Negative Notions of Birth

This week I went in to my daughter’s Year 3 class at school to give a talk about my job.  I was a bit apprehensive, as I am sure you can imagine, thinking about all those 7 and 8 year olds running home and telling their parents about how they had learnt all about birth, breastfeeding and the like, so decided to focus on the postnatal and baby massage side of my job – on what babies need when they are newborn and how doulas can support mummies and daddies in looking after their precious new baby.  My first question to them all was “What is a doula?”  As expected very few responded, but one little boy, Spike, thrust up his hand.  Surprised, I asked him;  “I know Ab-doula, from Tintin” came the reply.  I’m fairly sure from my rusty memories of Tintin that Abdullah is a man from the Middle East, so I said I didn’t think he did the same thing I did.  When I told them that “doula” comes from the Ancient Greek meaning female slave they found that quite amusing.  Not very women’s lib really is it!

We moved on and there was much hilarity about massaging naked dolls, and particularly those dolls which can drink water and then pee!  I felt faintly sorry for the form teacher who was having to rein in some of the more enthusiastic and excited members of the class.  At the end of the session I asked the kids if they had any questions.  One little girl put her hand up and with a very concerned face asked if it was true that giving birth really hurt.  When I told her that it didn’t have to she clearly didn’t buy it, and at the end of the class she asked again if it was really painful.  I came away feeling very sad that an 8 year old girl already has such a level of fear about childbirth.  It makes me realise how early on in a child’s life damage can be done.

In my antenatal sessions with women I ask about fears and expectations of birth and listen to the responses that come.  Often the further I probe the more is revealed and it is interesting to understand where the fear stems from.  There is a fear – tension – pain cycle that exists in birth and if you are able to eliminate the fear aspect of it then the chances of a relaxed and pain-free birth are imminently possible.  The word “pain” is also challenging – I only wish we had 46 different words, as the Eskimos do for snow.  The media has a huge amount to answer for – images of women lying on their backs, screaming, with their legs in the lithotomy position; the sensationalist “One Born Every Minute” and any number of medical dramas/soap operas/sitcoms etc.

So, what to do about this problem?  One thing I have become aware of is how ashamed women are of sharing good birth experiences.  In my baby massage classes we introduce ourselves and tell the group about our pregnancy, birth and first few weeks of being a new parent.  When several women share their less than favourable experiences (many of which break my heart as I hear time and time again of the “cascade of intervention” coming in to play and women not believing in their ability to birth) there is much nodding in the room.  If you then have a woman who had a really positive experience, for whatever reason, sharing, she is often embarrassed that she “got away with it”.  But, surely we need to reverse this trend.  We need to hear the positive stories and we need to hear them shouted from the hilltops, to the pregnant women, to the terrified husbands and partners … and to the children, the 8 year olds who are already scared.

A doula I know has set up the website and I love the concept.  There is a facebook page too, .  The idea is simple – share the positive stories – tell the world how it can be peaceful, calm, happy, exciting, relaxed, empowering.  I highly recommend you check it out and encourage others too – perhaps we can spread a wave of positivity that will change the face of birth.