Birth rites, birth wrongs

Baby Hannah

It started innocently enough. When I first became pregnant 4 years ago, I was surprised at how quickly I became overwhelmed by negative birth stories. I made a very conscious decision to embrace only positive and life enhancing stories about birth, so that I could stay centred and delighted in my pregnancy and birthing time. I left conversations, turned off the TV or just simply tuned out whenever I felt that instinctual feeling that what I was about to hear wasn’t truly supportive.

That worked well for me, so a few weeks ago when I chanced across the ‘final episode’ TV birth scene of what I understand to be a successful Australian drama series, I felt able to view it for what it was, and I was terrified. There it was in all its stereotypical glory, labour portrayed yet again as an angry, confronting, dramatic, joyless experience.

The hallmarks of a ‘ratings worthy’ TV birth would seem to be:

  • Woman screaming loudly and abusing anyone within a 500 metre radius – usually lying on her back in a bed surrounded by strangers and strange gadgets
  • A remark about squeezing out a watermelon
  • Dithering partner suffering an endless tirade of profanity for getting her like this in the first place
  • Over bearing, doom laden doctor threatening the worst case scenario all the time
  • An over-riding drama of some sorts which threatens everything
  • A ‘phew we made it’ ending with everyone gazing adoringly at the babe, and mother looking only slightly dishevelled

Why do we never see lovely, gentle, calm, flowing, spirited births on TV?

Yes, birth is a life or death experience and one cannot take for granted the very thin veil that can exist between these two extremes, in both the babes and the mothers’ experience. Birth can be gritty, hard, messy and demanding on a woman in a way she has never experienced before.

Yet each women’s’ experience is so very different and I know, through my own birthing stories, and that of many other women, that labour is heartbreakingly beautiful, challenging, joyous and expansive. Yes! The process of labour can be all these wonderful things…not just the end bit when the baby is placed in a mothers arms.

What message are we giving our women friends when such a negative image of birth is so normalised in the media today?

So many women must approach their own labours with only these images to inform them about

what birthing is like. And I can’t help but wonder what message we are giving our girls about their precious womanhood via this persistently negatively skewed portrayal of labour.  It is heart breaking that so much of what makes us women is not honoured by the world in which we live.

I am not looking to blame the media or a patriarchal culture for current attitudes to birth. More simply there needs to be some acknowledgement somewhere of a simple truth.

Society views birth from a place of fear, rather than a place of love.

The effects of this seemingly obvious, yet enormous, shift in consciousness about birth would be profound.

There are many implications of the entrenchment of negativity around birth. At the most fundamental level it denies most women the opportunity to know themselves as powerful amazing creatures, and to transform themselves, through their labouring experience, in an entirely new way – spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.  It denies our precious new children a passage into this world that is ushered by calm beauty. And on a larger scale this negativity denies women of their right to choose how they birth. The current move to criminalise homebirth serves as a poignant reminder of what happens when women, and men, lose the truth – that birth is love, not fear.

Meanwhile, in worse case scenarios,  some pregnant women have no choice but to work  until the birth, a time when rest and contemplation is preferable, if not vital. (Research suggests lack of rest may contribute to higher then necessary caesarean rates.) Doctors book dates for babies to be removed from wombs and childcare facilities are full as newly born mothers are forced back to work just to pay bills. Somewhere in all of this, the prevailing negative attitude to birth has a role to play.

And whilst our media cannot help itself but to resort to stereotypical birthing scenarios, we as informed and conscious peoples, can do more than just exercise our right not to watch.

We can attempt to bring some beauty to the world by talking more about our joyous births, by sharing our stories with anyone who will listen and especially sharing and supporting women who are yet to be mothers, but want to know a better way.

Birth is not a bitter experience, birth is a ‘once in a lifetime’ glimpse of the sacredness that is life.


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