The myth of the myth of the painful birth
You may have seen the article, ‘The myth of the painful birth – and why it’s not nearly so bad as women believe,’ doing the rounds on social media recently.
As someone who has given birth – drug-free, because I’m an idiot – I can report that this article is total bollocks for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the obvious.
Birth is VERY f-ing painful.
I hate to say this, because I have a few friends who are expecting their first babies this year and I don’t want to completely freak them out, but giving birth is the absolute worst. Sorry, guys. Giving birth probably isn’t going to be the empowering feminist experience that this article suggests it should be, but more the experience of trying to take a really giant poo for around 12 hours. If you’re lucky.
I didn’t expect labour to be that painful. Despite what I’d seen in movies – labouring women screaming at the top of their lungs and swearing at their husbands – I genuinely thought labour pain was going to be like slightly more intense menstrual cramps. I’m not sure where I got this idea, but I believed it enough that I’d planned to walk to the hospital once the baby was coming, about 15 minutes away from my flat.
Needless to say, that whole ‘walking down the motorway while in labour thing’ didn’t happen.
I genuinely thought I might die in labour. I wasn’t being dramatic – it simply seemed like the logical outcome to the sheer amount of pain I was experiencing. I was laying there on my hospital bed, drenched in sweat, too exhausted to even open my eyes, thinking, “Yeah, I totally get how women used to die in childbirth all the time.”
The breaks between contractions don’t make up for the horribleness of the contractions themselves.
“I wondered why people don’t tell you more about the time in between contractions, when (in a straightforward labour with a well positioned baby), you don’t feel in pain at all,” the article’s author says.
“Quite the opposite. In fact, in my own experience – and that of the many mums I’ve spoken to – in the time between contractions you often feel incredibly strong, excited, or even euphoric.”
She goes on. “In an average eight hour labour, a woman can expect to be ‘in pain’ for only around 23 per cent of the time. The other 77 per cent is ‘pain free’.”
Euphoria? Excitement? At best, I felt a sort of anxious relief in between contractions, because I wasn’t in pain, but I knew that I soon would be, and that it was going to be pretty horrible. It’s kind of like when my husband snores at night. There’s a few seconds of silence in between each snore, but I can’t enjoy that silence because I know the next snore is on its way.
So yeah, that. Only with LOTS OF PAIN.
Words are powerful, but they’re not THAT powerful.
“When you talk to women who are prepared to break with convention and say their labour was not painful, words like ‘intense’ and ‘powerful’ come up again and again. It suggests that it’s the way that these women talk and think about these sensations that’s different, rather than the sensations themselves,” the author says.
I could have been all cute and called my contractions ‘tickles’, but it still would have felt like I was shitting a watermelon.
No one looks like a goddess during labour.
“If a woman doesn’t look like a goddess in labour, someone isn’t treating her right,” said famous midwife Ina May Gaskin, who is quoted in the article. The implication is that the only reason some women feel less than glamorous during labour is because they don’t have proper support from their partner or caregivers.
My mother and husband supported me throughout my entire labour, and I still looked like a sweaty, flushed, exhausted mess when it was over. My mother very rightly made my first post-birth photos black and white so you couldn’t clearly see how gross I was.
Not that I cared what I looked like. I was, as I mentioned before, pretty focused on just trying not to die, so my letting my inner goddess shine through was the least of my worries. She didn’t attempt to make an appearance during the 14 hours I spent in labour, which is just as well. If she’d had, I probably would have told her to bugger off, because I was kind of in the middle of something.
Look, if you’re like Melissa Carver from London, who was quoted in the article saying that she had a “pleasurable birth,” then good for you. But I’m willing to bet that you’re in the minority. For most of us, giving birth one of the most unpleasant physical experiences that we’ll ever have. It’s a good thing the result of all that unpleasantness is so damn cute.