I was lying by a pool in Crete when I first read the Call The Midwife book by Jennifer Worth. Surprisingly for my companions (who knew me as someone who doesn’t read a great deal) I was completely hooked and read the booking almost without coming up for air. Imagine my excitement when I found out it was going to be televised. Like many midwives and childbirth educators I was looking forward to something which I hoped would prove to be an antidote to the modern-day depiction of birth offered up as ‘reality television’ in One Born Every Minute.
And so it was. Gentle, honest and a real piece of social history the first series drew us in, made us care and demonstrated how women gave birth – sometimes under difficult circumstances – and midwives supported them woman to woman.
But isn’t it interesting to notice, as the series have progressed, how the interaction with the midwives and the women they care for has been subtly changing. Initially very hands off and trusting of women to birth their babies, this series has relied much more on the introduction of entonox (gas & air) and the use of the maternity home as an option for women having their babies.
And I suppose that this is very true to reality. It was during the 1950s that these changes did indeed begin to happen, swiftly followed in the 1960s by more and more women having their babies in hospital and culminating in The Peel Report (1970) which recommended that hospital birth should be available for all women
But is has not just been the move from home to hospital that has greatly impacted on women’s experiences of birth. During this same time frame, and continuing on to the present day, the level of intervention during pregnancy and birth has increased drastically. At the same time women have got healthier – supported by a universal NHS system, had fewer babies each and benefitted from much greater understanding of health, nutrition and the physiology of the childbearing year.
It seems strange to me that as women are arguably better placed to birth their babies easily – stronger, more knowledgeable, eating well and taking care of themselves in a way they never did in the 1950s – the perception is that the opposite is what is happening. So many women seem to have the belief that they will need help, that hospital is the safest place (just in case something goes wrong) and that birth is difficult and problematic. It is the classic case of pregnancy and birth being risky until it can be shown, after the event, that they weren’t.
This is no way to prepare for such a major life event. Undermining women’s confidence is only going to add to the pressures and complications rather than alleviate them. When women are surrounded by those who believe in their ability to give birth and so support them to do this their way then surely a positive attitude and approach make a straightforward and empowering experience more likely?
So next time you are talking to a woman who is pregnant (or are pregnant yourself) think about what you say and how you say it. Keep your language positive and supportive rather than taking delight in sharing ‘horror stories’. Birth can be powerful and intense, and it can also be beautiful and awe-inspiring. Good preparation with a belief in nature having designed women’s bodies to do this can really help women and their partners. It is important to take away the negative images and the fear that surrounds modern-day childbearing, taking it back to the basics – after all it isn’t rocket science!