Why it’s time for a (new) birth revolution.
The other day, a friend tagged me on a post that she saw in a popular parenting group on Facebook. The post read;
Any mums out there that didn’t bother with any of the prenatal classes? How did you go and if you could do it over again, would you attend? I’m 29 weeks and haven’t even attended one class nor do I have a birth plan as such besides to just get the baby out (lol). I’m still in denial & hoping that since women have been doing this for 1000’s of years, I’ll be fine?
Posts like these ALWAYS elicit a rapid and enthusiastic response, and this one was no different. In just a few hours, over 100 people chimed in with their opinion.
Here is a snapshot of those comments;
I didn’t. No videos either. I did watch too much of the show, One Born Every Minute though, and Call the Midwives lol.
I went and found it a waste of time to be honest. I wouldn’t go if I had the time back.
I’m all about the epidural. I don’t even know the exact process of it, but I know that it will numb me from waist down & that’s good enough for me.
We went to one, but there was too much forced group work, and we bailed on the rest. I then just watched 700 episodes of One Born Every Minute.
My OB already gave me loads to read on C-sections. To be honest, it’s all I’ve known as that’s what my mum had and I had my heart set on one too. As mentioned I’m not 100% either way, but would prefer a Caesar…
They’re pretty useless. They’re essentially about pain management and don’t teach you any real birthing skills.
I don’t regret not doing the classes at all! I didn’t have a birth plan really either, just went with the flow. Ended up having to be induced and then having an emergency C-section, after my experience if I had my time again the only thing I would change is I would have an elective C-section.
Prenatal classes are a crock. Nothing can prepare you for birth except birth.
I asked my doc if we needed a birth plan and he said, no that it was his job to look after both of us.
Never did a class. Never had a plan. I let nature do its thing. I was induced and had an epidural despite wanting to ‘let nature do its thing’.
I went to an info session at the hospital. Really was a waste of time. No birth plan for the first one either. I trusted that the midwives and doctors know a lot more than me so outsourcing the birth plan to them was my plan.
The midwives know what they doing, they don’t need to be told by us inexperienced first timers.
My ‘birth plan’ was to have a healthy baby. However that happened. I trusted my doctor and midwives and when asked about pain relief said ‘when I ask for it, give it to me’. Epidural was the only pain relief worth using, in my opinion.
I went and found them to be a waste really. If you’ve read a single pregnancy book or watched any ‘One Born Every Minute’, then you have a pretty good idea what to expect. A great book for me was Up the Duff.
As a childbirth educator, I can’t tell you how sad reading all these responses made me. After trawling through what seemed to me to be an almost unanimous consensus that childbirth classes were clearly a waste of time, I sat down and tried to understand where these opinions came from.
To summarise, here is what I garnered from the vast majority of women who responded to the original poster.
- Childbirth classes aren’t worth your time/money/effort.
- You don’t learn anything in childbirth classes.
- Birth plans are stupid.
- You can learn all you need to know by watching reality television, a TV series set in 1950s London and by reading a couple of books.
- All that matters is that the baby comes out healthy.
- Get the drugs. ALL THE DRUGS.
- You shouldn’t have any involvement in your labour and birth because a) you’re not an expert and b) you should just do what your doctor and/or midwife tells you to do.
So my question is; how did we get here? How is it possible that in 2017, highly intelligent, otherwise very discerning women have essentially thrown in towel about one of the most important rites of passage in our lifetime?
In all other aspects of our lives, we have very strong opinions on just about well… everything. Most of us are pretty health conscious – we care what we eat, we try to look after our bodies by exercising regularly (one only needs to look at the multi-billion dollar diet and fitness industry to prove this point).
We think long and hard about how and where we spend our money. We work hard to establish ourselves professionally. In some aspects, women today have never had it better. But not all aspects it seems. When it comes to maternity care, many of us seem all too ready to hand over our power and autonomy.
What is it about pregnancy and birth that causes us to regress and defer to “the experts” to determine our every action? Why are we so ready to hand over our control? Why do we not trust the most normal, physiological process on earth?
Did you know that in one generation, the Caesarean rate has increased 500%? Is there something inherently ‘broken’ about a woman’s body today that functioned perfectly well 40 years ago?
Sadly, the birth activism movement that we witnessed at the height of the sexual revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s is almost impossible to connect to today.
Women today expect fear. They expect intervention. They expect induction. They expect pain. They expect drugs to take away that pain. They expect these things because quite frankly, that’s all most women are exposed to when it comes to their understanding of childbirth.
As a birth professional, I’ll admit that we are largely failing in our quest to convince women and medical figures of the advantages of normal, physiological birth over medicalised birth. This is evident in the rising numbers of Caesarean births, increasing rates of induction and other labour interventions and the pervasive desire to eliminate all pain in labour via the use of epidural anaesthesia. It appears our society (for the most part) has lost faith in what was our natural pathway for childbirth for millennia.
We know that childbirth is inherently unpredictable. Some would say that it is precisely because of this fact that we find it so hard to trust in the normal process of birth. We really struggle to let go and “just be”. Many of us equate this with “losing control” which for most of us is not a positive thing. It’s this unpredictability that leads us to believe that “birth plans” are a total waste of time. Personally, I agree that “birth plan” is a dreadful term, but most childbirth educators, doulas and midwives are no longer using this term. Instead we talk about birth intentions or birth preferences. Done well, this can be a critically important document that acts as a valuable communication tool between the labouring woman and her care team.
Many of the women whose posts I included admitted getting their information about birth from a highly edited, deliberately alarmist reality television show. In what other area of your life would you educate yourself, and make important life decisions based on a reality TV show?
Think about the last time you made a major purchase. That trip to Bali where you bought your air tickets and hotel accommodation. Perhaps you bought a new car, or bought a house. Think about how long you spent researching those purchases.
Now think about how long you spent researching the most important life change any of us every go through – becoming a parent.
“Never did a class. Never had a plan…”
A few weeks ago, I tweaked my logo. I added three little words;
Educate. Advocate. Empower.
More than a catchy tagline, these three words epitomise the core of my work as a Lamaze Childbirth Educator.
This represents my absolute commitment to you and your partner to provide you with the highest quality of current, evidence-based information so that you can arm yourself with the facts. One of my favourite quotes is from authors Diana Korte and Roberta Scaer who co-wrote, A Good Birth, A Safe Birth: “If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” Women who spout the “I’ll just go with the flow” attitude rarely find that their birth flows the way they anticipated. Instead, “going with the flow” usually means ending up with your care provider’s flow, which may be very different from the version you envisioned.
“But we’ve been giving birth forever!” True. We have. And there is no question that giving birth is safer today than it has been in the past. And birth is never without some risk. But many experts agree that we can make birth riskier for healthy mothers and babies because we are so concerned about keeping the unhealthy mothers and babies safe. Understanding the gamut of common interventions today and the environment in which you are giving birth is critical for you to be able to keep your labour low-risk and normal. And yes – you’ll learn all about that in a good childbirth class too.
“But I’m just going to have an epidural as soon as I have the first contraction.” Cool. That’s your choice – and your right. But did anyone ever tell you about the huge range of non-drug pain relief options available to you? Options that research has proven to be incredibly effective in reducing pain levels? Yup. You’ll learn all about that too in a good childbirth class.
You are your most powerful advocate. But advocating for yourself is not always easy, especially when you are in labour and feeling vulnerable. As your childbirth educator it is not my job to tell you what to do or what to say, but it is my job to help you to know what to do and what to say. To help you and your partner feel confident about expressing your preferences and to stand up for yourself when you might be feeling pushed into something you either don’t feel comfortable about or don’t understand fully. Informed decision-making is a vitally important tool that all birthing women need to have in today’s maternity care system.
In the same way that you advocate for yourself, you empower yourself. I can’t empower you directly. I can give you tools, information, resources and skills, but at the end of the day, you must recognise that you have enormous power. Don’t be frightened of this power, don’t back away from it and please – whatever you do, don’t give your power away to someone else.
Our mothers and grandmothers fought tirelessly for progressive and positive change. Let’s not undo their hard-won achievements. Instead, let’s pick up the gauntlet and continue their legacy. It’s definitely time for a new birth revolution.
Tanya Strusberg is the founder of birthwell birthright. She is a Melbourne-based Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and a Fellow of the Association of Certified Childbirth Educators (FACCE). She is a passionate advocate for women’s maternity care and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Perinatal Education, Australian Midwifery News, Science & Sensibility, International Doula – official magazine of DONA International, Interaction – the journal of the Childbirth and Parenting Educators Association of Australia (CAPEA), Empowering Birth Magazine and Rockstar Birth Magazine. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators. Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.