From the first agonising contraction to the emergency caesarean 36 hours later, the birth of my elder child was crap.
I didn't go into the enterprise of childbirth expecting it to be empowering or lovely or spiritually fulfilling. I didn't plan to burn aromatic candles or listen to whale noises on CD as I brought new life into the world. (I did buy the greatest hits of Wham! to keep my spirits up during labour, but forgot to take it, and indeed my shoes, along to the hospital.) So I wouldn't say I had fixed or unrealistic expectations of the birth experience - but I did expect I'd actually be able to give birth.
I strongly believe that it's a woman's right to call the shots about how she has her baby. She shouldn't have interventions foisted on her, but if she makes informed decisions to use pain relief or other technology, that should be respected. At a purely personal level, though, I feel it's better to manage without interventions if you can. That was what I planned to do, and it never occurred to me, not even for a moment, that my body wouldn't be able to do what's supposedly the most natural thing in the world.
So when my daughter was born surgically, I felt quite a deep sense of disappointment with myself - as though my body had let me down, and I was somehow a 'failed' woman. The message of failure had come through a variety of sources. Once book I'd read during pregnancy discussed at great length how caesareans are best avoided - then belatedly added, in one feeble sentence, that women who have caesars shouldn't feel bad because all births are special. Like, whatever. I found myself thinking of my second pregnancy as a chance to redeem myself, and though I managed a vaginal delivery, I was so epiduralled, ventuesed, episiotomied and generally off the planet that the second birth seemed little different from the first.
My midwife, who was excellent, encouraged me through both pregnancies to avoid interventions if I could, and talked me through the evidence in favour of 'natural' birth. The message was an important one, and helped me make informed choices. But I think the challenge for feminists is this: how we can promote the advantages of non-intervention birth without 'looking down' on the experiences of women who need, or choose, interventions?