Olivia: ‘There’s This Idea That Women Are Built To Give Birth And It Made Me Feel Like A Failure That I Couldn’t Do It Naturally’

Olivia Bowen talks to Grazia about her 30-hour long labour in the hope that it will help other women know that so many different things can happen when they’re expecting…

Olivia Bowen

by Daisy Hall |
Published on

The main thing that Olivia Bowen’s three million Instagram followers love about her content is its honesty. Amidst the glammed-up shots, the 28 year old is open about her pregnancy journey, embracing her body and how she’s taken to breastfeeding and motherhood. The only thing that Olivia hasn’t been able to share with her followers are the details about the birth itself, until today.

Speaking exclusively to Grazia, Olivia bravely opens up about her distressing birthing experience, not, she insists, to scare off potential mothers but instead, to ensure that they have all the facts and know exactly what to expect.

Initially everything went according to plan for Olivia and just one day after her due date, on 9 June 2022, she started experiencing contractions at around 2pm whilst out for lunch, just a few minutes down the road from her house.

She tells us, ‘At first everything was fine, I called Alex and the midwife, and headed home. We were laughing and really excited, all the bags were packed, and we assumed it would be quite a quick thing. The first sign that things weren’t quite right was that it was taking ages for my cervix to dilate, and my water hadn’t yet broken despite quite intense contractions.

‘The pain was ramping up, but we knew that that the hospital would send us home unless I was four or five centimetres dilated. Eventually we left for the hospital at 2am and by the time we arrived, I was ready to get into the water- because I was having a water birth- and have the gas and air. Everything started feeling OK again and the midwife even suggested that he could be here within the hour.’

Unfortunately, that was when everything started going downhill. Once Olivia started pushing, baby Abel - who at that point neither Olivia nor Alex knew if he was a girl or boy - had a meconium and his heart rate started dropping alarmingly fast.

Olivia explains, ‘Babies have a meconium- where they poo in the womb- when their little bodies are put through stress. The fact that I was pushing when the baby couldn’t get out because my water hadn’t broken and I hadn’t dilated enough, stressed him out and I had to go into theatre 12 hours later and, after having an epidural and being induced, he was pulled him out with forceps.’

From the moment that she knew that she was pregnant, Olivia had always intended to have a completely natural birth and even turned to hypnobirthing- a natural form of pain management which focuses on breathing techniques and a positive mentality- instead of drugs.

Speaking about that decision, Olivia isn’t 100% sure why she was so set on having a natural birth, but it’s clear that her expectation of what her experience would be like was at least in part affected by the things that she’d seen on Instagram herself.

She says, ‘I wanted a natural birth so badly and I’m not even sure why. I think I wanted to be like this raw, natural woman that could breathe through her contractions and be fine. I wanted to be like those strong women that I’d seen depicted everywhere.’

When things started going wrong, Olivia had to make quick decisions that ultimately saved her baby’s life but, she emotionally admitted that she still feels a sense of disappointment in herself for not- in her words- ‘being able to cope’.

Olivia tells us, ‘I feel like my birthing experience kind of got taken away from me. I always believed I’d be that person that thought, ‘It doesn’t matter how they get here as long as they get here happy and healthy’, but I’ve realised that it does matter to me. At times, I have felt disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to cope with the pain. I keep thinking that there’s more than I could have done. There’s this idea that women are built to give birth and it makes me feel like a failure that I couldn’t do it naturally.’

As much as her pregnancy was an incredibly difficult time for her, Olivia acknowledges that Alex also had an awful time and struggled seeing her in so much pain.

She says, ‘As much as the attention should be on the woman, the partner needs to be supported afterwards as well because they do go through a lot. Alex is such a sensitive soul, and he was essentially left in the dark by a lot of the decisions that I had to make for Abel and I know that it was really scary for him.’

Luckily amidst the darkness of Olivia’s birthing experience, there were plenty of moments of light, especially the first time that Olivia was able to hold her newborn which was the moment that Alex and she found out that they were having a boy.

Olivia tells us, ‘Right up until the last month I thought I really wanted a girl but suddenly I pivoted, and I think it was my body’s way of telling me that I was going to have a boy. We’re so happy and he’s just so perfect that I couldn’t imagine having a girl now.’

Since finally giving birth on 10 June, Olivia has taken some time to recover from her traumatic pregnancy saying, ‘I had an episiotomy which required about ten stitches and I haemorrhaged quite severely and lost nearly a litre of blood.’

She continues, ‘After I gave birth, I had to inject myself with iron supplements every day for two weeks and I couldn’t easily sit down for a while. I’m gradually getting back on track and have even started going horse-riding again- something which brings me a huge amount of joy. It’s just a patience thing and seeing Abel’s smiling face every day makes everything I went through all worth it.’

So worth it, that she’s even willing to go through the whole experience again in order to give Abel a baby brother or sister.

Olivia concludes, ‘Alex and I want two kids. I’m ready to start talking about it, but Alex needs a bit more time to deal with all the emotions that he had surrounding Abel’s birth so we’re thinking maybe after my 30thbirthday. We’re both planning on getting some kind of therapy to help us work through that traumatic time and prepare ourselves for our second.

‘Today was the first time that I’ve properly spoken about what happened and it’s been really difficult, but it’s just so necessary. I’ll definitely be going into my next pregnancy with my eyes wide open, and I hope other people will too now that I’ve spoken about my experience. There’s this positive veneer over giving birth, but you need to be prepared for all eventualities.’

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