Why Telling a Positive Birth Story Makes you a ‘Smug Mummy’.

Almost 11 years ago I gave birth to my firstborn. I had planned a home waterbirth, however after 2 days of latent labour and 16 hours of active labour at home I transferred into hospital for an epidural and augmentation of labour (syntocinon drip), I know now why this happened – a combination of lack of support for my husband and I, a less than ideal birth environment even though I was at home and the effect of the constant fussing over my ‘lack of progress’ from the midwives including an artificial rupture of membranes. My story was made all the more dramatic by my walking out into the road stark naked to get into the ambulance – so desperate was I for pain relief – wailing that I needed my sandals (clothes apparently weren’t top of my list of priorities but I *had* to have my shoes!) and the fact that we ‘clipped’ a motorcyclist when approaching a roundabout in the ambulance and for a while it looked like I would have an extra passenger in the back of the ambulance with me.

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After my first traumatic birth experience.

Ambulance transfers in labour aren’t fun, being told to lay still on the little stretcher bed and being politely asked if you could perhaps not scream quite so loudly as they are worried that the driver will be distracted in his driving (in part I fear I am partly responsible for the resulting accident with the biker!) is demoralising and doing it all with a midwife you barely know whilst your husband is told to drive in his own car is pretty scary.

On arrival at the hospital I was hooked up to a drip and then oh the blessed relief when I had my epidural, I told the anaesthetist I loved him, as had thousands of labouring women before I should imagine. Five hours later, finally fully dilated I was told to “PUSH” and in the worst possible position I shoved with all my might (well I think I did anyway, I had begged them for an epidural top up and felt nothing at this point) and pushed my huge headed 10lb baby into the world causing myself some pretty dramatic perineal damage in the process. I pushed so hard that I burst a blood vessel in my eye as well as many in my face and lets not talk about the haemorrhoids………

My first birth was painful, scary, traumatic and dramatic. I could guarantee to make people wince and sharply draw breath when I told it and people loved to hear it – in all the gory details. How many stitches did I have? How much did it hurt when his head was born, it must have been like giving birth to a toddler? What was it like to be ‘blues and two’d’ in an ambulance? Yes, people were only too happy to hear my story.

My second birth was as dramatic and traumatic as my first, I suddenly became very poorly with pre-eclampsia at the end of my pregnancy and had to be admitted to hospital, after a quick and brutal induction which saw me labouring in the corridor due to the lack of availability of a labour room and another epidural I gave birth to a screaming little boy covered in meconium in a room full of medics waiting to whisk my baby away from me. Again my traumatic story was retold to rapt audiences who love to listen to dramatic recounts.

Then something changed, my third and fourth babies were both born at home in a birth pool. No illness, no ambulance transfers, no motor accidents, no naked wailing in the street, no corridor labouring, no epidurals, no stitches, no emergency, just peaceful, healing natural births. Babies born into my own hands in our dimly lit living room, focussed breathing rather than screaming, no pain relief necessary.

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My first empowering birth experience.

I *needed* these births, I needed to know I could ‘do birth’ and needed to heal my demons. My last two births were so very special to me and so important, they were so profound something in me changed. I had to tell the world, I had to tell expectant mothers that birth could be enjoyable, they needn’t go through what I went through first time around, it needn’t be full of drama and trauma. I wanted to tell my story and so I did, my birth stories (with my last two babies) appeared in ‘Love It’ and ‘Take a Break’ magazine, in the Observer newspaper, The Green Parent magazine and even the AIMS journal. With the exception of the latter they were all received negatively (yes, even the Green Parent – the subsequent issue contained 3 letters from readers complaining that my story – and others featured – was unrealistic), just as THIS recent piece I contributed to in the Daily Mail. The comments were all pretty similar to these in response to the Daily Mail piece:

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Why is it acceptable for me to tell me drama filled stories with my first two births, the ones that left lasting psychological and physical damage, yet when I – and others like me – try to share a positive birth story (with the overwhelming hope that it will empower other women reading to experience birth as it can be and not the birth I experienced the first two times around) the response is pretty much always one that involves the words “smug”, “show-off” and “does she want a medal?”.

I am anything but smug, grateful – yes, very. Sad that I didn’t know then what I know now, angry at the way I was treated by the medics who don’t realise the damage their comments of “birth is only one day in your life, a health baby is all that matters” can do, even years after the event and determined to make a difference, to help as many women as possible experience birth as the positive event it can be rather than the traumatic event it so often is. I am anything but smug. Neither are THESE women who have been compelled to share their positive stories too. We just want to make a difference, we want to empower those reading, to awaken them to the fact that birth can be an amazing experience and not one that they have to suffer. Is that so wrong?

Why is it so hard to share a positive birth story in our society?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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