I’m not much of a gambler (I’ve never been inside a casino, and I don’t think I’ve even played the lottery! I do however have a soft spot for the 2p machines on the seafront!) but I’d put money on the fact that you have gained a lot of your knowledge and beliefs about birth from shows like One Born Every Minute. Why? Because I think that if you’re here reading this, then you’re probably a lot like me… or at least me before having my first baby!
I’ve always been fascinated by pregnancy and birth, even as a teenager still in school I used to daydream about the time I would get my turn! After beginning a career in childcare I found myself reading not only books about child care and development, but pregnancy and birth too. Then in 2010 One Born Every Minute was first shown on TV – I couldn’t wait, I’d seen the adverts and really thought it would be a brilliant way to get an honest glimpse into the world of birth. I mean what could be more accurate in portraying birth than in filming it? I was hooked for a good few series! I was so emotionally invested in every twist and turn of the births being shown, my heart racing as panic alarms were pulled, or mum’s were coached in pushing their babies out (Keep it coming! Keep it coming!) seeing and hearing them cry out in pain, tensing up whilst wishing I could help in some way, completely unable to turn the TV off – my brain though it was soaking up important knowledge by watching. I cried with joy at each baby’s arrival, although looking back it was probably largely relief after the build up!
Then one day I discovered a dusty gem of a book on the shelves of Rayleigh Library. Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. It wasn’t much to look at but I felt drawn to it. It was eye opening, and began to make me wonder how birth could be so different to what I had seen on OBEM, or generally in the media around me. It was this book which set me on the path of viewing birth the way I do now, even if I didn’t realise it at the time! I continued to watch OBEM until I was pregnant with my first baby, but found myself less invested, more able to see that the conditions and support could be so much better than they were for the women involved.
I now realise that OBEM is a far cry from reality, with dramatic editing, emotion evoking sound clips, and the inability to show the full picture of any one birth in the space of one episode, leaving us feeling we understand what happened without truly knowing at all. Then factor in white and straight couples being grossly over represented, the frequent use of intervention and informed consent being nowhere to be seen most of the time. Rooms are usually brightly lit, women are aware their every move is being captured for national television, and midwives are often practicing outside of NICE guidelines with countless missed opportunities to show evidence based best practice for women.
Anyway what I’m getting at here is that OBEM is one of the WORST places you could be getting your information about birth from, and yet for many of us it’s one of the only places we learn about birth before falling pregnant! Now there’s a new kid on the Block, Emma Willis: Delivering Babies. So is it another OBEM or is this a better place for us to be learning about birth?
I’ve not watched all of the episodes yet, but so far I have mixed emotions about it. There are a lot more positives to be found in this show than One Born, but unfortunately still plenty of room for improvements. It is interesting to see things like how theatre is cleaned and the involvement of older siblings when new ones come along, and I love that they are showing birth happening in all locations including showing a homebirth and waterbirth in the midwife led unit. This could be the first time for many women that they have seen birth happening outside of a medical environment and seeing a mother calm and joking during labour, and quickly back up on her feet looking elated after could be the inspiration needed to explore their birth options fully rather than falling into the automatic assumptions of of birth place.
However there is still a lot of dramatic editing, complex birth and intervention being shown (I think it’s important for normal undisturbed birth to be shown more often to let women see that it can happen anywhere!) as well as dis-empowering language being used, and a lack of informed choice being shown – that’s not to say it isn’t happening and being edited out, but when we watch a women laying on a bed and the narrator announces ‘the midwives have decided to induced labour by breaking her waters’ or in another birth ‘I’m just going to break your waters for you darling. Is that okay?’ it feels like a decision which has been made FOR the woman not BY the woman, leading us to store up the information that we are not the ones making these choices, someone else is in charge. Storing up these subtle undermining stories in our subconscious leads us to dip into them when it is our turn, falling into the role of vulnerable patient who needs someone else to tell us what to do rather than engaging us in information sharing and decision making.
The birth environment is varied but I noticed that sometimes the conditions were far from the ones we know are optimal for birth flowing with ease. More bright lights, care providers engaging women in using their neocortex or rational brain (we need to switch this off and let our primal instincts guide our bodies ideally), and after a lovely waterbirth the midwives are both immediately rubbing baby with towels cleaning off the lovely vernix which we know helps protect babies from infections, can contribute to temperature regulation and keeps baby’s skin soft. This is also interpreting the natural birthing process which is still ongoing as the placenta needs to be birthed.
Overall I feel like this show is better than One Born Every Minute, and Emma Willis seems like shes got the best interests of every family at heart whilst doing her very best learning on the job and offering time and support to the families she sees, but if you are pregnant (or planning to be!) I can think of many better places to get yourself prepared for a positive birth experience! Obviously the courses and support groups run by us at Do It Like A Mother are game-changing, but also blogs like The Positive Birth Movement, Birthing4blokes and Tell Me A Good Birth Story, and there are tonnes of fabulous Youtube videos too like:
We would love to support you in your learning if you are ready to step into your role as a birthing mother – we have options from £10 Saturday mornings, group courses as well as 1:1 courses in your own home.
Any questions, just get in touch we love hearing from you!