Sunday 21 April 2019

Stop terrifying new mothers-to-be with birth horror stories - focus on the positive

'At least one in 10 women has avoided pregnancy altogether because they have tokophobia: a deep fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Triggers can include hearing negative stories, watching programmes depicting shocking birth experiences, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths' (stock photo)
'At least one in 10 women has avoided pregnancy altogether because they have tokophobia: a deep fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Triggers can include hearing negative stories, watching programmes depicting shocking birth experiences, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths' (stock photo)

Sinéad Moriarty

Men sit in pubs sharing 'war stories' about sports injuries while women tend to do the same with birth stories.

"Try pushing a pineapple out your nose", "Place your index fingers in the two corners of your mouth and pull your lips over your head" . . . the charming descriptions of labour are endless.

On my first pregnancy, I found myself cornered on many a night by women telling me horror stories about births and the many things that can go wrong. I was regaled with tales of forceps, internal and external stitches, blood and guts. It was rare I heard a good story. I don't ever remember anyone saying: "Don't worry, it's a fantastic experience."

How many times have we heard a newly pregnant women say she's not planning to have an epidural and be faced with howls of laughter and derision?

The way we talk about labour makes it sound like a war zone and puts the fear of God in many women, pregnant or not.

A study at Bournemouth University found portrayals of childbirth in the media affect how people see the process, and highlighted that "normal" births are missing in pop culture.

At least one in 10 women has avoided pregnancy altogether because they have tokophobia: a deep fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Triggers can include hearing negative stories, watching programmes depicting shocking birth experiences, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths.

In an attempt to change this negative attitude towards childbirth and allay women's fears, Milli Hill, a mum and writer, set up the Positive Birth Movement in 2012. It currently has 450 groups globally, including one in Ireland which was set up last year.

"I just thought I'd have a group of women round to my house to have tea and cake and talk about birth," said Ms Hill.

For Hill, a positive birth is one in which a woman feels she has the freedom of choice, access to accurate information and that she is in control and being respected. A positive birth is one the mother can remember with pride and warmth. Ms Hill stressed that a positive birth does not have to be 'natural' or 'drug-free', "it simply has to be informed from a place of positivity as opposed to fear".

The Positive Birth Movement helps women to inform each other, access the treatment that suits them best, and understand what their bodies can do by removing facts from fear.

"What's not 'normal' is for the fear to take over," argued Ms Hill. "At the moment, I worry that it has an unhealthy grip not just on women but on midwives and obstetricians, which can lead to defensive practice and a lack of personalised maternity care built on human connection - which ironically is safer and more satisfying for everyone involved."

I have to say this movement is music to my ears. I have my own 'war story'. When I had my first baby, I ended up on crutches for six weeks. My obstetrician told me I was absolutely fine and to "get on with it". It was only when I insisted on an X-ray, because I couldn't walk, that I realised that the intense pain was the result of the separation of the front part of my pelvic bone.

Needless to say, I changed obstetricians and had my next two children under the care of a kind man who listened to what I wanted and both of those childbirth experiences were extremely calm and positive.

We need to change the conversation and stop frightening new mothers-to-be with negative stories. Research on the effect of fear in childbirth was published in the 'International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology'. The study, carried out in Norway, found women with a fear of childbirth were almost twice as likely to need obstetric interventions than those who were not afraid.

Ms Hill advises women - whether they are mothers or apprehensive first-timers - to take an active role in the birth and learn about their options and human rights.

Making a plan, and learning about the physiology of labour and how to create the best possible birth environment can be really helpful and give you some sense of control over the whole experience.

At the end of it all, the only thing that really matters is a healthy baby. But if the mother feels traumatised or is unwell, that can affect the bonding process.

So, it is important women feel respected and their wishes are not dismissed. After all, happy mother equals happy baby.

Irish Independent

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