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.

10 comments

  1. I am so glad you have written this, I was very lucky that my own mother had always been very positive about her own birth experiences. I often speak about my birth story and often find other women think I am trying to put in a act ? Or suggest it was not that bad due to my baby being small and premature ? No I still tore and ended up with stiches. I found it not as scary or as bad as I had imagined it to be ! I did not arrive at the hospital until I was in active labour …as soon as they told me I was it was more painful lol – as you said once I was able to be more calm and manage my pain much better.
    I honestly look back and think of it all so warmly … Perhaps we are the lucky ones and no ones ever wants to hear something positive about childbirth xxx

  2. I loved reading this, I on the other hand did not having an easy labour, was it horrendous and scary yes, because Harvey got stuck in the final stage and I thought i could lose him, thankfully with intervention from the wonderful doctors and the assistance of vontouse my little boy arrived and after 5 minutes of being work on i heard him scream and then was given him in my arms, a truly magical moment. So the question now would I opt for a C section for baby number 2, absolutely NOT, this is major surgery and 13 years ago my sister was left unconscious for 5 days after an emergency section and we almost lost her twice, people need to realise the dangera involved in surgery its not always the easy option!

    1. That sounds very scary, those five minutes before he cried must have felt like five hours.

      I think some people don’t realise that there just isn’t an easy way of giving birth, c-section or otherwise.

  3. Great piece, I am 37 weeks pregnant and hoping for a natural home birth. Most of this has been met with horror stories or people trying to scare monger me. I do worry that women will think a C Section is preferable to a natural birth. They should use the money to educate women to realise it doesn’t have to be an awful experience! xo

    1. I actually think the guidelines could be a good thing, if it means healthcare professionals have to spend more time going through the risks of c-sections and reassuring expectant mums about ‘natural’ childbirth.

      All the best for your labour, stay positive!

  4. My experience of childbirth was much like yours (sounds like). Yes it hurt, it was very painful. I remember with each contraction, near the end, thinking “this is unbearable” yet with controlled breathing I WAS bearing it, and the pain stopped. Its not the pain of something going wrong, its the pain of something going right.
    I found the stuff afterwards much worse (retained placenta, catheter, stitches, breastfeeding!!!) I don’t understand why anyone would ask to be operated on if it wasn’t necessary but I can understand why it seems ‘nicer’ to have stitches in your stomach rather than in your foo.
    During my pregnancy and labour I was struck by the thought (a huge understatement) there should be an easier way than this – surely! If a woman is aware of the realities and facts, if she believes that a cesarean is a better way, then fine. The realities of a vaginal birth are that it isn’t necessarily that bad!

  5. Honestly I did find childbirth horrendous, three times now and induced on a drip each time, although was stupidly proud of myself when managed without drugs for no’s 2 and 3! I agree, I don’t think c sections are a soft option and it’s a shame if people are starting to believe that (ps hilarious about the galvanised bucket, possibly not really advice from your mum?!)

  6. It is a shame that people make such a big deal about it. Now that I’ve actually had a kid– no meds, no interventions– I can honestly say the pain of labor and delivery was considerably less than the pain I’ve experienced from period cramping every month since I was 16 (thanks endometriosis!). I wasn’t even totally convinced I was in labor, because I’d expected so much worse.

    The stitches were the bad part.

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