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Are You Better Off Not Hearing Those Labour Horror Stories?

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

31/07/2017 3:47 PM AEST | Updated 31/07/2017 3:52 PM AEST
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Are you sure there's only one in there?

'I had such bad morning sickness I lost 12 kilograms and was hospitalised twice.'

'My friend had pre-eclampsia and was on bed rest in hospital for two months. But you're young, I'm sure that won't happen to you.'

'I was so scared of pooping on the table it was all I focused on during labour. I dilated really quickly, nobody knew I was ready and when my baby came out I started crying because I thought it was a poo. But, it was actually Jonathon.'

I was just a 25-year-old woman who had recently quit my job as a journalist in Sydney to move to a regional city and start a life with my boyfriend of seven years.

Harley and I found a little house to rent at a price that made my Sydney friends cry. I landed a great job in radio. We even bought two little alpacas -- all part of our new carefree lifestyle.

Two months into our adventure I realised my period was late. I didn't feel any stress, there was no way I was pregnant. I went with my work colleague, Kate, on our lunch break and got a test, purely to rule it out. While on our walk we saw a woman pushing a newborn in a pram. She pointed and said: "Haha, that's gonna be you!" We had a good laugh.

Later that afternoon Netflix sent me an email saying: 'We have a new movie you might be interested in -- 'What to Expect When You're Expecting'.' I showed Kate and again, we had a good laugh. I went home and the next thing I know I'm sitting on the toilet looking at a big-blue cross. I suddenly sympathised with Ross on 'Friends', who discovered too little too late that condoms only work 99 percent of the time.

I sat and listened, gob smacked, as she described in vivid detail the violent way her son exited her body. The intense contractions, the nurse who had never done an episiotomy before, the stitches afterward... All of it.

I went to dinner with my girlfriends a couple of days after Harley and I found out. Nobody suspected a thing when I casually turned down a glass of wine and didn't cut myself a piece of the camembert cheese, despite how delicious it looked.

One of the girls there had an 11-month-old son and we were talking about the cheeky things he had been getting up to recently. Somehow the conversation turned to her horrible birthing experience. I sat and listened, gob smacked, as she described in vivid detail the violent way her son exited her body. The intense contractions, the nurse who had never done an episiotomy before, the stitches afterward... All of it.

Of course, nobody knew I was suffering through the story, imagining myself in that position, as I hadn't told them I was pregnant. But it made me wonder -- is it better to talk about these things, or is ignorance really bliss?

Many people think the etiquette is to keep their horror stories to themselves. The inner voice says 'she doesn't want to hear that, it will only scare her.' Others believe it's all part of life and it should be shared so women can arm themselves with knowledge about 'how it really goes down.'

I was definitely on 'Team Ignorance' during those first 12 weeks. I think I was still in denial that this was really happening to me. I tried to read the NSW Health issued pregnancy book, which starts with a list of 'Words to Know'. I could only get through the first two pages. Between ectopic pregnancy, postpartum hemorrhage and vacuum extraction I started to feel a sense of despair. I couldn't even get through the glossary without wanting to run away, I was going to be a terrible mother.

I didn't believe in the 'wait until the end of the first trimester before telling people rule.' I wanted my family to share in our excitement and I couldn't contain it from my friends whom I tell everything. So, of course the stories and tidbits of advice came thick and fast:

'Buy some ginger tea, it helps with the nausea.'

'Read lots of books. Knowledge is power.'

'Don't read baby books! It will just stress you out and you can't control anything anyway.'

'Get a body pillow. You'll never have sex again but it's totally worth it.'

People were only trying to help by preparing me for what was to come, I can see that now. But hormones can do funny things to the brain and, when they're mixed with anxiety about your parenting skills, plus a sense of impending doom about what the state of your lady parts will be in a couple of months after you've delivered this watermelon, it's already too much for some people to handle.

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I like to consider myself a practical person with a strong stomach, but sometimes the only way to cope is to keep yourself in the dark. And that is okay! The biggest lesson I learnt in those early weeks of my pregnancy was this -- pregnant women need to do what feels right for them, to do whatever they can to keep their sanity and sometimes that means throwing practicality out the window.

So, when people started their stories with: 'You may not want to hear this but...' I made sure to shut it down instantly by saying: 'I'm sorry but if you're thinking I don't want to hear it, you're probably right.'

By the end of the first trimester Harley and I had restructured our life plan to include this little bundle of joy. We had always planned on children, this was just a bit sooner than we had initially thought.

I had reached the point where I could focus on how lucky we were. We would have our own little human, half me and half him, which I had to admit was something I had always dreamed about. I was hoping it would be more 80 percent Harley and 20 percent me, my temperament in a baby was a little scary to contemplate.

Then came the 12-week ultrasound. Harley reached over to hold my hand as the gel went onto my belly. I was so focused on the machine and my tummy, I wasn't looking at the screen the moment the image popped up. The sonographer's eyes went wide and she smiled. Then she started laughing. Then Harley started laughing. I looked at them both very confused. How could this possibly be a 'laugh out loud' moment? What the hell have I missed?

Then she looked at me and said... 'Do twins run in the family?'

To which I replied 'Are you f****** kidding?'

And suddenly I was on 'Team Knowledge'.

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