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One Born: Birth Doesn't Have To Be This Way

05/04/2017 16:30
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Yet another series of One Born hit our screens Monday night, and as usual I sat down to watch with a misguided sense of optimism that this time, it would be different.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a heart of steel, so I love to watch that incredible moment of birth that OBEM beams into my living room just as much as the next person. Who could fail to be moved by the amazing miracle of new life, and the often inspirational back-stories behind the couples who are featured?

For the life-affirming shots of mums and dads meeting their babies for the first time, I give the programme makers ten out of ten.

But for challenging and changing the existing outdated and medicalised approach to childbirth, I say they could do better. Way better.

It's not an excuse to say, "It's just television", or even, "That's just the way it gets edited." If the editing is making good practice look like bad practice, then the midwives involved ought to be up in arms. One Born Every Minute is in many cases the only frame of reference women have for 'what giving birth is like'. So some responsibility needs to be assumed for the impression the programme is giving women, most of whom, if you take a look on Twitter, seem to be horrified and scared:

Thanks to One Born Every Minute, most women assume that being terrified of giving birth is a perfectly normal and acceptable state of being.

And actually, I think it IS normal to be terrified, not of giving birth, but of giving birth the way most women do on One Born.

Am I the only one who thinks it often looks more like a Hammer Horror trip to the dentist than a life affirming rite of passage into motherhood?

The bright lights, the hospital gowns, the machinery, the instruments... it's no wonder we get all emotional when they produce a baby. It's probably the relief that we didn't have to watch anyone have root canal work done with a blunt spoon.

And film after film of distressed looking women lying on their backs and being told to "Push into your bottom" is having an effect that goes deeper than simple fear. These images are shaping women's expectations, to the point where this televisual version of birth is becoming so totally entwined with reality that it's impossible to tell life from art, fiction from fact. What we see, slowly but surely, becomes what we get.

Where are the women who give birth off the bed, on birth stools, in birth pools, on the floor, squatting or even standing up? Where are the women who give birth leaning on the bed, or even on the bed but on all fours? Where are the women who choose to move around in labour, to rock, moan, or even have a bit of tea and cake between contractions? Where are the dimly-lit, peaceful birth rooms, where only hushed tones are used and where babies are born into the waiting hands of silent midwives, or even the hands of mum or dad? Where is the delayed or 'optimal' cord clamping and skin to skin contact after birth, yes, even after caesarean births? And where are the so-called 'Gentle' or 'Woman Centred Caesareans'?

We know that all of these things and more can make birth a better, healthier and more fulfilling experience for women in labour, and that they can transform the bad trip to the dentist into something life affirming, to be celebrated rather than feared. Why are these kinds of births off the radar of the producers at Channel 4? And don't they have a moral responsibility to show the birth experience in a more positive light?

I think they do. In my work running the Positive Birth Movement, I talk to women every day who are terrified of giving birth, and who, worse still, aren't even aware that they have options and choices in childbirth. Birth in our culture has become about submission, with women entering the doors of the hospital and obediently hopping up on the bed, often because this is what they have seen other women do on TV. Television programme makers need to understand that they are shaping not just women's expectations of birth, but their actual experiences. There is an opportunity to inform and inspire women here, and it's being glibly missed.

As I watch, it feels almost like a secret is being kept from women: yes, birth can be very medical and dramatic, but many other people have birth experiences that are 'not scary', and that are very different to those portrayed on One Born. There are a huge range of birth options available to women beyond than those which, for some reason, the programme makers continue to show us. So by all means watch the rest of the new series of One Born. Enjoy the beauty of birth, however it occurs. But please don't let it shape your expectations, or worse still, your reality.

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