Positive Birth News

birth stories, news and articles to encourage and inspire

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Guess what? You’re a Mammal!

Are you ready to admit you’re an animal? A mammal like a chimpanzee, a dolphin, a giraffe, an elephant or a cat?


We have become so civilised and socialised that we go through the day forgetting we are mammals. Birth is a great leveller, because labour asks us to let go of self-consciousness and tap into our inner mammal.

I was confronted, horrified and mortified by the birth video shown in the antenatal classes at our local hospital. I don’t know why this video was considered appropriate to show a group of nervous and inexperienced adults who had never seen a real birth before – only dramas on TV. The only birth that looked like something I could handle was the one where the woman had an epidural and I had already decided I didn’t want to have a needle in my spine or risk the effects of an epidural on my labour.

Even the birth described as a ‘nice, gentle water birth’ was way too much for me. Labouring women looked sweaty and messy, their bodies were heaving, their sounds were animalistic and almost sexual. I felt like I was prying on some very private moment that I wasn’t meant to see. I certainly didn’t like the idea of behaving like this myself! It was terrifying to think of losing control like that in front of other people (this should have been a clue that I needed privacy!).

No matter how much I prepared for my first birth with reading and learning, I was still uncomfortable with the raw, animalistic nature of birth and I couldn’t imagine myself in this state. I needed to feel completely safe and unembarrassed before I could really immerse myself in labour.

During my second birth I was able to trust, relax and let go completely. The experience was powerful and pain free for me and a straightforward, safe and much faster birth for my son. I didn’t need to rehearse or learn how to give birth. It was instinctive. This is how it is for other mammals – most of the time. And this is how it may be for humans – most – but sadly not all of the time.

If you want your baby’s birth to be natural, normal and safe, then it is wise to understand and accept the nature of birth. Birth is raw, physical, animalistic and instinctive. Your mammalian body does know what to do but it needs the right conditions. You need to make sure your human self-consciousness doesn’t get in the way. To birth your baby, you need to feel safe enough and comfortable enough to let yourself move instinctively, to feel able to tear off your clothes, to moan and groan, to be loud, or to be inward, withdrawn and private, and to do whatever feels right for you. The hormones that drive labour have evolved to work when you feel safe, unobserved and willing to give yourself over to birth. The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable with being a mammal!

If you are uncomfortable watching a DVD of a woman in labour then don’t avoid them. Watch a whole lot more, but do choose your viewing wisely. Gentle natural births that show women moving around, making labour sounds, or entering into deep states of relaxation, and being supported and nurtured by carers and partners can give you a positive and realistic image of what labour can be like. Water births are probably the least confronting to begin with. Animal births may be a good way to ease yourself into watching births too.

In contrast, viewing frightening, stressful births and emergency scenarios do more harm to you than good. Don’t imagine that reality birth shows will help you prepare for an emergency, just in case one happens. The only thing that will help you in an emergency is knowing that you can trust your carers and that you will be treated with love and respect as well as medical expertise. Focus on ensuring you have that relationship of trust, respect and nurturing with your carers and supporters instead. This will serve you well, no matter how your baby is born.


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A Positive Birth is Sensible not Selfish

Mention that you are looking forward to birth and you are quite likely to encounter negative comments, criticism, discouraging stories or jokes. Many people react with strong emotions to the desire for a positive birth experience or a positive attitude towards birth, but why is this negative view of birth the norm in our society? And why are the responses so vehement?

Unfortunately, many men and women have experienced a frightening or complicated birth first or secondhand. Their experiences and anecdotes are taken as proof that birth doesn’t work and a safe and uncomplicated birth is unlikely. Each story becomes part of our cultural script about birth; teaching us to be worried and scared, teaching us to believe giving birth is an unpleasant but necessarily evil to be endured on the path to having a baby.

People who are frightened of birth are more likely to have frightening experiences of birth. Fear or anxiety can interfere with the progress of labour, and this can result in a need for medical assistance and a more complicated and risky birth.

Our emotions colour our perceptions. So a frightened person perceives and experiences a dangerous and risky event, while the health professionals present may see it as “normal” or “everyday” and not requiring any special care or additional emotional support. As long as there are mothers and fathers who are frightened of birth, and who are inadequately supported and cared for during labour and birth, there will be discouraging and negative stories to tell. Negative and frightening birth stories continue, in part, because as a society we have so much fear and so little confidence and belief in our bodies and the ability to give birth.

It is not surprising that the majority views birth as unimportant and unpleasant at best, and like a horror movie at worst. When people say “all that matters is a healthy baby”, they may still be coming to terms with a stressful, traumatic or disappointing birth experience of their own or someone close to them. In this context, hearing that a woman’s feelings and experience matter may be quite challenging and hard to accept. Within our negative birth culture, it could seem naive or even self-centred to care about anything other than making it through.

A woman’s yearning for a positive birth is too often equated with wishes for music, candles, dolphins and other things intended to make women appear frivolous, ludicrous and out of touch with reality. The word “experience” is trivialised too – an experience is understood to be something extra and unnecessary that women want for their own benefit and at the cost of their baby’s wellbeing. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

This surface level interpretation distracts and prevents people from understanding what women mean by a positive birth and what women need to emerge from birth feeling healthy and whole.

From bringing together the Birth Journeys book and reflecting on the experiences of many women, I learnt that a positive birth isn’t about achieving a perfect or ideal birth. It is not about being inflexible and stubbornly sticking to a birth plan no matter what happens. It is not about having a particular type of birth or only one kind of birth either. It is not only for women who choose to have their baby at home or in a birth centre. A positive birth doesn’t mean having a natural birth, a drug-free birth or a pain-free birth either! Each of these is possible and may be the perfect path for you and your baby’s birth. Each of these may be incredibly empowering and transformative, but these are not the key to a positive birth.

While each woman will have her own unique birth wishes based on her self-knowledge, her understanding of the birth process and her circumstances; a woman who wants a positive birth has one deeper underlying wish. She is not at all crazy, hippy or selfish although she may be called all of these.

A positive birth comes down to the mother’s feelings during the birth of her baby, and her feelings are strongly linked to the way she is cared for and supported.

So what kind of care does she need and want? Respect. Dignity. Compassion. Love.

Above all else, she needs to be treated with humanity.

A woman who feels loved, respected and well supported is most likely to have a straightforward and uncomplicated birth with a healthy baby (because of the interaction of hormones that drive labour when a woman feels safe and secure). She is likely to avoid unnecessary medical assistance that may complicate her labour and introduce new risks. She will also be better equipped to cope with an unexpected outcome or complicated birth because of the wonderful care and support she has received and will continue to receive after birth. Her wellbeing is protected and may even be enhanced by a positive birth. Women are likely to emerge from a positive birth as healthy, whole and empowered mothers – what a wonderful foundation to a lifetime of motherhood.

If we had a supportive culture of birth, built on respectful and loving care for all women giving birth, whether they experience labour or have a caesarean birth, then there would be no need for this discussion. We might not need to work so hard for a positive birth and we would not run up against so much resistance. Clearly, we have quite some way to go before this is achieved.

As you prepare for your positive birth, be strong in the knowledge that there is no selfishness in placing a high priority on your feelings and wellbeing in pregnancy and birth. It is sensible, not selfish for you to desire, seek and insist on a positive birth experience!