While mums can feel stuck chasing the myth of the perfect birth, life more often than not marches to the beat of its own drum. Here our readers explain how they came to terms with the uncontrollable realities of childbirth and learned to throw any judgement or feelings of failure out the window...
36, from the UK, is a former head teacher and now a stay-at-home mum. Her twins Ella and Caleb, are two, and Isaac is two months
"Giving birth is such a personal experience and for so many of us, choices and decisions are taken out of our hands. My first two children - twins - were born at 33 weeks by emergency caesarean. I hadn't really thought about how it would all come about. In fact, when I told my OBGYN that I hadn't read up on labour, she said, "Don't, when it happens we will make the decisions."
Twin pregnancies and deliveries are different and high risk, so when I found out I was pregnant again with my third child, my OBGYN was encouraging with her reassurance that I could have a VBAC. So even though I was nervous about the pain and contractions, I began reading up on the stages of labour, people's success stories at having a VBAC, and I asked my friends who had recently done this every question imaginable. I hadn't gone as far as to pack a Jo Malone candle and Evian face mist, but maybe mentally I had. It turns out that my baby didn't want to engage, was rather large and ended up coming into the world by C-section too. I was disappointed, maybe I felt cheated by not having my waters break like they do in the movies, but as soon as I went into theatre I began to accept that I had no choice and within minutes of holding my bundle of newborn joy I didn't care. We had both survived the experience and now the adventure would begin.
It's true that there is an invisible birth story hierarchy. I've mostly noticed it with new people I meet at coffee mornings or soft play, and not with my friends. There is definitely a sense of pride if a mother has had a super-quick labour, not noticing the contractions, carrying on with work. I think it's great if you didn't need drugs, it's brilliant if you were in a yoga pose in the birthing pool while being filmed for your blog and I'm certainly not taking away how great your pain threshold and willpower are. Maybe it's our own insecurities that make us doubt if our labour stories are good enough, or maybe we just overshare and feel inadequate because we did need drugs and it did hurt and we are daring to admit it. I guess we need to be gentler to ourselves and appreciate that everyone has their own journey into motherhood and that we are all pretty amazing."
31, from the UK, works full time and is mum to Dylan, aged three, and Finley, two months
"It is something that everyone asks you when you're pregnant: "Are you going to go natural?" I'm aware there is an informal 'point system', but I'm careful to stay neutral, as I think that every birth is different and whatever people choose to do is up to them. Childbirth isn't a joke, no one considers getting root canal done without anaesthetic, so why would pain relief while pushing another human being out of you be any different, and who is anyone to judge you for that? And where are these doctors in hospitals who are so unqualified that they could botch your epidural and leave you paralysed?! I'm all for natural births and I'm slightly in awe of those who have gone through childbirth without any drugs or help, but I'm certainly not going to judge anyone else based on their choices, especially when I had epidurals with both my children and two very different birthing experiences. As for planning the perfect birth, nature has a funny way of shooting all plans out of the water!"
34, from South Africa, is an SEN teacher and educational consultant and currently a stay-at-home mum to Josh, 16, Abigail, five, and Jessica, two
"With my first, I was in labour for 17 hours. I am originally from Africa, a continent where hundreds of women give birth naturally, without medication, without intervention, and it seemed like the natural, obvious thing to do. After being in labour for 17 hours, I just didn't dilate past 4cm and my OBGYN said that it was best to do a C-section. By this time I was full of medication so I can't remember much, but I do remember feeling like a failure after the birth. It felt like my body had let me down. Friends often discuss the births of their children and I do feel that when I say I had a C-section, the response is always the same, "Oh, so there wasn't pain" and "it's a long way to recovery." Yes, there was pain, and yes the recovery was longer, but I did the best that I could do; I really tried. But failed. Giving birth naturally was always a dream to me, the ultimate strength of motherhood, but when things didn't go the way I wanted, I realised that this was how life works, and I had the choice to dust myself off and be the best mother that I could be. This was motherhood!"
34, from the UK, works full time and is mum to Tauri, six, and Summer, one
"I think a lot of women feel a huge amount of pressure to strive for maternal perfection. It's one of the first questions other mums will ask after you've had a baby. Complete strangers will quite willingly ask how you birthed your baby. I vividly remember the feeling of inadequacy and failure when I asked for an epidural with my first-born. I remember my eyes welling up and saying to my husband "I'm sorry I can't do this any longer, I need some help". I honestly felt I had failed. I had planned a natural-drug free birth but in the end, circumstances changed. My little Tauri was born safely and that was our main priority.
The increase in mum-to-be Facebook groups can be a nice place for virtual support and advice, however, be cautious if you are susceptible to comments by the elite superior mummies out there, who like to show they are at the top of the birthing hierarchy. Everyone is different, every baby is different, every birthing situation is different. I was lucky enough to give birth to my second baby the way I had planned. It's great to have a birth plan, but don't be too disappointed if things change. Your goal is to give birth to your baby, however that may be."