If you’re a woman in the Western world in the 21st Century, chances are you’ve spent your entire life hearing stories and seeing images that depict birth in a particular way. In the media, on film, in books, in magazines, from mothers, grandmothers, friends…
Screaming. Pain. Fear. Disempowerment. Medicalisation. Trauma.
We have been conditioned to see this image of birth as ‘normal’. Through no fault of our own, and through this conditioning, we often find ourselves pregnant and wondering ‘How am I going to do it? I don’t have a good pain threshold! And, how on earth am I supposed to push a watermelon out of a hole the size of a grape?!’
Firstly, giving birth is NOTHING like pushing a watermelon out of a grape-sized hole. Babies are not watermelons – they are designed to fit out of our super-clever vaginas, which – obviously – are not grapes.
And, that image of childbirth that we have been conditioned to take as ‘normal’ isn’t how birth has to be. At all.
So, how can we help ourselves to approach birth differently in a world where the mainstream image is so negative?
Knowledge is power – start researching birth, now! Some questions you may ask yourself are: What are the birth choices in my area? Am I better off going public or private? Hospital or home? What are medical interventions and what do I need to know about them? Pain relief? How to prepare body and mind? What do I need to do to to ensure that I am prepared with all of the information I need to make good choices (for me and my baby)?
Support is key – take a step back and have a look at the people you have chosen to surround yourself with. Do they build you up? Do they trust you? Do they trust your body? I’m speaking here of loved ones and family, but also of the care providers you have chosen…is everybody on the same page? If not, what can you do to address this?
Switch off the drama – I mean literally, turn off the TV (no more ‘One Born Every Minute’, no more sensationalised birth scenes in movies1). But also, and equally important, try and switch off as much personal drama as you can; learning begins in the womb, baby is experiencing what we experience, so it’s best to make their early learning as positive as possible (this also means, not beating yourself up if you experience some of life’s stresses that cannot be avoided). Removing the drama is best for baby, best for you, and best for your birth.
Seek out Positive stories – there’s actually a wealth of good, positive birth information out there, you just need to find the right place to look. Online, check out The Positive Birth Movement, Birth Without Fear, Hypnobirthing Australia – all of these sites contain positive birth stories and empowering information (if there’s one nearby, also consider attending a Positive Birth Movement meet-up – they’re popping up all over Australia). As for books, there are so many, but start with my favourites ‘Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering’ (Sarah Buckley), and ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ (Ina May Gaskin). Also check out ‘One Day Young’ (Jenny Lewis), which is a photobook of women with their babies who are one day old – AMAZING!
All of these things can help begin to re-condition our minds (and bodies) to see birth as the joyous event that it is supposed to be.
I’m not denying that birth can be unpredictable. However, no matter what path a woman’s birthing takes, she should be able to come away from the experience feeling strong, empowered, and ready to tackle motherhood with confidence – this is where good preparation, support, and information is vital.
Pregnancy and birth can be one of the most exciting, empowering, and positive times in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, in our culture, this is currently not the case for a lot of women. Change begins with you and I – if we want our birth/s to be different from that negative, disempowered, frightening image that we’ve been brought up to expect, we need to do something differently2.
What can you do differently today, tomorrow, next week?
Let’s make a new ‘normal’ for childbirth. Let’s lead by example, so that the next generation of girls and women look forward to birth in a way that many of our generation have not been able to…let’s ensure that their conditioning is both realistic and positive.