Is it time to expect less perfection from birth?
We can have so many expectations around birth and I always try to talk about it realistically - it’s raw, painful, messy, exhausting, powerful, unpredictable, you have to dig deep and it can be challenging in ways you didn’t expect. And I love birth - I have done it myself three times, I have attended many as a doula and I have talked to thousands of parents about theirs - what we do to have our babies is nothing but incredible.
Giving birth is unique to everyone - the combination of you and your baby has never happened before. There are common themes but this labour and birth belongs only to you.
With birth plans, we can expect more control
With hypnobirthing we can expect pain-free
With NCT we can expect easy
As an antenatal educator, it can be tricky to get the balance right - keeping it real but not causing fear or completely bursting the birth bubble. Effective birth preparation needs to about way more than just presenting information - you can have the information but do you feel confident about what you can do and what you might need? It needs to be thought provoking so you can consider the challenges and reasons why your options might change.
Labour can be a bit unpredictable, babies can be in awkward positions, contractions can be intense, it can overwhelm you and you can be faced with medical policies and decisions.
I’ve lost count of the amount of “I only wanted a calm, waterbirth” comments I have heard and read. But labour was long, different pain relief was needed, they were induced - it was a different labour to the one they were expecting and the one they had prepared for.
Having an epidural can be a game-changer for some women - if your labour is long and if you are exhausted, you need rest so you can do the birth thing later on.
I passionately believe in good information and doing birth on purpose - knowing more about what you can do, knowing more about what the challenges might be and how you can handle them and having more realistic expectations about it being nothing like you imagined, your options changing, having to speak up for yourself and for it to be a test of endurance.
Caesareans can be great, epidurals are not failure, induction can be really tough and we need more conversations about this. Expectant parents need better information and truth about the reality of it all - and there lies another problem because community midwives don’t have the time and NHS antenatal classes can be limited.
I try to instil more confidence in expectant parents so you have a voice, so you can say what you need, so you can do what works for you, so you can keep gathering information to assess and then know your options, so you can prepare as well as possible and question things if they don’t feel right.
We also need to normalise talking about birth afterwards because it may have been so different from your expectations and you might need to debrief any lack of control from not being able to access the pain relief you needed.
With an expectation of achieving the perfect birth, anything else could mean failure. And it’s all about perspective - even a straight-forward, no nonsense labour probably won’t be perfect. I once spoke to a really upset new mum who said “but I wanted to enjoy it, I didn’t enjoy the birth of my baby, I thought it would be magical.” Enjoying labour and birth is a big ask but I do wonder if birth has been romanticised a bit too much and that could be letting parents down.
So how do you get ready for birth? Try to have a voice and aim to put yourself at the centre of your care so it comes back to what you need - this is your show! And then do talk it through afterwards.
And go with what you need, it’s not a competition.
Please do tell other parents…