I happen to be one of the five people left in the UK who still watches Home & Away (what can I say, guilty pleasure), and whilst watching an episode last week where one of the characters goes into labour, I got really angry.
During the hypnobirthing course my husband and I did before having our baby, we learnt a lot about the history of the fear of childbirth and although there are other contributing factors to this, much of it comes from the media. If you really think about it, where does your perception of birth come from, apart from your mother and close friends? When was the last time you watched a program, even something as inoffensive as a sitcom, where a woman in labour didn’t scream her way through it as if she was being ripped open by a demon child?
If labour ever is shown to be a non-traumatic experience that the woman breathes through, she is made out to be a crazy, unhinged hippy.
I honestly get offended when people tell me how ‘lucky’ I am that I had a good birth. It wasn’t luck. I was in active labour for twenty-four hours with no pain relief. I had a choice on how I wanted that to affect me. I could have screamed my way through it, causing my body to tense and my labour to regress and therefore end up needing intervention, or I could stay at home for as long as possible, breathe through each contraction (and not call them contractions), have my husband with me performing all the techniques we learnt on our course, have calming music on in the background, eat and drink enough, have no negative influences anywhere near and make a conscious effort to make it a positive birth experience for me and my baby.
I really hope at this point that the women who ended up having emergency interventions don’t get upset. This isn’t about that. I am aware that anything can happen at any moment. This is not about who gave birth how, this is about how everything we’ve ever seen and heard has set us up to fear childbirth, to expect to need interventions including drugs (when in fact our bodies were made to do this naturally) leading it to therefore be a torturous experience, because how could it be anything but torturous if that is what we are expecting? Like with anything, half the battle begins in our mind. If we expect something to be a certain way before we begin, we are setting ourselves up for that expectation.
During the Home & Away episode, Billie’s water breaks before she’s even felt any signs of labour (not really realistic) to which her boyfriend says ‘quick! We must get to hospital!’ They then head to hospital and she screams and wails in pain throughout the entire car journey.
I then turn on my TV yesterday while giving my son lunch and the ladies of Loose Women are talking about ‘is it really that bad to have an elective caesarean?’ Every woman on the panel spoke of at least one traumatic birth experience and none of them spoke about how birth could be an enjoyable experience, or about the risks and long-term damage that could be associated with caesarean-sections. It may not be their fault that they didn’t have good experiences, but there should have been someone there showing the other side.
It’s one thing if you don’t have a choice but women thinking of elective caesarean-sections should be made aware of the possible link between the procedure and lowered immunity in the baby. No one on the panel even seemed to know about it, so how can it be right that the viewing public are only exposed to this side of it?
Remember the episode of Friends where Rachel is in labour? She is in labour for three days and every part of it was traumatic. Or when Carol gave birth to Ben? Remember how much she screamed? Even something as tame as Friends can influence our thinking.
I’m guessing most people didn’t even register that that was how it was portrayed until now and perhaps you’re having an ‘Aha!’ moment, but now that you can see how harrowing birth is made out to be in just about any programme or film you’ve ever watched, surely we can all agree on one thing: how are women who are yet to give birth supposed to have a positive experience when everything around them tells them it will be anything but? How are women ever supposed to believe that their birth experience could be one that they look back on with happiness not fear? And what about the men? They matter here! Their perception is just as important because if they are stressed and worried during labour, it will affect the woman, and that will affect the birth.
Don’t get me wrong, my labour was long and it was hard work, that’s why it’s called labour. But it was the most incredible experience of my life and I’m so glad I did the research beforehand to enable me to re-evaluate everything I’d ever been told about birth and to therefore switch off from the negativity surrounding the subject and be able to believe that it could be a positive experience.
What we need now is for journalists, script-writers and other influential decision-makers in the media to change their own approach by educating themselves on the realities of birth. Perhaps these writers could take hypnobirthing courses themselves or read up on the history of the fear of childbirth… and perhaps if birth was portrayed differently at this level, then the impressionable women paying attention would change their own perceptions and approach to childbirth. Imagine how many births could be less traumatic and more of the enjoyable, wondrous experiences that they’re meant to be simply because we change our perceptions on it.