In 1942, revered British (male) obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read published his book Childbirth Without Fear, claiming that ‘childbirth is not a physical function’ and assuring women that they would only experience pain if they were nervous.
While women’s pain is now taken more seriously, we still have a long way to go. Bizarrely, medical professionals still assume that if women just keep quiet about things that hurt or traumatise them, those things would somehow happen less often.
According to a senior researcher at Hull University, the rise of social media and forums such as Mumsnet has contributed to more women requesting caesareans for fear of having a traumatic birth.
This – along with the increase in women suffering from tacophobia, or fear of child birth – has been painted as a problem. As though women must be kept in the dark about the realities of what they may endure to ensure they cannot make an informed choice about what they want.
The Birth Trauma Association estimates that as many as 20,000 women a year in the UK suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress related to their delivery, while mental health treatment related to giving birth in any given year costs the NHS £1.2billion.
Yet women are still not given proper information about labour and they are often denied their
right to have the birth they want.
I would go as far as to call the current situation the ‘natural childbirth conspiracy’: we are constantly told that uncomplicated vaginal delivery without pain relief is the safest option for both mother and baby.
We are led to believe that caesareans are much more dangerous, but only a minority of women can expect that if they opt for a ‘natural’ childbirth everything will go smoothly – at least 60% of all births are classified as ‘assisted’
When it comes to childbirth, there are no easy options. Surgery is tough, but so is a ‘natural’ delivery. Pushing the baby out of your nether regions, which have to work exceptionally hard to stretch to the right size, with no epidural, can be horrific and have long-term consequences.
Equally, a successful ‘natural’ labour can be pretty great – I have friends who describe their experience as ‘euphoric’. But there are still post-birth complications, such as a prolapse, incontinence, and loss of libido, which are even more of a taboo subject.
When I went into labour in 2005, I was woefully unprepared for the reality of childbirth. I was told that childbirth was unpredictable yet encouraged to write down a birth plan.
There was an assumption that I wanted a natural birth with no epidural. I was never told that it could take three days, and that I could end up delirious with pain and lack of sleep, or that many ‘natural’ deliveries require interventions: either forceps or ventouse, or even, as in my case, both.
No one mentioned I would almost certainly tear or have an episiotomy, yet both midwives and doctors know it happens to more than 85% of their patients
I tore badly and required stitches. I was told I would need to bring maternity pads to hospital, but not how much I would bleed for weeks afterwards. I had haemorrhoids. I spent months reeling from the trauma of my son’s birth but berated myself for feeling unhappy.
In the end, I resolved not to have any more children.
It was not until years later, when I came across a Mumsnet thread in which women were sharing their birth stories, that I realised I suffered with post-birth PTSD, which went undiagnosed.
I have no doubt that if I had read it before I got pregnant, and I had access to better information from the NHS, I would have had a completely different experience of both giving birth, and post-birth recovery. I might have even decided to have another child.
Whether you are well informed, or in the dark about the mechanics of childbirth, it hurts just the same. But you will only have a happy experience if you have the birth that is right for you, even if that means an elective caesarean.
These are our bodies. This is about adults making an informed choice, based on up to date, unbiased knowledge. It’s about smashing the wall of silence that surrounds childbirth. No woman should be bullied into not sharing her experience.
Anna Tuckett worked as a journalist before becoming a full-time carer for her autistic son. She is currently working on her memoir.
By Metro.co.uk/ This article was originally published on