When I was pregnant with my first baby, I knew I wanted a natural, drug free birth. I had heard that giving birth hurts, and that it is hard work, so I prepared for my birth like I was preparing for battle. I thought I needed to tough it out, be strong, brave, and prepared. During my labour, I fought hard. I puffed and fought my way through this thing that I had prepared for as if it would be an “ordeal”. And it was.
I had kind of taken on board the idea that I often hear people still talk about 15 years later – that giving birth is a bit like running a marathon. People say “you wouldn’t run a marathon without preparing properly would you?” A marathon is hard work for your body, and you need to look after it. People think it is the same for birth. You need to prepare for birth, train your mind and body, be strong, resilient and tough.
But I disagree. Not only do I think it’s a bad analogy, but I think we are treading on dangerous ground. Let me explain. If we say that birth is like running a marathon, we are suggesting that you can “tough it out” and that you can push your body further than it actually wants to go. We are suggesting that you can “fail” and that if you do “fail”, it’s because you did something wrong – you weren’t prepared enough, or strong enough. You just didn’t cut it somehow. There is one thing that I have been thinking about for a long time, and that is: why do women feel like they have “failed” if they end up with intervention? And what have they “failed” at? Being a woman? Toughing it out? Preparing properly? When things go wrong, and intervention happens, the marathon analogy puts the blame on the woman herself. I’ve worked with enough women to know that this feeling of failure is so damaging, it runs very deep, and it can be devastating. It is bad enough that she is grieving for the loss of her lovely oxytocin fuelled satisfying and fulfilling birth. To then feel that you were some-how responsible is and unhelpful and unjust double whammy.
As well as being at risk of placing the blame for intervention at the woman’s feet, the marathon analogy is also a poor analogy for birth. Giving birth is not like running a marathon. It is more like recovering from flu. Yes, you heard me correctly. The process of giving birth is analogous to the process of recovering from flu. How might that be? Comments welcome below. Part 2 of this blog, “why giving birth is like recovering from flu” will follow, but I’d love to hear your comments first.