Melissa Allen


Don’t I get to sleep in after I give birth?

Labour day came and I was ready for it. Albeit it was a week before the due date but nevertheless, I was pretty ready.
I had a natural birth planned out, yes it was to be in the hospital but I had my hospital bag fully stacked with all the lovely things. I had lavender to rub on my temples. I had a beautiful soundtrack of music that I had handpicked over the months before the birth. I had dialed in my Calmbirth Course. I had the clear visualizations I planned to use to help with the surges (This was what Calmbirth called contractions or at least they did back then). I had my visualisations all well-practiced and rehearsed. I had my husband at the ready and fully aware of the journey we were about to take. He had planned out that he wanted to “catch” the baby when he arrived into the world.
I had a meticulously mapped out birth plan all ready and photocopied for all the midwives who would support me. I had planned not to have to talk to anyone during the whole birth process so that I could stay in my cocoon of Zen.

As the first surges started I was straightening my hair and my husband asked me if I wanted my hair up or down for the photos. When I think back to that question now I still laugh – it is such an insight into how clueless we both were for what birth is like.
It was amazing and I would do it again in a heartbeat but it wasn’t the type of moment when one gave a shit whether their hair was an ‘updo’ or not hahah! It was more existential than instagramable.

So it was about 11 hours of labour. I spent those hours very active: In the bath, in the shower, dancing around the room, rocking slowly side to side, on all fours, making primal sounds, and then repeated all of those again and again. Eventually, at 5.04am, my gorgeous son was born.  I had my mum sitting behind me while I sat in a birthing stool. My husband in front of me and just as he was about to catch our son in his hands, he perfectly placed a camera to watch that moment unfold. It was idyllic despite the exhaustion and the intensity.

So there I was with my baby in my arms as they stitched me up. I was “that girl” on the birthing ward that had the biggest tear! (I think that is the first time I have won something hahah!). I was absolutely exhausted. The birth had been amazing but I had lost a lot of blood in the process (that isn’t how it is depicted in the huggies commercials).
It was surreal to look at this little new creature that I had birthed into the world. I remember the midwives handing him to me and sliding up the bassinet next to my bed. I remember the silence that came after so much movement inside my body and my psyche. I remember moments of skin to skin and the breastfeeding beginning. That was a lovely first day in the room with my new baby, my partner and my mum altogether.

At some point though, I started to feel confused….resentful even….

I remembered back to all the other huge events I had experienced in my life prior to that moment.
The big nights out on the town. The big romantic evenings up late with a lover. The all nighters when I was studying and meeting university deadlines.  In each of these big events, the moment would finally/eventually come when I would get a chance to sleep – to rest and recover.
There was always a moment of “oh wow that was a big experience but now it is over and I’ll go and have 8 hours of sleep and then a new day will begin.” Then I would fall gently into a deep comatose slumber and in some darkened room. I would wake up without any alarms just when my body naturally felt ready to awaken and then my day would start. It would usually involve lazing in bed for a few hours just being awake but deciding not to do much. This would usually be followed by a meal either cooked for me or cooked in a local café. Then life would start when I was ready for it.

I was soon realising in this moment that “those days” are gone.

Somehow, I had just been birthing for 11 hrs straight and pushed a small human out of my body but I wasn’t getting the 8 hr recovery sleep I yearned for. In the moment when I had used my body to do exactly what it was designed to do, the sleep gift wasn’t coming.  What was wrong with this picture?? How was that step missed?

I had planned every inch of this birth experience but I hadn’t planned on not having a recovery sleep.

Life kicks off with a baby and in our modern culture we don’t support the recovery of the new mum. This is a major design flaw in the birthing process but it is only a flaw in modern, developed countries. It is not the same in other eastern cultures.

Recently I have been reading about the birthing rites and the way communities support the birthing woman.
The modern western culture has failed us. The eastern cultures actually do support the rest, and recovery of birthing women in a variety of beautiful and practical ways.
Women working as a team around the new mumma to enable her to sleep or providing her with special foods and childcare. In some cultures, the new mumma’s sole tasks are to feed the baby, to rest and to eat food to replenish herself. In other cultures, the new mum can spend some weeks in a darkened room just with the baby and no other responsibilities so that she can bond and rest.
We have a lot to learn from these cultures.

There is a reason (many reasons actually) why new parents experience postnatal depletion, one of the first is the exhaustion that we never/rarely get a chance to recover from.
It often starts, as it did for me, on the big birthing day itself.

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