I’m the first to admit that I don’t view childbirth in a very positive light. Not only from my own personal experiences but also from those of friends and family. Horror stories spread far more rapidly than positive ones. Meaning that we generally know of people who have had difficult births but don’t always hear about those women who don’t.
Recently, however, I’ve become very aware that the way we talk about childbirth is a major part of birth anxiety. I was with a friend and she was talking about someone she knew who had just had a baby. She only said a few sentences but described it as terrible, said the midwives refused to believe this woman was in labour and said that the birth ‘tore her insides to pieces’… This was not a positive birth story!
Now this wouldn’t have been so bad if my two daughters (10 and 5) hadn’t been in the room. But they were. And they both heard this. My eldest in particular has become increasingly curious about babies (both how they are made and how they get out) so she was listening intently. I suspect that we have just created yet another woman to be who will be terrified of birth.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should never talk about birth in front of children. In fact, I think it’s a good thing to bring children up in an open culture where they can be involved with all aspects of life and death. What this conversation made me aware of is that we need to be careful HOW we talk about it in front of them.
Why are we negative about birth?
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since becoming a mum it’s that people always want to talk about the birth. I’m not sure why really. Perhaps they are just being polite but more often than not I’ve got a sense that someone wants to know what it was like for someone else. I kind of get that. There aren’t many ways to know what childbirth is like without actually going through it. So finding out what it’s like for other people can sometimes be a bit of a bench mark. It gives you an idea of what might happen. You can put your own labour into perspective too if you know how your birth compared with other women.
But here’s the thing. It strikes me that people really want to hear the negative details. We seem to love telling stories about things going wrong. About how someone suffered through their birth. Or how badly they were treated.
I find it baffling as to why this is although fully hold my hands up to doing exactly the same thing now and again! I think for me I tend to talk very negatively about my first birth because I want to justify having c-sections for 2 and 3 but I have met some women who genuinely seem to relish the idea that childbirth is something awful that we go through. They seem to love it when someone else goes through a horrific labour. There’s an element of ‘I told you it was shit’ that goes on. We want to be right that it IS painful, it IS distressing and it IS going to end up with interventions…
But why!!!! Why don’t we talk about the women we know that have had wonderful births? Why don’t we talk about the good bits of our labours rather than the parts where it went wrong? What is it about us as a social group that delights in perpetuating the notion that childbirth is something you should dread?
The simple answer is I don’t know.
I know that I’m part of the problem on this. I don’t often talk about positive birth stories but I suspect that’s just because I haven’t heard about many. I’m sure I’ve heard a huge number of horror stories for handful of positive ones so maybe that’s part of it. Maybe the reason we are so negative about childbirth is that it IS often a negative experience. Or perhaps it’s a negative experience for most of us because that’s how we chose to see it. Or because we go into it with an already negative mindset. Perhaps we forget the positive bits afterwards and just remember (or talk about) the negative. So keeping the cycle of misery going.
But this is something we need to change. Not just because it plays a major part in how women feel about labour but because we owe it to our own daughters (and sons) to show them that birth is a wonderful experience. I certainly don’t want my daughters to start feeling like childbirth is awful but that means that I have to change how I talk about it. I have to talk about the good experiences and to be positive about it. It’s important to me that they don’t grow up with only negative stories of birth because that will affect them when they have children. Plus I genuinely do think that birth is a positive and amazing thing to go through. And I want them to think that to.
So please, the next time you talk about birth just take a moment to ask if you are being too negative. Make sure that you aren’t influencing other people around you to see it as negative too. Focus on the positive aspects of birth. Talk about women who really enjoyed their labours or who found birth empowering. Let’s help other women to see that birth is not something to be feared but embraced.
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