While some women claim labour is orgasmic, others are so disappointed that they try to 'rebirth' their babies. And no, we're not high on pethidine...
Great news! The number of women having orgasms in childbirth has risen to 6 per cent. That means that six women in 100 are yoga-breathing their way to ecstasy. Except… hm. The study is by the Positive Birth Movement and it’s possible their research methods are different from those of an earlier study that put the number at a slightly more believable 0.3 per cent.
Does anyone else think natural childbirth is being pushed a little bit too hard now? As the NCT turns 60, there’s a huge amount to be thankful for: fathers have been brought into the labour room, while enemas and episiotomies are no longer given as a matter of course (if you don’t recognise either term, do yourself a favour and don’t Google it). There’s never been a better time to give birth.
Yet having done it for the second time recently, I felt a pang of regret when I read that story. Why wasn’t I the sort of calm, mindful mum who could actually enjoy her labour rather than losing the plot?
Don’t get me wrong: I know I was lucky to get a quick, straightforward delivery and a healthy baby. Still, the closest to sexy time I came was when my baby's head crowned and I started screaming at the midwife in outrage because I thought she was fisting me. A practice that, it turns out, doesn't really do it for me.
Of course positive thinking is important, but not everyone gets to live the dream. In the very mildest example, a person might be so focused on trying to carry out her birth plan - MUST… WAIT… TO GET INTO… BIRTHING POOL - that she fails to notice when her baby’s head crowns and falsely accuses a midwife of fisting her. Someone else might be just as committed to natural delivery but end up on the business end of a medical-grade vacuum cleaner because her baby was too big, or at an awkward angle, or in distress.
That gap between the birth plan and the reality leaves a lot of people disappointed. One in four babies in the UK is born by Caesarean section, and another one in eight by instrumental delivery. While those statistics include plenty of women who are just happy to have a healthy baby, many struggle to get over having to tear up the birth plan (not to mention their nether regions).
There is support available. One friend of mine had treatment for post-traumatic stress after haemorrhaging during a difficult birth; another went back to the hospital for a “birth reflections” counselling session to discuss why her three-day labour had ended in a Caesarean. I’ve even met someone who felt so strongly about missing out on the birth she’d wanted that she recreated it, hiring a birthing pool seven days after her C-section, settling the baby into it and gradually lifting him out and on to her chest.
If rebirthing helped her to feel she’d had the experience she wanted, then great. I might have done the same in her shoes. I also get why the NHS plans to trial “natural Caesareans”, where the screen is taken down so a mother can watch her baby wriggle gradually out of the womb. But would women feel these kinds of measures were necessary if we weren’t told so relentlessly that - to adapt the breastfeeding slogan - “chuff is best”?
Personally, I think we’ve become too hung up on the whole birth experience. When I got pregnant for the first time, I spent nine months focused on getting an A* in birth. I attended birthing classes, went to birth yoga, read birth books, watched births on TV and listened to hypnobirthing CDs. In the event, I got the baby out naturally - only just, she was a big unit - and basked in the midwives’ praise for “doing well”. I recovered quickly, forgot the pain and signed up to do it all again. But there was still a moment in that birthing suite when I thought to myself, despite the euphoria, did I need to put myself through all that? Would an epidural really have been so bad?
Saying that may not win me any friends among advocates of natural labour. To those who couldn’t have one, it may seem like whingeing. But I wanted to share it anyway, because even on the most optimistic figures, for every six women who orgasm during labour there are another 94 going “Bloody hell, that was hard”.
Of course we need to help everyone to have the best possible birth experience, but raising expectations to a ridiculous degree doesn’t help.
Birth can be beautiful, but let’s be honest: it isn’t pretty.
Follow Emma on Twitter @Barters