It was the summer of 2013 when I first started to wonder if the ‘perfect birth’ I thought I’d experienced hadn’t actually been that ‘perfect’. My first baby was born a year beforehand – and despite me dreaming about going into labour at home, breathing through the early contractions in a warm bath, and then heading to hospital in a hurry, it just hadn’t happened like that.
No. Instead, my due date came and went. And despite drinking my own body weight in raspberry leaf tea, spending most of my time bouncing on a giant ball, and forcing myself to eat a curry far hotter than was probably sensible, he still didn’t budge and I was eventually booked into hospital for a medical induction.
The birth itself went as well as it could have, but it wasn’t the natural drug-free experience I had imagined. At one point, I had three separate drips feeding into the cannula in my hand. One to keep the contractions coming, another to numb me from the waist down, and another to ensure the fluids in my body were topped up. And then, when I started to vomit from the cocktail of drugs surging around my body, my thigh was stabbed with a syringe containing an anti-sickness drug to join in with the party.
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? But that’s not how I remember it. Not at all.
Louise pregnant with her eldest, Stanley, in 2012 and in January 2014, awaiting the arrival of baby number two, Wilfred.
I remember the calming playlist of songs I had created in my heavily pregnant days. Without pain from the contractions (thanks epidural) I remember chatting and laughing with the midwives, playing a game on my iPad, reading magazines, and tapping messages to family and friends. I remember my husband’s nervously excited face as we were told I was ready to push. I remember the adrenaline rushing around my body as I put every last ounce of energy into pushing. I remember waiting nervously for my baby to cry, before tears of sheer relief, delight, and happiness washed over me when we finally heard his shrieks. And I remember being passed him, staring down at his angry face as he cried, and thinking ‘Here you are! Finally! Here you are!” as I studied his chubby cheeks, delicate eyelashes, and sweet button nose.
It really was perfect.
All of it.
And I fully believed that – until the summer of 2013, that is.
With her little girl, Mabel, in 2016 and Louise's first picture with Wilfred in January 2014.
That was the summer that Kate Middleton and Prince William welcomed their first baby, also a little boy, in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London. I was glued to the television that day, desperate to hear news of the baby – and in the days and weeks that followed, I hungrily devoured every newspaper and magazine report I could find.
And then a few days after he was born, a statement from her obstetrician was released – and reading what he said felt just like I had been punched in the stomach:
“The Duchess of Cambridge delivered her son perfectly – without recourse to any powerful painkillers.”
It was the word ‘perfectly’ that stung – because suddenly, my birth didn’t seem quite as perfect as I remembered. When my medically induced contractions ramped up, I hadn’t hesitated to ask for an epidural. I hadn’t felt like I was cheating at the time, nor that I was letting my baby down – but suddenly I had doubts. “Should I have refused the induction? Should I have waited longer at home?” and “Should I have just screamed through the pain, knowing it was better for both of us?”
I thought long and hard that summer – but already pregnant with my second baby, I had to shut it out of my mind. And when that second baby refused to come naturally too (my babies are clearly way too comfortable to ever want to leave early), I once again checked into hospital for an induced and heavily medicated birth.
One that was, if possible, even more perfect than the first.
From left: newborn Stanley in 2012, newborn Wilfred in 2014 and newborn Mabel in 2016
It was that second birth that snuffed out any remaining doubts in my mind about ‘perfection’, silencing that royal obstetrician’s words with another arrival that was as gentle, calm, and special as I could have hoped for.
And by the time I was pregnant with my third baby three years later, it didn’t bother me one bit when she decided to hang on until the last minute like her brothers. Fashionably late, but wonderful nevertheless.
My births were medicated, yes – but they were still magical.
And to me, that’s perfection.