Dear Woman Leaving Hospital With Your Newborn Baby Today,
Congratulations! How are you feeling? Bit sore down in the old nether regions no doubt? Despite the full face of expertly applied make-up, the Oscar-party-ready hair, the red Jenny Packham swing dress and the small nude heels, Kate’s pretty much in the same boat, although I know it probably doesn’t feel that way. She had no choice but to get all dressed up – how else could she face the world’s media? Can you imagine having to get all dolled up hours after vagina Armageddon? I can’t.
I admire Kate; Christ knows, if she left hospital wearing zero make-up with a greasy, I’ve-just-sweated-my-ass-off-getting-this-baby-out-of-my-fanny hairdo, yoga pants and Converse, can you imagine the shit she’d get? Go, Kate, I say. And I mean it – she had no choice but to get all glammed up and wear a small heel (Christ, a small heel, seven hours after giving birth – gah). Does that mean to say you have to? No. And I wish someone had told me that.
Even after no sleep for three days straight, I still applied and reapplied mascara like my life depended on it
On 12 July 2011, I gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy. Whipped out of the sunroof, I stayed in hospital for three days on account of being stitched up and unable to move. Each morning, in hospital, I’d slather my face in make-up, squoosh dry shampoo in my hair and wash my underarms, because I believed if I had my ‘game face’ on, everyone would look at me and think, ‘Oh, Stacey’s doing well.’ Even after no sleep for three days straight, I still applied and reapplied mascara like my life depended on it.
My body was supposed to ‘zip’ back into shape. It refused
Back home, everything looked the same – the dog, the sofa, the cups in the cupboard – except I’d just birthed a human and I didn’t know who the fuck I was any more. My body was supposed to breastfeed this human. It refused. My body was supposed to ‘zip’ back into shape. It refused. My mind was supposed to stay completely focused on this gorgeous little baby. It refused. I felt so lost I spiralled. Then I spiralled some more. Delusional social services could read my mind – I convinced myself they were about to take my baby away. Then, one day, I hid the knives. That’s when I went to the doctor.
In therapy, on happy pills and in pregnancy jeans and smock tops for 10 months wasn’t exactly how I’d envisaged my maternity leave. I look back now and wonder whether the pressure I put myself under to look good had a negative impact on my mental health. (Answer: yes.) Prior to giving birth, I imagined myself sitting on a picnic blanket in Hyde Park on a sunny day. I imagined myself smiling, tickling the tummy of my precious new baby for hours. I imagined wearing a floaty sundress. I imagined I’d see endless friends and read books while he napped. In reality, I lay in a dark room with an air-conditioning unit switched on full blast, staring at the ceiling, while my partner did the night feeds.
Looking back on that time is still very painful for me and I cried writing this today. I feel so sad I didn’t enjoy being at home with the baby I loved. And although I had no control over what was happening to me on a chemical level, I wish I’d given myself a break, wish I’d put down the make-up, dropped the ‘breastfeeding under a tree wearing a wide-brimmed hat’ fantasy and just enjoyed hunkering down with my baby. I wish…
You can do this, and if you can’t, you are not a failure, you are not alone – tell someone, get help
So, Dear Woman Leaving Hospital With Your Newborn Baby Today, forget the red dress, the small heel, the glorious blow-dry, the make-up, the putting on a good show. Lock the doors, switch off your phone, be in the moment as much as you can and enjoy the comfort that is an elasticated waistband as it stretches across your recovering belly. (You may never wear a pair of jeans so comfy ever again, so make the most of pregnancy denim while you can, I say!) You’ve got this, and if you haven’t, you are not a failure, you are not alone – tell someone, get help. The red dress can wait.