We often do not realise, until it is too late, until after at least one birth, that birth matters and how we feel matters too.
We often do not see until it is too late that if we want a positive birth, a welcoming birth for our baby, and a positive beginning to motherhood, then we need to become passionate about this and take ownership. As parents we need to take responsibility, make choices and advocate for our children – and this starts before birth.
Sadly, the average or ‘normal’ birth experience in Australia is not a positive one. Of the hundreds of women who have told me their stories, many women have a disappointing or traumatic story to tell of their first birth in hospital. Mothers do not always feel safe, comforted and nurtured during labour. They do not always feel respected, understood or in control. They do not always feel strong, confident or happy after birth. For many women, birth is a complicated, risky and frightening experience, and they feel inadequately supported.
The experience of birth often comes as a shock. It may leave a woman feeling exposed and vulnerable, uninformed and unimportant. Women may feel they are failing if their labour does not progress according to expectations. Women may feel frightened and anxious as their labour and birth seem to spin out of control.
Mixed with pride and joy at the birth of their baby, women may feel a little disappointed after their first birth. Some feel betrayed and violated. One in three mothers are traumatised, some experiencing postnatal depression and posttraumatic stress.
Too many women feel disempowered, bullied or let down when they come out the other end of their first birth (One would be too many but women’s stories sugest it is much more common than that). I don’t know how the dads feel watching their wife or partner go through this trauma but I’m pretty sure they feel hurt and powerless too. They may feel they failed because they couldn’t protect their love from this ordeal.
Some women come away believing they have failed. And some women come through angry and wanting to fight. They know somewhere inside that something was wrong. And it wasn’t them, it wasn’t their baby. It was the way their birth was managed and most importantly the way they felt during birth. Most women move on as best they can because we have been taught ‘That’s just the way birth is’.
But this is not true. Birth can be a safe and natural, powerful and awe-inspiring, beautiful and incredibly positive experience. Of course there are no guarantees. The only things that can be controlled are the environment we place ourselves in, the people we allow to care for us, and the way we approach birth. No matter what happens in labour, there should always be time and space for the little things that will make birth positive – a respectful approach, a loving word or touch, recognition that every birth is sacred, special and a once in a lifetime experience. Every woman deserves to have a positive birth.
Having a positive birth is not always easy, but it is worth striving for. If you agree that your birth experience matters for you and your baby then you need to get passionate about it. If you wish to feel supported and safe, respected and valued, strong and beautiful as you labour and bring your baby into the world, then you will need to work to achieve this.
It is not easy to stay positive about birth when you are surrounded by frightened people and frightening stories. It is not easy when you are told that you are insignificant and that birth does not work. It is challenging to hold on to your hopes and dreams when you are met with dismissal, resistance, or even derision.
- Find a community of supportive people who share your positive view of birth and mothering so that you do not feel isolated and alone.
- Find the carers and the place of birth that share your views on birth and will be able to support you and meet your needs. Make the choices and build the foundation you need for a positive birth.
- Be an active participant in your maternity care. Don’t just sit back and go with the flow without first checking where the current is going!
- Insist that you are treated with respect and dignity and be aware of how you communicate with others to set an expectation of mutual respect. Remember that you get more flies with honey than vinegar. There is a really wonderful read about this approach and how to get what you want without getting everyone else off side at Give Birth with Confidence. (And it works! I’ve used it when advocating for my child in an operating theatre full of medical staff!)
- Reflect on the beliefs you hold about what birth is like and your own ability to give birth. Consider where they have come from and how they serve you.
- Allow the beautiful images and words contained in the stories to seep into your mind, and use them to help you create and hold on to a positive view of labour and birth. The Birth Journeys book is a collection of positive and uplifting stories sharing the many different paths taken to a positive birth. I selected these stories with input from over 60 mothers, midwives, doulas and educators to offer positive, inspiring and believable stories that will help you feel positive, confidence and excited about birth!
- Listen to your inner self and also to your trusted carers.
- Be open to new ideas and different perspectives on what makes a positive birth. Be strong but don’t be wilful.
- Know that birth does work and that a positive birth, even an amazing birth, is a possibility for you.
 Effectiveness of a Counseling Intervention After A Traumatic Childbirth: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Birth, 2005 Mar;32(1):11–19, Gamble J, Creedy D, Moyle W, Webster J, McAllister M, and Dickson, P.