by Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani

There is so much involved when preparing for childbirth and this planning stage can evoke an array of emotions for pregnant couples. When I was pregnant with our first child I tried to source women who had had positive labours. Believe me, these women and their stories were few and far between.

Having now been through four labours, attending numerous girlfriends births and hearing hundreds of birth stories, please allow me to suggest why this may be so. “Labour seems to resist all of our best laid plans to control it.” Speaking with women over the years, I have realised that for some of us it was not so much that our experience of labour, the actual course of events that was horrific but rather the unhealed lingering resentments the mother has about her birth, that have wounded her.

It is important for couples who are embarking on labour for the first time and listening to birthing stories, that this distinction be made. The distinction being – that it is often not the labour itself that is horrific but how the events that may occur during labour are interpreted by the birthing couple. Preparation for labour is critical, as is – acknowledging the myriad of outcomes your birth may have.

The challenge with any preparation is to be mindful that life is unpredictable and during labour our best laid plans are often tested and pushed to their limits.
Most birth stories when they are re-told, seem to be a beautiful cry for acknowledgement. Labour is hard work and it’s a hell of a lot harder if you are not sufficiently prepared and unfortunately, if you do not have the right support. I can completely understand how some women feel disillusioned and emotionally and physically wounded by labour. Labour should be an empowering experience. Instead we hear, “God it was horrible, it was so painful, so long and it was just too hard, they told me to have a caesarean.” Most of us are so lacking in validation from our partners, parents and family that being completely honest with ourselves, not to mention someone else, is too confronting emotionally.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear, “Hey, I really gave my labour everything I could. Her birth was the toughest experience I’ve ever been through but we worked together, one contraction after another, in the end we chose to have a caesarean and we have a beautiful healthy baby girl” or “We chose to have some assistance and we had a wonderful birth. It was everything I could have hoped for.” If you are not clear on the type of birthing environment you like, you may fall victim to the opinions and agendas of others. If your support team is not aware of your ideal birth plan, how can they really help you? Some couples enter labour having absolutely no idea how they could have planned for it to be a positive and nurturing experience.

Awareness about your birthing preferences helps prevent lingering resentments. Couples need to prepare for birth -together.
One girlfriend bravely shared with me that she had an overwhelming, piercing pain in her chest after birthing because all she wanted to do was cry. She wanted to curl up under the blankets and weep because for some strange reason she felt like she had failed. She continued her birth story by sharing that all she wanted her partner to do was to hold her and to tell her over and over again how proud he was of her and what an amazing job she had done, but he didn’t. He was emotionally unavailable and detached because he too felt like had failed; that he had failed her. He couldn’t understand why he felt so upset, so he simply focused on the baby, hoping that things would soon be alright. Sadly, I believe a lot of women secretly feel this sense of failure. Either because they decided not to try and then they wished that they had, or they did indeed work extremely hard and their outcome was vastly different to what they had anticipated. Labour is tough. Labour is unpredictable. As women we judge ourselves harshly on most things and because we judge ourselves, in turn we often judge other women. Most women often seek approval from others rather than their understanding.

Couples who fully prepare for birth will always have a more positive experience regardless of their actual outcome, than those who solely rely on the expertise of their carers.
I believe it is an extremely useful birthing tool to listen to a multitude of birthing stories. When you are listening to any woman’s birth story look into her eyes and feel what she’s saying. Try not to take on her hurts or fears, as every labour is different and every woman’s birthing lesson or lessons will vary. Listen to her words, put the story into context for you, extract the useful information, (every experience we have in life is of value) and choose to prepare for birth in your own individual way.

“A good birth is one that the mother looks back on, whatever happened, with a sense of fulfilment and inner peace.”