I hesitate to say that my first experience of birth, or rather the days after it, weren't that great, because you always know someone who had a worse time than you - a worse injury, a sicker baby, a meaner midwife, a more intense hormonal response, a longer labour. Nevertheless, the first time I had a baby it was very hard. Operations (immediately for me, in the near future for our child), health worries, possible infections, no sleep, five nights in hospital and the panic of first time motherhood made everything difficult. Wonderful, because our daughter was with us, but ever so fraught with fear and worry and exhaustion.
This time, everything has been easier, though it is still early days and I don't wish to count my chickens. But as a result I have come up with a list of things completely beyond your control that can lead to a better experience all round.
1) Go into labour in the morning after a proper night of sleep so you don't start the whole process tired.
2) Do not have an operation straight after birth taking you away from your partner and new baby and pumping you even more full of drugs. The drugs are great at the time, but there is a come down, and there is guilt at not being with your new baby from the beginning.
3) Get rid of any drips and catheters as soon as possible. Then have a shower, even if it's 3am.
4) Have a baby that can feed from the beginning. Or rather, feed your baby from the beginning, using bottle if breast not working. Contrary to the scaremongering breastapo, you can give your baby a bottle in the early days and still breastfeed later (as long as you don't stop breastfeeding or expressing completely). Unless I am a freak of nature.
5) Go home after one night in hospital.
6) Accept that all of this is luck of the draw and that you cannot control it. A bad experience once does not mean you will have a bad experience a second time. None of it is your fault, or your achievement.
7) Despite the above rule, allow yourself to feel shit, or proud of yourself, or both. One day it will fade to be just part of your story. My mum said to me after my first birth, you will retell it and retell it and one day it will lose its emotional hold on you. She's not right yet, but I see that she might be one day.