Childbirth: It isn’t that bad

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.

This is me about an hour after giving birth to our youngest son
This is me about an hour after giving birth to our youngest son

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.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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25 thoughts on “Childbirth: It isn’t that bad

  1. Wow, I can’t believe how many of you have read and shared my story. Thanks so much for taking the time to have a look, and please leave your comments here if you wish. Thanks for visiting Free Range Chick!

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  2. Hi everyone, I see this post is still doing the rounds. Thanks so much for reading and don’t forget to please share. My next post will be published this week, so please pop back to have a read.

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    1. Alexandra, thank you so much for taking the time to look back at this post! It seems as though you’re certainly very experienced on this topic – you’re so lucky! I would love to have a brood… (I guess I technically do, as my name is Chick!). It is so true – women do scare each other and it isn’t fair. The word needs to be spread that childbirth should not be feared. It certainly is probably the most amazing thing the human body can do, and as women, we should be incredibly proud to have the privilege to do so. Maybe one day the message will get through x

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  3. Fiona – I remember a friend of a friend talking about her hypnobirthing course and the fact that we are set up to feel fear from the word go just by the use of the word ‘labour’ which denotes a gruelling chore. Its funny because I remember being so absolutely focussed on the birth in the antenatal sessions for my first child but then I took a ‘refresher’ course with my second pregnancy (with other second – or in one case third – timers) and none of us wanted to talk about the labour – we were much more concerned with what happens in the months after birth! I think OBEM can be useful – it was for me in my second pregnancy- because they focus on such a variety of different people and experiences and I could clearly see that the young scared, panicky ones were the ones who had the worst experiences. Actually OBEM is probably where I got the idea to have a water birth (which was so wonderful and amazing!) because the people I saw having this experience just looked so chilled out and in control.
    By the way I am from the Kingston area too (grew up in Teddington, went to school in Twickenham!). X

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    1. Hey, thanks for having a read of this and sharing your thoughts. Totally true – by the time you’re onto second (third, fourth?) kids, you probably are way more focussed on how on earth you’re going to get some sleep, cope with breastfeeding while looking after a toddler etc… I think it was possibly a cheap-shot at OBEM, although for the most part, I do stand by my dislike for the dramatisation in it. The opening titles are completely unnecessary (cue crash bell and running midwives). But that is my opinion as a non-documentary producer – and I get that all of the drama is what sells the show. I have watched, and can remember a handful of inspirational women who gave birth without panic on OBEM. On a different note, ditto on the amazing water birth! Couldn’t recommend it more! And you’re from around these parts too? I had a good friend who went to Teddington. Did you know Keira (Knightley)? We should DM… (o: xx

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      1. I didn’t actually go to Teddington School – it was a boys only school in my day (yes I’m really that old!) so no, I didn’t know Keira! My 35 year old cousin might have done though… X

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  4. Another Teddington girl here (long after Keira though). Just seen this post via the Positive Birth Movement and wanted to say I thoroughly agree! I loved giving birth, both times (second time at home). Painful yes but a completely different kind of pain to anything else, a useful pain. I had my mother with me the first time and she said “I’ve done it twice, you know how much of a wuss I am but… it wasn’t that bad. If I’ve done it so can you”. She was right!

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    1. Hi Ayesha! What a brilliant comment – thank you! Reading through some of the comments on the Positive Birth Movement page, it is apparent that women can be viewed as being smug etc when they talk about food birth stories. If this makes me smug, then so be it. It is a massive challenge for the human body to undertake, but as you say, it is a useful pain. It is going towards something amazing, not because something bad is happening. It is lovely to hear that you also had a great experience and that you had someone who could impart some useful vibes onto you! Thanks again for your lovely comment. (P.S. I’m a little older than Kiera!) X

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  5. I totally agree with you and think that there is so much negative information out there to scare women. Sure sometimes childbirth is tough, but mostly it’s fabulous – unfortunately, the good stories don’t get enough airtime. I’ve just started a podcast called Fear Free Childbirth to get some more positive content out there and I’m interviewing mums and dads who want to share their postive birth stories. That way, if pregnant mums-to-be want to seek out positive information it’s there. It’s been great so far chatting to mums and dads and many of the mums have said that they never get the chance to share their story because people just don’t want to hear them – how tragic! These positive stories should be out there and celebrated. *gets off soap box* Great post!! thank you!

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    1. Thanks so much Alexia! I just read a really negative comment on a Facebook page in response to this post. She said that she actually hates this post, largely because he birth was that bad, and she doesn’t see why people with bad stories shouldn’t be allowed to tell. She misses the point. The experience I’ve had is that some women make childbirth into a competition of who had the most traumatic time, who had the worst midwife etc. I totally understand that some people have a bad time, but how useful is it to give a first-time mum a horrible over-dramatised version of their own ‘terrible’ birth? Not very. I didn’t have perfect births. They were both challenging, painful, bloody exhausting and messy as hell. The point is is that I had a strong frame of mind going into childbirth, and that made all the difference, especially when I had to deliver the head of a baby whose skull circumference was the equivalent of (probably) a 13lb+ baby. Don’t believe me? He’s still under paediatrics for the size of his head! We have got to tell each other that childbirth is doable, it doesn’t have to be frightening and we can get through it. Heavens… I think I’m still on my soap box! Thanks so much for your brilliant comment! x

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      1. you hit the nail on the head when you talk about “strong frame of mind”. The one thing that I’ve learned during my pregnancies is that mindset is everything. It’s fear that increases the likelihood of pain.. so the more we pertuate this scary childbirth story, the more likley women are to experience horrific births. It’s all backed by science and the haters will hate it! 😉 But if you get rid of your fears you minimise the likelihood of pain. So let’s get rid of our fears first. Then let’s help the women who had crappy births deal with their emotional pain – this is why they keep wanting to talk about it. IN time we can make the shift and create a more positive environment in people’s heads about childbirth…. better for everyone surely? … at least this is what i’m trying to do! I podcasted about this today… you might want to hear my rant! > The 3 lies of childbirth on the Fear Free childbirth podcast.

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      2. I would love to hear your podcast! You talk so much sense – the link between fear and pain is the thing that must be broken down. Can I access your podcast using your WordPress id?

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      3. You can find the Fear Free Childbirth podcast on iTunes & Stitcher, or my website of the same name.. not sure about how that works using my WP ID – sorry! There’s an episode there that discusses the link between fear and pain in childbirth – you might like than one too! Let me know what you think!

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  6. I think childbirth is like parenting – a complex interplay of emotions, reactions, fear, hopes, dreams and of course expectations. It seems strange to me that we attach such simplistic ideas and ideals on what this experience might be like – good, bad, painful,orgasmic, fast or slow. Like most powerful and life changing experiences we can not control them but have the power to change how we prepare and react to them. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood all require a lot of support – from friends, families and professionals. The level of support definitely helps shape the way we feel and integrate our birth experience and begin our parenting journey. It is important that we should carefully consider the way we interact with pregnant women – it’s like my Nan used to say “treat others the way you would like to be treated” Isn’t that the least we should expect from each other.

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  7. Love how you are willing to share your experiences and feelings about childbirth. Having met so many women who haven’t ever processed the experience of childbirth because they go straight into being mum and immediately start putting they needs and emotions second. We could remember it in a positive light as it really is such a life changing and amazing part of our lives.

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    1. Thank you for such a touching a heartfelt comment, Parul. It was important to me to share my experience while it was still fresh in my mind, because it was such an incredible experience. Weirdly, I even dreamt about it last night! I really, genuinely treasure the experience of giving birth to Fraser. Thanks for stopping by xx

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  8. I agree that labour isn’t ‘that bad’. My first birth was probably what some ladies would class as horrific, but it wasn’t for me – I got through it and she arrived safely!

    I think I am a ‘giving birth junkie’ and I would quite like to go through it again (I won’t be though – those babies grow up!!) and again, just as it’s exhilarating and empowering!

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  9. There’s a lot of negativity. I think info is power though, I had a traumatic crash section and a beautiful tranquil second elective. I think c-sections need to get more positive exposure too and I see there’s a change there. Great you had are sharing and promoting such a positive, empowering experience. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

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