Milli Hill, Queen of Childbirth Gaslighting


The title of her piece is the first giveaway, The myth of the painful birth – and why it’s not nearly so bad as women believe.

You might have thought that the hours you spent in labor were agonizing, but Milli Hill knows better.

Most pregnant women are very scared of labour. But by putting all the focus on how painful it is, are we failing to give them the full picture? And in doing so, could we actually be making labour worse – in some sense, setting them up to fail?

Denying the reality of women’s experience of agony and trauma in labor is a form of psychological abuse.

Milli’s done the math:

… In an average eight hour labour, a woman can expect to be ‘in pain’ for only around 23 per cent of the time. The other 77 per cent is ‘pain free’.

Is this woman an idiot? Would she tell a man that passing a kidney stone isn’t painful because only around 23% of the time is spent writhing in agony and vomiting. The rest of the time is “pain free!” I doubt it.

No, Milli is not an idiot. Like many people who make their money promoting the philosophy of natural childbirth, she’s a psychological abuser. Her abuse technique of choice is known as gaslighting.

According to Wikipedia:

Gaslighting … is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances [include] the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred …

The term comes from the play Gas Light:

…The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes.

As practiced by Milli Hill and her colleagues, gaslighting means responding to stories of agony, desperation and trauma by denying the reality that most women experience.

Classic gaslighting phrases include:

That never happened!

You’re overreacting!

It’s all in your head!

You’re so sensitive!

Think your pain was excruciating? You’re overreacting!

And even in ‘the nightmare labour from hell’ – 36 hours of contractions coming thick and fast – she can still expect to be without pain for around 60 per cent of the time.

Still traumatized by 36 hours of agony? It’s all in your head!

When it comes to sport, we all seem to understand just how much negative thoughts can affect your performance both physically and mentally. We know how powerful a confident attitude can be. Perhaps it’s time to consider that with birth, things are no different.

Performance? Childbirth is not a performance anymore than passing a kidney stone is a performance. How powerful is a confident attitude in treating the pain of a kidney stone or a migraine or a broken leg? It has no effect at all. Why then would it have any effect on labor pain?

Look back on your labor as endless hours of intense suffering? That’s not what happened!

The importance of words is also emphasised by childbirth expert Penny Simkin, who stresses the vital distinction between ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’.

“Many women ‘suffer’ in childbirth, and it’s because they’re not respected, or kindly treated, they don’t have the tools to cope, or they feel unloved, or alone. If a woman crosses the line from ‘pain’ into ‘suffering’ in childbirth, we’ve failed her.”

Unloved? Unloved??!! These women are peddling pure bullshit.

At the moment, we simply do not know what birth would be like for women if they were given more positive messages and went into labour feeling strong, confident and capable. We simply don’t know what it would be like if all women were given one-to-one support from a midwife they really trusted, or if we created birth rooms, even in hospitals, that were dimly lit, homely and uninterrupted.

Does Milli Hill ever listen to herself? We simply don’t know? What about what millions upon millions of women have told us since oral tradition and written language came into being? What about the fact that the people who wrote the Bible were so impressed by the agony of childbirth that they concluded it could only be explained as a punishment from God? What about the childbirth prayers from the Middle Ages and women’s own accounts from colonial times to the present?

According to Milli Hill and her colleagues: They were overreacting. It was all in their heads. It never even happened.

Milli Hill makes her money by gaslighting women, denying the reality of their experiences of excruciating pain and trauma. And that’s psychological abuse.