Cast your mind back to your early teens. Somewhere in the depths of a GCSE biology lesson was Human Reproduction. The purpose of that class was (as I recall) to give you enough information that you would successfully be able to avoid accidental pregnancy. And that continues through out teens, into our 20s and early 30s. Fertility, pregnancy & birth isn't a hot topic until you're right in the thick of it. So when you finally do find yourself up the duff, in the family way, or with a bun in the oven, there's a lot of new information, vocabulary & insight to acquire in the short 20 or so weeks between your reassuring second scan & birth. That can leave you pretty heavily reliant on other peoples opinions & expertise.
Over egging the pudding
Our tendency is to hand birth over to medicine. In the UK birth happens most commonly in hospital, and so we assume it's the safest place for babies to be born. We worry about the risks of pregnancy and birth, and so we want to have medics immediately on hand.
But in truth, this is a little bit like asking Jose Mourinho to have a kick about with the kids in the park (he might be the best, but let's be honest, he'd be a bit shouty and intense). Or inviting Gordon Ramsey to take over the weekday breakfast routine (obvs, you'll get an amazing breakfast, but will a Michelin starred breakfast stand in the way of listening to Lauren Laverne and having a decent shower?). Or getting Beyonce's opinion on your new work outfit (my guess is that gold lame with a thigh cut split just won't cut it in your office). They are experts in their respective fields, sure, but their specialism is at the more extreme end of the spectrum. Their involvement would be what my Grandmother calls 'over egging the pudding'.
So it is with Drs and birth. Their expertise is in births that do not follow the usual physiological path. They are invited to engage with birth when the process is disrupted in some way. When they look at birth, at birthing women, they are looking for risk. They are assessing the situation to see what could possible go awry. They are trained to apply their knowledge, tools & techniques to solve problems. What you're probably after, though, is someone who can help the process unfold with the minimum of fuss, right?
Birth is about more than averting risk.
Birth is an all-encompassing human experience. Sure, can be about life & death & risk. But it’s also about hormones, intensity, strength, fear, hope & resilience. It’s very personal and ignites issues like self-esteem, trust, vulnerability, sex, guilt, shame & identity. It’s more than personal, because it’s about faith & hope, rites and the culture we identify with. It’s about extended family relationships, and the stories our mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers & friends share and hold. Birth is about trust, vulnerability, compassion, power, nuance & complexity.
And once you feel confident about this, you'll be able to peer beyond the cultural norms of birth in the UK. You can begin to despatch the notion that fear, anxiety, pain, suffering, risk, control & management are inherent in birth. You can begin to take control, and make decisions about who and what are the appropriate elements to facilitate your birth, to augment it, and - yep, I'm going to say it - make it enjoyable.
What sorts of things might these be? Peace. Security. Calm. Knowledge about your body & the process of birth. Coping skills. People you trust, and who trust you. Compassion. Support. And of course, the ability to escalate quickly, calmly and sensibly if and when the need arises. Just because you want to begin your birth without interference, doesn't mean you lose the right to welcome it if it's required.
The picture that illustrates this article is by Canadian artist Amanda Greavette, from her series The Birth Project.
Charlotte Edun is a doula, hypnobirthing practitioner & Positive Birth Movement facilitator from Sevenoaks in Kent. She runs regular free classes, as well as group hypnobirthing classes and 121 birth coaching.