No

Charlotte Philby, founder of Motherland and mother-of-two (soon to be three)

Last week – just weeks away from giving birth to my third child – I logged onto Facebook to see the partner of a close girlfriend of mine announcing the birth of their new baby. Delighted, I started reading his status update only to find myself minutes later, on the verge of total panic, having been unexpectedly subjected to a minutely-detailed recounting of the horrifying circumstances of the delivery.

Days earlier, I’d received a text from another close friend who’d just had her second child – this time by emergency C-section – signing off: “it was awful, we both nearly died, but I’ll tell you the details in a few weeks…”.

Call me paranoid, but it feels like the past nine months have been littered with moments like these; moments when good friends have unwittingly left me in a state of total paralysis having shared – or even just alluded to – their warts-and-all birth stories. Maybe it’s because having already delivered two babies they imagine I’m immune to the fear that can sometimes accompany the late stages of pregnancy. NB: I’m not.

Because I don’t feel comfortable to interrupt these moments of offloading, as and when they arise, I generally sit, nod and gasp in the appropriate places, and then leave the room thinking “shit-shit-shit-shit-shit…” and cry. Maybe it’s not politeness that stops me being able to nip such stories in the bud (or simply not read on in the case of Facebook oversharing) but rather a consequence of knowing somewhere in my mind that it’s important to be able to talk honestly and openly share experiences, after all, knowledge is power. Right? And these are real, definitive moments in the lives of my friends; moments they feel they need to share – is it fair that I refuse to listen to them on the basis that they cause me discomfort?

Well, actually, yes. Because knowledge is not always power. Not if it leaves you feeling more fearful, less capable of building up the internal resolve needed for labour (or in my case, yet another C-section). Two births are rarely the same and while being prepared for different eventualities is one thing – and having information available to you in a helpful, informative way: i.e. through antenatal classes or a midwife/doula/medical consultant – is key to being able to make sound, informed judgements about your own body and birth… unprompted, emotive recollections of the nitty gritty of one person’s birthing trauma are quite different.

While I feel like a bit of a rubbish friend, being unable (read: unwilling) to be a sounding board for my loved ones’ tales of woe while preparing for my own delivery, every time a pal drops a friendly anecdote about their failed spinal block or motorway Vbac I wonder if they might instead just write a diary.

Hollie de Cruz, celebrity birth coach, mother-of-one, founder of London Hypnobirthing and maker of yesmum cards – positive affirmation cards to empower women in birth and motherhood; londonhypnobirthing.co.uk

Our culture of sharing negative birth stories has a lot to answer for and I think if we realised how damaging and profound its effects were we’d definitely stop!

The subconscious mind is like a hard drive. We use it to store information – feelings, experiences, emotions and so on. It controls our habitual behaviour (blinking, breathing etc) and is ultimately responsible for our survival. It’s like a log book of all we’ve ever seen, heard or experienced, ready to dictate how we respond to our surroundings. It has a totally valuable job in doing this – it stores dangerous activities so that it can effectively protect us from them in the future. For instance, we know not to touch fire, walk in front of cars, etc. If we experience something dangerous, it triggers our fight or flight response to ensure we act in a way that will remove us from threat.

The problem in this case, is that the subconscious mind can’t distinguish between real and perceived threat and will trigger the same responses regardless. It’s why we feel so tense watching horror films! So with negative birth stories, the subconscious mind holds onto the details and stores them as “what birth is”, and then when a woman goes into labour it will trigger the fight or flight response to protect us from the anguish and danger of this “negative” event.

The reason this is a problem for birthing women, is that when that response is triggered, we produce adrenaline which inhibits the production of the very hormones we need to birth efficiently and comfortably – oxytocin (which enables the uterus to function as it’s meant to) and endorphins (our body’s natural pain relief). As soon as we start producing adrenaline in labour, blood and oxygen is diverted to the defence systems (arms, legs, heart, lungs etc) and away from muscles that aren’t part of this – namely the uterus. The uterus can’t work comfortably without blood and oxygen so it tenses, creating a lot of pain, and that pain then confirms mum’s initial fear that birth is scary – fuelling and sustaining the Fear-Tension-Pain (FTP) cycle. It’s no coincidence that FTP also stands for Failure to Progress.

So please stop. Sharing negative birth stories is not only not very nice, it’s also inherently damaging a generation of women in their approach to what can be the most empowering and positive experience when they understand it better.

Yes

Laura Alvarado, founder of Tomato Tutors and mother-of-one; tomatotutors.com

Honest accounts of birthing, told over the phone or face-to-face with a cup of tea, gave me insight. Without that insight I wouldn’t have felt street-wise in the birth sense. Birth wise. My cousin told me in details how the cord of her spinal block anaesthetic had become kinked and she was feeling the surgeon’s every movement as they delivered my god daughter via C-Section. Although the accounts were potentially threatening and alarming, they gave me more motivation for working on my hypnobirthing practice in the weeks leading up to my due date.

I was luckily enough to be coached by the pioneer of The Active Birth Centre, Janet Balaskas, who showed us countless home videos of water births and home births. It made me excited to join the birthing club, and to cross over to the other side of motherhood. I did however ban myself from watching programmes like One Born Every Minute. Its dramatisation and comedy aspect of useless partners would not have helped me focus.

Gillian Morley, Deputy Head-teacher and mother-of-two

As the first of my group of friends to have a baby and despite antenatal classes which all seemed to focus on what to do once the baby was here, I went in completely blind. In hindsight, I really wish someone had prepared me for not only labour but for what to expect in terms of my own body in the days following labour.

I spent so much time constantly wondering ‘is this normal?’ I’ve since had blunt and truthful conversations with friends to help prepare them. I’ve said each time it’s not to scare them – but I really wish someone had told me more about what to expect. The frinds I’ve spoken to have both been very grateful for my sharing, and a lot more prepared about what to expect…

What do you think? Join the conversation over on Instagram @motherlandnet

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