Before I was pregnant, ‘positive’ and ‘birth’ were not words I expected to see in the same sentence. Not unless that sentence was ‘I am positive my birth is going to be terrible’. I had never attended a birth, never watched a birth video nor seen a birth photo. Not real ones anyway. I had seen movies and TV shows with their screaming, yelling and panicking. I knew the drill, you gripped your stomach, your waters broke, you rushed to the hospital and then you were being told to push. Push dammit, push!
When I fell pregnant, everyone was quick to share their stories with me. Stories that did nothing to allay my fears. Stories about labour lasting for days, emergency c-sections with dangerous blood loss, ripping, tearing, pain, unimaginable pain and so much blood. Lunchroom conversations became scarier and scarier as I was told about every possible eventuality under the sun. Except one. No one told me about birth as a positive experience.
So, for the first part of my pregnancy, the birth was something I tried not to focus on. It would happen, it would be terrible, and that would be that, right?
I was skimming through articles online at the end of a long day when a heading caught my eye: ‘Birth photography, gruesome or awesome’. I clicked. Of course I clicked, you can’t be pregnant and not click on a heading like that. The first photo took my breath away. Raw emotion. The look on her face, it was indescribable. The emotions I could see were so far from what I was expecting. 5pm came and went and still I sat there, looking at these images over and over again. This was birth? No way. But they were smiling, there was joy on these women’s faces.
It was the turning point in my pregnancy.
I went home and found more of her work, slideshows that made me cry, birth blogs where women were excited to give birth. I saw women birthing the way they wanted to, where they wanted to. In one slideshow I saw a mother deliver her baby herself, in the water, while the midwife looked on. I was in awe. I didn’t know you were allowed to do that – were you allowed to do that?
I sent the link to my midwife. ‘This is what I want’, I told her. ‘I want to birth my baby, I want to be the first person to touch my baby, to see what gender he or she is. Can I do that?’
‘Yes’ she said to me, ‘you can.’
During one of our antenatal classes we learnt about inductions, available pain relief, and possible delivery aids such as episiotomys. Unlike the session where we learnt about lotus birth, birthing positions and the roles of hormones like oxytocin and adrenaline on our body, this one I struggled with. I hate needles, the thought of a needle and I start to panic, my breathing picks up and I feel ill. You hear about people at antenatal classes get queasy at the birth video, I had to put my head between my knees when the needle talk started. This session convinced me even more that I wanted our birth to be as intervention free as possible
My workmates thought I was nuts. Birth centre? Water birth? No drugs? What are you – a crazy hippie? ‘Take the drugs’ they told me, ’it’s not like you get a trophy’. So I stopped telling people. But my partner and my midwife were 100% behind me and we talked about it often.
For the rest of my pregnancy I thought about our birth every day. I talked to our unborn baby and told him all about it. I visualised going into labour, I visualised guiding his head out of my body. I did this every morning as we walked to work. I didn’t know it then, but the daily walk to work was doing more than just helping me prepare mentally, it was getting my body into shape, ready for the physical task ahead of me.
A very good friend sent me a book of birth stories, the birth of her second child was in it, and I read it cover to cover, then I read it again. I learnt about skin to skin and how a mothers body can regulate their newborn baby’s temperature. I read about delayed cord clamping and the importance of allowing my baby to get as much of the placental blood as possible. I read about the crawl babies do to the breast after birth. With every story my excitement grew. These births were inspiring. Why had I not seen this side to it before?
Now, after having Ziggy, when I see a birth depicted in the media, I want to yell at the TV. When I read it in books I shake my head at the picture they paint. I wish they would do better. I wish they would show other examples of birth. Even if they started with small steps, women birthing in a position other than on their back, or women giving birth surrounded by supportive family members, and partners that hold their hands and not pass out.
I am thankful to the women that reached out to me during my pregnancy, who told me their stories and showed me that birth wasn’t something I had to be scared of. They were small in number, but the message they gave me was powerful.
We have the power to alter a person’s perception with the information we give them. So for the next pregnant woman we talk to, we must think about that power, and make sure we’re using it in the right way.
If you have a friend that is pregnant, remember she will be nervous enough about all that is to come. Be mindful of that and be the supportive voice she needs. Focus on the positive.
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