Childbirth is often compared to running a marathon and for good reason. The physical and emotional demands are not dissimilar. A recent study showed that childbirth put an equivalent level of stress and trauma on the body as running a marathon.
So I thought I’d take this comparison a step further and explore the kind of messages that women are frequently subjected to when pregnant and see how those same messages might look if she was putting herself forward for a marathon instead.
This is to highlight the ridiculousness of what pregnant women have to put up with and to show how our culture encourages fear among women when it comes to birth.
Doesn’t this woman look ridiculous?
If you were running in a race, you definitely WOULD NOT be dressed like that. Those heels are bound to cause you some hardcore foot injuries, not to mention adding a bucket load of hours to your marathon time. And who starts a marathon crouching on the floor, anyhow? All of it is nonsense, and we know it. In fact, we all know it so well, that you would NEVER see this. Not even in a comedy that featured a woman running a race. Imagine watching a reality TV show about marathon runners and seeing the coaches advising the women to do this. IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!!!
And yet when it comes to birth, this is what we’re seeing … EVERYWHERE! And don’t even get me started on a certain birthing reality show! In fact we see it so much that women just think that when you give birth you lie on your back. That’s just how it happens. WRONG!
The problem with making women think that you give birth on your back
This is a problem. A HUGE problem. This alone feeds a ton of fears in women when it comes to labour and birth.
Loss of control
When you’re heavily pregnant, lying down on your back is a nightmare for lots of reasons. But I’d say the main one is this; feeling a total loss of control. If you’ve never been pregnant, you wouldn’t understand but let me try to help you. Imagine you’re in bed and a large St Bernard dog has fallen asleep right across your body. Now try to move; get out of bed, turn over, sit up… NOPE! Not happening! You’re stuck.
In my last month of pregnancy, to get out of bed, I needed to swing my legs sideways to get some momentum going in the hope that my back would get up in response. It’s crazy thinking that’s based on having some kind of core strength to draw against (core strength that has disappeared now that you’re pregnant!), So as expected, this typically failed and instead I’d have to call my partner to pull me up. When I was having ultrasound scans, it was the nurse that needed to pull me up.
Now imagine going through that but you’re in labour. WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY and a few thousand notches UP the I feel outta control scale.
Fear of losing control is a very common among pregnant women and this myth feeds it beautifully.
Lying on your back, with your legs in the air and having a bunch of strangers looking at your wootsy is GUARANTEED to make you feel vulnerable. Just the thought of it when you’re not pregnant is bad enough, but when there’s a St Bernard dog lying on top of you weighing you down too, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Childbirth is already a vulnerable time for a woman, and what she needs more than anything is to feel safe, secure and loved. THIS is what helps labour keep moving at a pace that’s right for mum and baby. When she feels vulnerable and not in control, feelings of safety and security are out the window, and fears come rushing in… this is very bad news for labour!
Loss of respect
I don’t need to labour (!) this point too much as it’s easy to understand how lying on your back with your legs akimbo and strangers, (including men) are looking at your ladybits, is going to make you feel. And respected isn’t it.
So, having already established how damaging it is mentally and emotionally for pregnant mamas to think that you give birth on your back, let’s take a closer look at how bad it is for labour itself.
Why giving birth on your back is bad
Lying on your back is super bad for a host of reasons;
Giving birth on your back usually makes labour MORE PAINFUL!
This reason is enough for it to never recommended but let’s carry on…
When you’re lying on your back, you’re quite literally pushing uphill. The birth canal curves upwards when you lie down, so you’re going against gravity.
Birthing on your back can make labour last longer because the body has to work much harder to eject the baby.
Being on your back reduces the pelvic opening by up to 30% compared to other positions such as standing or squatting.
Birthing in this position increases your risk of experiencing an assisted or medicalised birth.
Laying on the back constricts blood vessels, meaning baby and mother won’t receive the optimum levels of blood & oxygen.
If baby is in a non-optimal position (such as posterior), then the baby is less likely to shift into a better position while mama is on her back.
The tragic irony is that lying on your back increases the need for the very interventions that the doctors and consultants want you in this position to check for. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes it works for mums, and that’s fine, but let mum decide if it feels right for her. DON’T PRESSURE HER.
As I write this it strikes me how utterly absurd the myth of birthing on your back is. The emotional impact of laying on your back is bad enough given how important the emotional state of mind is when it comes to giving birth. But the fact that it also makes labour longer, more painful, more difficult, more risky and less healthy all adds to up a ton of VERY GOOD REASONS why it should be avoided as much as possible.
Why are we seeing it everywhere?
Who are these badly educated people who are pulling together these films, dramas and documentaries? If they were portraying the trials and challenges in the life of a gay person in Russia, you’d expect them to at least carry out some research and chat to a gay person in Russia and not portray gay Russians based on a brief chinwag to an American heterosexual.
So, why do we continue to see women being shown birthing on their backs?
If you think this is a crazy state of affairs, here’s what you can do;
When you see a bad case of birthing on the back, call up the TV show or film producers – Tweet them! Most of them have Twitter accounts these days.
Let me help you make a start with that.
Here’s a Tweet for the UK show One Born Every Minute that you can send right now
[Tweet “Hey @C4OneBorn. Stop showing women birthing on their backs. It’s WRONG and BAD for women to think this is how we birth.”]
Another thing you can do is BLOG OR VLOG about it and join me in making some noise about the absurdity of all this. If you do, keep me posted so that I give you an internet high 5!
What do you think about we always seem to see women birthing on their backs? Do you agree that we need stop this craziness? Or do you think it’s a fabulous way to prepare mums for the realities of birth? Tell me in the comments below!
And stay tuned for the next installment in the If childbirth was a marathon series.
Are you suffering from the pressure to be induced ? Well maybe my story can help you.
This time last year I was 5 days past my due date. Well, the due date that my midwife had given me. I was doing everything I could to stay calm and present despite knowing that I was hurtling fast into the pressure for induction zone.
I had already batted away my consultant on several occasions, what with me being a high-risk older mum (mmm right!), so I didn’t really feel that I was being allowed to stay calm. I felt more like I had to be in a defensive mode to claim my right to allow my body and my baby to unfold at a natural pace. That experience taught me a lot and one that I am grateful for.
In navigating this challenging path, there were certain questions that kept popping into my mind that I couldn’t shake. Questions to which I wanted the answers;
Were older mums really at a higher risk?
Surely lifestyle factors are more important than age?… I was 6 weeks over 40 for goodness sake!
What evidence was there for placentas no longer sustaining baby?
How did they calculate this due date anyway?
When do mothers typically give birth if nature is allowed to unfold at its own pace?
The thing is, I can be like a dog with a bone and I’ll keep digging until I find what I need. This quest forced me to dive down deep into research papers in order to find the answers I was looking for. I couldn’t believe that this information was so well hidden from view. Surely all pregnant women have these questions… don’t they? Let me jsut say that I spent quite a bit of time in this researching mode. Thank goodness I was on maternity leave, because it felt like a full time job! But I was grateful for the time I spent on it because the more I read up on all of this, the more confident I became in resisting the pressure for me to be induced.
What I learned from my experience of the pressure to be induced
Well, for starters , the risks I was being warned about were being MASSIVELY blown out of all proportion. But, the kicker for me was that all this seemed to hinge on my due date. And here lies the problem.
Due dates are red herrings!
The due date that I had been given of September 20th was probably way off. It was based on my 20 week scan and one thing that I learned was that scans become more and more unreliable when it comes to predicting due dates, as your pregnancy progresses. The most accurate being your 7 or 8 week scan. But even these can be up to 2 weeks off. By the time you have a 20-week scan the date can up to 3 weeks off. So given they were basing this on my 20 week scan, I knew I had some time to play with.
The next MAJOR discovery for me was the farce that is the due date calculation method. I’ve blogged and podcasted about that already so I won’t go into all of it again. But when I re-calculated my due dates using the science-based methods (get your cheat sheet of the science-backed methods by clicking on the box below), my new dates were coming out early October.
Once I was sure of my information.. and doubly and triple sure…. I asked to have my due date changed on my records and for this to be taken into account when considering induction. I happen to know my conception date too, so you’d think that they would be open to considering my new due date. Ha! Actually NO! The consultants didn’t care. The 20th Sept would remain as my due date.
I turned down a number of offers for inductions from my consultant, as well as declining a couple of offers of a sweep by my midwife. I managed to put back the absolutely final induction date from the consultant to October 9th which I was much more comfortable with given my revised due dates that I had calculated using other methods (October 5th and 6th).
I accepted to have regular monitoring to keep an eye on baby and me, and that what we did.
Baby Sofia arrived on October 5th naturally without induction at home. And according to the midwives, she looked “on time”. She still had vernix on her skin and my placenta was looking “lush and vibrant” < their words! Certainly not the signs of an overcooked baby or a declining placenta!
This week I had a conversation with a TV Producer who is looking for some pregnant mums for a TV documentary about childbirth. We were talking because as part of her documentary, she was looking to hear from mums who were happy to share their positive birth story. I was more than happy to help!
During the conversation it transpired that her production company had pitched a whole series to Channel 4 but so far Channel 4 were only taking one episode. This really surprised me because, here in the UK, Channel 4 have got quite a good reputation when it comes to putting out interesting, well thought-out documentaries. Not only that, but they are the home to one of the most talked about series when it comes to childbirth, One Born Every Minute.
What’s wrong with One Born Every Minute?
As with all good TV shows, One Born Every Minute relies on drama and emotion.. that’s what makes it a success as a piece of TV entertainment. The problem with that is they will naturally pick the births that are dramatic and emotional. The problem is that is just one small view of childbirth. Childbirth is best for mum and baby when it’s withouth drama and in a calm envrionment.. So the births we’re seeing on this show are not representative of CHILDBIRTH.
Now this would be OK, if it weren’t for this tragic fact: most women of childbearing age are watching this show and it’s probably the closest thing they get to having some sort of childbirth education. So, this TV show is unwittingly filling a much needed hole, BADLY.
As a TV show, it’s great. As a form of childbirth education it sucks! Why? because of this one simple thing: it’s creating fear among women when it comes to childbirth. My problem with fear, is that it’s directly responsible for crappy childbirth experiences that are bad for mum and bad for baby. And if something is bad for mum AND baby during birth, then it’s bad for society… the impact of difficult and traumatic birth experiences include a higher likelihood of the occurence of post natal depression in women as well as an increased likelihood of mental and emotional health challenges in the children. This is something that we could really do much less of in the world right now.
Now, what I’m not saying is that Channel 4 should stop airing such shows, but I do think that they need to accept responsibility for the role they’re playing in childbirth education. They might not have chosen this role, but they’ve filled the shoes, and their actions have consequences. So as part of their role as a responsible broadcaster, they need to adopt a more balanced approach to their programming and for me this means balancing out the negative aspects of birth, with the positive.
So, how do we ask them to do that?
We could ask them nicely, which probably won’t work…. things like that never do! They are a business after all and will want to sell advertising in the ad break.. so they need to know that there is a demand for programming that presents a more balanced perspective on childbirth. And that’s where I need your help
I started a petition and I’d love you to sign it and share it;
What else could we be doing to get them to take notice? Do you know someone at Channel 4 who we could talk to? Do you have an idea for childbirth documentary that you think needs some airtime? Let me know in the comments!
If you haven’t come across the term Conscious Parenting, you’re not the only one. I only recently came across it this week when a friend of mine shared a wonderful video on Facebook. I’m going to share the video below because it’s utterly compelling. But also it’s interesting, thought provoking and essential viewing for all parents-to-be (and parents!).
It’s 3o minutes long but worth it. Dr Shefali is a great speaker so put the kettle on.
Why am I sharing a video on Conscious Parenting on a childbirth blog?
Well, one thing is clear from listening to Shefali and it’s this; to be a conscious parent, we need to put a stop to the negative emotional patterns that control our lives and ensure that we do not pass them on. So how do we do that? Well, we use our Pregnancy journey to face up to our fears and we take a long hard look at our emotional baggage.. and WE LET IT GO! Easier said that done right? Well no. By preparing for your birth using Reflective Birthing this is exactly what we do.. so not only do we help you to shed the fears that might contribute to a difficult birth experience, but we get rid of of the emotional patterns that might surface during labour. These emotional patterns are YOUR emotional patterns and they’re not neccessarily birth related. It might be to do with the thing you have about authority and not being able to be told what to do. Or it could be that issue you have with not being in control.
Childbirth is unpredictable and you might face any number of challenges that push your buttons. But your buttons are personal to you. And it’s these same buttons that your kids will press.
So why not let go of these buttons during pregnancy? Doing so can help to improve your chances of a positive birth experience, but also make a great start on your conscious parenting journey.
If you’re interested in reading more about Conscious Parenting, Dr Shefali Tsabary has written a book on it.
Tavia’s arrival into the world, in her mother’s words
“I had a straight forward first home birth 15 months ago, (on a Full Moon) I was obviously hoping for something similar this time round. Lawson was a bit of a surprise as I was only 37+3 and we’d only been in our new house 5 days!
Therefore, we had been expecting Tavia to arrive early this time, and in fact there had been times when I had been concerned the she’d arrive too soon, as we’ve been renovating our new house since the end of Nov and I had a toddler to run round after.
Everyone was convinced she’d arrive over Easter in line with the Full Moon again, but it wasn’t to be. Despite being half ready I was aware we still had lots of odd jobs to finish, which would make life easier after the birth and my husband had various things going on at work which would also be better if cleared out the way before her birth. So Easter came and went and then the days started to tick by.
I had started to get lots of sharp pains in the top of my legs/groin, which I had last time a few weeks before the birth. As I had SPD last time and a little this time, I just put it down to nerves/ligaments etc. Little did I know that these would be exactly how my contractions would feel this time! So, 39 weeks came and went, I had seen my midwife Julie and I’d already declined booking a sweep at 40 weeks and I therefore wasn’t due to see her again until 28th, when I would have been 40+4.
Saturday 18th April was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and it really felt like Spring had arrived, my Doula, Dee Coe, had mentioned during the week that Saturday was the end of the’Dark of the Moon’ and the start of the ‘New Moon’, which had something to do with feminine energy (perhaps we were clutching at straws as I hadn’t followed pattern and I’d missed the Full Moon this time!). So, on Saturday morning Kev and I were both in a really good mood and he was determined that the 3 of us would go to Belle and Jerome for Breakfast in Beeston, so off we went bright and early as we needed to be back for Lawson to nap afterwards. I had a lovely full English ( I had Fish and Chips for tea last time, so I obviously need a good carb store), and then nipped to Boots. I mentioned that walking was hard and really felt like I was waddling!
We got home and shortly after I had a ‘show’, so I text Dee to let her know not to go too far. My first birth was fairly swift so we were expecting similar. Not much happened, we both pottered around the house doing little jobs whilst Lawson was asleep, I ordered some more nappies online, filed a pile of letters I’d been meaning to do for a while, and tidied up a bit, but it was calm and quiet and the sun was still beaming. Lawson woke up and Kev finished packing his stuff as he was going round to our next door neighbour.
I thought that my waters had gone a little at 1pm, as there was a little fluid released. I wasn’t surprised it was minimal as she’d been head down for ages and this is what happened the first time when all the water was behind Lawson. I wasn’t really sure that I’d felt Tavia move much that day, so Dee told me to go and lie down and try to monitor her for a while, which I did and she soon started moving. She hadn’t moved much the last few weeks as I felt she’d run out of space (much like last time) and it was really uncomfortable for both of us when she did, but she did get hiccups a lot (and still does!). Kev made me some pasta for lunch and I decided to stay in our bedroom with the curtains drawn and try relaxing to Maggie Howell’s MP3. Last time I’d laboured during the night and had slept through a lot of it, so I was wondering how I was I going to do it during the day with the sun streaming through the house.
Lawson normally has a second nap at 3pm ish, so Kev put him down for that. As if a switch had been turned I then started getting proper contractions (I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed by the power of the mind). I think Kev called Dee and the midwives then to let them know things were progressing. Dee came round shortly after and I was ‘prowling’ round the house like a tiger (or so it felt!) I spoke to the midwife on the phone and she said she’d come round. I warned her that things may progress quickly even though I was coping well.
The midwives arrived at about 4.30pm. One of them said that my contractions had been closer than every 5 mins when I’d spoken to her. This was a new experience for me, having midwives in my living room asking questions, taking tests and filling in forms, last time we called them a bit too late and they walked in as I started to push and Lawson was born 20 mins later!
If I’m honest I didn’t like it, they were nice and respectful but I did feel like I needed to perform in a certain way, but I wasn’t sure how that was, but I understood they had a job to do and our best interests at heart, this combined with having contractions was probably why my BP was up a bit, with a bit of ‘white coat’ syndrome. Lawson woke up just before 5pm as usual, so I said good bye to him and Kev took him next door, I told Kev not to be too long! There went the second switch!
My contractions felt so different this time, they were low down and in my legs/groin and sharp! I was coping well, standing in the living room, swaying from side to side and breathing them out, but I was getting restless. Dee suggested we went next door where the pool was and the midwives stay in the living room for now. I agreed when Kev came back and thought I might as well get in the water. I remember saying I won’t bother putting my tankini bottoms on as I don’t think they’ll be on long!
The wooden blinds were down, but the sun was on that side of the house by now so the room was still bright, I had lots of waterproof LEDS in the pool and Tealights, but the full effect was lost, not that it mattered as I love the spring sunshine and I had my eyes closed most of the time anyway! Kev was fussing a bit, offering me food and drink and music and anything else he could think of, Dee suggested he get in the pool, which I also thought was a good idea. This hadn’t been part of his plan, but he’s pleased he did. He did make me laugh the next day, asking if the midwife would have got in if he hadn’t have been in the water to catch our daughter!
The contractions seemed much sharper this time, the pool seemed to shorten them but make them more frequent, I had to work hard to keep focused to manage the pain. Last time I honestly described my contractions as intense but not necessarily painful, this time I would use the phrase sharp and painful and asking for gas and air did cross my mind, except I would have had to break focus to ask. I managed the pain with breathing, Kev rubbing my back and applying pressure on my lower back with each contraction and Dee keeping my upper back and shoulders relaxed as I was on my knees hanging over the pool side. My armpits were a bit sore the next day! I agreed with the midwifes that they would stay next door but they could monitor the baby’s heart rate every 30 mins. The problem for me was that when you are trying to hypnobirth this breaks your concentration, however I think they only needed to do it three times. On the last time when I was sitting on my haunches I felt a ‘pop’ as my waters went and my husband saw them break into the pool.
I then had a very strong urge to push, so I did! I do vividly remember feeling her head come down and then crowning, I don’t remember getting the ‘ring of fire’ sensation like last time, so I think the pool definitely helped with that. Around this time I remember there being conversations over my head about the lay z spa saying the water temp was 38 degrees and it being too hot, a thermometer in the water did show that it was actually only 37.5 degrees, but I found this incredibly irritating as I knew she was about to be born and there was no way I was getting out before she was, therefore through Kev and Dee I asked the midwives to leave the room. A few minutes later her head was born, and I then realised Dee couldn’t see so I told her and she called the MW back in and Tavia promptly followed with Kev ready to catch her and pass her up through my legs.
I then sat back and Kev held us both as I stared at our little girl and all the sensations of the last few hours instantly stopped.
Apparently my waters couldn’t have gone earlier as if they had I’d have been in hospital, as there was quite a lot of old meconium in them, so not from the labour but from sometime before. Tavia was a little floppy when she came out but was responsive, I could see that the midwives were a little concerned and where keen to cut the cord so that they could try stimulating her a bit. I suggested that I got out the pool so that she was easier for them to access and I didn’t want to cut the cord until it stopped pulsing. It didn’t stop pulsing for an hour!
It was great to have Dee there at this point as she knew my preferences but also suggested that perhaps it was a good thing she was still getting gases from the placenta while her breathing was laboured. Tavia needed a bit of encouragement to feed and I was nervous about this as this was when my breastfeeding struggle started with Lawson ( it took 8 weeks for us to properly crack it last time, blood, sweat and tears, but we got there in the end and I fed him for 8 months, only stopping as I was pregnant and shattered).
As Tavia perked up she started to make attempts at feeding, we then dropped a muslin over my shoulder which I’d been sleeping with for a while and she definitely became more interested. She latched on well and fed well on both sides. After the cord pulsing for an hour, Kev cut the cord and the midwife used my crochet cord tie rather than a clamp, which was lovely to deal with for the 7 days she had it, much nicer than the clumsy plastic clips. Kev then took Tavia and had skin to skin while I tried to deliver the placenta. This was easy last time and happened instinctively, shortly after the cord had been cut, however after another hour of changing position, squatting over buckets, sitting on the loo and sniffing clary sage I was having no contractions at all and the MW’s were getting concerned about how long it was taking. I said I was happy to try the injection as I really didn’t want to be transferred to hospital.
The MW suggested before we did that we could see if it was just ‘sitting there’ and just hadn’t come out. I got back on the sofa and tried actively pushing and very soon it started to come, this was painless, straight forward and quite quick and I was hugely relieved by this point as I was getting tired and just wanted to be left alone. However, I still had the final few miles of the marathon to go as despite my efforts with perineum massage in pregnancy and a water birth I still hadn’t escaped a second degree tear again.
I had decided that this time I was going to try a placenta smoothie, as if this could aid a speedy recovery it could only be a good thing. Despite having a straight forward birth last time, I did feel fairly rough afterwards for quite some time. Having a toddler this time I was keen to try anything that might help. So I had a smoothie that night, the remainder in the morning and the rest encapsulated. I definitely feel better this time, physically and emotionally and this may or may not be down to the placenta I will never be able to categorically say.
By this point is was getting to the end of the MW 12 hour shift (well done them!) So, a MW from the night shift had come and she could sutra, so I wasn’t transferred and had this done at home on our bed with local anaesthetic and the support of Dee helping me to relax, but it did feel like forever, but I understand for my future benefit you don’t want to rush this!
So, at about 10pm I was tucked up in bed with Tavia, tea and toast and Kev went to collect Lawson from the neighbour. Kev managed to transfer him straight to bed and he slept through until 7am the next morning as usual totally unaware that his sister had arrived whilst he was out. We did call the MW back at about 4.30am as I was concerned with Tavia’s breathing, as she seemed to be panting. She popped straight round and checked her over, she said she seemed a bit cold (which can happen when born in water), so she layered and bundled her up and it did the trick and we felt reassured.”