February 18, 2008

Step Away From the DRAMA!

The other day I was channel surfing and landed on “A Baby Story”. I hear students speak often about this show as well as other baby/birthing shows, so I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. Also, I’m aware that the images shown in these programs significantly influence how people perceive birth.

To make a long story short, this particular episode depicted exactly what I would have expected to see on dramatic daytime television – and was saddened by the realization that so many others viewed it along with me. The mother had a long labor, in bed, hooked up to multiple machines – she looked very uncomfortable. The doctor encouraged her to take something for the pain. The next shot was the mother pushing, flat on her back. The doctor checked the mother and said, “It has been two hours and it feels like there is a lot of molding to your baby’s head, which means the skull bones are overlapping and will not fit through your pelvis. You will need a C-section.”

I was horrified, but not surprised by what I saw as the next series of events unfolded. As we all know, being flat on your back is the hardest way to push. And, the doctor just gave up on the mother. She didn’t say the baby wasn’t tolerating the contractions well, or that the mother’s blood pressure was a problem. She said it had been two hours and the baby’s head was molding. That is exactly what the baby’s head is supposed to do!

But before I go off on too much of a tangent on the many, many unfortunate factors contributing to this woman’s situation, I will get to my point: Turn it off. Women don’t realize that what they are watching and hearing is directly contributing to their fears and anxieties about childbirth and will directly affect their own birthing experience. This episode, whether consciously or not, planted the idea that something was wrong with this woman’s body and that she could not birth her baby. This message is seen and heard time and time again, in various forms, in the media and even in our own community.

There is an upside, though. Just as these negative stories have a negative impact on our future, positive stories have a positive impact on our future. “In a recent survey, women were asked to rate their fear of birth before reading positive birth stories, and again three weeks after reading birth stories. Participants reported an average of 33% less fear after they read empowering stories” (Midwifery Today pg. 31 Winter 2007).

I feel so fortunate that my mother (at every opportunity!) proudly told the stories of my brother’s birth and my birth. As it happens, both births were remarkably quick. She even jokes that I was almost born on the way to the hospital! I have grown up with a decidedly positive impression of birth, believing that my body is quite capable of birthing babies – hopefully as easily as my mother did! However, if all I had ever heard was how awful birth is and how traumatic it can be, I am sure I would be far more fearful and anxious.

I’m not suggesting that women should only share their birth stories if they had quick and easy births. On the contrary, even births which do not go ‘as planned’ can be told in inspiring, empowering language that focuses on what did work. I am suggesting that women turn off the TV dramas, tune out the YouTube birth videos, and even walk away from women telling their horror stories – all of which are clearly meant to draw an audience by dramatizing the fearsome. Instead, feed your mind with positive, uplifting, empowering stories about birthing. Start by picking up a copy of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, which includes about fifty such stories.

Or, go to the Birth Story page on the PYC website. I recently added this area to the website so that we can all read positive stories directly from our own community at the PYC. I love that Hanne shared in her story, “Both times it was such a bonding event for my husband.” Rebecca calls her birth experience a “charmed birth” and Shameka proudly proclaims, “I am breeder. And in the middle of childbirth, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

When fear and anxiety start to overwhelm you, please take a moment to read these stories of women who have faced the same fears and uncovered their inner wisdom and womanly power. Carefully consider the potential consequences of seeing and hearing terrifying birth stories. Take these things in mindfully – you are feeding your future.

“What we think, we become.” -Buddha

I invite anyone who wants to share their story to add it to the PYC Birth Story page.




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