Written by Cath Janes


Birth muthas

Positive birth experience? You can stick that up your episiotomy scar, says Cath Janes.

headless pregnant woman
I apologise for any typos in this piece. That’s because I’m only using one hand while I scoff Valium with the other. I’ve just read Milli Hill’s article in last week’s Telegraph, where she says that we women put too much focus on the pain of birth, aren’t positive enough about the experience and should call pain ‘intensity’.

Oh, and that by not being positive we are creating pain for ourselves when, in the average eight-hour labour, thanks to the one-minute breaks between contractions, we aren’t actually in pain at all for 77 per cent of the time.

Well, when I read that I almost gave birth for the second time by raging out my ovaries.

May I be the first to thank Hill for giving new mothers one more blame box to tick? It’s no longer enough to beat ourselves up over stretch marks, babies not latching on and the inability to juggle careers and newborns. Now we can also blame ourselves for not overriding epidural-level agony by thinking about fucking butterflies.

According to Hill, expectant mums hear nothing but birthing horror stories and, as a result, go into the delivery room expecting chaos. The result is that we approach birth negatively and therefore feel pain. What a festering crock of meconium.

Speaking personally, when I went into the delivery suite for the birth of my daughter I was a high-grade ball-breaker. When I came out I was just broken. Hill says this would have been down to a lack of support and soft lighting (yes, really) but she’s wrong. I was a scarily positive and determined superwoman in a hotel-style delivery suite with more support than a Spanx factory.

“Birth made me despise other mothers in a way that shocked me. Not because they told me horror stories but simply because they hadn’t. I felt utterly unprepared for childbirth because no one had been honest about how bad it could be.”

What made my otherwise average delivery (seven hours, gas and air, episiotomy) so horrifying was a level of agony that actually made me reconcile myself with death. Hill could have plugged me into the Disney matrix all she liked but it was still an experience that left this once-superwoman with PND, PTSD and a life-altering breakdown.

That Hill wants to know why we don’t talk about the 77 per cent of the time when we aren’t in pain makes me bark with merriment. Perhaps it’s because many of us are discarded, gasping, as roadkill with every contraction. Perhaps it’s because we know that, in yet another minute, we’ll stand nose-to-nose with our own mortality. Or in my case, it’s because I’m telling the midwife to go fuck herself while breaking my husband’s hand with my grip.

I also suspect that Hill would take me to task for using such words as ‘roadkill’ and ‘agony’ when describing childbirth, making me the problem. It’s women like me, after all, who are setting up other women to feel the pain by feeding them negative images.

Yet here’s the thing: birth made me despise other mothers in a way that shocked me. Not because they told me horror stories but simply because they hadn’t. I felt utterly unprepared for childbirth because no one had been honest about how bad it could be. I genuinely thought that with a positive attitude and a strident birth plan I’d sail through the delivery.

Instead I was thrown into wild contortions at being torn in half, endless blood, copious bed-shitting and feeling as if my cervix was being hammered by Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Like the Ancient Mariner, it made me want to stoppeth every one in three and demand why they’d lied. How much better could I have coped – and avoided the mental collapse – had I known the truth?

Hill refers to the positivity of athletes in her piece and how these starting-block methods could be applied to childbirth. However, they mean nothing against a backdrop of cold reality. Tour de France cyclists know they’ll face smashed collarbones, shattered legs and head injuries, yet they find methods to deal with it. Surely that reality and preparation also applies to childbirth.

Look, scaring women for the sake of it is cruel and negative. Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t be honest, because with honesty comes power. Allowing us the chance to know what’s ahead and how to overcome it is surely better than telling us to think happy thoughts.

Too often we’ve been told to not worry our pretty little heads about things. Childbirth is not one of those times. Be positive, by all means, but ignorant? I’d like to see Hill’s positivity survive that.


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Written by Cath Janes

Cath Janes is the brains and stabbed fingers behind Kraken Kreations, which sells shouty, hand-sewn home decor and accessories for modern women. She also sews feminist and anatomical embroidery, dances in her sewing shed and once had a snapped sewing machine needle embedded in her right tit.