21st February 2020

Polite responses to impolite questions about giving birth

When you procreate, your body somehow becomes public property. Here’s Samantha Dooey-Miles on how best to dodge those probing questions… 

If you ask me – and you’re not but I’ll ignore that for now – the people who want the nitty gritty, bordering on disgusting details of your labour experience can be split into three groups.

Group 1: Prospective parents who, as yet, do not have their own little bundles of joy and want to know the reality of what becoming a parent is like. Set your mind back, you remember being like them once don’t you? Giddy at the prospect you and the person you love could soon have a little person to love together whilst also terrified you are both not competent enough to look after a whole human for eighteen years. This group, they’re alright. If they ask you questions about getting that beautiful baby of yours out into the world it is almost definitely with the best intentions.

Group 2: People who have no idea they are prying a bit more deeply than you’d like them to. These are the same people who will say to you when you have a bout of hormonal acne no make-up will cover “Look at the size of your spots!” with no inclination this is not ok.

Group 3: Rubberneckers. The kind of people who will slow down to 3mph to gawp at someone changing their tyre on the hard shoulder despite nothing of interest taking place. Imagine how juicy the prospect of you sharing your near death birth experience (people in group three never assume your labour went well) is to them?

Group one and two come in peace, they genuinely mean no harm. Group three are possibly ignorant when they prod too deeply but are more likely hoping their bold questions will get you to spill those juicy, juicy details. If sharing a blow-by-blow of your Caesarean or the moment your waters burst during a screening of La La Land is not something you want to go into, here are my suggestions as how to respond. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list but I hope it gives you a template of how to respond when someone crosses the line of what you are happy to share.

Q: How long did your labour last?

A: On the surface this isn’t too awful. Unless you say “Eighteen hours” and they start grimacing and making strange noises which you understand to be expressing alarm at how awful the whole thing must have been. If yours was a run of the mill labour, eighteen hours (or however long it was) is not terrible. Here are two proposed responses. First of all, “Eighteen hours of discomfort is worth a lifetime with my child” which is so nausea inducing, the rubbernecker may stop probing entirely to vomit out of sight. Or you can say, “Eighteen hours actually isn’t that bad” and educate them in the stages of labour and see how much they enjoy cold hard facts which don’t deal with tearing or forceps.

Q: Did you take any drugs?

A: You may find this one a sore subject if you had to deviate from your birth plan. If you wanted all the drugs but were too far gone to get any by the time you got to a hospital, you will be plagued by visions of how lovely the numb delivery you had planned would have been. If you vowed not to touch even gas and air and went full epidural because of the pain you were in, you may be feeling like a failure (which you obviously are not). No judgement here; as long as you got that baby out of you, whatever you did is marvellous.

Anyway, ol’ rubbernecker wants to know and what are you going to say? “I did what made it comfortable for me.” When you have a cold do you list all the tablets and doses of Max Strength Day Nurse you’ve taken to these people? No, didn’t think so. Do not feel guilty about being vague about this if you do not want to talk about it.

Q: Did you poo yourself?

A: Remarkably common, this one. Unless the anecdote is top notch hilarious and going to make up for the fact you’re talking about faeces, most people are going to say “No” and get any witnesses to the birth to deny ever seeing anything that wasn’t a child coming out of you in the labour suite. If the questioner is particularly forceful I recommend the following; “Didn’t I half! I had no idea I had space for a person and that much poo in me at the same time. We took pictures, would you like to see?”

Q: Did they have to cut you *whisper* down there?

A: In the days and weeks after childbirth a lot of the things people ask you are prompts for you to reveal how ravaged your lady bits are. I have no idea why people focus on this and not the fact you managed to create eyelashes and bones. This is a post-truth world, everything is a bit more grim than it should be and this is part of that grimness. Proposed answer: “They sure did. Made the whole business a lot easier.”

Q: Did (insert partner’s name here) watch it happen?

A: The hope here is that your partner, if present, can now pipe up with a tale of horror on his or her own. That they will testify it was, as dear Robbie Williams said, “Like watching your favourite pub being burnt down” and everyone can laugh about how becoming a mother has made you a less valuable, less desirable woman. Ha, ha, ha!

If your partner did watch, the correct answer is whatever they want to say but pre-approved by you if things were a bit hairy and you are not comfortable with certain aspects being retold to everyone you know.

Q: What was the pain like?

A: “It was like a whole person coming out of my vagina.” Is there really any better way of describing it?

@mushmums @mrsdooeymiles

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