At the NCT (Natural Childbirth Trust) classes that my husband and I attended before the birth of our daughter, we were very much pushed towards a ‘natural’ and ideally unmedicated birth, preferably in the birthing centre, where I could ‘breathe’ the baby out free from any of those interfering medical professionals. Tssk!
The classes are supposed to provide impartial information to parents, but there was a definite skew against drugs and hospital intervention.
At one point the teacher even suggested that the high incidence of drug addiction in Scotland was somehow linked to the use of Pethidine in Scottish labour wards. Ridiculous!
Of course, this is an extreme example but I can’t be the only pregnant woman to have felt an insidious sort of pressure from pre-natal classes, blogs and articles to resist obstetrician-led wards, pain-relief drugs and interventions such as forceps, episiotomy, induction or caesarean (rarely chosen; usually necessary), as though these are things to treat with suspicion. That they will somehow inhibit the ‘experience’ of birth when they are intended for mother and baby’s safety and relief.
In fact, I feel a bit cross when I think back to the me being induced with my first, very overdue, baby and the hours of minute-apart forceful contractions I endured without pain relief because I (mistakenly) thought it would make my birth more complicated when, in fact, it would have just made things less painful.
I also feel shame when I think back to how I fought being induced; the frustration of the doctor who knew that my baby’s safety was being compromised by not doing so.
What can I say? It is easy to be brain-washed as a first time mother and the natural birth brigade had got to me.
Of course, it goes without saying that every woman is entitled to give birth (or at least aim to give birth) in the place and manner in which she sees fit, and we are lucky these days to have (some) choice in this.
For a few of my friends, their dream labour and birth is in their kitchen in an inflatable dinghy with low-lighting and a hypnobirth CD playing in the background.
For me (I know now), it is in a hospital, with medical professionals close by and an epidural at the earliest possible opportunity.
Neither way is better or worse than the other, assuming baby and mother come away safe, happy and healthy.
Meanwhile, the quality of “the experience” is a lot down to luck. Things can go smoothly – or not – in either of these scenarios.
The problem comes when mothers start to feel so bullied into achieving a natural, ‘normal’ birth (something that most women hope for anyway) that they prioritise this and the ‘experience’ of birth over theirs and their baby’s safety.
It’s why midwives have been told recently to stop pushing their own agenda for so-called ‘normal’ births – and why, I feel, certain natural birth advocates could be more gentle, more moderate in their attitudes and approach.
Meanwhile, mothers-to-be need to remember this: that access to medical help and proper pain relief are gifts and a privilege that take away nothing from the joy and elation all mothers feel when holding their baby for the very first time.