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Why giving birth is not like the movies- thank god!

How many people just turn up for birth in the same way they would to a dentist appointment? Thousands of women (including myself) literally enter birth with their maternity notes and a stiff British upper- lip, bracing themselves and thinking “I’ll just get through this”. Ignorance is bliss right? Unfortunately, the very same women and men leave birth after a challenging experience and subsequently join the chorus, that birth is something to fear.

I want you to know that it doesn't have to be this way- you can absolutely change your mindset and belief about birth. I am going to go deeper at why and how we are unconsciously adding to the concept that birth is something difficulty epic that we have to 'survive'. I’m going to reference films and TV, because that’s my thing and it’s totally relevant to contemporary life.

Phoebe from Friends giving birth

Let’s draw attention to the fact that we often fail to draw a line between fantasy and reality, especially since the rise in fly-on-the wall and reality TV (no judgement, I’m a huge fan of The Kardashians and Made in Chelsea). I also love a good film to escape into, however, I’m least drawn to the Marvel films and the reason is simple- I can’t connect to the characters and the narrative is just too far from real life, it’s laughable. This is the first thing I want you to remember when you are pregnant and you have tuned into an episode of Eastenders where someone is giving birth- the intent is entirely to entertain you and take you on a ride of 'OMG'.

Eastenders birth scene

Entertainment - is purely that. They have a budget, which actually mainly goes on marketing and actors, particularly if we're talking A -list film stars. There has to be short cuts to convey the narrative (can you imagine sitting there for the duration of an average birth)- it would be soooo boring.

Hollywood mainstream is not in the same league as the classic European films from the New Wave (in my opinion) and a birth scene is usually there to create a moment of climax, dramatic tension, or to help us identify with a character. The same goes for the latest BBC drama or soap. The average duration of each episode of Eastenders is just under 30 minutes and it’s really not there to serve you for your future reality of when you actually become pregnant and prepare for your birth. It will not serve the intention of being able to tune into your body and plan for the best birth.

Juno birth scene
Cue in the close up on the screaming

Unfortunately these births feature a range of limited representations and they are;

  • A women’s waters breaking- in a very dramatic sense

  • Painful labour- lots of screaming, yelling, sounding like she is being run over by a forklift truck

  • A quick birth- she only just makes it to the hospital

  • Birthing on your back- with a close- up on a woman’s cherry tomato face as she is instructed to just ‘push'

  • A Pathetic birth partner- literally all over the place, or asleep in the corner.

  • A labour that just consists of one long contraction- the whole thing lasts no more than 30 seconds, with a giant ‘push’, accompanied by intense, life-threatening music.

Knocked Up birth scene
More screaming while remaining in a static position on your back

On top of this, these births are always in a hospital, with an obstetrician, amongst a bunch of other medical people, in a room that is lit up like Blackpool illuminations. I mean it’s all very exciting, but let’s be honest- it’s often a life and death situation, which I want to be crystal clear is absolutely not accurate.

In response, I’ve had people tell me, “I’ve watched One Born Every Minute”, surely that is accurate as it’s real life. My response is- ummm no! - there is something in moving image that is critical for storytelling and it’s called editing. There are producers and directors who literally sit down for hours to discuss what angle they are going to lead from and what iconic and visual graphic is going to draw the audience in more- it's called creating a 'buzz' .

We all know how reality TV manipulates different points of view and opinions through a biased narrative. Is it really going to be great viewing for an audience if we see a calm mother birthing her baby in a dark room?, instinctively tuning into her body?

No - let’s instead have full high-key lighting and a room filled with lots of people, moving in and out and a shed load of facial tension close- ups.

Once you hit that light bulb moment of what has been going on culturally and subconsciously in our lives., it's easier to think about how everything else we have seen or heard, contributes to our false understanding of birth.

For example, the old woman you bump into in the supermarket, who spies your belly and offloads like a bull in a china shop about her own birth experience. Then the woman at work who is probably a little bit envious, because you’re at the start of the wonderful journey of motherhood and if she could have her time again, she’d learn all about hypnobirthing, but instead she feels compelled to market how she got her badge of honour- how long it was and how useless her husband was (yes I met her in Lidls).

Flash-back to school and sex education lessons- usually in Science, with a teacher that doesn’t even have their own kids, but whips out some dodgy- funded video, or still pictures that are black and white and impossible to make out what’s going on.

Throw in aunty Betty’s birth story; the woman in the waiting room on her second, you listen to 'over-sharing' and lastly your own mother, who gave birth before the access to all this amazing education. And there it is - a subconscious, a belief, a value system, based on birth being unsafe, painful and something you have to fear and endure.

As a result, women approach birth, filled to the brim with these negative experiences and worse, any references to a calm birth is just laughed off like it’s not possible- the irony!! Their natural, instinctual birthing ability is inhibited by fear and they are lead to distrust the whole experience of labour and too easily turn to medical intervention (after all we are socialised to believe conventional medicine is the answer to everything).

An actually real birth

The good news is that you can change this- many women have and go on to experience very positive, confident and calm births. There’s work involved and a commitment to re-educating yourself, understanding how to re-wire your brain and techniques to learn, but I want you to know that this is truly possible. Are you up for the challenge?


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