“Take all the drugs” – is something I hear so often in context of birth. And whilst I never have a judgement of a woman who NEEDS pain relief, because sometimes they do, it’s sad that many women go into birth feeling that is their only option. Why have we come to that point?
How do we prepare women?
Something that I’ve been pondering for a while – how do we support first time mums to REALLY prepare them for birth, breastfeeding and parenthood? How can we support them so they are fully prepared for what they are about to go to through without feeding them scare stories? Or without setting them up for failure? What is it that we are missing in our antenatal education?
Negativity surrounding birth
We all know that there is so much negativity surrounding birth. Part of that is the media’s portrayal of birth is particularly challenging. Birth is seen as an emergency – women rushed to hospital, screaming, in hospital gowns, strapped to beds, legs in stirrups etc.
We also hear so many negative birth stories from women who have had dreadful births. As much as we might be led to believe that so much of this is because birth is a horrendous thing that happens to women, much of this is because women have been failed either by the care team or by how they’ve been prepared to give birth.
More and more what I hear is I went to the antenatal classes but none of us ended up with the natural birth we had been prepared for – we all ended up in surgery. It’s no surprise then that these women become so angry and bitter about their birth experiences.
Birth preparation at the moment focusses on the mechanics of births – educating us that birth happens in some sort of perfect order. Yet working as a doula, what I know is that no two births have ever been the same.
It is so interesting is this belief that we are like robots and if we do the same XYZ to all women that the end result will be the same. Actually – nothing could be further from the truth. We are all so different and how we react to situations is never the same.
When it comes to antenatal education so much of it as about the signs of labour, when to phone triage, pain relief, induction policies etc – but little of it is about how their bodies work to give birth, what environment they need, that they need to feel safe, secure, comfortable. Nor does education remind women who is the decision maker and the powerful one in the birth but often compounds compliance of women in birth.
Successful birth is based on a number of things:
- Supported – how safe does a woman feel? Does she feel cared for? Does she feel loved? Does she feel observed/under pressure to perform?
- Environmental – Is it dark? Is it quiet? Is she uninterrupted?
- Mindset – is mum feeling calm? Prepared? Able to deal with all situations?
- Scenarios – are women prepared for all different eventualities? Including transfers, surgery etc?
- Do women have the confidence, language, understanding to question their care and make the RIGHT decisions for them?
My experience as a doula
Observing births – even the most well-intentioned and LOVELY health care professional gets it wrong – so much fussing and interruption – chatting, causing anxiety, constant monitoring, encouraging the woman to go against her body – none of these things are conducive to a successful birth.
It’s interesting working around birth and supporting women. When you challenge beliefs that women have about birth – it’s met with a blank look. When you encourage women to do their research and get informed – it’s a bit like – “informed about what exactly”…..
At the polar end of this is women who have such idealistic expectations about birth and how it might go, that they can’t comprehend it will go in any other way.
Setting up women to fail
There’s a possibility that we are setting up women to fail on both accounts – setting them up to fail because we don’t really prepare them to understand what we ACTUALLY need to give birth or that they are the decision makers (ie they must be compliant). Or setting them up to fail because they’ve never considered all the possibilities that could happen.
Having a successful birth isn’t solely about a healthy baby – it’s about a woman feeling powerful and that she’s owned her birth – in whatever way that birth has ended up. It’s ensuring that the physical and emotional scars are as minimal as possible. It’s ensuring that when she reflects she feels that all the right things happened in her birth.
What do women need?
- Educated on the importance of environment, hormones, birth support etc
- Mindset to cope with all scenarios
- Tools to make the decisions and an awareness of how to navigate a very busy maternity system
- Confidence and language to question their care
- Kind and compassionate support
We must move beyond the “take all the drugs” and understand that birth is more than a physical/mechanical event that happens to us – but an experience that lasts with us a lifetime. Women need emotional education about their birth so they can fully understand how to help themselves through the process and afterwards.
Much love, Tricia xxx