According to a new survey commissioned by the Birth Trauma Association, an alarming number of women count giving birth as one of the worst experiences of their lives.
Almost 70% of of the 600 women surveyed said they did not get the birth experience they wanted, and one-third of respondents said they were not treated with dignity and respect, or given proper information and / or explanations during labour.
Perhaps those likely to respond to a survey by the Birth Trauma Association aren’t going to be people with overwhelmingly positive experiences of giving birth, but whatever the facts behind those figures, they’re worrying, aren’t they?
I wonder if birth plans are to blame for some of these statistics? I’ve never really understood the emphasis placed on encouraging women to write birth plans. I get that it’s there to guide medical professionals concerning your preferences on matters like pain relief in the event that you’re less than lucid on the subject when the big day comes, but I wonder if birth plans in part set some women up for disappointment. Do they create false expectations? Encourage mothers to believe that what they ‘want’ can in any way influence what they ‘get’ when it comes to a birth experience? I’ve yet to meet a Mum whose experience of giving birth matched her birth plan to the letter, so why bother with one? Clearly birth plans were of little use to many of the Mums who responded to this survey.
The Birth Trauma Association made this comment in a press release: “Many cited ‘loss of control’ and ‘lack of communication’ as key factors in how they felt about their births afterwards. Some respondents said they felt ‘bullied’ or ‘harrassed’ by overstretched staff. Many felt ignored on the post-natal ward and said attempts to get an explanation for what went wrong were dismissed.”
Most Mums know that having a baby isn’t a consumer choice, and that making a decision about the kind of birth you hope for isn’t the same as choosing where to go on holiday. Surely the one thing an expectant Mum needs to know ahead of giving birth is that almost anything can happen, and that plans are exactly that – plans, which are famously unreliable and subject to last minute alterations. Nevertheless, it’s shocking that mothers encounter such negative experiences of giving birth in this day and age. On that basis I’d advocate drawing up a different kind of birth plan with whomever is likely to be present with you when you give birth – one in which you agree how you’ll both respond if you feel you aren’t being treated with dignity or respect, or aren’t getting the sort of care you deserve.
In the light of survey results like this, it’s understandable that many women opt to give birth in the comfort of their own home, where you can crawl into your own bed after giving birth and spend your first night snuggled up with your nearest and dearest. And yet the recent media fuss over the dangers associated with home births are enough to put you off that, too.
According to newspaper reports, Dannii Minogue opted to have a home birth for the recent arrival of her first child, but was rushed to hospital due to complications which arose during delivery. Dannii hasn’t commented on the story, and baby Ethan was apparently perfectly healthy on arrival, but those reports have kicked off lots of scare-mongering in the media about everything that can go wrong, no matter how or where you choose to give birth.
Enough. I’m no expert on giving birth, but I’ve done it twice and both times lived to tell the tale. Far from being the worst day of my life, my son’s births stand out as shining examples of some of the best moments a human can hope to have on earth. To what do I attribute the positive nature of those experiences? Mainly the fact that I felt calm and safe throughout. I remember being told at my NCT class about the way the hormones adrenalin and oxytocin work together during labour, the gist being that you need plenty of oxytocin for labour to progress, and that adrenalin inhibits the production of oxytocin. In other words, the very best thing you can do during labour is stay calm, thus letting oxytocin do its thing, and the very worst thing you can do is get stressed, or even over-excited. Maybe it’s just the placebo effect but it worked for me.
I wonder what the Birth Trauma Association hoped this survey would prove? Isn’t it likely to worry women, rather than empower them to take control of their birth experience? If you’re expecting a baby, please don’t let statistics like this frighten you. Sometimes it seems birth horror stories vastly outnumber tales of easy, straightforward deliveries, and while things can and do go wrong in the labour ward and at home, there’s surely no reason why any woman should equate giving birth with a damaging experience. If you’re expecting, talk about your concerns, have a birth partner to hand who understands your fears, hopes, and expectations, and above all else, don’t over-focus on the birth plan at the expense of preparing yourself for the fact that giving birth, like motherhood itself, can be wildly unpredictable.
What do you think? If you’re a mother, did your birth go according to ‘plan’?