I wrote this post back in January 2014, and it has been one of my most popular posts. One thing I didn’t put much thought into at the time was the title. If I could go back, I would probably change it. The main message of this post is to give a positive perspective childbirth for newbie mums who have never experienced childbirth before. It may even be useful for women who haven’t had such a great experience previously, but needed some words of encouragement.
So the most I’ve ever discussed this in written form is on text messages to friends in the first few weeks after having each of my sons. It is something that has played on my mind for a long time, possibly even before I was ever pregnant. Childbirth.
Time and again, I see women scaring the bejesus out of each other about childbirth. Be it on the TV (cue screaming, writhing, crazy labours portrayed by actors, or the dreaded – yes dreaded – One Born Every Minute). The parenting fora, the staffroom, the antenatal groups, coffee mornings. Women can’t seem to help themselves but scare each other about the prospect of this incredible, life-changing event.
There are umpteen gazillion blogs out there by mums, moms, mummies, mamas, mothers; and everyone is giving each other a virtual pat on the back for their take on mothering, parenting and caring for their children. A huge, on-line community of mums coming together and sharing their unique stories of their rollercoaster ride of motherhood. Its lovely.
To me it seems a little strange that with all this loveliness, we seem to take such delight in scaring each other about childbirth. We think of childbirth, and words such as ‘traumatic’, ‘excruciating’, ‘horrendous’ and ‘harrowing’ come to mind. And sentiments such as ‘you’ll forget the pain as soon as you hold your baby’, ‘take all the drugs they can give you’, ‘my best friend’s sister… (insert unhelpful anecdote about botched delivery here)’.
I know that these comments are perceived to be pretty harmless. Maybe they are. Although I’m not sure. Is it really that useful to tell a first-time mum that the only thing that will make her forget this ‘painful ordeal’ is the moment she gets to hold her baby? To me that sounds blooming terrifying! It is also easy for the post-birth woman to say this now that she is holding her chubby baby in her arms and her focus is probably on pureeing sweet potatoes and sleep-training.
But for nine months, all the pregnant woman can focus on is that supposed horrendous pain. This will be until she experiences childbirth for herself (then soon forgets all about it, until someone she knows becomes pregnant and the horrific memories miraculously come flooding back).
It probably sounds as though I want women to just lie about childbirth to each other. For them to tell their sisters and friends that it is a piece of cake for the purpose of not scaring anyone. I don’t.
However, I do believe it is important for there to be a balanced view. Of course we should, and do, know that some women experience adversities when giving birth. But is it really necessary for us to pass on sentiments like ‘you won’t feel any pain like it’? I really don’t believe that these sorts of comments are useful, and actually, it is impossible for one woman to predict how another woman is going to feel and cope.
Why am I ranting on about this? Why does this mean so much to me? When it was my turn, I was also privy to some of the aforementioned comments and sentiments. I would be nearing my due date, and people would ask me ‘are you getting scared yet?’ No, I was not getting scared! I was getting incredibly excited as the time was nearing for me to meet my beautiful son! I viewed childbirth as a challenge that I wanted to conquer. I was looking forward to labour and welcomed it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could ‘do’ childbirth – and of course the icing on the cake is meeting that precious child at the end of it.
I didn’t always have this positive attitude towards childbirth. Before I was pregnant, before my husband and I even considered having a baby, I would think about how I would ever cope with labour. I decided that if I ever had a child, I would want an operation to get the baby out. I used to feel anxious about the prospect of giving birth. I couldn’t even tell you what it was that used to worry me. I’m not sure when I forgot about these irrational fears, but thankfully I no longer had these issues by the time I became pregnant for the first time.
I also found my amazing friend ‘J’ was an incredible support, as she gave me a positive story about the birth of her son. She was honest about everything that happened, but she never said that it was traumatic, horrific, excruciating or horrendous. She was very matter-of-fact about everything that happened, and the overall message that I got from her was ‘it wasn’t that bad’. I took this and held onto it. I don’t think she ever knew how much strength she gave me to face childbirth with such positivity and fearlessness.
Since beginning this post, I have discovered a fantastic, non-profit website called tellmeagoodbirthstory.com. It seems as though I am not alone in my thinking that childbirth does not need to be viewed with such terror. It is also apparent that women are really benefitting from hearing about good birth stories, and it is helping them to conquer their own fears in the run-up to giving birth. This makes me happy.
I would like nothing more than to see attitudes towards childbirth changing. Instead of telling each other how shocking it is, maybe focus on telling women that yes, it is bloody hard work, the biggest challenge they may face, but is something that they can get through with the right mind-set. Shifting the focus from the ‘terrible pain’ onto ways of coping with the pain. (Heck, I’d even go so far as to say that maybe we should consider not referring to the sensation of uterine contractions as pain – but I don’t reckon that would go down too well with some of you, and at 21:37 on a Tuesday evening while waiting for my 7.5 month-old to inevitably wake up for the first of many times tonight, I really don’t want to explain where that bombshell has come from).
What actually happens once you’re there (in labour) is totally unpredictable, and there is only so much control you can have over your baby’s agenda. I’m talking about the journey towards that point. I do believe that there is no need to have fear about childbirth, and indeed being rid of the fear before you arrive can have a significant difference on how you cope once you’re there.
I would like to end this post by saying a heartfelt thank you to the community midwives at the Fountain Team in Kingston – particularly Carol and Mandy – who looked after me while I was pregnant with our eldest child and after I had given birth. Carol was also present for most of my labour with my eldest, and she was AMAZING. I would also like to thank the midwives at the Malden Suite in Kingston Hospital – with particular emphasis on midwife Leanne, who safely delivered our youngest child with incredible skill, expertise, warmth, kindness and calm. She is a credit to Kingston Hospital, and to the profession.
I would also like to thank J for being an excellent friend (J, I’m not gonna go too soppy on you) and also to the book that she gave me: Birth Skills by Juju Sundin, which I highly recommend you read if you want some really effective methods of dealing with labour pain.
I would be so delighted to hear your thoughts on this topic.
Till next time.