Good births – just good luck?

Natalie Meddings, doula and active birth teacher is founder of the tellmeagoodbirthstory network and currently writing a book about the fear of childbirth. In 1953, less than one woman in ten needed assistance in birth. That meant a huge and certain 90 per cent of women gave birth to their babies without surgery, without instruments, and without pharmacological pain relief. Today over half of women need some sort of help, with the result that as a society, we now see birth by definition as complicated, risky, and unmanageable unless experts are on hand.

What does this mean? Doesn’t it make you curious? How can it be that most women then gave birth with ease, and yet today most women experience complications. There was and always will be twenty per cent of women who need assistance and hallelujah that today, top-rate medical back-up is on hand. But how do we account the rest of us needing rescue? Labour isn’t working it seems – but why?

It’s a question we don’t ask. Certainly the media isn’t interested, despite the glaring social conundrum it presents. Women today may enjoy equality and opportunity across the board but when it comes to childbirth, they assume and accept that they are inadequate. Unequal to the job. Women are as submissive around childbirth now as they were in the workplace fifty years ago. Despite the fact that it is the act that defines as female.

The female body is designed for childbirth.  This is physiological fact and yet not only have we lost faith in that, we mock it – reduce it to the cliche of wishful hippy thinking and alternative lifestyle choice. The medical establishment diminishes that faith further, the media with it’s emphasis on birth as horror-show damages it more – and we as a society add the tin-hat by sucking up every birth scare story we can. Is it any surprise we’re stuck on a spin-cycle?

Plenty of women have positive birth experiences in this country, and not because of luck, or a high pain threshold, or a special pelvis….but because they know what they need. When I started to match up anxious pregnant women from my yoga classes, with women locally who’d had positive and satisfying labours, the results were exciting – I could feel we were making use of something good and true. Finally women were getting to see that easy birth wasn’t the preserve of a lucky few – but a normal thing, that they as normal healthy women could do  by simply knowing what they needed.

And so was born….We now have just over 500 women on our database, and when a pregnant woman feeling concerned or even afraid of birth gets in touch, we hook them up with a birth buddy – someone who can share  what they learnt and help show them the way.

Talking to a woman with a good birth story to tell is empowering – like having a magic key. The message, ‘I did it, so can you,’ is more useful than you can ever imagine.  It’s a simple chain of reassurance and encouragement – as there once would have been – and it makes birth normal. Doable. An event in your life that you want to experience and take part in – rather than dread and avoid.

Below, two women – ordinary normal healthy women – tell their good birth stories, and if you read them carefully, you will see for yourself that there were no special tricks.  They, like hundreds more on our database share two common denominators – 1) they had a belief in their bodies’ ability to give birth, 2) they paid careful attention to ensuring a private setting, and continuous. but unobtrusive support.

Georgina’s story…

I started having period pain in short waves at 11pm, which continued  at irregular intervals throughout the night. My yoga teacher said this was very early labour and to try and get some sleep. I did manage to get some sleep with the help of lavender oil on my pillow and on a hankerchief on her suggestion. The next morning, my husband wanted to stay at home but I knew that things would progress faster if I was alone, that if he hung around, with nothing to do, I would feel watched and I knew that wasn’t conducive for labour. So he went to work.

I tried to continue doing things as normal so I had lunch with my brother, went for a walk and it was only when I went to the supermarket, that the contractions ramped up and found myself having to turn to the wall.

I went home quickly, my husband was back by 4.30pm and the contractions quickly intensified to every three or four minutes. For the next two hours, until 6.30pm, the most helpful thing was a hot water bottle on my lower back and swinging, figure of 8ing my hips during a contraction and then sitting on a footstool, leaning forward with my head resting on a higher seat inbetween.

As they got stronger still, the best pain relief was making noise. It was a huge release. At 7pm my husband was looking worried but I wanted to stay at home as long as possible, to give me the best chance of things unfolding without disturbance. But since I could feel I was progressing, we went in to hospital.

On arrival, I was immediately asked if I wanted an epidural which was annoying and undermining – it immediately made me feel less confident, even though deepdown I’d been feeling like I was coping well. I had some gas and air, which was great, and since I knew an epidural would slow everything down and mean I’d be there til the next day, I just kept going. They found I was making great progress, and then all of a sudden my waters broke, I felt the overwhelming urge to push and my baby boy was born 25 minutes later.

I felt very confident in my body’s ability to give birth and a lot of that was down to attending active birth classes. I also got the right encouragement at the right moments, and that pushed me uphill when I most needed it.

Helen’s story….

I started having mild contractions  in the middle of the night, about 1am. It was a feeling of “yes, todays the day”, so I got up, got things ready downstairs, as I was planning to have the baby at home. At this point they contractions were every ten minutes. Once I was happy that everything was ready, the contractions petered out and I went back to bed to.

When I woke at 8am the next morning, there were no contractions at all, and I felt deflated. I also felt the need to be on my own, so my husband, my Mum and my son went out so I could focus on myself for a bit. It did the trick, the privacy, being able to focus and relax seemed to give my body permission and by midday the contractions were coming very strongly.

By the time everyone got back, I was having fantastic ‘fall to the floor’ contractions, I was breathing really well and when at 2.30pm we called the midwife, I felt excited and confident that my baby wasn’t far away.

At first the hospital said noone was available, but on my husband’s insistence, a midwife was found, and when she turned up an hour later offered to examine me.  Against all my birthplan wishes, I agreed. Big mistake! After the exam, the midwife had that sort of pitying look, said I was only 2cm and that I had ages to go.

I knew such measurements were nothing to go by, that it was the state I was in that mattered. But it was hard not to feel knocked. My contractions were so strong, my instinct and my body were telling me I was close to giving birth. But I just couldn’t help believing her as an expert. Now I wish I’d believed myself and trusted my own instinct.

The midwife left, saying to call again when I had progressed, and I remember thinking what on earth could that mean, given how intense it already was! Then I remembered the pool downstairs,  water  at the perfect temp, and I made my way downstairs, my confidence and instinct now returning.

At the bottom of the stairs, I was glued to the spot for 4 or 5 intense contractions, trembling through what I now see was my transition. The sight of the water was irresistible and though my husband was worried about not having a midwife present, I didn’t care and just plunged in. Oh my God the relief! It felt amazing. My waters broke immediately and my baby’s head started crowning. I could feel a head in my hand. One push and his head was out.

My husband called the paramedics, who arrived in under five minutes, just in time to see my baby boy born. 5pm on the dot.

If anyone can learn anything from my birth experience, it is the importance of trusting your body. I felt throughout that my body knew exactly what it was doing, how to cope, and what it needed to do its thing, and the examination only caused me to doubt myself, and threw me off course. Nature is powerful, instinct is wonderful and I’m awestruck as to what my body did all on its own without any outside “help”.

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