If I had to pick one word that summed up the collective emotion for a very large percentage of today’s pregnant women it would be… fear.
Fear of not falling pregnant is a very real concern for many women - especially as many of us have delayed having children until well into our 30’s. How many of you have read, or been told by your caregivers that the chance of conceiving after the age of 35 plummets? Once we are pregnant, we are made to feel that our unborn baby is the most precious cargo imaginable and as a result our pregnancies are often treated as ‘high risk’ – not because there is any problem with the pregnancy itself, but because of the difficulty in becoming pregnant at all.
Because of being labelled “high risk” – which by the way is a literal label on a woman’s pregnancy file; one that she will see again and again at every check-up – the woman will carry with her a fear of not having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, which in turn often leads to high levels of stress in pregnancy, something we know from research can have very negative side-effects on both mother and baby.
But the greatest fear of all would have to be, the fear of giving birth.
We live in an era where most of us are blessed to have access to an extremely high quality of maternity care. However, what we are also witnessing is an ever-increasing medicalised approach to birth. Birth is definitely hi-tech in 2014. But is this entirely good news for mums and bubs? Not necessarily. Birth has been around for rather a long time, and essentially has not changed – ever. From an anthropological perspective, not much has changed in the way we have given birth in the last few thousand years.
What has changed (and of course for the better!) is improved nutrition, better general health, the advent of medical interventions such as antiseptic procedures, a decrease in pregnancies (from contraception and family planning), use of blood transfusions and the professional training of those attending births have all contributed to a sustained decrease in deaths of women following childbirth. We are extremely fortunate in that Australia today has one of the world’s best track records in terms of maternal and neonatal health.
Where we don’t have the world’s best track record is when it comes to looking at our obstetric interventions. Australia has experienced a significant increase in the Caesarean birth rate over the previous two decades. We now have a national Caesarean rate of around 32%, but this figure can climb to over 40% in some private hospitals. Interestingly, Western Australia currently has the highest Caesarean rates in the country, with some attributing this to the high numbers of FIFO (Fly in Fly Out) workers in the state, and a desire for families to “plan” their baby’s birth so that the partner can be there.
With 1 in 3 Australian women giving birth surgically today, does that mean that over 1/3 of Australian women’s bodies “don’t work”? Is there something wrong with our physiology? Is there something wrong with our babies? Of course not. This is a ridiculous idea. As the famous American midwife, Ina May Gaskin once said, “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine.”
We are bombarded today by information overload. We are the internet generation. There is nothing that can’t be “Googled”, and much of our lives are blogged, Facebooked or Instagrammed. When it comes to pregnancy and birth, this is a goldmine for television and film producers. You can practically hear them go “cha-ching”!
From posting a pic of the positive pee-stick on Facebook to those very first baby photos minutes after birth, our pregnancies, labours and births are no longer the stuff of “secret women’s business”. They are there for all the world to see, and comment on.
Our understanding of the process of pregnancy, labour and birth has become intrinsically linked to what we watch on TV, or YouTube, or read online or on forums. Let’s face it, when we picture a woman giving birth, isn’t this what we are most likely to imagine?:
Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up” portraying a screaming woman in labour on her back in bed, legs up in stirrups wearing a hospital gown in a very male-dominated and medical environment. Courtesy www.ew.com
To see what giving birth can look like, try Googling, “Ecstatic birth”, or “Empowering birth” – even “orgasmic birth” (yes, you read that correctly!).
Instead of reading “What To Expect When You Are Expecting” (in my line of business, we often jokingly refer to it as “What To Expect When You Are Expecting Trouble”), check out some of these wonderful, inspiring and empowering books; Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, A Modern Woman’s Guide to a Natural and Empowering Birth, The Official Lamaze Guide & Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.
With all the willpower that you can muster, avoid watching shows like “One Born Every Minute” like the plague, and if your best friend wants to share her horror birth story with you, tell her you love her, but no thanks.
I read an article this week about a woman who was so petrified by the idea of giving birth, that she was an emotional wreck throughout her pregnancy. When her obstetrician suggested that she have an elective Caesarean, her fears vanished. “From the moment I signed the form signalling the date of baby boy's birth, I felt relief. I started enjoying pregnancy, and instead of counting down the days towards my son's arrival amidst a fog of fear, I started counting them down with excitement instead.”
It’s a crazy world that we live in when we are petrified by the most normal physiological process in the world, and are numbingly blasé about the notion of undergoing major abdominal surgery instead.
I believe that we are well and truly due for another birthing revolution.
Women of earth, take back your birth! It’s time to banish our fears and embrace the miracle of our birthing bodies. Remember, you are NOT a lemon.
Tanya Strusberg is the founder and director of birthwell birthright and currently the only Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) in Australia. She teaches prenatal education to pregnant women and their partners in Melbourne. She is passionate about inspiring, educating and empowering women to feel confident about their body's ability to give birth naturally and without unnecessary medical intervention. Tanya and her husband Doron have two beautiful children, Liev and Amalia.
You don't have to have a child at all. Many of the problems in the world fundamentally stem from women having children only because they think they should. That is not a good enough reason to start a new life.