*This post is in no way suggesting that women who suffered from traumatic births have no right to share their story, that is not my intention at all. Telling your story of a birth that didn’t turn out as planned can be incredibly healing. I’m merely suggesting that sharing stories with the motivation of inciting fear is not appropriate, and sharing traumatic birth stories may not be the best way to prepare a pregnant woman for birth*
What is it with women today?
We seem to glory in sharing horror stories about birth. As if you one-up each other in who had the worst experience.
Why do we describe birth as this horrifying experience you just have to ‘get through’ because the baby is ‘worth it’?
What if I told you, you could enjoy birth?
That you could look forward to it, and actually want to do it again?
I know I do! I cannot wait to get the opportunity to do it all again!
I was recently talking to a friend who is very pregnant with her first baby. She told me she is ‘terrified of labour’. It made me so sad. I just wanted to reach through my phone and hug her, and say ‘No, no, noooo! Please don’t be terrified!’.
I think a lot of the root of the fear with labour & birth stems from us being so disconnected from our bodies. Our health system has trained us to fear discomfort. Any time something feels off in pregnancy, we back off. We limit movement, we stop everything. Life comes to a screeching halt as we know it.
I just read an article titled The Scary Truth About Childbirth. The title alone makes me stabby. To summarize, the article suggests that vaginal (and ‘natural’) birth is over-glorified and it’s injuring women in the form of pelvic floor (PF) injury, prolapse, tears and pelvis fractures. It uses words like ‘horrifying’ and suggests that the natural childbirth movement is to blame. It offers up un-helpful solutions such as get induced early, and have an epidural.
No. No. NO.
While I believe the intention of the article was to educate women about the risks of vaginal childbirth, which are rarely discussed at length (true). It’s shock & awe, fear-mongering approach is everything that is wrong with medicalized birth today.
Inciting fear into pregnant women is not the way to help the situation. Suggesting MORE interventions is not the way to help the situation. Describing injuries that thousands (millions?) of women suffer from as ‘horrifying;, ‘humiliating’ and ’embarrassing’ is not the way to help the situation.
So what can we do?
Well, first, maybe let’s stop approaching birth as terrifying. Fear increases pelvic floor muscle tension, which in itself is a barrier to vaginal childbirth. The PF muscles have to relax and release, and stretch up to 2.5x their length in order for the baby to pass through. This is not possible if the woman is too scared to let them go. This can result in prolonged labour, prolonged pushing, and ‘failure to progress’. A label as failure to progress usually leads to more intervention, such as instrument assisted birth (forceps or vacuum), which greatly increases a woman’s risk for prolapse and/or tearing (or cutting, depending on the care provider).
Let’s think about this from a different perspective. The hormones needed for childbirth are the same hormones needed to acheive orgasm. Oxytocin is released naturally in the brain when having pleasurable intercourse, and is the same hormone that triggers the uterus to contract. Now, if you were having sex, and you were terrified of an orgasm, do you think you’d ever get there? Uh, nope. Highly unlikely. If you were terrified of having sex, would it feel good? Nope, it might even hurt. Same goes for childbirth.
All this fear mongering, is contributing to traumatic births, which contributes to more fear mongering, which just continues in a cycle.
There is no benefit to making a pregnant woman fear labour and birth. Yes, there are risks. Yes, she should be aware of them and educated on her options. Yes, she should be made aware of potential outcomes of vaginal childbirth.
But we can do it without scaring the shit out of her! We can do better.
If you tell someone you’re planning on running a marathon, people don’t bombard you with stories of how their sisters mother in laws grandmother ran a marathon once and she had a heart attack in the middle and died. No, they congratulate you, and encourage you, and ask you how you’re training, and get excited! Why can’t we approach birth this way?
How about when you get on the topic of birth with a pregnant mama, you tell her she’s going to do great. You tell her that birth is amazing and it’s going to be one of the biggest accomplishments of her life. You tell her that it’s going to be like climbing a really tall, steep mountain, but the views along the way and at the top are the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.
Finally, let’s educate women how how best to prepare their body for birth. Like I mentioned, it’s like climbing a mountain, or running a marathon, except we don’t know how long it will be or how steep the climb, or what barriers we may face along the way. So let’s train for that. Let’s encourage women to move their bodies, nourish themselves (as best the can) and get their mind right for the journey ahead. Let’s teach them activities and movements they can do now that will help them later. Let’s get their bodies strong and capable, so when the time comes they are as well-prepared as they can be. Let’s teach them to have an open mind, and be educated about as many of the potential outcomes as possible so they’re prepared to go with the flow of whatever their body and baby presents. Let’s help them be okay with the unknown, not fear it. Let’s share positive birth stories, and help them trust that their bodies are capable of giving birth, and trust that their care providers will have mom & babies best interests at heart. Let’s encourage them to get in tune with their bodies, so they know how to listen to those primal urges that go along with the process.
Birth is amazing, let’s remember that.
If you’re pregnant and wondering where to start with getting over your fear of birth, here are a few suggestions, things that helped put me at ease:
Watch Welcoming Theodore
Watch Waterbirth of Scarlett
Watch Birth of Sloane