Birth is a lioness; why do midwives treat it like a kitten?

lioness kitten 2

Every few months we read a terrible story about a child or adult mauled by a wild animal that someone thought to keep as a pet. The owners never intended for anyone to get hurt. They simply thought that with enough love and nurturing, they could tame the animal. Indeed, right up until the moment of the mauling, many thought they had tamed a wild animal.

Unfortunately, the owners failed to respect the essence of the animal; wild animals cannot be domesticated and it is foolish and dangerous to pretend otherwise.

Midwives and natural childbirth advocates often approach birth in the same way. Birth is a lioness, but if you read the nonsense that many midwives and natural childbirth advocates write about it, you’d come away with the impression that its a fluffy kitten. And if you reached your hand out to pet it, that hand might get bitten off.

UK midwives and natural childbirth advocates in particular have a tendency to blither nonsense illustrated with hearts and flowers (although they are hardly alone). Consider The Positive Birth Movement. It’s hard to imagine anything more inane and nonsensical:

We are a grass roots movement, spreading positivity about childbirth via a global network of free Positive Birth groups, linked up by social media.

We aim to challenge the current epidemic of negativity around childbirth by bringing women together …

Wait! It gets worse:

Get Positive: One Day Workshops from the Positive Birth Movement!

…This is a completely new kind of birth preparation – not a plastic pelvis in sight. At the PBM we think that your body already knows how to give birth but your mind needs a little attention. We want to help you take everything you thought you knew about birth and replace it with some really gorgeous stuff that will make your eyes sparkle with anticipation.

These one day workshops are run by our experienced PBM Facilitators, and are designed specifically to help pregnant women:

Challenge any existing negative expectations of birth
Fill up with excitement and positivity about the big day
Build a toolkit to maximise chances of the best birth possible
Leave feeling strong, confident, and inspired.

The website is filled with “positive” birth stories, but:

Many people believe that the Positive Birth Movement is all about sharing good birth stories, and that those who have had ‘less than positive’ experiences are not a part of what we do.

This is not the case.

We exist because, at a global level, many women are not currently having a positive birth.

Often these women feel without a voice. They want to speak up, but are told consistently: “all that matters is a healthy baby”

In other words, lets all get together and pretend that there’s no need to be afraid of birth because its a fluffy kitty. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to warn you that in reality, birth is a lioness and wouldn’t hesitate to kill you by sinking its teeth in your neck.

The organizers are so privileged that they actually imagine that a less than positive birth means that someone’s feelings were hurt; it never crosses their mind that a negative birth experience can mean a dead baby or a dead mother or both.

It amazes me how the organizers disrespect both women’s intelligence and birth.

Pregnant women are not empty headed ninnies who need to be protected from the reality of birth. They are not little girls and they should not be offered fairy tales with “happily ever after” endings in place of science.

Fear and negativity don’t harm women in labor. Fear and negativity harm natural childbirth advocates’ fantasies and midwives’ employment prospects, but that has no impact on most women.

Positivity harms women by setting unrealistic expectations around labor and birth, leading to disappointment, feelings of failure, and self loathing for not being “positive” enough.

The Positive Birth Movement unwittingly highlights the central difference between many midwives and obstetricians. Midwives pretend that birth is tame, while obstetricians know that it is dangerous.

Midwives and natural childbirth advocates figuratively reach out with “positivity” to pet birth … and babies and mothers die as a result.

Obstetricians respect birth for what it is, wild, dangerous and untameable … and that’s how they save lives.