“Sorry if I scratch you, I had my nails done yesterday”.
This is from the comments on a Daily Mail article where “mothers reveal the eye-watering comments made by their midwives during labour.” We are left to assume this came as a vaginal examination was about to take place.
The piece is pulled together from a MumsNet thread on the topic, and it makes for disturbing reading. Because we are not just talking about the sadness of a lack of basic kindness or professionalism, we are witnessing one of the key reasons that so many women find labour so challenging. It is staring us in the face, poking our ear holes and prompting us to cross our legs.
Kipling told us that words are the most powerful drug known to man. Even with my position as the world’s biggest Night Nurse fan, I have to agree. The very real, physical responses that words, and the thoughts they prompt, create in our bodies are regularly evident.
Someone tells you the person sitting in that train seat just before you was being driven mad by nits. A rousing battle cry (maybe not in our every day existence, but we’ve seen Braveheart, and even watching it, knowing it’s not real, sets off the response.) Motivational music for the gym (eye of the tiger anyone?!). Someone threatens us. Someone tells us we look great. Someone tells us we look terrible. Dirty talk.
Of course, this is the most important example. Talk about it in my hypnobirthing classes, it’s a lightbulb moment, all good until someone brought their Nan… We are very familiar with the idea that words we hear, imagery, and our corresponding trails of thought will impact our physical experience of sex. Certain words, the imagination of particular acts and scenarios, the anticipation of pleasure, all have very demonstrable outcomes. What do they say- your brain is your most important sex organ? (I don’t know who says that, or if that’s quite what’s said, but you know what I mean.)
Well, hello, reality. Women are using these very same organs in order to give birth. This fantastic clip lays it out for us that if we treated sex the way we treat birth, we could expect to see, shall we say, some difficulties.
Birth is a governed by a cocktail of hormones, responding to our perception of the environment. This perception is cultivated largely by the words and behaviour of those around us. In the simplest possible terms… All is safe and well? Excellent, oxytocin flows, endorphins kick in, birth can proceed. There’s something to worry about? Oh hell, adrenaline takes over, tension and resistance arrive, birth is hampered.
I’m not suggesting that you gag your midwife, or that a labouring woman should be shielded from information that could help her to make decisions in a difficult labour. But I am saying that needless, unproductive scaremongering or entirely inconsiderate comments should be considered both inappropriate and potent in labour, and in fact, throughout pregnancy.
One woman in the article describes being told she had a “gorilla baby in there”, a huge infant that they had no idea how they were going to get out. She birthed a 6lb-er and reflects on how her fear contributed to the pain.
Of course, there are plenty of caregivers who are very mindful of this effect, and will hold a quiet space, offering only gentle encouragement and reassurance. This is what we want.
Consider protecting yourself in your birth plan. I always suggest my clients make their preferences clear along these lines:
We would like to maintain a calm, quiet environment, and would like to avoid unnecessary conversation (ie- one mother in the article overheard “I wasn’t actually THAT drunk last night”). Please don’t ask for pain to be rated on a scale. (Have you ever asked yourself that question- how much pain am I in? Search for it, focus on it, reference it against all the other pains you’ve ever had, trying to find where it fits on the scale). Instead, you could ask me how I’m feeling, or how I’m finding the sensations.
Or, of course, a more practical solution- no, not the gag, earphones.
Big love to the women in the original piece x