1. Women, Birth & Mass Media Hysteria
Over the centuries, birth has become the most dreaded event in a women’s life. In today’s media, frequent images of pain, blood and screaming are being seen as the standard of childbirth today. Programmes such as ‘One born every minute’ perpetuate this image of birth, traumatising women further by making it appear to be a real life insight into birth.
The majority of women have come to expect massive trauma while giving birth. This has pushed many birthing mothers towards taking advantage of the medical world’s range of interventions now available. Choosing from a veritable buffet of drugs or opting to miss out on vaginal birth altogether and electing to have baby birthed through Caesarean section. It’s no wonder that we are queuing up for an ‘easy way out’ of this supposedly horrific thing that is happening to us…
In recent years however, there has been a resurgence of women seeking to find out more about birthing naturally across the Western World. Women are attempting to reclaim their birth right: to birth without intervention, without drugs and often birthing outside of the hospital environment or even in water.
I’d like to be clear at this point that I am not advocating natural birth. I had a beautiful, natural birth myself but not everyone has or wants that as an option. This book is written without judgment and is in support for all women and all circumstances. However, pregnant women are seeing natural, alternative or holistic birthing options becoming more mainstream and widely available to them. Women are starting to realize that actually, natural birth could be the easiest, fastest and most rewarding option all round!
Different mediums allow women to educate themselves on the non-medical aspects of birthing through the internet, books, TV and film. More and more women are aware of the work of doulas (birth companions), many training formally to become birth companions and to help other women in this way. This inspiring shift towards reclaiming birth is finally allowing women to have real options and to make decisions about their birth, out with the generally accepted model of hospital birth.
2. Which Birth Is For Me?
There are hundreds of birthing programmes and techniques that mothers can turn to, some promising more than others. Birth Hypnosis classes are one genre of childbirth preparation that have become very popular in recent years. Many of these programmes promise pain free, trance like births. Other programmes lead women to believe that achieving an orgasm during birth is a common and readily available option. Each new programme has a promise that their technique will make sure that mother has her perfect birth.
But isn’t this just as dangerous as scaring women with stories of blood and gore? Are women being set up to fail? Many birthing programmes deal with mothers who don’t have the promised pain-free, silent birth by questioning them on what they ‘hadn’t done properly.’ Had they practiced their hypnosis every single day? No? Then this is why their birth was not ‘up to scratch.’ No room for negotiation, the blame firmly being directed back to mother for not meeting their birthing standards.
Surely this is not a positive move towards empowering women. Making them believe that if they did not meet this new accepted standard of birth (silent, peaceful, orgasmic or pain free.) That it must in some way be their fault? That they had failed themselves and their child by causing this ‘traumatic’ birth?
I am in no way saying that birth hypnosis is not a valid technique for birthing mothers. Birth Hypnosis (as the inferred example) is an excellent option to offer for confidence, comfort and pain relief during birth. But it does not work for everyone and is not a ‘cure all.’ Of the many women that I taught birth hypnosis to over the years, fifty percent had the beautiful blissful births that they hoped for and fifty percent did not.
3. You don’t have to be silent to have a peaceful birth
The story of one birth hypnosis mother I worked with always sticks in my mind. She had practised her self-hypnosis techniques religiously, every day. The mother in question had a perfectly normal birth, a natural vaginal birth at home with no medical intervention or drugs which resulted in a beautiful healthy baby. When I spoke to her after the birth, she was devastated that she did not ‘look like the women in the birth videos’ and had made noise during the birth instead of remaining peaceful and silent. I do not believe this woman ever forgave herself, no matter how many times I reassured her that every birth is different. She would often say to me, ‘Why couldn’t I give birth like that? What did I do wrong?’ It was at this point that I realized for certain, that I could not continue to offer one technique as the answer for every person in every birth situation.
4. One Size Does Not Fit All
Every woman and every birth is unique and there is no fix-all option or cure for birthing. Drugs may not be the healthiest option for mother and baby, but neither is promising a mother a birth which may never become a reality for her and may cause her to harbour birth guilt. Birth is hard work and it may even hurt, but it is without a doubt, the most amazing and empowering experience that any woman is ever likely to have. Birth is worth every single minute of the effort. I am unable to describe the birth of my own son as painful, as I found it to be ecstatic. The sheer joy of meeting my little man face to face erased every memory of discomfort before it even existed.
It is my belief that birth preparation and education should be realistic. By this I do not mean presenting mothers with a list of interventions or drugs available. I don’t think running through a list of catastrophic circumstances which may never arise is helpful either. Why put even more negative connotations into mother’s mind? If mothers choose to educate themselves about birth, then their time needs to be spent positively. Clearly making false promises and setting standards of what is a good or bad birth is not positive or conducive to a happy birth experience either.
5. Get to Know Yourself in Life Before Birth
Birth preparation needs to have a strong focus on self-discovery. We cannot teach mothers how to give birth. Women already know how to give birth. What we can do, is to facilitate the journey of self-discovery with mothers and parents to be. To help them understand how they usually cope with new experiences and potentially stressful situations in everyday life. This knowledge can help parents translate these coping techniques into a birthing scenario. How do they normally react to discomfort or pain? What usually gives them comfort or relief?
I believe that we are in birth as we are in life and that what comforts us today, will comfort us during birth. This journey within, this getting to know and understand yourself, is essential in discovering how you can remain comfortable while birthing. We need to focus on opening up to the possibility of a joyful, comfortable and even ecstatic birth, without offering mothers’ false promises or assigning blame to those who don’t meet the perfect birth criteria.
We cannot account for special circumstances arising during birth which necessitate medical intervention or mean that you may not have the birth that you hoped for. I believe that the role of birth preparation is not to give you a list of facts and figures, but to help you discover what you already know deep within yourself. Uncovering your real feminine strength (cheesy but true) that is integral to being a woman, that has been sullied by excessive intervention, propaganda and false promises.
This blog is adapted from the revised edition of Birth ROCKS by Cheryl MacDonald, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.