The thought of being pregnant is often cause for excitement, but for many women, this feeling doesn’t extend to the birth itself. In fact, many women are terrified of giving birth – but do they need to be?? In the current issue of the Women’s Health Activist, NWHN Program Coordinator Kate Ryan discusses modern maternity care and shares her experiences with home birth. Check out an excerpt from Ryan’s article below or read the whole thing on the NWHN website.
Why are Women Afraid of Giving Birth?
Growing up, I never thought of giving birth as something painful or inherently dangerous. I didn’t realize until later in life that my perspective on giving birth, and pregnancy in general was a bit out of the ordinary. For one thing, I was thinking about the process of giving birth when I was in grade school – which is apparently not typical! And, when I did think about birth, it seemed like a normal part of life, not a potentially life-threatening medical crisis. The fact that I thought about birth as a child is probably less surprising when you consider that my mother had three planned homebirths that were all attended by a lay midwife and that I attended the birth of my younger sister.
As an adult, when my friends and I started to talk about this, I learned that many of them are “terrified” of giving birth… and I don’t mean they are nervous, I mean petrified. Several have even said that, although they would like to have children, they may not because they are too scared of giving birth. I just can’t identify with birth as they describe it. And, as an advocate working on women’s health policy, I worry about what this seemingly common perspective says about quality of the care that mothers-to-be receive in the U.S. today.
Why are so many women so scared of birth? An article in the Journal of Perinatal Education offers one explanation: its negative portrayal in the mainstream media. On TV, pregnant women are usually shown in a state of panic as they are rushed to the Emergency Room where, as often as not, some life-threatening medical emergency arises that requires a team of personnel to rush the woman to the operating room where she, her baby, or both, nearly die but are miraculously saved by some combination of modern medical technology and an attractive doctor. With this as the most common exposure women have to the birth process, it is easy to understand both women’s fear of childbirth and their discomfort with homebirth.
I feel lucky that my mother introduced me to the idea of pregnancy and birth in such a natural way. Although I know homebirth isn’t an option (or the right option) for every woman, I believe making homebirth safer not only expands women’s options for childbirth, but also can improve the whole spectrum of birth experiences and outcomes.
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