Why do we feel the need to scare women about labour?

Being a midwife I have seen many, many women in labour and understand what “real labour” looks like. But when I start to look around birth is portrayed as a very scary, out of control situation which is going to be “the worst pain of your life” – lovely quote from the mother in law there. The minute a woman tells someone she is pregnant the scare stories start. “I was in labour for 3 days” “I was cut by the doctor” “All the midwives and doctors shouted at me”. The list could go on for ever, and these are the stories that women here day in, day out as they prepare to give birth to their babies. Although people don’t mean harm, and in a way it is healing a cathartic to tell their stories, this coats the idea of birth in a dark cloud, leaving women scared and fearful of what is to come.

Then we are all bombarded by images of pregnancy and birth on TV. From the old school Maternity Ward, to Call the Midwife and One Born Every Minute, birth is seen as drama, as dangerous, and as a scary time when you need someone to keep you safe. Some of these are worse than others, but the common themes are the same. Then of course we have soap operas which add their dramatic flare to birth and other series which again use pregnancy and birth as a stressful and theatrical moment. These portrayals can be helpful and raise issues which aren’t usually talked about, such as stillbirth and what epidurals actually are. But mainly we see women clutching at their pregnancy bellies in pain, looking at their partner with wide, fearful eyes and then rushing to get help straight away. Then they labour laid on their back, red in the face and sweating, someone says “I can see the head” and then a baby magically appears. Now I can say, hand on heart, that this is complete and utter bollocks!

Yes, the idea of pushing a baby’s head out of your vagina isn’t exactly what you would call “fun” but why can’t we encourage other women and tell them the highlights? It is so important that a pregnant woman feels empowered, safe and positive about her birth. If we scare women, how on earth do we expect them to have a positive birth themselves? Our narrative needs to change, we need to strengthening women’s mental resilience and the idea that they and give birth in a way which is right for them. If we continue in this way, the narrative around birth is going stay negative and reinforce the idea that birth must be impersonal, dangerous and abnormal.

2 thoughts on “Why do we feel the need to scare women about labour?

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I totally agree with this blog. I had an emergency c section with my first child it all happened so quick and to say I was terrified is an understatement. Nobody talked to me about c sections prior to me going into hospital other than there is always a possibility you may need one. They seem to be quite a hushed topic. Second time around I was booked in for a planned c section and extremely anxious.
    I came to see you at one of your monthly meets and you talked me through the whole process, it really put my mind at easy. I went in to my planned c section much more relaxed and I can honestly say it was such a positive experience. It was so calm and I knew exactly what was going to happen beforehand, all the medical staff were lovely. I wish someone had talked to me about c sections right at the begining and what to expect if you should need one and how positive they can be. I think my first experience of child birth would have been very different.


    1. Claire, thanks so much for your comment. I am so glad that your second experience was more positive for you. We have a culture or not talking about labour and birth which means that day to day our knowledge is quite slim. And with everything, the unknown is always scary. My aim is to help all people have a positive experience, no matter how they give birth!


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