An anonymous letter to a friend who is about to become a mother

My dear friend. We met yesterday. You were full of baby! Your husband was already proud as a daddy can be. Oh, my lovely friend, I can’t believe that you’re going to be a mother in just a few weeks. It is wonderful. I love your fresh attitude to buying things for baby (as in you haven’t)… I love the fact that you’re trusting God to provide. I love the fact that you’re praying for a short labour. A ‘3 hour labour’ I think you said, ‘like the hale and hearty Hebrew women of old’ you said… or something like that… which bible were you reading?

I didn’t reply when you said that. Well, you know I’m an honest person. That’s why we’re such good friends. We can be absolutely honest with each other. You’re like a sister to me! I was actually dumbstruck, lost for words. I didn’t want to knock your confidence, or scare you, or denounce your faith. But… please listen to some advice from someone who’s been through pregnancy and labour, with and without complications. Please listen to someone who spent several years swapping horror birth stories with fellow mums (you’ll do it too, soon enough!). Please, please listen to someone who knows that there are many mothers, the world over, who pray for an easy labour… and who don’t have one. Some say it’s part of the Fall. Who am I to say? I hope, with all my heart, that you are blessed with an easy labour and a perfectly safe delivery. But, please, consider what I have to say:

1. You’re past your 30th week. You need to get some baby things ready. Things like clothes and nappies, at least. Some babies arrive on time, but quite a few are early. I know you’re planning to move house soon, but please – the last thing you want to be worrying about when you’ve just given birth (I’ll get to that in a minute) is simple things like clothes, bedding, nappies, cotton wool, a Moses basket. Just a few simple things needn’t take up much room.

2. Please, please get your hospital bag ready. I hope you don’t have to use it until you’re 40 weeks gone, but you might, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you have to go to the hospital in a rush without your own personal things. When you’re in the pain of labour you won’t be nipping to Tesco to get maternity pads, or breast pads, or deodorant! You don’t want your husband, who will likely be somewhat shell-shocked himself (and possibly exhausted… we’ll get to that soon), leaving you right after the birth to fetch your nightie and toothbrush, do you? Believe me, with babies, and with children in general, a little bit of planning goes a looooong way.

3. You said you had made no birth plan <cough, splutter> no birth plan! You’re just going to keep praying for that miraculous 3 hour labour, right? Honey, sweetheart, my dear, lovely friend – I don’t want to burst your bubble, but giving birth is the opposite of bursting a bubble. Bursting bubbles is instant. And painless. You’re having your first baby in your forties. This means labour is likely to be harder for you. I hope it won’t be. I was in my early 20s when I had my first child, and despite the first labour being a ‘good’ labour, it was still 21 hours. 21 hours for a ‘good’ labour, a ‘textbook’ labour… With my next child I had to have an emergency caesarean and nearly bled to death (no exaggeration). I thank God for the doctors who saved my life and that of my darling Fluff. Nonetheless, these things happen. I’ve known of some women who are in labour for days and, my lovely, I don’t want to stick my razor into your happy, pregnancy-hormone-infused ideas of what your labour and delivery are going to be, but please do consider all your options beforehand, so that at least if things don’t turn out to be the miraculous 3 hours you hope for, you have some idea of what choices you’d like to make. The worst thing would be to be in a position where you’re in so much pain and you don’t know what you do and don’t want because you haven’t thought about it.

4. This is so important I’ll say it again: please, make a birth plan! And even if you don’t need it, you’ll have the security of knowing that no matter what happens, you are prepared. Do you want drugs? If so, which? Epidural? Pethidine? Gas and air? Whale music? Would you prefer an episiotomy or would you prefer to tear, if necessary? Would you be prepared to have stitches if you do have an episiotomy, or if you tear? Yes, my dear, I am talking about your lady parts tearing apart. It hurts and the stitches hurt too but it’ll be a heck of a lot worse if it all comes as a surprise. There are so many things to consider! Please read the information available. Don’t be scared by it – every birth is different – but don’t walk into something you could have prepared for. Please?

5. …

6. I don’t say any of this to frighten you. I don’t want to distress you! I say these things out of love and concern. I am trying to give you and your blissfully happy, so-ready-to-be-a-daddy husband a way of not being overwhelmed and possibly, ultimately, traumatised. Watch some birth videos together on youtube (I haven’t looked for any but I’d hazard a guess that someone, somewhere has filmed themselves through the gruelling hours of labour and the torn in two pain of delivery.

7. I love you. I can’t wait to meet your little one. Baby will turn your world upside down, He or she will profoundly affect the space-time continuum such that there will be suddenly half as many hours in a day as there used to be… and half as many hours of sleep, too, for the next few years months. But you will look into your baby’s eyes and – as if by magic – the world will melt away. You will be lost in the little nose, the perfect eyes, the beautiful baby smell, the tiny fingers, utterly, utterly lost… Just wait till baby learns to smile; your heart will melt over and over! You will learn more of God, and more of yourself, when you’re a mother. You will have strength you never knew you had. Courage to fight lions, if need be. And at the end of every day, a flushed, pink little face, chest rising and falling, suckling a tiny thumb.

8. Ok, enough of the schmaltzy stuff… raising a child is a wonderful thing, but it ain’t easy. I’ll simplify it, boy scout fashion, to two words:

BE PREPARED.

And be blessed, friend xxx

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