From tales of agonised pushing to unbearable pain, the chances are every pregnant woman will hear at least one – often unwanted – birth horror story.
They’re also likely to be told gory pregnancy stories too, often ones including vomiting, violent aversions and more pain. All legitimate areas to discuss – when prompted – but not particularly reassuring when preparing for labour.
Midwife and mum of four daughters Clemmie Hooper is acutely aware of how off-putting these topics can be.
“Women tell me they’d be talking to someone at a party, who would go, ‘I had the worst labour ever’, and a competitive thing of who had the worst time would start,” says Hooper. “If you had a friend who had cancer and was going for chemo, you wouldn’t be like, ‘I know someone that died. All their hair fell out and they were sick and had to give up their job.’ You wouldn’t. You’d probably offer them support and love.”
It’s part of the reason Hooper has written her first book, How To Grow A Baby And Push It Out, where she addresses common anxieties around pregnancy and birth in a big sisterly style, backed up with the experience her career has brought her.
Here, she shares her advice on how to cope with the most common bodily anxieties during pregnancy.
Why do I feel so down about my changing body?
Rather than feeling like it’s a burden or you’re being punished, try to think that your body is growing a whole other human and in order for that to happen, it has to change. Not everyone is a size eight with this bump popped on. Most women get big around the thighs, the hips, the breasts, the back, the arms, because your body is laying down fat stores to feed your baby. You’d never expect an animal to look skinny with a little bump. Can you imagine if an elephant had a tiny little bump?
Is it true that other parts of my body will change during pregnancy?
Your tummy might get hairier. It’s a hormonal thing. Your belly button goes flat as your tummy gets bigger and it might pop out. But again, think about what’s happening to your skin. Your skin is incredible. It’s stretching to allow this baby to grow. You might get stretch marks. You might not.
You feel differently about your body after having a baby. I’ve had four children, of course my body doesn’t look how it did. I’m alright with it because I’m just proud of what my body did. Try and embrace it. It’s a short period of time you’re pregnant and then afterwards, your body changes again and is ready to feed a baby. Women are incredible.
How do I actually massage my perineum?
Just home after a 12 hour shift and I had my first 'catch' since being back ??! Seeing all your photos of my book makes me so happy! All that blood, sweat and tears was worth it so thank you from the bottom of my heart it means so much ? writing a book is not easy (especially with newborn twins) but I'm glad I did. Remember to #howtogrowababyandpushitout or #htgab when posting your book photo ????? #iwroteabook #catchingbabies #midwife #author
No one’s going to make you do it, so if it’s just not for you, fine. But I would say it’s probably a good idea to think about it. There is evidence to suggest massaging does reduce tearing. If you’re in the bath or shower, just have a feel of that piece of skin with your thumbs – about 2-3cm into your vagina – because that’s the bit that has to stretch to allow the baby’s head to come out.
Will my vagina change forever?
In your pregnancy, your vagina often looks a bit darker on the outside and the pigment changes, as do your nipples. After labour, I always advise women who are worried that their vagina looks different to speak to their midwives. You don’t have to get your vagina out. But don’t think there’s something wrong with you because nine times out of 10, there isn’t. It’s normal. It’s just that people aren’t talking about it.
Will I poo myself during labour?
Pooing during labour is really common. My overall feeling is that there are bigger and more important things that happen or can happen in labour than a poo. If you do a poo, we just wipe it and chuck it away, we’re not like, ‘You’ve done a poo! Everyone! She’s doing a poo!’ I do think that women hold back pushing because they’re worried about doing a poo. Just go for it because if you poo when you push, you’re pushing in the right way.
I’m worried I’m wasting my midwife’s time. Should I tell someone how I feel about my body concerns?
Winter holidays where you might have to wear some sort of swim wear makes me a little anxious ????? and I'm not just talking about the cheese/red wine tyre I seem to have developed I mean the dreaded bush situ ⬇️ I went for my annual wax this afternoon at the lovely @kikisalonuk in Herne Hill. Christina also took one look at my eyebrows and waxed them too ?? and then gave me the most amazing facial using @environskincare she really knows her stuff when it comes to skin care and told me exactly why I'm having such awful breakouts ????? anyway she's offering all customers 20% off any treatment if you quote 'mother of daughters' so make time for you this new year (ps this is an actual page from my book all about waxing in pregnancy ?) #supportsmallbusiness #annualbikiniwax #thebushhasbeentamed #holidayprep #onemoresleep
There’s some really bad terminology knocking around. People say, ‘Does it (my vagina) look like a chewed up piece of meat?’ I just think, this is your vagina! We know that psychological damage can take you right into late adulthood. This can affect you when you have sex or go to the loo or even (put you off) having another baby.
One woman was so worried about her stitches that I asked her for a handheld mirror and said we’ll look together and I’ll talk you through it. She looked at me like I was bonkers and kept apologising. I showed her everything and pointed where the stitches were and she was like, ‘It looks fine.’ Women worry more about what it will look like from the outside because you can’t really see the inside of your vagina, but actually, it hasn’t changed that much.
How To Grow A Baby And Push It Out by Clemmie Hooper is published by Vermilion, priced £14.99. Available now.