Written by Standard Issue

Voices

The positive birth movement

Manners and fairness about different women’s experiences are important to us at Standard Issue, so when Milli Hill asked for the right to reply, we said yes.


This is really hard, because I do appreciate that Cath Janes has a right to an opinion and to express it. And I also appreciate that what triggered her piece was the really insensitive headline [“The myth of the painful birth – and why it’s not nearly so bad as women believe”] chosen by the Telegraph, which has now been changed at my request.

I’ve been running the Positive Birth Movement for four years; we are a hugely popular network of free antenatal support, with 400 groups worldwide, including 250 in the UK. We support ALL birth choices and ALL birth experiences.

My focus, is, and has always been, on raising women’s expectations of birth, not just of ‘what it will be like’ but also of how they should be treated: their rights, and their choices. I make it quite clear in the Telegraph article that often women who feel they have failed after birth, have in fact, ‘been failed’.

The argument that we should tell women more horror stories rather than less is an interesting one. The complaint I normally hear from women is that they hear nothing but negative messages about birth their whole lives. However, I do appreciate that women like Cath who have had a traumatic birth can feel totally shocked and like they have been in a car crash – and that, ironically, is what I am working so very hard to change.

“Women do need confidence in birth; this is missing in our culture, and many, many women report finding it helpful to them, to go into birth feeling strong and like they ‘can do it’.”

I realise that birth can become very traumatic even with the very best care, intentions, and preparation etc. However, I don’t think this means we should be urging all women to focus on this absolute worst case scenario.

Women do need confidence in birth; this is missing in our culture, and many, many women report finding it helpful to them, to go into birth feeling strong and like they ‘can do it’. There’s a possible vicious circle here where constant focus on negativity creates further negative experiences and so on.

In my Telegraph article, I never refer specifically to women or blame women anywhere. What I am talking about is ‘culture’. Nor do I say women are not positive enough. Later in the Telegraph piece I talk about those rare women who have had pain-free labours and how they often use alternative words, suggesting that the experience may be the same but the way of conceptualising it is different. I don’t say that all women should use those words. Just that some, do.

My maths was based on the average ’normal’ labour. I took a great deal of advice about this from many midwives and experts and that figure of 77 per cent IS accurate. But of course it is not accurate if your baby was in a difficult position, which can mean there are no breaks between contractions.

I would never take the writer to task for describing her own birth in her own words. I am working tirelessly to try to help these kinds of birth experiences from happening as frequently as they do.

Milli Hill is the founder of @birthpositive.

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Written by Standard Issue