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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Why is childbirth so terrifying?
Childbirth is a "terrifying ordeal which leaves women in a state of shock", according to a magazine survey.

Eight out of 10 new mothers, said they were frightened during labour and birth, and that their labour was "more painful than they ever imagined".

Almost a quarter of the 3,000 women who took part in the survey, had their babies delivered by caesarean section.

Six out of 10 said the antenatal classes they had attended failed to prepare them for the reality of childbirth.

Why is childbirth so terrifying? Are services failing to properly prepare women? Are men affected by the experiences of their partners? Tell us what you think.


This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Educate yourself and be assertive

Heather Stabler, USA, UK ex-pat
Knowledge is power. You have to educate yourself and be assertive. It is your birth and delivery experience and should be conducted on YOUR terms not under the direction of someone who doesn't know you. Relax, don't listen to the horror stories people will throw at you. Take up meditation, I did, my labour was four hours total, no drugs, I had a brilliant experience. You have to keep an open mind and deal with the experience as and when it happens. Live for that moment.
Heather Stabler, USA, UK ex-pat

I was traumatised for six months after the birth of my first child. It was far more painful than I had imagined, and a total shock. I felt no-one had warned me, and I was bitter about that. I had an epidural with the second one, and it was a totally different, almost enjoyable experience. I think that people have very different experiences, and some births are simply easier than others. My mother wasn't lying to me when she said it wasn't too bad - for her, it wasn't. I don't think anyone should be put off, though. It doesn't last for ever, and it is definitely worth it.
Mary, UK

Childbirth, in modern Western culture, has become both idealised and romanticised. Witness the recent trend to include "father" in the experience, which research shows can be detrimental to the mother. Perhaps if women had more "control" over what is, by definition, their own, unique experience, then it would become more positive for them.
Elaine Darlington Brown, UK


Women will continue to have poor birth experiences until such time as maternity units receive more resources

Pauline, England
I had a very bad birth experience when I had my daughter five years ago. There was a staffing "crisis" at the maternity unit and things don't look any better five years down the line. The post-natal care given to me by the midwives was very good, but unfortunately I spent 13 of my 17 hour labour alone, and could not have an epidural as there was no one available to look after me! I suffered from nightmares and flashbacks and now have a deep fear of childbirth. Women will continue to have poor birth experiences until such time as maternity units receive more resources.
Pauline, England

Childbirth was not a terrifying ordeal for me. I had my first child three weeks ago and although the birth was exhausting, hard work and very painful, it was worth it. At no point was I frightened. In fact, at 10 days overdue I was quite looking forward to it! It all depends on the midwives though - mine were marvellous.
Kirsty, UK

Okay, so it's going to hurt and things could go wrong, but surely it's been like this since the beginning of time - otherwise none of us would be here today. I'm due to give birth in 8 weeks, and can honestly say that the end results far outweigh any horror story I could be told. Being informed in as many areas as possible has made me feel calm and relaxed about the whole process. If I need more information, I just ask. After all, that's what your NHS care team are there for - support before, during and after. I don't think people realise how overstretched midwives and support teams are. If we continue to become more and more adverse to birth and pain, even with all of the help available today, we are surely a dying breed!
Penny Kennedy, UK

I wasn't terrified. It was the most pain I've ever had, but as the result was so great, it was worth it. I had gas and air some of the time for pain relief (though I was in a pool with hot water, and I think that helped). I had friends around, and only got desperate for an epidural at the end. I don't agree with this generalised negative view!
Kathy Bor, England

I'm currently half way through my first pregnancy and I am very scared - my pain threshold is very low. I've read the books and am well informed, but that doesn't alleviate my apprehension. I appreciate that woman do this everyday all over the world, I, however, haven't, and I can assure you that this survey hasn't helped to reassure me.
Theresa, England


Because I was in my own environment I did not feel out of control.

Barbara, UK
I gave birth to my son at home under the supervision of a midwife I had got to know and trust, who understood what my anxieties were. Of course, it was painful, but because I was in my own environment I did not feel out of control. I am no stoic but I did not need pain relief. My midwife gave me the courage to trust in doing what my body was telling me to do and I gave birth gently without tearing at all. I think continuity of maternity care is the key to ensuring a normal birth. I achieved this by employing an independent midwife.
Barbara, UK

Nothing can ever prepare you for childbirth. No amount of exercises or breathing actually help. My experiences were horrific and left me physically and psychologically damaged for years afterwards. I had to have reconstructive surgery - twice, and only 14 years later, has the damage finally healed. My so-called "normal" delivery cost me my marriage, at the end of the day. Viva caesareans. It may take longer to recover, and you will have a scar (big deal, I have one from my hysterectomy) but it's far better than years and years, if not a lifetime of sexual problems "down below."
Tracey Dare, UK

For those who have not given birth I can understand the fear of the unknown, especially as so much pain can be involved. However there are fantastic carers available in the NHS - people at every level who support mothers through their pregnancy, delivery and early months of the baby's life. Consistency is obviously a problem - it is unfortunate that such a potentially wonderful experience is a the mercy of a "lottery". I gave birth to my twin sons at 38 weeks in N. Ireland over seven years ago. The care and support I received was excellent. Post natal care was good. I trust this survey helps to provide recognition of the good and inspires those facilities that are deemed to be below standard to improve their contribution to what is a very personal and meaningful experience.
Maggie Dalton, St. Lucia


I will go through hell for my baby.

Mel, London
I am desperate for children. I may very well not be able to have them. If I can, physical pain will not put me off. If women put off having children due to pain that is fine. It is their choice and prerogative. But if I get my chance and it is a possibility I will go through hell for my baby. I don't care. It will be a baby and that is the point.
Mel, London

Educate yourself as much as possible about childbirth beforehand, make sure you get plenty of sleep every night in the couple of weeks before your due date, and be willing to accept surprises. Knowing what will happen in labour can make a difference in whether you perceive a contraction as "pain" or rather a timed, magical force taking over the mother's body. Also, being well-rested before labour makes an enormous difference. Finally, sometimes things don't work out as planned. My first birth, a natural one, was exhausting and exciting. The second, also natural, was easy. The third child's birth was induced, and it was too exhausting - there is no time to recover between contractions. I got tired, started feeling pain, and opted for an epidural. ! It was the least satisfying of my births.
Gaile Amin, USA

Want to have a good birth experience? Have your baby at home. We had our second and third at home and the experience was far superior to hospital. No hanging about in cold waiting rooms, continuous care from one midwife, no late night dashes in ambulance, plenty of undisturbed (relatively) rest afterwards. And any decent analysis shows it is just as safe as hospital. And for the government, it's also cheaper!
David Mottram, UK


I am pregnant and have yet to tell my GP

Brenda Wickham, England
I am pregnant and have yet to tell my GP. I know the service is undermanned, and the prospect of having to enter the system itself is frightening. They simply do not have the time to sit and hold your hand and reassure you. I am very scared that I will be held down and unable to move during labour, and ignored, powerless and frankly the more I think about it the more terrifying it becomes.
Brenda Wickham, England

I gave birth to my son nearly six years ago and am still shocked at the 'care' I received. The majority of staff were uncaring and rude. There were cockroaches in the shower and I received very little help with breastfeeding. The night staff seemed determined to ensure that we got as little sleep as possible. Horrible experience from start to finish! I suffered badly from post-natal depression and struggled for a long time before a very professional and caring GP offered help.
Sara, England


I had a fantastic birth

Helen Henderson, UK
I had a fantastic birth with brilliant care from my midwife. I chose to give birth in a small maternity unit in Derbyshire; I was encouraged to have a bath, move around and for the majority of the labour I used a Tens machine. I felt cared for. As a first time mum it was a positive experience and I am not afraid to go through it again. I was adamant I wasn't going to a big hospital; if I had they would have stitched me but because the unit promotes natural healing they didn't and I was only really in pain for 24 hours. I didn't want to have my baby in an unnatural situation for the convenience of the staff (like on my back). I believe at a major unit my birth would have been more painful, medicalised and considerably longer.
Helen Henderson, UK

My first birth was a most terribly painful and traumatic experience and took me a long time to recover from, physically and mentally. I was induced and left screaming and crying for hours with no offer of pain relief or even a few kind words. They cut me and my daughter was delivered 18 hours later without any anaesthetic. The only reassurance I got from the doctor was "This is going to hurt like hell." It did, and those words still ring in my brain, over three years later. Second time round was not so traumatic psychologically, I laboured completely naturally but I was in a lot of pain for several weeks afterwards. As you say, giving birth is a complete lottery.
Jennifer Wheatley, UK


I could have told you it'd be painful

Steven, UK
Wow! Another useless survey. I could have told you that it'd be painful. Of course women get scared. Who openly wants to go through the immense pain of child birth? What's next, a survey saying that in areas of unemployment the crime rate is high? I dread to think how much money has been wasted on another obvious answer survey.
Steven, UK

The article makes a very valid point. I'm in my mid-30s and don't have any children - one of the main reasons being my absolute fear of childbirth.
Catherine Gibson, UK

If women are frightened of giving birth then heaven help the future of our society. We have already been told there are more over-60s in our society than young people and that the average family size has dropped from 2.4 children to 1.6 or such! So please do your duty and produce children for Britain. You never know that extra child may be looking after you in your old age!
R Steward, Great Britain

People can go on about how wonderful and important nurses are, but I suggest nurses are the weakest link when it comes to hands on care. They should be in the best position to provide knowledgeable, compassionate care and yet in general it's the complete opposite. We're not looking forward to experience number two. Anyone recommend a good midwife in W9?
Leslie, UK


The perception of the patients has changed, not the actual pain

Phil, UK
This research demonstrates that the perception of the patients has changed, not the actual pain. Having worked on labour wards for eight years, I have to say that labour has always been painful, frightening and undignified. Modern obstetrics is much better in pain relief and outcome for both mother and baby than 10 years ago. There is a genuine problem with staffing with a fall in real terms of the number of midwives, and an increase in the practice of "defensive medicine" in obstetricians due to the constant fear of litigation. It is this combination which produces an air of coldness.
Phil, UK

Nobody can tell you what childbirth is like, but being scared will only prolong and contribute to the pain. I wasn't looking forward to going into hospital to have our son (first baby) earlier this year, so I opted for a home birth instead, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was able to relax and stay calm because I was in familiar surroundings with the same midwife who had looked after me during my pregnancy. She stayed with me all through the night during my labour and although it was painful, I was so relaxed that I didn't even require stitches.
I wasn't ever actually offered the option of a home birth at any point, I did my research and had to ask for it, but I'd definitely do it again.
Julia, UK


The bodies of a lot of women these days aren't adequately prepared

Anon, UK
One of the problems may be our very sedentary lifestyle. As a former keep fit teacher, I know that most people who came to my class, men and women, had little appetite for any serious exertion at the start and had to be coaxed over months to a reasonable level of fitness. "Labour" means physical work, and the bodies of a lot of women these days aren't adequately prepared. Lose weight and get fit before you have a child, it might make the whole thing a lot easier!
Anon, UK

I was more scared of the horror stories that I had heard of things going wrong. I knew that the birth was going to be very painful. In the end my daughter was late and I was desperate to just get it over with so that I could hold my baby - all pain was forgotten when I saw her face for the first time.
Joy, UK

My wife and I frequently talk to mothers that had birth experiences made worse by pressure from so-called experts to give in to intervention. Only for the very same procedure to lead to further complications. These is a time and a place for modern methods, but labour wards are rapidly becoming production lines where timeliness has become more important than the birth itself. My wife is planning on having our second child at home, just like the first. But to the healthcare profession it is seen as abnormal, almost to the point of causing trouble for them. I for one am very glad to have avoided the hospital environment as a place to bring our child into this world.
Paul Blamire, UK


There is no denying the fact that childbirth was painful, it was also exciting, exhilarating and wonderful

Catherine Stanton
I had two children twenty-odd years ago. Though there is no denying the fact that childbirth was painful, it was also exciting, exhilarating and wonderful. I had attended National Childbirth Trust classes and used their techniques throughout. First time round, I accepted the offered narcotic but in retrospect, wished I hadn't as I lost some control. Second time round, I had no artificial pain relief, and managed fine - no yelling or screaming. While obviously some births do become complicated, in most cases it is a natural process. I still feel that those two days were the best in my life.
Catherine Stanton, UK

Despite six ultrasound scans during my pregnancy to monitor my baby's large head, I was told I would give birth to the baby "naturally". This involved being induced three times after my waters broke at 38 weeks of pregnancy. I was in labour for 19 hours before being taken to theatre for a forceps delivery. It had been 57 hours since my waters had broken. The experience was rushed, terrifying and emotionally and physically degrading. My baby's skull was fractured in the process of "delivering" him and he was blue and temporarily paralysed. I remained in theatre for 60 minutes after the birth while I was stitched. I didn't know what was happening to my baby and my partner had been taken out of theatre and couldn't be with me. Our baby was sent to intensive care and my partner was sent home because it was too late at night for him to be there. I had horrific injuries, many stitches and had to use a catheter for five months as my bladder was damaged. My baby was tube fed for three weeks which only heightened my sense of uselessness as everywhere around me were NHS posters promoting breastfeeding. I felt like a complete failure and certainly not at all like a woman. My baby has had two bran scans already to monitor his recovery. At six months old he is already 2.5 feet long and I've been told that next time I'll be given a Caesarean. I'm angry that the situation arose in the first place. It was obvious from the scans that my baby was big. The doctors however say that he wasn't too big as he did manage to pass through the birth canal. They seem to have forgotten how much damage they had to do to me to achieve that result.
Lucy, Scotland

I have just finished a night shift at one of the busiest maternity units in London. In reality many factors contribute to a complicated childbirth, such as women being older when having their first child, wrong expectations of labour, a wide range of available pain-relief, etc. Mobilising in labour is the perfect way to increase the chances of natural childbirth; no midwife will dispute this fact! But what if there are problems with the foetal heart or the labour is not progressing well? I know, from experience, that maternity units in London suffer from staff shortages, but midwives in the NHS give their best, no matter if a unit is short staffed.
Henny, England


As soon as my son was born all pain was forgotten

Jane Martin, UK
I think it's a shame so many women seem to feel this way. I can remember that when I was coming up to the end of the 9 months I just thought the sooner it's over the better and that's what I've always told other women - once it's started its going to end. I can honestly say that as soon as my son was born all pain was forgotten and that was despite the stitches and transfusion.
Jane Martin, UK

Yes, I'm absolutely terrified! My husband really wants a baby, but I keep putting it off, as I can't stand the thought of going through all that pain! As an ex-pat, I'm going to try to end up in a country where they drug you up to the eyeballs by the time I'm ready for a child!
Claire, UK ex-pat

I personally think that a lot of women are not adequately informed about childbirth, and what happens, and it is partly this ignorance that contributes to the perception of pain. My midwives, health visitor and NCT teacher have all been mines of useful information, and I would advise all pregnant women to go to as many of the classes as possible - the more you know, the more confident you will be. I'm more worried about what to do with the baby once I get it home...
Sara Harris, England


I was disgusted with the conditions there

SD, UK
I'm only 23 and do plan to have children at some point, but I must admit the thought of giving birth is terrifying. My cousin's wife was in the maternity ward of our local hospital this past weekend and I was disgusted with the conditions there. Overcrowded, cramped, dull, dark and dare I say, depressing? I found the visit extremely disturbing and only heightened my anxiety about any future pregnancy I might have.
SD, UK

When my partner gave birth to our daughter in March 2002 I was very shocked as to how bad the maternity ward was. Our midwife didn't believe my partner when she said she was having contractions then 1 hour later she had our baby! They were very cold and always acted like they didn't want to be there.
Morgan Pugh, UK

I think that post-natal care in this country is appalling. I have a 19 month old son and my wife has still to recover from the effect of delivery. GPs and midwives are no use, as they keep on saying the same recorded message 'this is quite normal' whereas one can see that it isn't.
C. Kakar, UK

I'm nervous about giving birth. I think women (and men) have a lot of anxiety throughout pregnancy, such as test results, eating habits, maternity and paternity rights, the cost of childcare after your maternity leave is over, etc. Sometimes you feel like you're about to have an information overload. I often wonder how bad all this stress must be for the mother's health and for the baby's health (as well as poor old dad's-to-be). I think the least the government can do is get their act together.
Anon, UK

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01 Oct 02 | Health
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