Author of “Birth Muthas” responds to Milli Hill’s attempt to censor her

Not talking about something or censored concept

This is a guest post from Cath Janes, the author of Birth Muthas, published in Standard Issue Magazine in response to Milli Hill’s gaslighting extravaganza The myth of the painful birth – and why it’s not nearly so bad as women believe.

Janes was shocked when Hill demanded that Standard Issue Magazine offer her the right of reply and even more shocked when the magazine gave in. Here is her response.

I’d been in blissful ignorance of Milli Hill until ten days ago, when I saw that she had written in The Telegraph about how “In an average eight hour labour, a woman can expect to be ‘in pain’ for only around 23 per cent of the time”. So when I was asked, by online mag Standard Issue, to respond in my usual truthful voice, I happily did. That was when Milli Hill made sure I would never be unaware of her again.

“In all of my years as a journalist and editor for national magazines and broadsheets I had never heard of this happening before.”

Well, Hill certainly wasn’t thinking positively on the day my piece was published. Very publicly, on Twitter, she began calling me unprofessional, claiming I had misrepresented her, demanding the piece be pulled and asking why I hadn’t given her the right of reply when I wrote it. It was stunning, not least because in all of my years as a journalist and editor for national magazines and broadsheets I had never heard of this happening before. An inherent right of reply to an opinion piece? The only upside was the dozens of messages I received from editors and journalists, all equally as stunned as I.

Standard Issue pulled my piece off its website upon Hill’s request, giving her 24 hours to write a right of reply which would be published alongside mine when it went back up. Except there was one difference; what was very obviously an analogy about injured troops had been removed at Hill’s demand and THAT is what you can read in my full piece here. I stand by that analogy with every fibre of my childbirth-broken soul. That’s because it was, I repeat, analogous and in no way descriptive. I don’t think I could state that any more clearly than I did in the piece and I do here now.

That Standard Issue decided to accede to Hill after the requested piece was published is one thing. As furious as I am about it, and as much as I have never heard of this happening before, I understand that Standard Issue has to operate in the way it feels is best for itself. We have parted ways because I no longer want to write for it and I now know of several other women who don’t want to write for it any more too.

What is quite another thing are Hill’s actions. For all of her claims that I had misrepresented her, her reply to my Standard Issue piece was hardly worth the wait. In fact it caused substantial hilarity amongst the many women who were following this debacle and I know that because they contacted me in support.
I’ve always been searingly honest about my experience of childbirth and the resulting PND, PTSD and career-ending breakdown. You can read in my piece about how the lack of honesty about what really happens during birth contributed significantly to this. I too believed I would get through my otherwise average labour with brilliant support and positivity and, more to the point, so did the hundreds of women who have since contacted me via social media and parenting forums. For balance, though, two women have told me that they feel there may be something in Hill’s theory even though they believe it to be flawed.

I’m a feminist who believes that women should always be empowered but only if that is underpinned with honesty. That is why I disagree so vehemently with Hill. I believe that to tell women that they are not feeling any pain at all for 77% of an average birth is to mislead them. Yes, the maths may be correct (for Hill has done the maths) but in terms of the emotions of panic, exhaustion, worry, fear and shock and the physical reactions of vomiting, breathlessness, tearing, cutting, bleeding and defecating it is not. Maths should never explain away the deeply personal process of giving birth and it should never be used to lull women into a false sense of security.

I’m not alone in feeling Hill’s ire or seeing her attempt to explain herself. She asked the Telegraph to change the headline that accompanied her original piece and has now told me that she didn’t expect Standard Issue to publish what she had written for them either. It’s good to know that I’m not alone. What isn’t good is that through her misguided, repeated and defamatory insistence that I have been unprofessional I have had to block her from my social media and private email accounts and am now considering legal action. The fact is that Hill and I will never agree on this issue and, in the belief that debate is good, I am fine with that. Whether she is good with her critics’ opinions being expressed is another thing. I’ll let you know after this too has been published.

  • carovee

    “In an average eight hour labour, a woman can expect to be ‘in pain’ for only around 23 per cent of the time”.
    I keep getting stuck on this silly claim. As if pain stops the moment the contraction stops. Um, no. Look, when I throw up, the active vomiting part doesn’t last all that long, but my stomach is sore as hell afterward. When I exercise too much the pain doesn’t magically disappear the second I stop doing arm curls. Plus pain is not just a physical sensation, it has psychological components too. Hill doesn’t seem to understand anything about how pain actually works in a human body.

    • Azuran

      I had an open fracture after a car accident. It mainly hurt when I moved, but once it was stabilized in a splint by EMS it practically didn’t hurt. Still it didn’t stop any doctor from giving me painkillers. No one questioned my need for pain relief.

      I sure as hell would have killed any nurse who told me I shouldn’t have an epidural because I was only in pain about 25% of the time. It was an atrocious 25%.

  • Merrie

    So if I choke Milli Hill for a minute, then leave her alone for 3 minutes, then choke her for another minute, then leave her alone for 3 minutes, she really has no room to complain, because 77% of the time I’m not choking her, right?

    • BeatriceC

      I know a lot of people in the BDSM scene who would actually really like that, but they all have safe words and safety procedures in place to keep things from going to far.

  • mdstudentwithkids

    OT: I am a long time reader and have posted a few times. I just gave birth one week ago. Elective induction at 39 weeks, epidural once things got too intense, 14 hours and a beautiful 8lb boy to show for it. Also, I supplemented after most feeds until my milk came in (and did not do extra pumping) and he made the transition to all bf great. Thankfully my body has done what I wanted it to do, but the lack of stress about the whole process and my realistic expectations I owe to this blog and the rest of you who comment here. Years back I used to be really into the woo and I just wanted to say thanks 🙂

    • Sean Jungian

      Congratulations on the new baby! Glad you’re both doing well.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      Congrats!

    • moto_librarian

      Congratulations! I’m so glad to hear that you’re having a good newborn period.

    • myrewyn

      Congratulations on the new baby! I am 34 weeks today and your story sounds exactly like my best case scenario. My 39 week induction is on the calendar, my OB knows I want an epidural before things get uncomfortable, and I have already packed the newborn nursettes for supplementing after each breastfeeding if necessary. I would not have known about any of this (except the epidural, I’ve had two previously and they rock) without this blog and the commenters.

      • mdstudentwithkids

        Good luck, I hope everything goes smoothly! And I was singing the praises of the epidural for hours after I got it! Thank God for modern medicine and technology.

    • AnnaPDE

      Congratulations on the newbie!
      This blog is really a great resource, for both birth and BF questions.

    • SporkParade

      Congrats! Now that baby’s home, don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. 🙂

    • Manly Seadragon

      I had a similar experience to you. I supplemented my 4.4kg (10lb) whopper with formula until my milk came in. Despite claims of ‘colustrum is liquid gold’ and ‘your baby’s tummy is tiny’, he was slightly dehydrated and slightly jaundiced. Formula got my baby hydrated again during a humid Australian autumn and our first couple of days together were stress free.
      Breast feeding canon is strange. It’s both perfect and pure but so delicate that one bottle, pacifier or missing the golden hour ruins it forever. I got no sensible advice from Breastfeeding organisations (cluster feeding for 8 hours, suck it up or your supply will be ruined forever), only from a seasoned community Midwife, who just told me to feed the boy and go easy on myself.
      2 weeks on, enjoying breastfeeding and baby is happy, settled and growing like a weed.

      • fiftyfifty1

        ” a seasoned community Midwife, who just told me to feed the boy and go easy on myself.
        2 weeks on, enjoying breastfeeding and baby is happy, settled and growing like a weed.”

        This sounds wonderful. This is the way it should be!

  • myrewyn

    Very good piece, Cath James. And Dr Amy, please keep us posted on whether there is legal action.

  • Sheven

    I don’t want to give Standard Issue the clicks for Hill’s response. Can anyone who has already read it give me the gist?

    Also, shame on Standard Issue for letting someone other than an editor edit a person’s work. No author should work for them again. Factual errors are one thing. Letting a third person take an analogy out of a published piece is the most spineless thing I’ve ever heard of. This is a disgrace.

    Edit: I don’t see the analogy to injured troops in the cached piece. Am I following the wrong link?

    • Eater of Worlds

      They took out the reference because HIll didn’t like it. The full article should be here

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3An6IV7Qmr9GcJ%3Astandardissuemagazine.com%2Fvoices%2Fbirth-muthas%2F%20&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk Which is a copy of the original article.

      • BeatriceC

        I’m not seeing the injured troop analogy in that link.

        • Kim Thomas

          It’s because it’s now cacheing the updated version rather than the original version. I was about to paste here what she wrote but perhaps it’s best if Cath does it.

        • Kim Thomas

          I’ve had Cath’s permission to post it. After talking about gripping her husband’s hand, she wrote: ‘It’s at this stage that I can imagine Hill attempting the same pep talk with injured troops as they return from Afghanistan. “What do you mean it was horrific? You had a five-month-and-29-day pain-free deployment! It was only on the last day that your limbs were blown off. Have you thought about being more positive about your experience?”’ I’ve always loved Cath’s writing, and it seems clear to me here that she’s just using a bit of characteristically dark comic exaggeration.

  • moto_librarian

    I hope that you do take legal action against Hill. She is the penultimate gaslighter, and I loathe her with every fiber of my being. I was fed the same type of bullshit about labor and delivery, and I was totally unprepared for the reality of what it would be like. My experience was so terrible that I wasn’t sure that I would ever want to have another child. The injuries that I suffered during birth made the postpartum period a living hell, and I need surgery to repair a rectocele and, hopefully, insert an insterstim device to help with the bowel issues that I have at age 39. Milli Hill and her ilk delight in doling out emotional abuse, yet prove themselves to be more fragile than the wings of a butterfly whenever they receive legitimate criticism.

    • Heidi

      You put my thoughts into words much better than I would have been able!

    • myrewyn

      I second Heidi’s comment. I can’t “like” yours with the trauma and the rectocele. I’m so sorry.

      • moto_librarian

        It is what it is. And I’m a lot luckier than many women. I have incontinence very rarely, but I am really tired of having to splint every single time. There’s also the unpleasant fact that I often don’t know that I need to have a bowel movement until I urinate because there’s so much nerve damage. The most inconvenient thing about it is that the recovery period requires 8 weeks off of work. My surgeon says that she should be able to help me use my short term disability, but I only have access to that after I’ve exhausted all of my PTO, which sucks.

        • Merrie

          That does suck. Any chance of using most of your PTO for something more recreational/relaxing and then scheduling the surgery shortly thereafter?

          • moto_librarian

            That’s a really good idea!

  • Far too many women are harmed during birth and then re-harmed by women the likes of Hill. Dismissing a woman’s experience or denying a woman an honest portrayal of the full scope of experience, denies the woman the right to consent to the course of action taken. In trying to minimize the awful of “normal birth”, it is a shame that in the same breath most natural childbirth advocates maximize the awful of caesarean birth. This denies women the opportunity to consider wish plan truly best meets their needs, as it is a fact that the baby must get out. Worse, it subjects many women to birth trauma who may have otherwise been spared the gut wrenching and soul crushing reality that is made so much worse by an outright denial of the very experience that caused them harm.

  • Heidi_storage

    I’m so sorry for your terrible experience. I think women don’t want to frighten pregnant first-timers who are, after all, going to have to get the baby out somehow, but you’re quite right that we shouldn’t be minimizing the pain and nastiness that accompany most births. Real support should include listing different probable experiences that the mother may go through, as well as what the mother can do or ask for in order to mitigate her suffering, and above all should include LISTENING to the mother and responding with respect and compassion. If she says she wants an epidural, don’t try to dissuade her, but flag down the dang anesthesiologist. If she says the epidural isn’t working, help her!

    And geez, never, never insist that women “shouldn’t” be considering their labor to be ghastly. If she says it sucked, it sucked, and you don’t shame her for relating her experience. Humanity 101.

    • Steph858

      Personally, I don’t agree with the “Don’t frighten first-time mums-to-be with your terrible birth stories” rule. I heard plenty of horror stories while I was pregnant, which meant I was pleasantly surprised when my birth turned out to be a lie-back-and-think-of-England no-trial-of-labour C-Section deal. If, on the other hand, the birth had been a long and painful ordeal, at least I would’ve been prepared for it as opposed to having it come as a nasty shock.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Normally, I would say “Prepare for the worst – hope for the best”

        but it’s not really like that.

        The pain of childbirth stories are actually not “the worst” – they are realistic. Severe pain in childbirth is common, and hence almost expected. Avoiding it is fortunate when it happens, but it’s not like those who have pain are atypical.

      • Sean Jungian

        I’m in an older age group than most of the commenters here (I’m 52) but do women relatives no longer talk to the younger women in their families about pregnancy and childbirth?

        I just remember it being discussed among my relatives and my mother and her friends. Not, like, constantly or anything, but whenever someone was pregnant. We all like to share our experiences, don’t we? And all of my relatives mentioned how painful it was. Most also said, “But you forget about that AFTERWARD” and that the memory of the pain fades, but the pain itself was a primary factor mentioned.

        And I don’t mean as a horror story, either. Just as a matter-of-fact “Yes, it really hurts. A LOT.” Various descriptions of labor, funny stories of how cousins or siblings or aunts & uncles were born.

        I suppose families are smaller these days – I only have one child myself. But even he has heard me talk with friends about labor, birth, menopause, etc. Is this just not as prevalent as it once was? Do people not really visit much anymore?

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          I heard it, but then I’m 40. Not so much menopause, my aunts don’t discuss it with me (we don’t see each other that much), my mother died at 55, and both my sister and my mother-in-law had hysterectomies before they were 35.

          • Sean Jungian

            I guess we’re in the minority, it must be from an earlier era.

            I didn’t get much about menopause either, though.

        • Amy M

          My mom told me about the births of my sister and myself. My grandmothers never said anything, but (I’m 39) they were from a generation that didn’t discuss things like that. I was the first cousin to give birth, but I heard stories from friends. I agree, I was glad not to have it whitewashed—several friends said it hurt like a biatch, then they got an epidural and it was great. So I figured I would do the same.

        • myrewyn

          Nobody in my family ever talked about labor or childbirth. I’m assuming my three siblings and I were all born vaginally. I know I was breastfed (in the 70s!). I don’t know if my older siblings were.

          I didn’t know until I was in college that my own birth was flanked by miscarriages on either side. My aunt let it slip one day and everyone gave her a look of horror, like I wasn’t supposed to know.

          We are of northern European descent (Dutch) and nobody talks about much at all. My Mexican partner thinks we are very odd because their family shares everything!

          • Roadstergal

            I didn’t hear about the miscarriage between my oldest sister and my brother until my mom died, and my father just broke down and told me all kinds of stuff that was weighing on his mind one afternoon.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Mom was usually open, but I didn’t know Grandma had a couple miscarriages between Uncle R and Aunt D until Grandpa mentioned it at something or other and Mom being surprised because “they don’t talk about it.”