The experience of birth will stay with a woman her whole life time

Ask any woman her birth story and she will recount it with ease, there is no experience that can compare to bringing a tiny baby into the arms of a loving family. The effects of a birth experience will stay with a woman her whole life, it can affect her subsequent births, her health, her relationships, and sometimes for the rest of her life. So what is a positive birth? What can we do to help women have a positive birth?

As with all things in life, choice is very important and this is no different when it comes to birth.

Informed choice is so important for women and should be the foundation of any birth. Women should be aware of their choices and what is available to them.

Is there a midwife-led unit she can use?

Will she be able to have a home birth?

What about free birthing?

Can she elect to have a cesarean section?

These are all things a woman may wish to consider when choosing how to have her baby. Consider how much thought may go into the purchase of a pram. I know couples that have spent months researching and looking at all the different prams available. Shouldn’t we be helping families to research and feel informed about their choices for birth?

What is also important is accurate evidence-based information that will enable a woman to make an informed choice. How far from a hospital is she if she chooses a home birth? What are the risks of a cesarean section and the results for future pregnancies? What actually is free birthing? Why has it been recommended to have the baby in a hospital? By good communication and giving accurate information backed up by evidence, women and their partners can be helped to make an informed choice that is right for them and their baby.

So what makes a birth positive?

Think about a day or an event that you enjoyed lately that you view as positive. What made it positive? Maybe it was who was there, or the place you went or what you did. Does a positive event mean that it always goes to plan with everything perfect? No, sometimes even when things don’t go to plan they are still positive.

Will everyone have the same view of what is positive and does everyone view the same experiences as positive? Chances are what you find positive someone else won’t. So when it comes to birth it is very individual. Every woman has her own view of what a positive birth is.

Picture for a moment a woman, who was desperately looking forward to the birth of her baby, however, something went wrong and her beautiful baby was born sleeping. Now she is pregnant again, she is racked with fear, and anxiety fills every day as she worries about the safety of her baby. She desires control, and needs reassurance from medical staff and the technology they process. For this woman her choice for her birth is a cesarean, her baby delivered, well and alive in a controlled way, at her choosing. As her baby is lifted from her body and she hears the cry of her newborn baby relief, joy and hope fills her heart. This is her positive birth.

Now picture a woman whose previous birth was traumatic an emergency cesarean with many medical interventions. Her recovery was long and breastfeeding was difficult. But this time she wishes to stay at home as long as she can. She wants to trust her body to birth her baby and believe that she can safely bring her little one into the world. She wants calmness and solitude and as little intervention as possible. So she hires a doula who supports her at home till the journey to the hospital.  Once there in a room that is dark and quiet, with time and the support of her partner, she births her baby on all fours into her own hands and she feels at peace. This is her positive birth.

Then there’s the woman that is terrified of birth, of hospitals and doctors. Abused as a child she has trouble trusting people. Yet tears are streaming down her face as she holds her newborn baby, with her is a midwife she trusts and she feels safe in the beautiful room of her local midwifery lead unit. Around her are her things that bring her comfort and peace. Her favourite song is playing as the warm waters of birth pool lap around her soothing her tired body. This is her positive birth.

A positive birth will be different for every woman, what matters is what birth means to her. It’s important that a woman’s choice is supported and her wishes understood and as far as possible she is able to have the birth she wishes.

Of course sometimes things don’t go as planned and the birth a woman wants and has planned may not happen. However, we can still make sure that it is positive. How?

First communication. Always should a woman know what is happening to her and her baby and why. Explaining what is happening gives the woman confidence and builds trust with those who are caring for her. Understanding the things happening to her will ease anxiety and lessen fear. Don’t forget communication means listening too! So when it comes to supporting a positive birth the biggest thing can be to listen. Listen to her hopes and fears, her needs and concerns.

Second choice. No matter what is happening the woman still should be given choices. Allowing a woman to have a choice even in difficult situations means we give control back to her and her birth. Choice when emergencies happen, or birth plans change allows a woman and her partner to still feel part of their care. This also means at times putting aside our views of how birth should be, but instead seeing a woman as a whole, encompassing her past and present and sometimes future needs.

Third dignity, respect and compassion. These feed positivity. Always should a woman feel that she has been treated with dignity by everyone around her? Small things like asking before doing checks and saying please and thank you go a long way. A woman should never be judged or labelled. Respect should be shown to her and her choices, her concerns and fears but also her culture, beliefs and preferences. It may be that her choices are difficult for us to understand but still they are hers and we must respect them. Never should a woman be spoken to unkindly or her needs ignored.

What about Compassion?

Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another’

Compassion should move those who support a woman in birth to go out of their way to help her.  She is someone’s wife, sister, or daughter, she has her own story, feelings, needs, fears, and concerns. Care should be individual for each woman taking into account her personality, her background, and her current situation. A woman should be more than a number or a name tag. This may sound like an impossible task but is it?

Ask yourself if it was you or your daughter or partner what would you want?

More importantly, as we said at the outset if the way a woman births stays with her whole lifetime then we must do everything we can to make her birth positive. so that she looks back on it and remembers that those around her did everything they could to make her feel loved.

Birth can be positive, with the right help and support, where women and families are at the centre of everything we do.

What is a positive birth?

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