Many women fear birth, and it’s not surprising. Our culture has taught us to be scared of birth. In TV shows and movies, birth is portrayed as a terrifying medical emergency. Women in the media are shown being rushed to hospitals in a panic, screaming pain, and threatening their husbands lives for “doing this to them.” You may also have heard horror stories from other women about their births. If this is your second pregnancy, you yourself may have had a previously negative experience. Also, if women do not know their options, it is possible to get swept up in practices that are not conducive to positive birth experiences. It’s not surprising so many of us are scared of birth!
Why We Are Scared of Birth
- Media portrayal of birth
- Hearing other women’s stories about pain or tearing during childbirth
- Previously negative or traumatic birth experience
- Our medical birth culture
- Lack of support
The Representation of Birth in the Media Makes us Scared of Birth
If, like most women, the only time you’ve watched someone in labour has been on tv or in a movie, no one can blame you for being scared of birth. One of my favorite documentaries about the representation of birth in the media is called “Labouring Under An Illusion”. It does a great job of showing how the media tends to encourage us to be scared of birth, and how ridulous their portrayal of birth actually is:
I attend births for a living. Believe me, the way Hollywood and reality TV shows portray childbirth have nothing to do with what a labour and birth actually look like! Don’t let them make you feel scared of birth.
Hearing Negative Stories Makes us Scared of Birth
Start to show a baby bump, and people can’t help but vomit their tales of childbirth misery at you. Please feel free to interrupt them! While you are pregnant, you need to surround yourself with positive and successful birth stories, not allow other people to convince you that you will have the same, difficult experiences that caused them to become scared of birth.
For one thing, it is often our mothers and grandmothers who first share their stories with us. Although birth still has a very long way to come in our culture and time, we have made progress since these recent earlier generations gave birth. In most Canadian hospitals, at least, women are not automatically confined to their beds with their feet in stirrups during labour and given routine episiotomies. So be careful about the context of each woman’s story before you believe it will apply to you and allow it to make you feel scared of birth.
Secondly, it is much more common to share their negative birth stories than positive ones. Just because the majority of birth stories you hear might be negative, it does not mean that most births are negative. It simply means more negative stories are shared.
There are a few reasons that it is more common to share negative stories than positive ones:
- Woman who have had difficult or traumatic births often NEED to share their stories in an attempt to be heard and have their feelings validated
- Women who have good birth experiences do not want to “brag” or make other women feel badly about their own births
- Our culture is one that loves drama. A good horror story is much more entertaining than one about a positive and gentle birth.
Women who have had difficult experiences which caused them to become scared of birth deserve to be listened to and heard. However, it is unnecessary for you to be the one to hear them while you are preparing for birth yourself. There are support groups and therapists which can provide a healthy space and appropriate audience for sharing those stories.
If you or someone you know would benefit from support for a previously negative birth, please contact me and I can provide you with some local resources! I have also recently been focusing part of my doula practice on pregnant women who have had previously traumatic births. If you are currently pregnant and would like support in creating a more positive experience this time, please click here for more info.
Our Medicalized Birth Culture Creates Fear Around Birth
Birth is not inherently scary, painful, or dangerous. It’s the way our culture generally encourages women to birth their children that has caused us to be scared of birth. But you do have options in childbirth. Options that allow for a gentle, empowering birth experience instead of something that can be scary or traumatic.
In our culture, the majority of babies are born in hospitals.In the hospital, women are more likely to experience stressful environments (laminate floors, flourescent lightening, and strangers popping in and out of the room is hardly relaxing!) and unnecessary medical interventions. Stress and medically unnecessary interventions are two of the biggest factors causing women to have difficult childbirth experiences, resulting in them becoming scared of birth. It is not birth itself they are afraid of, it is the model of care they received that led to their fear.
It’s easy for labouring women and hospital staff to get caught up in the world of medical interventions and creating an “efficient” model for birth by putting labour on a timeline. And it makes sense, in a way. Women in labour are the only people who go to the hospital when they are not sick!
Hospital staff are trained to look for, diagnose and fix medical problems. Because of their training, it is sometimes difficult for them to remember that birth is not inherently a medical problem. Yes, sometimes complications in birth arise, and our medical system is there to help out when the do. But for a normal, healthy pregnancy, medical intervention is generally unnecessary, and only leads to difficult birth experiences for women, propagating our culture of women who are scared of birth.
Previously Difficult or Traumatic Birth Experiences
I won’t paint you an unrealistic picture of birth. Sometimes women do have difficult, even traumatic births. Kalina Christoff is a research psychologist who runs a birth trauma website and is currently part of a team conducting a study on the factors that contribute to the experience a woman has during birth. According to her, the two main reasons women experience trauma during childbirth are unnecessary medical interventions and being mistreated or disrespected by hospital staff.
These two factors can be avoidable if you do your research and know your options. Although our hospital maternity wards have huge room for improvement, being educated, choosing your care provider wisely, and having professional birth support can help increase your ability to have a positive birth experience, even if you have had a previously traumatic birth.
Lack of Support
Without good support, stress levels and anxiety can be higher. Nothing interferes with birth more than stress! Click here for a previous article on the importance of good birth support.
Have a Birth You Don’t Need to be Scared Of
1. Know Your Options 2. Get Educated 3. Be Supported
There is heaps of FREE BIRTH PREPARATION INFO on the Birth Takes a Village blog in regards to childbirth options, choices for prenatal education, and making sure your support people will be comforting and effective during labour.
With the right knowledge, confidence and support you can have a birth experience you don’t need to be scared of.