This is probably one of the best articles about what the reality of birth can look like and the author, Leah McLaren, is right – we do need to talk about this more, women need so much more.
As a mother I have experienced a traumatic birth, as a birth doula I have attended challenging births and as an antenatal teacher/postnatal educator I have worked with so many parents who have had upsetting, difficult and, in some cases, traumatic births and are in need of talking it through or they need to prepare differently for giving birth again.
I am an experienced birth professional and I wish I could make birth easier for some women – all I can do it inform with good knowledge and practical skills, encourage open and honest discussion, raise the importance of assertiveness to gather information and to have control of what they can control. I talk openly about how birth can be raw and emotional and about how challenging it can be and about knowing, asking about and exploring options. I don’t think one type of birth of better than another type of birth – my aim is for parents to be supported and heard and to encourage them to seek that, rather than assuming it will just happen. Birth is unique for each mother and baby so we need to say what we need.
Women can do everything ‘right’ – moving, gravity, controlling our breathing, birthing pool, place of birth – and there can still be interventions, there can still be emotional and physical trauma and birth can still be scary because not everything can be controlled and medical emergencies do happen and are needed.
I have spoken to countless mums and they have wondered if, had they done something differently, their birth would not have been so difficult/traumatic/upsetting/scary. And a few have actually been told that – if you had breathed better, if you had moved more, if you had a homebirth…No one can know that and it is inappropriate to lay any blame.
There is no preparing for a poorly baby, there is no preparing for blood loss, there is no preparing for stitches or emergency procedures – but there does need to be more professional support and services afterwards. For me, there was – obviously – no preparing for the death of my newborn baby, even though we knew it was a huge possibility because of his heart defect. But it was the trauma and grief counselling afterwards that helped me to be well again and I had to fight for this – by the time I knew I needed it, it was a couple of years later and it took another year or so to see a trauma psychologist.
Some of the mums I speak to after the birth of their baby just need to talk it through, to know that whatever happened wasn’t their fault, to get it all out, to talk it through and to be heard. Other mums however are clearly traumatised with growing anxiety, panic and flashbacks and they need specialised support. My job is to listen but I am not a psychologist or a counsellor so there is only so much I am able to offer.
The thing with childbirth is that it can be magical, beautiful, empowering, wonderful and brilliant but that’s what we have all come to expect. And while labour and birth can be straightforward and positive, women can still need a range of physical and emotional support, it can be raw, long and painful. And some women are not going to have a straightforward labour, some births are going to be uncertain and some women are going to need interventions.
I don’t want pregnant women to fear birth but my professional role is to help my antenatal clients prepare as well as possible and to be able to reach out for support afterwards. And to do that I need to be able to talk about pain and panic, support and options, induction and caesareans and about finding what works to birth, to contract and to be calmer. Birth is an emotive subject and what is right/appropriate for one woman may not be for another.
If you are pregnant right now try to prepare well for the reality of birth with good discussion and information – and to do that you may need an experienced and trained birth professional – think about your options, think about/talk about/read about different births and research what support is available for you afterwards.
What we do to bring our babies into the world is incredible – women are amazing but birth is huge and women need more support before and after baby is here.
Janine – Birth, Baby & Family
antenatal teacher, postnatal group leader & doula
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