Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why it is So Hard to Counter Birth Fright

Being able to counter birth fright is such a challenge because it is everywhere. Movies and TV shows often associate disastrous outcomes with pregnancy and birth. The media is constantly running stories that show home births or any births outside of the “norm” in a bad light. Interviews of pregnant celebrities always focus on the “horrible pain” of childbirth. Even most people you talk to about pregnancy and birth have opinions that slant toward those events being among the most dangerous and painful one could ever encounter in life. But, in reality, birth is inherently safe and can be the most empowering experience of the mother's life. So, how can someone push back the wave of birth fright with the truth?
In the world of TV and movies, pregnant characters are almost always shown giving birth while screaming and dripping with sweat. Although there might not be complications, per se, the emphasis is that birth is hideously painful. Even a seemingly normal birth will sometimes take a turn for the worse in an instant with only seconds between life and death for the mother and baby until the hero doctor swoops in and saves the helpless pair. Almost worse than their portrayal of birth is their portrayal of doctors being able to perform god-like feats of life-saving proportions. The message is sent, “Thank God that woman was in the hospital so that the doctors could use their life saving machines and save them both...”
The media is not any better. They don't hesitate to run every story about home births gone “bad” or to make a huge emphasis on the danger of a woman giving birth in a car, in a shopping mall, or accidentally on her kitchen floor. And there always has to be someone to save the day, be it a policeman, plumber, or the person on the dispatch who talked the frantic husband through the “delivery”. If a home birth should end in tragedy, the story is run on the slant that it was because of the home birth that the baby or mother died. However, if the story is about a laboring mother who developed life-threatening complications from procedures at a hospital, the doctors are still seen as the heroes and the near-tragedy is shown as a “Christmas Miracle”.
People that you talk to about birth all have their opinions, most based on what they have seen, read, or heard, and not necessarily from what they've personally experienced. They will tell you about their sister's cousin's ex-girlfriend who would have died if she hadn't have had that cesarean or about their brother-in-law's mother-in-law who lost a baby because she had a home birth with one of those “midwives”. People believe what they understand and it doesn't make sense to them that doctors, the media, or their favorite character on TV would lie to them. They buy into the lies that the hospital is the safest place for every woman to have a baby, even though they are more likely to die in a wreck on the way there than in childbirth.
Birth fright is so rampant, the thought of trying to counter it can be overwhelming. But when people are armed with the truth, it can be amazing to see fear and lies melt away. The truth is that birth doesn't have to be horrendously painful. Women have been giving birth since humanity began and I haven't heard a story of a woman dying from the pain. I have, on the other hand, heard stories of women having orgasms during childbirth! And I have also heard stories of women dying from what they received for pain relief. It is also the truth that birth is safe and births have better outcomes when they are left alone, as nature intended. People are born trusting birth and those of us who still believe in its inherent safety and stand in awe of its ability to transform a woman into a mother must never stop speaking these truths.

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