Throughout both of my pregnancies, as soon as it was obvious to the general public that I was expecting (which for me was fairly early on, around the 3rd month), I was privy to the birth stories of many women and even some men that I encountered. Women shared with me intimate details of their life experience not because we knew each other well, but because we shared the bond of having been pregnant. Some of the stories were so joyful, the women telling them beaming with pride. Some of the stories were scary and even sad, the women telling them displaying a wide range of emotion. Many of the stories were somewhere between the two.
For a woman experiencing her first pregnancy, all of these stories that most of us inevitably hear, can be overwhelming. For every peaceful story we hear, it seems like we hear a story of events that went way off course, or a story where things didn’t end up as the woman telling the story had anticipated. As confident as we may have been going into our pregnancies (or as unsure) of our understanding of the nature of birth, such a variety of stories are sure to leave us with more questions than we could have imagined on our own. It can all be intimidating.
It is a helpful thing for women to share their stories of birth with the expecting women around them. Pregnant women, though we may grow weary of it at times, are in great need of hearing stories of real life birth. We are bombarded by depictions of birth orchestrated and edited by television or movies.
This classic Friends episode is a great example of how TV can misconstrue our idea of normal birth. Here the character Rachel is pushing out the baby that she will name Emma. Notice she is not hooked to an IV. She has no fetal monitor strapped to her belly. Yet, these are typical protocol in most hospital births (however, a woman can arrange with her doctor/midwife beforehand if she would like to avoid either of these things and still birth in a hospital). She is on her back with legs in the air and no stirrups for support of her heels. Her OB is telling her when to expect contractions and when to push. If Rachel is not on any medication, which the absence of the IVs would suggest, she would not need instruction in order to push her baby out. (Women who have an epidural in place will often need a little extra instruction on pushing due to the numbing of the medication dulling the sensations that would otherwise guide her work in the pushing phase.) Her body would automatically guide her in that work, much like a reflex. She wouldn’t need to know when to expect her next contraction either. By this point, she would already be deeply ingrained in the rhythm of giving birth. She would sense when her next contraction was about to begin. Then, we hear that the baby is breech, (bottom presenting first in many variations) which is the most common malpresentation that occurs (babies in normal presentation will be head down). Eventhough called common, it only occurs in 3-4% of full term pregnancies (ICAN), and is usually detected by the health care provider before the woman is in labor. Then, we get the glorious ending. Baby is born without an umbilical cord for Ross to cut. Not possible.
So, while this isn’t the most dramatic TV depiction of birth, it is so far from the real thing, that it is a good thing that it is only TV.
Another type of birth story we see in commercial media is the TV documentary like those from A Baby Story on TLC. With these stories, while we see true birth stories, we don’t see them in real time. It can often make birth seem like it happens very speedily. What might take hours in real life, is edited down to ten or fifteen minutes. We also must remember that these stories are not told in full detail. They are a creative presentation of the events.
As a pregnant woman hearing and seeing so many birth stories, it can seem like an impossible task to process them all. What can you learn from these stories? The best thing that you can do is to listen to the stories told to you firsthand. Don’t only listen, but also ask questions.
Here are some examples (not the complete list given) of questions to ask excerpted from The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence by Judith Lothian and Charlotte DeVries.
- Who was your caregiver?
- How did you prepare for your birth?
- Where did you have your baby?
- Who was in the room with you, and what did they do?
- What was done to you during labor and birth?
- Was becoming a mother what you thought it would be?
By asking questions, you can get an idea of the many details behind the event. You can better understand what about that story you would like for your own, and what things you would for sure like to do differently.
One persons story of birth will be completely different from another’s, as unique as we are. What you can learn from these stories is valuable information to prepare you for your own birth. You may decide that you want further preparation and choose to take a childbirth class. The information you glean from these stories might help you make a decision on the practitioner you would like to use, or what kind of environment you would like to deliver in. You could find yourself feeling the need for more support people or different people in the labor room than you had thought about before. Despite the negativity of some stories, you can turn their message into a positive one for what will be your own story. The great thing is that although there are many unknowns in the journey to motherhood, there are so many choices that are yours to make and can have great impact on the outcome of your birth experience.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that birth is a normal life event. It isn’t an illness. The World Health Organization states that 85 to 95 percent of pregnancies should be expected to go perfectly (The Official Lamaze Guide, 2005 pg.42). So, should we approach birth with the expectation that things will go wrongly? No. Should we prepare ourselves for varying situations? Absolutely. There is no reason to approach birth fearful. Anxious, maybe a little. Excited, of course. Not scared. Work now to prepare yourself for a content, peaceful experience.
Many wonderful days to you and yours,
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