Real, raw, amazing: Why I think we need to talk more about positive birth experiences
Confession: I loved giving birth.
Both times. So much so that I would love to have another baby just to be able to experience it all over again.
I was lucky, I suppose, in that, I felt very cared for by the midwives at the Oslo hospital where I gave birth. Lucky that they were very pro natural labour without interventions, and that I had talked to friends who had given birth before me about what to expect – and therefore felt at least a little bit prepared once the time came.
Did it hurt? Yes, of course. But it was also a pain unlike anything other, and I can't explain it, but it felt like a positive pain – one that something amazing was going to come out of. And also, having delivered my babies, I remember feeling powerful and feminine and more like a super-woman than I ever had before – it felt humbling and just so, so impressive witnessing my body taking over and just doing what it had been designed to do.
Having had such amazing experiences personally, I always find it a little sad that so often, labour and birth are talked about in such negative terms, like some kind of trauma women have to endure to be able to bring babies into this world.
The result? Many women fear childbirth or feel like they don't have any control in whichever how their labour is going to go.
Which is why, a few years back, Milli Hill, a former therapist and mother of three living in Somerset, founded Positive Birth Movement (PBM).
“I just thought I'd have a group of women round to my house to have tea and cake and talk about birth,” Hill explains to the Independent.
Now, five years later, there are over 450 PBM groups globally, including 250 in the UK alone. And Hill recently released a book entitled The Positive Birth Book: A New Approach to Pregnancy, Birth and the Early Weeks.
According to Hill, the PMB helps women by helping to prepare for birth in a way that best suits them, whether that means birth in a hospital or in a water bath at home. It asks women to question everything they have absorbed about pregnancy and childbirth - from horror stories from friends and families to depictions of labour in the movies - and to honestly consider whether they are afraid and how that can be changed. In the book, labour itself is dissected into phases in chapters: from The Cracking On phase to Crowning, The Head Being Born, Baby in Arms and The Tea and Toast Phase. Sections entitled “Will there be lots of blood” and “What about poo? Will I poo myself in labour?” take a no-holds-bar approach to pregnancy.
Hill defines a positive birth as one where women are where they want to be; who make choices that are informed by reality not fear; who are listened to and treated with respect and dignity; feel empowered and enriched, and are left with memories that are “warm” and “proud”.
There’s nothing high-tech involved, no ground-breaking techniques. Rather, it helps women to inform each other and access the treatment that suits them best, understand what their bodies can do by removing facts from fear, and encouraging women to share their birthing stories both positive and negative. And that doesn’t mean making birth sanitised and stripping away anxieties - which Hill stresses is perfectly normal - or making pregnancy and labour into a freak show.
“What's not 'normal' is for the fear to take over,” argues Hill. “At the moment I worry that it has an unhealthy grip not just on women but on midwives and obstetricians which can lead to defensive practice and a lack of personalised maternity care built on human connection - which ironically is safer and more satisfying for everyone involved.”
Hill advises women - whether they are mothers or apprehensive first-timers - is to take an active role in the birth and learn and your options and human rights.
“Making a plan, and learning about the physiology of labour and how to create the best possible birth environment, for example, can be really helpful. Even if you have a caesarean, there is still loads of info out there to help you improve the experience. And at the end of it all, of course, a healthy baby is what matters, but it's not all that matters. Women, and how they feel afterwards, and how their partners feel, that matters too," she says.
What do YOU thinks, mamas? Did YOU have a positive experience of labour and birth? Was there anything you wish had been done differently? Did you leave feeling amazing or scared to give birth again should you want to have another baby? Let us know in the comments.