Wednesday 9 November 2011

Why pregnant women don’t appreciate hearing childbirth horror stories

Since developing a pregnancy bump, I’ve been inundated with childbirth horror stories from friends and strangers alike. People seem to truly enjoy imparting these warnings, as though they are doing me a favour by sharing with me the terrible birth experience of their friend’s colleague’s brother’s wife.
In actual fact, I have enough to worry about as it is. Sleepless nights, aches and pains, purchasing nappies and worrying about how I will soon be in charge of another person’s well being! I certainly don’t need to have my head filled with stories of events that are incredibly unlikely to happen to me. It’s just one more thing to worry about, and quite frankly I’d rather not know.
I’m not saying that these birth stories are untrue; I know some people do have incredibly difficult births. But telling me about them in great deal isn’t helping anyone.
If a person tells you they have an illness such as cancer, you don’t respond with: “Oh, my sister’s friend just had cancer. It was terrible. Really painful and awful. She barely survived”.
It’s just not the done thing. You respond in a sympathetic, empathetic and hopefully positive way.
Why is the same not true about child birth? Why is it ok to tell a pregnant woman horror stories about labour?
I would say, of all the conversations I have had with friends about childbirth since becoming pregnant, over 90 per cent have featured horror stories. Long births, medical interventions, giant babies, blood loss, stitches... I’ve heard it all. In fact, only a handful of my friends have had positive things to say about childbirth. Interestingly, these are the friends who have given birth!
I have probably done this myself over the years, shared horror stories with pregnant friends because, until you become pregnant yourself, they are just interesting stories. There’s something about the freak-show element in sharing these stories that is enjoyable. And who better to share them with than someone about to experience it!
Now that I am fast approaching birth myself, I would like to ask each and every one of you to, please, not tell me (or any other pregnant woman for that matter) anymore negative stories about birth.
You may think this is immature, why be in denial about the risks? But the truth is, these risks are minimal. Most births are complication-free, and so why waste time worrying about being in the minority? I would rather spend my time looking forward to the birth, and focussing on the positive bits, like meeting my baby for the first time!
I was lucky, I was brought up by a Mum who had great things to say about childbirth. I can remember as a child, when actors gave birth on TV my mum would tut and exclaim that they were overacting “It doesn’t hurt that much”. My sister was born at home, and so I returned home from nursery the next day to find my mum and sister snuggled up in my parent’s bed. It seemed lovely and natural and I was excited to meet my new sister (instead of being scared by the hospital). I don’t think my mum did it on purpose, but because of her positive approach to childbirth, I grew up thinking childbirth was a natural process (which it is) and as such am not particularly daunted knowing I will be doing it myself in eight weeks time.
I think nature is very clever, and since women have been giving birth for millions of years, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to handle it! I know it’ll be hard work, but I also know that nature needs me to survive so I can care for my baby and as such my body will find the energy from somewhere. Women who have given birth often say “You’ll be surprised what your body can do”, and I’m sure their right.
Friends who haven’t given birth tell a different story, and this blog is really to explain why it’s not helpful to hear horror stories! Personally, I have been filing the horror stories away in my mind and promising myself I won’t fixate on them. But, sometimes, when I can’t sleep or I’m having a bad day, the fears do creep in as I remember the details of other people’s births. What if these awful things happen to me, how will I cope?
Not only is it a waste of my energy and time focussing on keeping the negative thoughts away, the fear can actually cause problems during birth.
Childbirth is a natural thing, creatures of all species give birth everyday with no problem. The body is designed very cleverly and knows what it’s doing. But, fear can actually slow down or complicate birth.
An experienced midwife named Grantly Dick-Read published a book in 1942 where he addressed the issue of fear in childbirth. He had helped women across the world give birth, and his experience of different cultures and their alternative approaches to childbirth showed that the women who suffered most during childbirth were those who feared it most. I would strongly recommend his book ‘Childbirth Without Fear’ to any pregnant women, I have found it to be a greatly inspiring (and calming) read.
When we are scared, our bodies go into the fight or flight response. If our bodies decide to flight, it sends blood to the areas that need it most – eg, the legs for running away. If a woman is scared during labour, her body will redirect blood from the uterus and send it to the legs so she can run away. In actual fact, the woman is not in danger she is merely scared, but the loss of blood in her uterus prevents it from properly doing its job and labour is slowed down. This leads to longer labour and can cause pain, which in turn will cause more fear in the woman.
Grantly Dick-Read is not alone in believing that the way women think about childbirth can affect the kind of labour they have. A lot of emphasis is now put on natural labours, and calming techniques to use during labour. The NHS encourages women to feel positively about labour by enabling them with the correct tools for labour (eg, breathing techniques, active birth positions etc). Midwives spend a great deal of time answering questions and covering issues which women may feel apprehensive about, this is because they want women to approach labour with confidence.
So, these childbirth horror stories really can cause problems for pregnant women! I have one very good friend who was completely terrified of childbirth, so much so that she was obsessed with worrying about it. When the baby arrived she realised she was totally unprepared because she’d spent the last nine months worrying about labour instead of planning for life with a baby.
Over the past few weeks I have heard various horror stories and I don’t have the luxury of drinking to forget my worries. But this week I received a Facebook message from an old school friend who had just given birth, and she said it was fine. She had been planning to have an epidural but decided during labour that the pain wasn’t bad and she didn’t need pain relief, just a water birthing pool. Reading her story cheered me up greatly – it’s the first positive birth story that’s been volunteered to me in months!
Thinking about how her positive experience had made me feel calmer inspired me to write this blog, as a warning to my friends to keep their horror stories to themselves – at least for the next eight weeks! 

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