Given that it’s coming up on three years since I gave birth, you’d think I’d be well over the topic of pregnancy by now. For reasons I haven’t fully unpicked, I took a retrospective interest in the whole area in the months afterwards.
Maybe it was because I spent the bulk of my pregnancy laid up. Or maybe it was because the more I read, the more I found it hard to square my own experience with the prevailing online narrative adopted in the adjudication of the birthing experience. Was it positive or negative? It was neither. It just was. But if I didn’t stop reading birth stories, I was in danger of re-assessing it to file it away under one or the other. So I stopped.
The plethora of doubts women feel during pregnancy have found a sympathetic and informative collective ear in the web. The camaraderie and mutually beneficial support derived from websites is well-documented and cannot be underestimated. From normalising the reservoir of question marks thrown up by those starting out on the road to conception, through to those feeling around in the dark, literally, striving to nurture their children as best they can. And everything in between.
It’s not difficult to imagine future students of health policy and sociology citing the revolutionary influence of the web in enabling women to seize ownership of the discourse on maternity healthcare, and the right to the fight for informed choices consistent with their preferences and the ethics of bodily integrity. The net frequently creaks under the weight of discussions on the succession of legal cases that test medical and lay assumptions about the distribution of that power and control over it.
With the web at their disposal, women have learned the benefits of non-interventionist birthing options and the disadvantages of over-medicalised maternity care management. Reform moves forward at a glacial speed. Undeterred, women continue to assert their preferences and combat the threat of unnecessary intervention with advance preparation through hypo-birthing and birth plans. The domino effect from experiences shared by women passes confidence on to others coming up behind them towards the delivery suite. Pursuit of the positive birth experience is, understandably, one of the more popular topics on any given parenting website. One that has moved into the realm of a political movement. In the context of church and state control of maternity rights and care, the need for change is acutely felt by Irish women.
That said, I didn’t give much thought to what a positive birthing experience would look like for me. Experiencing birth for the first time while pushing 40 calibrated my thoughts in a way that left me focusing only on getting to 40 weeks. Birth preferences or birth plans didn’t penetrate my leftover energy too much. Apart from reading up on the essentials, I studiously avoided online messageboards and discussions.
Reading these discussions retrospectively, I wonder how I would’ve evaluated my birth experience had I approached it with preferences and expectations, loosely defined or firmed up, in the company of my peers cheerleading me along the way. Not for the first time, have I picked up on the need for women to be fully informed of their choices. It’s the responsible thing to do, right? I’ve had more than one eyebrow raised at my apparent casual attitude. Not for the last time, will I read entire discussions on birth experiences evaluated exclusively in terms of being either negative or positive. It sounds a reasonable way to judge them, right?
Three years on, I’m still happy with my birthing preference. Which was the ancient scientific method of going with the flow. Less wilful ignorance than having faith in myself, and in the system into which I was entrusting us both. I was fortunate to have a shoulder-shrugging birthing experience that is as valid and more common than the extremes of positive or negative analysis can capture. I don’t underestimate my luck in being able to interpret the birth experience that way. But it is another choice among many. And I’m OK with it.