Whose Birth is it Anyway?

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It feels as though almost as soon as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their pregnancy the way they choose to birth has become a topic for public debate.  I have seen numerous articles circulating the world of social media, I’ve read many and….. I’ve been guilty of sharing the odd one on my Facebook page, mainly those defending the decisions it is speculated they have made.

Now I feel it’s time for another kind of piece around this topic.  And for once it isn’t focused specifically around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their unborn (to the best of my knowledge) child, though I have been inspired to write this based on the media’s recent treatment of them.

Many women tell me how when they become pregnant they feel as though their bodies become public property.  There is no shortage of people telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing during your pregnancy.  Not only that, but they will feel it’s ok to comment on your body and the size of your bump.  Perhaps even asking if there are twins in there!  What?????

Throughout your pregnancy, you will are likely be regularly seeing an NHS midwife, and possibly an obstetrician (I add that neither of these options are mandatory, simply recommended, you can choose to opt in or out of NHS care and you do not have to accept all that is offered).  These people will be working according to Trust policy and guidelines and making recommendations around your care with these in mind.  The recommendations aren’t always presented as recommendations or choices though.  I regularly hear women say “I’m not allowed”, or “I have to have / do…”, rather than talk about choices they have to make in their care (the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services have a great book called Am I Allowed? which is a great resource for pregnant women).

Then if you discuss any of this stuff outside of these appointments with friends and family, once again you are often met with the views and opinions of these people on what you should do.

Now imagine being in the shoes of the Duchess of Sussex.  You’ve married a Prince.  You’ve been thrust into the limelight of the British public (yes, she was an actress and so was already a celebrity, but being a member of the British Royal Family I imagine brings with it a whole new level of attention).  And suddenly EVERYONE has an opinion on your birth, and they’re not afraid to share it.  These opinions are printed in every newspaper up and down the land (and probably around the world too).  They’re all over social media.  Sometimes these pieces include the view of a gynaecologist, obstetrician or midwife, but more often than not they’re just the opinion of the writer.

The thing that REALLY annoys me with all these opinions and these pieces of journalism that are often presented as fact rather than opinion that are thrust on to women is that it is pretty much all fuelled by FEAR.  Even the opinions of healthcare professionals in these massages are rarely backed by statistics (I’ve only seen blogs by other healthcare professionals that include statistics - The Positive Birth Movement published a great post on Facebook with evidence around home birth in the UK), so increased risk could be anything from a tiny hundredth of a percent to…  well, we just don’t know from reading these pieces of “journalism”. 

So is it any wonder that so many women actively fear labour and birth?  There are so many women (13%) out there who feel they could never have a child due to fear (K Hofberg & M R Ward) and over 20% of pregnant women are and worried, anxious or even terrified of giving birth ( Areskog B, Uddenberg N, Kjessler B).

It would seem that more often than not the opinions and the stories that are passed on to women are fear inducing.  Comments around the size of the bump (you’re going to give birth to a bowling ball, that bump could house 2 babies, that bump is small are you sure your baby is growing ok?) etc, comments around your birth choices, especially if you have decided the best place for you and your baby is at home (how could you risk your baby like that?) or plan a natural birth (you don’t get a medal for it).

I can honestly say that in my experience, and that of my fellow birth workers, the one person whose highest priority is the safety of herself and her baby is the birthing mother.  No one else.  She will be looking at all of the information she is given, asking questions and researching her options so she can make fully informed choices in her care.  She will not be behaving recklessly and putting the safety of herself and her baby at risk so she can have a wonderful birth experience (I shuddered as I wrote that last sentence as it truly angers me that people think women do this).

When I’m working with families I talk a lot about the hormones we need to be making for our bodies to labour and birth and the environment that needs to be created for these hormones to be produced.  For many women, yes, this will be in a birth centre or a hospital environment, but there are also women for whom this will be at home.

Women do not need the stress of negotiating the birth they want with their care providers.  And why on earth should a woman even need to entertain discussing and justifying her decisions with Joe Public when frankly it’s none of their business anyway.

Every woman (and every baby) has different needs.  Every woman wants different things from her birth. I don’t think there are any women who would put their own needs ahead of her child’s safety.  So please, let’s stop judging each other. Let’s stop having an opinion on what women should do with their bodies, and their babies.  Let’s just be excited to hear about the news of a new baby is coming into the world. 

Helen Discombe