Disclaimer: I’m only refering to straightforward childbirth here. None of what I say goes for anyone who had interventions, complications or caesareans – those are entirely different matters.
There are new guidelines stating that women should have the right to choose to have a caesarean birth. The news has leapt on this today, and as a result all day on the radio I’ve been hearing snipppets of first time pregnant women that have been interviewed saying they felt a caesarean was a preferable option to vaginal childbirth and they would choose a caesarean if they could, because they had heard really bad things about childbirth and how painful it is.
My first thought was that if people stopped scaremongering about vaginal childbirth, expectant mothers would likely have a different opinion on this.
So many times I have seen a first time expectant mum’s hope for a calm, drug free, almost pleasant experience met with laughter and claims of naivety. OK, yes, a lot of the time this turns out not to be the case, complications during labour can mean this is very far from the case. But I think it’s such a shame to be terrified of childbirth before you’ve had a chance to have your own experience.
Before I experienced labour myself, I was under the impression that it would be the hardest, most painful thing I ever do in my life.
As I got bigger and bigger during my pregnancy, and the task seemed all the more impossible (How is that going to come out of there?!), I soaked up all experiences of childbirth like a sponge. ‘The hardest and most painful thing you will ever experience’. I heard this a lot. In a very foreboding tone. Usually accompanied by ‘Oh, just you wait’ or ‘Take all the drugs they offer’, and ‘I’d rather have my head slammed in a car door/leg chopped off’, ‘it’s like shitting a galvanised bucket’ (thanks for that one, mum).
It’s any wonder that I didn’t rock up to the labour ward declaring, ‘epidural NOW, caesarean NOW and give me all the drugs going’ – might as well get my fix while they are free from the NHS, right? Not that I put a whole lot of thought into a birth plan, but that was pretty much it in my head.
So, was childbirth the hardest, most painful thing ever?
Hardest? Yes, probably. Because I don’t run, exercise or push my body in my daily life. Birth was a marathon. But I expected that.
Most painful? It was painful, but I was surprised that the pain did not override all else and leave me incapable. I could walk around for the whole of my labour, the pain was intense but it was not horrific. Admittedly I’ve largely forgotten what it feels like to be in labour, so I could have this all wrong.
I was expecting hell. I was surprised to experience a natural and manageable pain (provided I kept calm and remembered that I was in control). Yes, there were hairy moments, but when I think back to it, my overriding feeling is pride in myself, not pain.
I get that we feel we should make a big deal out of labour. Because it’s something awesome, empowering, and totally unique to women. (Actually, here I am talking about all types of childbirth – it’s just an amazing thing). And men should know that they owe us for having to go through it. And, just for the record, it clearly is worse than a kick in the balls.
But I think it’s even more empowering to keep the positives in mind.
In my case, I don’t resent that Sam couldn’t be the one to go through childbirth. I didn’t like pushing, but it wasnt awful. I’m glad I got to do it, and I would do it over and over again. The pain was not as bad as I had expected from all the birth stories I had heard.
Car door? No thanks.
I’ve said before that I was very fortunate not to have any complications in my labour, and I can only talk about my experience. So it might be that I’m going to offend a whole lot of people by declaring that labour isn’t really all that bad. Of course, every experience is different and you can all say ‘I told you so’, should I happen to change my mind with the birth of number two (that sounds like I’m talking about a massive poo)
Anyway, my point is that before I went through labour myself, I was just like that girl I heard on the news saying ‘the idea of a caesarean sounds better than natural birth’. If we stop emphasising doom and gloom and focus on the positives, it would go a long way to changing this view of elective cesarean as the easier option when we know that it isn’t that simple. It’s major surgery that comes with the risk of added complications and a longer healing time.
Of course, simply being positive about labour is not going to ensure that someone has a problem free time of it. But having a positive attitude towards an impending labour (or at least to not be completely terrified) has got to help the confidence of that expectant mum in some small way.
What do you think? Was your labour the hardest and worst pain you’ve ever experienced? Should women focus more on the positive aspects of vaginal labour and birth? Do we have a duty not to scare expectant mums or should they be prepared for the worst case scenario? Am I the only one who came out of this thinking, ‘That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be’?
This is definitely the most times I have ever written the word ‘vaginal’ before.