Tell It Like It Is: Demystifying Childbirth for Teens
Last Sunday the Guardian website published an article highlighting the rise in reported birth trauma in the UK. The piece, reported on the National Health Service's response to the number of women requesting caesarian sections for second births, after bad first experiences have left them too scared to opt for traditional methods.
Tocophobia, or the fear of childbirth is said to be increasing at an alarming rate on these shores and an official study is now under way. As someone who last year had a child of her own, I read the Guardian's article with great interest, even more so when the selected interviewee Angela Almond described a 'traumatic' childbirth experience that was not too dissimilar to that of my own and other mothers I know. Now I would never describe my personal experience as particularly traumatic, and at first I must admit that I was tempted to regard Ms Almond as being, well, a bit of a wimp. But after thinking it over, I realised that for me, the realities of child birth had been laid open from a fairly young age, thanks in part to a very informative mother in my teens and by being the birthing partner of my younger sister in my mid twenties. When it came to going through the experience myself, there were of course some surprises in store, but I felt better prepared, comforted and educated than I expect some women are.
When pregnant you can read every guide and handbook out there and while you'll find a wealth of information on the likes of foetal development, nutrition and exercise, as well as what happens after the birth, you'll generally find that the birth itself receives a relatively small amount of coverage. Of course, you're pregnant for nine months and the labour and birth time ranges from only a couple of hours or days – a small percentage of the preparation time and a paltry amount of time compared to the length of care ahead. And, as most guides will inform you, every birth is different. However, that is no reason why women shouldn't discuss the process more, and years in advance of any planned (or unplanned as the case might be), parenthood. And not just the basics, I mean the leave your shame at the hospital door, down and dirty reality of pushing a person out of your vagina.
It'll be no news to you that childbirth is far from a glamorous experience, nor is it the neatly condensed, highly sanitized version of events you'll seen in the vast majority of movies and TV shows. Rarely does a woman's waters gush forth while she's out shopping, only to be rushed to the hospital by a bemused taxi driver, popping out a nice and clean rugrat in less than an hour (I'm sure it does happen for some, but the day I had to be induced after going ten days over my due date, there were five other women in the same boat as me). It's a pretty gross process involving vomiting, all kinds of medical waste, some surgical procedures and risks, and for the most part a lot of boredom, coupled with intermittent periods of less than dignified examinations where total strangers will be looking at or shoving their hands up your doot like you are being calfed. And that's me holding back.
Many of my childless female friends really don't want to hear about these arguably grim realities, and who can blame them, it's not exactly dinner table talk, yet most of them will go through this at some point. So is it best left until you are at least planning or pregnant? You've so much on your plate in the early stages that taking the time to discuss these matters with a health care professional might not be a priority in the early months, or you may not feel at ease with your doctor, or simply feel that it's too late to go about discussing the inevitable, and before you know it you've your legs hoisted in a pair of stirrups wondering why you're being fitted for a saloon door (most women are cut or tear around the vagina, and while you'll probably not get a view of it yourself, you'll sure as hell be feeling it for days/weeks after).
Yes it's yucky, and you could argue, not the kind of thing that we should be exposing young women too. But then again the same could be said of periods. At one point in history they were the whispered, unilluminated bane of womankind (the curse anybody?); even today they can be daunting and gory to the uneducated and not exactly the most comfortable thing for a pubescent girl to talk about. Yet by our late teens and twenties, most women volunteer menstrual information and share war stores with friends, hell even casual acquaintances if the conversation leads us there. Therefore why can't a girl of 16,17,18+ not be told candidly about some of the less talked about aspects of childbirth, perhaps in school, or at least from other more experienced women. And for those who think that such open discussion will somehow encourage teenage pregnancy, I have two words for you - 'mucus plug'. Most girls will run a mile.
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