As Holly Willoughby sparks anger by saying it’s ‘the best experience ever’… Is it insensitive to say you enjoy giving birth?
By Helena Frith Powell
Sitting in a fibreglass tub at a birthing centre in Crowborough, East Sussex, 22 years ago, many things went through my mind as I worked to welcome my first child into the world.
‘When is this going to stop?’ being the most predominant, followed closely by ‘Why the hell did I opt for a natural childbirth?’
I didn’t speak much during the ordeal, except to announce to my birthing partner (a doctor friend whom I decided early on in my pregnancy would be more useful than my husband) that ‘this really, really hurts,’ and once when I demanded of some poor innocent gardener outside the window ‘who the **** mows the lawn at a time like this?’
Adjectives that best describe the day include agonising, excruciating, even unbearable. But at no point did the word ‘magical’ pop into my mind. There was not a single moment, even when it was finally over, that I would describe as anywhere close to approaching my ‘best experience ever’.
I’m thrilled Holly Willoughby has such positive memories of her three births, and perhaps there are many women out there just like her. But for the ones who are pregnant and have been gently contemplating (as I did) that the arrival of this baby is likely to hurt, don’t feel there is anything wrong if you’re not enjoying the prospect as much as Holly. I would argue that she is in a blessed minority, with a pain threshold to rival Iron Man’s.Holly must have Iron Man’s pain threshold
And I’m not sure how helpful it is to hold up childbirth as a close-to-sublime experience, as it will inevitably lead to women feeling either cheated or like failures if they feel the way I did. Which, I predict, is most of us. I can count on no fingers at all the number of girlfriends who called me after giving birth, chirruping about how jolly marvellous it was.
The second time round, I opted for a caesarean. And the third time, with no excuse for a caesarean, I went for as many drugs as were legal. Although better than the first experience, I can’t honestly say I relished either of them. And this in spite of an obstetrician who gave Grey’s Anatomy’s McDreamy a run for his money.
As to the popular myth that you forget the pain of childbirth, well up to a point you do… until you go into labour again. The night before my caesarean, my contractions began. They were the first ones, spaced out and barely noticeable. But I remembered the agonising pain that followed them straightaway. And all I could think was: ‘Thank God I’m not going through that again.’
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019