I was at a party this week, attended by just over 80 women (no blokes). Yes, ok, I’ll admit it – it was the WI Christmas Party … but, don’t judge me! This is the new pimped-up Tunbridge Wells WI – Wells Angels, you may have heard of it. Let me assure you it’s not the traditional jam & Jerusalem stuff … by the end of the evening shots were being lined up along the bar, so there! (more on that at the end)
Anyway, I digress. I am privileged in my work to have many women share their birth experiences and hopes and fears about birth with me, but usually because that’s what we’re there for – we’re at a Positive Birth Movement meeting or one of my Hypnobirthing or NCT courses.
But, what I’ve noticed over the years is that wherever I am, when women in my company find out what I do for a living, they are really interested and usually tell me their birth stories eagerly. This week’s WI party was no exception – we were all drinking, laughing, dancing … the usual party shenanigans, all keen to meet the other members of the newly-formed group and find out a bit about them. Asking ‘what do you do?’ was an easy, getting-to-know-you start to a conversation. By the end of the evening I’m guessing I’d talked to about 15 women in detail about their children’s birth. Some had given birth 25 years ago, some recently, some were pregnant and there were quite a few who haven’t had children yet, are not pregnant, not even considering it for a few years and yet, they too, wanted to talk about their future births. That’s interesting isn’t it?
For a long time I have flatly refused to agree with anyone who says to me of childbirth “It’s just one day”. No. It’s not. If it was, women wouldn’t want to talk about it so much.
Birth is a pivotal moment for a woman and her partner. It’s a massive event that changes their life and leaves a lasting impression on them.
When women who have given birth talk about whether or not it was a positive experience they tend to reflect on how they felt emotionally and less on the method of birth. Of course, that comes into it, but overwhelmingly what you’ll hear them talking about is how they were spoken to, the support they had, the environment, a particular caring midwife, the love and strength of their partner.
Often when couples talk about positive birth experiences those feelings are rooted in having felt they were listened to and given the information they needed to be part of any decision-making. Treated as unique individuals, responded to. If those elements were in place they more often have a positive experience, even if their birth was lengthy or with medical complications.
We know that the experience of childbirth plays a major role in how first-time mothers develop good self-esteem and adjust to motherhood, as well as their future birth experiences. All of that has an impact on the family as a whole, and then for the record, on how their children feel about and approach birth when the time comes.
So, when people say ‘It’s just one day’ or ‘All that matters is that you and the baby are ok’ – to me, it sounds a bit like they’re saying ‘shut-up and be grateful’. Yes, of course, the most important thing is that mum and baby are healthy but it’s absolutely not the only thing that matters. Milli Hill, Founder of The Positive Birth Movement writes about that over-used phrase here
So, to the mums I chatted to on Monday night who’ve yet to have babies, I guess my take-home point would be: take responsibility, understand the birth process – what will help it along and what won’t. Get informed so that when decisions need to be made you are at the centre of that decision-making. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, but those women who, after birth, are saying ‘I don’t really know what the hell happened’ are the ones who didn’t have a positive experience on that ‘just one day’ and it’s clear to me that actually it does matter, to all of them. A lot.
The other thing I reflected on after the party was that, at the grand old age of 46, I should know better than to finish off an evening with vodka shots …. but, I took responsibility, I understand the hangover process, I was informed and certainly right at the centre of that final decision-making process and I had a lovely time, because when women come together something magical happens!
Merry Christmas Everyone!