Feminism | Posted by Reb V on 12/2/2010

Tell It Like It Is: Demystifying Childbirth for Teens



Last Sunday the Guardian website published an article highlighting the rise in reported birth trauma in the UK. The piece, reported on the National Health Service’s response to the number of women requesting caesarian sections for second births, after bad first experiences have left them too scared to opt for traditional methods.

Tocophobia, or the fear of childbirth is said to be increasing at an alarming rate on these shores and an official study is now under way. As someone who last year had a child of her own, I read the Guardian’s article with great interest, even more so when the selected interviewee Angela Almond described a ‘traumatic’ childbirth experience that was not too dissimilar to that of my own and other mothers I know. Now I would never describe my personal experience as particularly traumatic, and at first I must admit that I was tempted to regard Ms Almond as being, well, a bit of a wimp. But after thinking it over, I realised that for me, the realities of child birth had been laid open from a fairly young age, thanks in part to a very informative mother in my teens and by being the birthing partner of my younger sister in my mid twenties. When it came to going through the experience myself, there were of course some surprises in store, but I felt better prepared, comforted and educated than I expect some women are.

When pregnant you can read every guide and handbook out there and while you’ll find a wealth of information on the likes of foetal development, nutrition and exercise, as well as what happens after the birth, you’ll generally find that the birth itself receives a relatively small amount of coverage. Of course, you’re pregnant for nine months and the labour and birth time ranges from only a couple of hours or days – a small percentage of the preparation time and a paltry amount of time compared to the length of care ahead. And, as most guides will inform you, every birth is different. However, that is no reason why women shouldn’t discuss the process more, and years in advance of any planned (or unplanned as the case might be), parenthood. And not just the basics, I mean the leave your shame at the hospital door, down and dirty reality of pushing a person out of your vagina.

It’ll be no news to you that childbirth is far from a glamorous experience, nor is it the neatly condensed, highly sanitized version of events you’ll seen in the vast majority of movies and TV shows. Rarely does a woman’s waters gush forth while she’s out shopping, only to be rushed to the hospital by a bemused taxi driver, popping out a nice and clean rugrat in less than an hour (I’m sure it does happen for some, but the day I had to be induced after going ten days over my due date, there were five other women in the same boat as me). It’s a pretty gross process involving vomiting, all kinds of medical waste, some surgical procedures and risks, and for the most part a lot of boredom, coupled with intermittent periods of less than dignified examinations where total strangers will be looking at or shoving their hands up your doot like you are being calfed. And that’s me holding back.

Many of my childless female friends really don’t want to hear about these arguably grim realities, and who can blame them, it’s not exactly dinner table talk, yet most of them will go through this at some point. So is it best left until you are at least planning or pregnant? You’ve so much on your plate in the early stages that taking the time to discuss these matters with a health care professional might not be a priority in the early months, or you may not feel at ease with your doctor, or simply feel that it’s too late to go about discussing the inevitable, and before you know it you’ve your legs hoisted in a pair of stirrups wondering why you’re being fitted for a saloon door (most women are cut or tear around the vagina, and while you’ll probably not get a view of it yourself, you’ll sure as hell be feeling it for days/weeks after).

Yes it’s yucky, and you could argue, not the kind of thing that we should be exposing young women too. But then again the same could be said of periods. At one point in history they were the whispered, unilluminated bane of womankind (the curse anybody?); even today they can be daunting and gory to the uneducated and not exactly the most comfortable thing for a pubescent girl to talk about. Yet by our late teens and twenties, most women volunteer menstrual information and share war stores with friends, hell even casual acquaintances if the conversation leads us there. Therefore why can’t a girl of 16,17,18+ not be told candidly about some of the less talked about aspects of childbirth, perhaps in school, or at least from other more experienced women. And for those who think that such open discussion will somehow encourage teenage pregnancy, I have two words for you – ‘mucus plug’. Most girls will run a mile.

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  • emjaybee @ at 12:46 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    Hey Reb; while I agree we shouldn’t hide or sanitize the process of birth, there are lots of feminists (myself included) who are pushing for experiences that do increase women’s empowerment, comfort and safety in birth.

    Some women will always have tearing, but it should not, clinically, be the norm–and there’s a lot of evidence it’s related to hospital insistence on the lithotomy position (flat on back, stirrups) rather than openess to more vertical types of pushing that take advantage of gravity. Other issues that increase tearing are over-directed pushing (rather than letting woman push as she feels), overuse of forceps, and too-early/too-high use of pitocin to increase contractions.

    Not your doctor, so I would never say I know what they should have done for you, and yeah, some births are just not going to go the way we want. But if you don’t already know, there is a huge amount of literature on feminism and the standard model of hospital birth, that questions many of the “normal” procedures that turn out not to be based on research, but on custom or convenience. (Like episiotomies, which use to be routine until research revealed them to do more harm than good).

    This link on the “cascade of interventions” is a good place to start, and the kind of thing I would definitely discuss. http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10182

    My son is five this year; I am still somewhat traumatized by things that happened during his birth that later, I could not find a medical justification for and that traumatized us both.

  • Tell It Like It Is: Demystifying Childbirth for Teens | fbomb | ChildBirth 101 @ at 1:24 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    […] See the article here: Tell It Like It Is: Demystifying Childbirth for Teens | fbomb […]

  • Zoe @ at 1:51 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    Good idea for a post. It’s true, I don’t think many women or girls get a good idea of how birthing a child actually goes, aside from what they see on TV which may or may not be exaggerating bits of the truth.

    While we have this subject up, I strongly recommend Fbomb readers watch “The Business of Being Born”. It’s a documentary about how giving birth has become medicalized,a profit business, and discourages women from having natural births away from the hospital. Definitely gives you something to think about.

  • D @ at 8:18 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    Perhaps the increase in trauma is as much due to the fact that women are more wiling to talk about the experience; at one one point it was more a case of grin and bare it?

    Childbirth should definitely be something that women feel comfortable and at ease talking about, even if yor not planning it any time soon.

  • A @ at 10:33 pm, December 2nd, 2010

    To me, the notion that knowledge of childbirth would increase teen pregnancy always seemed nonsensical. If teen girls learned about all the gory details of pregnancy and childbirth, wouldn’t they be discouraged from going through that process themselves at that stage in their lives?
    What do you think?

  • Natalia @ at 2:31 am, December 3rd, 2010

    I have always been terrified of child birth (that’s because I watched a very graphic documentary on it in grade 2 and it scarred me for life). Which is why I really don’t understand when I hear pregnant women say that they can’t wait to give birth. I mean, I’m sure they’re sick of being pregnant and they just want to pop it out already. But still, I sometimes think that if I can’t get a C-section, then I’m never EVER getting pregnant.

    It does really piss me off when I hear men saying how gross it is and how they hated being in the delivery room with their wives. Hello!??1 their vaginas were stretched so your BABY could come out. So yeah I agree, I wish men, and society in general were more supportive of this. I find it so odd how women can still be considered the weaker sex when they GIVE BIRTH. And men complain about prostate exams….

  • Katherine C. @ at 10:52 am, December 3rd, 2010

    It’s not at all mystical to me, and quite frankly I think that people will always be inclined to take the “easy” way out.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 11:35 am, December 3rd, 2010

    As a physician-in-training, I have huge issue with the whole “natural birth” thing.

    For most of human, and pre-human(homo erectus etc) history, the number one killer of women was child birth and complications resulting from child birth.

    Thanks to medical science, that is no longer the case today. Babies should be born in hospitals, because if something does go wrong, there are a whole bunch of people with the proper training that can do something about it. Like stop the haemorrhaging, how people keep the proper type of whole blood in their refrigerators in case of emergency?

    I like the calfing analogy as well, biologically speaking it’s pretty much the same, only it’s riskier with humans because we stand erect most of the time, our anatomy has yet to evolve to accommodate that fact.

  • Nano Muse @ at 6:37 pm, December 4th, 2010

    @Alex: The reason why so many people favor natural child birth is because of intervention, and that in some cases it can actually cause problems – which it can.

    I generally favor advising a “natural childbirth in hospital” route – which is all the physical aspects of natural childbirth – i.e. midwives, squatting, ect. – but with medical intervention on hand if something does go wrong. It comes with the best of both worlds – we just have to have a cultural shift in that direction, then maybe the U.S. wouldn’t have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

    @post/everyone else:

    I do see a large different about reactions to menstruation and other biological issues based on exposure. My mother has been very frank about these matters to me my whole life, and I generally have a very good gist about both menstruation and childbirth, and when other girls I know have questions, it’s often me they come to because I “know a lot”. It always amazes me just how much these girls don’t know about childbirth and menstruation.

    I certainly believe that education is the best way to go. Hearing the horrors of childbirth are not going to encourage teens to get pregnant – maybe the abstinence-only proponents should look into this as a prevention method, dragging all the kids to see a childbirth live :P – and it will better prepare everyone for the reality when it happens.

  • Reb V @ at 5:39 pm, December 12th, 2010

    Sorry I didn’t get back to join in the conversation earlier, glad that this article has had a fairly good reception.

    Childbirth can be a wonderful experience and is most of the time by most accounts, but I think that we’ve progressed enough as woman kind to start bringing it more to the forefront of women’s health education. After all we’re taught so much about health and diet for conditions that we might or might not one day suffer from, so why not something that many of us will go through? Perhaps a more open attitude will lead to better informed would be mothers in the future, meaning that a birthing plan and all that goes with it isn’t something we leave until pregnancy.

  • Reb V @ at 5:41 pm, December 12th, 2010

    On a related note, I spoke to young woman this week who was completely opposed to the very idea of talking about or learning anything about the process before hand. To me, that’s like taking a sky diving lesson but blocking your ears when the instructor describes how to open your parachute. Each to their own I suppose.

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