I am going to dispel a myth. The pain does not end when labour does.
Recently I was bedridden with acute bronchitis. It was agonising and I was incapacitated for days. As I lay in bed, wondering when the pain would end, I thought back to a defining moment in hospital after my first baby was born.
I remember, 24 hours postpartum, weeping in excruciating pain whilst feeding my baby. It felt like I was experiencing labour all over again. “Oh they’re just the afterpains,” the midwife said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your uterus is contracting again, just like during labour. It shouldn’t last more than a few days”. And then she was gone. I felt like I’d been had. As if 30 plus hours of uterine contractions wasn’t bad enough, I now had to endure more of them. Everyone had told me that as soon as labour ends, so too does the pain. They had lied.
When women experience childbirth you often hear them say “there’s no greater pain”, and at the time this is true. But contractions are just the beginning when it comes to pain associated with children. You don’t know it then, but there are tougher scenarios waiting to test your resolve on the other side. So, what’s worse than labour?
1. Being sick with kids
As every mother knows, being sick with kids is no picnic. In fact it’s just about the worst possible combination you can imagine. I endured a week of feeling dreadful whilst continuing to breastfeed my 6-month-old and look after my other two toddlers. Like labour, I thought it would never end. It got me thinking about childbirth and how, as long and intense as it can be, it rarely goes on for more than 24 hours.
A common cold is shocking when you have children. Most likely they are sick at the same time and you are dispensing medicine as frequently as you are wiping noses and changing nappies. Gastro is another world of pain altogether for a mother. When one can hardly find time to go to the toilet in private on a good day, it is particularly horrendous with gastro and other intestinal ailments. I would rather go through childbirth than endure another bout of gastro with small kids.
2. A hangover with kids
Common sense should prevail, but sometimes doesn’t. After 40 pregnant weeks and several months of breastfeeding-induced abstinence, every mum feels she is entitled to get reacquainted with her drink of choice. But she will also be reunited with an unforgiving hangover. After my reunion with sparking wine, I vividly remember begging my husband not to go to work and leave me alone with our baby, as I had been foolish enough to consume my poison on a weekday. It was a day of physical and emotional torture, and it passed by at glacial speed. At least with childbirth I had the option of an epidural.
3. Air travel with kids
Remember the days when air travel meant watching movies, reading a book and devouring the tray of food that magically appeared every few hours regardless of whether you like it. The only issues were the lack of leg space or difficulty in grabbing the flight attendant for another piccolo of wine.
My latest long haul flight was a 3-hour plane trip to Port Douglas. Before children, I wouldn’t haven’t classified this as ‘long haul’ but with the addition of the drive to the long term car park, bus to the terminal, delay at the gate, taxiing for what seemed an interminable amount of time on the runway, a few hours in the air, and the whole process repeated on the other side, it certainly seemed long haul. Door to door it took about 15 hours. I did this with two under three and pregnant with my third. Admittedly, this doesn’t even come close to the brave individuals who actually take legitimate long haul flights with kids and venture across entire oceans. If all goes to plan, the flight will be torture. The addition of sick children, blocked ears and flight delays would most certainly classify this as worse than labour. No doubt about it.
4. Toddler tantrums
You know things are bad when you consider going to hospital to give childbirth a welcome relief from a day at home with your toddlers. This is how I felt 6 months ago just before my third child arrived. At breaking point with my 17-month-old daughter, I was desperate for contractions to begin so that I had a justifiable reason to escape to the hospital. I can genuinely say that my 8 hour labour was less traumatic than enduring yet another onslaught of toddler tantrums. With the exception of a few primal screams at the tail end of labour, it was relatively peaceful and calm. An atmosphere I had not experienced in a long time.
* First published on iVillage.