Birth is unique to every woman, we are all different as are our birth experiences. What could be described as an amazing experience by one woman, could be described as hell by another – just because one woman can labour with little pain relief, it doesn’t mean another woman could or should.
Some women will have an easy experience – labour flows, it goes to ‘plan’ and it meets their expectations – others will have longer, tougher labours which remain uncomplicated but will require them to dig deep to stay positive and to keep going, they may need a lot of good support and some will need to make different decisions about pain relief.
And then there are the medical complications, which can range from mild to life threatening but all can be terrifying and can have a long lasting effect on women and their partners.
Communication and good support are key throughout every labour – this can come from midwives and/or birth doulas who can encourage, support and talk to a woman in labour to help her feel safe and reassured. Women need to know that they are going to be ok, that they are ok, that they are doing so so well, that their contractions are normal and that their baby is doing ok.
While some women feel satisfied by their birth experience, others can be left feeling upset, frightened and let down. Labour can be beautiful and it can be terrifying, it can be easy and it can be hard – one thing it can never be is identical – it is too amazing, powerful and intense for that.
There is no one way to support a woman in labour so it is about trying to provide the right support and care at the right time, about judging a situation and treating each labour individually so if you feel unsupported, scared and in need of reassurance– say so! Your midwife is only human and she may have thought you were doing well. The maternity system in this country is far from ideal – it is busy and stretched and pregnant women rarely have any continuity throughout their pregnancy, let alone in labour. Doulas can and do fill that void beautifully and their growing popularity is demonstration of that. And maternity wards are often full of brilliant midwives who want to make a difference, who want to support women to have the births they want while working long hours and juggling various demands during a busy shift.
We also have our own unique expectations about giving birth – I teach women who expect the pain of their contractions and see it as necessary to meet their baby and I teach others who are not sure how they are going to manage the pain and are very open to the idea of having an epidural and they may be planning one as soon as they can have one. There are no right or wrongs, it has to be about what works for each individual woman and they needed to be supported.
Birth is a hugely emotive issue and it can sometimes be the subject of blame and accusations – what did the mother do wrong? What did the midwife fail to do? – and it can turn woman against woman over the ‘right way’ to have a baby. For me it is about women having a positive birth experience, it is about feeling safe, supported and reassured as women labour and give birth, make choices or come to terms with a different ‘plan’.
And then, after women have given birth, they may need the opportunity to talk about the birth of their baby, especially if the reality did not match their expectations or if labour became complicated. So the need for support, reassurance and communication can continue, to help women make sense of their experience and to feel empowered or reassured by any choices they made or decisions that had to be made and to work through any feelings of shock, upset or disappointment.
So, to me, a good birth is not about one way of having a baby. A good birth can be when a woman feels safe, secure and reassured – when she feels that any decisions and choices are justified, whether they have no drugs, all the drugs or a caesarean and it is probably time for our society to accept these differences – one way is not better than the other and no woman should ever be made to feel that she has failed.