy. Had I been a model before, I could easily have strutted the catwalk again only three months after my baby had been born. However. I would have strutted them with milk-soaked shirts – no pad would help – and farting loud and incontrolable farts from my back as well as from my lady parts. Having ripped open during labour, I had completely lost control over that sections of my body. Nobody prepared me for THAT.
    It’s become much better now, but I am still not as in control as I used to be. Also, I am still advised not to go running yet, as my pelvic floor still can’t handle the agitation, either. Needless to say I can’t go to my old martial arts classes anymore, either.
    I should add that my child has just turned three years old.
    Nobody had told me that the phase in which you can’t sleep through because of your child can easily last for 1,5 years and more. And best of it: All the other mothers but one did not seem to have that much of a problem with it! Only now did I catch one of the “Oh no, my baby sleeps through the night! I get enough sleep!”-mothers from back then muttering something about the painful sleep deprivation she used to suffer from. It is a mystery to me why she could not admit that back then.
    And as for the litany of exes: There is nothing to add. I felt exactly the same way. It’s become better now I have a job again, still, there are a lot of hobbies I used to have and that have simply been replaced by being a mother.
    I love my child with all my heart. I thank heavens for his existence every single day. I would go through everything again for him. But it’s unfair that nobody ever mentions that there is a price to all that luck.

  10. This article has both terrified me and reassured me all at once. I’m 18 weeks pregnant and all the books are just telling me how to breathe and then suddenly then they jump straight to how to breastfeed. They make me assume it’ll all be a brilliant, calm experience which I should “enjoy”.

    But in the back of my mind I keep thinking, but what if it DOES go wrong? What do I need to know, who can I turn to? This is what childbirth classes should cover – and they should be pre and post birth to help everyone adjust.

    I want the horror stories so I can be prepared – if it happens to me, at least I’ll understand what’s happening and not be in a blind panic wondering where my soothing music has gone!

  11. I couldn’t agree more on the need to prepare pregnant women (and partners) for the realities of birth. My nct class was all candles, massage and breathing. What tosh! I really recommend hiring a doula birthing partner, she has seen much more of birth, and can advocate your wishes with the hospital staff (I got fed up repeating the birth plan to the revolving door of midwives.. ). Mine was great support in a traumatic birth. Agree on more info about practical help for stitches, blood loss, anaemia etc would also be a good idea. I love my son to bits but the trauma of birth caught me out, despite having read multiple pregnancy books. I tell it like it was , I don’t want others to have the same induction horror that I did , I just wish I had known more before I got to hospital…

  12. Thank you so much for writing this. 3 years ago I had an emergency c section. No one told me what it would be like, how frightening it would be or most importantly that it was okay. I left the hospital feeling like a failure, unable to give birth to my own child. I had problems breastfeeding because of the pain afterward. I felt like i was a failure. My body had failed to do what it was meant to. And to top it off I found myself alone with my baby all day isolated and left to brood while everyone got on with their lives. I suffered horrible pnd which really finished me off. Eventually I broke down and just gave up. Looking back I would have done anything for someone to just say that feeling like that was okay. That I wasnt a freak. If we were all a little more honest I wouldnt find myself sitting in the park looking at all the other mommies and wondering why I was so bad. Now I know its hard for all of us and we should share it to support each other

  13. I have a 6 month old baby, and can absolutely relate to this piece.

    Pre-pregnancy, I fell on the way to work and limped in with blood running down my leg and a big scrape – I was greeted with satisfying high drama and given celebrity treatment for the day. However, recounting a twelve hour labour, the pain of childbirth and 3rd degree stitches didn’t even warrant a remark – or worse, was greeted with ‘oh, it was fine then’. I just don’t understand why women are expected to breeze through such massive physical acts without comment, when everything else in life is treated so differently.

    HOWEVER, I strongly believe that rather than further information about the horrors of childbirth and providing lists of what can ‘go wrong’ – which the piece and comments above concentrate on – the focus should be to give women the confidence and ‘tool kit’ to deal with the unknown journey their childbirth will take them on and how they’ll choose to react and respond to that. Each woman’s birthing experience is so different, no-one can fully prepare us for what is ahead. Hypnobirthing (an accessible practice, increasingly accepted by mainstream midwifery) emphasises women’s intrinsic instinct and ability to birth their baby, provided they are given the skills, time and support. But the feeling is that when you start warning women about what can go wrong, confidence is lost and the experience is taken out of the mother’s control and further medicalised, and this is something I really resonate with.

    I have thought long and hard about why my birthing experience affected me so profoundly, why I’m finding motherhood so hard, and where the overwhelming feeling of ‘why didn’t anyone tell me?’ came from. And I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m alone in my conclusion: I feel hard done by. I feel hard done by because you simply can’t prepare for it, and when it doesn’t go to plan there are no protective safety barriers – no job description or appeal tribunal when something unfair happens. You can’t make demands of anyone else – ‘how can I possibly be expected to perform when I wasn’t adequately prepared?’ – because there is no-one accountable but you. As a contemporary woman who can be pretty demanding, having no-one to be demanding of is a massive culture shock.

    Thanks EW for a brilliant article that really got me thinking.

  14. Hear,



    Thank you for writing this.

    Read Rachel Cusk’s – A life’s work. [When, you know, you have your brain back. in 2 years or so].

    Every time I send a congratulations card to a new mom I want to write ‘enjoy your time together’. And every time I check myself. Because I remember how totally untrue that rang in my own birth-aftermath.

    I think we wish people the enjoyment that we would like them to have – that we ourselves missed out on. But we should get over that myth. Yes, it has amazing moments. But the whole thing is more like an endurance race across a desert or mountain range: having to push yourself whilst teetering on the edge of existence – with an occasional breathtaking moment.

    Thank you, again, for writing.

  15. I always think it’s unfair that so many mums go back to work just when their children are getting more interesting and less exhausting. I would have given anything to be given a ‘break’ in the office when my daughter was a few months old. It is exhausting dealing with a crying, puking child all day by yourself (not that everyone has one of these, but these lucky mums are those you see out in restaurants, looking like a baby is just an optional extra to their life. I wondered why I couldn’t achieve this for many months, and asked what was wrong with me, and where was I failing).

    I actually blame my mother for given me the wrong impression of early parenthood as she told me word for word, that her house had never been cleaner than in the first few months after birth, and that newborns sleep all day so there’s no excuse for not getting stuff done. I now know she was one of those lucky mums with an amiable child who’ll sleep when they’re tired and murmur a bit when hungry.
    I also now make sure that I never say ‘enjoy every moment’ to mum-to-be friends, as although time does indeed pass quickly and the baby stage is short, it was a saying that contributed to me feeling incredibly anxious and sad that I wasn’t enjoying every moment. In fact, I usually couldn’t wait for the day to end so I might get a bit of a break. Babies are lovely little things, but they are also tiny, opinionated sacks of opinion who can make life REALLY tough for quite a while.

  16. And then of course some babies just die in utero at the last minute and no one ever tells you about that.

    Baby loss awareness week 9th – 15th October

    The secrecy surrounding and focus on birth being a natural thing women have done forever is so dangerous I feel. Women and men are going in unprepared. It’s common for birth partners to suffer post traumatic stress too. I too read loads of birth stories but every single one was censored and edited to make it palatable or kept saying that it didn’t matter how bad it was because there was a baby at the end.

  17. I’ve read a theory that illustrates that marriage, motherhood and pregnancy were initially glorified by men in order to encourage women to yield to the constraining concept of marriage and go on to produce an heir (obviously an outdated motive but still, I think, the reason most women are still made to feel they are obligated to have a baby). Motherhood is also made out to be so special and amazing, the prime purpose of a woman – again to encourage the ‘stay at home mum’ idea, which in turn limits the woman in favour of the husband. Children do not make a woman, though I feel this is the general consensus. I get told by men and by OLDER women (my traditionalist grandma’s mainly) that its odd I don’t want a baby – I’ll possibly succumb to this one day, not because I want one but because I feel judged for having not done. Can anyone whose actually had a baby possibly relate or at least see where this argument is coming from?? What does anyone think??

  18. I could totally cry right now reading this, as it captures everything that I’ve felt and feel. I’ve thought about starting a movement or more appropriately a cult, just for “us”. Do you know, since my c-section, I haven’t been able to feel my left toe – WTF!?! No one tells you about these things, but you my dear have given me the push I needed to do something. I’m on a mission. Thank you.

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