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March 12, 2019

Why The New Push On ‘Natural Childbirth’ Can Be Just As Damaging For Women.

Over the centuries, birth has grown to become the most dreaded event in a women’s life.

In today’s media, frequent images of pain, blood and screaming are being seen as the standard of childbirth today. Programmes such as One born every minute perpetuate this image of birth, traumatising us further by making it appear to be the real life insight into birth.  The majority of women have come to expect massive trauma while giving birth. This has pushed many of us towards taking advantage of the medical world’s range of interventions now available: Choosing from a veritable buffet of drugs or opting to miss out on vaginal birth altogether and electing to have baby birthed through Caesarean section.

In more recent years however, we have begun to see a resurgence of women seeking to find out more about birthing naturally across the Western World. Women everywhere, are attempting to reclaim their birth right: To birth without intervention, without drugs and often birthing out-with the hospital environment or even in water.

As pregnant women, we are seeing natural, alternative or holistic birthing options becoming more mainstream and more widely available to us. Different mediums allow us to educate ourselves on the non-medical aspects of birthing, through the internet, books, TV and film. More and more of us are aware of the work of doulas (birth companions), many training formally to become birth companions and even assisting other women in this way. This inspiring push towards reclaiming birth is finally, allowing us to have real options and to make decisions about our own experience of birth, out with the generally accepted model of hospital birth. This is all fantastic news, but has it gone too far, pushing women towards feeling inadequate if they don’t choose to birth naturally?

Which birth is for me?

There are hundreds of natural birthing programmes and techniques which mothers can now turn to, some promising more than others. Birth Hypnosis classes are one genre of childbirth preparation that has become very popular in recent years.  Many of these programmes promise pain free and trance like births. Other programmes lead women to believe that they can achieve orgasm during birth, and this is a readily available option also. Each new programme has a promise that their technique is the one that will make sure that mother has her perfect birth.

Orgasmic childbirth? Really?

But isn’t this just as dangerous as scaring us with stories of blood and gore? Are women being set up to fail? Having taught a well-known birth hypnosis programme in the past, it was generally accepted that the way to deal with mothers who had not experienced the promised pain-free, silent birth was to question them on what they ‘hadn’t done properly.’ Had they practiced their hypnosis every single day? No?  Then this is why their birth was not ‘up to scratch.’ No room for negotiation: The blame firmly being directed back to mother for not meeting their birthing standards.

Surely this is not a positive move towards empowering women. Making them believe that if they did not meet this new accepted standard of birth (silent, peaceful, orgasmic or pain free), that it must in some way be their fault? That they had failed themselves and their child by causing this traumatic birth?

I am in no way saying that birth hypnosis is not a valid technique for birthing mothers. Birth Hypnosis (as per the inferred example) is an excellent option to offer for confidence, comfort and pain relief during birth. But it does not work for everyone and is not a cure all. Of the many women that I taught birth hypnosis to over the years, fifty per cent had the beautiful blissful births that they hoped for and fifty per cent did not.  This move towards ‘the perfect birth’ model is oppressing our right to birth how we need to, just in a different way!

Why didn’t my birth look like that?

One birth hypnosis mother I worked with always sticks in my mind. She had practised her self-hypnosis techniques religiously, every day. The mother in question had a perfectly normal birth, a natural vaginal birth at home with no medical intervention or drugs and a beautiful healthy baby. When I spoke to her after the birth, she was devastated that she did not ‘look like the women in the birth videos’ and made noise during the birth instead of remaining peaceful and silent. I do not believe this woman ever forgave herself, no matter how I reassured her that each birth is unique. She would often say to me: ‘Why couldn’t I give birth like that? What did I do wrong?’ It was at this point that I realized for certain, that I could not continue to offer one technique as the answer for everyone in every birth situation.

One size does NOT fit all

Every woman and every birth are unique and there is no fix-all option or cure for birthing. Drugs may not be the healthiest option for mother and baby, but neither is promising a mother a birth which may never become a reality for her and may cause her harbour birth guilt. Birth is hard work and it may even hurt, but it is without a doubt, the most amazing and empowering experience that I am ever likely to have. Birth is worth every single minute of effort.  I am unable to describe the birth of my own son as painful (uncomfortable and hard work definitely,) as I found it to be ecstatic. The sheer joy of meeting my little man face to face erased every memory of discomfort before it even existed.

Get Real

It is my belief that birth preparation and education should be realistic. By this I do not mean presenting mothers with a list of interventions or drugs available. I don’t think running through a list of catastrophic circumstances which may never arise is helpful either. Why put even more negative connotations into mother’s mind? If mothers choose to educate themselves about birth, then this time needs to be spent positively. Clearly making false promises and setting standards of what is a good or bad birth is not positive or conducive to a happy birth experience either. We need to know the benefits and drawbacks of each comfort technique available to use – be that natural or interventional.

We are in birth as we are in life

Birth preparation needs to have a strong focus on self-discovery. We cannot teach mothers how to give birth: Women already know how to give birth. Birth mentors can help to facilitate the journey for self-discovery with mothers and parents to be. Helping them to understand how they cope with new experiences and potentially stressful situations in everyday life. This knowledge can help us translate these coping techniques into our potential birthing scenario. How do we normally react to discomfort or pain? What usually gives us comfort of relief in new or stressful situations?

I truly believe that we are in birth as we are in life and that what comforts us today, will comfort us during birth. This journey within, this getting to know and understand ourselves, is essential in allowing us to discover how we can remain comfortable while birthing. We need to focus on opening up to the possibility of a joyful, comfortable and even ecstatic birth, without making false promises or assigning blame to mothers who didn’t meet that ‘perfect birth’ criteria.

What about Special Circumstances?

We cannot account for special circumstances arising during birth which necessitate medical intervention or mean that mother cannot have the natural birth she hoped for. I also don’t think we should diss drugs or intervention to mothers – make these options available but present them with the true pros and cons of each. As women we deserve to have all of the information available, should we decide that this is what we need for our birth to be comfortable and positive – for mother and baby. If a mother chooses intervention or drugs, then this must be respected too.

As birth professionals, we can be there to support mother after birth. To help her make sense of what happened during the birth of her child and to be at peace with the birth she had, no matter what the outcome. I believe this is the role of birth education, not teaching, but helping mother discover what she already knows deep within herself. Uncovering that real feminine strength that is integral to being a woman that has been sullied by excessive intervention, propaganda and false promises. Let’s get real about childbirth and how we can make it a more positive and empowering experience for women everywhere.

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Cheryl MacDonald

Cheryl MacDonald (a.k.a. Chhaya,) is the founder of women’s yoga collective YogaBellies with over 100 teachers teaching the YogaBellies style, across the globe. She is the creator of the Birth ROCKS natural birth preparation method, a women’s sexual wellness expert, Dakini and author of Birth ROCKS, The Yoga for Life Journal and YogaBellies for Pregnancy. She is mother of one lovely 9 year old boy and currently lives with her husband in Singapore, loving yoga, tantra and life in general. Find out more about YogaBellies [http://www.yogabellies.co.uk] Follow me on Instagram @pinkyoginii