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Any big life event, whether physical (e.g. a marathon) or emotional (e.g. a wedding), requires thought, forward planning and preparation. Childbirth is arguably the biggest life-changing event in a woman’s life and therefore should be afforded the same, if not more, time and advance preparation.

Society shapes our view of all our major emotional life events – weddings, christenings, funerals, childbirth, etc. in terms of how they ‘should’ happen, what to wear, gift etiquette and so on. These ‘rules’ often change with the times; what was trendy wedding attire in 1980 wouldn’t be so fashionable today. That is the good thing about fashion though – it changes constantly so there is more flexibility with it. We can ‘recycle’ old trends and reinvent them in a more modern way.

Unfortunately, the ‘rules’ of childbirth haven’t changed much in decades. In every medium available (documentary, films, TV dramas, sex education at school etc.), birth is depicted in a medicalised setting with the labouring mother lying on a hospital bed surrounded by doctors screaming her head off. The use of this image is so commonplace that it has made its way into our psyche and become ‘truth.’ With that, comes a sense of inevitability; that no matter how much you’d like an alternative experience, you’re pushing against the grain and are aiming for something that doesn’t exist. You’ll end up in hospital anyway, there will be medical intervention and it will hurt like hell no matter what so why bother?

I can completely understand this thought process but I feel that it is slightly victim-esque.

It’s natural to go into birth with trepidation. There is no get-out clause; birth is inevitable. Generally, childbirth happens spontaneously – we do not control the where and when of going into labour and our bodies work to birth our babies without us having to consciously dilate our cervix or engage our uterine muscles. This means there is a certain lack of control over the physical process of childbirth. This, combined with society’s portrayal of birth as something excruciating that happens to you rather than an experience you can own, can feed the natural feeling of nervous anticipation and turn it into outright fear. I think that great intention and care are needed at this point; we need to consciously decide whether to buy into this fear or not.

Trusting our instincts seems to be a skill we’ve lost. As we go about our daily lives, our fight or flight response is not flexed for much more than the odd conflict situation or public speaking engagement. But when it comes to childbirth, the flight or flight response comes into its own. I think the fear that surrounds childbirth can cause some women to pretend it’s not happening or not do anything to prepare and others to fight for what they believe to be right for them. And it is a choice. The fear of childbirth does lessen our ability to trust ourselves and our capabilities but it is still possible to find a sense of inner belief. 

I remember people thinking I was mad for openly stating that I hoped for a drug-free birth with my first daughter. The same was true when I expressed my desire to have a homebirth for my third daughter. I might have been easily swayed by these opinions if I hadn’t done any research or preparation and didn’t wholeheartedly believe it was possible myself. I chose not to listen to the people who didn’t support or believe in my intentions for each of my three births and, ultimately, I trusted myself.

I felt a sense of “knowingness” – not because I expected my births to go exactly as I intended but because I trusted my body, believed in my capabilities and knew deep down I could have positive experiences – no matter how they unfolded. For each of my three pregnancies I went to prenatal yoga, non-hospital led birth classes, practiced visualisations, pranayama and meditations, I had acupuncture and I wrote detailed birth intentions. As a result of all that preparation was a quiet, knowing belief. I’m sure it is that belief that made all three of my births the most empowering, life-affirming, contented moments of my life, despite all being different.

If we take a thoughtful and careful approach to our birthing experience then even if our births do not go to plan, we are much more likely to feel empowered through the process rather than robbed of a good experience. We need to understand that there is no birth ‘manual’, there are no ‘rules’; the experience is there for the taking and we have a responsibility to make it our own.