Childbirth can be confusing these days. We live in a society, dominated by social media, where we all compare ourselves to unreasonable standards. Its almost impossible not judge ourselves or to try and emulate somebody else’s glamorous seeming life rather than focus on our own.
As modern women we are expected to have a brilliant, challenging career, be financially abundant, have the perfect happy relationship (with outstanding sex) and of course to have a body that defies gravity, is wrinkle free and will birth a baby in a couple of hours without much assistance. Living a high pressure life staring at our phones and computer screens we are often ‘in our heads’ most of the time and very separate from the realities of our pregnant body and its natural responses.
Only 6% of women in the UK have a completely ‘natural’ birth without any intervention at all. To suddenly be labouring for hours in a hospital ward, in pain and surrounded by strangers can be shocking and start to shut down our natural resilience and ability to birth. Childbirth is often an undignified ‘body’ experience that we can’t control, and most of us are used to being in control and feel a lot stronger when we are.
Consequently, as the sense of control slips away, and medical interventions take over, childbirth can end up being frightening and very challenging for many women.
Having worked for years with women who have had challenging birth experiences, there are key pieces of self talk that repeatedly surface. These often include:
- No one will understand/listen to what I went through
- If birth is so ‘natural’ why wasn’t it like that for me?
- I should be able to cope
- My body has let me down
- Everyone else is fine
- I need to focus on my baby, I’ll just get on with it
- Nobody will take me seriously
- My baby is healthy – I shouldn’t complain
- I was so frightened but I felt I couldn’t say anything
- If I complain that will make me a bad mother
For many women (even strong, capable women with demanding jobs), childbirth and the bloody, messy and painful postnatal period can be overwhelming. All the responses listed are very natural for anyone who has had an overwhelming physical and emotional experience. However when we live in a world of comparisons to the ‘perfect life’ often it can feel like we have failed if our own experience didn’t match up to perfection or we feel like we have lost control. During the birth process, although they are often very necessary, as medical interventions spiral, women tell me that they often feel:
- Out of control
- Numb and disconnected
These are the classic symptoms of any kind of trauma, but we don’t talk about it. If we had a car accident and were, frightened, immobilised and in pain it seems simpler to forgive ourselves for feeling frightened, but as ‘superwomen’ there seems to be a societal expectation to ignore our feelings of fear and pain if they are to do with childbirth. Maybe that is possible for the 6% of us who ‘shell babies like peas’ without any interventions. However I would hazard a guess that a fair amount of the 6% had their babies so quickly that the speed of the birth was shocking and upsetting in itself, but they feel they can’t say anything as the shock of a fast birth won’t be listened to or acknowledged either.
- Know that you are not alone.
- Over 50% of women in the UK have a tough time during childbirth and 3 in 10 women experience some mental health difficulties in the first year after birth.
- Talk about your experience. If you have a friend or family member who is a good listening ear, tell them how you feel.
- Your GP, Health Visitor or Midwife can also listen and perhaps guide you to further help if you need it.
- Join a baby group, baby massage course, or breastfeeding circle and be with other mums. You will be pleasantly surprised how common your feelings are!
- Have a de-brief of the birth with your Midwife or Consultant. Many women say that having the medical side of the birth explained really helped them understand and put things in perspective.
- Talk to a specialist in Birth Trauma. Often safely unwinding the story of what happened with a specialist can really help. I offer free 30 minute calls to any mum who is struggling to discuss how I can help.